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NASA Astronaut Ms. Marsha Ivins, who had five space missions totalling 55 days, 1318 hours in space, covering over 786 orbits around the earth, and travelling 23 million miles, gave a special interactive lecture to the students and faculty of B.S. Abdur Rahman University and neighbouring institutions on Apr 30. The lecture on “55 Days in Space: The story of an American Astronaut” was arranged by US Consulate General, Chennai. The special interactive lecture session was organised by B.S. Abdur Rahman University at its convention centre, Vandalur, Chennai.
The astronaut outlined the lifestyle and space exploration under zero gravity conditions at the space station. She said the current space station programme can last up to 2020. She recalled how the astronauts when they orbit around the earth at 28,000 Kms/hour experience 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets in 24 hours and adds however that their body functions at 24 hour cycle. She explained how sleeping bags and not beds are used for sleeping and how bags are to be fastened on fixed frames while sleeping to prevent it from floating.
The astronaut explained under zero gravity conditions due to high surface tensions water becomes balls of various sizes at various quantities and huge water balls can be placed over plant leaves as it exerts no load on the leaves. She very often reiterated for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and it is used for jumping from place to place even enjoying the tricks of flying at will and rising to the roof and even performing endless spins without getting giddiness.
During the space station maintenance in the open the astronauts experience 100 degree Celsius when exposed to sunlight and –150 degree Celsius in the dark and astronauts are protected from these extreme temperatures by their space suits. It was amusing when she said that astronauts recycle their urines and reclaim fresh water, ‘tomorrow’s coffees are made from today’s urine’. It works perfectly, she said. Photography is an important task of any astronaut and she said that she saw one earth and one nation without any borders around the nations except few manmade boundaries and showed excellent photographs taken from space station like spread of hurricanes, the Himalayas, Fuji Mountains, Glaciers, continents, night views of major towns and cities, amazing views of the fast moving earth surface from fast moving space station.
The students were also shown the photographs taken from Hubble telescope of various galaxies and the vast expanse of the universe. The Astronaut urged students to design better engines for greater space exploration. At the start of the lecture the astronaut asked the students to enjoy the real story as there is no exam after the lecture amidst the ripple of laughter and applause.
The astronaut revealed that her best days were the days that she spent in the space station. She answered numerous questions fielded by the enthusiastic and curious students and obliged their request for autographs and group photographs. The astronaut’s five space missions include STS-32 in 1990, STS - 46 in 1992, STS - 62 in 1994, STS-81 in 1997, and STS-98 in 2001.
Ms. Ivins was selected in the NASA Astronaut class of 1984 as a mission specialist. Her technical assignments to date include: crew support for the Orbiter launch and landing operations; review of Orbiter safety and reliability issues; avionics upgrades to the Orbiter cockpit; software verification in the shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory (SAIL); Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) in Mission Control; crew representative for Orbiter flight crew equipment issues; Lead of astronaut Support Personnel team at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, Supporting Space Shuttle launches and landings.