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  • Writer's pictureMatt Russell

#155 - Peter Ward - Spacesuits and Spacebit Spiders

This week we chat with Peter Ward about his new book The Consequential Frontier and catch up on Spacesuits, spacewalks, spacebit spiders and pay tribute to the great Alexei Leonov.

We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe and for that, I am extremely grateful.

Stephen Hawking

Alexei Leonov

OTD October 18th

320 – Pappus of Alexandria observes a solar eclipse.

1963 – Félicette, a black and white female Parisian stray cat becomes the first cat launched into space.

1967 – The Soviet probe Venera 4 reaches Venus, and becomes the first spacecraft to measure the atmosphere of another planet.

Technology journalist Peter Ward's new book The Consequential Frontier explores man's ascent into the stratosphere and beyond - and the new generation of activists pushing for regulation as we do so. With SpaceX and Virgin Galactic both significantly expanding their space programs this year, commercial space travel looks set to dominate the headlines for the foreseeable future. As this new space race dawns, start-up companies are readying their engines to head into the cosmos for the sake of privatization and profit. Journalist Peter Ward investigates how such endeavours could lead not to a new golden age, but a new era of colonialism. Sitting down with tech CEOS, inventors, scientists and politicians, Ward demonstrates how rushing into space could have disastrous results, and explores what is being done to explore space and utilize its resources while keeping it a universal resource.

British bid for lunar glory.

The US$30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE a 2007–2018 inducement prize space competition organized by the X Prize Foundation, and sponsored by Google called for privately funded teams to be the first to land a robotic spacecraft on the Moon, travel 500 meters and transmit back to Earth high-definition video and images.

It was all supposed to happen by 2014. 5 years later, and with several deadline extensions the prize money was unclaimed, and the competition ended. However many of those teams who had made the final cut soldiered on regardless.

The SpaceIL Beresheet lander came very close, and in recognition of hitting the moon, got a $1 million "Moonshot Award" from the X Prize Foundation!

Another team born from this competition was Astrobotic Technology founded in 2008 by Carnegie Mellon professor Red Whittaker and his associates based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Astrobotic Peregrin Lunar Lander

Reel forward 10 years, past missed deadlines and launches on November 29, 2018, Astrobotic was declared eligible to bid on NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services to deliver science and technology payloads to the Moon. Astrobotic's successful bid entailed a $79.5 million contract to deliver payloads to Lacus Mortis. Astrobotic set an initial target of fourteen payloads starting on July 2021.

Earlier in July 2017, Astrobotic had announced an agreement with ULA to launch their Peregrine lander aboard the first Vulcan rocket, this is now called Mission One. and will carry a maximum payload mass of 90 kg It is planned to land on Lacus Mortis and operate for about 8 Earth days

Commercial payloads including:

  • small rovers from other XPrize team Hakuto, and Team Angelic

  • a larger 33 kg rover from the Carnegie Mellon University named Andy,

  • a nikel library, in microprint which will include Wikipedia and Long Now Foundation's Rosetta Project.

But the exciting bit!!!

An British miniature 1.5 kg rover called SpaceBit is included, and it moves on four legs

It is a technological demonstrator and will travel a distance of at least 10 m. It looks just like a toy my kids had called Attacknid. It’s by London based blockchain botherers Spacebit, taking cryptocurrencies to the moon. "We could not be more excited to fly this mission with Astrobotic," Spacebit CEO Pavlo Tanasyuk "This mission will result in the first payload from the UK to reach the moon surface and mark the beginning of a new era in commercial space exploration for Britain."

commercial landings will be historic. To date, successful moon landings have been pulled off only by the government space agencies of three superpowers — the Soviet Union, the United States and China. This year it’s been 1 failure for a commercial so far, but hey even that’s historic.

In the meantime Russia are thinking of sending their killer death bot Fedor to the moon with wheels instead of legs.

Virgin Orbit plans to become the first private company to send cubesats to Mars in 2022. partnering with Polish universities and satellite maker called SatRevolution to design up to three robotic missions to the Red Planet over the next decade, follow NASA's pioneering work with the MarCO cubesats tagging along with the InSight mission, this is a killer combination, miniaturized satellite technology and cheap launch for exploration of the Solar System

NASA has unveiled the prototype for a new spacesuit that could be worn by the next astronauts on the Moon. (despite Capital Hill almost certainly are not going to be writing the cheque for any of the 2024 timelines)

Nasa chief Jim Bridenstine was showing off the 2 next-generation suits for the agency's Artemis programme at Nasa headquarters in Washington DC.,

  • The Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU) prototype suit looks similar to ones used at the International Space Station with improved for comfort, fit and mobility on the Moon.

  • Orion Crew Survival System, the orange flight suit that will be worn by crews in the Orion spacecraft for launch and re-entry.


  • customised fit whatever their size.

In March, the first all-female spacewalk on the ISS had to be called off because there wasn't an available suit in the correct size for Nasa astronaut Anne McClain., " a suit that will fit all of our astronauts when we go to the Moon," JB

NASA astronauts Christina Koch (4TH WALK) and Jessica Meir (1ST) will venture outside the space station at 7:50 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 17 or Friday, Oct. 18.

Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

The red, white and blue xEMU suit was worn onstage by spacecraft engineer Kristine Davis, from Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston.

  • the ability to reach overhead - which Apollo-era suits weren't capable of.

  • “Bearings” provides a greater range of movement at the waist. And three on the legs along with a flexion-extension joint at the waist to provide more mobility in the lower part of the suit.

  • Kristine Davis used her arms in a circular motion, performed squats and bent down to pick up a rock from the stage. Kate Rubins nodding in approval.

  • Lunar Dustproof:, the lunar dust got everywhere in apollo suits, but the bearings and fewer seams should help protect the suit from the dust and will use new materials that keep the dust out.

  • 100% oxygen environment less time "pre-breathing" to purge nitrogen.

  • The suit's life support system should give the astronaut around eight hours' worth of air, with an extra hour for contingency.

Orion Crew Survival System demonstrated by Dustin Gohmert, a project manager at JSC.

  • tailored to the seat in the Orion crew module

  • Protects astronauts against an accidental depressurisation, the only cause of death actually in space in the Soyuz 11 accident..

  • Mr Gohmert "We can take safe haven in this suit, we'll seek refuge in here, we'll keep the body at 8 psi for a certain period of time, then we'll drop down to 4.3 psi and we can remain there for six days." "That's no small feat to be able to live in a volume that's only a couple of inches bigger than your body for six whole days."

Alexei Leonov- End of an era!!

The last living member of the five cosmonauts in the Voskhod programme has died.

30 May 1934 – 11 October 2019

18/3/65 - Pushing out of the spacecraft’s inflatable airlock he took humankind's first step out into the vast emptiness of space.

The first to hear the hum of his spaceship left behind for the silence of the cosmos.

The first to see the earth, not through a small window, but through a helmet, the view in all its breathtaking beauty.

The first to use a spacesuit in space. The Golden Eagle was minimum spec, just good enough to survive the brutal heavens.

The first to have this peace broken by their president, as Brezhnev came over the radio to check in.

The first to tell a white lie as he reassured the great communist leader that all was perfect.

The first to tire as his suit inflated against the vacuum of space, every movement hindered by the suits stiffness and not against gravity, but the lack of it.

The first to start cooking in his spacesuit with the suit filling with sweat, to be blinded by the direct sunlight.

The first, despite all this, to push away from his spacecraft, the first to trust and have that trust rewarded by his umbilical cord.

The first, against almost impossible odds, to then film his spacewalk.

The first to stop enjoying the complete freedom of space to pull back to his space ship.

The first to realise that he had a serious problem, his spacesuit was so inflated that he could not fit back into the spaceship.

The first to ignore protocol to call for ground control, but decide, with the danger of death, to vent his suit.

The first to re-enter the spacecraft, the wrong way round and the first to somersault to shut the airlock.

The spacecraft wasn’t working properly so the cosmonauts reentered manually.

Then, in the usual fireball, back to some remote part of the snow-covered Ural mountains, his spacesuit swilling with sweat, then almost freezing to death while awaiting rescue.

With his quickness of mind, extreme physical strength and a pinch of luck Alexei did survive

As a child he had been a keen artist, but found himself as a fighter pilot and then he was chosen to be in the first group of cosmonauts, where he became best friends with Yuri Gegarin, who was “like a brother”.

When Gegarin died in his plane crash it was Leonov who went out looking for him and identified his remains. A subject of much later art work.

Leonov was training essentially as the Russian equivalent of Armstrong. Using helicopters in insanely dangerous manoeuvres that simulated the lunar lander. Korolev died, and the N1 was never made to work, and Armstong was to be the eventual winner, and Leonov missed his chance of extreme immortality.

Leonov himself had warned the cosmonauts of Soyuz 11 that they may have a problem with the vents and that they should operate them manually, however, this was forgotten and the cosmonauts were to die on reentry due to failure of these automatic vents. Leonov felt guilty despite knowing he had done his best.

The first Soviet to make direct contact with an American in orbit. when two countries agreed to collaborate on a space mission, called the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. This paving the way for other collaborations Mir and International Space Station

Leonov became a chief cosmonaut and was deputy director of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center outside Moscow where he oversaw crew instruction.

Leonov also became a bit of a Sagan character and threw himself into painting and science outreach, published books include albums of his artistic works and works he did in collaboration with his friend Andrei Sokolov.

Arthur C. Clarke wrote that Leonov pointed out to him that his 1967 painting Near the Moon, was replicated in the film 2001. Clarke kept an autographed sketch of this painting, which Leonov made after the screening, hanging on his office wall, Clarke then dedicated 2010: Odyssey Two to Leonov and Soviet physicist Andrei Sakharov, the fictional spaceship is named Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov

Together with Valentin Selivanov, Leonov wrote the script for the 1980 science fiction film The Orion Loop.

In 2006, Leonov and former American astronaut David Scott published a dual memoir covering the history of the Space Race “Titled Two Sides of the Moon: Our Story of the Cold War Space Race”, in 2006. introductions to the book were by Neil Armstrong and Tom Hanks

A frail Stafford delivered a speech in Russian at the ceremony in Moscow’s suburbs, during which he called Leonov “my colleague and friend” and said “Alexei, we will never forget you”.

He died at Moscow's Burdenko Hospital

Interplanetary condolences to his wife Svetlana and daughter Oksana.

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