Saturday, April 23, 2011

Pre-Flight Medical for the BTS-1 Crew & Astronauts

Liz giving me a scan inside the ISS medical lab

When I met with my friend Liz at NASA JSC, I learned about the changes that occur in astronauts' bodies in space. Basically, without gravity, their bodies decondition, which means they deteriorate. The longer they live in space, the more deterioration occurs. Their bones lose calcium and get weaker. Their muscles atrophy. Their hearts get smaller and weaker. They lose aerobic capacity and more.

As scary as all of this sounds, NASA has developed several countermeasures to keep astronauts healthy in space. Of course exercise and nutrition are very important in keeping their bodies in good physical condition. But also making sure our astronauts are healthy before going to space is very important.

Dr. Natcho after our pre-flight medical. 

So we are now at T-15 days until our BTS-1 launch and it is time for our crew pre-flight physical. This is very much like what crews have to go through before their missions to space and/or the ISS. 
The Lifetime Surveillance of Astronaut Health (LSAH - because we love acronyms) is a proactive occupational surveillance program for the astronaut corps to screen and monitor astronauts for occupation-related disease. the LSAH Repository (LSAH-R because it would be too hard to say and spell out the entire word) was established to implement a research component to enable analysis of astronaut medical data from pre-flight, in-flight, and post-flight phases of space travel. 
So there are several tests astronauts have to go through before a launch. I am listing only a few here. 
Behavioral Observation of Training
This is for all ISS crewmembers to observe training events and to provide important data about individual behavior & crew interactions. These data may help in providing consultation and recommendations to CMs preflight in order to optimize behavior and team performance. It also provides a baseline data for supporting & consultation of CMs in-flight. 
Preflight Behavioral Health Status Checks
All ISS crewmembers are required to complete a brief preflight interview & exam with the psychiatrist/psychologist to confirm crewmembers mental and psychiatric fitness for launch. 
Exercise Treadmill Test
All U.S. crewmembers need to go through this test to assess preflight cardiovascular status. 
Pre- and Postflight Physical Exam for Short Duration Crews
This is for all prime Shuttle crewmembers to check vital signs, head/face, ears, nose, throat, eyes, chest, cardiovascular, abdomen, musculoskeletal, skin, and neurologic assessments.  
This was the majority of today’s exam.  Crewmembers have to be fit enough to deal with any emergency, so a full physical exam of their abilities to function properly is necessary.  We had already been medically screened for anything serious prior to being selected for the astronaut corps, so today was more of a check-up.  But the L-10 exam should also include checking retinas (aka a fundoscopic exam, to make sure no detached retinas or other acute eye problems could happen between now and flight), as well as a pregnancy test for females (like Camilla), which, if positive, would be disqualifying for flight, because of the unknown effects of microgravity and radiation on a developing fetus.  Any signs of underlying infection on exam (fever, pain, swelling or redness anywhere) can be further evaluated in bloodwork or urine, and either treated in time for launch or (gulp) requiring back-up crew substitution.  Other than the pregnancy test, there are no required labs for the L-10 physical, and the completeness of the exam is up to flight surgeon discretion based on the past medical history and current exam of each crewmember.  Fortunately, we had physical exams that were not concerning for needing further work-up, so escaped any needles!
Pre- and Postflight Pulmonary Assessment
This is for all ISS flights and crewmembers, both primary and backup crews and will measure the lung volume and diffusion capacity. 

So today we had our L-10 (even thought it is L-15) pre-flight physical exam with Dr. Natacha C. Now let me tell you, Doc Natcho (that's what we call her) has been our favorite aspiring NASA doc! She not only has the passion for medicine, but she wants to take care of the NASA family and is one of my favorite Docs around (if not THE favorite!). So I wasn't nervous this morning, while good ole Fuzz was nervous and a little grumpy. Mostly because we couldn't eat anything after midnight and that also meant no coffee. See, the Doc wants a good and strong baseline in case any last-minute lab tests needed to be done, which can be affected by food or chemicals like caffeine (sorry, Fuzz). So we were there with empty stomachs.  It’s also important to have reliable baseline data to compare to in-flight and post-flight exams/lab tests so that we have a better idea of what is a true effect of spaceflight and eliminate any confounding factors (like caffeine raising heart rate, which can mimick a deconditioned heart).
So the Doc Natcho checked for all the vitals signs. I can tell you that we all three provided very different results. But not because of different fitness levels (we are all very fit), but rather because of our different, well, nature. Simply put, the smaller an animal is, the faster their metabolism is.  Think of the size of a hummingbird compared to an elephant.  A hummingbird’s heart is much smaller and must beat faster to pump blood through its entire body compared to the large heart of an elephant.  The elephant also has more body volume available for energy stores.  So, smaller animals have faster heart rates.  Fuzz is especially lucky because he can also hibernate if necessary, and conserve energy in the event of a remote landing! 

Cmdr Camilla SDO
Blood Pressure: 162/88
Heart rate (beats per minute): 275
Plt Fuzz Aldrin
Blood Pressure: 182/95
Hear rate (beats per minute): 90 
MS Skye Bleu
Blood Pressure: 128/76
Heart rate (beats per minute): 70
These results are very typical for the various species and as such, Doc Natcho gave us truly flying colors and a "Go for Launch". 

Interesting Medical Facts from the Early Days
Now I want to share some very interesting medical information from the very early days of human spaceflight. 
Astronaut Stafford on Apollo 10 inhaled fiberglass particles which were liberated into the spacecraft's air after the lunar module was opened up
Astronaut Schweikart got space sick on Apollo 9. Vomited. Described as "sicker than hell." His EVA was postponed and scaled back.
Astronaut Mattingly exposed to German measles (rubella) just before Apollo 13 launch, so he was removed from the mission. (He never got ill)
Astronaut Lovell had "minor liver ailment" that disqualified him in 1959's Mercury selection.
Astronaut Eisele injured his shoulder during a zero-g airplane flight at Wright-Patterson AFB in 1965. Result: not prime crew for Apollo 1.
When urinating on Apollo 7, Astronaut Cunningham instinctively turned his back to the window, prompting Astronaut Schirra to ask "Walt, who is out there?"
Astronaut Pete Conrad dislocated his finger while fooling around during exercise on Skylab 2 (sounds like something Pete would do!)
During the Rorschach inkblot test in 59, Drs slipped blank white card into the deck. Conrad baffled the Drs by insisting it was upside down.
Astronaut Cerman got a sunburn during his EVA on Gemini 9A. Wow!
All Apollo 11 crew members took an anti-motion sickness pill before re-entry and after splashdown. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin said "At all costs we must not throw up in the biological isolation garments that the swimmers will throw in to us."
On the trip to the launch pad before the first (of three) liftoff attempts for Gemini 6, Astro Wally Astronaut Schirra lit up a Marlboro.
Astronaut Slayton was the worst snorer. Fellow Astronaut John Glenn said "He could rattle the pictures off the wall."
Astronaut Shepard had Meniere disease. Checked into the hospital as Victor Poulis to keep the whole business quiet.
Astronaut Schirra was the first American to suffer the common cold in space (Apollo 7).
The Apollo 7 crew disobeyed a direct order to wear helmets during re-entry, cause all had headcolds & worried about rupturing an ear drum.
Astronaut Cooper had hay fever. Had to convince doctors: "I can't imagine I'll run into many mixed grasses and sycamore trees in space."
And Astronaut Gus got seasick and vomited while bobbing in his Gemini 3 spacecraft after splashdown.
Interestingly, space motion sickness was only discovered as spacecraft got larger.  With very little room to move in a one-man Mercury capsule, there was little opportunity for one’s inner ear to detect micro-gravity effects.  As capsules increased in size with Gemini, Apollo and the shuttle, astronauts got out of their seats and moved around more, giving their eyes, ears and brains more opportunity to get “confused” with the lack “up” or “down.”  Astronauts continue to take medicines to prevent motion sickness as needed before launch.  This is also why EVAs are never scheduled early in the mission- this gives the crew time to adapt to their new environment.  Plus, puking in your EVA suit would be quite a mess!
Yes - this has my information on it! 
A big thank you to Dr. Natacha who will be a great NASA Flight Surgeon. I sure hope she can continue to be my personal physician. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

BTS-1 Media Release

Tel: (770) 834-9309
@BearsOnPatrol on Twitter
BTS-1 Balloon Transport System’s First Launch with Three Mission Mascots “Inspiration”
Houston, TX (April 21, 2011) - Three mission mascots have joined forces to raise awareness for Science Education and Peace through Bears on Patrol, a nonprofit organization based in Carrollton, Georgia. They will fly to near space (about 100,000 feet) in a weather balloon equipped with tracking devices and three GoPro HD cameras to record their journey. The launch will take place on May 8th, 2011 from the University of Houston central campus. Launch preparations begin at 10 AM. The flight capsule was named “Inspiration” as part of a naming contest. 
"Who hasn't dreamed of reaching space, getting closer to the stars and looking back at our beautiful blue planet?,” says mission commander Camilla Corona SDO, “BTS-1, the Balloon Transport System's First Flight, aims to show kids and grownups that reaching the Edge of Space is really possible. Our goal is to inspire the next generation of engineers, scientists and explorers."
"I am very excited to be working with a great crew, and a very talented group of people,” says BTS-1 Pilot Fuzz Aldrin, “Camilla and Skye have inspired me to reach out to more people to get them excited about science and space. We’ve already had a great response through social media, like Facebook and Twitter".
"With the right equipment, anyone can fly!" says Mission Specialist Skye Bleu.
Camilla Corona SDO, the mission commander, is a rubber chicken and the mascot of NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). Camilla's goal is to educate children about the Sun, Space Weather, Space and Science and to encourage them to pursue a career in science, engineering or aeronautics. Fuzz Aldrin, the BTS-1 Pilot, is a teddy bear who represents Bears on Patrol. Skye Bleu, the Mission Specialist, is a flying pig and a representative of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Like Camilla, she is eager to encourage students to get involved in science and engineering. 
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) is designed to help us understand the Sun's influence on Earth and Near-Earth space by studying the solar atmosphere on small scales of space and time and in many wavelengths simultaneously.
Bears on Patrol is a non-profit organization providing police departments with teddy bears to give small children in traumatic situations.
AIAA is the world’s largest technical society dedicated to the global aerospace profession. With more than 35,000 individual members worldwide, and 90 corporate members, AIAA brings together industry, academia, and government to advance engineering and science in aviation, space, and defense. For more information, visit
Related Links
Mission Blog -
NASA SDO Camilla Space Weather Project:
Camilla SDO on Twitter - 
Camilla SDO on Facebook -
Skye Bleu on Twitter - 
Skye Bleu on Facebook -

The BTS-1 crew inside the engineering module
Commander Camilla SDO
Pilot Fuzz Aldrin

Mission Specialist Skye Bleu

BTS-1 Mission Patch

Friday, April 15, 2011

igniteSmithsonian Talk - April 11, 2011, National Native American Museum

I was invited to give a presentation at the igniteSmithsonian talk in Washington DC. It was a great honor to be asked to share my passion and why I am doing the things I am doing. The list of speakers were just amazing and I felt really special. Just to give you a small example of the variety of topics and speakers that were present:

- Philip Auerswald (Associate Professor School of Public Policy, George Mason University) "Creating a Place for the Future"
- Fiona Rigby (Content Manager at DigitalNZ) "Making New Zealand Content Easier to Find, Share, Use"
- Brett Bobley (Chief Information Officer for the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities) "Digging into Data Challenge"
- Carmen Iannacone (Chief Technology Officer at the Smithsonian Institute) "Hello, I'm a knowledge worker"

 The format is simple. Every speaker has a limited amount of time available. In this case 5 minutes and 20 slides. So you really want to give a quick idea and get your audience to feel "I want more!". 

In between some of the talks there were also some videos that were submitted and they were fantastic too! Wow! I am going to post a few on the bottom. So, here are my slides and as soon as the talk is available online, I will also post the link.

Big thanks to the Smithsonian Team for having us and putting this talk together. Thank you to all who came out and enjoyed the various presentations and thank you to all the other speakers. I have learned something from each and everyone of you. For more information about this event go here:

Introduction of Camilla - due to having too much fun at the DC Zoo the day before, Camilla had no voice. So her PR person had to jump in and talk for her. 
It really is the story of two characters; NASA's Little SDO (Solar Dynamics Observatory) and Camilla Corona SDO (rubber chicken turned mission mascot)
It started at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center when one day Camilla saw Little SDO in a clean room. It was friendship at first sight.
Introduction of SDO

Why do we observe the Sun?

Short explanation of how the Solar Cycle works.
What is Space Weather?
How do we experience Space Weather?
What kind of impact does Space Weather have?
How do we communicate our science and facts?
What are Camilla's goals? She wants to educate, inspire and build a community - while having fun.
Camilla appeals to young and older.
The SDO mission and Camilla both focus on getting girls interested into science and engineering and introduces "Women of  SDO".
Getting the SDO data into the classroom is part of the success!
Physical attendance at events is important.
Our Balloon Transport System, 1st Flight mission intro.
Reaching out and working with other organizations builds community.
To inspire - our youth are the leaders of tomorrow! We need to inspired and reach out!
Camilla meeting and working with the Astronauts. Can so many Astronauts be wrong?
How can you get inspired and inspire? Some upcoming events.

Aesthetics in Astronomy in 15 Seconds


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Spirit of Innovation Awards - Finalists "Cyber Security"

And this is the 3rd and final category for the Spirit of Innovation Award. "Cyber Security"

This week I will be introducing you to the finalists of the Conrad Foundation Spirit of Innovation Awards program. The Spirit of Innovation Awards program challenges teams of high school students to create innovative products using science, technology, and entrepreneurship to solve 21st century, real-world problems.

Starting on April 13 through 27, 2011 you can vote in "The People's Choice Award". All votes will be counted and stored in a mayonnaise jar at a secret vault in Silicon Valley until the closing awards ceremony on May 1st, 2011 at NASA Ames.

Eligible students may compete on teams in any of three Challenge Categories.

Learn more about the Conrad Foundation here! Website - Previous Blog Post:

Cyber Security:
Create a smartphone app to enhance our awareness of, and protection against threats around us.
Cellular phones have become ubiquitous extensions of our lives. As smartphone technology improves, our phones will augment not only our voices, but also our situational awareness (knowledge of where we are, how fast we're moving and in what direction, what is around us, and how to get where we want to be). Many of us have used applications such as Google Maps to help us find directions from our location to a destination. Even better, we can share our awareness with our friends. All we need are the tools to take advantage of the information.
Unfortunately, these technologies do not have any built-in mechanisms for determining potential hazards of use. While most of us want to do only moral and ethical things with our phones, there are those who will use these same capabilities to steal data and information. As smartphone apps multiply in number, knowledge of their vulnerabilities will also increase. Yet the public understanding of these threats remains an undercurrent of thought at most. This challenge asks Spirit of Innovation Awards teams to identify potential security concerns and design an application for any carrier (iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc.) that either helps the user understand the threat or helps protect the user against it.

The security concerns could be online (e.g. exposing your bank account information) or offline (e.g. exposing your physical location to a hunter/predator). Competitors should think about how the phone could assist in real-world threat identification and protection as well as purely on the internet.

Team Infiniti Cyber Security

Intelliscan: Our product is a security application for the iPhone which defends against malicious threats targeted towards users through smart filtering and real-time shielding.
KIPP: Houston High School
Team Members:
Taaha Akhatar
Nhan Thai

Houston, TX

Team Lambda2.4

DroidShepherd is a tool for the Android Mobile Platform that provides the capability to detect and disable 'Firesheep' session sidejacking attempts on public Wi-Fi networks. By strategically sending out fake and random data and listening for a response, DroidShepherd will effectively combat hacking efforts that operate by stealing authenticated session cookies.
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
Team Members:
Carrie Sun
Kevin Sun

Alexandria, VA

Team Los Altos Academy of Engineering

ShadowVigil is a Smartphone application that provides offline safety mechanisms through the use of satellite thermal images.
Los Altos Academy of Engineering
Team Members:
Teresa Chen
Stephanie Sosa

Hacienda Heights, CA


S.A.R.A. is a multi-platform smartphone application that is designed to respond to cases of sexual assault. It accomplishes this by autonomously contacting emergency services and by gathering information valuable to the prosecution by using the microphone, GPS locator, and video camera data accessible from a smartphone.
North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics
Team Members:
Angela Zhang
Violette Zhu
Joseph Moo-Young
William Su

Durham, NC

Team R Squared

Dependable Ride is a mobile application that allows users to send a notification to all nearby friends alerting them of their need for a safe mode of transportation. It will allow users to easily get rides from nearby friends.
Beverly Hills High School
Team Members:
George Qiao-Guan
Raj Vir
Ronit Kumar
Matthew Forman
Cole Hackbarth

Los Angeles, CA

Scientifica White Hats

The Phone Guard is an all‐in‐one master security system for smartphones. With a small fee of only $10 for the app, the PhoneGuard uses face recognition, finger print size recognition, average finger tap recognition, gps coordination alerts, ed flag alerts, Bluetooth filtration, and spam, call, and text prevention to make it the most demanded security product.
Northern High School
Team Members:
Leighannae  Oh
Sidhartha Jandhyala
Cody Leovic
Tim Kang

Durham, NC

Team UniSecurity

MedPAL is a smartphone application that works in conjunction with a Bluetooth enabled heart rate monitor worn by the user. In response to irregularities in heart rate, MedPAL will automatically contact a call center and/or personal emergency contacts based on GPS coordinates, as well as alerting those in the vicinity verbally and displaying important medical information.
North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics
Team Members:
Ada Taylor
Greeshma Somashekar
Katrina Gutierrez

Durham, NC