July 27, 2009

Affects Of Global Warming Are Clear From Space

Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk said about his mission to space, "It will be the supreme thrill of my life." However, he was less than thrilled to report that the Earth's ice caps seem to have melted since he was last in orbit 12 years ago.

Thirsk is a flight engineer and member of the Expedition 20/21 crew on the International Space Station. This first Canadian to fly on a Soyuz was launched as a Mission Specialist on the Soyuz mission May 27.

He said that even after being two months into his six-month mission, he is still stunned as he looks out the window into the great expanse of space.

He marveled at the delicacy of the atmosphere that holds the Earth in its balance.

"It's a very thin veil of atmosphere around the Earth that keeps us alive," Thirsk said during an in-flight news conference. "Most of the time when I look out the window, I'm in awe."

"But there are some effects of the human destruction of the Earth as well."

He admits that it is not a scientific evaluation, but he feels that the glaciers are melting.

"The snow capping the mountains is less than it was 12 years ago when I saw it last time," Thrisk said. "That saddens me a little bit."
Thrisk is able to share his thoughts with his 12 crewmates until the visiting Endeavor astronauts depart on Tuesday.

The crew has been busy delivering a Japanese-built experiment platform, installing new batteries for the station's solar power system and storing spare parts to keep the station operational once the aging shuttles are retired in 2010 after completing their last seven flights.

After more than 10 years of work, The ISS that will ultimately cost the U.S. and its 16 partners $100 billion, will be nearing completion.

Astronauts Christopher Cassidy and Thomas Marshburn were eager to get started on the flight's fifth spacewalk. They floated out as the spacecraft passed over the Atlantic, halfway between South America and Europe. After only fifteen minutes, they crossed Italy with the iconic boot clearly visible just 220 miles below.

Outside the space station, the spacewalkers began working on a mix of relatively banal chores. They quickly moved power cable hookups and folded down a piece of popped-up insulation on a small robot hand at the international space station. Then they set up TV cameras on the brand new porch of a Japanese lab that was installed by the two crews last week. The cameras will assist in experiment work on the porch and in the docking in two months of a Japanese cargo carrier.

"All in all I think it's an extremely successful mission in spite of a lot of really interesting curveballs that have been thrown our way," Endeavour commander Mark Polansky told reporters.

There was a slight hiccup on Saturday as the station's U.S. air-scrubber quit working, which prompted NASA to call for extra flight controllers to oversee the device manually. The machine is very important as it removes carbon dioxide, the by product of breathing, from the air in the station.

"It's not something that we want to do long term, because (of) the number of commands we have to send from the ground. But in the short term, we've got the carbon dioxide removal system back up and running and operating at close to its normal capacity," Smith said.

The NASA's next shuttle mission, scheduled to launch in August, will be taking a backup air-scrubber to the station.
Endeavour is expected to return to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday.


Image Credit: NASA


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