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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halloween Special: Spirits in Space

It's a spooky halloween! Pictured above is an eerie nebula (SH2-136) that is
located about 1,200 light years away from us.
Photo credit: Adam Block, NOAO, AURA, NSF

If you have watched the recent sci-fi space movie, ‘Gravity’ (starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock), you would have realised the extremely risky nature of space expeditions. When things go seriously wrong up there, death is almost inevitable.

For the Celtic people who lived 2000 years ago, Halloween falls on the eve of their new year, which happens on 1 November. On Halloween (31 October), it is believed that the boundary between this world and the next becomes unclear. This is when the ghosts of the dead start to return to earth.  As we prepare to dress up in our spookiest costumes this Halloween night, let us take the time to remember the heroes who have sacrificed their lives up in space...

Before Neil Armstrong became the first human to conquer the moon, there had been hundreds of animals that were sacrificed in the name of space exploration. Animals such as monkeys, chimpanzees, dogs, mice and other animals were used as test subjects in space to analyse the effects of space environment such as microgravity and radiation exposure on human during spaceflight.
Laika, the space dog, was the first animal in space. Unfortunately,
she never return as a re-entry plan had not been worked out.
Photo credit: NASA
Unfortunately, the earlier designs for spacecraft construction were still in the experimental phase. As a result, many animals that were sent for spaceflights died from starvation or dehydration during flight and in explosions while on board the shuttle. In some cases, the spacecraft in which the animals flew in were never recovered. This has led to speculations of abandoned ships that might be drifting in orbit together with their animal astronauts.
It is not just animal deaths that happened during space travels. In 1971, three Soviet crew members of the Soyuz 11 spacecraft, Georgi Dobrovolski, Viktor Patsayev and Vladislav had died in space as a result of space decompression during preparations for re-entry. Technically speaking, these are the only human fatalities that occurred in space (100km above sea level) so far.

The unfortunate crew members (from left to right: Georgi Dobrovolski, Viktor Patsayev and Vladislav Volko)
of Soyuz 11 were the first men to occupy the world's first space station.
Photo credit: Joachim Becker/ SpaceFacts

Thanks to the sacrifices of these animals, astronomers are now able to better understand the requirements of bringing a living being into space and also what lies in the universe out there. So the next time you wish upon a shooting star or wonder what that mysterious looking object in the night sky may be, remember that there is more than meets the eye...

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