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Testing New Technologies for Future Use in Space
Astronauts and Google Glass

Along with my last post (goo.gl/wG29na), some of Samantha Cristoforetti's fellow astronaut colleagues are currently on a SEATEST mission at Aquarius -- one of the few underwater research laboratories in the world.

Google Glass makes an appearance in the video :)

https://plus.google.com/+SamanthaCristoforetti/posts/7zUa5SBuVdD
 
The SEATEST mission is also an opportunity to test new technologies for future use in space. Just-in-time training delivered through head-up displays can significantly decrease crew training time and optimise work efficiency onboard the International Space Station and improved exercise devices can improve astronaut health.
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+Johnathan Chung, why have you stopped posting publicly here? We miss your posts.
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Johnathan Chung

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Building a Better Future
Smarter, Cleaner, Healthier

In the past week, Google has announced some great partnerships and initiatives to help broaden access to education, continue to support green technologies, and begin to tackle health issues regarding aging and illness.

• Contributor to Open edX, MOOC open-source education platform: 
https://plus.google.com/+GoogleOnlineCourses/posts/dqeG6kKjQvv
https://plus.google.com/108235383044095082735/posts/6LpGL7N6Aet

• Official Internet Technology partner of Solar Impulse, a solar-powered airplane that can fly day and night -- "Around the World in 2015": 
https://plus.google.com/+solarimpulse/posts/3WwpHUS7Tyu

Calico (California Life Company), a new company addressing aging and associated diseases through moonshot thinking around healthcare and biotechnology: 
https://plus.google.com/108880830087528406119/posts/2MdyrE2DX3z
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+SkilledUp Yes, they have been useful and positive overall. I've completed and received certificates for 2 intro to CS classes, 2-3 Python programming classes, 2 on neuroscience, 1 on biostatistics, 2 from Google (advanced search and fusion tables), and 1 on nanotechnology. Ones that I signed up for but never finished all the way due to timing & priorities were mobile programming for Android, intro to Java programming, finance, forensic science, and a couple others.

The best ones so far were probably Intro to Interactive Programming in Python by Rice University via Coursera and Fundamentals of Neuroscience by Harvard via edX.

In addition to some feedback mentioned in my last comment above, I would say I agree with all the points made in your most recent infographic on advantages of online learning:  http://www.skilledup.com/blog/advantages-online-courses-infographic/ More specifically, speedy learning, being more active/engaged with lesson content, flexibility of timing and pace, multimedia experiences, access to top-notch teachers, and mostly free of cost.
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Blood Group Types
Compatibility and Transfusions

This write-up was prompted by a related post asking about blood group compatibility:  https://plus.google.com/100201577350898666331/posts/TJTTHpYRndv

CONTENTS:
| Types of Blood Products |
| ABO & Rh Groups |
- Universal recipient
- Universal donor
| Blood Antigen Markers |
- Determining ABO designation: H antigen derivatives
| Minor Blood Groups |
| Transfusion Preparation |
- Type & screen
- Type & cross-match
- Emergency cases


Common Blood Products

Whole, 2%, and skim (kidding)...

Whole blood used to be given for rapid and massive blood loss up until specific components were determined to be as clinically effective and more efficient in terms of supply management. Some components include packed red blood cells (pRBCs), fresh frozen plasma (FFP, which contains clotting factors), a more concentrated version of thawed and centrifuged FFP called cryoprecipitate, platelets, and others.

Separation permits judicious use of blood components, such as selective treatment using only pRBCs while conserving platelets to be used in a different patient, for example. It also allows different components to be packaged and stored under different conditions to maximize shelf-life.

ABO and Rh Factor

Antigens are any cell fragment or molecule that antibodies can attach to and "flag" for eventual destruction by the immune system.

Major ABO and Rh blood group systems are highly emphasized because their antigens are the most immunogenic and pose a significant risk in terms of potential incompatible blood transfusion reactions.

AB blood type is the rarest and often cited as the "universal recipient" because those people lack antibodies targeted against A and B blood group antigens. In other words, A and B are not perceived as "foreign", and those individuals can handle all types (A, B, and O).

Blood type O is often considered the "universal donor" because those red blood cells do not have the potentially immunoreactive A and B antigens on them. Blood group O is the most common phenotype in the population at around 36-49% depending on race and ancestral place of origin.

Rh is named after the Rhesus monkey, and Rh factor commonly refers to the D antigen only even though there are around 50 antigens in the Rh group (this comes up often in obstetrics and pregnancy evaluation because of the transfer of blood between the mother and fetus). The presence or absence of the D antigen is the plus or minus designation seen after A, B, O, or AB (e.g., O+ or "O positive" is Rh positive O blood).

Similar But Distinct Blood Antigen Markers

In normal scenarios, the O, A, and B antigens expressed on the surface of different RBCs are determined by 3 alleles located on chromosome 9. All antigens actually contain the same fundamental chain or base unit called the H antigen, and each varies by only one molecule.

If that oligosaccharide (short chain of carbohydrates) anchored to a protein on the RBC is unmodified, it is classified as "O" blood.

The "A" allele responsible for encoding a certain enzyme will add a molecule called N-acetylgalactosamine to transform the "O" chain (basic H antigen) into an "A" antigen instead. If the enzyme encoded by the "B" allele appends galactose (yes, the same natural sugar commonly found in milk), the "O" chain then becomes a "B" antigen. Basic ABO antigen structures are illustrated in Figure 11.17 here  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK22396/#A1530

Minor Blood Groups

In reality, aside from ABO and Rh, there are many minor blood group antigens too. There are 30 other blood group systems, each of which has several sub-types. Of the minor groups, some of the more memorable ones are named after the patients whom they were first discovered in, such as Kell, Kidd, Duffy, Lewis, etc. It is thought that some minor blood groups may have arose due to evolutionary advantages. For example, some people lacking the Duffy antigen demonstrate resistance to certain species of malaria.

Relatively fewer people deal with these details on a day-to-day basis or are expected to remember the exact specifics, such as pathologists and technicians who work in the blood bank of a hospital. Nonetheless, these lesser-known minor antigens exist and are important.

• More info from Blood Groups and Red Cell Antigens: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK2261/
• A list of blood groups:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_blood_group_systems#Blood_group_systems

What the Doctor Ordered: Type, Screen, and Cross-match

In medicine, there are a couple ways to order blood to prepare for transfusions. For routine elective surgical procedures (i.e., planned, not an emergency) where minimal blood loss is expected, doctors can order a "type and screen". This means they identify the major type of blood group of the patient and screen for clinically significant antibodies in the recipient's serum. This is done out of precaution and gives a heads-up to the blood bank to let them know the blood may be required, but is not anticipated to be needed. It's also a preliminary and less intensive way to analyze blood because IF no unexpected RBC antibodies are present in the patient, then the extremely detailed identification of possibly hundreds of minor antigens in donor blood is not necessary. For those who qualify, blood can be given based on just ABO and Rh typing.

In other cases where blood products will be definitely administered (e.g., symptomatic anemia or active uncontrolled but slow bleeding), doctors request a "type and cross". The typing identifies the major blood group as before, and the full "cross-matching" goes into much deeper analysis to match up donor and recipient for all the clinically relevant minor antigens.

Of note, the addition of a cross-match to a "type and screen" (ABO/Rh typing and antibody screening) increases detection of incompatibility by only 0.01%. However, since millions of transfusions are performed, that 0.01% is not necessarily insignificant.

In the Case of an Emergency

In urgent situations (e.g., hemorrhagic shock) where the correct ABO type is in doubt or unknown and the doctor cannot wait for a full cross-match, O- (O Rh-negative) blood is given. In life-threatening emergencies where Rh-negative blood is unavailable, giving Rh positive blood is not off limits (the apparent reaction can be medically managed in other ways, whereas the immediate life-threatening cause can only be managed with a few options).

A "type and screen" can take up to ~10 minutes, and a "type and cross-match" could take on the order of an hour. If they don't have 60 or even 10 minutes to spare, they start to administer the "universal donor" blood up front (while continuing to cross-match). This scenario does not happen as often, though, and is more likely to occur during disaster response situations or accidents involving severe injuries.

Related:
• Facts about blood use and donations:  http://www.redcrossblood.org/learn-about-blood/blood-facts-and-statistics
• Mosquitoes may tend to prefer blood type O:
- http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/science/2013/07/why-do-mosquitoes-bite-some-people-more-than-others/
- http://scienceline.org/2007/09/ask-knight-mosquitoes/

#ScienceEveryday   #BloodType   #Transfusions  

Public Domain image from Wikipedia.
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+Betty Bee I agree. It can literally be a vital piece of information!

+Raphael Ndem I learn a lot from fellow Plussers too. For random searches, just remember to check the source of information if it matters :)

+Lacerant Plainer Thanks for the compliment. I was waiting for someone to say bloody brilliant. Close enough :P

+Suzanne Rush That makes sense. Hope your knee is doing better!

+John Zuur Platten That's excellent!
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The Shape of the Universe
For Earthlings 101

+Brian Koberlein described how the universe could be flat and finite in volume, but without an edge: 
https://plus.google.com/100479352836033641546/posts/f8och6TGB6Q

The alien Zogg from Betelgeuse explores these concepts further in a simple and entertaining animation with great visualizations.

He (it?) distinguishes between topology and geometry and shows several models that could fit the flat, finite, faux edge form :)

References are made to +Hank Green of +vlogbrothers and +Derek Muller of +Veritasium, along with a fun twist on the Nerdfighteria DFTBA motto: "Don't forget to be awesome."

Related: How Do We Know the Universe is Flat? by +Deep Astronomy.

#ScienceEveryday   #Universe   #Topology   #Space
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This bipedal gal thanks Zogg as well.
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Lead in Lipstick: The Whole Picture
An Example Analysis Emphasizing Perspective and Context

The cluster of studies from 2007-2012 on lead in lipstick has been used as an example in some biostatistics classes to highlight how easy it is to misinterpret data. Reports by the media are sometimes misleading, but (to be fair) not necessarily erroneous or intentionally so because they are looking at real and true numbers, just not in the appropriate context. Delving deeper, we can take a look at individual study details to analyze to what degree a particular claim has merit.

Of note, this specific article presents conclusions in a mostly balanced and reasonable manner. In the recent past, there was an inaccurate portrayal of this specific topic in the news that got people riled up, and you can imagine it spurred unwarranted public fear. I'm linking to this article because it's a more recent write-up that digs up previously cited numbers on lead content as a platform to discuss other trace metals we aren't keeping as good track of (to which I agree the latter probably needs to be studied more and that we should not become complacent). But for educational purposes, we're going to focus the discussion on lead content because that has been studied extensively.

The Main Concern

The 2007 headlines at the time read, "One-third of lipsticks on the market contain high lead". The authors looked at 33 lipsticks and classified lead content levels as high or excessive with respect to the FDA 0.1 parts per million (ppm) limit set for candy. In 2009, the FDA did a follow-up study (n = 22) and subsequently repeated the same type of study in 2012 using a larger sample of n = 400 shades of lipstick.

In the follow-up studies, they used an extremely sensitive method of lead detection -- so sensitive that they also detected types of lead that aren't absorbed by the body. That's not a downside, but just something to keep in mind when interpreting results in an overly conservative context. Since there are unavoidable natural trace amounts of lead in many things, the question is not "IS there any lead in lipstick?" but rather how much lead is there, does it have a clinically meaningful impact, and should women be worried?

A Closer Look

2012 data (n = 400) and 2009 data (n = 22) showed a mean (SD, standard deviation) concentration of lead in lipstick of 1.11 ppm (0.97) and 1.07 ppm (0.96), respectively. The median values of 0.89 and 0.73 ppm are more representative of the "typical" concentrations because the median is less affected by extreme values in a data set. The distribution of data was right-skewed, so infrequent occurrences of higher concentrations at the 99th percentile (and max value) were 4.91 ppm (7.19) and 3.06 ppm (3.06). [Data tables:  http://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductandIngredientSafety/ProductInformation/ucm137224.htm ] Notice the 2012 max value (which is 4 standard deviations above the mean) is higher than that from 2009, but that's due to inclusion of more 'outliers' in a larger sample size and not due to an actual increase in lead content (we know this because most of the other numbers -- mean, median, SD, interquartile range, and individual percentile values -- remained similar to 2009 with the exception of the upper bound).

Quantifying or Estimating Lipstick Use

Next, to get an idea of the potential "real world" impact and translate these numbers into practice, there was a European study in 2007 in Food and Chemical Toxicology that quantified consumer exposure to lead in lipstick (in other words, how much lipstick were people actually using?)

The very highest application of lipstick (once again, right-skewed data) was 218 mg / day used by 1 in 30,000 women. Keep in mind 218 mg was NINE standard deviations above the mean and approximately 5.5% of a whole tube of lipstick (meaning an entire 4-gram tube would be used in 18 days). As a comparison, median usage was a modest 17.1 mg / day.

Extent of Lead Exposure is Very Small

Not all lipstick that is applied will be consumed or absorbed; some will be rubbed off or removed by a drinking glass, tissue, make-up removal kit, etc. If we assume a very generous proportion like 50%, in the very highest concentration of lipstick used by the most generous of applicators, 7.19 microgram/gram * 218 mg * 1g/1000mg * 0.5 = 0.78 micrograms of lead exposure per day. The "typical" exposure of 0.0076 mcg calculated from the median values is 100 times less (mcg/g is the same as ppm and used for unit conversions in case that threw anyone off. Also note the abbreviation of micrograms (mcg) is not to be confused with milligrams (mg)).

This maximum exposure (the very upper limit) scenario applies to roughly 1/30,000 * 1/400 = 1 in 12 million women. Additionally, the FDA "provisional tolerable daily intake" of lead from all sources is 75 mcg/day, of which 0.78 mcg from lipstick is still only 1% (for that rare 1 in 12 million person) and a measly 0.02% for the more common typical person.

What Does This Mean?

Numbers are interesting, but usually people need a comparison to relate to.

For perspective, the average American consumes 1-4 mcg / day (1.3% - 5.3% of the daily tolerable limit) of lead from food alone. Typical daily lead exposure from chocolate for the average American is up to 29 times that of the typical daily exposure from lipstick. That's not saying there is a lot of lead in food; that's saying there is a miniscule amount of lead exposure from lipstick.

Amount of lipstick applied, absorption and bioavailability of lead, and potential clinical effect is a much different story than only looking at isolated absolute concentrations by themselves. Much of the difference arises from the fact that 100% of food or candy is intended for consumption, whereas 100% of lipstick is not eaten. And even after taking that into account, candy (chocolate, anyway) is still far beyond the estimated realistic maximum lead exposure people get from lipstick.

One caveat is that if children are starting to use large amounts of lipstick, their weight, size, and developmental characteristics as compared to adults are different and may need to be looked at separately. Of course, lead intake should be minimized as there is no "healthy" amount, but of all things to pick on or divert attention and resources to, lipstick is not an important source in the grand scheme of things.

#ScienceEveryday   #PublicHealth   #Statistics   #Lipstick   #Lead  
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Thanks +Johnathan Chung that's awesome! 
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Alcohol Intolerance and Toxicity
Hangover biochemistry, cancer risk, Asian woes, and TV shows

There are several enzymes involved in helping our bodies detox from alcohol. These enzymes and/or subsequent breakdown products are responsible for many of the common occurrences we experientially associate with it.

Break It Down

The liver enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) helps metabolize ethanol (EtOH -- the type of alcohol for consumption) to acetaldehyde, which in turn is metabolized by acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) into a less harmful compound, acetic acid (vinegar).

EtOH →(via ADH)→ acetaldehyde →(via ALDH)→ acetic acid

Of course, there are other enzymes that contribute as well, such as the cytochrome P450 system that oxidizes organic molecules and multiple diverse substrates.

Mechanism of a Breath-alcohol Test

Breathalyzers do not measure blood alcohol content directly. Instead, the electrochemical devices detect the presence of volatile exhaled ethanol and its breakdown products. There are several ways to do this through chemical reactions and photocell detectors, infrared spectroscopy, and fuel cell technology.

For the fuel cell method, ethanol in the breath is oxidized to acetic acid by platinum at the anode, while oxygen is reduced at the cathode. The resulting electric current is "interpreted" by a calibrated sensor, microprocessor, and display to output a number.

One Yeast's Waste is Another Person's Treasure

The first ever isolated ADH was in baker's yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) in 1937. The ability to produce high concentrations of ethanol from sugar was believed to initially evolve in yeast and may have provided a survival advantage to eliminate its competition. During alcoholic fermentation, ethanol (beer!) and carbon dioxide (rising bread!) are produced as metabolic waste products.

The Hangover: Starring Acetaldehyde

An accumulation of acetaldehyde -- the intermediate metabolite referred to above -- is a large contributor to "hangover" symptoms.

For this reason, the drug disulfiram has been used to deter alcohol abuse in some individuals because it inhibits ALDH. To phrase it mildly, it provides strong negative reinforcement to minimal alcohol intake (i.e., it greatly magnifies hangover effects!) In one study from 2006, after disulfiram was incorporated into a comprehensive treatment program and administered under medical supervision, abstinence rates improved to over 50% [1].

Genetic Variation and Drinking Behavior

A common stereotype is that Asians light up like Christmas trees and become red-faced beacons after ingesting relatively modest-to-little amounts of ethanol.

The well-known alcohol-induced flush reaction is facilitated by a mutation in the structural gene that encodes for a faulty type of aldehyde dehydrogenase, ALDH2 [2].

From a clinical standpoint, ALDH2 deficiency is one of the strongest genetic factors that influence drinking behavior and risk of alcoholism. Without ALDH2, individuals may have consistently more unpleasant experiences with ethanol and a stronger response to acetaldehyde, ultimately encouraging minimal alcohol use or avoidance.

The ALDH2*2 allele is dominant over the wild-type allele ALDH2*1 and impairs alcohol detoxification by reducing both the enzyme's catalytic efficiency and overall half-life.

Compared to Caucasians, 90% of Orientals have a 100-times more active ADH variant (the first enzyme in our biochemical equation above), and approximately 50% have only ALDH1 and are missing ALDH2 altogether (the second enzyme in our equation above) [3]. In other words, more acetaldehyde is produced while less is broken down, leading to greater accumulation.

(Related: a Google+ post about "Population Genetics of Alcoholism" by +Peter Smalley: goo.gl/8khs6p )

Cancer Risk

Chronic alcohol consumption is a major risk factor with causal association for upper aero-digestive tract cancers of the mouth, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, and liver with less but still present risks for colorectal and breast cancers [4-6]. Recurring alcoholic pancreatitis increases risk of pancreatic cancer as well.

Acetaldehyde appears to be the main culprit for alcohol-associated carcinogenesis. The same molecule contributing to that pesky hangover is toxic, mutagenic, and carcinogenic -- it induces inflammation, interferes with DNA synthesis and repair, and hinders the immune system.

Name Your Poison

Similarly, other substances are modified by the same set of enzymes and yield toxic metabolites too.

Methanol is the simplest alcohol with one less carbon atom or bridging methylene group than ethanol: CH3-OH vs. CH3-CH2-OH. Its largest use by far is during manufacture of other chemicals and products like plastics, plywood, paints, and textiles.

During Prohibition, bootlegged liquor ("moonshine") caused health problems either through contaminants or more frequently through unscrupulous distillers who added cheap methanol to boost its strength and to save costs. ADH converts methanol to formaldehyde -- popularly known as being used to preserve biological tissue samples and cadavers -- and then to formic acid by ALDH. Formic acid is the main cause of methanol toxicity [7], including the destruction of the optic nerve to cause blindness.

Ethylene glycol (HO-CH2-CH2-OH) is used in antifreeze, among other products. On occasion, open bottles of antifreeze may be consumed by children and pets due to its appealing natural sweetness. Ethylene glycol is metabolized by ADH to compounds that can cause kidney failure and other organ damage.

Self-medicating in More Ways Than One

Interestingly, ethanol can potentially work as an early "antidote" to methanol and ethylene glycol poisoning because it occupies the active sites of ADH. Ethanol competitively inhibits the breakdown of those other substances, theoretically allowing them to be excreted before they form more toxic byproducts.

Although treating with ethanol is generally not recommended nor sufficient and would not be used in a hospital (rather, use of intravenous hydration, supportive care, and possibly dialysis instead), fomepizole is a drug that achieves the same effect by competitively inhibiting ADH too.

This scenario appeared in an episode from the TV series "House, M.D." where Dr. House gets a prisoner drunk with vodka to empirically mitigate the suspected self-induced methanol poisoning [8].


References:

[1] Disulfiram Reaction - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disulfiram
[2] The Mutation in the Mitochondrial Aldehyde Dehydrogenase (ALDH2) Gene Responsible for Alcohol-induced Flushing Increases Turnover of the Enzyme Tetramers in a Dominant Fashion (full text) - http://www.jci.org/articles/view/119007/pdf
[3] Molecular Abnormality of an Inactive Aldehyde Dehydrogenase Variant Commonly Found in Orientals (full text) - http://www.pnas.org/content/81/1/258.full.pdf+html
[4] Alcohol and Cancer (2004 full text) - http://alcalc.oxfordjournals.org/content/39/3/155.long
[5] Alcohol and Cancer (Lancet Oncology 2006 abstract) - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16455479
[6] Alcohol and Cancer: Genetic and Nutritional Aspects (abstract) - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15070439
[7] Lack of a Role for Formaldehyde in Methanol Poisoning (full text) - http://www.whilesciencesleeps.com/pdf/274.pdf
[8] House, M.D. Season 2 Episode 1 - http://www.housemd-guide.com/season2/201acceptance.php

#ScienceEveryday / +ScienceSunday 
#Alcohol #Biochemistry #Metabolism

Image is from Wikimedia Commons and in public domain.
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Good point that the body does not make those distinctions. Once it's been created, a molecule is a molecule, no matter where it came from.
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Have them in circles
47,756 people

Johnathan Chung

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Training for covert +Ingress operations in space! :P

Samantha is the 1st Italian woman astronaut and the 3rd woman astronaut of the European Space Agency. She is scheduled for Expedition 42/43 to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2014.

She maintains a fun logbook on Google+ of her daily training and activities. L-number is the approximate countdown in days to launch. I've been reading along since L-500, and it's totally worth browsing through her profile to catch up on all her previous entries.

Former classmate Luca Parmitano also continues to post stunning photos to Google+ from on board the ISS:  https://plus.google.com/116906111425291766800/
 
L-439: Logbook

I have picked up ATV training with crewmate Sasha today.

One of the classes dealt with the operations related to ingressing ATV after docking. Sounds easy enough, but ingress operations actually take several hours.

For one thing, before opening any hatch you need to make sure that you have a good seal between Station and the vehicle itself. We call these type of procedures leak checks: you basically create a pressure differential between two volumes that are sealed off and check that the pressure equalization across the seal over a certain time is within the limits.

Once the leak check is passed and you open the hatch, it's time to take a long series of air samples, part for return to ground and part to test onboard for different contaminants.

Then you need to install an air filter and let it fully clean the ATV atmosphere for many hours. Only after the filtering is complete are you allowed to enter ATV without protective mask and goggles. If you think about it, it makes sense: on Earth, small particles fall to the ground, but in space they float, so they can easily get into your eyes or your lungs. Of course, we don't expect that on space vehicles, which are prepared in clean rooms, but better be safe than sorry!

You can see in the picture a crewmember entering ATV with protective gear. And what are those yellow things? Those are clamps that are installed on the hatch to increase the mechanic rigidity of the link between ATV and Station. After all, an ATV is a much bigger beast than a Progress or a Soyuz!

Those clamps are pretty interesting. Since you need to be able to close a hatch quickly in an emergency, they are designed so that you just need to pull on the string of one and they all come off. Just make sure you don't have your fingers in the way when the spring loaded lever snaps to the release position!

#SamLogbook

Traduzione italiana a cura di +AstronautiNEWS  qui:
http://www.astronautinews.it/tag/logbook/

En español aquí:
http://www.intervidia.com/category/bitacora/
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+Sean Cowen I echo this, he hasn't been around since 18th Sept. I hope everything is ok +Johnathan Chung 
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Johnathan Chung

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Exploring Space: Cosmic Revolutionaries

Transience is the lapidary of the human race, shaping us through perceived moments of awe and beauty by touting each experience as unique -- a limited time offer by the Universe teasing us with the idea that in the 13.7 billion years of its existence, we have emerged at the forefront to witness its presence and unravel its significance.

Yet, it doesn't matter what we know or don't know about it; it is there. We assign that meaning for ourselves. The more we explore and learn about outer worlds, the more we define or displace our role among them. A desire to explore is a fundamental desire to know who we are, to persist beyond a fading memory.

We don't climb Mount Everest because it is there; we climb it to know we are there. To know we can. To protest impermanence by achieving something greater than ourselves. To create a legacy lasting beyond our time.

So who will be our collective witness before our time expires? Perhaps no one. And in the blink of an eye, the Universe will move on.
 
Watch my latest video! Existential Bummer! 
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This is a beautiful post and video!
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As Elon Musk mentioned on his Twitter account recently, here is the video of how he envisions technology enhancing the future of design. He is able to virtually manipulate wire-frame and 3D-model images to design rocket parts using hand gestures and then visualize the process on different displays, including experimentation with an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. The product can then be made with titanium through additive manufacturing (i.e., using a 3D metal printer). Awesome!

https://twitter.com/elonmusk
 
At SpaceX, we love to play with cutting-edge tech. Our latest concept: natural gesture-based interaction with a computer-aided design program. Watch the video here: http://youtu.be/xNqs_S-zEBY
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what it cost me too get this if what too build some thing.
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A Peek at Silica Valley
Geological formation of quartzite pillars and caves

What Do You See?

I really like the #ISeeTheWorldWithScience  series started by the Science on Google+ Community. Take or select a photo and create an interesting or unique caption based on any underlying science concepts directly related to the picture. The possibilities are endless, and it's a fun way for curious people to learn something new!

Note that your contribution doesn't have to be detailed or complex (that's just my own preference) and can be a quick & simple observation. So click through to the original for more challenges and tidbits, and check out past ISTWWS posts as well:  https://plus.google.com/105917944266111687812/posts/H5eBCR9qhTi

Rock Formation and Breakdown

The primary type of rock seen in the original post below is quartzite and was created by tectonic compression of quartz sandstone [1]. The pillars probably formed mostly by erosion. Ice forming within cracks, plant growth, and rain contributed to fracturing and destruction over millions of years.

Karst development [2] is a type of geological formation where layers of rock are dissolved. Karst is more common for soluble limestone bedrock, but apparently can happen with quartzite under very specific conditions. Generally, quartzite tends to be one of the more highly resistant minerals and rocks to weathering.

Quartzite in Water

At the molecular level, quartz can be hydrated to form silicic acid: 
SiO2 (s) + 2 H2O (aq) = H4SiO4 (aq)

The extremely slow dissolving rate is due to bond breaking and hydration of silica (SiO2) at the surface. Silicic acid (H4SiO4) is very weakly acidic and a minor contributor to the more dominant mechanical weathering process because silicic acid barely ionically dissociates under normal karst conditions.

Cave Formation: Speleogenesis

This karst dissolving process actually becomes a main factor in the formation of quartzite caves [3], which could be near the location depicted in the photo (once again, click through to the original post). They are relatively rarer, though, compared to limestone or dolomite caves [4].

Side note: limestone is made of calcite, which is calcium carbonate or CaCO3. Dolomite is calcium magnesium carbonate, or CaMg(CO3)2. Over 80% calcite content is one factor that tends to favor karst conditions [5].

Disillusioned with Dissolution

If you're anticipating watching this quartzite chemical reaction in action, don't hold your breath. Saying quartzite karst is slower than molasses in January is quite an understatement. (That's two colloquialisms in one paragraph for you!)

In the laboratory setting, an estimate of the rate of quartz dissolution by water at 25°C is 10^(-17) moles per second for each cm^2 surface area [3]. In these isolated conditions, that turns out to be 0.02 micrograms dissolved per squared centimeter of surface exposure over one year (I told you it was slow).

In nature, however, organic acids from dense vegetation in quartzite terrain increase this rate substantially. Microbes in the soil also contribute by releasing (smelly) hydrogen sulfide gas, which turns into hydrosulfuric acid. Hydrothermal conditions from deeper layers can increase the temperature to several hundred degrees Celsius and speed up the reaction too.

In summary, quartzite rock morphology above ground is more likely influenced by mechanical erosion through weathering, while underground changes are due to chemical dissolution and corrosion.

Photo Location

The photo linked to in the original post appears to have been taken somewhere within Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in China [6] and possibly within a smaller popular historic area called Wulingyuan [7]. The UNESCO World Heritage site has some more great information on plants and endangered species found in that area [8].


References:

I recommend reading reference #4 as an interesting and well-written introduction to the factors involved with the science of cave formation.

[1] Quartzite - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quartzite
[2] Karst - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karst
[3] Encyclopedia of Caves and Karst Science, p. 622 - http://goo.gl/6oMIz8
[4] How Caves Form by Eniscuola Energy and Environment - http://www.eniscuola.net/assets/3860/pdf_caves_2.pdf
[5] Cave Formation by University of Wisconsin Eau Claire - http://www.uwec.edu/jolhm/cave/caveform2.htm
[6] Zhangjiajie National Forest Park - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhangjiajie_National_Forest_Park
[7] Wulingyuan - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wulingyuan
[8] UNESCO Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area - http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/640/

#ScienceEveryday   #Quartzite   #Caves   #Karst   #Geology  
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Johnathan Chung

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Another milestone for SpaceX's 10-story "Grasshopper" vertical takeoff, vertical landing vehicle!

In June, their VTVL rocket test reached an altitude of 325 meters: 
https://plus.google.com/+SpaceX/posts/Y5vHWjYq7Mr

Now they've demonstrated more aggressive steering maneuvers with lateral movement, in addition to the vertical stabilization, hovering, and descent, which is always fun to watch :D

You can test and compare your own landing skills here ;) :P 
http://www.atari.com/arcade/lunar_lander#!/arcade/lunarlander/play
 
Yesterday, Grasshopper completed its first ever lateral divert test, flying to a 250m altitude with a 100m lateral maneuver before returning to the center of the pad. Aggressive steering maneuvers like this will be an important part of landing the rocket precisely back at the launch site after reentering from space at hypersonic velocity.

http://youtu.be/2t15vP1PyoA
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That is the kind of news that belongs on the cable news instead of what Honey Booboo's latest antics are.
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Johnathan Chung

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To put 250 million years into (limited) perspective, here is an abbreviated timeline of some events:

Universe formed: 13.7 billion years ago
Earth formed: 4.6 billion years ago
Estimated abiogenesis: 3.7 - 4.2 billion years ago
First bacteria: 3.2 billion years ago
First eukaryotes: 2.1 billion years ago
First algae: 1.7 billions years ago
First multi-cellular organisms: 1.5 billion years ago
First jellyfish: 670 million years ago
First fish: 510 million years ago
First sharks: 435 million years ago
First land plants: 430 million years ago
First insects: 385 million years ago
First amphibians: 370 million years ago
First reptiles: 330 million years ago
First mammals: 240 million years ago
First non-avian dinosaurs: 225 million years ago
First birds: 220 million years ago
First flowering plants: 115 million years ago
Extinction of non-avian dinosaurs: 65 million years ago
First evidence of Megalodon: 17 million years ago
Extinction of Megalodon: 2 million years ago
First modern humans (Homo sapiens): 100,000 years ago
First evidence of arrowhead use: 64,000 years ago
First evidence of woven cloth: 36,000 years ago
Invention of the wheel: 5,300 years ago
Invention of the abacus: 4,600 years ago
Invention of masted ships: 2,700 years ago
Invention of paper: 2,200 years ago
Invention of gunpowder: 1,200 years ago
Invention of compass: 800 years ago
Invention of printing press: 571 years ago
Invention of Mercator projection map of Earth: 444 years ago
Invention of newspaper: 408 years ago
Invention of piston steam engine: 301 years ago
Invention of steam locomotive: 209 years ago
Invention of gas-fired internal combustion engine: 153 years ago
Invention of telephone: 137 years ago
Invention of incandescent lightbulb: 134 years ago
Invention of fixed-wing motorized aircraft: 109 years ago
Invention of sliced bread: 85 years ago
Invention of transistor: 66 years ago
First Polaroid camera: 65 years ago
First limited public demo of color TV broadcast: 63 years ago
First PC with keyboard controllable by 1 person: 56 years ago
First optical laser: 53 years ago
First humans on the moon: 44 years ago
First video game console: 41 years ago
First cellphone call: 40 years ago
First marketed VHS video cassette recorder: 37 years ago
First Sony Walkman portable audio cassette player: 34 years ago
First NASA Space Shuttle orbital flights: 32 years ago
First CD-ROM: 31 years ago
First commercial digital camera: 24 years ago
Invention of the Internet: 24 years ago
Invention of DVD: 18 years ago
Google founded: 15 years ago
First International Space Station Expedition: 13 years ago
First iPod: 12 years ago
YouTube founded: 8 years ago
First basic consumer brain-computer interface devices: 5 years ago
First proton collisions in the Large Hadron Collider: 4 years ago
First Google Glass prototype: 2 years ago
Launch of Mars rover Curiosity: 1 year ago
Landing of humans on Mars: 15 years from now?
Technological singularity: 50 years from now?
Kardashev Type 1 Civilization or The Great Dying Part 2: ?

Feel free to add in the comments below your own timeline factoids, either for real or for fun! :D
 
The Great Dying

Evidence of multiple extinction events throughout the history of the Earth can be found, but all evidence points to the Permian-Triassic extinction event as being the most severe. This event, nicknamed the Great Dying, eliminated over 90% of all marine species and at least 70% of terrestrial species 251.4 million years ago. Nothing was spared as everything, from trees, to insects, to microbes, were nearly wiped out. The cause is still in debate from volcanic activity, to the formation of Pangea, to a supernova, to a combination of other various events.

One of the biggest factors in the mass extinction of marine species was a mass oceanic anoxia event. This deficiency in oxygen (anoxia) and increase in sulfidic waters (euxinia) lasted up to 8 million years, with the most severe being the first 3 million years. An extreme global warming event, of which there is evidence, would have contributed to the oceanic anoxia. A reduction of equator-to-pole temperature gradient would disrupt oceanic circulation. The warmer waters would have lead to reduced oxygen absorbance. The rapid eruption of the Siberian flood-volcanic rocks, which coincides with the Great Dying, would have released high levels of methane, sulfuric gasses, and heavier isotopes. With life already struggling, an asteroid impact could have been the final blow. Although unlikely to be the main cause of the sudden extinction, it is possibly one of many causes already mentioned.

In the end, what is known is how catastrophic the Great Dying was to life on Earth. As would be expected, fossil records show how much longer it took the Earth to recover in comparison to other extinction events. Whether global warming, volcanic activity, possible bolide activity, all three, none, or one yet discovered, the extinction event of the Permian-Triassic Period left a significant mark.

Fossils courtesy of the +Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary

Sources
http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2002/28jan_extinction/

http://goo.gl/tP7vFe [pdf]
http://goo.gl/quqa8y [pdf]
http://goo.gl/C0vczx [pdf]

#scienceeveryday , #sciencesunday  (+ScienceSunday; +Allison Sekuler, +Buddhini Samarasinghe, +Chad Haney, +Rajini Rao, +Robby Bowles)
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Well...you did forget to put your own birth on there, might be worth a mention IMO
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