Apollo 13 & Brain Training | SciByte 91

Apollo 13 & Brain Training | SciByte 91

We take a look at critiquing the Apollo 13 movie, training your brain, inspecting power lines, SpaceShipTwo, solar cells, Viewer Feedback, Curiosity news, and as always take a peek back into history and up in the sky this week.

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Show Notes:

Apollo 13, Truth vs Movie

  • Many people have seen the Apollo 13 movie, but sometimes the truth is stranger, and sometimes more amazing, than fiction.
  • This is from a 2001 interview with Thomas K. Mattingly II, the member of Apollo 13 who was bumped from the roster days before launch because of exposure to the German measles.
  • Crew Breakdown
  • Prime Crew : Commander – James Lovell, Command Module Pilot – Kenneth Mattingly, Lunar Module Pilot – Fred Haise
  • Backup Crew : Commander – John Young, Command Module Pilot – John Swigert, Lunar Module Pilot – Charles Duke
  • Flight Crew : Commander – James Lovell, Command Module Pilot – John Swigert, Lunar Module Pilot – Fred Haise
  • Mattingly Dropped From the Crew
  • Roughly 2 weeks before launch the crew was able to go home to visit and spend time with family
  • Charles Duke, a member of the backup crew, had attended a picnic where a family with a kid who had the measles which meant he was considered exposed
  • All members of the prime and backup crew had their blood tested, and it turned out that Mattingly had never contracted the measles and was considered a risk
  • Two days before launch he was driving and turned on the radio to head that he had been replaced by another member of the backup crew, Jack Swigered
  • As neither a member of the official back up crew or part of any official team in mission control, Mattingly did get to come in, but simple bounced around between teams
  • \”Houston, We Had a Problem\” … but What Kind of Problem
  • All problem solving problems were in part based on the rule that structural things don\’t break
  • \”Joints can leak, shorts can happen to wires, but physical structure doesn’t break,\” but physical structures don\’t break
  • Hardware goes through a lot of testing and has margins of safety, so they never looked at those kind of problems
  • The teams were trying to figure out what instrumentation failed when Flight Director, Gene Kranz, said “Sy, didn’t Jim say that he looked out the window and there’s stuff out in the sky and he heard something?” He says, “Does that sound like instrumentation to you?”
  • \”Failure is not an option\”
  • This catch phrase said by Gene Kranz, the lead flight director, in the movie was never actually said, it was based on a mentality
  • In an interview he said \”No, when bad things happened, we just calmly laid out all the options, and failure was not one of them. We never panicked, and we never gave up on finding a solution.\”
  • It was from the very first moment they assumed they would succeed and didn\’t do anything that got in the way.
  • The Return Debate
  • What to do and how to get back to earth was a rather \’charged\’ debate
  • One group wasn\’t sure what had happened and what the condition of anything was and didn\’t want to touch anything but to figure things out first
  • The other group saw the limited resources and wanted to turn around and come back immediately before the batteries ran out
  • Sim Preparation, Actually Not \’On The Fly\’
  • Thanks to the simulation training program things may not have been exactly the same or in the same order, but everything ended having been done before
  • During the mission didn’t actually solve any problems in the simulator, they ran those procedures, verified them, made some red lines
  • LM Lifeboat | In a previous sim about a contaminated atmosphere, they had prepared what they called a LM lifeboat, which meant they had to get the crew out of the command module and into the lunar module, and stay there
  • Midcourse Correction | On the way back the spacecraft started drifting slightly so they had to make a course correction, this too had been practiced in a sim at some point
  • Return Trajectory | Contrary to the nail biting moments in the movie, you don’t need to be the nearest five degrees. They had practiced it in simulation before and found they didn\’t have to be very accurate
  • Inertial Unit \”Semi-Apocryphal\” Story
  • Maintains a reference that lets you know where the whole universe is in terms of attitude so you can find stars, planets , etc
  • These units are notoriously very delicate, and they were going to have to bring them up from scratch
  • In order to achieve the precision needed they were allowed to run at a temperature of near 70, and tested at plus or minus 10.
  • During the mission they didn\’t know what temperature they were, but they knew they were below freezing
  • The story is that one of the employees at the company had accidentally had left had an IMU in the back of the station wagon during a snowstorm the winter before
  • When he discovered that and brought it back into the lab he hooked it up and tested it without any problems
  • \’Monday Morning Quarterbacking\’
  • A few weeks before the launch engineers saw some kind of a problem with detanking the oxygen from the service module, it took all night and a good bit of the next day to review the problem
  • The engineers had seen a problem like this before, and they could boil the oxygen out even though the regular drain system wasn’t working, it took eight hours of 65-volt DC power from the ground-support equipment to dissipate the oxygen.
  • Due to an oversight in replacing an underrated component during a design modification, this turned out to severely damage the internal heating elements of the tank
  • The oxygen tank that was discussed prior to launch was, in fact, the culprit in the explosion; although it was damaged in a the process and way that wasn\’t anticipated
  • Multimedia
  • Damage to Apollo 13 | Astronomy Picture of the Day
  • YouTube | Houston, We Have a Problem | Apollo 13 Movie Clip 4/11 | movieclips
  • YouTube | Sim Prep | Square Peg in a Round Hole | Apollo 13 Movie Clip 7/11 | movieclips
  • YouTube | The Return Debate | A New Mission | Apollo 13 Movie Clip 5/11 | movieclips
  • YouTube | \”Failure Is Not an Option\” | Apollo 13 Movie Clip 6/11 | movieclips
  • YouTube | Real Footage | Apollo 13 – Houston, We\’ve Got A Problem | AIRBOYD
  • YouTube | Real Footage | Apollo 13 Post Flight Press Conference (1970) | AIRBOYD
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Apollo 13 Mission Highlights | NASA.gov
  • Mission Transcripts: Apollo 13 | jsc.NASA.gov
  • T. K. Mattingly Oral History | jsc.NASA.gov
  • Ken Mattingly Explains How the Apollo 13 Movie Differed From Real Life | UniverseToday.com


Train Your Brain

  • Using sea snail nerve cells, scientists have reversed memory loss by determining when the cells were primed for learning
  • Scientists were able to help the cells compensate for memory loss by retraining them through the use of optimized training schedules
  • The Study Model
  • The study is built on a 2012 investigation that pioneered a memory enhancement strategy that showed a significant increase in long-term memory in healthy sea snails
  • This study\’s co-lead author and a research scientist has developed a sophisticated mathematical model that can predict when the biochemical processes in the snail\’s brain are primed for learning
  • The model is based on five training sessions scheduled at different time intervals ranging from 5 to 50 minutes
  • The model can generate 10,000 different schedules and identify the schedule most attuned to optimum learning
  • Memory Impairment
  • Memory is due to a change in the strength of the connections among neurons. In many diseases associated with memory deficits, the change is blocked
  • A senior research scientist simulated a brain disorder in a cell culture by taking sensory cells from the sea snails and blocking the activity of a gene that produces a memory protein
  • This resulted in a significant impairment in the strength of the neurons\’ connections, which is responsible for long-term memory
  • Testing the Model
  • To mimic training sessions, cells were administered a chemical at intervals prescribed by the mathematical model
  • After five training sessions, which like the earlier study were at irregular intervals, the strength of the connections returned to near normal in the impaired cells
  • This methodology may apply to humans if we can identify the same biochemical processes in humans and suggest a new strategy for treatments of cognitive impairment
  • Optimization in the Future
  • Mathematical models might help design therapies that optimize the combination of training protocols with traditional drug treatments
  • Combining these two could enhance might increase effectiveness while compensating at least in part for any limitations or undesirable side effects of drugs
  • These two approaches are likely to be more effective together than separately and may have broad generalities in treating individuals with learning and memory deficits.\”
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Scientists reverse memory loss in animal brain cells | MedicalXPress


Inspecting Power Lines

  • New Invention
  • Mechanical engineers at the University of California has invented a robot designed to scoot along utility lines, searching for damage and other problems that require repairs.
  • The prototypes is made of off-the-shelf electronics and plastic parts printed on an inexpensive 3D printer
  • Utility companies may also use manned or unmanned helicopters equipped with infrared imaging to inspect lines, the current line inspection robots are large, complex, and expensive
  • The SkySweeper prototype could be scaled up for less than $1,000, making it significantly more economical than the two models of robots currently used to inspect power lines
  • SkySweeper could be outfitted with induction coils that would harvest energy from the power line itself, making it possible for the robot to stay deployed for weeks or months at a time
  • By strengthening the clamps so they can release from the rope and swing down the line, one end to the other, thereby swinging past cable support points
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | SkySweeper Robot Makes Inspecting Power Lines Simple and Inexpensive | JacobsSchoolNews
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • SkySweeper robot makes inspecting power lines simple and inexpensive | Phys.org

Virgin Galactic Test Flight

  • Flight Test
  • Virgin Galactic\’s suborbital SpaceShipTwo successfully conducted its first \”cold flow\” flight test above the Mojave Desert on April 12
  • During the test, oxidizer was run through the rocket\’s propulsion system and out the back nozzle of the ship, though the vehicle\’s rocket engine was not turned on
  • The next big step will probably be conducting a full flight test, igniting the rocket in the air.
  • Once SpaceShipTwo is operational, WhiteKnightTwo will carry the vehicle up to an altitude of about 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) before releasing it.
  • After separation, SpaceShipTwo will accelerate to 2,500 mph (4,000 km/h) and eventually pass an altitude of 62 miles (100 kilometers), the point at which passengers are considered astronauts
  • The spaceship will reach a peak altitude of 68 miles (110 km), giving the six passengers and two pilots about five minutes of weightlessness
  • Upon re-entry, SpaceShipTwo will be able to land on a conventional runway
  • A seat on board a SpaceShipTwo flight costs $200,000. More than 550 people have put down deposits to reserve a spot
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube Clip | Release and Rocket Start
  • YouTube Clip | In Orbit
  • YouTube Clip | Weightless M-M\’s
  • YouTube | Virgin Galactic 8 5min video
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Virgin Galactic\’s SpaceShipTwo Makes Stunning Leap Toward Private Spaceflight | Space.com

More Efficient Solar Cells

  • A silicon solar cell can never generate more than one electron from a single photon which severely limit the conversion efficiency of photovoltaic cells, and scientists have spent decades looking for workarounds
  • In Solar cells if an incoming photon has too little energy, the cell won’t absorb it and if a photon has too much, the excess is wasted as heat
  • What’s New?
  • The key to greater solar efficiency might be an organic dye called pentacene
  • A photovoltaic cell based on pentacene can generate two electrons from a single photon-more electricity from the same amount of sun.
  • The key is a phenomenon called singlet-exciton fission, in which an arriving photon generates two “excitons” (excited states) that can be made to yield two electrons.
  • Previous researchers had accomplished similar tricks using quantum dots (tiny pieces of matter that behave like atoms) and deep-ultraviolet light
  • Why it works is still not particularly clear, and for now, the pentacene cell works only with an extremely narrow band of visible light
  • It should be possible to create a pentacene coating for silicon solar cells that boosts the total conversion efficiency from today’s 25 percent to a shade over 30 percent-a significant jump
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • The Solar Cell That Turns 1 Photon into 2 Electrons: Scientific American | ScientificAmerican.com



  • **”The Hubby” | Check This Out! **
  • TETRIS to Treat Lazy Eye?!?
  • A research team has used Tetris in an innovative approach to treat adult amblyopia, commonly known as \”lazy eye.\”
  • Amblyopia is the most common cause of visual impairment in childhood from poor processing in the brain results in suppression of the weaker eye by the stronger eye
  • It affects up to 3 per cent of the population and if not treated early, lazy eye can lead to permanent loss of vision in the weak eye
  • Previous treatments focused largely on covering the stronger eye in order to force the weaker eye to work and has proven only partially successful in children and have been ineffective in adults
  • The key to improving vision for adults was to enable the two eyes to cooperate for the first time in a given task
  • The adult human brain has a significant degree of plasticity and this provides the basis for treating a range of conditions where vision has been lost as a result of a disrupted period of early visual development in childhood
  • Using head-mounted video goggles we were able to display the game dichoptically, where one eye was allowed to see only the falling objects, and the other eye was allowed to see only the ground plane objects
  • By distributing information between the two eyes in a complementary fashion, the video game trains both eyes to work together, instead of making only the weak eye work like in patching
  • Researchers tested a sample of 18 adults with amblyopia; nine played the game monocularly with the weaker eye, while the stronger eye was patched; the other nine played the same game dichoptically, where each eye was allowed to view a separate part of the game.
  • After two weeks, the group playing the dichoptic game showed a dramatic improvement in the vision of the weaker eye as well as in 3-D depth perception
  • The monocular patching group, who had showed only a moderate improvement, was switched to the new dichoptic training, the vision of this group also improved dramatically
  • The suitability of this treatment in children will be assessed later this year in a clinical trial across North America
  • Nine of the participants wore the goggles an hour a day for two weeks while playing the popular game Tetris
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Researchers Treat Lazy Eye With Tetris | PopSci.com
  • Lazy Eye Disorder Treated With Video Game Tetris | ScienceDaily


  • Accurate Lasers
  • NASA\’s Curiosity Mars rover targeted the laser of the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument with remarkable accuracy for assessing the composition of the wall of a drilled hole and tailings that resulted from the drilling
  • ChemCam fired its laser 150 times (5 bursts of 30 shots, each burst at a different target point) on the drill tailings between the two holes and 300 times (10 bursts of 30 shots) in the drill hole itself
  • The same day, ChemCam\’s remote micro-imager (RMI) captured images of the laser pits: small craters in the loose tailing and tiny scrapes on the hard surface of the hole walls
  • Conjunction
  • YouTube | Mars in a Minute: What Happens When the Sun Blocks our Signal? | JPLnews
  • Multimedia
  • Image Galleries at JPL and Curiosity Mulimedia
  • Social Media
  • Curiosity Rover @MarsCuriosity
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Accurate pointing by Curiosity | Mars.jpl.NASA.gov


Looking back

  • April 28, 1896 : 117 years ago : First Manual Parachute Jump : The first jump with the Army manually operated army parachute was made by Leslie LeRoy Irvin in Dayton, Ohio. This was the first test of this type, known as the \”free parachute,\” with which the operator jumps before pulling the ripcord. He jumped at an altitude of 1,500-ft from a de Havilland DH-9 biplane while flying at 100-mph over McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio. He broke his ankle upon landing on the ground. Later, he founded the Irving Air Chute, Co., now Irvin Aerospace which business name resulted from an spelling error on the incorporation papers

Looking up this week

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