Put the Weather Balloon Back In The Box

Really? Sushi and beer "in space"? What's next?
Really? Sushi and beer "in space"? What's next?

What the hell is going on with this weather balloon craze? It seems that everything from beer to sushi is being sent “into space” these days. There’s only one problem… weather balloons don’t go into space!

Launching random crap into the stratosphere may be fun and give some companies a fleeting marketing opportunity, but please, quit it. Weather balloons should be used for… um, I dunno… high altitude research. And for high school/university students’ learning opportunities/science outreach. Oh, and Roswell conspiracy theories. But that’s it.

Just because you have a small camera with a gazillion megapixels, a credit card and a GPS tracker, the logic of buying a huge balloon and filling it with helium, strapping your camera to it and then running across the countryside to retrieve the wreckage seems silly. Sure, you get some nice video of cloud tops from an altitude of 20 miles, but you’re not the first to do this!

Having said all that, if you do feel compelled to create yet another YouTube video of a weather balloon launch, knock yourself out. But please, please, please don’t include the word “space” in the title, even the BBC gets confused (apparently, that weather balloon-launched Lego man went “into orbit”!). Space starts above 62 miles (known as the Kármán line). Weather balloons can make it to around 25 miles before popping. By no stretch of the imagination can balloons make it into “space.”

Also, weather balloons don’t take stuff on a “suborbital flight.” That’s about as “suborbital” as me taking a flight to Vegas.

Gripe over.

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Astroengine Live #7: Beer, Beer and Cutting-Edge Cosmology

I'm not sure whether I should laugh or cry...
I'm not sure whether I should laugh or cry...

I wasn’t actually going to mention the whole space beer thing again, heaven knows I’ve been banging on about that enough! But I just stumbled across a website advertising a film that will be made called “Beer Drinkers in Space”. (Sign me up!) There’s little information about it, but it appears to be based on a 1980’s original movie of the same name. The blog has recently announced that “Beer Drinkers in Space is readying for a March shoot in Orlando, Florida. The movie, starring Christopher Atkins and James Hong, will be directed by Iake Eisenmann.” I wonder if they need a space beer science advisor? Hmmm…

Anyhow, today’s Astroengine Live will include an airing of my 10-minute-long podcast for the 365 Days of Astronomy that aired last week (about, you guessed it, “The Link Between Beer and Space Settlement”), a behind-the-scenes look at the AAS conference last week in Long Beach (about, you guessed it, drinking free space beer), and something about magnetars, colliding black holes and hot neutron stars. Oh yes, and a run-down of the Carnival of Space. It’s going to be awesome.

Show starts at 4pm PST, 5pm MST, 6pm CST, 7pm EST… and midnight GMT!

Get Involved!

Have any articles or stories you want to contribute? Have an opinion on anything in the world of space? Email me on astro@wprtradio.com and I’ll be sure to give it a mention. Eventually, I hope to have telephone call-ins, but for now, email will do.

Listen to Astroengine Live using the Paranormal Radio player.

Check out Paranormal Radio’s live streaming vidcast, Captain Jack will be airing my show on his website too.

The Link Between Beer and the Colonization of Space

A Japanese brewery has successfully produced 100 litres of Space Beer. Hurrah!

The beer won’t actually be consumed in space (which seems a shame somehow), but it was made totally from barley grown on the International Space Station. For a lucky few, 60 people will get to sample the beer in Tokyo next month. So, what can they expect?

Alas, there won’t be much difference between the Sapporo Brewery’s 100% space barley brew when compared with a terrestrial grain as there is no measured difference in the DNA of barley grown in space when compared with barley grown on Earth. Therefore I doubt there will be any “eureka!” moment for the alcoholic beverage industry and therefore no immediate plans to launch a micro(gravity)brewery into orbit…

That said, this isn’t just a publicity stunt. The barley was grown as part of a joint Japanese/Russian experiment to test the suitability of certain crops to be grown in space. Along with the barley; wheat, peas and lettuce were also harvested. In previous tests, a Canadian research paper was presented revealing no difference between the DNA of barley grown in space when compared to the stuff grown on Earth. Although this kinda takes away from the possibility that space barley could make a better beer, it is reassuring to know that terrestrial foodstuffs can be grown in space with minimal risk of mutation (and possible hazardous side effects to space traveller’s health). Obviously more work will need to be done, with several generations of the same plant re-cultivated and harvested, but these first results are very exciting.

Hold on. Exciting? Why?

This is another step in the direction of a reduced dependence on Earth for the supply of food. If a Japanese brewery can produce 100 litres of beer from ingredients grown in space, we’ve made an important leap into the production of other consumables from ingredients grown in space. Imagine what this means for the future of mankind when we begin setting up colonies on the Moon and, eventually (in my lifetime I hope!) on Mars. The vision of cultivating food on other planets becomes one step closer to reality.

This is one of the International Space Station’s key strengths. It is a long-term scientific mission to assess man’s adaptability to a space-based environment. Growing barley in space is therefore not a commercial venture (Sapporo is not selling any of the Space Beer it produces, although the company will most certainly profit from some good exposure in the media), it is a critical step in our space-faring ability. Add this success to the recent installation of the urine recycling system added as part of the STS-126 shuttle mission to the ISS and you can see that we are beginning to cut the umbilical cord that prevents long-term manned space travel.

Hopefully, within 20 years, these techniques will have been perfected, allowing mankind to begin work on other planets, ultimately setting up self-sustaining colonies throughout the Solar System.

And all this excitement from the production of a small quantity of Space Beer…

For more, read my Universe Today article Cheers! Japanese Brewery Produces Space Beer… But What’s the Point?