- Education and Science
Flying Pastry : Sicily Sends Cannoli into the Stratosphere
What's the best way to boost your community's international profile? According to Paolo Capasso, Antonella Barbera and Fabio Leone - a trio of amateur scientists - the answer is to attach a model of a popular Italian pastry to hot air balloons and launch it into the stratosphere.
Working under the project title 'The Sicilian Space Program' (Sicily actually doesn't have any space program), filmmaker Leone told Reuters that the event is of symbolic importance as well as being a scientific achievement.
"Sicily has always been a place of negative connotations, mafia and unemployment. We wanted to lift up Sicily in our own way", he said.
To ensure that the cannolo would survive the voyage, an oven-hardened polymer clay material was used to create a model of the sweet cherry-studded pastry. Carrying the clay-model dessert into the clouds was a homemade spacecraft called 'The Cannolo Transporter', comprising a large helium-filled balloon, two cameras, a GPS tracker and a body constructed from an insulated ice cream box.
The craft, which weighed under 2 kilos, was launched on February 2nd 2014 and rose up to 29,768 meters in the sky before atmospheric pressure slowed its ascent and eventually burst it, sending it plummeting back to Earth.
The team recovered the craft from its land site in the hills near the village of Bompietro around 25 km (15 miles) from where it had been launched.
The entire "space program" cost approximately 350 euros (or USD $485.31)
The 'Sicilian Space Program' achieving their great scientific feat
Other Unusual Things that Have Been Launched Towards Space
Despite calling themselves 'The Sicilian Space Program', the group's vessel never made into orbit. While the program still gained mass media attention for its unique method in attempting to boost Sicily's profile, its not the first unusual object to be launched into the atmosphere and beyond.
In February 1951 a biopsy was taken from 31 year-old cervical cancer patient Henrietta Lacks. Without her consent, a cell line was derived from the tissue sample, which became the first ever cluster of human cells to survive outside of the body and be cultivated by scientists.
The cell line was given the name 'HeLa', a portmanteau of its donor's name, Henrietta Lacks who died 8 months later. However the cells taken from her body continued to survive and divide, doubling every 24 hours, provided they were kept warm and fed a diet consisting of clotted chicken plasma, beef embryos, blood from human umbilical cords.
The HeLa cells have been designated "immortal", as the cell line continuously divides outside of the human body. Billions of HeLa cells have been grown since the 1950s and have been studied in labs worldwide. Utilization of the cells has resulted in medical breakthroughs, such as the polio vaccine. In recent years scientists have made use of the cells as a part of HIV research.
In the 1960s HeLa cells were carried into space on American and Russian man and unmanned spacecrafts, including Discoverer XVIII. In zero-gravity conditions HeLa cells were observed dividing at a much faster rate compared to normal cells which grew normally.
In September 2006 and March 2008 scientists sent samples of salmonella bacteria to the International Space Station aboard two space shuttles. Researchers found that when the bacteria was cultured in micro-gravity conditions it became more virulent and potent.
Apparently the zero-gravity environment of space somewhat resembles the conditions inside human intestines, as both have a similar level of "fluid sheer" - a mechanical force related to the motion of fluids passing over cells.
Studies also suggest that the human immune system maybe weakened in micro-gravity or zero-gravity conditions, making astronauts particularly vulnerable to infection and illness.
While opportunities to travel in outer space are close to nil, perhaps some people may take comfort in knowing that there are growing opportunities for space travel in death. Companies such as 'Elysium Space' and 'Celestis' offer a number of packages (ranging from around $1000 to over $12,000) to launch people' cremated remains into Earth's orbit or deep space.
The concept has been popular among a number of celebrities and high profile individuals. These include several Star Trek stars, such as the series creator Gene Roddenberry, James Doohan who played Scotty in the original series and possibly Roddenberry's wife Majel Barret. Other space burials include those of Timothy Leary, a controversial writer, psychologist and psychedelic drugs advocate; and astronomer Clyde Tombaugh who discovered Pluto.
Voyager Golden Record & The Pioneer Plaques
Aboard Voyager 1 and 2 (space probes that were launched in the 1970s) are gold-plated copper disks intended as a time capsule that will inform any extraterrestrial species of man's existence and history on Earth.
The disk includes 115 images; a variety of natural sounds (e.g. the surf, wind, thunder, birds, whales, and other animals); a selection of eclectic musical classics from the East and West including Chuck Berry's 'Johnny B Goode', Bach's 'Brandenburg Concerto', Stravinsky's 'The Rite of Spring', Mozart's 'Die Zauberflöte', Mangkunegara IV 'Puspawarna', Azerbaijan's folk song 'Mugham' and Barcelata's 'El Cascabel'.
The disk also included spoken greetings from Earth-people in fifty-five languages, and printed messages from President Carter and U.N. Secretary General Waldheim.
Launched prior to the Voyager probes was Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecrafts, both of which were carrying a six- by nine-inch gold plaque diagrams of our solar system, the position of the sun and the depiction of a naked man and woman.
Kirobo the Robot Astronaut
On August 4 2013 mankind took one giant leap towards human-robot relations when a small 34 cm (13 inches) robot was launched into space on the Kounotori unmanned resupply spacecraft. Upon reaching the International Space Station the robot astronaut engaged in conversation with human colleague, Koichi Wakata.
Kirobo weighs around 2lbs, speaks Japanese, is 7 inches wide and about 6 inches deep. The robot has a number of abilities, including the capability for facial, voice and speech recognition; speech synthesis; video recording; and natural language processing.
Kirobo was created from The Kibo Robot Project, a research project conducted by Japan's Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, the University of Tokyo, Robo Garage, Toyota, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
The robot hardware and motion generation were achieved by The University of Tokyo and Robo Garage worked on the robot hardware and motion generation; while Toyota created the voice recognition function. PR Company Dentsu managed the project and created conversation content.
Also known as 'water bears', tardigrades are tiny and nearly indestructible invertebrates, being known to survive extreme conditions including intense pressures, huge doses of radiation, environmental toxins and years of being dried out. One of their survival strategies is a state of dormancy (or cryptobiosis) that allows them to temporarily shut down all but their essential biological processes and suspend their metabolism when their environment becomes non-conducive to supporting life. This has earned them the tag the "hardiest animal on earth".
When they were launched into space in 2007 and again in 2011, scientists found that they were unaffected by micro-gravity and space vacuum. Many of the tardigrades went on to lay eggs, most of which hatched. However few of the micro-animals survived after full exposure to the Sun's UV light, which is more than 1000 times stronger in space than on the Earth's surface.exposed
In 2006 astronauts Piers Sellers and Michael Fossum were tasked with spreading a putty-like heat shield repair material dubbed NOAX outside of Space Shuttle Discovery. The objective of the spacewalk was to test basic shuttle heat shield repair techniques and all went until Sellers' "favourite" spatula broke away from its tether and floated into space. Reportedly NASA tracked the spatula across the globe to make sure that it didn't pose a collision risk to existing objects in Earth's orbit.
On September 7 2013 spacecraft Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) was launched, beginning it's 100-day scientific mission. Photos released of the launch however showed that the shuttle was not the only one rocketing into the sky, as a silhouette of a hurtling frog could be seen in the smoke produced by the Minotaur IV expendable launch system.
The reason for the frog to be on the launchpad may have been due to the presence of a water pool, used to protect the pad from damage during launches and suppress noise.
- Adhikari, R. 'Little Kirobo to Become First Robot Space Talker', Tech News World, June 27 2013.
- Courtland, R. 'Water bears' are first animal to survive space vacuum', September 2008.
- Dewey, C., 'What was fake on the Internet this week: Hoverboards, Adele Dazeem and ramen murders', Washington Post, March 7 2014.
- Landecker, H., Seeking Cellvation: HeLa Cells and Immortality. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Working Paper # 25, 1996.
- Moskowitz, C.'Salmonella in Space Get Even Nastier', Space, March 24 2009.
- O'Leary, N. 'Sicilian Space Program' launches pastry into stratosphere', Reuters, Mar 6 2014.