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OpenLearn Live: 15th December 2015

Updated Tuesday, 15th December 2015

The man who gave America an anthem, and the Odditorium. Updates as Tim Peake goes into space. Then more learning through the day.

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Tim Peake III

So you can forgive us if our eyes are fixed skywards at the moment. Not literally, as the ISS isn't overhead - although we do know that Tim Peake and the station will be passing, visibly, briefly, overhead at the Open University at about 6.50pm this evening. You can find out when you can see the ISS from your point on earth with a handy calculator on the NASA website.

Just before we sign off for the night, we wanted to bring you this - a different take on the take-off, in the form of a 360degree video of the launch.

Tim Peake II

So, since our earlier reading list, Tim Peake has made it into orbit. Here's the blast off, in case you were in a meeting and the only person not surreptitiously staring at a phone at the time.

Watch: Principia mission launch replay 

Here's some further background pieces about his trip.

What will he be doing in space? A lot of science, it turns out. The Guardian describes some of the experiments he'll be working on:

A mission to Mars could take 18 months. One of the experiments Peake will take part in will work out how much food astronauts need on such a long journey. Over the 11-day test, Peake will register exactly what he eats, and drink water laced with a heavy isotope of hydrogen, which allows scientists to see how his energy levels change.

Many astronauts feel sick when they return to Earth, and part of the problem may be down to the effects of stress on their immune systems. Scientists will use brain scans, breath measurements and samples from Peake’s hair to see how the stress of spaceflight affects his immune system.

When humans first arrive in space, body fluids rise up to their heads, which may be the cause of the severe headaches and visual problems that some astronauts experience in orbit. Peake will fill in regular questionnaires to help scientists work out what causes the headaches and how best to prevent them.

If filling in questionaires doesn't sound like the sort of thing that you'd picture Flash Gordon doing, remember that he's filling out those forms in space.

What's it like living on the International Space Station? Engadget shared a timetable of a typical day:

7 AM -- Wake up
7:10 AM -- Conference
7:30 - 8 AM -- Breakfast and prep for work
8 AM - 12 PM -- Do experiments as assigned (Setting up, performing, tearing down experiments)
12 - 12:30 PM -- Lunch
12:30 - 6 PM -- More experiment work
6 - 6:30 PM -- Conference with ground crew to review that day's activities and discuss the next day
6:30 - 7:30 PM -- Dinner while watching the news taped by the ground crew from the day before and beamed up to the station
7:30 - midnight -- Clean up and read the procedures for the next day, family time and time to look out the window to see the glorious views outside.
Sometime within the day, 5-6 days a week -- Two-hour exercise (30 min. on the treadmill and 70 min. of resistance exercise)
Fridays -- Astronauts work on personal projects and watch movies together as a crew

HowStuffWorks has more detail on some of the challenges of living in space:

Microgravity presents a challenging environment. Whether you're sleeping, changing clothes or working, unless it's secured in place, everything in the ISS around you floats. Even something as seemingly simple as getting up in the morning and getting dressed isn't all that simple. Imagine opening up your closet only to have its contents come flying out at you. On getting ready in the morning, [Astronaut Sarah] Magnus states, "When I take off my PJ's, they float around in the crew quarters until I gather them up and immediately fasten them down behind a band or something. Suffice it to say it is easy to lose things up here!"

This afternoon at 5pm, the Principa mission will be hosting a livestream event.


Tim Peake: a short reading list

Today, Tim Peake is heading off to the International Space Station. Here's a quick round-up of some interesting related pieces.

At BBC iWonder: How I became an astronaut

Pilots, like myself, required a minimum of 1,000 hours experience flying different high-performance aircraft as well as a degree in natural sciences, medicine, engineering, IT or mathematics. I'd spent the last few years working as a helicopter pilot, flight instructor and test pilot, and coupled with my academic qualifications, I was ideally placed to apply. It was too good an opportunity to miss. My online application joined more than 8,000 others.

At NASA, coverage of the mission:

Astronauts Tim Kopra of NASA and Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko of Roscosmos have boarded the Russian Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft that will carry them to the International Space Station (ISS). All is on track for lift off at 6:03 a.m. EST. NASA Television coverage of the launch will begin at 5 a.m. Watch on NASA TV or at:

The crew is scheduled to dock to the station at 12:24 p.m. after a six-hour journey. The trio will join Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly of NASA and Flight Engineers Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov, both of Roscosmos, bringing the total to six crew members aboard the ISS after operating with only three crew members for four days.

The incoming crew replaces Expedition 45 Flight Engineers Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos and Kimiya Yui of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), who all returned to Earth Dec. 11, 2015. While both Kopra and Malenchenko have previously worked aboard the orbiting laboratory, this trip marks the first for Peake.

From Newsnight, Jeremy Paxman asks Tim Peake what's the point of astronauts?

He spoke to Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman about the mission, why the UK government is choosing to fund him to the tune of £16m and what the point of human space exploration is.

On OpenLearn: are space missions too expensive?

What came across loud and clear is that there is an opinion that all the money that is spent on space science may not be worth it. I strongly disagree. This may be of no surprise seeing that I have already chosen to pursue a career in space science but it actually goes a bit deeper than that. I really do believe that what we as a civilisation gain from space missions far outweighs the millions of pounds that they require.

I won’t list all the points and counter points of the podcast since 1) hopefully there will be a link for you to listen yourself at some point and 2) the other members of the podcast won’t have the chance of reply since it is only myself writing this. What I will do is ramble on about why I think space science is all worth it.

On OpenLearn: five astronauts who are their nations' only space travellers


I was born on Christmas Day: Robert L Ripley

This week, we're focusing on the lives of people who share a birthday - December 25th. Yesterday, we met Dorothy Wordsworth. Today, it's Robert L Ripley.

Robert L Ripley Copyright free  image Icon Copyright free: Public domain

Nowadays, Ripley is probably best known through the company which carries his name, and attractions scattered about the globe ranging from an sideways building in Orlando to a range of Guinness Record themed visitor centres. It's quite an empire, and not bad for one built on a simple newspaper strip.

Ripley's Believe It Or Not first appeared in the New York Globe in 1918, illustrating some extraordinary feats from the athletic world. The format was a hit with readers, and Ripley expanded his attention to eye-catching trivia of all kinds. The strip went weekly, then daily. It moved to a larger paper, and then was picked up by William Randolph Hurst's King Features Syndicate - by the early 1930s, readers of 300 newspapers across America. (Hearst, you'll recall, had another part in one of the subjects of our start-up segments - San Simeon.)

He went on to create a small industry out of 'well, did you evah?' moments - films followed; books, obviously. He took his format to radio. The exhibition halls - which he dubbed the Odditoriums - proved just as durable as the cartoon strip in which they had their roots. A television series was started, but he died during the first series. Ripley had a fatal heart attack during the filming of an episode on death rituals - the sort of coincidence in which he delighted.

For what might seem a throwaway newspaper strip, Ripley took things very seriously. Challenged over a claim that Charles Lindbergh was the 67th, and not first, man to cross the Atlantic non-stop by air, Ripley was able to point to Alcock and Brown, and a two dirigible crossings carrying upwards of 30 passengers. He was able to have such confidence in his facts because he employed fact-checkers (an idea which seems to be occuring to US TV network news as something of a novelty in 2015.)

Although he was diligent about his strip, he was vague with details of his own life. He travelled widely, but claimed to have visited 200 countries - a total that he reached by including such nations as The Garden Of Eden. That's not an answer that would be acceptable on Pointless. Even the date of his birth was a matter of some slipperiness - some sources place his birthday in February, but the NNDB has settled on December 25th, 1890 and that's good enough for us.

To end in the way Ripley would have liked, two believe-it-or-not stories from his life.

First, he published a drawing by twelve year-old boy in 1934 - making him the first person to pay Charles Schulz for his work.

Secondly: in 1929, he highlighted the fact that America had no national anthem. Despite popular belief that the Star-Spangled Banner was the nation's anthem, there was no official anthem at all. As a direct response to his strip, a petition was gathered and in 1931 the US Congress officially adopted the tune as an anthem. Ripley had many achievements during his life, but perhaps helping secure such a key part of his countrypeople's identity is his greatest legacy.

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