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    The Joy and Pain of Wearing NASA's Spacesuits

    During my time working as a contractor for NASA, I was presented with several opportunities to wear an Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU), the suit that spacewalking astronauts have used since the beginning of the space shuttle program. While the majority of my experience as a suit-wearing "test subject" was exciting and enjoyable, it wasn't all fun and games. The EMU has a way of showcasing the humility of its occupants and I was no exception.

    When people ask me about my experience in the EMU, I usually tell them, "The only thing better than getting into an EMU is getting back out." It may sound cavalier, but it's the most efficient wording that reflects the love-hate relationship that I slowly developed with the suit. I never turned down a chance to wear the EMU in any capacity. I was often sleepless with excitement the night before. At the same time, I was never sad for those events to come to an end. All I wanted was to slither my body out of its puffy man-made cocoon and pop a few ibuprofen to ward off the aches and pains that often followed.

    The Extravehicular Mobility Unit has been worn by astronauts and lucky test subjects for decades. (NASA photo)

    The fun parts of being in the suit are pretty obvious. Who wouldn't jump at the chance to play junior astronaut? Those good parts always outweighed the bad. It took a while for many of the downsides to emerge, but some unexpected challenges just couldn't wait. This story reflects the beginning of my gradual awakening to the indignities, discomforts, and dangers that are inextricably linked to the fun and exhilaration of wearing an EMU.

    If the Suit Fits…

    Rather than being a custom-tailored suit for each astronaut and test subject, the EMU is a modular system consisting of several components (legs, arms, etc.)…each available in a few different sizes. It is your specific combination of parts that makes the suit fitted to you. Nailing down the sizing for someone is a process that requires a minimum of three separate events. Some astronauts come back again and again during their career to address trouble spots or accommodate changes in their body.

    During the first sizing step, I had to stand partially naked while technicians compiled a long list of my body measurements. This data allowed engineers to take a preliminary stab at what components would fit me.

    The EMU is a modular system with many of the components available in different sizes. The gloves have the widest variety of sizing options. (Bill Brassard photo)

    A week or two after getting measured, I was allowed to try on a few different sets of gloves that had been picked out for me. Of all the different EMU components, the gloves have the largest variety of sizes to choose from. For these types of events, the gloves are attached to arm components within a vacuum box. The pressure difference afforded by the box provides the same feel as gloves attached to a pressurized suit, but with a much smaller overhead.

    Another week or so after choosing my favorite gloves, it was time to go all the way and put on the full EMU. I don't recall having any apprehension about this…just excitement. I had watched people get into and out of EMUs every day as part of my normal job duties. It was always a non-event for them, so why should I be any different?

    "Let's Go to Mars" Panel at Silicon Valley Comic Con

    At Silicon Valley Comic Con, Adam hosts a panel discussing what it would take for a manned mission to Mars. Joining him are author Andy Weir and planetary scientist Chris McKay, who is actively involved in planning for NASA's future Mars missions.

    Science Communication Caution - Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project - 3/29/16
    The gang gets together this week to talk about interesting observations of prime numbers, Google's DeepMind Artificial Intelligence, and the tricky thing about being a science communicator. We discuss at length the responsibilities of science communication and the complexities of internet rhetoric.
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    Simple Feats of Science: Bed of Nails

    We take on this classic science experiment! Zeke Kossover from the Exploratorium explains how he built a bed of nails that he can comfortably lie on, and then we smash a concrete block on top of him! The science is simple, but it's still fun to watch every single time.

    Visualizing Energy Inside a Microwave Oven!

    Have you ever wondered why your microwave oven has a rotating turntable, or what exactly makes water boil inside a microwave? This week, we're joined by Zeke Kossover from The Exploratorium to demonstrate an experiment that visualizes microwave energy in the form of a light show. Plus, we show how glass can absorb microwaves by melting a soda bottle!

    Hamilton and The Three Body Problem SPOILERCAST! - Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project - 3/01/16
    The latest book we're gushing over is Liu Cixin's The Three Body Problem, a science-fiction story with ideas that blew our minds. Adam, Norm, and Will review the book and discuss its concepts in a Spoilercast! Adam also talks about his current obsession with Hamilton: The Musical, and we hear Norm's best segue yet.
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    Adam Savage's 'The Martian' Spacesuit Project

    It's no secret that we've been enamored with the spacesuit from The Martian. From the moment we saw the costume in the film's first teaser trailer, we were impressed by designer Janty Yates' imagining of near-future NASA gear, and special effects studio FBFX's ability to bring those designs to reality. It's no surprise then that Adam has been looking forward to building a replica of the costume. But it's not going to be easy--it's a project much bigger in scope than a One Day Build. It's a project that's going to take many months, and we want to bring you along for the build.

    Over the course of this year, Adam and Frank Ippolito will be working on building their own The Martian spacesuit replicas, using the processes and materials of the original fabricators. We've been given unprecedented access to one of the costumes to document and create reference, but that's only the beginning. There will be more research, experimenting with materials, and a whole lot of prototyping, building, polishing, and finishing work. Every month, we're going to show you the progress of Adam's suit replica, with in-depth videos for the Tested Premium member community. In this new video series, you'll get to see every new discovery, every part of the fabrication process, and yes, all the mistakes as well.

    We're excited to show and share for the first time Adam's entire replica building process for a prop of this complexity. It's not going to be easy. Failure may be an option, but one thing's for certain: this is going to be fun! Join the Tested Premium Member Community today to follow along with this build and get exclusive updates!

    Replicating 'The Martian' Spacesuit, Part 1: Building Reference

    Adam Savage has been granted unprecedented access to one of his favorite movie costumes: the spacesuit from The Martian. Over the course of this year, Adam aims to replicate the spacesuit, keeping as close to the original as possible. The first step is to study and document the prop, creating reference through photos, sketches, patterning, and even photogrammetry! (Bring home The Martian on Blu-ray™, DVD & Digital HD today.)

    Watch This Animated Short: "We Can't Live Without Cosmos"

    This 2014 animated short from Russian director Konstantin Bronzit is nominated for an Academy Award, and tells the poignant story of two best friends who have dreamed since childhood of becoming cosmonauts. It's a story told without a single word uttered, but says volumes about friendship, humanity, and the loneliness endured by the brave men and women who put their lives at stake in pursuit of the final frontier.

    Breaking Glass Panes with Car Speakers!

    In our second episode of Simple Feats of Science, Zeke Kossover from The Exploratorium demonstrates how to use cheap car speakers to break a pane of glass. Unlike shattering a wine glass with sound, this experiment uses a low frequency of sound that won't hurt your ears. Watch that glass bend and then break!

    Studying How We Type with Finger Tracking

    Aalto University recently conducted a story about the correlation of finger and eye movement with performance (speed and accuracy) for everyday typing. 52 tracking markers on subjects' fingers were recorded at 240 frames per second, alongside 30fps eye-tracking data to analyze which fingers are used to press which keys, and the differences in typing strategies. The researchers found several surprising results, including that self-taught typists can reach the performance of touch typists, even when using fewer fingers and "hunt-and-peck" techniques.

    In Brief: The Physics of OK Go's Zero-G Music Video

    Yesterday, OK Go dropped their latest music video, Upside Down and Inside Out, which was shot entirely in an airplane making parabolic flights. The result was a stunning choreographed performance in simulated zero-gravity, running over three minutes long. Watching the jaw-dropping video isn't enough to give you an appreciate for the amount of prep work and logistics that was needed to film the piece--three weeks in Russia (by the Cosmonaut Training Center) to design, rehearse, and perform the video. OK Go shared the making-of process in the music video's FAQ page, which explains how each take of the video consisted of eight periods of weightlessness, lasting 27 seconds each. For the physics of how a production team could film with those constraints, Wired's Rhett Allain and Slate's Phil Plait each explain the science of the music video stunt. Astronauts on the ISS, the ball's in your court.

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    Destroying a Soda Can with a Ping Pong Ball!

    We're introducing a new series this week demonstrating Simple Feats of Science! Kishore and Norm are joined by Zeke Kossover from San Francisco's Exploratorium science museum to show how you can destroy a soda can with a ping pong ball moving at almost the speed of sound! (Thanks to the Exploratorium for sharing with us these experiments.)

    What it Takes to Keep a B-29 Superfortress Flying

    Last month, we looked at the dedication and financial resources that are required to keep a WWII-era P-51 Mustang in flyable condition. It is definitely not for the meek or frugal. As civilian-owned warbirds go, the P-51 probably represents the middle of the road in terms of overhead. Many aspiring warbird owners seek former trainer and liaison aircraft because they are generally much easier and less costly to maintain and operate than fighters. At the opposite end of the scale are large, multi-engine transports and bombers. While there are a few of these pricier treasures in private hangars, they often demand resources that only a diverse and well-funded organization can provide.

    When it comes to WWII airplanes, few are bigger and none are more complex than the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. I recently had an opportunity to get an up-close look at FIFI, the only airworthy B-29 in the world. The airplane was at the Vintage Flying Museum in Fort Worth, Texas undergoing off-season maintenance. Just by seeing the huge airplane in the hangar with its massive engines uncowled, it was immediately obvious that it takes a tremendous operation to keep her flying. I later spoke with Kim Pardon and Brad Pilgrim from the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), the nonprofit organization that has owned and operated FIFI for more than 40 years. They were able to provide an insider's perspective of what's involved to keep FIFI in the air year after year.

    Rininger – Keeping FIFI airworthy is a huge financial commitment. All things considered, each hour of flight costs about $10,000. (Photo courtesy Tyson Rininger/Commemorative Air Force)

    Learning About FIFI

    The CAF has numerous WWII-era aircraft operating from various airports around the country…including other 4-engined bombers. Yet, FIFI is the only airplane in your fleet that has a full-time crew. What is it about this airplane that demands the extra resources?

    Brad Pilgrim - FIFI is probably the most maintenance intensive airplane in the CAF's fleet. In order to keep up with the required maintenance and the flying schedule, we have to keep a couple of full-time mechanics on staff.

    Kim Pardon - FIFI is also the only CAF aircraft that generates the kind of revenue it takes to sustain this level of maintenance. Most other CAF aircraft rely primarily on volunteer maintenance. The organization has a lot of dedicated and talented volunteers. Because we (the B-29 crew) travel almost 24 weeks a year we rely heavily on our paid maintenance staff to travel with us and help us fulfill all of our tour obligations.

    Beastcam Photogrammetry Rig Scans Live Animals

    Biology processor Duncan Irschick of UMass Amherst introduces the Beastcam, a four-camera rig that can rapidly take photos of live animals for generating 3D photogrammetry models. The rig, which was conceived of when Irschick found it challenging to 3D model a live shark, can shoot 60 photos in about 15 seconds. The photos are sent through software like Autodesk's 123D Catch and used to study body form in animals and complex movements. Irschick hopes to take it back to Florida to test it on a shark!

    Competition to Make Real-Life Star Trek Tricorders

    The technology imagined by science fiction has driven lots of innovation and interesting research. The Tricorder XPRIZE is a competition to create a device that replicates the functionality of Star Trek's medical Tricorder--one piece of hardware that can diagnose and monitor health conditions.

    Steve Erenberg Collects Scientific Instruments of Yore

    From Science Friday: "For more than 30 years, Steve Erenberg has collected early scientific and medical objects and instruments. Packed with shelves and displays brimming with Victorian medical masks, surreal anatomical models, and futuristic test prostheses, Erenberg's store/museum in Peekskill, New York offers a whirlwind tour of long-forgotten devices. While some items were shams devised by quacks, others represent the best possible treatment for their time. Regardless of its actual function, each item in Erenberg's collection has a unique aesthetic value."