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    Making a B.F. Goodrich Mercury Mark IV Helmet, Part 1

    When Adam commissioned us to make a hybrid NASA Mercury space program suit, we didn’t give much thought to the helmet or really any of the “hard parts” with the exception of the neck and wrist rings. We just figured that if anyone was interested in buying another suit, they would have to find a helmet on their own, and that we’d probably have to re-cast or find standalone MIG neck rings. Adam advised us they would be hard to find.

    But initial feedback from prospective customers indicated that we might not be able to sell many suits without including helmets and accessories. Pictured below are Adam’s suits. One with rings on the left and one without rings on right:

    Since Adam supplied the neck ring for the first build and we returned it to him, we had to find another for our third suit. We weren’t really in a hurry to find one but weeks passed and we saw nothing except MIG helmets with rings, so we bought one hoping maybe we could sell the MIG helmet later. The upside of buying the helmet and ring was understanding how the ring locked onto the helmet as Adam never sent us his helmet at this point for scrutiny. Now that we’ve had a closer look at his helmet during the Comic-Con Incognito walk, we can see he manufactured a similar locking system we have based on the MIG helmet and neck ring design.

    I remember Adam saying he needed another neck ring so I kept looking and eventually found one and bought it. Because it was expensive we considered recasting it in four-part molds for future projects. It wouldn’t be functional but may look good enough for some buyers.

    When I told Adam what we were planning and asked him where he got his helmets he offered to send us his spare helmet blank to re-cast but we would have to return it as it was his only one. I’ve never had quite this experience before. We’ve been lent stuff in the past but nothing that couldn’t be replaced easy enough. It was very generous for Adam to send his helmet so we didn't have to sculpt one from scratch, and really aligns with his philosophy of opening these projects up to makers. Above is a photo of what he sent over. We were absolutely thrilled to have access to it!

    Soviet Moon Colonization Dreams, Circa 1965

    Produced in 1965, this Soviet documentary was produced to educate citizens about Soviet rocket technology and what astronomers knew back then about the Moon. Its second half is a fantastic imagination of how humans might colonize the Moon in the distant future. Just great retrofuturist fodder, even if you can't understand the Russian. "The film consists of two parts: popular scientific and science-fiction. In the first part in the popular form the modern (1965) scientific convergence on the Moon are stated. In the second part the director and the artist create a picture of the future of the Moon." More context about the production of this video on The NewStatesman. (h/t io9)

    Here's The Drill Designed for Space Mining

    Like many good ideas, Dave Boucher’s Moon mining drill started as a sketch on a napkin. That was in 1999 (just one year after the space drilling adventures of Armageddon). But sometime this fall, his company Deltion Innovation’s latest prototype of a real Moon drill will go through one of its final tests. And with any luck, DESTIN — which stands for Drilling Exploration & Sample Technology Integrated — will be chosen to spearhead NASA’s lunar prospecting mission in 2018 or 2019, bringing us one step closer to leaving Earth forever and moving to the Moon.

    “Space mining has now become a must-do activity for every space agency in the world,” Boucher said in an interview earlier this year. “They all recognize that they have to be able to go mine in space just to support the missions that they're planning.”

    In other words, space mining isn’t so much about monetizing the supposed wealth of precious resources contained on the Moon’s surface (though, yes, there is apparently a lot). Not yet, at least. For now, it’s all about figuring out how to make future missions, manned or otherwise, self-sustainable — what’s known as In-Situ Resource Utilization — should we have any hope for the long-term exploration and colonization of world’s beyond our own.

    Of central interest for NASA’s prospecting mission are the pockets of water ice that satellite imagery believe exist in the Moon’s Polar Regions. “Water and oxygen extracted from lunar soil could be used for life support,” suggests a NASA document describing the eventual mission, “and methane produced from the Martian atmosphere could be used to refuel spacecraft for the trip back to Earth.”

    But we don’t know it’s there for sure. And that’s where Boucher’s drill comes in.

    How To Make A Replica Hybrid Mercury IV Pressure Suit

    (Editor's note: One of Adam's favorite costumes is his Mercury program spacesuit, which we've previously featured here on Tested. It's one of the costumes he wore at this year's Comic-Con. Elizabeth Galeria of The Magic Wardrobe, who made the costume in collaboration with Adam, reached out to us to share the process of designing and patterning this suit to meet Adam's specific needs and requests. This is the first in a series of articles in which Elizabeth and her partner explain their fabrication process fort his project. Feel free to ask Elizabeth--Tested user "antylyz"--questions directly in the comments section below.)

    An accurate replica of any costume or prop is only as good as the source images and what budget a “detail enthusiast” is willing to spend to get what’s envisioned. When Adam approached me to make him a Mercury suit, his celebrity factored into my quote. I really wanted to do this project having been a fan of MythBusters for many years.

    Adam had no shortage of images to show me so quoting him was pretty easy. It’s not often you get 100+ high-res images of the actual suits from the Smithsonian so I was able to count stitches-per-inch as is often the case needed for detail enthusiasts.

    Adam was very specific that all he wanted was someone to do the “soft parts” and he would provide all the “hard parts,” which made the project easy. Adam was also very specific about what details he liked about the various iterations of suits used by NASA in the Mercury space program, and he focused on the following image in particular.

    The biggest challenge in almost any replica costume or prop is finding the same or similar fabrics and materials used to make the original. Adam was very specific in describing the fabric he thought the original suit was made of. It's something he has described in his videos about the suit.

    NASA's LDSD Supersonic Test Flight

    "Ian Clark, principal investigator of the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator, takes us through a play-by-play of NASA's recent 'flying saucer' Test in Hawaii, using high-definition video shot from cameras on board the test vehicle." NASA's LDSD technology demonstration mission explores the use of a supersonic parachute for use with landers on future missions to Mars.

    In Brief: NASA Announces Marks 2020 Rover Payload

    Last Thursday, NASA JPL announced the loadout for the still-as-yet unnamed Mars 2020 rover. The follow up to 2012's Curiosity will carry seven scientific instruments, selected from 58 proposals made by engineers and researchers worldwide. The 2020 rover is based on Curiosity's proven chassis and landing system design, with upgraded hardware to explore its surroundings. (A landing site has not yet been determined.) Among the new gear--which will be developed by partners at academic and private institutions--is the Mastcam-Z, an advanced camera system with the ability to zoom. While filmmaker James Cameron was involved with the development of the imaging system on Curiosity (NASA eventually nixed his 3D camera system), the Mastcam-Z design will be spearheaded by Arizona State University's Jim Bell. And yes, the current plan is for it to be a stereoscopic camera system.

    Tested Mailbag: Thanks, Elon!

    A mystery package arrives at the office, sent by a Tested reader! We could not be more stoked by what we find inside. Thanks for the awesome mailbag, Grant!

    How to Steal a Soviet Lunar Probe

    In the mid-60s, the Soviet Union staged an international exhibition to showcase the achievements of Communism to westerners. Included in the exhibition was a never-flown, production version of one of the USSR's Luna moon probes. This io9 article details the caper, but The National Security Archive has a declassified version of the original report as well as several other fascinating declassified documents, including details about the Navy's attempts to use the Moon for untraceable communication.

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    Solutions To the Fermi Paradox

    The Fermi Paradox is endlessly fascinating to me. The paradox is simple--there are somewhere between 100 billion and 400 billion stars in our galaxy, cosmologically speaking our Sun is relatively young, and our species is brand new. If life is abundant in the universe, why haven't we heard from anyone else yet?

    This article does a good job breaking down the possible reasons we haven't made contact yet. The explanations range from the macabre to the comical. Personally, I'm optimistic that the first species that developed interstellar travel hasn't been wiping out any other species that can potentially compete with them. I also would hope that we don't just live "far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral Arm of the galaxy." Getting any resolution to the Fermi Paradox would frankly be terrifying, but it's a good excuse to spend a few minutes this weekend laying with your back on the ground and contemplating the infinite.

    Tested Explains: Why We Have No Good Images of Pluto

    When was the last time you saw an image of Pluto? Think about it. You've probably seen renders and simulated images – but what about an actual, high-quality picture of the minor planet's surface? Don't feel bad if you're drawing a blank. Real pictures of Pluto just don't exist – none more than a few pixels in size, at least. Even with the best and most modern technology at our disposal today, we still can't produce a decent picture of the dwarf planet from here on Earth.

    Artist's rendition of the surface of Pluto. Credit: ESO

    But around this time next year, thanks to the New Horizons spacecraft launched in 2006, we'll finally catch our first high-quality glimpses of how the solar system's most distant celestial object actually looks.

    The best pictures we currently have of Pluto date from 1994.

    If you can believe it, the best pictures we currently have of Pluto date from 1994. And, really, they're only pictures in the most liberal sense: blurry, blown-up surface maps made from source images mere pixels across. Taken with the Hubble Space Telescope, the orbiting camera is only just powerful enough to resolve the planet's surface colour – "a complex-looking and variegated world with white, dark-orange and charcoal-black terrain" – making geological observations out of the question.

    "To a close approximation, Pluto and the moon are the same size." explains Dr. Marc Buie, a staff scientist at the Southwest Research Institute, and part of the team that captured the planet's first Hubble images. "[But] Pluto is an awful lot farther away."

    Image credit: NASA

    In fact, from our planet's surface, Pluto is about 180,000 times smaller on the sky at that distance than the Earth's moon.

    That hasn't given researchers much to go on – not in the visual wavelength, anyhow. But as you read this article, the New Horizons spacecraft is nearly 30 astronomical units from the sun – or, about the distance from the sun to earth multiplied by 30. Travelling at a rate of about 1 million miles each day, it is the fastest spacecraft ever built. Its primary mission is to image the surface of Pluto, its moons, and beyond, and it is now about 90% of the way to its long-awaited flyby in July 2015.

    We Are Made of Dead Stars

    From The Atlantic: "Every atom in our bodies was fused in an ancient star. NASA astronomer Dr. Michelle Thaller explains how the iron in our blood connects us to one of the most violent acts in the universe-a supernova explosion-and what the universe might look like when all the stars die out."

    In Brief: SpaceX Introduces Its Dragon V2 Manned Capsule

    Elon Musk's dreams of privatized space exploration are one step closer to reality. At a highly-publicized event in Southern California last night, Musk's SpaceX unveiled its Dragon V2 space capsule, which the company plans to use to send US astronauts to the International Space Station. The commercial space shuttle--the first of its kind--is a retrofit of SpaceX's Dragon capsule, which has already completed three successful cargo deliveries to the ISS. The development of the crewed version was conducted in partnership with NASA, which currently spends over $70 a head to send a US astronaut to the ISS via Russia's Soyuz program. Musk hopes that amortized over the space of 10 flights per craft, Dragon V2 flights will cost less than $10 million per seat. ArsTechnica was on site for the debut, and runs through Dragon V2's interesting features, including its use of the same 17-inch touchscreens that Musk's Tesla uses in its Model S car. (Cars that share technology with commercial space shuttles is a huge marketing tie-in opportunity.) The first manned test flight may take place in two years, with launch taking place from a recently-leased launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center. Watch the full video from the unveiling event below.

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    Meet Terry Pappas, Ex-NASA and SR-71 Blackbird Pilot

    Aerospace technology is typically an incremental game of inches. Most new aircraft or spacecraft designs consist primarily of proven technologies sprinkled with a few new ideas to nudge the limits a little at a time. It is rare to unveil a design that leaps ahead by using numerous unproven concepts. The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird was one very notable exception. First flown in 1964, the Blackbird was an aircraft so advanced that it still had no peers when it was retired 34 years later.

    Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

    What made the Blackbird so unique was its ability to fly very fast (Mach 3.3) and very high (85,000 feet). This performance allowed it to overfly nearly any area of the world and take surveillance photos with relative impunity. Intercepting fighter pilots could only shake their fists as the SR-71 flew high above their reach. To escape surface-to-air missiles, Blackbird pilots would just ease the throttles forward and outrun them.

    Throughout its service life, the SR-71 was a very closely-guarded and coveted asset. Not only was it stuffed full of proprietary technology, it was also extremely expensive to purchase, maintain, and operate. The US Air Force wouldn’t let just anyone fly their prized machine. It implemented a very rigorous selection and training process for the pilots and Reconnaissance Systems Officers (RSO) that would fill the Blackbird’s seats.

    Terry Pappas was part of an elite group of pilots chosen to fly the SR-71 Blackbird. (Photo courtesy Terry Pappas)

    Terry Pappas was one of those pilots who earned the title “Habu” – the unofficial name given to the SR-71 and its flight crew in a nod to the venomous snake that the airplane is said to resemble. Pappas spent more than 5 years in the SR-71 program and flew numerous operational missions over hostile airspace. His book, SR-71, The Blackbird, Q&A, explains the full gamut of his time in the Blackbird.

    Here are some of the most interesting bits I learned from his book, as well as a few follow-up questions I was able to ask Pappas directly.

    The Moons of Mars Explained

    Kurzgesagt is a wonderful YouTube channel that explains basic and controversial scientific concepts in concise animated videos. It was created by a team of designers from Munich, and the show's narration gives it a more than just a little bit of a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy vibe. Their videos this month explain facts about the moons in the solar system, and this video explaining the Stock Exchange is one of my favorites.

    Simulating and Modeling the Hidden Cosmos

    "The team behind Hayden Planetarium's latest space show, Dark Universe, including Neil deGrasse Tyson, detail the developments in research and technology that have enabled the show's unprecedented views of our galaxy." I really enjoyed this brief behind-the-scenes look at the process behind modeling and animating the visualizations that go into a modern digital planetarium show, in this case the Dark Universe show currently playing at the Hayden Planetarium in NYC and the Morrison Planetarium in San Francisco.

    SpaceX's Falcon 9 Reusable Rocket Rises to 1000m

    My brain is still struggling to reconcile this footage of SpaceX's latest Falcon 9 Reusable rocket test. The cinematography for these test launch videos is amazing, especially the aerial footage tracking the rocket as it crosses the horizon (filmed by a multi-rotor copter). There's a hyper-realistic look to the video--partially because of how stable the aerial camera is, and also because of how slow the rocket is moving as it achieves 1000 meters. A reusable rocket is the central piece of SpaceX's next-gen spacecraft plans, which include a Dragon capsule that will eventually shuttle astronauts to the International Space Station. "No trampoline needed."

    Deciphering Buran, The Soviet Space Shuttle

    There are countless magazine articles and websites that pit the American Space Shuttle against the little-known Soviet version, and declare a winner…usually the Soviets. This is NOT that kind of story. I understand that deep-seated national rivalries make it difficult to refrain from choosing sides in any kind of Soviet/American comparison. However a cage match between these two shuttles makes no sense in the first place, as I’ll explain. Furthermore, such comparisons only serve to fuel the emotions of commenters who substitute objective engineering analysis with overzealous and misplaced patriotism.

    Buran enjoyed a single unmanned flight in 1988. Economic meltdown and the fall of the USSR were death knells for the Buran program. (photo source unknown)

    The American Shuttle was a very mature system with well over 100 flights to its credit. During the program’s four decades of development and operation, the design continually evolved to include both enhancements and concessions. There is no question that the Shuttle failed to achieve several goals set forth in its charter (namely low-cost). At the same time, it accomplished feats that were unimagined at the start of the program, like staying in service for more than 30 years…oh, and that whole International Space Station.

    The Soviet shuttle was a ship that showed tremendous promise, yet it was not even completed when it flew its single (unmanned) test mission in 1988. That the Soviet shuttle program never advanced beyond its first flight is a result of the USSR’s political and economic turmoil of the time…not any shortcoming of their design. If the program had evolved into a long-term operation as planned, there is no doubt that it would have endured an evolutionary cycle much like the US Shuttle. Only then would we know how the Soviet design lived up to its billing. And only then would a “shuttle versus shuttle” comparison of abilities and accomplishments be valid and fruitful. Alternately, I want to illustrate some of the fundamental similarities and differences between these rival spaceships and attempt to understand why the Soviet shuttle appeared as it did.

    Kepler Finds First Earth-Sized Exoplanet in Habitable Zone

    Over the last ten years, astronomers have discovered hundreds of exoplanets using a handful of techniques, but until now, most of those planets are either outside the habitable zone or are much larger than earth--think gas giants. A newly discovered planet, Kepler-186f, is the first planet in the habitable zone, the orbits around a star where formation of liquid water is possbile, of a comparable size to Earth.

    We don't know much about the planet, but Kepler-186f is about 500 light years away, it's about 10% bigger than earth by volume, and it orbits its M-dwarf star every 130 days.

    In Brief: ISS to Test NASA's Hydroponics Pod

    SpaceX's third contracted cargo run was supposed to launch on Monday--a Dragon capsule ferrying 2.5 tons of supplies to the International Space Station. But a helium leak in the first stage of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket has delayed that launch until the end of this week. Among the tools, equipment, and food supplies being sent to the ISS are a new batch of experiments to join the over 100 already being conducted at any time on board the station. One notable new experiment is Veggie, NASA's prototype of an expandable plant chamber to grow lettuce seedlings in space. These plants will be grown on "pillows" in the device, which expands to 12x15-inches, the largest plant growth chamber yet sent to space. Astronauts will test the culinary and health potential of the space lettuce, and NASA also expects the experiment to have psychological benefits. Space gardening could be a legitimate pastime for astronauts.