Kiwanis Club explores the final frontier with guest speaker

Vicki Baker

Captain Ron Kirk of Star Trek proclaimed “Space, the final frontier…to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, and to boldly go where no man has gone before.” Our own Robson Rancher Bill Johansson brought that message home during the KCRR meeting on July 17. Bill served in the Space Flight Awareness Program (SFA), a NASA managed program created in 1963 focusing on astronaut safety and mission success.

Bill spoke on the history of the Human Space Flight Program, or the “Space Race.” The Space Transportation System, commonly known as the Space Shuttle Program, first launched in 1981 proposing reusable space vehicles, a time when commercial airplanes were equipped with more sophisticated technology than the space orbitor. The Shuttle traveled around the earth at speeds of 17,000 mph. At this speed crews saw a sunrise and sunset every 90 minutes. The program completed 135 missions involving over 600 astronauts.

And who could ever imagine people actually living in space? The International Space Station (ISS), built through the combined efforts of 15 nations, has been continuously occupied since November 2000. The size of two football fields, it orbits 250 miles above the earth traveling at speeds slower than an airplane and circling the earth 15.5 times per day.

Then Bill got down to the really cool facts about space travel and life in space. Each astronaut is placed in isolation pre-mission to ensure no diseases are transported into space. A fully equipped test kitchen at the Johnson Space Center creates the dehydrated foods, which become gourmet delights with the addition of water. Although an array of international foods are available, astronauts prefer spicy foods, just like us Texas folks! For sleeping, the crew straps down into sleeping bags attached to the walls. No showers onboard this weightless environment, so astronauts use waterless shampoo and soap. Constant exercising is crucial due to bone deterioration resulting from loss of gravity. Finally, for the answer we’ve all been waiting for, “How do they…?” Well, a vacuum system is personally fitted to each astronaut. Urine is recycled into drinking water. Solid waste is stored on board, then burns up while re-entering the earth’s atmosphere.

There’s more “Space” in your life than you imagine. With only half of one percent of the national budget allocated to the space program, we in turn reap immeasurable benefits: freeze dried foods, smoke detectors, Dustbuster vacuums, ear thermometers, artificial limbs, satellite TV, cordless tools, CT scanners and flame retardant material. And that’s just a sampling of the many spinoffs we all appreciate in our everyday lives.

As we say goodbye to the iconic reusable space planes, NASA enters into a new era of space exploration. With scientific experimentation foremost, it is now preparing for travel into deep space with journeys to Mars and the Asteroid Redirect Mission. The Space Station is the brightest “star” in the sky, so look up to the heavens some night and give a wave to our heroes of space.