Beer is among humanity's earliest of inventions.  Predating writing, the fermented beverage traces its roots back to the dawn of agriculture more than 10,000 years ago.  Throughout human history, no matter where people go they bring beer with them.  Thus, it is only a matter of time until beer becomes a fixture of life in space.  When that day comes, we know we'll be in space to stay.

No research has been done on the effects of alcohol on people in a microgravity environment.  For example, no one knows how alcohol absorption and metabolism differ in space compared with Earth.  Well, that's about to change.  I am proud to announce that the 4-Pines Brewing Company and Saber Astronautics Australia (through a joint venture called Vostok Pty Ltd) have hired Astronauts4Hire (A4H) to test the first beer meant for consumption in space.  It is intended to meet anticipated demand from the upcoming space tourism market.
Vostok Space Beer. Image Credit: Alex R. Green
Rather than studying the physics and chemistry of carbonation or fermentation, the research will focus specifically on the human experience of consuming the beverage in microgravity.  The A4H flight researcher will sample the beer during weightless parabolas on a series of Zero G Corp flights and record body temperature, heart rate, blood alcohol content, as well as qualitative data on the beverage's taste and drinkability.  As I said in our press release, "Astronauts4Hire is living up to its name. This opportunity is an important milestone for us and illustrates how researchers can hire our members to conduct experiments under conditions of microgravity."  We've already gotten some attention with articles showing up at (and MSNBC), Discovery News, Time, Popular Science, and Discover Magazine. I was interviewed for the BBC too (listen to mp3).

Growing up, I had the privilege of having a father who was a private pilot.  This meant I was surrounded by aviation from a young age.  I spent many weekends at the local airport with my dad helping him wash his planes, hanging out with the local AOPA club, and flying around the county where we lived in northeast Arkansas.  My family took very few road trips; instead we traveled to most of our vacation destinations in our plane.  One summer when I was about 12, my dad and I flew across the country in his Aeronica Champ to the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh show in Wisconsin.  Camping out at night under the wing of the fabric-covered, 2-seater plane with a hand-cranked wooden propeller and no modern avionics, we were flying in a barebones style reminiscent of the barnstorming days of aviation early in the 20th century.  I'll never forget it.

I was my dad's co-pilot long before I could drive a car, and if I have one regret in life it's that I wasn't able to finish earning my private pilot certificate before I went to college.  Ever since I left home at age 16 to attend a boarding school, I have been a near-perpetual student with no time or money to spare for the heavy investment of earning my wings.  I have pledged to myself that this will change in 2011, but it won't be easy.

Now I'm 32 and have a son of my own.  I want him to share the same love for flying that I do.  This past weekend, I took my son Henry and wife Holli to the Kaneohe Bay Air Show.   The air show was held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of aviation in Hawaii and was the perfect opportunity to let Henry explore all kinds of exciting aircraft, just like I did when I visited air shows as a kid.  He can't stop playing with his airplane toys and talking about how he walked inside cargo planes, helicopters, and even tanks.  Here are a few pictures:

The two most compelling frontiers of exploration in the 21st century are the oceans and space. Humans have been exploring the surface of the sea for thousands of years and the edge of space for the past half-century, but technology developments are just beginning to allow for the exploration of the deep oceans and worlds beyond our own. In this post, I will offer some of my observations on the practical similarities between ocean and space exploration.

Safety on deck aboard the Okeanos Explorer
I imagine life at sea is very similar to life in space. In both cases, you live and work in close quarters with small crews. You rely upon each other's training and expertise to maintain the vessel’s complex systems including propulsion, navigation, life support, and equipment supporting the scientific mission. Clear divisions of responsibility are required so that everyone knows his or her job, but cross-training is also important so crewmembers can fill multiple roles. It is also critical that all crewmembers are trained and prepared for emergency situations like fires or abandoning the vessel. In fact, being fit enough to respond to a wide range of contingencies is the main reason medical requirements are so strict for astronauts.

By the time we pull into port in Hawaii, the Okeanos Explorer’s EM 302 multibeam system will have mapped more than 8000 linear kilometers of the seafloor during the summer 2010 transit cruises to/from Guam and Hawaii. The two cruise legs followed parallel, adjacent but non-overlapping tracks in order to maximize the possibility for finding new things.

I have had the pleasure of being on board for the second transit cruise from Guam to Hawaii for the past 11 days (3 to go). Below are three of the many features of interest I spotted along the transit path. Note that the preliminary interpretations I provide here are mine alone and do not necessarily represent the views of the Okeanos Explorer or the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.

1. Landslides

Both transits passed over a large flat-topped guyot about 500 km east of the Mariana Trench. The feature is about 20 km wide at the top and 50 km across at the base in the east-west direction. The steep-walled cliffs seem to have have been shaped by numerous landslides. Large fault scarps, slump blocks, debris aprons, and boulder fields are visible on both sides of the feature. Landslides are the second most common cause of tsunamis, so understanding the processes that lead to slope failure in the submarine environment could have important natural hazard implications.

Landslide perspective view looking towards the southwest, vertical exaggeration 3. Image Credit: NOAA.

"Hello, Houston. This is Odyssey. It's good to see you again." --Tom Hanks as Astronaut Jim Lovell in Apollo 13

After a 6-day communications blackout, the Okeanos Explorer has emerged from the satellite coverage hole in the central Pacific.  Just past the halfway point of our cruise, we’ve traveled more than 2400 miles through two time zones.

Nobody likes Mondays, but we had the distinct privilege of repeating Monday this week as we crossed the International Date Line. The crew had a fun ceremony yesterday to mark the occasion and admit new inductees into the Order of the Golden Dragon.  We had to answer a series of trivia questions about the Okeanos Explorer.  For each one we got correct, we advanced a pace forward towards the symbolic International Date Line. The first to cross won a special prize.   Although I answered the most questions, a last-minute upset by the ship’s Chief Medical Officer denied me of the prize.  This is my second time standing on the International Date Line, but it is my first time doing so at sea.

My Golden Dragon certificate for crossing the International Date Line

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