Three Things on Thursday #21

Hello, and welcome to the 21st edition of Three Things on Thursday.

This week, our things include: why your smart toaster couldn't have got Apollo 11 to the moon, David Braben talks about creating worlds with algorithms at Ted, and the 21st century quest for the perfect space suit.

Let’s go check them out!

1. Your Smart Toaster Can’t Hold a Candle to the Apollo Computer

by Alexis C. Madrigal for The Atlantic

Image Credit: NASA

Without the computers on board the Apollo spacecraft, there would have been no moon landing, no triumphant first step, no high-water mark for human space travel. A pilot could never have navigated the way to the moon, as if a spaceship were simply a more powerful airplane. The calculations required to make in-flight adjustments and the complexity of the thrust controls outstripped human capacities.

The Apollo Guidance Computer, in both its guises—one on board the core spacecraft, and the other on the lunar module—was a triumph of engineering. Computers had been the size of rooms and filled with vacuum tubes, and if the Apollo computer, at 70 pounds, was not exactly miniature yet, it began “the transition between people bragging about how big their computers are … and bragging about how small their computers are,” the MIT aerospace and computing historian David Mindell once joked in a lecture.

Read Alexis' full article on The Atlantic.

2. Rules can be beautiful: David Braben at TEDxAlbertopolis

Throughout his career, David Braben has been exploring what is possible to achieve with computer technology. From developments in gaming theory to best practice in teaching computer science to children, David has always been at the fore.

In this TEDx talk, British video game legend David Braben describes how algorithms can create entire worlds and why rules can be beautiful.

3. In Pursuit of the Perfect Spacesuit

by Mark Harris for Air & Space

Image Credit: Douglas Sonders/MIT

Twenty thousand feet above Ottawa, Shawna Pandya floats gently out of her seat and executes a graceful midair swoop. Our Falcon 20 jet is halfway through a series of parabolas, which produce brief periods of microgravity, the classic “vomit comet” flight profile used to train astronauts, give adventurous tourists a taste of space, and film cool music videos.

But Pandya, a 32-year-old physician and astronaut wannabe, is not here for any of those reasons. She is testing an advanced spacesuit from Final Frontier Design, a startup co-founded by a designer who previously crafted costumes for Victoria’s Secret fashion shows. During this parabola’s 18 seconds of microgravity, Pandya must return to her seat and attach a five-point safety harness. It’s a task that Paul Kissmann, chief test pilot at Canada’s National Research Council and the man flying the Falcon, thinks is next to impossible.

If the remaining parabolas go well and Pandya succeeds, the flight will be a huge step toward the pressurized tests that Final Frontier Design’s suit must pass before use on real space missions.

For many scientists, astronauts, and entrepreneurs, that day can’t come soon enough. For over half a century, the provision of spacesuits for U.S. crews has been a virtual duopoly, with one company providing the inside, or intravehicular activity, suits for ascents and descents, and a second company manufacturing the outside, or extravehicular activity, suits for spacewalks. Innovation hasn’t been a priority. The orange intravehicular “pumpkin suits” worn by hundreds of space shuttle astronauts, for instance, are little different from those worn in 1959 by test pilots flying North American’s X-15 rocketplane to the fringes of space.

Read Mark's full article on Air & Space

Edition #21 done!

See you next week, for more Three Things on Thursday.

Chris ~ Resident Collector of Things

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