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The first woman in space: Valentina Tereshkova

Posted: 22 Apr 2018 07:00 PM PDT

Tereshkova holds many honours including the Hero of the Soviet Union (1963) and Order of Honour (2003).

Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova was born in the village of Maslennikovo in the Tutayevsky District of the Soviet Union on 6 March 1937. From an early age she was interested in parachuting, but her upbringing was far from the military beginnings of other cosmonauts. At the age of 22 she was still working as a textile worker and was active in the Young Communist League and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

In 1961, after Yuri Gagarin had beaten the Americans to become the first man in space, the Soviets decided to also go for the accolade of first woman in space. Tereshkova was selected, largely due to her parachuting experience, along with four other candidates out of hundreds of applicants to train for a mission into space. Her involvement in the Communist Party combined with her working class background made her the stand-out candidate.

After rigorous training including weightless flights and spacecraft engineering, Tereshkova was chosen along with two others as the leading candidates in Novemeber 1962. Finally, at the age of just 26, 10 years younger than any of the American Mercury Seven astronauts, she was picked alongside male cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky to fly a joint mission in orbit.

Tereshkova flew to space aboard Vostok 6 in 1963.

On 14 June 1963 Bykovsky took off aboard Vostok 5 and, two days later, Tereshkova followed suit in the last mission of the Vostok programme, Vostok 6. She is said to have experienced some nausea and discomfort during the flight but still managed to complete 48 orbits of Earth and spend almost three days in space. The two spacecraft came within 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) of each other and the two cosmonauts communicated by radio. However, the Soviets were not quite ready to attempt a rendezvous yet, an achievement that would be snatched by the Americans several years later.

Amazingly, another woman would not fly in space for another 19 years until Russian Svetlana Savitskaya. Despite this Tereshkova was a pioneer not only for breaking gender boundaries but also for proving that space was accessible to anyone despite their background. She was an inspiration to many and continues to be so today. Her influence was so profound that she holds a large number of awards and accolades and has many locations and monuments named after her including a lunar crater and a cosmonaut monument in Moscow.

Image credit Alexander Mokletsov and RIA Novosti

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Ghost Ship to Alpha Centauri

Posted: 22 Apr 2018 09:00 AM PDT

While Ghost Ship is only a concept, its new ignition system could be the way forward

While Ghost Ship is currently only a concept, its new ignition system could be the way forward

Destination: Alpha Centauri – a triple system of stars located some 4.37 light years away from the Sun and our closest stellar neighbours. This system could have at least one planet, an Earth-sized world called Alpha Centauri Bb and perhaps there could be more. If we want to learn about and explore other stars and exoplanets, Alpha Centauri is our best bet but, even though it might be relatively close, getting there will be a feat in itself.

That's what Project Icarus is all about. A joint project between the British Interplanetary Society and Icarus Interstellar, its goal is to design a starship using current or near future technology. As part of its development, Project Icarus members were encouraged to form teams to design possible propulsion schemes using nuclear fusion that could feature in the final Icarus design. The winning starship was the Ghost Ship, led by Andreas Hein of the Technical University of Munich. While the Ghost Ship is still only a concept, the sophistication of its ignition system could be the way forward when it comes to interstellar travel.

Nuclear fusion is a popular means of generating energy when scientists consider how to reach the stars. Fusion, which involves two atoms, such as deuterium, tritium or helium-3, fusing into one, releasing energy in the process, is far more efficient than nuclear fission, which splits atoms and is what runs our nuclear power stations today. In the 1970s Icarus' ancestor, a British Interplanetary Society project called Daedalus, showed that a fusion-powered starship could reach about ten percent of the speed of light meaning it would take 43.7 years to reach Alpha Centauri.

Ghost Ship would be a little slower, accelerating for a 15.5 years up to six percent of the speed of light, after which the 153,800-ton craft cruises through interstellar space for 54 years. It does this using a method known as Inertial Confinement Fusion fast ignition. Here, 150 tiny pellets of deuterium are heated by powerful lasers every second, until they grow so hot and dense that the atoms inside the pellets begin to fuse, expelling large amounts of energy and lots of high energy neutrons. This neutron radiation can be extremely dangerous, so the engine is separated from the rest of the starship on a long boom. However, the neutrons can also be gathered and recycled to provide the additional energy to power the lasers that ignite the fusion and create more of these neutral subatomic particles.

Once the ship begins to get close to Alpha Centauri, it will deploy a magnetic sail that would drag on the hydrogen gas that lurks in deep space, slowing Ghost Ship down to one percent of the speed of light before firing its fusion engine in reverse to complete the deceleration. Probes with some carrying rovers, desperate to uncover the secrets of our nearest star system, are then launched to explore the stars and planets of Alpha Centauri.

Image Credit: Adrian Mann

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