international space station

Space Music: Desert Island Albums in Orbit

I think we all love playing the desert island game with books, movies and albums from time to time. You know the deal: "If you had to spend the rest of your life on a desert island, which three titles would you want with you?" I thought today might be a good opportunity to take a cosmic spin on the idea and imagine ourselves trapped on the International Space Station. Here's the key stipulation: You can only pick from the books and albums ALREADY in orbit. The good folks over at filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and received an official listing of all the books, movies, TV shows and albums in the ISS library. Hey, astronauts need to unwind too.

So, amid all the planet hacking content last week, I managed to miss out on an exciting bit of space news. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) fired up the new $250 million wastewater recycling system and toasted their success with a tall glass of recycled urine. No microgravity spit takes were reported. According to, the system recycles daily urine and wastewater back into potable water for bathing, drinking and food preparation (such as putting some slush back in that bowl of dehydrated goulash). The system has actually been up and running since November, but technical problems prevented it from helping out with anything other than the station's oxygen generator, which uses electrolyzes to split H2O into hydrogen and oxygen.

Space Food: Orbital Curries and Lunchroom Politics

With recent news of Earth's orbital population reaching an all-time high of 13 again, I'm sure a lot of you were wondering the same thing: Are there any good places to eat up there? Fine dining above the exosphere is certainly looking up, so now's as good a time as any to look at what kind of grub astronauts, cosmonauts and taikonauts can stuff into their free-floating bellies.

While there's still more space junk up there than anything, the human space population reached its peak at 13 today, according to an article on This feat ties the record set in March 1995. Let's take a look at how it all breaks down in space. First, you have the space shuttle Discovery up there with a crew of seven astronauts. Three crew members from the U.S., Russia and Japan are hanging out on the International Space Station awaiting the pending arrival of the Russian Soyuz TMA-14 spacecraft and its three-person crew (one of whom is a space tourist), currently en route. Back in 1995, the situation was similar, with three cosmonauts bound to switch places with the three-man crew aboard the Mir space station -- all while the seven-man crew of the space shuttle Endeavour carried out its own mission.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station briefly evacuated to their Russian Soyuz escape pod today when NASA spotted space debris in the vicinity. Luckily for all concerned, 11 minutes and numerous panicky headlines later, everything was fine. The space junk passed within three miles of the station. Given the amount of damage that an orbital collision could inflict on the station, evacuations of this sort are standard operating procedure in space. In this case, the potential shrapnel was reportedly a small piece of an old spacecraft motor, but the amount of space garbage surrounding our planet is a growing problem. Some of these pieces travel at speeds as high as 17,500 miles per hour (28,164 kilometers per hour), and experts predict that there are as many as 40 million of them zooming around up there -- several thousand metric tons of cosmic litter. These bits range from abandoned launch vehicle stages to tiny flecks of paint.