Space Cadet Reporting For Duty

It's the end of the week and I'm feeling a little space-y. But can you blame me? It started with experiencing zero gravity, was followed up with watching the Phoenix Mars Lander touch down on the Red Planet, and this weekend Discovery is scheduled to head to the international space station, in part to deliver some critical components: a toilet repair kit.
(Steve Boxall / Zero G)
Last weekend our intrepid CBS crew (pictured here from left: Andre Palai, space cadet rank 0, Anthony Laudato, and Mike Hernandez) ventured to Las Vegas to go up in the Zero-G plane to experience -- what else -- zero gravity. We took the suggested amount of Dramamine beforehand, and probably took one pill too many since we all felt a little sleepy on the way up. But we quickly snapped to alert as the plane went through its 15 parabolas mimicking lunar, Martian, and finally zero gravity. Challenging circumstances to shoot video, but I think we availed ourselves well and managed to not get sick. Stay tuned for the finished story all about commerical space travel on CBS Sunday Morning sometime in the next month or two.

Back on the ground and positioned in front of a TV at the JFK airport baggage claim, Anthony and I watched the Phoenix Mars Lander ease its way down, going through the final stages of landing that NASA dubbed "seven minutes of terror" since there was no inflated balloon to cushion its descent. But all went according to plan with the chute and thrusters, and the engineers at JPL in Pasadena, CA, erupted in cheers.

Unlike the plucky NASA rovers Spirit and Opportunity, the lander will now spend the next several months in a stationary position, using a digging arm to search for signs of life in the Martian soil. For more on this mission, to listen to my CBS radio interview for SciEye with Tony Reichhardt, a senior editor at Air & Space magazine. (By the way, he believes Mars has already been "colonized" -- for an explanation, listen to the interview!)

And finally this week we learned that a motor fan that's part of the Russian-made toilet onboard the international space station was causing some concern for the three people onboard. It's tough to do the "gotta go pee-pee dance" in zero gravity. And the price for a plumber to head 220 miles up? Let's just say astromonical. So when Discovery launches (slated for this weekend) it'll be carrying some much-needed spare parts. "Like any home anywhere the importance of having a working bathroom is obvious," NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said. (Oh yeah, and plus Discovery is bringing up a really big lab called Kibo.)

Until next time, stay connected!