Welcome on the ISS. On you left side…

17 09 2012

Follow ESA astronaut André Kuipers (who recently installed ALTEA in Columbus) in a guided tour of the International Space Station. A really exceptional guide by André himself that will introduce you to all the secrets of living in space.

“The fastest 55 minutes of my life… but almost de greatest!!!”

“When I started the video I was like ‘What 55 minutes, that’s going to be so boring.’ 55 mins later I was sad that it ended so soon 😉 That really was a great tour through the ISS!”


At minute eight, after entering the European module Columbus, it shows ALTEA:”here for example I recently installed ALTEA which is a radiation experiment…”. Enjoy the tour!

Robonaut meets ALTEA

22 02 2012

Robonaut 2 completed its initial checkouts on board the International Space Station Wednesday, February 15, 2012 and went on to make history with the first human/robotic handshake to be performed in space. The humanoid robot then provided a message sent down in sign language. “Hello World,” the robot signed in American sign language, repeating the first tweet sent from its Twitter account, @AstroRobonaut, which also happens to be a traditional programming phrase.
R2, as the robot is nicknamed, launched to the International Space Station almost a year ago and has been put through a series of checkouts as its crewmates had time. The last of these checkouts started on Tuesday and finished today. All of the tests – which included force sensor verifications and free range movement demonstrations – were completed, wrapping up with the sign language message and a handshake between the robot and space station Commander Dan Burbank. View video of historic handshake with Robonaut 2.
“For the record, it was a firm handshake,” Burbank said. “Very nice. Nice job on the programming and all the engineering. Quite an impressive robot.”

And what about ALTEA? All these Robonaut activities were performed in the Destiny Laboratory and ALTEA was a direct witness. As you can see from following pictures, the white box that Commander Dan Burbank is about to stomp, and we hope he did not do this, is ALTEA DAU. Some of you that have particularly acute sight could also see ALTEA detectors in the top right angle at the bottom of the Lab.

ALTEA at YRMR 2012 (live stream)

18 01 2012

The Young Researcher Meeting in Rome is a conference devoted to discussion and interchange of new developments and new ideas in physics. The meeting is primarily aimed at graduate students and postdocs working in physics, who are encouraged to present their work in an informal atmosphere. The main purpose is to create a network of young researchers, both experimentalists and theorists, and fruitful cooperation across the different branches of physics. The meeting is organized in sections, each of them devoted to an active research field in physics: particle and theoretical physics, soft and condensed matter, astrophysics and cosmology, geophysics, biophysics and medical physics, applied physics. Here is the conference program.

ALTEA team will participate with the following talk:“The ALTEA and ALTEA-Shield experiment onboard the International Space Station”

Abstract: Anomalous Long Term Effects in Astronaut’s Central Nervous System (ALTEA) is a helmet-shaped device holding six silicon particle detectors that has been used to measure the effect of the exposure of crewmembers to cosmic radiation on brain activity and visual perception, including astronauts’ perceptions of light flashes behind their eyelids as a result of high-energy radiation. Because of its ability to be operated without a crewmember, it is also being used as a dosimeter to provide quantitative data on high-energy radiation particles passing into the ISS. ALTEA capabilities are also used to give additional information on the exposure of crewmembers to radiation during their stays on ISS for use in health monitoring.
The ALTEA experiment was designed by the Italian Space Agency (ASI) in collaboration with a science team led by Professor L. Narici of Tor Vergata University, Rome. The experiment onboard the International Space Station since July 2006 and it has been used as operative instrument by the Space Radiation Analysis Group (SRAG) of NASA.
Since September 2010 ALTEA detectors are used on a different support for the ESA experiment ALTEA-Shield, which is designed to assess radiation flux in different positions inside the UsLab module. ALTEA-Shield will also provide data about radiation shielding effects by a variety of special materials.
A description of the experiment and a summary of the main results obtained by ALTEA and ALTEA-Shield investigation will be presented.

Follow the 3rd YRMR Meeting in Live Streaming here or on Ustream (http://www.ustream.tv/channel/yrmr-meeting-2012)

The transmission will start on 20 January 2012 at 8.45 until 7.00 pm.

ALTEA presentation will be at 12:20

Send comments and questions if you are registered: the most interesting will be asked to the speakers. For not registered users: you can send questions and comments on the facebook fan page:


If you participate and enjoy the presentation, please leave a comment.

Lessons from space

12 01 2012

Expedition 30 crew launched on 22 December from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on a Soyuz spacecraft. The crew is composed by ESA astronaut André Kuipers, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and NASA astronaut Don Pettit. They will remain in space for nearly five months as part of the resident, international six-astronaut crew.

During PromISSe long duration mission, André Kuipers will have his eyes on our planet. He will share some of the unique views of Earth from the Station’s Cupola and invite children to become involved in a wide range of educational activities. His observations will support the ESA online lessons designed to help European children strengthen their knowledge in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These will be part of three themes covering topics such as Life in Space, Biodiversity on Earth and planet Earth’s climate. André will perform experiments on board which can also be carried out by schools. You can follow Andre’s mission here.

Spaceship Earth Theme 1: Life


The first lesson of the Life Theme is about radiation. It gives an overview of different types of radiations and how some forms of radiation pose a threat to astronauts. And talking about cosmic ray effects on astronauts a special mention is dedicated to ALTEA. What is ALTEA? What does it do? and What does ALTEA mean for us? are the questions that this lessons does answer.


You can download this first lesson about radiation here. And of course read all the other lessons. And if you are a student, ask your teachers to download ESA Education kit.

Kit contents:

ISS DVD Lesson 2: Body space
ISS DVD Lesson 3: Space matters
ISS DVD Lessons4: Space robotics
Exploration DVD: The ingredients for Life – on Earth and in Space
Exploration DVD: Feeding our Future – Nutrition on Earth and in Space

Take Your Classroom into Space:
Mass measurement and capillarity
FOAM Stability and Convection
International Space Station Education Kit

Everything you always wanted to know about the International Space Station

11 01 2012


FREE online from NASA … this tremendously informative, visually captivating, and enriching educational resource: "Reference Guide to the International Space Station — Assembly Complete Edition, November 2010." None really interested of human exploration in space should ever miss this in his personal digital archive. You could learn everything (almost) about your magnificent ISS orbiting at more than 300 Km altitude over your earthly head at 17,500 mph every 90 minutes with multinational humans inside living, working, conducting important science/research experiments, discovering, exploring, and cooperating peacefully. And among the scientific experiments, at page 31, you will find an almost full page dedicated to ALTEA.


At last a contest: spot ALTEA in a different pic inside the station. Enjoy!

The effects of cosmic rays on astronauts: the Light Flash phenomenon

1 11 2011

Cosmic rays cannot turn a man into a rocky goliath or into a human torch, neither give a man invisibility or a stretching  body. Nevertheless we must acknowledge Stan Lee’s intuition that cosmic rays could interact and have actual effects on human biology.

Before detailing what cosmic rays are and where they come from, I would like to introduce some effects they provoke and introduce the scientific rationale that’s behind ALTEA investigation.

During Apollo 12 mission (1969), there was an experiment called “the Apollo helmet dosimetry experiment”, during which the signs of cosmic ray passage on an astronaut helmet were very evident.


ALTEA studies the effects of cosmic rays on central nervous system and in particular the Light Flash phenomenon. Currently light flashes are the only way that humans have to actually see elementary particles without any instrument or detector. In 1952 the physicist Cornelius Tobias predicted that cosmic rays could interact with astronaut visual system to generate anomalous perceptions of light (without the effective presence of light) . In 1969, during Apollo 11 mission, Buzz Aldrin reported the first experience of these flashes after their eyes had become adapted to the low light in the cabin. He talked about strange flashed of multiple shapes and dimensions.


After this first report, the astronauts of the following lunar missions were informed about the phenomenon and started dedicated observations. During the last lunar missions, Apollo 16 and 17, the ALFMED emulsion detector studies the correlation between the light flash perceptions and the cosmic rays.


ALFMED results showed that high energy charged particles composing cosmic rays were the effective cause of the light flashes. The interaction mechanism remained unexplained. Systematic studies on Light Flashes were carried on during the Skylab (1974) and the Apollo-Soyuz (1975) missions. In the meantime some scientist volunteered to expose themselves to low intensity particle beams to study the phenomenon in controlled conditions. Light Flashes could be reproduced by various particles passing through the eyes.

Light Flashes are highly subjective: some astronauts are particularly sensitive and can observe the phenomenon even in bright environment while others never observed any. Some astronauts are so annoyed by these flashes that cannot fell asleep. There are different shapes of flashes: stripes, multiple tracks, stars, explosions, etc..


When it’s time to link the LF phenomenon to the physics mechanisms originating them a lot of problems arise. It is needed to correlate observations from electronic detectors with astronaut sensations. The importance of these studies is given by the fact that LF could be symptoms of a wider family of more complex neuro-physiologic effects that are still hidden.

Studies on LF continued during the 90’s onboard MIR space station with the Sileye project. In the frame of this project almost 50 observation sessions were completed between 1996 and 2000 by 10 astronauts that observed more than 200 LFs. Sileye derives its name from Silicon Eye, the particle detector coupled with an helmet used for the observations. The cosmonaut wears the helmet in a dark environment and pushes a button whenever he observes a flash; in the meanwhile the particle detector measures the energy of all nuclei passing through it.

clip_image012 Cosmonaut Sergei Avdeev with Sileye-1 detector during a LF observation session onboard MIR.     clip_image014 Sileye-2 before being launched to MIR: aluminum box (on left side) contains the silicon telescope, while the yellow mask on the right is used to test dark adaptation of the astronaut.     clip_image016 
Cosmonaut Sergei Avdeev with Sileye-2 detector during a LF observation session onboard MIR.

Sileye program continued on ISS with the Alteino-Sileye3 detector, that is the link between the Sileye project and the ALTEA program. Alteino was brought onboard the International Space Station during Marco Polo Mission in 2002. First measurements were carried on by the Italian astronaut Roberto Vittori. Alteino device returned back to Earth in 2010.

Alteino-Sileye3 detector in the PIRS module of the ISS.
Light Flash observed on MIR. The increasing of LF observations at high latitudes and over the South Atlantic region is caused by different components of cosmic rays: galactic and trapped cosmic rays.

Coming soon: Radiation environment in Earth orbit.

Previous posts:
Cosmic rays and human exploration of space
ALTEA- An Italian experiment onboard the International Space Station

Further readings and sources:
Cosa sono i Light Flash (in Italian)
Light flashes (in Italian)
How can astronauts see stars with their eyes shut