Video: A Week In The Life Of The International Space Station

The International Space Station is one of the wonders of modern technology. A series of interconnected orbital modules are home to a rotating crew of astronauts and cosmonauts plus a host of ongoing experiments. While the ISS only gets into the news every now and then, interesting things are happening there daily.

Right now three astronauts – two American and one Canadian – are on duty up there along with three cosmonauts from Russia. This video is a weekly update showing what they did last week. The main work has been preparing for the arrival of the Dragon spacecraft, which will bring supplies and take some completed experiments and waste back to Earth.

Besides that, the crew has been conducting experiments, doing maintenance work on their spacesuits, troubleshooting a partial communications failure, training with the robotic arm, and answering questions from the public back on Earth.

The three astronauts even got a break for Presidents Day. I didn’t know they got days off up there. I wonder what they do? Stare out the window a lot, I bet.

The weekly update gets uploaded every Friday and there are daily updates throughout the week. You can followed them on the ISS website.

For more about this giant orbital laboratory take this video tour of the International Space Station.

New York’s New Museum adds sleek slide

With the addition of a slide, New York’s New Museum just made the cut for my ‘Next Time I Visit NYC‘ bucket list. This new slide at the museum doesn’t appear to be your run of the mill slide. No. I don’t suspect you would find a slide like this in the playground adjacent to the school nearest to your home. With a transparent ceiling and a metallic silver casing, the “Carsten Holler: Experience” exhibition features this slide, which plummets through the floors of the museum.

The object of this show seems to be a transformation of time and space, experienced by the viewer. Employing Holler’s Mirror Carousel, the Experience Corridor, and plenty of other twisting features alongside the slide, this show seems like one of the most magical museum attractions in New York right now. The show is open to the public now through January 15th, 2012 and can be viewed in the Lobby, Second, Third, and Fourth floors. Check out this Flickr photo set, which documents the installation of Experience.

Plane Answers – A pilot’s experience before flying solo, a passenger pointing out a mechanical problem and wake turbulence bumps

Welcome to Gadling’s feature, Plane Answers, where our resident airline pilot, Kent Wien, answers your questions about everything from takeoff to touchdown and beyond. Have a question of your own? Ask away!

Esteban from Spain asks:

When learning to drive a car, for most people a few minutes of training are enough to drive, although they don’t know the circulation rules. Do you think that it is possible to take off, turn, and land in a small cessna with few hours of training without obeying the navigation rules?

Hi Esteban,

Soloing is the moment every student pilot dreams of. That moment when your instructor hops out of the airplane and tells you to take it around the ‘patch’ three times.

Can it be done in just a few hours? Absolutely. But you’d have to find an instructor willing to put his certificate on the line at that point. The ‘typical’ range is anywhere from 6 to 25 hours, but that’s also dependent on the airport you’re flying from and the type of airplane.

Densely populated areas have more requirements for ATC communication and airspace regulations, so your instructor will want you to be familiar with those regulations before letting you go.

For a more anecdotal look at the typical times before soloing, take a look at this thread written by flight instructors and pilots about the subject on

Cassandra asks:

I just flew down to FL from Hartford last Thursday on Delta and had a window seat on the wing. Just before we began our descent, I had glanced down on the wing and noticed 3 round tanks(?) that were screwed down right by the emergency door. What caught my eye was the fact that 2 of them seemed to be leaking what I thought was water or some sort of clear liquid. It was 2 smaller tanks near the front of the wing and a larger one just behind them. The two smaller ones were the ones that were leaking and all coming from under the screws. It was enough they were trailing down towards and past the next tank.

What are these and though it might have been nothing, should I have said something to the crew after the flight? Of course it was dry by the time we arrived at the gate.
Hi Cassandra,

It’s common to see slight stains around some of the screws on the wing, especially on the bottom of the wing near the fuel pumps. I’m sure what you saw wasn’t critical, but I’d encourage you to let the pilots know as you deplane. If you were really concerned about something, bring it to the attention of the flight attendant. They’ll pass it along to the pilots who can then decide if it’s a serious enough problem.

I always follow up on the comment with maintenance, which is often at the gate shortly after we arrive anyway. It’s just a good idea to take even the smallest comment seriously. Many of them can be easily explained away, but it’s always prudent for us to look at anything that’s a concern to a passenger just to be sure.

John asks:

Hi Kent,

Recently, while on a flight from the east coast to the west, we were enjoying a smooth ride. Then, without warning, we hit a pocket of extreme turbulence. What made this differenct was that it was less than 2 seconds, and had the “feel” of an impact.

My questions are:
1) Is this a normal thing, and
2) Does it pose any danger to the flight.


Hi John,

The way you’ve described it, I’m pretty certain your airplane flew through the wake turbulence of another jet. This doesn’t happen often at all, but when the airplane is in just the right position relative to crossing traffic, it can be startling. It happens so briefly that we don’t usually see any injuries, but it will sure make you tighten your belt while sitting.

You can rest assured that the airplane is designed to handle the wake structurally and it generally doesn’t present any danger to the flight.

That said, ATC goes to great lengths to provide enough separation between aircraft during arrivals and departures. It’s during this time that wake turbulence can present a greater problem for airplanes, since the wake is generally larger when jets fly slower, with the gear and flaps down, than while in cruise flight. If the airplane weighs over 250,000 pounds (usually anything larger than a Boeing 757), then the pilots will call themselves a ‘heavy’ which reminds controllers that extra separation is needed behind those aircraft.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for next Monday’s Plane Answers. Check out his other blog, Cockpit Chronicles and travel along with him at work.

Plane Answers: How a pilot’s flight time relates to their experience

Welcome to Gadling’s feature, Plane Answers, where our resident airline pilot, Kent Wien, answers your questions about everything from takeoff to touchdown and beyond. Have a question of your own? Ask away!

Ted asks:

Due to the latest streak of incidents and accidents I have seen the pilot’s experience written down in flight hours – the captain on the Turkish plane that crashed at Amsterdam had ~15,000 hrs experience, Capt. Sullenberger almost 20,000 hrs and his first officer 15,000+ hrs while the first officer on the ill-fated Colgan Air flight 3407 only had 774 flight hours experience.

However, I would like to know how this translates into years of experience; how many flight hours does a pilot accumulate in an average year; what are the differences between a long-haul pilot (747,767,777 etc), a pilot that flies shorter flights (737/A320) and a pilot for a regional airline.

If possible, I’d like to find out how a pilot’s career looks in flight hours; from moment 0 when he/she takes the first flight lesson, to the PPL and so on all the way to a Senior Flight Captain with the hours attained at the most important milestones. (I know these vary greatly from case to case, but how would it look like on a more or less approximated average?)

Oh, and one more thing: are the flight hours calculated from take-off to touch-down or do they count ground time as well?

Hi Ted,

That’s a great question.

As you mentioned, the milestones in one pilot’s career can vary wildly from another pilot’s. But I could probably give you a general range.
The researcher Anders Ericsson claims that to be an expert in any field or subject takes 10,000 hours of practice – a milestone in flying I’ve only recently reached.

Here’s a breakdown of the typical flight times for various pilots.

Student pilot

A student pilot can solo whenever an instructor is comfortable signing them off. That can be anywhere between six and twenty hours, typically.

Private Pilot

The private pilot license takes at least 40 hours to accomplish, but most finish it after 60 or 70 hours. That license allows a pilot to carry passengers with them, but not for hire.

Commercial, mult-engine and instrument rated pilot, with instructor ratings

After about 250 hours, a pilot can work toward their advanced ratings which are a requirement to flight instruct or to fly for hire.

Regional Co-pilot

Regional airlines that hire pilots for twin-engine turboprops and RJs (regional jets) typically hire pilots into the co-pilot seat with between 500 to 1,500 hours. After some time in the right seat-as little as six months and as many as ten years-the co-pilot would upgrade to the captain position.

Regional Captain

To be a captain at a regional airline, you would have to have an ATP or Air Transport Pilot license. This license requires at least 1,500 hours, along with a significant amount of cross-country and night flying time. So the typical regional captain could have between 1,500 hours and 30,000 hours.

The large spread in flight time is because some pilots end up at the regional carrier during a time of limited hiring by major airlines. After flying for ten or so years at the regional, it becomes a difficult decision to leave the company to fly for less money initially at a major airline. So many of those captains elect to stay put until they retire at the age of 65.

Regional pilots fly close to the FAA maximum allowable 1,000 hours a year.

National and major airline Co-pilots

The usual new-hire at a national or major airline has between 1,500 hours and 10,000 hours, typically. Military pilots generally don’t accrue the large number of hours in a short amount of time like regional pilots, so they tend to have between 1,500 and 3,000 hours when hired. Civilian pilots often have at least 2,500 hours, and more commonly now, 5,000 hours before landing a job at the majors.

The holy grail. Captain!

Captains at the major and national carriers usually have at least two to 15 years with the airline before upgrading. Since we’ve had an unusually stagnant decade of growth among the legacy airlines, many have between fifteen and twenty years with a company before moving to the right seat. In fact, I just had my sixteen-year anniversary and I’m still firmly planted in the right seat with no real outlook for an upgrade anytime soon. I’m sure once the retirements and growth pick up, that will change quickly.

National and Major airline pilots fly between 600 and 1,000 hours per year.

Notice I didn’t separate the wide-body, long-haul pilots from the narrow-body domestic pilots with regard to experience, since there’s relatively little flight time differences. Some pilots prefer the international flying and some would rather fly within the U.S., or their carrier is domestic only, so the flight time is relatively similar between those groups.

In the airline world, flight time is measured from the time the aircraft pushes back to the time it pulls up to the gate at the destination. Military pilots often only log the time flown in the air, without the taxi flight time included, so that can also account for the lower numbers among those pilots.

But flight time really isn’t the only way to get a feel for a pilot’s experience. Airlines look at a pilots currency, or how much they’ve flown in the past year, the amount of flight time they have in a particular type of aircraft and what type of flying they’ve been doing. A domestic pilot will accomplish a lot of takeoff and landings and gain valuable experience quicker than, say, a long-haul 747 pilot flying as one of the three or four pilots on the airplane.

And it’s also important to keep in mind that we’re all human. All pilots have to fight off complacency, as even 500-hour pilots can start to feel they’ve got this flying thing figured out.

The Turkish pilot with 15,000 hours may have been complacent or lacked currency. The facts on that accident are coming out and it’s looking like an automation failure wasn’t picked up by the pilots while on approach resulting in a loss of airspeed. Proof positive that even a 15,000 hour pilot (equivalent to nearly two straight years in the air) can be caught off guard at times.

So flight time isn’t the definitive tool used to judge a pilot’s experience level. It’s just the most often used.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for next Monda
Plane Answers. Check out his other blog, Cockpit Chronicles and travel along with him at work.

What places would you never go back to?

Most of us have a priority list of places we want to visit. But what about the places we would never visit again?
Whether you loved it or hated it, saw all of it or hardly anything, surely there are some places you don’t ever want to go back to. You might have a solid reason, or no specific reason at all, but think a little and you might unravel an interesting list of places and thoughts. Here are mine:

  • Lisbon: I spent 3 days here in 2004 after doing a 3-week road trip down the west coast of Portugal — beginning in Porto and ending in the Algarve. Portugal’s coastline is among the most stunning ones I have been to; dare I say I think I liked it more than Australia’s east coast. I must’ve been natured-out or something because after that, Lisbon was just not happening and I don’t see myself going back.
  • Nimbin, NSW, Australia: This is one of the most interesting towns I have been to. Located close to Byron Bay, the town has around 300 potheads inhabiting it. It survives from local production and sale of marijuana and offers some of the best hash-brownies I have ever had; I will never forget that they were served to me by a 7-year old in a joint called “Rainbow Cafe”. It’s tiny and I have fond memories, but it’s also depressing to be around people who know no other life other than a marijuana one. It’s worth visiting, but perhaps not more than once.
  • Malmö, Sweden: It’s small, it’s quiet, it’s generally dead after 10pm, there isn’t much to see, there are only that many meatballs you can eat. Nope, never going back.
  • Copenhagen, Denmark: Once you’ve been to one Scandinavian country, I think it’s like you’ve been to them all. Copenhagen is pretty. But that’s about it.
  • Hong Kong: I’ve only seen Hong Kong on layover between flights, but all in all I was disappointed — and I didn’t like the food at all! I’d rather visit Beijing or Shanghai.
  • Singapore: It’s like a Chinese Dubai. Too clean, too rich, too advanced for my liking. (I even had my Hubba-Bubba chewing gum confiscated the first time I went there, I was only 11. I will always hold that against them).
  • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: I’m was unlucky when I visited KL. I was trapped there for 3-days because of an unexpected appearance of very thick smog. I spent a lot of time outside (stupidly without a face mask to protect me from the pollution) and just didn’t enjoy the city.

What about you guys?