The Soyuz rocket is the workhorse for Russian human space missions and has been used for that purpose longer than any other vehicle. In the 1960s it began carrying cosmonauts into space and then to the Soviet Salyut and Mir stations. Together with the US Space Shuttle, it ensures the transport of crews to and from the International Space Station.
To ensure that Soyuz will be able to carry out missions of this type from Europe’s Spaceport, the launch infrastructure has been designed so that it can be smoothly adapted for human spaceflight, should this be decided. The first Soyuz flight was unmanned and started on November 28, 1966.
ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti is all set for her five-month mission on the International Space Station. She will leave Earth on Sunday from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with NASA astronaut Terry Virts and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov.
Watch the international crew of astronauts board their Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft strapped to 274 tonnes of rocket propellants, accelerate to 28 800 km/h and dock with the Space Station orbiting Earth in just six hours.
Source: European Space Agency ESA
Some molecules are found in two chiral variants that, just like hands, are mirror images of one another. Nature, however, makes use of only one variant; for example, DNA is made of a right-handed helix and the most common sugar — glucose — is also right-handed. Why nature does this, and how it all started, remains an intriguing puzzle. After all, whenever chemists make the same molecules they obtain a mix of both variants.
Although the molecules are chemically identical, the biological effect of the two mirror images can differ enormously. Due to different interactions with the molecules in our bodies such as DNA and sugars, this can mean a difference between a toxin and a medicine. Thalidomide (trade name Softenon), originally produced as a mix of both mirror images, is the most dramatic example of this. It is therefore very important for the pharmaceutical industry to produce the correct versions of molecules, and a range of chemical methods have been developed to be able to do this selectively. Even so, this does not explain the preference for just one of the mirror images in the early days of Earth.
The article in Nature Communications describes how Radboud chemists produced an amino acid-like molecule with a single handedness from a solution of a ketone and an amine. Their method may be similar to the processes that took place in the primordial soup. The feasibility of this scenario was first proposed by the physicist F.C. Frank in 1953, which he coined’spontaneous asymmetric synthesis’.
An article by Kenso Soai in Nature in 1995 described the experimental realization for the first time, but this only worked after addition of a pinch of the left-handed or right-handed product to start with. The Radboud chemists however took it an important step further: they updated Frank’s concept and discovered a spontaneous asymmetric synthesis method which takes place in the absence of left- or right-handed molecules. René Steendam: “The first left-handed amino acids could have been produced in this way, no matter whether this happened on earth or somewhere else in the universe.”
Molecules and Materials
“No one has done this before, no-one has achieved — in a single, simple reaction, in a single beaker with no chirality present — an end situation that is 100 % left-handed or 100 % right-handed” says Elias Vlieg, Professor of Solid State Chemistry. “This really is a fantastic example of how we go about things here in the Institute for Molecules and Materials. The molecules that we used came from Floris Rutjes’ Synthetic Organic Chemistry group, who is René’s other supervisor. There they understand reactions, and we understand crystals.” The researchers applied a method during the reaction that was invented a few years ago at Radboud University allowing crystals to repeatedly dissolve and grow through continuous grinding and stirring. “All this does is accelerate the process, but if you have enough time — as you do during evolution — it will work without using this trick.”
Reference: René R. E. Steendam, Jorge M. M. Verkade, Tim J. B. van Benthem, Hugo Meekes, Willem J. P. van Enckevort, Jan Raap, Floris P. J. T. Rutjes, Elias Vlieg.Emergence of single-molecular chirality from achiral reactants. Nature Communications, 2014; 5: 5543 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms6543
Předmostí I is an exceptional prehistoric site located near Brno in the Czech Republic. Around 30,000 years ago it was inhabited by people of the pan-European Gravettian culture, who used the bones of more than 1000 mammoths to build their settlement and to ivory sculptures. Did prehistoric people collect this precious raw material from carcasses — easy to spot on the big cold steppe — or were they the direct result of hunting for food? This year-round settlement also yielded a large number of canids remains, some of them with characteristics of Palaeolithic dogs. Were these animals used to help hunt mammoths?
To answer these two questions, Tübingen researcher Hervé Bocherens and his international team carried out an analysis of carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes in human and animal fossil bones from the site. Working with researchers from Brno and Brussels, the researchers were able to test whether the Gravettian people of Předmostí ate mammoth meat and how the “palaeolithic dogs” fit into this subsistence picture.
They found that humans did consume mammoth — and in large quantities. Other carnivores, such as brown bears, wolves and wolverines, also had access to mammoth meat, indicating the high availability of fresh mammoth carcasses, most likely left behind by human hunters. Surprisingly, the dogs did not show a high level of mammoth consumption, but rather consumed essentially reindeer meat that was not the staple food of their owners. A similar situation is observed in traditional populations from northern regions, who often feed their dogs with the food that they do not like. These results also suggest that these early dogs were restrained, and were probably used as transportation helpers.
These new results provide clear evidence that mammoth was a key component of prehistoric life in Europe 30,000 years ago, and that dogs were already there to help
Reference: Hervé Bocherens, Dorothée G. Drucker, Mietje Germonpré, Martina Lázničková-Galetová, Yuichi I. Naito, Christoph Wissing, Jaroslav Brůžek, Martin Oliva.Reconstruction of the Gravettian food-web at Předmostí I using multi-isotopic tracking (13C, 15N, 34S) of bone collagen. Quaternary International, 2014; DOI:10.1016/j.quaint.2014.09.044