On March 27, the veteran of three previous space flights will take off for the International Space Station (ISS) and, along with cosmonaut Misha Kornienko, remain aloft for a full year. Meantime, Scott's twin brother Mark, a veteran of four space flights, will remain on the ground. The two men with their matching backgrounds, similar health and identical genomes, will serve as the perfect controlled experiment to learn more about how the human body handles weightlessness-and what can be done to minimize the damage during long-term trips to Mars and elsewhere.
Ok, Pluto fans. They evicted Pluto from our solar system's planetary pantheon, but a NASA mission launched in 2006 is nearing the dwarf planet with its cameras. We'll soon have photos of Pluto that are much more high resolution than we currently have, which means scientists will need names for all the new geographic features. The Our Pluto site has been set up to help suggest and vote on names for these features. Naming themes include historic explorers, travelers to the underworld, and scientists and engineers. Go vote! (via slate)
We see these vents in the ocean bottom on Earth, too. The water there is very hot, heated by tectonic processes inside Earth's crust. It brings up minerals and nutrients, and life thrives there. A lot of the processes are the same as what's imagined is happening on Enceladus; minerals are dissolved in hot water that spews up into the cold ocean, precipitating out. A lot of it is sulfur based, but amazingly life exists there anyway. The environment is highly toxic to humans-huge pressure, boiling water near the vents, freezing a bit farther away, and loaded with icky chemicals-but as a scientist once said, "Life finds a way."
Between the evidence of past flowing water on Mars, Titan's hydrocarbon lakes, Europa's underground ocean, and Enceladus, it seems increasingly probable we'll find life somewhere else in the solar system. That's a pretty exciting prospect! (via @ericholthaus)
Update: It was also announced today that the Hubble has detected signs of a salty underground ocean on Jupiter's moon Ganymede.
New observations of the moon using Hubble support this. Ganymede has a weak magnetic field, and, like on Earth, this generates an aurora-the glow created when high-speed subatomic particles slam into the extremely thin atmosphere. This glow is brightest in ultraviolet, and so astronomers used the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (my old camera!) on Hubble to observe Ganymede. STIS is quite sensitive to UV and detected the aurora.
Now this part is a bit tricky: Jupiter has a powerful magnetic field as well, which interacts with Ganymede's. As they do, the aurora changes position over time, moving up and down in latitude. However, the observations show that the aurorae do not change nearly as much as expected if Ganymede were solid. The best way to explain this is if the moon has a salty ocean under its surface. The ocean would have its own magnetic field and would resist the influence of Jupiter's magnetic field, which in turn keeps the aurora steadier.
Turns out there's water all over the place in the solar system. How about that?
For whatever reason, when Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong left the surface of the Moon after their historic space walk, they collected "a bunch of trash that we want to take back" in a small white bag. Upon their return to Earth, Armstrong put the bag in a closet and there it sat for more than 40 years, until Armstrong's widow discovered it shortly after his death. Among other items, the bag contained the camera that recorded The Eagle's landing on the Moon and Armstrong's first step, which was presumed to have been lost or left on the Moon.
As far as we know, Neil has never discussed the existence of these items and no one else has seen them in the 45 years since he returned from the Moon. (I asked James Hansen, Neil's authorized biographer if he had mentioned the items, and he had not.) Each and every item has its own story and significance, and they are described with photographs in extraordinary detail in an addendum to the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal. But two of the items are especially timely. Both have been placed on display as part of the recently opened temporary exhibition Outside the Spacecraft: 50 Years of Extra-Vehicular Activity.
The first is the 16mm Data Acquisition Camera that was mounted in the window of the lunar module Eagle to record the historic landing and "one small step" made by Armstrong as humankind first set foot on another world.
This new map allows scientists to determine the age of large swaths of Greenland's ice, extending ice core data for a better picture of the ice sheet's history. "This new, huge data volume records how the ice sheet evolved and how it's flowing today," said Joe MacGregor, a glaciologist at The University of Texas at Austin's Institute for Geophysics and the study's lead author.
Greenland's ice sheet is the second largest mass of ice on Earth, containing enough water to raise ocean levels by about 20 feet. The ice sheet has been losing mass over the past two decades and warming temperatures will mean more losses for Greenland. Scientists are studying ice from different climate periods in the past to better understand how the ice sheet might respond in the future.
One way of studying this distant past is with ice cores. These cylinders of ice drilled from the ice sheet hold evidence of past snow accumulation and temperature and contain impurities like dust and volcanic ash that were carried by snow that accumulated and compacted over hundreds of thousands of years. These layers are visible in ice cores and can be detected with ice-penetrating radar.
Ice-penetrating radar works by sending radar signals into the ice and recording the strength and return time of reflected signals. From those signals, scientists can detect the ice surface, sub-ice bedrock and layers within the ice.
New techniques used in this study allowed scientists to efficiently pick out these layers in radar data. Prior studies had mapped internal layers, but not at the scale made possible by these newer, faster methods. Another major factor in this study was the amount of Greenland IceBridge has measured.
It's amazing that the detectors and data analysis are sensitive enough to pick out different layers in the ice just from radar. (via @ptak)
If you believe in gravity, then you know that if you remove air resistance, a bowling ball and a feather will fall at the same rate. But seeing it actually happen, in the world's largest vacuum chamber (122 feet high, 100 feet in diameter), is still a bit shocking.
In the late 1500s, Galileo was the first to show that the acceleration due to the Earth's gravity was independent of mass with his experiment at the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but that pesky air resistance caused some problems. At the end of the Apollo 15 mission, astronaut David Scott dropped a hammer and a feather in the vacuum on the surface of the Moon:
Oh man, this is great. A Spacecraft For All is an interactive video about the ISEE-3 Reboot Project, in which a group of scientists working out of an old McDonald's crowdfunded an effort to communicate with a nearly forgotten satellite launched by NASA in 1978 to observe the Sun and chase a comet. After the intro, click on "See the Journey"...it's well worth your time if you're at all interested in space or science.
For instance, did you know there exists several points between the Earth and the Sun at which a satellite can orbit around, enabling spacecraft to stay more or less in the same spot for observation purposes? So cool!
NASA announced the discovery of 719 new planets today. That brings the tally of known planets in our universe to almost 1800. 20 years ago, that number was not more than 15 (including the nine planets orbiting the Sun). Here's a rough timeline of the dramatically increasing pace of planetary discovery:
For more than 50 years, the NASA Innovative Partnerships Program has connected NASA resources to private industry, referring to the commercial products as spin-offs. Well-known products that NASA claims as spin-offs include memory foam (originally named temper foam), freeze-dried food, firefighting equipment, emergency "space blankets", Dustbusters, cochlear implants, and now Speedo's LZR Racer swimsuits. NASA claims that there are over 1650 other spin-offs in the fields of computer technology, environment and agriculture, health and medicine, public safety, transportation, recreation, and industrial productivity.
In theory, quantum computers can perform calculations far faster than their classical counterparts to solve incredibly complex problems. They do this by storing information in quantum bits, or qubits.
At any given moment, each of a classical computer's bits can only be in an "on" or an "off" state. They exist inside conventional electronic circuits, which follow the 19th-century rules of classical physics. A qubit, on the other hand, can be created with an electron, or inside a superconducting loop. Obeying the counterintuitive logic of quantum mechanics, a qubit can act as if it's "on" and "off" simultaneously. It can also become tightly linked to the state of its fellow qubits, a situation called entanglement. These are two of the unusual properties that enable quantum computers to test multiple solutions at the same time.
But in practice, a physical quantum computer is incredibly difficult to run. Entanglement is delicate, and very easily disrupted by outside influences. Add more qubits to increase the device's calculating power, and it becomes more difficult to maintain entanglement.
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory is getting some really amazing shots of the Sun, including this 200,000 mile-long solar eruption that left a huge canyon on the surface of the Sun:
Different wavelengths help capture different aspect of events in the corona. The red images shown in the movie help highlight plasma at temperatures of 90,000° F and are good for observing filaments as they form and erupt. The yellow images, showing temperatures at 1,000,000° F, are useful for observing material coursing along the sun's magnetic field lines, seen in the movie as an arcade of loops across the area of the eruption. The browner images at the beginning of the movie show material at temperatures of 1,800,000° F, and it is here where the canyon of fire imagery is most obvious.
The level of detail shown is incredible. (via @DavidGrann)
Great story from the memoirs of William Moore, an Electrical Systems expert for the Apollo program in the 1960s. Moore writes about the time that he and his team had to take a trip out to the launchpad to fix something on the first unmanned launch of the Saturn V rocket.
Our goal was to enter this two level hermetically sealed, all welded steel coffin called the Mobil Launcher Base topped by a fully loaded 363 ft. high Saturn V, weighing 6.2 million pounds, and the permanently attached 380 ft. high Umbilical Tower, weighing 500k pounds. We finally stopped and left our van to walk up and into the second level of the Mobile Launcher Base. About this time, it came to my mind that during one of our training sessions we were told that one of the fully fueled prototype S11 rocket stages had been exploded out in the desert. The results showed that all buildings better be at least three miles from the launch lads -- which they are. We were now within 25 feet of this 363ft tall bomb that sounded like it's giant fuse had been lit, and we were soon going to get much closer.
There's a story about NASA's incredibly expensive space pen and Russia's simpler solution that gets trotted out every time some large organization introduces some complex, bloated, over-engineered product or process. The story goes like this:
During the space race back in the 1960's, NASA was faced with a major problem. The astronaut needed a pen that would write in the vacuum of space. NASA went to work. At a cost of $1.5 million they developed the "Astronaut Pen". Some of you may remember. It enjoyed minor success on the commercial market.
Paul C. Fisher and his company, the Fisher Pen Company, reportedly invested $1 million to create what is now commonly known as the space pen. None of this investment money came from NASA's coffers -- the agency only became involved after the pen was dreamed into existence. In 1965 Fisher patented a pen that could write upside-down, in frigid or roasting conditions (down to minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit or up to 400 degrees F), and even underwater or in other liquids. If too hot, though, the ink turned green instead of its normal blue.
Explore one of the greatest scientific mysteries of our time, the Pioneer Anomaly: in the 1980s, NASA scientists detected an unknown force acting on the spacecraft Pioneer 10, the first man-made object to journey through the asteroid belt and study Jupiter, eventually leaving the solar system. No one seemed able to agree on a cause. (Dark matter? Tensor-vector-scalar gravity? Collisions with gravitons?) What did seem clear to those who became obsessed with it was that the Pioneer Anomaly had the potential to upend Einstein and Newton -- to change everything we know about the universe.
Kakaes was a science writer for The Economist and studied physics at Harvard, so this topic seems right up his alley. Available for $2.99 for the Kindle and for iBooks on iOS.
Back in April, the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (aka a NASA satellite with a bitchin' camera) took photos of the Earth along a swath of land 120 miles wide by 6,000 miles long, from Russia to South Africa. Then they stitched it into a mesmerising 15-minute video:
Feel free to put on some Sigur Ros while you watch. (via the atlantic)
Called Buran (Russian for blizzard or snowstorm), the program was launched by the Kremlin as a reaction to NASA's space shuttle and an attempt to gain an edge in space against the backdrop of Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" Strategic Defense Initiative. It was also an attempt to fulfill the Soviet Union's dream of reusable spacecraft and payloads, ideas that predated the American space program.
A massive effort began. Over a million and a half people worked on the multi-billion dollar project, while researchers developed new, elaborate schemes for Russian space exploration. Among other tasks, Russian scientists hoped that the Buran would be able to carry the space station back to Earth, and -- the reported reason for its inception -- to allow the USSR to carry out military attacks from space.
The Soviet Shuttle, the Buran (snowstorm) was an aerodynamic clone of the American orbiter, but incorporated many original features that had been considered and rejected for the American program, such as all-liquid rocket boosters, jet engines, ejection seats and an unmanned flight capability. You know you're in trouble when the Russians are adding safety features to your design.
In complete defiance of its parents, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory has stared directly at the Sun for the past three years. Here's a video of those three years made from still images taken by the SDO.
During the course of the video, the sun subtly increases and decreases in apparent size. This is because the distance between the SDO spacecraft and the sun varies over time. The image is, however, remarkably consistent and stable despite the fact that SDO orbits the Earth at 6,876 miles per hour and the Earth orbits the sun at 67,062 miles per hour.
The video notes say the animation uses two images per day...it would be nice to see the same animation with a higher frame rate. (via ★interesting)
Great article by Burkhard Bilger about NASA's Curiosity mission to Mars.
The search for life on Mars is now in its sixth decade. Forty spacecraft have been sent there, and not one has found a single fossil or living thing. The closer we look, the more hostile the planet seems: parched and frozen in every season, its atmosphere inert and murderously thin, its surface scoured by solar winds. By the time Earth took its first breath three billion years ago, geologists now believe, Mars had been suffocating for a billion years. The air had thinned and rivers evaporated; dust storms swept up and ice caps seized what was left of the water. The Great Desiccation Event, as it's sometimes called, is even more of a mystery than the Great Oxygenation on Earth. We know only this: one planet lived and the other died. One turned green, the other red.
Perfect read if you've been curious about what Curiosity is up to on Mars but needed something a bit more narrative than the mission home page or Wikipedia page to guide you. Also features the phrase "a self-eating watermelon of despair", so there's that. Oh, and here's the Seven Minutes of Terror video referred to in the story.
After landing, Huygens photographed a dark plain covered in small rocks and pebbles, which are composed of water ice. The two rocks just below the middle of the image on the right are smaller than they may appear: the left-hand one is 15 centimeters across, and the one in the center is 4 centimeters across, at a distance of about 85 centimeters from Huygens. There is evidence of erosion at the base of the rocks, indicating possible fluvial activity. The surface is darker than originally expected, consisting of a mixture of water and hydrocarbon ice. The assumption is that the "soil" visible in the images is precipitation from the hydrocarbon haze above.
And a special close-but-no-cigar award goes to the NEAR Shoemaker probe, which snapped this photo from about 400 feet above the surface of the near-Earth asteroid Eros:
The probe landed on the surface of Eros in February 2001 and transmitted usable data for about two weeks afterwards, none of which was photographic in nature.
If a reasonable launch schedule is to be maintained, engineering often cannot be done fast enough to keep up with the expectations of originally conservative certification criteria designed to guarantee a very safe vehicle. In these situations, subtly, and often with apparently logical arguments, the criteria are altered so that flights may still be certified in time. They therefore fly in a relatively unsafe condition, with a chance of failure of the order of a percent (it is difficult to be more accurate).
Official management, on the other hand, claims to believe the probability of failure is a thousand times less. One reason for this may be an attempt to assure the government of NASA perfection and success in order to ensure the supply of funds. The other may be that they sincerely believed it to be true, demonstrating an almost incredible lack of communication between themselves and their working engineers.
In any event this has had very unfortunate consequences, the most serious of which is to encourage ordinary citizens to fly in such a dangerous machine, as if it had attained the safety of an ordinary airliner. The astronauts, like test pilots, should know their risks, and we honor them for their courage. Who can doubt that McAuliffe was equally a person of great courage, who was closer to an awareness of the true risk than NASA management would have us believe?
Let us make recommendations to ensure that NASA officials deal in a world of reality in understanding technological weaknesses and imperfections well enough to be actively trying to eliminate them. They must live in reality in comparing the costs and utility of the Shuttle to other methods of entering space. And they must be realistic in making contracts, in estimating costs, and the difficulty of the projects. Only realistic flight schedules should be proposed, schedules that have a reasonable chance of being met. If in this way the government would not support them, then so be it. NASA owes it to the citizens from whom it asks support to be frank, honest, and informative, so that these citizens can make the wisest decisions for the use of their limited resources.
For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.
Clear thought, clear writing. Feynman was perhaps the most efficient mechanism ever conceived for consuming complexity and pumping out simplicity. (via @ptak)
At the end of a four-day period of controlled explosions, USGS scientists had succeeded in creating a 500 square foot "simulated lunar environment" in Northern Arizona -- forty-seven craters of between five and forty feet in diameter designed to duplicate at a 1:1 scale a specific location (and future Apollo 11 landing site) on the moon, in a region called the Mare Tranquillitatis.
Filmmaker S.G. Collins argues that in 1969, it was easier to send people to the Moon than to fake the landing in a studio. Technologically speaking, it was impossible to shoot that video anywhere other than the surface of the Moon. Which sounds crazy.
The Smart SPHERES, located in the Kibo laboratory module, were remotely operated from the International Space Station's Mission Control Center at Johnson to demonstrate how a free-flying robot can perform surveys for environmental monitoring, inspection and other routine housekeeping tasks.
In the future, small robots could regularly perform routine maintenance tasks allowing astronauts to spend more time working on science experiments. In the long run, free-flying robots like Smart SPHERES also could be used to inspect the exterior of the space station or future deep-space vehicles.
They are outfitting the Smart SPHERES with Android phones for data collection:
Each SPHERE Satellite is self-contained with power, propulsion, computing and navigation equipment. When Miller's team first designed the SPHERES, all of their potential uses couldn't be imagined up front. So, the team built an "expansion port" into each satellite where additional sensors and appendages, such as cameras and wireless power transfer systems, could be added. This is how the Nexus S handset -- the SPHERES' first smartphone upgrade -- is going to be attached.
"Because the SPHERES were originally designed for a different purpose, they need some upgrades to become remotely operated robots," said DW Wheeler, lead engineer in the Intelligent Robotics Group at Ames. "By connecting a smartphone, we can immediately make SPHERES more intelligent. With the smartphone, the SPHERES will have a built-in camera to take pictures and video, sensors to help conduct inspections, a powerful computing unit to make calculations, and a Wi-Fi connection that we will use to transfer data in real-time to the space station and mission control."
Although he had been a Navy fighter pilot, a test pilot for NASA's forerunner and an astronaut, Mr. Armstrong never allowed himself to be caught up in the celebrity and glamour of the space program.
"I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer," he said in February 2000 in one a rare public appearance. "And I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession."
A sad day; Armstrong was one of my few heroes. In my eyes, Armstrong safely guiding the LEM to the surface of the Moon, at times by the seat of his pants, is among the most impressive and important things ever done by a human being.
The rest of you can have your Olympics, but the early August event I'm most looking forward to is the arrival on Mars of the Curiosity rover. But NASA has had someproblems in the past delivering payloads to Mars, so this is going to be somewhat of a nail-biter. If you haven't seen it, Curiosity's Seven Minutes of Terror is well worth watching to see the logistical challenge of getting the rover down to the surface.
Curiosity will hopefully land on the surface on Aug 6 at about 1:30 am ET.
This is a video showing all 135 launches of the various Space Shuttle at once.
Turn up your sound. I've seen this done with episodes of the Simpsons and Star Trek, but this is way better. The fade out on the tiny Challenger square is surprisingly affecting. Created by McLean Fahnestock.
When they were launched in 1977, the two Voyager spacecraft each carried with them a 12-inch gold-plated copper record containing multimedia pertaining to life on Earth, the idea being that if an extraterrestrial ran across one of these records millions of years from now, they could play it an learn something about our planet. This site has a listing of some of the music, images, and sounds contained on the records. Here are two of the images included...the first is a rudimentary mathematics primer and the second is a family portrait:
I wonder when we'll see these records again. I mean, it seems more plausible that Elon Musk's grandson will mount an expedition to retrieve a Voyager probe in 2077 than some alien running across the thing.
I missed this last July when the news came out, but since I've been following the Pioneer Anomaly for the past eight years, I wanted to mention it here for closure purposes. First, what the hell is the Pioneer Anomaly?
The Pioneer anomaly or Pioneer effect is the observed deviation from predicted accelerations of the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 spacecraft after they passed about 20 astronomical units (3×10^9 km; 2×10^9 mi) on their trajectories out of the Solar System. Both Pioneer spacecraft are escaping the Solar System, but are slowing under the influence of the Sun's gravity. Upon very close examination of navigational data, the spacecraft were found to be slowing slightly more than expected. The effect is an extremely small but unexplained acceleration towards the Sun, of 8.74±1.33x10^-10 m/s^2.
For their new analysis, Turyshev et. al. compiled a lot more data than had ever been analyzed before, spanning a much longer period of the Pioneers' flight times. They studied 23 years of data from Pioneer 10 instead of just 11, and 11 years of data from Pioneer 11 instead of 3. As explained in their new paper, the more complete data sets reveal that the spacecraft's anomalous acceleration did indeed seem to decrease with time. In short, the undying force had been dying after all, just like the decaying plutonium.
A more recent paper by the same researchers offers even more support for their theory. Case closed, I say.
Fun fact: the actual programs in the spacecraft were stored in core rope memory, an ancient memory technology made by (literally) weaving a fabric/rope, where the bits were physical rings of ferrite material.
"Core" memory is resistant to cosmic rays. The state of a core bit will not change when bombarded by radiation in Outer Space. Can't say the same of solid state memory.
You've likely seen other videos taken from cameras attached to the Space Shuttle and its boosters, but this is one is exceptional in two regards: it's in HD and the sound has been remastered by Skywalker Sound.
Watch, and more importantly, listen to the whole thing...at the very end, you can see the second booster land a few hundred yards away from the first one. Who knew that being in space sounds like being trapped with a whale underwater in a tin pail? (via ★mouser)
On a recent pass, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught this dust devil dancing its way across the surface of Mars.
The active dust devil displays a delicate arc produced by a westerly breeze partway up its height. The dust plume is about 30 yards or meters in diameter.
The image was taken during the time of Martian year when that planet is farthest from the sun. Just as on Earth, winds on Mars are powered by solar heating. Exposure to the sun's rays declines during this season, yet even now, dust devils act relentlessly to clean the surface of freshly deposited dust, a little at a time.
Dust devils occur on Earth as well as on Mars. They are spinning columns of air, made visible by the dust they pull off the ground. Unlike a tornado, a dust devil typically forms on a clear day when the ground is heated by the sun, warming the air just above the ground. As heated air near the surface rises quickly through a small pocket of cooler air above it, the air may begin to rotate, if conditions are just right.
And I venture to predict that after all the huzzas have been uttered and the public acclaim is but a memory, you will derive the greatest satisfaction from the serene knowledge that you have discovered new truths. You can say to yourself: this I saw, this I experienced, this I know to be the truth. This experience is a precious thing; it is known to all researchers, in whatever field of endeavour, who have ventured into the unknown and have discovered new truths.
Time lapse movie composed of photographs taken from the International Space Station as it orbits the Earth at night.
This movie begins over the Pacific Ocean and continues over North and South America before entering daylight near Antarctica. Visible cities, countries and landmarks include (in order) Vancouver Island, Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Fransisco, Los Angeles. Phoenix. Multiple cities in Texas, New Mexico and Mexico. Mexico City, the Gulf of Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula, Lightning in the Pacific Ocean, Guatemala, Panama, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and the Amazon. Also visible is the earths ionosphere (thin yellow line) and the stars of our galaxy.
Dark, finger-like features appear and extend down some Martian slopes during late spring through summer, fade in winter, and return during the next spring. Repeated observations have tracked the seasonal changes in these recurring features on several steep slopes in the middle latitudes of Mars' southern hemisphere.
"The best explanation for these observations so far is the flow of briny water," said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, Tucson. McEwen is the principal investigator for the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) and lead author of a report about the recurring flows published in Thursday's edition of the journal Science.
Humans are sexual beings and it can be predicted that male and female astronauts will engage in sexual relations during a mission to Mars, leading to conflicts and pregnancies and the first baby born on the Red Planet. Non-human primate and astronaut sexual behavior is reviewed including romantic conflicts involving astronauts who flew aboard the Space Shuttle and in simulated missions to Mars, and men and women team members in the Antarctic. The possibilities of pregnancy and the effects of gravity and radiation on the testes, ovaries, menstruation, and developing fetus, including a child born on Mars, are discussed. What may lead to and how to prevent sexual conflicts, sexual violence, sexual competition, and pregnancy are detailed. Recommendations include the possibility that male and female astronauts on a mission to Mars, should fly in separate space craft.
Redfield blogged a scathing attack on Saturday. Over the weekend, a few other scientists took to the Internet as well. Was this merely a case of a few isolated cranks? To find out, I reached out to a dozen experts on Monday. Almost unanimously, they think the NASA scientists have failed to make their case. "It would be really cool if such a bug existed," said San Diego State University's Forest Rohwer, a microbiologist who looks for new species of bacteria and viruses in coral reefs. But, he added, "none of the arguments are very convincing on their own." That was about as positive as the critics could get. "This paper should not have been published," said Shelley Copley of the University of Colorado.
Life like us uses a handful of basic elements in the majority of its biochemistry: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen for the most part. But phosphorus is also a critical element in two major ways: it's used as the backbone of the long, spiral-shaped DNA and RNA molecules (think of it as the winding support structure for a spiral staircase and you'll get the picture), and it's part of the energy transport mechanism for cells in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). Without it, our cells would literally not be able to reproduce, and we'd be dead anyway if it were gone. There are many other ways phosphorus is used as well, including in cell membranes, bones, and so on. It's a key element for all forms of life.
Amazingly, using radioisotope-tagged molecules containing arsenic, they were able to find that the microbes incorporated the arsenic into their very DNA! It's hard to stress how shocking this is; as I understand it, saying something like that to a microbiologist without evidence would've had them slowly backing away from you and looking for weapons or an escape route.
I guessed wrong about what NASA was set to announce today, but the actual announcement is much more interesting than the mere discovery of extraterrestrial life. Aliens are inevitable -- we're going to find them sooner or later -- but a new kind of DNA, that's not something that happens every day. Exciting! (thx, jon)
Houston, we've had a problem. We've had a MAIN B BUS UNDERVOLT.
Wonderful stuff. The site is looking for help with getting more missions transcripts up...go here and scroll down to "Getting involved without technical knowledge". Although I think they'd get more people involved if they didn't just dump people into GitHub. (thx, the 50 people who sent this to me this morning)
NASA will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 2, to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.
I did a little research on the news conference participants and found:
4. James Elser (an ecologist) is involved with a NASA-funded astrobiology program called Follow the Elements, which emphasizes looking at the chemistry of environments where life evolves (and not just looking at water or carbon or oxygen).
So, if I had to guess at what NASA is going to reveal on Thursday, I'd say that they've discovered arsenic on Titan and maybe even detected chemical evidence of bacteria utilizing it for photosynthesis (by following the elements). Or something like that. (thx, sippey)
For one thing, sleeping is more troublesome than you'd think, considering the remote location:
The onslaught of apparent days and nights would play havoc with astronauts' body clocks, so a shutters-down and bedtime schedule is imposed by mission controllers. Each of the crew has a closet-like cabin where they can hook a sleeping bag to the wall and settle down for the night. Some strap pillows to their heads to make it feel more like lying down. The lights don't go out completely, though. People dozing in orbit see streaks and bursts of bright colour caused by high-energy cosmic rays painlessly slamming into their retinas. Fans and air filters add to the distractions, so some astronauts wear ear plugs to block out the constant hum.
Unsurprisingly, falling asleep can take some getting used to. Just as you are nodding off, you can feel as though you've fallen off a 10-storey building. People who look half asleep will suddenly throw their heads back with a start and fling out their arms. It gets easier with time. One Russian crew member is renowned for doing without a sleeping bag and falling asleep wherever he ends the day. Anyone still awake after bedtime would see his snoozing form drift by, slowly bouncing off the walls, his course set by the air currents that gently pushed and pulled him.
Remember the boiling tongue water story from yesterday's post about how long a human can last in the vacuum of space? Here's the video of that depressurization event, with the participants taking about it:
At NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center (now renamed Johnson Space Center) we had a test subject accidentally exposed to a near vacuum (less than 1 psi) in an incident involving a leaking space suit in a vacuum chamber back in '65. He remained conscious for about 14 seconds, which is about the time it takes for O2 deprived blood to go from the lungs to the brain. The suit probably did not reach a hard vacuum, and we began repressurizing the chamber within 15 seconds. The subject regained consciousness at around 15,000 feet equivalent altitude. The subject later reported that he could feel and hear the air leaking out, and his last conscious memory was of the water on his tongue beginning to boil.
The view is from one of the cameras close to the engines. The narration is great; you really get a sense of how many things had to be considered to make it to the Moon (like the launch pad paint that burned and charred in order to protect the underlying materials). (via df)
Born in the 1950s, raised on comic book dreams of exploring deep space in a rocket ship, NASA showed a lot of promise as youngster. As NASA grew up, everyone told it to be realistic, focus on practical things closer to home: Velcro, Tang, pens that work upside down. Sure, it was taking care of its responsibilities, but its dreams faded away. Where did the last three decades go?
NASA announced that it has found pretty hard evidence of significant amounts of water on the Moon.
"We are ecstatic," said Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist and principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "Multiple lines of evidence show water was present in both the high angle vapor plume and the ejecta curtain created by the LCROSS Centaur impact. The concentration and distribution of water and other substances requires further analysis, but it is safe to say Cabeus holds water."
I don't have to tell you about the implications here. Just think of how much you could sell authentic Moon bottled water for.
The lunar module is the small white bit in the middle casting the long shadow. The Apollo 14 site is the coolest...you can see the path the astronauts took out to some scientific instruments. The LRO hasn't reached its final orbit yet so future images "will have two to three times greater resolution". !!! See also my giant Apollo 11 post.
Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11 and Monday is the same for both the first Moon landing and the first walk on the surface. In this entry, I've collected some of the best resources on the web related to the anniversary...articles, historical documents, audio, video, transcripts, photos, and the like. Enjoy.
We Choose the Moon is tracking the activities of the Apollo 11 mission as it happened 40 years ago. Very nicely done.
For its July 21, 1969 issue, The NY Times used 96 pt. type to declare that MEN WALK ON MOON.
The landing was made four miles west of the aiming point, but well within the designated area. An apparent error in some data fed into the craft's guidance computer from the earth was said to have accounted for the discrepancy.
Suddenly the astronauts were startled to see that the computer was guiding them toward a possibly disastrous touchdown in a boulder-filled crater about the size of a football field.
Mr. Armstrong grabbed manual control of the vehicle and guided it safely over the crater to a smoother spot, the rocket engine stirring a cloud of moon dust during the final seconds of descent.
John Noble Wilford, the Times journalist who wrote the front page story underneath the 96 pt. type -- "the biggest single story of my career" -- recounts his Apollo 11 experience and ponders the Apollo program's legacy in a great piece for the Times.
It then occurs to me that if Columbus and Capt. James Cook were alive, they might be less astonished by two men landing on the Moon than by the millions of people, worldwide, watching every step of the walk as it happens. Exploring is old, but instantaneous telecommunications is new and marvelous.
In just 1.3 seconds, the time it takes for radio waves to travel the 238,000 miles from Moon to Earth, each step by Armstrong and Aldrin is seen, and their voices heard, throughout the world they have for the time being left behind. In contrast to exploration's previous landfalls, the whole world shares in this moment.
Let the lunar surface be the ultimate global commons while we focus on more distant and sustainable goals to revitalize our space program. Our next generation must think boldly in terms of a goal for the space program: Mars for America's future. I am not suggesting a few visits to plant flags and do photo ops but a journey to make the first homestead in space: an American colony on a new world.
Robotic exploration of Mars has yielded tantalizing clues about what was once a water-soaked planet. Deep beneath the soils of Mars may lie trapped frozen water, possibly with traces of still-extant primitive life forms. Climate change on a vast scale has reshaped Mars. With Earth in the throes of its own climate evolution, human outposts on Mars could be a virtual laboratory to study these vast planetary changes. And the best way to study Mars is with the two hands, eyes and ears of a geologist, first at a moon orbiting Mars and then on the Red Planet's surface.
Around these [landing sites] are scattered smaller artefacts and personal items, such as Neil Armstrong's boots and portable life-support system, scientific instruments and their power generators -- and, of course, the iconic US flag which remains planted in the moon's surface. Then there are the footprints and rover tread paths. Despite the passing of the years, these remain carved into the dust because the moon has no wind or rain to wash them away.
Anthropologist P. J. Capelotti of Penn State University in Abington has mapped out five "lunar parks". These cover the areas where the majority of the artefacts are concentrated and could be used as a basis for future preservation efforts. "Nobody's saying that the whole moon has to be off limits, but as people are starting to make plans for tourism and mineral extraction, or for putting a base there, they just need to be aware of them and work around them."
Since returning from the Moon, Neil Armstrong has been less and less willing to speak in public about his Apollo 11 experience. For the 40th anniversary, Armstrong will not take part in the NASA event to commemorate the landing. His only appearance related to the anniversary will be a 15-minute lecture at a Smithsonian Institution event on Sunday night. I found this event on the National Air and Space Museum site...maybe that's it? If so, then Armstrong's lecture will be webcast live on the NASA TV site that evening.
7. When Buzz Aldrin joined Armstrong on the surface, he had to make sure not to lock the Eagle's door because there was no outer handle.
Moonwalk One is a documentary film about Apollo released in 1970 to little fanfare, even though it won an award at the Cannes Film Festival. The film was commissioned by NASA but with so much Apollo activity and information happening in the late 60s and early 70s, no one was interested in distributing or seeing the film and it was soon forgotten. Recently, the only remaining 35mm print of the film was located under the director's desk, restored, and offered for sale on DVD in time for the 40th anniversary.
To get a feel of what it was like in the Soviet Union during the Apollo 11 mission, Scientific American interviewed Sergei Khrushchev, son of former Russian premier Nikita Khrushchev. The reaction was somewhat more subdued than in other parts of the world.
Of course, you cannot have people land on the moon and just say nothing. It was published in all the newspapers. But if you remember [back then] when Americans spoke of the first man in space, they were always talking of "the first American in space" [not Yuri Gagarin]. The same feeling was prevalent in Russia. There were small articles when Apollo 11 was launched. Actually, there was a small article on the first page of Pravda and then three columns on page five. I looked it up again.
The Apollo crew even dined on thermo-stabilized cheddar cheese spread and hot dogs during the moon mission, bringing at least a bit of America in July to the sterile flight craft. And yes, there was bacon - foreshadowing the current bacon craze, the first meal eaten by man on the moon was none other than bacon cubes, coated with gelatin to combat crumbs.
This special takes viewers back to July 1969 to experience the actual CBS News/Walter Cronkite coverage of man's first lunar landing. Using minimal editing and leaving the original footage untouched viewers will feel as if they are watching the CBS coverage in July of 1969. While today we know the outcome of Apollo 11's mission it was not a given then. This will become evident watching Walter Cronkite and his colleagues as they watch the historic lunar mission unfold before them.
Everybody, including Congress, was caught up in the adrenal rush of it all. But then, on the morning after, congressmen began to wonder about something that hadn't dawned on them since Kennedy's oration. What was this single combat stuff -- they didn't use the actual term -- really all about? It had been a battle for morale at home and image abroad. Fine, O.K., we won, but it had no tactical military meaning whatsoever. And it had cost a fortune, $150 billion or so. And this business of sending a man to Mars and whatnot? Just more of the same, when you got right down to it. How laudable ... how far-seeing ... but why don't we just do a Scarlett O'Hara and think about it tomorrow?
He was the first man to walk on the moon, taking that one giant leap for mankind -- yet most of the famous shots are of his fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin, as it was Armstrong who manned the stills camera.
Lunar archaeologists, interested in making the Apollo 11 site a National Historic Landmark, hope the planned photos will answer some of these longstanding questions: What is the condition of Tranquility Base after 40 years? Was the American flag blown over on the Eagle's ascent and is it now a bleached skeleton? What are the relatively long term effects of the lunar environment on human artifacts?
This should quiet the people who still think it was all a hoax...although NASA could be faking these photos as well.
The mission team estimates Opportunity may be able to travel about 100m per day. But even at that pace, the journey could take two years. The rover will stop to study rocks on the way, and in winter months it cannot move because there is not enough sunlight to provide sufficient power for driving.
Laboratory tests aboard NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander have identified water in a soil sample. The lander's robotic arm delivered the sample Wednesday to an instrument that identifies vapors produced by the heating of samples.
The images you see below were taken at the turn of the Millennium, when NASA's scientists had a brilliant idea: to scan through 400,000 images taken by the Landsat 7 satellite and display only the most the most beautiful. A handful of the best were painstakingly chosen and then displayed at the Library of Congress in 2000.
You must see these. Bonus: all the images are available in wallpaper size for your computer desktop.
As it sped through space, a specialist in radio-wave physics named John Anderson at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory noticed an odd thing. The spacecraft was drifting off course. The discrepancy was less than a few hundred-millionths of an inch per second for every second of spaceflight, accumulating year after year across billions of miles. Then Pioneer 11, an identical probe escaping the solar system in the opposite direction, also started to veer off course at the same rate.
Ordinarily, such small deviations might be overlooked, but not by Dr. Anderson. He monitored the trajectories six years before calling attention to the matter. "I'm a little like an accountant," Dr. Anderson said. "We have Newton's theory and Einstein's theory, and when you apply them to something like this -- and it doesn't add up -- it bothers me."
The researchers, using data recovered from recently discovered Pioneer records and funded by sources outside of NASA, have figured out part of the problem but the rest remains a mystery.
6 Feb 2001: We ate some dinner and watched the last part of "City of Angels". Shep did his best to explain to Yuri and Sergei what the phrase "chick flick" means.
24 Feb 2001 We put some chow and the DVD player in the Soyuz and close the hatch about 0530. It takes 2 orbits to get the first set of hooks off and the docking tunnel pressure checked. We get the "Austin Powers" sequel in while all this is taking place. (Maybe a Soyuz first here).
Sergei notices that the Russian PCS laptop has locked up. He tries to reboot, but the Sun application software won't load. Lots of messages on the screen noting data errors. Sergei thinks that it may be the hard drive. He boots up windows to see if the windows partition runs OK--it does. So at least some of the hardware is functional.
Besides resting Spirit, scientists also likely will have to reduce exploration by Opportunity, which is probing a large crater near the equator. Instead of sending up commands to Opportunity every day to drive or explore a rock, its activities may be limited to every other day, said John Callas, the Mars Exploration Rover project manager at JPL.
The rovers were originally deployed for three-month missions but have operated for more than four years.
Two powerful new instruments will be installed on the mission. The Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) will allow Hubble to see fainter and more distant galaxies than anything it has seen before, shedding light on the early universe. This could allow Hubble to see galaxies so far away that we see them as they were just 400 million years after the big bang.
Trailer for In the Shadow of the Moon, a documentary that "brings together for the first, and possibly the last, time surviving crew members from every single Apollo mission that flew to the Moon along with visually stunning archival material re-mastered from the original NASA film footage". BOY HOWDY! Here's a review of the film from Ad/Astra, the magazine of the National Space Society.
Update: That NASA man-hours stat is a joke, sorry. NASA is not that absurdly wasteful. I have no idea how she's getting the photos on Flickr. Do they have web access on the ISS?
Update:Ansari called Larry Page today and reported that there's no internet access on the ISS. Email is delivered in batches...so she's either emailing them to Flickr or someone's uploading them for her. BTW, the first kottke.org reader in space...could you give me a call when you get there? (thx, terrell)
Google and NASA have announced plans to collaborate on projects like "large-scale data management, massively distributed computing, bio-info-nano convergence, and encouragement of the entrepreneurial space industry". In 6 months, Yahoo will announce a collaboration with the Russian Space Agency to launch original content into space. Microsoft will announce in a year that they've had space travel capabilities built into Office for years now but no one uses it...in two years time, they'll completely reorg around manned missions to Mars.
Is PowerPoint responsible for the woes of the Space Shuttle? Well, no, but it's not helping any. "The deeper problem with the PowerPointing of America -- the PowerPointing of the planet, actually -- is that the program tends to flatten the most complex, subtle, even beautiful, ideas into tedious, bullet-pointed bureaucratese."