The future of manned spaceflight, it’s not. We hope.
Ever since the Space Shuttle took its last flight earlier this summer, the US has had no real plan for getting humans back up in space in the near future. Meanwhile, NASA is sending three LEGO figurines to Jupiter tomorrow, as part of a sponsorship deal with LEGO “to inspire children to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics.” Because flying little aluminum Jupiter, Juno, and Galileo more than 1,700 million miles is a great way to demonstrate to future scientists the importance of funding!
The figurines of the god, goddess, and seventeenth-century astronomer aren’t part of any of the scientific experiments also making the journey on NASA’s Juno probe. But, the press release is quick to note, “Of course, the miniature Galileo has his telescope with him on the journey.” Too bad he has no eyes.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/KSC
This takes location golfing to a new level.
If 18 holes on Kauai or Tenerife is old hat, grab your clubs and head to Saturn’s moons.
The NASA team behind the Cassini orbiter periodically release troves of gorgeous images of Saturn and its dozens of moons, revealing the gouges on Enceladus and the lakes of Titan. The drool-worthy vistas just beg to be explored, and you can now do just that with a nifty little Flash game developed by Diamond Sky Productions called Golf Sector 6. The game takes players through several 9-hole courses across a variety of Saint-Exupéry-esque moons, whose cratered surfaces are patched together from Cassini’s images. As Saturn drifts by in the background, you can relax, put your feet up, and bat a small pink ball toward the hole with your mouse. But beware of that pesky escape velocity: it’s different on every moon, and it’s way, way less than Earth’s.
It will start with Robonaut 2, the humanoid maintenance bot that NASA is sending to the International Space Station next week. And now Japan’s space agency (JAXA) has announced plans to send its own bot to the ISS. JAXA’s humanoid robot will not only talk and Twitter, but it will also act as a space nurse, monitoring the health of the astronauts.
The researchers behind the project say the bot would have a number of attributes that would make it a valuable crew member. For example, they say, it would never have to sleep–so it could keep watch when the flesh and blood astronauts are in dreamland.
And then there are its conversational skills, which would make it a lively companion for those lonley spacefarers. “We are thinking in terms of a very human-like robot that would have facial expressions and be able to converse with the astronauts,” JAXA’s Satoshi Sano told the AP.
Future Mars rovers or moon buggies might be riding the wings of Goodyear spring-based tires. This high-tech tire just won a 2010 R&D 100 award, also known as the “Oscar of Innovation,” from the editors of R&D magazine.
The tire was invented last year in a joint effort between NASA and Goodyear, and was tested out on NASA’s Lunar Electric Rover at the Rock Yard at the Johnson Space Center. The spring tire builds upon previous versions of the moon tire, and the improvements enable it to take larger (up to 10 times) rovers up to 100 times further, NASA scientists explained to Gizmag:
“With the combined requirements of increased load and life, we needed to make a fundamental change to the original moon tire,” said Vivake Asnani, principal investigator for the project at NASA’s Glenn Research Centre in Cleveland. “What the Goodyear-NASA team developed is an innovative, yet simple network of interwoven springs that does the job. The tire design seems almost obvious in retrospect, as most good inventions do.”
The tire is made up of 800 helical springs, which simulate the flexibility of an air-filled tire. Because there are so many springs, the tire can’t completely fail all at once, like a punctured air-filled tire would, Asnani said in the Goodyear press release:
Want to see your tax dollars at work? There’s a more exciting way to do it than watching a road crew pour asphalt for the latest highway expansion. Now you can watch the next Mars rover being built in a clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, thanks to a well-positioned webcam.
Curiosity rover, also known as the Mars Science Laboratory, is a hulking beast compared to its smaller cousins, Spirit and Opportunity. The six-wheeled Curiosity is about the size of a car and weighs 2,000 pounds. The rover is scheduled to blast off toward Mars in the winter of 2011, and to reach the planet in August 2012. Its mission: to probe rocks, take pictures, and generally cruise around looking for signs of life, past or present.
The “Curiosity Cam” went live today. It will typically show technicians working from 8 in the morning until 11 at night, Monday through Friday, but the bunny suit-clad engineers sometimes disappear from the shot when their work draws them to other parts of the building. (During their lunch break today one commenter groused that it was boring to stare at an empty room.) Right now the technicians are working on the rover’s instruments, tomorrow they’re scheduled to put the suspension system and wheels on. Be sure to tune in!
80beats: It’s Alive! NASA Test-Drives Its New Hulking Mars Rover, Curiosity
80beats: James Cameron to Design a 3D Camera for Next-Gen Mars Rover
80beats: Spirit Doesn’t Return NASA’s Calls; Rover Might Be Gone for Good
80beats: Mars Rover Sets Endurance Record: Photos From Opportunity’s 6 Years On-Planet
Image: NASA / JPL
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DISCOVER: The Bizarre and Brilliant World of Knitted Science (photos)
Bad Astronomy: My Close Personal Doll (TM)
The Intersection: How To Impress Your Thesis Committee
On August 30th, after seven years gathering data on ice sheets and sea ice dynamics, a NASA satellite met its fiery end in the Earth’s atmosphere before plunging into the sea. And it was University of Colorado at Boulder undergraduates who plotted the satellite’s fatal course.
Happily this wasn’t the result of a Hacking 101 class gone awry, or a particularly sophisticated prank. The students’ destructive mission had NASA’s full endorsement.
NASA decommissioned the Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite, or ICESat in July, before turning the show over to the students, who worked with experts from the university’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.
How do we say goodbye? As the Space Shuttle program comes to a 2011 close, NASA has announced two shuttle-related music competitions. Also museums are already lining up like Black Friday shoppers to get their hands on one of those soon-to-be retired vehicles.
In a contest dubbed the “American Idol for space,” NASA invites musicians to create an original song to compliment the STS-134 mission, and asks them to submit their musical stylings online by January 10, 2011. After a NASA panel picks a set of finalists, website visitors can vote for the winner. The top two songs will play during the final shuttle flight in February 2011.
Another ongoing competition asks the public to choose from a top 40 list of previous “wake-up songs”–music used to help astronauts rise from their orbiting slumbers. Selections include the theme from Star Trek (old school version), Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again,” Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’,” and U2’s “Beautiful Day.” The top two will play during the STS-133 mission scheduled for this November.
I spent some fifteen minutes on the moon yesterday. It wasn’t pretty. A meteor strike knocked out my base’s life support; I crashed a robot into a NASA supply shed; and, while I fiddled around with a welding torch, a gas line exploded.
Moonbase Alpha, the first of two commercial-quality online games that NASA has just developed, taught me a lot: how a solar panel-powered life-support system might work, what “regolith processing” really means, and the weird gait I’d have if I tried to sprint on the lunar surface. Perhaps it also taught me that I’m not cut out to be an astronaut, but maybe I’ll try multiplayer mode before making that decision.
Walking by a replica of Sally Ride’s flight suit during visits to NASA and Space Center Houston, Calvin Dale Smith would snicker. Later, he told his wife that he knew the location of Ride’s original flight suit. He didn’t tell her that it was in their home, in a duct tape-wrapped suitcase.
As Wired reports, Smith allegedly got his hands on Ride’s flight suit while working as a contractor at Boeing’s Flight Group Processing Office, which maintains the suits. During his time there, he also stole a NASA Omega watch and several machined spaceship parts (including a safety tether and airlock parts).
According to court documents (pdf), Smith’s wife turned in her husband, who had previously served jail time for domestic violence, after being asked to send her estranged husband his belongings. He wanted a suitcase, “the suitcase.”