Archive for May, 2009

Astronauts Have Drunk Space Pee. Are Stillsuits Next?

By Eric Wolff | May 26, 2009 2:40 pm

Even on the harsh deserts of Arrakis, the the water recycling capacity of a stillsuit prevent the wearer from would only lose a thimbleful  of water a day.  If you figure a thimble holds about 10 milliliters of water, and an astronaut normally consumes 2.7 liters of water per day through eating and drinking, that’s only a loss of .4% of the body’s daily water. Pretty impressive for a desert race with long life but limited resources. (In case this wasn’t clear, I’m talking about George Frank Herbert’s Dune here.)

Until recently, there was no need for us to try and engage with this sort of water recycling technology. In general, water has been plentiful in this world, and if it wasn’t we just piped it in. (I just re-saw Chinatown, so I’m feeling up on all this.) But increasingly short supplies of water in the American southwest and elsewhere have turned eyes to water recyling as at least a part of the long-term water supply solution. But to take a more extreme situation, let’s look at the final frontier, where there’s really no water at all. In fact, to transport water up to the International Space Station costs $15,000 a pint if we let the Russians do it, more if we send it up on Endeavor or Atlantis.

But today we got the marvelous news that instead of having to truck tons of water of space, the astronauts can just drink their own pee! (Yay?) Today marked  a successful test of the International Space Station’s water recycling system. The astronauts marked the occasion by raising a baggie (no glass in space) of recycled water (née urine) in a toast,  and taking it a sip. They deemed it delicious, and, after taking a few questions from reporters, went about their day.

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Fringe: What Happens If the Universal Constants Aren't Constant?

By Eric Wolff | May 21, 2009 12:17 pm

gateway425.jpgIt’s a constant on SciNoFi that we do one post per episode of a given show. But as we all now know from watching the unexpectedly epic season finale of Fringe last week, constants can change, universes collide, and worlds are as multitudinous as the stars in the sky. And really, none of that was a spoiler.

But this whole question of varying physical constants has been roiling the scientific community for years, especially the astrophysicists who really have their telescopic fingers on the cosmic pulse of the question. As all of us who ever took a high school sicen class know, physical constants are crucial to making a great many descriptive equations actually work.  In Einstein’s E=mc2, the c is the constant, it’s the speed of light. Then there’s the Planck constant, Avogadro’s number, and on and on. But if those numbers suddenly turned out to be changing, then how would the equations still work? Would science be broken?

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MORE ABOUT: Fringe, Leonard Nimoy, TV

Science of the Movies: You Too Can Blow Up the Death Star

By Melissa Lafsky | May 21, 2009 12:00 pm

ScienceofMoviesWhat’s not to like about watching mega-geeks create  effects for the coolest movies on earth? Very little—which leads one to wonder why producers didn’t think of it before. Oh wait…they did.

But there’s plenty of room for a condensed run-through of all the latest technology, from motion capture to the ever-ubiquitous CGI. Which is reason enough to like the Science Channel’s Science of the Movies series,  premiering Tuesday, May 26. Hosted by blogger and Geekscape columnist Nar Williams, it’s six episodes on the behind-the-scenes geekosity that’s responsible for everything from Terminator 3 to The Fast and the Furious to Dexter to, yes, Star Wars.

Of course, take away all the blockbuster jargon and Hollywood sheen, and what you’re really watching is a tour through the ranks of ironic T-shirted, scraggly-facial-haired dudes that create the world’s biggest movies. Williams hobnobs with the best and baddest, from John Dykstra (yup, the guy who blew up the Death Star) to the Strause brothers, whose visual effects shop, Hydraulx, dominates the CGI market (300, anyone?).

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Animation, Movies

Codex Futurius: Why Gray Goo Is a Great Dud

By Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor) | May 18, 2009 4:07 pm

Codex Futurius LogoThe Codex Futurius project, this blog’s never-ending quest to explore the timeless scientific questions raised by science fiction, is back—and this time we have reinforcements. The NAS’ Science and Entertainment Exchange (SEEx), a group dedicated to bringing real science into entertainment, has agreed to help us find experts who can tackle these ineffable sci-fi questions.

Our first expert-answered Codex question goes to J Storrs Hall, an independent scientist and author who’s also president of the Foresight Institute, a nanotech-oriented think tank. Thanks especially to Jennifer Ouellette, a science writer and the director of SEEx, for connecting us with Hall. Without further ado, here’s the question of the day, asked by an (imagined) big-time Hollywood director/producer who thinks getting the science right might help nail down that elusive Oscar:

“How could nanotechnology transform the world? Most importantly, how could I stop a plague of nanorobots from eating my spaceship/research facility/planet?”

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Codex Futurius, Nanotech, Robots

Fringe: A Robotic, Prosthetic Hand (a la Darth, Luke, etc)

By Eric Wolff | May 13, 2009 4:18 pm

fringe-hand-web.jpgOn last night’s episode of Fringe, practically the first thing we see is a gunshot wound victim rolling into the ER, but the nice EMT has a surprise for the doctor: The patient has a robot hand! Yep, erstwhile Massive Dynamic rep Nina Sharp has had her hand hacked off, and in its place Sharp has been granted a robot wrist and hand that was probably last seen attached to an Austrian-accented terminator (when it was wrapped in some manly skin, of course). It’s got some nice capabilities, this hand: Sharp has full range of motion and dexterity with her robot fingers, something real-world technology still has not achieved. But for all of Massive Dynamics’ evil know-how, they’re actually behind the times when it comes some elements of hand technology.

The most fascinating robot hand has to be the Shadow Hand, which relies on air compression for its “muscle” power. By filling and draining a flexible tube with air, the shadow hand achieves a level of precision not available to typical robotic hands. It can grasp things more gently than traditional robot hands, and it’s far lighter in weight than a big all-metal hand. And it has far greater range of motion. Granted, the Shadow Hand is intended for industrial applications rather than attachment to a person, but it seems to offer certain critical advantages that Massive Dynamics might have considered.

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Fringe: Setting People on Fire With Your Brain

By Eric Wolff | May 7, 2009 12:19 pm

OK, I kind of loved it when, in this week’s episode of Fringe, Emmanuel Grayson basically reveals the plot of the Star Trek movie in his spiel. Does this mean that the Star Trek universe and the Fringe universe are the same? Maybe Emmanuel Grayson *is* Spock. Or is it just that both the show and the movie exist in J.J. Abrams’ head? Hard to say.

But mostly I want to talk about pyrokinesis. And if you’re curious about that, you gotta click the jump, to avoid pesky spoilers from last night’s episode.

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MORE ABOUT: pyrokinesis, TV

SciNoFi Blog Roundup – Glass Half Full Edition

By Sam Lowry | May 1, 2009 4:05 pm

If we’re going to wear surgical masks on the subway, make mine an Octopus beard. [via Pink Tentacle]

The Internet may be crumbling, but think of the time that would free up! [via Futurismic]

“Junk DNA” science may cure HIV, probably won’t create race of superhuman mutants.   [via SciFi Scanner]

Migrant workers may soon be able to telecommute.  [via SciFiWire ]

SciNoFi is not alone.  Terminator TV fans mobilize to save their show. [via]

And the first Star Wars may have been 30+ years ago, but its spirit lives on in the hearts of harp music loving pre-teens everywhere [via The Website at the End of the Universe] :

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Apocalypse, Geology, Movies, TV
MORE ABOUT: Swine Flu, Terminator

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