Bound for Mars, a robot arrives in Boston for training

Valkyrie, NASA’s humanoid robot prototype that Northeastern researchers will perform advanced research and development on, arrived at UMass Lowell on April 6.
Valkyrie, NASA’s humanoid robot prototype that Northeastern researchers will perform advanced research and development on, arrived at UMass Lowell on April 6.

ASTRONAUTS SPEND YEARS training before they go into space. The same is true for their robot counterparts, two of which recently arrived in Massachusetts to be put through their paces in preparation for a long-off mission to Mars.

Valkyrie is built like a linebacker — 6’2” tall and 275 pounds. Its job is to go to Mars and maintain equipment in anticipation of the arrival of astronauts, potentially years after Valkyrie first touches down on the Red Planet.

“If you don’t start your car for two years, do you expect it will start when you return?” says Taskin Padir, a professor of engineering at Northeastern University who will be leading the university’s work with Valkyrie. “Humanoid robots will be part of the pre-deployment mission to Mars and will maintain equipment prior to the astronauts’ arrival.”

A manned mission to Mars is a high priority for NASA, which hopes to achieve the feat by the 2030s. As conceived, the expedition would require NASA to send equipment like rovers and a human habitat to Mars years before the astronauts launch. This is due to the relative orbits of Earth and Mars, which make it only practical to launch from here to there every two years.

“You need to pre-position assets like a habitat, a power supply. Whatever you need on the surface, all that’s done years before an astronaut gets there,” says William Verdeyen, NASA project manager for Valkyrie.

Valkyrie’s destination may be exotic, but the robot’s tasks will be mundane. The Johnson Space Center in Houston will beam instructions to Mars (the transmission takes about 20 minutes), and the robot will carry them out autonomously. Likely jobs include repairing electronic boards, cutting cords, and changing batteries — all maneuvers that require dexterity, which is complicated to engineer.

“A [good] analogy is replacing batteries in a flashlight,” says Padir. “If we can do that with Valkyrie at the end of two years, that would be a great accomplishment from our perspective.”

Over the next two years, the Northeastern team will work on improving Valkyrie’s performance, especially at these kinds of fine-motor maintenance tasks. A separate team at MIT will be doing similar work with another copy of the robot.

Most of Valkyrie’s movements will take place inside the human habitat — a known environment for the engineers, which makes it relatively easy to navigate. Sometimes, though, the robot will have to venture outside, like to brush dust off of solar panels. There, things get more treacherous. And if Valkyrie falls on the rough, uneven Martian surface, there’s always the risk it will never be able to get back up. Fortunately, though, in all these tasks, time is going to be on Valkyrie’s side.

“This robot will have a lot of free time on Mars,” says Padir. “If your task is to clean a few solar panels in the next week, you don’t have to run.”

 

NASA invests $67 million into solar electric propulsion for deep space exploration

Emily Calandrelli (@TheSpaceGal)

NASA has selected Aerojet Rocketdyne for a $67 million contract to develop an advanced Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) system for future deep-space missions.

In a press release, NASA stated that the propulsion system could be used on robotic missions to an asteroid and in other missions related to their Journey to Mars program.

Compared to chemical propulsion (the type of propulsion that rockets use to escape Earth’s gravity well and reach orbit), SEP has lower thrust but is more fuel-efficient and can provide thrust for longer periods of time. For these reasons, SEP works well in the vacuum of space, particularly on spacecraft with long mission lifetimes.

A Hall thruster tested at NASA Glenn Research Center/ Image courtesy of NASA

SEP engines provide thrust by converting solar energy into electricity and using that electricity to accelerate ionized propellant at extremely high speeds. The iconic blue glow from a SEP thruster is created from photons released by the ions as they lose energy upon leaving the engine.

NASA has been working on SEP technology since the 1950s and they’ve used SEP on prior missions like the Dawn spacecraft, which is currently in orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres and is the first spacecraft to orbit around two extraterrestrial bodies.

Illustration of the Dawn spacecraft with its SEP system / Image courtesy of NASA

Under the new contract, NASA hopes to double the thrust capability compared to current electric propulsion systems and increase the fuel efficiency by 10 times the current chemical propulsion.

One challenge with deep-space missions that use SEP is that as you travel deeper into the solar system (farther away from the sun), it becomes more difficult to effectively capture light from the sun to power the spacecraft. Because of this, NASA stated its current SEP research is funded in parallel with work to advance solar array technology.

During the 36-month contract, Aerojet Rocketdyne is responsible for constructing, testing and delivering an SEP product for testing and evaluation. Eventually, the goal is to have Aerojet Rocketdyne deliver four electric propulsion units that will fly in space.

“Through this contract, NASA will be developing advanced electric propulsion elements for initial spaceflight applications, which will pave the way for an advanced solar electric propulsion demonstration mission by the end of the decade.” Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate

In addition to this particular electric propulsion contract, Aerojet Rocketdyne is responsible for the chemical propulsion — the RS-25 engines — for NASA’s Space Launch System, the rocket designed to be used on missions related to NASA’s Journey to Mars initiative.

Illustration of NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission using SEP / Image courtesy of NASA

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s current contract is part of NASA’s overall push to advance SEP systems. NASA plans to test the largest and most advanced SEP system ever used in space on their Asteroid Redirect Mission, which is designed to capture an asteroid and place it in orbit around the moon. That mission is currently slated for the mid-2020s.

 

‘Dr Frankenstein’ ready to perform first head transplant by 2017

A controversial surgeon is preparing to carry out the first ever whole head transplant by the end of 2017 after “successful” experiments on monkeys and mice.

Neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero introduced the strategy in 2013 and has been touting his experiments since.

In 2015, the 51-year-old presented at the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons’s 39th annual conference, where his speech about the ambitious procedure served as the keynote talk.

Earlier this year, Dr Canavero told New Scientist he had been conducting a series of experiments on animals and human cadavers with the help of scientists in China and South Korea.

“I would say we have plenty of data to go on,” Dr Canavero said.

“It’s important that people stop thinking this is impossible.”

Dr Canavero is working with Xiaoping Ren from Harbin Medical University in China.

According to the publication, Mr Ren has already performed a monkey head transplant and more than 1000 head transplants on mice.


Valery Spiridonov (centre) suffers from Werdnig-Hoffman disease and has volunteered to be the first person to undergo a head transplant under Dr. Canavero’s hands. Photo: Maxim Zmeyev/REUTERS

Dr Canavero’s first patient is Russian program manager, Valery Spiridonov, who is suffering from the rare muscular atrophy disorder Werdnig-Hoffman disease.

The 31-year-old volunteered for the transplant and says that he’s willing to risk death to escape his disease.

His transplant will be done in a vegetative state and is set to take place at Harbin Medical University in China.

 

The two-part procedure is composed of HEAVEN (head anastomosis venture) and Gemini (the subsequent spinal cord fusion).

The whole process involves 36 hours, 150 people (doctors, nurses, technicians, psychologists, and virtual reality engineers), and around $20 million.

According to Dr Canavero, there will be two surgical teams working on the Russian patient at the same time.

One will focus on the Mr Spiridonov, the living patient, while the other will focus on a donor’s body.

The donor will be brain-dead and selected based on height, build, and immunotype.

 

 

 

Is the End of Unlimited Broadband Coming Soon?

Two ISPs have already begun a slow, clever plan to eventually make big money from overage charges.

Until you might actually need it, your Internet service provider (ISP) happily gave you all the data you could consume.

Until the rise of streaming video, the only people eating up tons of data were high-end gamers and maybe people stealing movies. It simply wasn’t possible to be a data hog for the average person watching cat videos, checking sports scores, and/or visiting social media websites.

Because of that — much like wireless providers were more receptive to unlimited plans when the mobile web was a barren wasteland of repurposed sites and little else — broadband providers never bothered to cap their plans. Consumers got “unlimited” service only because the vast majority of us barely moved the needle. It wasn’t generosity.

Before streaming video came along, ISPs offered consumers the equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet featuring nothing but egg salad and clams of a questionable age. Now however streaming video has added prime rib, crab legs, and lobster tails to the mix and the all-you-can-eat offers are going away or getting more expensive

It’s already started with Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) and AT&T (NYSE:T) enforcing data caps with customers and it’s going to get worse.

Wifirouter

UNLIMITED BROADBAND DATA MAY ULTIMATELY BECOME A THING OF THE PAST. IMAGE SOURCE: AUTHOR.

How are Comcast and AT&T using data caps?

In both cases, the two ISPs have not set data caps in order to make more money today. Instead, they have cleverly laid the groundwork to collect them down the road. The two broadband providers have set relatively high caps  — 1 TB across the board for Comcast and the same for many AT&T users — and they are not quick to add charges, giving consumers multiple months over the cap before charging them.

At 1TB, or even at half that number, few people are likely to go over the cap today. Going forward however, as streaming video grows, gets joined by virtual reality, and Internet of Things devices all eating data, then what seems like a huge number today may not be so big going forward.

As data needs grow, consumers will use more, and going over may become the norm. When that happens, Comcast and AT&T won’t be adding new charges, they will simply be collecting ones that had been in place for years.

Why will unlimited broadband go away?

It all boils down to two things. The first is that all the major ISPs also operate as cable providers and if a customer cuts the cord they lose revenue. Adding data caps makes it possible to recoup lost pay-television revenue and even dissuade people from leaving cable. If it’s cheaper to stay and pay overage fees due to increased streaming, then why cut the cord at all?

The second reason, however, may be the more important one. Comcast, AT&T, and any other ISPs see how much overages have made the wireless carriers. First it was through people exceeding their allotted calling minutes and now it has moved to money made from people either exceeding their data cap or buying bigger data plans than they actually need in hopes of avoiding overage charges.

T-Mobile (NASDAQ:TMUS) CEO John Legere, a crusader against overage charges, peggedthe total current annual total at $2.5 billion, but noted at a November 2015 Uncarrier X eventthat the number might be closer to $45 billion a year when you factor in over-buying.

Not every ISP will be on board

In the same way that T-Mobile has made not charging overage charges part of its business model (it instead slows data speeds when consumers reach their limit), there will be ISPs that continue to offer unlimited broadband. Charter Communications, the second biggest provider behind Comcast, can’t implement a cap for seven years under the deal it made to win Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approval of its deal to buy Time Warner Cable.

But while it might not happen quickly and it won’t be universal, data caps and overage charges are coming because ISPs see how much money the wireless carriers make from a confused public. People accept the idea that if they consume more data they should pay for it and people have shown with their phones that they are either unwilling or unable to keep track.

Comcast and AT&T are building up the expectation that using more data means paying more money. That will lead to people paying for unlimited plans when they don’t need them or running up overage charges when they do. The profit potential for ISPs is simply too high to let unlimited broadband live and it’s slow death has already begun.

Daniel B. Kline (TMFDankline

https://www.citizengoods.com/sales/tv-show-movie-posters-throne-poster?aid=a-t05y2r3p

Here’s The Real Difference Between Sativa & Indica Pot Strains

This article was originally published on May 27, 2015.

Now that pot legislation is making its way across the country, it’s time for a refresher on the difference between the main types of marijuana strains: indica and sativa. It’s a lesson some of us have had to learn over and over again. But, this infographic from the recently-released Green: A Field Guide To Marijuana will help us get it right.

At a basic level, we may be aware that sativa strains produce a sort of “up” high that gives users a feeling of euphoria, increased creativity, and energy. Meanwhile, indica strains usually leave us relaxed and “in-da-couch.”

But, as the infographic shows, the differences start with the shape of the plants: Sativas tend to have longer, thinner leaves and are lighter in color. Indica strains, meanwhile, often have shorter, fatter leaves and dark, dense buds.

And then, of course, there’s a whole host of hybrid strains that may produce a high that’s between the two ends of that spectrum. But, when they’re up-close — like in Erik Christiansen’s photos in the book — the differences are easy to spot. Check out the full infographic, below.

IMAGE: COURTESY OF GREEN: A FIELD GUIDE TO MARIJUANA BY DAN MICHAELS, PHOTOS BY ERIK CHRISTIANSEN, PUBLISHED BY CHRONICLE BOOKS.
Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity and would like to remind its readers that marijuana usage continues to be an offense under federal law, regardless of state marijuana laws. To learn more, click here.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF ERIK CHRISTIANSEN.

Cassini spacecraft probes methane-filled sea on Titan

Emilee Speck

Oceanographers may need to study alien worlds sooner than you think.

Observations by NASA‘s Cassini spacecraft indicate Saturn’s moon Titan is more Earth-like with its dense atmosphere, lake-filled surface and possible wetlands.

Other than our home planet Titan is the only known world in the solar system with stable liquid on its surface, according to NASA.

Since 2004, Cassini has found more than 620,000 square miles of Titan’s surface covered in liquid, about two percent of its globe. Planetary scientists have theorized about what elements fill Titan’s liquid bodies, but thanks to Cassini they now have answers

A new study using Cassini’s radar instrument to study Titan’s second largest sea, known as Ligeia Mare, between 2007 and 2015 reveals it’s a filled with methane.

The study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets confirms what planetary scientists have thought about Titan’s seas for some time.

Using Cassini’s radar instrument to detect echoes from the seafloor of Ligeia Mare scientists used the depth-sounding information to observe temperatures, which helped give clues to their composition, according to the news release.

“Before Cassini, we expected to find that Ligeia Mare would be mostly made up of ethane, which is produced in abundance in the atmosphere when sunlight breaks methane molecules apart. Instead, this sea is predominantly made of pure methane,” said Alice Le Gall, a Cassini radar team member and lead author of the new study.

Ligeia Mare is the about the size of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan together, according to NASA and from Cassini’s flybys scientists were able to determine the sea is 525 feet deep in some areas.

All of Titan’s seas are named for mythical sea creatures. The largest sea, Kraken Mare is about 680 miles long.

Another similarity between our home planet and Titan is they both have nitrogen atmospheres, but Titan is lacking much oxygen. Titan’s atmosphere is mostly methane with trace amounts of ethane and because of the distance from the sun, meaning cold temperatures, the methane and ethane remain in liquid form instead of escaping, according to NASA.

Le Gall offered a few possibilities of how Ligeria Mare became mostly methane filled, instead of ethane as Cassini’s team originally thought.

“Either Ligeia Mare is replenished by fresh methane rainfall, or something is removing ethane from it,” said Le Gall. “It is possible that the ethane ends up in the undersea crust, or that it somehow flows into the adjacent sea, Kraken Mare, but that will require further investigation.”

The study also found Ligeia Mare’s shoreline may warm quicker than in the sea, similar to a beach on Earth.

“It’s a marvelous feat of exploration that we’re doing extraterrestrial oceanography on an alien moon,” said Steve Wall, deputy lead of the Cassini radar team. “Titan just won’t stop surprising us.”

 

 

Copyright © 2016, Orlando Sentinel

 

Astronauts Successfully Attach Inflatable Room to Space Station

ALYSSA NEWCOMB

Inflatable room attached to space station

A giant addition that one day may be used to support life on Mars has been deployed and is set to undergo a two-year test.It will be expanded to 5 times its size »

 

 

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SpaceX delivers world’s 1st inflatable room for astronauts

By MARCIA DUNN | April 10, 2016 | 12:05 PM EDT

In this frame taken from video from NASA TV, the SpaceX Dragon cargo ship is captured by a robot arm from the International Space Station, Sunday April 10, 2016. A SpaceX Dragon cargo ship arrived at the International Space Station on Sunday, two days after launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Station astronauts used a big robot arm to capture the Dragon, orbiting 260 miles above Earth. (NASA TV via AP)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — SpaceX has made good on a high-priority delivery: the world’s first inflatable room for astronauts.

A SpaceX Dragon cargo ship arrived at the International Space Station on Sunday, two days after launching from Cape Canaveral. Station astronauts used a robot arm to capture the Dragon, orbiting 250 miles above Earth.

The Dragon holds 7,000 pounds of freight, including the soft-sided compartment built by Bigelow Aerospace. The pioneering pod — packed tightly for launch — should swell to the size of a small bedroom once filled with air next month.

It will be attached to the space station this Saturday, but won’t be inflated until the end of May. The technology could change the way astronauts live in space: NASA envisions inflatable habitats in a couple decades at Mars, while Bigelow Aerospace aims to launch a pair of inflatable space stations in just four years for commercial lease.

For now, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module — BEAM for short — will remain mostly off-limits to the six-man station crew. NASA wants to see how the experimental chamber functions, so the hatch will stay sealed except when astronauts enter a few times a year to collect measurements and swap out sensors.

This is SpaceX’s first delivery for NASA in a year. A launch accident last June put shipments on hold.

SpaceX flight controllers at company headquarters in Hawthorne, California, applauded when the hefty station arm plucked Dragon from orbit. A few hours later, the capsule was bolted securely into place.

“It looks like we caught a Dragon,” announced British astronaut Timothy Peake, who made the grab. “There are smiles all around here,” NASA’s Mission Control replied. “Nice job capturing that Dragon.”

SpaceX is still reveling in the success of Friday’s booster landing at sea.

For the first time, a leftover booster came to a solid vertical touchdown on a floating platform. SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk wants to reuse boosters to save money, a process that he says will open access to space for more people in more places, like Mars. His ambition is to establish a city on Mars.

NASA also has Mars in its sights and looks to send astronauts there in the 2030s. In order to focus on that objective, the space agency has hired U.S. companies like SpaceX to deliver cargo and, as early as next year, astronauts to the space station. U.S. astronauts currently have to hitch rides on Russian rockets.

In a sign of these new commercial space times, a Dragon capsule is sharing the station for the first time with Orbital ATK’s supply ship named Cygnus, already parked there two weeks. This is also the first time in five years that the compound has six docking ports occupied: Dragon, Cygnus, two Russian Progress freighters and two Russian Soyuz crew capsules.

The Dragon will remain at the station for a month before returning to Earth with science samples, many of them from one-year spaceman Scott Kelly. He ended his historic mission last month. Cygnus will stick around a little longer.

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Astronomers spot a never-before-seen type of white dwarf star

Its discovery could change our understanding of star death

By Loren Grush

For the first time ever, researchers have spotted a white dwarf surrounded by an atmosphere of mostly oxygen. A star of this kind, a super-dense dead star with an oxygen atmosphere, had never been seen before, though astronomers had speculated that one might exist. Such a unique finding could change how we think about the evolution of stars and what happens when these stellar objects die.

“IT WAS COMPLETELY NOT EXPECTED.”

To find this unique zombie star, an international team of researchers looked through data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey — a project that measures the colored lines of light coming off of objects throughout the universe. These lines, called spectral lines, can tell astronomers what types of elements make up a star’s atmosphere. Using this data, the researchers found that one particular white dwarf, with the eloquent name ­­SDSS J124043.01+671034.68, didn’t have any hydrogen or helium in its atmosphere; its surrounding air was instead almost pure oxygen.

“It was completely not expected for a star with a low mass like our star,” said study author Kepler Oliveira, an astronomer at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul.


An image of SDSS J124043.01+671034.68. (Kepler Oliveira)

The finding is so surprising because it doesn’t quite fit with our current understanding of what stars look like when they die. Typically, when a star like our Sun runs out of fuel, it starts collapsing. As the star becomes more compact, it heats up, causing its outer layers to expand more than 100 times the star’s original size. Eventually those outer layers are lost and only the core of the star remains — the faint white dwarf.

Most of the star’s hydrogen and helium get lost with those outer layers, but a little bit of them are left over in the white dwarf’s atmosphere. The hydrogen and helium float to the top of the star’s surface, because they’re relatively light; the heavier elements, like oxygen and carbon, remain below.

“It’s the same reason that panning for gold works,” said Andrew Vanderburg, an astronomy graduate student at Harvard University, who was not involved in the study. “If you have gold and sediments in water, the gold is heavier so it’ll sink to the bottom, but the sediments are lighter, so they’ll stay at the top.”

SOME KIND OF EVENT CAUSED THE HYDROGEN AND HELIUM TO DISAPPEAR

The fact that no hydrogen and helium are seen in the atmosphere of the white dwarf in question is puzzling. It means some kind of event has caused the two elements to disappear, making oxygen the lightest element in the star’s atmosphere. But the researchers aren’t sure what kind of event that was, as they’ve never considered it before. “We don’t make models of things we don’t know exist,” Oliveira said. “But now that we know this star exists, we have to calculate the model for it.”

One possible explanation for the lack of helium and hydrogen is that the star experienced a giant thermal pulse when the object was a red giant, and that intense explosion stripped away all the lighter elements. Another possible scenario is that the star was actually part of a binary system. The stars may have merged together, causing an explosion that ejected the hydrogen and helium. These ideas are only loose theories, though. “We don’t have a calculation that shows [a binary merger] happened, but that’s the only explanation that I can think of,” Oliveira said. “It must have come from a binary system.”

The researchers will work to figure out what happened to this star, but in the meantime, the white dwarf’s discovery is a significant find for the astronomy community. “It’s a new class of star,” said Vanderburg. “We don’t understand how it formed, but this is the kind of thing that pushes our field forward, and who knows where it will take us.”

 

This gun looks exactly like a smartphone

‘In its locked position it will be virtually undetectable because it hides in plain sight.’
MarketWatch photo illustration/Ideal Conceal, Everett Collection

MarketWatch photo illustration/Ideal Conceal, Everett Collection

By
SHAWN
LANGLOIS
SOCIAL-MEDIA EDITOR

Is that a pistol in your pocket, or are you just… carrying an iPhone?

The Ideal Conceal handgun has made waves for what its maker calls an “ingenious” design that looks exactly like a smartphone when in the “locked” position.

Ideal Conceal says on its website that, indeed, hardly anybody will notice it: “Smartphones are EVERYWHERE, so your new pistol will easily blend in with today’s environment. In its locked position it will be virtually undetectable because it hides in plain sight.”

 


Ideal Conceal
The Ideal Conceal weapon is a .380-caliber derringer. Two bullets in two barrels. While the gun is still patent-pending, It’s expected to be available by mid-2016 for $395 each.

“From soccer moms to professionals of every type, this gun allows you the option of not being a victim,” the company says. “Most threats will occur in less than a 30’ range. Ease and speed of deployment will mean the difference in the outcome. With the Ideal Conceal pistol you can be quick on the draw stopping a threat effectively and immediately.”

Ideal Conceal looks to be tapping into the gun market at an opportune time. Earlier this month, firearms giant Smith & Wesson SWHC, -0.62% rode a groundswell of demand to surprisingly strong quarterly results. The stock has more than doubled in the past year, as uncertainty over gun laws and the rising threat of terrorism have caused customers to load up.

Not everyone on social media reacted to the gun in the way Ideal Conceal may have hoped: