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The Orion capsule is the spacecraft that will help American astronauts get back into space in the future. It's first flight is set for December, but preparations for other aspects of Orion operations are underway. One of those practice aspects is the recovery of the capsule after a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.
This week, US Navy dive teams aboard the USS Anchorage recovery vessel successfully recovered the Orion capsule during a practice test using a cradle and winch system. This test is the last time the Navy and NASA get to practice before the Orion is sent 3600 miles above the earth.
During that unmanned test flight, Orion will land in a splashdown in the ocean where it will be recovered and used again. NASA hasn't performed an at sea recovery of a spacecraft in a real mission since 1975.
Robots that are able to do things all by themselves are nothing new. DARPA has been pushing for robots that can autonomously operate in all sorts of environments. A group of researchers from Harvard and MIT have been working together to develop a new small robot that is able to assemble itself and walk away without human help.
The robot starts out as a flat sheet of paper and polystyrene plastic that has been etched with hinges. Along with that material is a flat and flexible circuit board, a pair of motors, a microcontroller, and two batteries.
The microcontroller activates the circuits that produce heat on command and that heat is required to fold the plastic to shape. Once done the little bot can amble off. Right now, the transformation process is triggered by connecting the battery. The team wants to make the bot smarter so it will transform in response to pressure or temperature changes.
SpaceX has become a big name in the modern space race with a contract to send supplies to the ISS with NASA and the company sells its services to put satellites into orbit. SpaceX has announced that it is set to build a new launch facility in southern Texas where it will launch its Falcon 9 rockets in the future.
Texas was chosen in part because the state offered $15.3 million in incentives to a location on the gulf coast east of Brownsville. The location is near Boca Chica Beach and is only a few miles away from the US-Mexico border.
Texas plans to offer $2.3 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund and another $13 million from the Spaceport Trust Fund to pay for infrastructure development. SpaceX plans to spend $85 million in the area and create 300 jobs. The launch site could eventually be a location where astronauts head into space and to the ISS.
Back in 2004, the European Space Agency launched a spacecraft called Rosetta that had a mission to meet up with a comet and land on its surface. The comet that was the target for the mission is called 67P/CG and after a decade of traveling through space, Rosetta has entered the gravitational pull of the comet.
Rosetta is set to land on the surface of the comet in November. When Rosetta is ready to start the next phase of the mission, it will fire an explosive harpoon into the surface of the comet to send the Philae lander down to the surface of the comet.
Mission controllers are putting the spacecraft into a series of triangular paths around the comet that will each take 3-4 days to complete. The goal is to gather all the data possible so we can learn more about comets.
A University of California, Santa Barbara professor has created a robot that is capable of scoping out an environment or building, using just Wi-Fi signals. In order for this to work, there needs to be two robots, with one broadcasting wireless transmissions to another robot positioned on the opposite end, which measures them.
Walls and objects within a building or house usually reduce the signal strength of Wi-Fi, but the receiver can distinguish between empty and occupied spaces to create an accurate map of the area. This isn't the first time that robots have been able to brag about x-ray vision superpowers, with the Cougar20-H surveillance robot from a few years ago that used a bunch of sensors to get the work done.
Researchers believe that in the near future, this type of technology will be used for search and rescue missions, where people could be trapped under rubble after an earthquake or explosion. The technology could also be advantageous in archaeological digs, too.
A top Dell Research and Development executive has claimed the company is working on technology to read people's moods, and a commercial application may be on the shelves by 2017.
According to Jai Menon, Dell is actively developing software that can interpret brain activity and register when a user is in different emotional states. He expects this kind of technology to find potential applications at home and at work. "If I can sense the user is working hard on a task, an intuitive computer system might then reduce distractions, such as allowing incoming phone calls to go directly to voicemail and not letting the user be disturbed," he told the BBC. "Similarly, if they've been concentrating for a long time, maybe it could suggest a break."
The claims will certainly have privacy advocates on edge, as critics suggest some computer companies already know too much about users. But Menon insisted there will be positive uses for consumers, such as in the gaming sector. "If someone is playing a game and it sense they are bored, it could ratchet up the level of challenge automatically," he said.
Elon Musk's SpaceX has recorded another success for placing a satellite in orbit above the Earth. SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket after an early delay this week. The Falcon rocket placed the AsiaSat 8 satellite into orbit without further issues.
The launch of the rocket was delayed from 1:25 am EST to 4am EST due to a last minute issue with the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket. The first stage issue was fixed, and the launch went off without a hitch. AsiaSat 8 was placed in orbit 22,300 miles above the Earth.
At that altitude, the satellite will be used to provide satellite TV service and telecom service to customers in China, India, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East for the next 15 years. SpaceX will launch another AsiaSat later this month.
The Earth is one of the most volcanically active bodies in our solar system, but it's not alone in having volcanic activity. Jupiter's moon Io is one of the most volcanically active bodies scientists have ever observed and three massive eruptions were discovered on the surface of the moon. These three major events were imaged in August 2013, but the images have only now been released.
The trio of eruptions was recorded in a two-week span, surprising researchers because only 13 major eruptions have been recording between 1978 and 2006. Scientists expect a massive outburst once every one or two years. This event recorded three extremely bright outbursts in a span of two weeks.
The scientists believe that these outbursts show that if they looked at Io more frequently, more outbursts would be noted. Io is only 2300 miles wide, making it about the same size as the Earth's moon. The volcanic activity is the result of Jupiter and neighboring moons pulling on Io causing its insides to heat up.
NASA has announced that it plans to send several pieces of equipment to Mars early in the next decade. The gear will include seven instruments that will be placed on a Martian rover, with two of the devices designed specifically to see if the atmosphere on the planet can be used to make oxygen.
The oxygen NASA wants to generate isn't for some sort of terraforming of the planet, rather NASA wants to generate the oxygen for use in making rocket fuel. The goal of the oxygen-making instrument is to see if NASA might be able to support bigger missions to Mars in the future.
Astronauts that eventually walk the surface of Mars could also use the oxygen made to breathe while on the planet. The test device being sent to mars will be called Moxie and has the ability to make three quarters of an ounce of oxygen an hour. If the process works, a device one hundred times the size will travel to Mars in the 2030s.
Elon Musk has founded some of the biggest companies involving technology, such as PayPal, SpaceX and Tesla Motors. Musk thinks we need to build a home for humans on Mars as soon as possible, but when it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), he has his reservations.
Over the weekend, Musk tweeted about a book recommendation, but after that he said: "We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes." Musk isn't new to his stance on AI, where back in June the SpaceX founder said he has even considred the possibility of a 'Terminator'-like scenario. Musk has also admitted that he's even invested money into AI companies, where he wants to keep an eye on where AI is going.