NASA has decided to get rid of their Windows-powered notebooks on the International Space Station (ISS) and replace with them with Linux-powered counterparts. On top of this, the first humanoid robot in space, R2, is powered by Linux.
Keith Chuvala, who has quite a mouthful of titles, is a United Space Alliance contractor, manager of the Space Operations Computing (SpOC) for NASA, and leader of the ISS's Laptops and Network Integration Teams, recently explained that NASA decided to move away from Windows, and in to the arms of Linux for the ISS's PCs. He said:
We migrated key functions from Windows to Linux because we needed an operating system that was stable and reliable - one that would give us in-house control. So if we needed to patch, adjust, or adapt, we could.
I know I'm not the only one on the TweakTown staff that loves space. I also believe many of our readers happen to be space fans following Curiosity's journey on Mars. We now have three stunning panoramic images stitched together from over 60 raw images taken by the rover. These panoramas allow a wider field of view so you can get a better sense of where Curiosity is working.
Ken Kremer, creator of the panoramas:
I chose these scenes because they vividly tell the story of what NASA seeks to accomplish with Curiosity in the search for signs of life on Mars as well as tell the science story of the entire mission at a glance - one panorama is worth a thousand words, so to speak.
The images are stunning and really give a good idea of what the red planet's horizon looks like. In two of the three panoramas, Mount Sharp rises majestically in the background. This was done on purpose, according to Kremer, because it's "a dramatic backdrop as well as being the rover's ultimate destination."
Maybe these pictures will help encourage people to sign up to live in the Mars Colony.
The Solar Impulse is a plane powered completely by the sun. Its wings, which are the size of a Boeing 747's, are covered in solar panels which generate and store electricity in batteries so the plane can fly 24/7 without ever needing to stop to refuel. The plane is currently on a journey across the United States, with the first leg being from Mountain View, CA to Phoenix, AZ.
The first leg of the journey will take about 20 hours to complete due to the plane being rather slow moving. In fact, the plane only moves at around 40 MPH. You can track the Solar Impulse on its journey via the live stream and site set up by the creators. The stream shows a Google Earth view of the terrain below the plane, while the site has current speed, direction, temperature, engine settings, and battery status.
Happy Friday, everyone! Time to get your geek on. Google has released a new "Explorer Story" video in which a physics teacher heads 500 feet underground to tour the Large Hadron Collider, all the while teaching to a physics class thousands of miles away. How awesome!
The video really speaks for itself. But just in case it doesn't, Andrew Vanden Heuvel, the star of the video, has authored a blog post with his thoughts and experiences. I know that I can't wait to buy my own pair of Google Glass.
The video you are about to see was not created in CGI, nor does it use any of Hollywood's video trickery. Scientists at IBM's Almaden Research Lab in San Jose, CA, have figured out a way to precisely move and manipulate individual atoms in very precise ways. So precise, in fact, that they were able to film the world's smallest video using nothing but the building blocks of all matter.
When it comes to the things I love, the video above is about as high on the list as it gets. The simple fact that we have the technology to now take an individual atom and place it anywhere in space that we want is simply astounding, when you consider the fact that less than 100 years ago we had no idea that atoms even existed. To get a scale of what is going on here, each dot has been magnified about 100,000,000 times.
The video was made by using a scanning tunneling microscope that weighs as much as a full sized truck and operates at -268 degrees Celsius. The positioning of the atoms was achieved by moving a very tiny needle across the surface of a piece of copper the size of a postage stamp with a height from the surface of just one nanometer.
Everybody's favorite little rover, Curiosity, is back in contact with its handlers on Earth, now that Mars and Earth are in an alignment where communication is possible. Curiosity had previously been sitting mostly idle for the last four weeks while the sun blocked communications between Earth and Mars.
The first step NASA has to complete is to update Curiosity's software. After Curiosity is brought up to speed, its handlers will instruct the rover to continue analysis on Yellowknife Bay. Yellowknife Bay is the location that Curiosity has already found the basic building blocks of life.
We just didn't stumble into this area. This was something that took a lot of planning. In case something happened with the rover we needed to make sure we had science to do in that landing ellipse. What was serendipitous was landing in a past aqueous environment and finding sulfates and clays...The hope is we find some other examples of habitable environments. There are a bunch of different geological reasons why there could be more of less carbon in one place.
Eventually, scientists want Curiosity to climb up Mount Sharp.
Say we find something that looks like another attractive ancient potentially habitable environment and it's 200 meters above the base of Mount Sharp. We can go up there and then from there we can go not just upward but also downward again. So if you're looking for something, you can explore in both directions of time's arrow.
Researchers at Cern in Switzerland have some interesting things to play with, and have now proved the merits of a way to test antimatter as a source of the thing we all want to see in our futures: "anti-gravity".
Antimatter particles are the "mirror image" of normal matter, but have an opposite electric charge. Antimatter and its relationship with gravity is still a mystery, but it may just simple "fall up" rather than down. Researchers reporting in Nature Communications have made a few steps toward solving this notion.
Antimatter continues to be one of the biggest question marks in physics, where equal amounts of matter and antimatter should have been created at the Universe's beginning. But, if the two were to shake hands, they destroy each other in what is called annihilation, turning into pure light. Cern's Alpha experiment is here to help the researchers hopefully solve this.
It was just a week ago that applications opened up for Mars One, a manned one-way mission to Mars. Mars One is on the search for two men and two women from different nationalities on a one-way mission to the red planet in 2023.
After just a week, there have been over 20,000 applications with 600 applications coming in from China alone. Requirements for candidates are as follows: If you show resilience, adaptability, and curiosity, you might qualify. Scientific and astronaut's skills, however, are not required. In the last twelve months, 10,000 people from 100 different countries have expressed interest in the one-way ticket to Mars, with many applications coughing up the application fee submitting and sharing their one-minute videos which you can watch on the Mars One website.
NASA extends ISS crew transportation contract with Russians, says domestic flights not likely until 2017
In a disappointing announcement, NASA has said they have renewed a contract with Russia. The contract with Russia is for Rocosmos to transport US crews to the International Space Station and has been used since the space shuttle program was retired in 2011. The extended contract will cost NASA $424 million.
NASA believes they will be able to send up US crews in US ships sometime in 2017, as long as they get the funding proposed in Obama's 2014 budget.
NASA is committed to launching U.S. astronauts aboard domestic spacecraft as soon as possible. Full funding of the administration's Fiscal Year 2014 budget request is critical to making these domestic capabilities possible by 2017.
It's rather sad that the United States has to rely on our allies to send up our astronauts to space. Many good inventions have come out of the NASA space program and it's a shame to see funding cut.
NASA's Cassini probe sure is clocking up some serious frequent flier miles, but as the probe was circling Saturn for nine years, NASA's probe managed to capture some spectacular video of a gigantic storm on Saturn's north pole.
Our cyclones don't last anywhere near as long as this monster, which was spinning for several years, and at speeds that exceeded 300MPH. This cyclone is also locked to Saturn's north pole, and is fueled by small amounts of water vapor versus having an actual ocean to suck it up from. The hurricane's eye measures 1250 miles wide and is surrounded by fluffy white clouds that are the size of Texas.
Our readers seem to have quite an interest in space, and who wouldn't? As part of the commercialization of space and space travel, Virgin Galactic has successfully completed the first test flight of its space plane, which will eventually be used to take ordinary citizens into space.
Don't start packing your bags quite yet, though, as Virgin Galactic didn't even make it into space on this first test flight. The plane behaved as expected and flew for around 10 minutes before returning to the ground. It was shuttled to an altitude of 47,000 feet before being released to fly on its own.
After being released, the plane flew up to 55,000 feet and broke the sound barrier. Virgin Galactic expect to test the plane in space by the end of the year and plan to have real flights for everyone available starting in 2015.
Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson:
The first powered flight of Virgin Spaceship Enterprise was without any doubt, our single most important flight test to date. For the first time, we were able to prove the key components of the system, fully integrated and in flight. Today's supersonic success opens the way for a rapid expansion of the spaceship's powered flight envelope, with a very realistic goal of full space flight by the year's end. We saw history in the making today and I couldn't be more proud of everyone involved.
University of Wyoming researchers discover 'vast' lithium deposit, best case has the supply meeting current global production for 720 years
A group of researchers from the University of Wyoming Carbon Management Insitute have discovered a "vast new lithium resource" located near Rock Springs in Wyoming. The discovery was made during a geological carbon dioxide storage site characterization project that was sponsored by the US Department of Energy.
Lithium is an important component in the construction of lithium-ion batteries, the current battery technology used by smartphones, laptops, and hybrid cars. The US currently imports about 80 percent of all lithium used domestically. Estimates for the 25-square-mile area surveyed place the total amount of lithium at about 228,000 tons of lithium, which is enough to meet annual US demand.
To help put this number in perspective, the lithium reserves at Silver Peak, Nev. -- the largest domestic producer of lithium -- total 118,000 tons in a 20-square-mile area. In a best-case scenario, the 2,000-square-mile Rock Springs Uplift could harbor up to 18 million tons of lithium, equivalent to about 720 years of current global lithium production.
I highly recommend checking out source #1 below to see the full press release from the University of Wyoming.
NASA have just launched three Nexus One smartphones into orbit as part of a low-budget, experimental satellite program that uses off-the-shelf components.
The three Android-powered devices are now circling high above the Earth, encased in 4-inch metal cubes, at an altitude of around 150 miles and will burn up on re-entry within the next two weeks. NASA's mission of each PhoneSat is easy, they just have to take photos of the Earth and send back periodic radio messages.
The mission is to see if the smartphones are capable of supplying the "brains" of future satellites, which would make satellites much cheaper in the future. NASA launched the smartphones into orbit on Sunday when Orbital Science Corp.'s Antares rocket lifted off from Virginia. Amateur radio operators had begun notifying NASA that they could pick up radio signals from the satellites within hours of the launch.
SpaceX are making leaps and bounds with their technology, with their Grasshopper rocket taking off and tripling its previous altitude mark of 263 feet by jetting up to 840 feet.
Once it reached that height, it hovered for little while, then gently touched down on the spot it launched from. Impressive, you'd hate to be the one coding everything inside of that thing - the amount of precision to sit there and hover without spinning out of control must have caused quite a bunch of grey hairs for the SpaceX team. Impressive stuff!
This afternoon Mars One officially announced the opening of its search and application process for the first manned mission to the planet Mars. Mars One is looking for two men and two women from different nationalities to man a one-way trip to Mars in 2023.
The trip to Mars is not for the light hearted, or those who are not willing to give up everything they have known. "While it is possible that, within the lifetime of the early settlers on Mars, there will be opportunity to bring one or more back to Earth, it cannot be anticipated nor expected", reads part of the mission briefing on the Mars-One.com website.
While I fully support this endeavor, and am immensely excited about humans leaving the planet Earth and populating another world, I still feel that a colonization mission is nothing more than suicide and will remain so until we develop a form of terraforming that would render the Martian atmosphere more hospitable for human life. I think a more technology appropriate approach would be for an orbital mission where we send explorers on a mission to orbit the planet before returning home.
SpaceTT: Hubble Telescope takes a new look at the Horse Head Nebula, resulting image will blow your mind
This year marks the 23rd anniversary of the Hubble Telescope taking flight in orbit around the earth. To celebrate the occasion it revisited one of my favorite monuments in the night sky; the Horse Head Nebula (IC 434).
Located within the Orion Nebula (M42), the Horsehead is a massive star forming region which is comprised of dust and gas. The Hubble first imaged the Horse Head about 20 years ago and the resulting visible light image can be seen above. The red or pinkish glow originates from hydrogen gas predominantly behind the nebula, ionized by the nearby bright star Sigma Orionis. The darkness of the Horsehead is caused mostly by thick dust, although the lower part of the Horsehead's neck casts a shadow to the left.
The new image of the great Horse Head can be seen above. It shows the region in infrared light, which is made up of longer wavelengths than visible light and can see through the dusty cloud that usually obscures the nebula's inner regions. The result is a rather amazing, and stunning looking structure, made of delicate folds of gas.
NASA has used their Kepler telescope to discover three "super-Earth-size" exoplanets that are close enough to their star to possibly have water on them. Two of the planets, Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f, orbit a K2 dwarf estimated to be around 7 billion years old.
This star measures in at around two-thirds the size of our sun, and is orbited by a total of five planets, three of which are too close to be habitable for life to form. Kepler-69c, the biggest of the three new planets discovered, is estimated to be around 70% larger than Earth, and takes 242 days to circle its star. This isn't the biggest news NASA has had, but it is interesting nonetheless.
Recent research at the University of Illinois has led to a breakthrough in lithium-ion battery technology. Researchers have developed a lithium-ion micro-battery that leaves all of its competition in the dust in both size and recharge rate.
A team headed up by professor William P. King has devised a new fast-charging cathode using 3D micro-structure, which resulted in an anode of similar design. When paired up, the result is a unit that is being touted as the most powerful battery in the world.
The new Li-ion micro-battery bucks current trends and avoids the usual tradeoff between longevity and power and has a footprint of just a couple of millimeters. This will ultimately lead to batteries for mobile devices that are 30 percent smaller, could broadcast radio signals 30 percent farther and could recharge in minutes compared to hours.
Maker Ruben van der Vleuten has just published a very cool video showing a recent experiment he conducted on the process of a package being shipped from point A to point B. I am still unsure of the legality of this type of thing here in the US, so beware if you attempt this yourself.
Ruben did not document the electronics very well, but from what I can tell, he used an Arduino to build an intervalometer, that would trigger the camera to take a photo at regular intervals. If the package stopped moving for a period of time, the Arduino would only trigger the camera for three seconds every minute to prevent an excess of dark / duplicate frames.
Finally, Ruben very cleverly hid it all inside a very inconspicuous brown box. He tackled the task of hiding the camera by drilling a hole smaller than the size of a pea into the side and masked it by writing his name in black permanent marker around it. This camouflaged the dark hole leading to the camera lens. As an avid Maker myself, I tip my hat to Ruben for a simple, yet awesome project.
The Navy has successfully completed a test of its upcoming laser weapon system that is set to debut in 2014. The laser system successfully shot down a drone. We have embedded video of the test below for your viewing pleasure:
Previous experiences with laser technology haven't been so successful. Part of the issue is that high-power lasers are large, require massive amounts energy, and large amounts of cooling. There have been some experimental laser weapon systems mounted in airplanes and on ships.
All I can think about is how cool lasers are. Pew, pew! Pew, pew!
It looks like NASA might just get that $100 million grant to find an asteroid, bring it back to the Moon, and study it. The $100 million initial fund would be used to find the right asteroid to retrieve.
The good news comes from the Christian Science Monitor, who says that President Obama is putting aside $100 million in a 2014 budget for the project. This isn't written in ink just yet, but it is exciting. The full project will cost much more, somewhere around $2.6 billion - a huge twenty-six times as much as the initial $100 million grant.