Yes, it’s gross, but thanks to the “60-day Space Poop Challenge,” spearheaded by crowdfunding platform HeroX — with the support of NASA — has come up with some inventive solutions for responding to nature’s call in zero gravity.
Before computers existed as we know them, data was processed by women, often black women. But they were much more than mere calculators. Indeed, the achievements of Katherine Johnson and many others were integral to NASA’s success. The film Hidden Figures, about their part in the race for space, is currently on release in the US and will be out in the UK on 17 February.
The new "Boeing Blue" spacesuits for the Starliner capsule weigh about 20 lbs. (9 kilograms) each with all of their accessories, compared to 30 lbs. (13.6 kg) for the old space shuttle suits, NASA officials said.
Other advances include touch-screen-sensitive gloves, more-flexible material and soft helmets that are incorporated into the suit (rather than the hard, detachable helmets of the shuttle era).
“I couldn’t tell if the actual movie would be mostly science fiction or mostly a love story.” says Stephen Wolfram (the creator of Mathematica) who along with his son has a consulting role in the movie.
I have seen the movie twice and cannot make up my mind either or indeed if it is more about a third topic - about communication between humans and with aliens.
The lead character played by Amy Adams is a linguist. We learn early on she is familiar with Portuguese, Farsi, Sanskrit and the movie weaves in trivia like Urdu is written from right to left.
So, what does that have to do with STEM?
To start with the movie is adapted from Story of Your Life, a short story by Ted Chiang. In linguistics, it's known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, “or as Chiang puts it in the film's production notes "the idea that the language you speak determines how you perceive the world and even what kinds of thoughts you can have." It may even determine how your brain is wired. (As an aside, it is incredible that a short story has been adapted into such a visually dense movie, and with other references to Fermat’s Principle of Least Time and Bayes’ Theorem excised so the movie did not confuse the audience even more.)
And then there is the logogram language of the aliens. As Wired reports “The aliens regard time as non-linear, and the language needed to reflect that. But consultations with linguists and graphic designers kept leading to fictional alphabets that Vermette says hewed too closely to familiar systems like hieroglyphics, or code. It felt too human. Then one night, Vermette’s wife, artist Martine Bertrand, offered to sketch some ideas. The next morning, Vermette came downstairs to find 15 inky logograms on the kitchen table. “I said, ‘eureka.'””
Finally, here is repeated use of 12 – the symbol of cosmic order, as in 12 signs of the Zodiac, 12 year cycle in Asia. 12 spaceships show up in the movie, and there is science which tries to decode their landing sites. Jeremy Renner who plays a theoretical physicist uses gobs of computing power to analyze the alien logos into 12 sectors.
The non-linear time dimension in the movie is tough to get your head around. Very few of the alien logograms are actually translated into English sub-titles in the movie. Finally, bringing out the human elements which actually dominate the movie, pose an interesting challenge. As Jeremy Renner explains
“How I deal with, like, zeroes and ones, and [makes a sound like a chattering computer, or maybe an old dot matrix printer] and all these really unemotional, scientific things? How do we make this guy a human?”
It is a fascinating movie. Go see it – maybe 2-3 times to finally get your head and heart around all the nuances.
To promote its upcoming new miniseries Mars (starts this evening), the National Geographic Channel convinced its associated magazine to print a Mars-focused issue, and it set up a VR-Mars outpost in the middle of New York City. For the channel, the miniseries is more than just a new show; it's part of an effort to rebrand itself as a source of serious, premium, science-focused content.
So, while the series' focus is a fictional drama about the Earth's first attempt at colonizing Mars, a strong effort has been made to be as accurate and realistic as possible. Fictional segments are mixed in with documentary footage from the present day, with experts talking about what it would take to get people to the red planet.
If any of this sounds like a repeat of feats already accomplished decades ago by others (U.S. and Soviet Union), that glib observation falls to pieces when you consider technologies like China’s QUESS satellite—which will likely be orbiting overhead by the time you read this. Short for Quantum Experiments at Space Scale, QUESS marks a first-of-its-kind attempt to beam quantum-encrypted information between an orbiting satellite and ground stations below. By encoding that information into the quantum states of particles like photons, such security schemes ensure that any attempt to intercept or tamper with the transmission alerts both sender and receiver, making quantum encryption theoretically unbreakable.
In an era of global electronic surveillance, a quantum-communications network could sidestep even the best cyberintelligence operations, allowing Chinese military and intelligence assets to swap information while keeping potential adversaries or spies in the dark. As long as China is the only nation bouncing quantum communications around the atmosphere, it will enjoy scientific and strategic security advantages, as well as a boost to economic security: QUESS researchers say that a long-term goal is the protection of financial communications.
That authenticity is important, because while it’s easy, relatively speaking, to develop the hardware and procedures for a crewed mission to Mars, the health of the human passengers is an order of magnitude harder. And emotional health in particular is the hardest part. How the mind copes with the stressors associated with, what are known as, ICE environments (isolated, confined and extreme) has always bedeviled long-duration explorers.
For that reason, the Mauna Loa facility, known as HI-SEAS — for Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation — was created. Co-managed by NASA and the University of Hawaii, and built by Henk Rogers, an entrepreneur, venture capitalist and video game developer (he counts Tetris among his inventions), HI-SEAS first went into operation in 2012 and had already hosted two crews for four months and one for eight months before this recent mission.
Some folks at Lockheed Martin took a boring old school bus and gave it a bit of magic: they designed the cabin to be an immersive, full-rendered VR experience for kids to learn more about Mars while driving around city streets like normal.
Built on the Unreal engine, the bus uses several sensors to monitor the real world and translate that to a VR experience. Bus goes 30, Mars goes 30; bus turns left, Mars turns left. They even mapped the surface of Mars onto city streets in Washington, D.C. to create a more detailed exploratory experience
The waves came from two black holes circling each other, closer and closer, until they finally collided. The recently upgraded Large Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) captured the signal on Sept. 14, 2015. Not every scientific discovery gets this kind of reception, so what exactly is all the hype about, and what's next for LIGO now that it has spotted these elusive waves?
First of all, detecting two colliding black holes is thrilling by itself — no one knew for sure if black holes actually merged together to create even more-massive black holes, but now there's physical proof. And there's the joy of finally having direct evidence for a phenomenon that was first predicted (by Einstein)100 years ago, using an instrument that was proposed 40 years ago.