Climate change allows 3 explorers to boldly sail where no man has sailed before

The three-man crew of the 31-foot Belzebub II, a fiberglass sailboat "with a living space the size of a bathroom," told the world today how they sailed through the M’Clure Strait in northern Canada, a "decreasingly ice-packed route through the famed Northwest Passage." Warming global temperatures and melting polar ice caps made it possible. The crew's original blog post is here. (LAT)

New Cassini eye candy: the changing seasons of Saturn

Carolyn Porco, Cassini Imaging Team Leader and director of CICLOPS in Boulder, CO, writes:

For no other reason than that they are gorgeous, the Cassini imaging team is releasing today a set of fabulous images of Saturn and Titan...in living color...for your day-dreaming enjoyment. Note that our presence at Saturn for the last 8 years has made possible the sighting of subtle changes with time, and one such change is obvious here. As the seasons have advanced, and spring has come to the north and autumn to the south throughout the Saturn system, the azure blue in the northern winter Saturnian hemisphere that greeted Cassini upon its arrival in 2004 is now fading; and it is now the southern hemisphere, in its approach to winter, that is taking on a bluish hue.

[B]ack here on Earth, the Cassini mission was recently given rave reviews by a panel of planetary scientists and NASA program managers for its contributions to our understanding of the solar system, a circumstance that bodes well for a well-funded continuing mission over the next 5 years. Despite the fact that we can't know exactly what the next five years will bring us, we can be certain that whatever it is will be wondrous.

Photo above: "A giant of a moon appears before a giant of a planet undergoing seasonal changes in this natural color view of Titan and Saturn from NASA's Cassini spacecraft."

More beautiful images from Cassini here.

Hellooooo, new desktop.

Mars Curiosity rover's landing: A video by one of her 3,000+ creators at NASA JPL

What a beautiful video by Mark Rober, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory: "I was able to work on NASA JPL's Curiosity Mars Rover for 7 years. This video is an attempt to capture what it felt like to have 7 years of your life vindicated in the 7 minute landing. Honestly one of the coolest moments of my life so far.

Read the rest

Earth Illuminated: Dazzling ISS time-lapse photography, from NASA (video)

John Streeter, who is a television producer with NASA at Johnson Space Center in Houston, sends this cool video and tells Boing Boing:

It is all real, all shot from the International Space Station and all beautiful. It is time-lapse photography that showcases stars, cities at night, lightning storms and the aurora all from the vantage point of the space station. Also, there is a link at the end where you can visit, download and create your own videos if you wish.

The station is a remarkable engineering achievement and this is just a small side benefit of being in orbit. I hope you enjoy.

NASA.gov link, and here's the video on YouTube.

How the Eagle Landed: Grumman Construction Log, and a message to space (Apollo 11)

On the anniversary of Apollo 11, Steve Jurvetson posted an amazing, never-before-seen series of space artifacts. He writes:

On July 20, 1969, Eagle landed on the moon. These are the handwritten notes from the Grumman engineers as they pushed to complete Lunar Module LM-5 in 1968. On the last page, they learn than this particular Lunar Module would be the one to bring the first humans to the moon.

The Grumman Engineering Log served not only as an engineering notebook but also as an intercom between the day and night shift – separate teams that needed to push the ball forward from where the other left off. So we are offered a rare peek into the concerns, uncertainties and conversations that might have otherwise been quietly undocumented.

Read the rest

Solar Impulse plane lands, completing world's first intercontinental flight powered by the sun (photos)

Photo: REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal

The Solar Impulse plane project president and pilot Bertrand Piccard lands after a 19-hour flight from Madrid at Rabat's International airport, June 5, 2012. The plane landed in Morocco on Tuesday, completing the world's first intercontinental flight powered by the sun to show the potential for pollution-free air travel.

Read the rest

OpenROV, the $750 submarine

In the New York Times today, Brian Lam (formerly of Gizmodo, now the creator of Scuttlefish and Wirecutter) writes about OpenROV, a low-cost submarine designed to be an affordable tool for "curious students and amateurs, as well as provide a highly valuable shallow water tool for explorers and scientists."

This month, NASA engineer Eric Stackpole hiked to a spot in Trinity County, east of California’s rough Bigfoot country. Nestled at the base of a hill of loose rock, peppered by red and purple wildflowers, is Hall City Cave. For part of the winter the cave is infested with large spiders, but is mostly flooded year-round. Locals whisper the cave’s deep pools hold a cache of stolen gold, but Mr. Stackpole isn’t here to look for treasure.

He had, under his arm, what might appear to be a clunky toy blue submarine about the size of a lunchbox. The machine is the latest prototype of the OpenROV–an open-source, remotely operated vehicle that could map the cave in 3D using software from Autodesk and collect water in places too tight for a diver to go. It could change the future of ocean exploration. For now, it is exploring caves because it can only go down 100 meters. But it holds promise because it is cheap, links to a laptop, and is available to a large number of researchers for experimentation. Indeed, the OpenROV team hopes to start taking orders for OpenROV kits on the crowd sourced project site, Kickstarter. Going for $750, the kits include laser cut plastic parts and all the electronics necessary to build an OpenROV. (Users will have to bring their own laptops to view the onboard video feed and control the machine. They’ll also have to supply their own C-cell batteries which power the sub.) The subs are expected to be available by the end of summer.

Read the full story here, and check out the awesome video Brian shot, here.

Miles O'Brien on SpaceX Launch: "Space for the Rest of Us"

At the PBS Newshour site, an analysis of what today's historic SpaceX launch means for the future of space flight, by veteran space journalist Miles O'Brien.

Space is hard and unforgiving and there is still a lot of challenging work ahead for the SpaceX Dragon team. I would not pop the champagne corks just yet. But this is a moment to savor.

For the first time since Endeavour's wheels stopped on runway 15 at the Kennedy Space Center on July 21, 2011, a U.S. built spacecraft is back in Mach 25 motion - on its way to meet up with the International Space Station. Endeavour landed 42 years and one day after Neil Armstrong first left his footprints on the moon, and the J.D. Salinger of the Apollo astronaut corps has been very vocal in his opposition and skepticism about this new course in space.

But anyone who claims they are interested in the exploration of the Final Frontier must applaud this endeavor (lower case - without the "u"). It has now been more than fifty years since human beings first flew to space and little more than 500 of them have been there. Talk about the ultimate elite club.

It is high time that ended and that will never happen if the government runs its space enterprise the way it has up until now: with cost-plus contracts that provide no incentive for the private sector to think about efficiencies.

Read the rest here.

What do astronauts and the Holocaust have in common? "An Article of Hope"

Filmmaker Dan Cohen is the guy behind "An Article of Hope," a feature film project seven years in the making. The documentary is done, but Dan's got a Kickstarter to raise funds to get it on television and into schools. Below, some words from Dan for Boing Boing readers about the film:

What could space shuttle Astronauts and the Holocaust possibly have in common? When I began my research into my documentary An Article of Hope, I thought I was making a film about a Holocaust story. But I soon unraveled a story that was much more than that. It is a story that crosses generations woven by the lives of three men, born at a different time, but brought together by a twist of fate.

At the center of the story were the Astronauts of the Space Shuttle Columbia. All from different backgrounds from around the world, magnificently diverse, yet threaded by a moment from the Holocaust, a horrific attempt to stamp out diversity.

Israeli Astronaut Ilan Ramon was a hero fighter pilot, a man who had the ability to rise to the moment. By the time he launched into space he was more than that, he was the representative of his country, his faith, and in his eyes perhaps, humanity. He searched for a symbol of this responsibility, and found a little Torah scroll given to a boy in a secret Bar Mitzvah in a Nazi concentration camp.

Read the rest

For the billionaire who has everything: a spaceship

Dylan Tweney has a good read over at VentureBeat on a trend of sorts among the ultra-rich: investing in space exploration startups. "The wonder isn’t that billionaires are doing this, the wonder is that it’s taken them so long."

Historic Apollo 11 rocket engines found on ocean floor by Jeff Bezos and team

Amazon founder and space entrepreneur Jeff Bezos announces on his blog that the Apollo 11 rocket engines which propelled Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon in 1969—making them the first humans on the moon—have been found on the bottom of the Atlantic ocean by Bezos' research team. Next step? Finding a way to safely recover the long-lost engines, and bring them back to the surface.

Snip:

Millions of people were inspired by the Apollo Program. I was five years old when I watched Apollo 11 unfold on television, and without any doubt it was a big contributor to my passions for science, engineering, and exploration. A year or so ago, I started to wonder, with the right team of undersea pros, could we find and potentially recover the F-1 engines that started mankind's mission to the moon?

I'm excited to report that, using state-of-the-art deep sea sonar, the team has found the Apollo 11 engines lying 14,000 feet below the surface, and we're making plans to attempt to raise one or more of them from the ocean floor. We don't know yet what condition these engines might be in - they hit the ocean at high velocity and have been in salt water for more than 40 years. On the other hand, they're made of tough stuff, so we'll see.

Read more at his Bezos Expeditions blog.

James Cameron hits bottom: deepest ever solo sub dive

Movie director, global explorer, and noted badass James Cameron today dove to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, earth's deepest point, using a specially designed submarine. He is the first person to attempt such a dive since 1960. More on the project, and what they hope to accomplish, at the Deep Sea Challenge website.

From National Geographic:

At noon, local time (10 p.m. ET), James Cameron's "vertical torpedo" sub broke the surface of the western Pacific, carrying the National Geographic explorer and filmmaker back from the Mariana Trench's Challenger Deep—Earth's deepest, and perhaps most alien, realm.

The first human to reach the 6.8-mile-deep (11-kilometer-deep) undersea valley solo, Cameron arrived at the bottom with the tech to collect scientific data, specimens, and visions unthinkable in 1960, when the only other manned Challenger Deep dive took place, according to members of the National Geographic expedition.

After a faster-than-expected, roughly 70-minute ascent, Cameron's sub, bobbing in the open ocean, was spotted by helicopter and would soon be plucked from the Pacific by a research ship's crane. Earlier, the descent to Challenger Deep had taken 2 hours and 36 minutes.

(Photo: Mark Thiessen, National Geographic)

Eyewitness to climate change

Numbers can be powerful things, but they don't necessarily help the average person grasp what's actually going on in science. Instead, personal stories tend to make a bigger impact. And that's understandable. Things you can see—or things that someone can show you—are going to stick in your head a bit more than a barrage of data.

This is especially a problem, I think, with climate change. Some of the largest impact of climate change, so far, have happened in places far removed from the experiences of the people who create the most anthropogenic greenhouse gases. So it's often hard to take the idea "the Earth is getting warmer" and really grok what that actually means.

That's why people like Will Steger are important. Steger is an explorer and science communicator who has won the National Geographic Society's John Oliver La Gorce Medal—an award that's also been given to Amelia Earhart, Robert Peary, Roald Amundsen and Jacques Cousteau.

He does most of his work in the Arctic and Antarctic, places where he has clearly seen the results of climate change. In a video of a presentation at the University of Minnesota, Steger shows you his experiences—and what they mean. How has climate change altered the landscape of the poles? What does that mean for the future of the Earth? Steger does a good job of making the data feel like something real.

I wish I could figure out how to embed this, but you should go watch it, nonetheless. It's a long video, but worth the time.

Image: Ice berg melting., a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from dkeats's photostream

Exploring ancient water

I love it when news lines up almost perfectly with our editorial calendar. Next week, I've got a Science Question from a Toddler feature lined up that will explain how scientists can date reserves of water, and what makes ancient water special.

This week, in Antarctica, a team of Russian scientists made contact with some very ancient water. Yesterday, they drilled through the last of a more than 12,000-foot ice cover and into Lake Vostok, a reserve of liquid water that hasn't had contact with the outside world in 15-34 million years.

These researchers are looking for extremophile bacteria—semi-alien Earthlings that have evolved separately from the rest of their terrestrial kin. Bryan Walsh at Time.com explains:

The hope is that some form of new microbial life might exist within the waters of the lake, which remain liquid despite the cold thanks to heat generated by the pressure of all that ice and geothermal energy rising from the planet’s core. The environment of Lake Vostok is similar to that found on Jupiter’s icy moon of Europa. If life can survive in Lake Vostok, it might just be able to survive on another planetary body.

It’s still going to take the Russian scientists some time to actually take samples from the lake—with the Antarctic winter on its way, they’ll need to leave Vostok Station soon. And there are environmental concerns that the drilling process could contaminate the lake, which is pristine. The researchers used more than 66 tons (60 metric tons) of lubricants and antifreeze in the drilling process—chemicals that would have polluted Lake Vostok had they leaked through the ice, and contaminated any samples. The good news is that contamination seems to have been avoided: the scientists plugged the bottom of the bore hole with Freon, an inert fluid, and drilled the final distance to the lake surface using a heated drill tip instead of a motorized drill that needed chemical lubricants. When the lake was breached, water flowed up the bore hole before freezing and forming an icy plug.

Inside NASA's Venus machine

This chamber, currently under construction at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, will be able to reproduce the temperature, pressure, and chemical conditions on the surface of Venus. Scientists will use it to find materials and lander designs that can withstand the 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures on that planet.

In a story on the chamber for WIRED, Dave Mosher points out that a similar chamber already exists. The trouble is, it's too small to fit a life-size model of a Venusian lander. The new chamber will be big enough to test out equipment at the size it will be used. Better yet, the new chamber could also be used to replicate conditions on other moons and planets, as well.

Thanks to its thick walls, it can simulate all conditions experienced during a trip to Venus: launch, the cold vacuum of space and even atmospheric entry.

In the future, operators could simulate conditions found in Jupiter’s outer atmosphere, the Martian equator and even vents near volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io. Seven- and 10-foot-wide additions to the first chamber (below) could also make room for prototypes designed for ultra-cold conditions on the moons Europa, Ganymede and Titan.