US-born NASA scientist was detained at the border until he unlocked his phone

Sidd Bikkannavar, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), still doesn't know why he was detained by US Customs and Border Patrol and compelled under duress to give agent's the access PIN to his NASA-owned mobile phone.

From The Verge:

Seemingly, Bikkannavar’s reentry into the country should not have raised any flags. Not only is he a natural-born US citizen, but he’s also enrolled in Global Entry — a program through CBP that allows individuals who have undergone background checks to have expedited entry into the country. He hasn’t visited the countries listed in the immigration ban and he has worked at JPL — a major center at a US federal agency — for 10 years. There, he works on “wavefront sensing and control,” a type of optics technology that will be used on the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.

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The officer also presented Bikkannavar with a document titled “Inspection of Electronic Devices” and explained that CBP had authority to search his phone. Bikkannavar did not want to hand over the device, because it was given to him by JPL and is technically NASA property. He even showed the officer the JPL barcode on the back of phone. Nonetheless, CBP asked for the phone and the access PIN. “I was cautiously telling him I wasn’t allowed to give it out, because I didn’t want to seem like I was not cooperating,” says Bikkannavar. “I told him I’m not really allowed to give the passcode; I have to protect access.

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Idaho's massive checkerboard forest seen from the Space Station

An astronaut on the International Space Station snapped this striking photo last month of forest land adjacent to the Priest River in northern Idaho. From NASA:

The squares in this landscape checkerboard appear to be the result of forest management. Similar patterns originated in the 1800s, when alternate parcels of land were granted by the U.S. government to railroads such as the Northern Pacific. Many parcels in the Pacific Northwest were later sold off and harvested for timber.

The land shown here is now managed for wildlife and for timber harvesting. The white patches reflect areas with younger, smaller trees, where winter snow cover shows up brightly to the astronauts. Dark green-brown squares are parcels of denser, intact forest. The checkerboard is used as a method of maintaining the sustainability of forested tracts while still enabling a harvest of trees.

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Stunning image of Saturn's moon Mimas

A breathtaking photo of Saturn's moon Mimas taken this week by NASA's Cassini space probe.

You may recall, that another photo (below) of Mimas raised concerns that it isn't actually a moon but rather the Death Star.

(Images: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

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Boeing's new spacesuit is far out

Boeing revealed its new sleek and chic spacesuit designed for astronauts aboard the Boeing/Bigelow CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. Launched on Atlas V rockets the Starliner capsule will shuttle commercial crew members to and from the International Space Station and other low-Earth orbit locales. From Boeing:

The Starliner spacesuit provides greater pressurized mobility and is about 40 percent lighter than previous suits. Its innovative layers will keep astronauts cooler as well. The touchscreen-friendly gloves allow astronauts to interact with the capsule’s tablets while the boots are breathable and slip resistant. Zippers in the torso area will make it easier for astronauts to comfortably transition from sitting to standing. In addition to protecting astronauts during launch and the return to Earth, the suit also helps connect astronauts to ground and space crews through the communications headset within the helmet. The suit’s hood-like soft helmet sports a wide polycarbonate visor to give Starliner passengers better peripheral vision throughout their ride to and from space.

Video from Boeing:

Photo from Boeing:

Photo from NASA/Cory Huston:

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In honor of Hidden Figures, meet the contemporary black women contributing to NASA’s success

The wonderful new movie Hidden Figures (based on a book by Margot Lee Shetterly) tells the story of three black women who were crucial to the success of NASA’s Apollo missions in the 1960s. And now NASA is celebrating the many black women who play a crucial role in the space program today. In a series of videos, women like systems engineer Julie Williams-Byrd, project manager Antja Chambers, and astronaut Jeanette Epps discuss their work with NASA and how the women of Hidden Figures inspired them.

You can learn more on NASA’s “From Hidden Figures To Modern Figures” page and you can see all of the “NASA’s Modern Figures” videos on YouTube. Read the rest

Check out Adam Savage's far-out replica of an Apollo spacesuit

When most people commission a bespoke suit, they pay attention to the stitching and drape of the fabric. For MythBuster Adam Savage's latest custom tailoring job, he had some more esoteric details in mind. Here he is on Tested giving a tour of his Apollo A7L spacesuit replica, fashioned by Ryan Nagata. (Tested)

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Astronaut Eugene Cernan, last man to walk on the moon, has died at 82

"We leave as we came, and, God willing, we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind." These were the last words Eugene Cernan said upon leaving the surface of our moon, at the end of Apollo 17.

Cernan (shown below at the beginning of EVA 3) was the last man to walk on the moon. He died Monday, Jan. 16, surrounded by his family.

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That's no moon...

NASA claims this image taken by the Cassini probe depicts Saturn's moon Mimas with the distinctive Herschel Crater, but we know better. From NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute:

Named after the icy moon's discoverer, astronomer William Herschel, the crater stretches 86 miles (139 kilometers) wide -- almost one-third of the diameter of Mimas (246 miles or 396 kilometers) itself...

This view looks toward the anti-Saturn hemisphere of Mimas. North on Mimas is up and rotated 21 degrees to the left. The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Oct. 22, 2016 using a combination of spectral filters which preferentially admits wavelengths of ultraviolet light centered at 338 nanometers.

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John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth, hospitalized in declining health at 95

John Glenn, a war hero and the first American to orbit planet Earth, has been hospitalized in Ohio for over a week.

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NASA's Space Poop Challenge

NASA issued a public $30,000 bounty "for fecal, urine, and menstrual management systems to be used in the crew’s launch and entry suits over a continuous duration of up to 144 hours." From the competition brief:

Current space suits are worn for launch and entry activities and in-space activities to protect the crew from any unforeseen circumstances that the space environment can cause. A crew member could find themselves in this suit for up to 10 hours at a time nominally for launch or landing, or up to 6 days if something catastrophic happens while in space.

The old standby solution consisted of diapers, in case astronauts needed to relieve themselves. However, the diaper is only a very temporary solution, and doesn’t provide a healthy/protective option longer than one day.

What's needed is a system inside a space suit that collects human waste for up to 144 hours and routes it away from the body, without the use of hands. The system has to operate in the conditions of space - where solids, fluids, and gases float around in microgravity (what most of us think of as "zero gravity") and don't necessarily mix or act the way they would on earth. This system will help keep astronauts alive and healthy over 6 days, or 144 hrs.

Space Poop Challenge (HeroX) Read the rest

Float through the space station in this fisheye POV

Crank it to 4K and go full-screen to feel as if you're floating through the International Space Station. It's cool to think about how quaint this technology will look someday, like a wooden sailing ship, but for now, it's still mind-blowingly cool. Read the rest

NASA Curiosity Mars Rover Checks Odd-looking Iron Meteorite

On Mars, NASA's Curiosity rover zapped a globular, golf-ball-size object with a laser, and the signal it got back confirmed it was an iron-nickel meteorite fallen from the Red Planet's sky.

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Great moments in space history: farting on the moon

YouTuber Barb Ackue (get it?) was kind enough to upload an important moment in US history: Commander John Young complaining about flatulence while Apollo 16 was on the lunar surface. After working through some technical issues, Young says: Read the rest

More than 2 trillion galaxies in the universe, at least 10 times as many as we thought

In the 1990s, Hubble surprised astronomers by revealing just how packed the universe is with galaxies: they estimated some 200 billion of them based on its observations. But now we know these estimates were wrong. There are at least 2 trillion.

Conselice and his team reached this conclusion using deep-space images from Hubble and the already published data from other teams. They painstakingly converted the images into 3-D, in order to make accurate measurements of the number of galaxies at different epochs in the universe's history. In addition, they used new mathematical models, which allowed them to infer the existence of galaxies that the current generation of telescopes cannot observe. This led to the surprising conclusion that in order for the numbers of galaxies we now see and their masses to add up, there must be a further 90 percent of galaxies in the observable universe that are too faint and too far away to be seen with present-day telescopes. These myriad small faint galaxies from the early universe merged over time into the larger galaxies we can now observe.

"It boggles the mind that over 90 percent of the galaxies in the universe have yet to be studied. Who knows what interesting properties we will find when we discover these galaxies with future generations of telescopes? In the near future, the James Webb Space Telescope will be able to study these ultra-faint galaxies, said Conselice.

That's good for about 700 billion trillion stars, and heaven knows how many planets. (Previously) Read the rest

'Voyage of Time,' Terrence Malick IMAX film with Brad Pitt narration, is an awesome cosmic meditation

You know what America needs right now? A little perspective.

For that, I recommend you head to your local IMAX theater and see Terrence Malick’s “Voyage of Time: The Imax Experience.” It's a psychedelic meditation on the history of the cosmos that's very kid-friendly, and a wonderful reminder of the big, big picture.

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NASA's forgotten 3mm gauge movie camera

Dino Everett of USC's Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive shows off a nifty little gadget: a working 3mm movie camera developed by Eric Berndt in 1960 for NASA's Mercury missions. Read the rest

George Pendle on the death of space art

The always-engaging George Pendle (Strange Angel, The Remarkable Millard Fillmore) has a fascinating piece on Atlas Obscura on the history of space art and NASA's (and the government's at large) current awkward relationship with the art world.

Yet when the NASA scientists asked the attendant artists to refrain from posting pictures of the meeting on social media, it seemed to sum up both a generational and a temperamental mismatch. (In an email, a NASA spokesperson said that "participating artists are free to discuss their attendance.")

From a NASA perspective, the secrecy was a budgetary imperative. In 2003, the renowned performance artist Laurie Anderson was appointed NASA’s first “artist-in-residence” with the remit of creating art about the agency’s exploration of space. Republican congressmen quickly seized on the move as a sign of wanton profligacy. “Mr. Chairman,” sputtered Representative Chris Chocola of Indiana on the floor of Congress, “nowhere in NASA's mission does it say anything about advancing fine arts or hiring a performance artist.” There has been no artist-in-residence since and the reverberations were no doubt part of the reason why NASA’s workshop at Grace Farms seemed tentative and vague.

In the not-so-distant past, though, space and art intermingled happily. Artists were crucial to NASA’s development, at times outpacing the science of space travel itself. What happened?

The above illustration is NASA concept art of a moon landing, from 1959. Read the rest

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