Open source hardware 3D printer for pizza-on-demand

A mechanical engineer (awesomely) named Anjan Contractor has won a NASA grant to prototype a 3D printer for food -- specifically pizza. It will lay down layers of food and flavor powder and melt them together; the powders are room-temperature stable for long periods and can be made from relatively abundant, sustainable foodstocks like insects and soylent green. He prototyped the concept with the 3D chocolate printer in the video above, and he holds out hope that food-printing could solve world hunger by allowing billions to feast on low-wastage, low-energy-input, low-carbon-footprint foods that are printed to order.

Contractor's printer is RepRap based, and is open source hardware; he promises to keep the plans open and free.

I suspect that there's a lot of nutritional subtleties lost when you turn food into processed elements that are recombined (in the same way that beta-carotene in carrots is reliably shown to have health benefits, while beta-carotene supplements are far more questionable). But as a form of food processing, it certainly is exciting!

Pizza is an obvious candidate for 3D printing because it can be printed in distinct layers, so it only requires the print head to extrude one substance at a time. Contractor’s “pizza printer” is still at the conceptual stage, and he will begin building it within two weeks. It works by first “printing” a layer of dough, which is baked at the same time it’s printed, by a heated plate at the bottom of the printer. Then it lays down a tomato base, “which is also stored in a powdered form, and then mixed with water and oil,” says Contractor.

Finally, the pizza is topped with the delicious-sounding “protein layer,” which could come from any source, including animals, milk or plants.

The audacious plan to end hunger with 3-D printed food (Thanks to everyone who sent this in!)

NASA solar flare video with Lars Leonhard music

NASA released this stunning video of two powerful X-class solar flares erupting off the upper left side of the sun earlier this month. (Background here.) The images come from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and from the ESA/NASA Solar Heliospheric Observatory. The music is by Duesseldorf-based ambient composer Lars Leonhard whose track Thunderbolt was featured in an equally-magificient video of the sun's corona captured by the SDO and released earlier this year. Watch that video below. Leonhard's debut album, 1549, inspired by the US Airways flight that famously hit a flock of geese and was ditched in the Hudson River, is available from Forced Exposure.

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Life of astronaut Sally Ride honored in Kennedy Center tribute


American astronaut Sally Ride monitors control panels from the pilot's chair on the flight deck in 1983. Photo by Apic/Getty Images, via PBS NewsHour.

Tonight, PBS NewsHour science correspondent Miles O'Brien will serve as master of ceremonies in a Kennedy Center gala honoring the life and legacy of astronaut Sally Ride. The tribute will highlight her impact on the space program and her lifelong commitment to promoting youth science literacy.

Her Sally Ride Science organization reached out to girls, encouraging them to pursue careers in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields, where a gender gap persists.

At the PBS NewsHour website, read the column Miles wrote immediately following Ride's death in July 2012, 17 months after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Kepler's greatest hits

Your guide to the most awesome exoplanets yet found by NASA's Kepler space telescope — all in one handy place, thanks to Wired's Adam Mann.

Spacegoing Earth: a painting by Angus McKie


When I first saw this Angus McKie illustration, I had a moment when I thought it depicted the Earth being encased in a huge, space-going shell and I flashed back to Damon Knight's spectacular novel Why Do Birds?, a straight-faced yet comic novel about a man who puts the whole human race in a box. Then I realized that the picture depicted a hollow, space-going sphere being fitted with an armored cover and my mind spun into a deep future from which it hasn't entirely returned. Beautiful work. Here's the official McKie site, but it appears to be down.

Angus McKie

Kepler space telescope discovers a BEER planet

Before you get excited, please note that said planet is not actually made of beer. In fact, it's probably a gas giant, like Jupiter, only way hotter owing to the fact that it sits much closer to its own sun. BEER, in this case, is a somewhat tortured acronym for "relativistic BEaming, Ellipsoidal, and Reflection/emission modulations", a new method of finding exoplanets that could help us spot worlds we might otherwise have missed. Ian O'Neill explains at Discovery.com.

Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction


Annalee Newitz, founding editor of IO9 and former EFF staffer, has a new book out today called Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction, and it's terrific.

Scatter's premise is that the human race will face extinction-grade crises in the future, and that we can learn how to survive them by examining the strategies of species that successfully weathered previous extinction events, and cultures and tribes of humans that have managed to survive their own near-annihilation.

What follows from this is a whirlwind tour of geology, evolutionary biology, cultural anthropology and human history, as Newitz catalogs the terrifying disasters, catastrophes and genocides of geology and antiquity. From there, the book transitions into a sprightly whistle-stop tour of sustainable cities, synthetic biology, computer science, geoengineering, climate science, new materials science, urban theory, genomics, geopolitics, everything up to and including the Singularity, as Newitz lays out the technologies in our arsenal for adapting ourselves to upcoming disasters, and adapting our planet (and ultimately our solar system) to our long-term survival.

This has both the grand sweep and the fast pace of a classic OMNI theme issue, but one that's far more thoroughly grounded in real science, caveated where necessary. It's a refreshingly grand sweep for a popular science book, and if it only skims over some of its subjects, that's OK, because in the age of the Net, one need only signpost the subjects the reader might dive into on her own once she realizes their awesome potential.

This is a delight of a book, balanced on the knife-edge of disaster and delirious hope. It neither predicts our species' apotheosis nor its doom, but suggests paths to reach the former while avoiding the latter.

Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction

Astronaut Chris Hadfield performs David Bowie's "Space Oddity" on the ISS

Astronaut Chris Hadfield -- the tweeting, tumbling Canadian astronaut who's a one-dude astro-ambassador from the space programme to the Internet -- has produced and released a video of his own performance of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" (AKA the "Major Tom song") on the ISS. He adapts the lyrics a bit to his own situation -- and changes out the whole dying-in-space chorous -- but is otherwise pretty faithful. From the credits, it appears that David Bowie gave permission for this, though that's not entirely clear. I would think that not even a major record label would be hamfisted and cack-handed enough to send a takedown notice over this one (it's been suggested for Boing Boing more than any other link in my memory), but I'm prepared to be surprised.

Space Oddity

The waters of the Moon

There is water on the Moon. We've known that since 2009 and we keep finding evidence of more of the stuff. That's not the really fascinating part about this article by Joseph Stromberg. Instead, there two really cool things that you should learn: 1) The water on the Moon probably came from Earth and 2) the water on the Earth probably came from outer space.

Sometimes, you misplace your Moon dust

The University of California, Berkeley recently found 20 vials of Moon dust in an archival warehouse. Apparently, these were all loaned research samples that should have been returned to NASA more than 40 years ago. This is not the only institution to suffer from the same problem. At least 12 states had (and then lost) collections of small Moon rocks. Minnesota found theirs last year in a display case at the state Veteran Services Building, crowded into a cluster of lesser memorabilia, including an 8th-place award in a shooting competition. It could happen to anybody.

Mousetronaut: kids' picture book about mouse in space, written by a Shuttle pilot


Moustetronaut is a lovely picture book by Mark Kelly, a former Space Shuttle pilot and husband of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. It tells the story of Meteor, an experimental NASA mouse who saves a shuttle mission by scurrying into a tight control-panel seam and retrieving a critical lost key. The story is very (very) loosely based on a true story -- there was a Meteor, but he never left his cage, but he did indeed display delight and aplomb in a microgravity environment. The whole rescue thing is a fiction, albeit an adorable one.


What really makes this book isn't its basis in "truth," but rather the amazing illustrations by CF Payne, who walks a very fine line between cute and grotesque, with just enough realism to capture the excitement of space and just enough caricature to make every spread instantly engaging. There's also a very admirable economy of words in the book itself (which neatly balances a multi-page afterword about the space program, with a good bibliography of kid-appropriate space websites and books for further reading). It's just the right blend of beautifully realized characters -- Meteor is particularly great -- and majestic illustrations of space and space vehicles.

Moustetronaut

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The trouble with Wernher

Amy Shira Teitel has a nice essay about how we grapple with (and awkwardly avoid) the full legacy of Wernher Von Braun — father of the American space program and a Nazi whose rockets were once built by prison laborers.

New Canadian $5 celebrates the space programme


I'm pretty fond of the design of the new Canadian plastic $5 note, which is much improved if you draw Spock ears, eyebrows and hairline on old Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

The new Canadian $5 bill has just destroyed every single other piece of currency in the world (IMO) (farm9.staticflickr.com)

The Red Rose of Saturn

Carolyn Porco, Cassini Imaging Team Leader and CICLOPS director, writes:

One of the most gorgeous sights we have been privileged to see at Saturn, as the arrival of spring to the northern hemisphere has peeled away the darkness of winter, has been the enormous swirling vortex capping its north pole and ringed by Saturn's famed hexagonal jet stream.

Today, the Cassini Imaging Team is proud to present to you a set of special views of this phenomenal structure, including a carefully prepared movie showing its circumpolar winds that clock at 330 miles per hour, and false color images that are at once spectacular and informative.

Here are the images, in glorious hi-rez [ciclops.org].

We are all star stuff

How scientists study the fossils of ancient bacteria to find clues to a 2.6-million-year-old supernovae. Jennifer Ouellette explains how the the bacteria incorporated elements from an exploding star into their bodies, and how those elements can still be found today.