Interstellar message in a bottle

Later this month, scientists will start sending the first continuous mass hailing beacon into outer space — a sort of "Hey, you! Yeah, you! Here we are!" message that researchers hope will attract the attention of any intelligent life that happens to exist in the Universe. They're aiming it at the Gliese 526 system, about 17.6 light years away. It's worth noting that this is different than Gliese 581, a system you probably remember hearing about from the search for Earth-like planets. The two systems aren't even closely related. The name comes from a 1957 survey of (relatively) nearby stars.

Tumblog of Greatness: F*ck Yeah, Female Astronauts


Valentina Tereshkova, first woman in space, launch date June 16, 1963.

A wonderful website: fuckyeahfemaleastronauts.tumblr.com [new expletive-free URL] womeninspace.tumblr.com.

Only 10% of people in space have been women, and on tumblr that seemed even less. so here it is for your inspiration. Fuck yeah! Female Astronauts!

(via s.e. smith)

National Academies: public call for future visions of human spaceflight

Do you have ideas about the future of humans in space? The US National Academies' Committee on Human Spaceflight is seeking short papers from individual and groups with a vision for the future of human spaceflight.
NewImageIn developing their papers, respondents are asked to carefully consider the following broad questions.

What are the important benefits provided to the United States and other countries by human spaceflight endeavors?

What are the greatest challenges to sustaining a U.S. government program in human spaceflight?

What are the ramifications and what would the nation and world lose if the United States terminated NASA's human spaceflight program?

"Submitting an Input Paper to the Committee on Human Spaceflight"

Space food

FruittttY'know "Astronaut Ice Cream" that's a favorite at science museum gift shops everywhere? I shouldn't be surprised, but astronauts don't eat the stuff. Freeze-dried ice cream was on the Apollo 7 menu but apparently the astronauts hated it so much that it never made it on future missions. (The same outfit that makes the Astronaut Ice Cream also sell a Mission Pack Space Food Sampler filled with other foods that astronauts probably don't eat.) The new issue of Smithsonian magazine examines the space food collection at the National Air and Space Museum, the place where, like many of you I'm sure, I had my first taste of "astronaut ice cream."

Read the rest

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.

Read the rest

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

Read the rest