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Update July 2018


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July 14, 2018 - July 20, 2018

SpaceX delivers AI robot, ice cream, mice to space station

The AI robot Cimon, pronounced Simon, slightly bigger than a basketball, is meant to assist German astronaut Alexander Gerst with science experiments. (File photo: Jan. 29, 2018/T. Bourry/ESA/DLR via AP)

 Marcia Dunn

Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) - The International Space Station got its first robot with artificial intelligence Monday, July 2, along with some berries, ice cream and identical brown mice.

SpaceX’s capsule reached the station three days after launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Station astronaut Ricky Arnold used a large mechanical arm to grab the Dragon capsule as the spacecraft soared above Quebec, Canada.

The nearly 6,000-pound (2,700-kilogram) delivery includes the round robot Cimon, pronounced Simon. Slightly bigger than a basketball, the AI robot from the German Space Agency is meant to assist German astronaut Alexander Gerst with science experiments. Cimon’s brain will constantly be updated by IBM so its intelligence - and role - keep growing.

There are also genetically identical mice for a study of gut bacteria, and super-caffeinated coffee aboard the Dragon to go with the fresh blueberries and ice cream.

“Looking forward to some really exciting weeks ahead as we unload the science and get started on some great experiments,” Arnold told Mission Control minutes after snaring the Dragon.

When informed it was the 30th cargo ship to be captured by the station’s robot arm, Arnold said, “It’s hard to believe ... how far we’ve come. It’s quite an accomplishment.”

Most of those visiting vessels have been provided by private U.S. companies hired by NASA to keep the space station well stocked.

Mission Control said it was fitting that the latest capture occurred over Quebec; the station’s robot arm is Canada’s contribution.

Besides Gerst, the 250-mile-high (400-kilometer-high) lab is home to three Americans and two Russians.


Chicago airport plan is 1 of many Musk dream projects

 

This undated artist’s rendering provided by The Boring Company, shows an electric public transportation vehicle that is part of a proposed high-speed underground transportation system that will transport passengers from downtown Chicago to O’Hare International Airport. A spokesman for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel confirmed Wednesday, June 13, 2018, that The Boring Company, founded by Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been selected to build the transportation system. (The Boring Company via AP)

Michael Tarm

Chicago (AP) - A newly announced project by billionaire innovator Elon Musk for a tunnel transit system that would carry travelers to and from Chicago O’Hare International Airport at up to 150 mph (241 kph) is just another project on a growing list of Musk dream projects.

A look at some of the SpaceX and Tesla CEO’s most ambitious projects, where they stand now and some hurdles to their completion:

Mars Missions

Arguably Musk’s boldest or most far-fetched project, depending on who you ask, is one to send manned missions to Mars. He’s even spoken about colonizing the red planet. According to the SpaceX website, the “aspirational goal is to send our first cargo mission to Mars in 2022.” The first unmanned Mars mission would seek to confirm the presence of water and identify other resources that could help sustain human life. And the manned Mars mission? Musk’s goal is for that to happen just two years later, in 2024. By contrast, NASA has spoken about the mid-2030s as a realistic goal for sending humans to Mars.

A powerful new rocket capable of making it to Mars is already being developed. The Los Angeles harbor commissioners in April approved a permit for SpaceX to build a facility on port land to manufacture it.

Among the unresolved challenges: How to protect humans from radiation on Mars, which lacks the atmosphere of Earth. There are psychological challenges, too. Humans on Mars, especially before a full human colony is established, would have to grapple with a sense of extreme isolation - and boredom.

Tunneling

Chicago is one of several cities where Musk has spoken about using tunnel-boring technology developed by his Boring Co. for transportation projects. Among the furthest along is one that would scoot commuters underground on electric sleds called skates to the Los Angeles International Airport. Weeks after tweeting last year that snarling traffic was “driving me nuts,” Musk said work on a tunnel was about to start. Last month, he said a portion of a tunnel was almost finished under an LA suburb and would soon be ready for testing. Among the challenges for any such project is to secure the necessary approval from state and municipal governments. Last year, a suburban city council approved an approximately 2-mile (3.2-kilometer) test tunnel from Musk’s SpaceX rocket plant to a point east of LAX.

Hyperloop

Musk also wants to overhaul the entire U.S. transportation system. He envisions an ultra-high-speed hyperloop system that involves nearly airless tubes that speed special capsules over long distances at up to 750 mph (1,200 kph), using magnetism and solar power. It would carry both people and cargo.

It’s an idea many states are taking seriously. Several have said they are conducting feasibility studies, including Colorado, Texas and Missouri. Missouri was looking at whether such a system could be installed to move people between St. Louis and Kansas City in a half-hour’s time.

‘Better’ Brains

Musk in 2017 announced a new venture called Neuralink, which is developing “ultra-high bandwidth implantable brain-computer interfaces to connect humans and computers,” its website says. Implants could treat neural disorders. Musk has also raised the possibility of artificially intelligent computers posing a threat to humanity in the future, and he says linking brains to computers could put humans’ abilities to process data on par with supercomputers. Linking technology directly to the human body is already happening, including to help deaf people hear. At least some neuroscientists say putting the timetable for actually hooking up brains to computers in terms of several years is overly optimistic.


July 7, 2018 - July 13, 2018

NASA’s record-breaking spacewoman retires as astronaut

 

In this Jan. 30, 2008 photo made available by NASA, Expedition 16 commander Peggy Whitson, the first female commander of the International Space Station, participates in a spacewalk. On Friday, June 15, 2018, NASA announced Whitson, who has spent more time off the planet than any other American, has retired. (NASA via AP)

Marcia Dunn

Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) - NASA’s record-breaking astronaut, Peggy Whitson, retired June 15 less than a year after returning from her last and longest spaceflight.

She’s spent more time off the planet than any other American: 665 days over three space station missions. She’s also the world’s most experienced female spacewalker, with 10 under her spacesuit belt.

Whitson was the first woman to command the International Space Station, holding the position twice, and the oldest woman ever to fly in space. She was also the only woman to have served as chief of NASA’s male-dominated astronaut corps.

Fellow astronauts called her a “space ninja.”

“It’s been the greatest honor to live out my lifelong dream of being a @NASA Astronaut,” Whitson said via Twitter, thanking “all who have supported me along the way.”

“As I reminisce on my many treasured memories, it’s safe to say my journey at NASA has been out of this world!”

The 58-year-old biochemist, who grew up on an Iowa hog farm, joined NASA as a researcher in 1986 and became an astronaut in 1996. Her last spaceflight, spanning 2016 and 2017, lasted close to 10 months.

Only Russian men have spent more time in space: Gennady Padalka holds the record with 879 days over five missions.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine called Whitson an inspiration, citing her determination and dedication to science, exploration and discovery.

“She set the highest standards for human spaceflight operations,” Brian Kelly, director of flight operations at Johnson Space Center in Houston, said in a statement, “as well as being an outstanding role model for women and men in America and across the globe.”

Before leaving the space station last September, Whitson said she would miss the orbiting outpost - an “awe-inspiring creation” - and the views from 250 miles up.

“I will miss seeing the enchantingly peaceful limb of our Earth from this vantage point. Until the end of my days, my eyes will search the horizon to see that curve,” she said.


Stephen Hawking’s ashes buried in Westminster Abbey

Lucy Hawking lays flowers as the ashes of her father, Professor Stephen Hawking, are laid to rest during his memorial service at Westminster Abbey in London, Friday June 15, 2018. Hawking has taken his place among Britain’s greatest scientists with his ashes buried in Westminster Abbey, between the graves of Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton. (Ben Stansall/PA via AP)

Jill Lawless

London (AP) - The ashes of Stephen Hawking were buried last month in a corner of Westminster Abbey that honors some of Britain’s greatest scientists, between the graves of Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton.

More than 1,000 people attended a service of thanksgiving June 15 in the ancient abbey for the physicist, who died in March at age 76 after decades of living with motor neuron disease. When he was diagnosed, aged 22, he was given only a few years to live.

Hawking conducted groundbreaking research into black holes and the origins of the universe, and gained global fame as a popularizer and communicator of science. His book “A Brief History of Time” sold 9 million copies - even if many readers didn’t finish it - and he appeared on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” ‘’The Big Bang Theory” and “The Simpsons.”

“His name will live in the annals of science,” Astronomer Royal Martin Rees told the memorial service. “Nobody else since Einstein has done more to deepen our understanding of space and time.

“Millions have had their horizons widened by his books and lectures, and even more worldwide have been inspired by a unique example of achievement against all the odds,” Rees said.

Hawking’s first wife Jane and daughter Lucy were among an eclectic crowd that included scientists and schoolchildren; politicians including U.K. Culture Secretary Matt Hancock and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn; Chic guitarist Nile Rogers; actress Lily Cole; comedian David Walliams; and talk-show host Piers Morgan.

Guests also included 1,000 members of the public selected by ballot from 25,000 applicants. A private funeral service was held in March in Cambridge, where Hawking lived and worked for decades.

The service included biblical readings by actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who played Hawking in a BBC drama, and Hawking’s daughter Lucy. Astronaut Tim Peake read from “Queen Mab” by poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, which evokes the wonders of the universe.

Kip Thorne, a Nobel prize-winning American physicist, paid tribute to “by far the most stubborn friend I ever had.

“He absolutely refused to let his physical disability get in the way of doing great science or get in the way of having great fun,” Thorne said.

The 900-year-old abbey is the resting place of a pantheon of British historical figures, including kings and queens, political leaders and writers including Geoffrey Chaucer and Charles Dickens.

Hawking was interred in the abbey’s Scientists’ Corner, beneath a stone inscribed: “Here lies what was mortal of Stephen Hawking” - an English translation of the Latin words on the nearby grave of Newton, the 17th-century scientist who discovered the laws of gravity. The stone is also inscribed with one of Hawking’s equations describing the entropy of a black hole.

After the service, Hawking’s words, set to music by Greek composer Vangelis, were being beamed into space from a European Space Agency satellite dish in Spain. Hawking’s daughter, Lucy, said the music would be aimed at “the nearest black hole, 1A 0620-00,” more than 3,000 light years from Earth.


June 30, 2018 - July 6, 2018

Rare sightings of big bug draw fans from around the world

(Glenn Coin/The Post-Standard via AP)

Onondaga, N.Y. (AP) - Students from Japan and a researcher from New Zealand are among the scientists and hobbyists flocking to central New York for rare sightings of a big bug.

The area’s cicada (sih-KAY’-duh) brood emerges once every 17 years.

The Post-Standard says the eastern U.S. is one of three places in the world with periodical cicadas. The others are the Pacific Ocean island of Fiji, where cicadas emerge every eight years; and northern India, where they emerge every four years.

In New York, some of the cicada fans have congregated at a farm and brewery in Onondaga (ah-nahn-DAH’-gah), just south of Syracuse. Several researchers recorded audio and video as the cicadas’ call vibrated in the background.

A student from Shizuoka University in Japan, Hiroki Hayashi, calls the scene “wonderful and exciting.”


NASA rover knocked out as gigantic dust storm envelops Mars

 

This combination of images made by NASA’s Curiosity rover shows the rim of the Gale Crater on June 7 and 10, 2018 during a major dust storm. The Opportunity rover, which is inside the crater, has fallen silent as the storm blots out the sun. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS via AP)

Marcia Dunn

Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) - NASA’s seemingly unstoppable Mars rover Opportunity has been knocked out by a gigantic dust storm that is enveloping the red planet and blotting out the sun.

Officials said Wednesday they’re hopeful the rover will survive the storm, which already covers one-quarter of Mars and is expected to encircle the planet. It could be weeks or even months, though, until the sky clears enough for sunlight to reach the Martian surface and recharge Opportunity’s batteries through its solar panels.

For now, Mars’ oldest working rover is stuck in the middle of the raging storm, in round-the-clock darkness.

“By no means are we out of the woods here,” said John Callas, the Opportunity project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “This storm is threatening, and we don’t know how long it will last, and we don’t know what the environment will be like once it clears.”

Flight controllers tried late Tuesday night to contact Opportunity, but the rover did not respond. The storm has been growing since the end of May with unprecedented speed.

NASA launched the twin rovers Opportunity and Spirit in 2003 to study Martian rocks and soil. They landed in 2004. Spirit hasn’t worked for several years. Opportunity, however, has kept exploring well past its expected mission lifetime.

Scientists aren’t nearly as concerned about the newer, nuclear-powered Curiosity rover on the other side of Mars, which is already seeing darkening skies.

Dust storms crop up every so often at Mars, sending dust tens of miles into the atmosphere and turning day into night. Spacecraft orbiting Mars are too high to be affected.

There’s no chance of Opportunity being buried or getting a wheel stuck in dust. Even in the worst of storms, only a layer of fine dust is left behind. Managers said the main concern is that dust could temporarily cover its optical instruments.

The rover’s batteries are likely so low that only a clock is still working, to wake the spacecraft for periodic power-level checks, according to officials. If the clock also goes offline, then the rover won’t know what time it is when it comes back on and could send back signals at any time.

This isn’t Opportunity’s first major brush with dust.

In 2007, a massive dust storm kept Opportunity silent for a few days. It jumped back into action after awakening from its deep self-protecting slumber.

This time, the rover’s energy level is believed to be much lower. On the plus side, Martian summertime is approaching and that should keep temperatures up at night and prevent the batteries and other parts from freezing. Besides electrical heaters, Opportunity is equipped with eight tiny plutonium-powered heaters.

Scientists are eager to learn as much as they can about the dust storm to hone their weather forecasting skills. Astronauts living on Mars, for instance, wouldn’t want to get caught outside in a fierce dust storm, where winds can reach 70 mph (113 kilometers per hour) - almost hurricane force. The Martian atmosphere is so thin that while the wind can lift dust off the surface, it doesn’t topple a spacecraft.

Opportunity was in remarkably good health going into the storm, Callas said, with only an arthritic joint in its robotic arm.

“Keep in mind, we’re talking about a rover that’s been working at Mars, hanging in there, for 15 years and designed just for 90 days,” said Jim Watzin, director of NASA’s Mars exploration program. “It just doesn’t get any better than that.”


DAILY UPDATE

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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

SpaceX delivers AI robot, ice cream, mice to space station

Chicago airport plan is 1 of many Musk dream projects


NASA’s record-breaking spacewoman retires as astronaut

Stephen Hawking’s ashes buried in Westminster Abbey


Rare sightings of big bug draw fans from around the world

NASA rover knocked out as gigantic dust storm envelops Mars

 



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