Tag Archives: technology

UTOPIA IS NOT ONLY CREEPY, IT IS ENTIRELY UNTRUE

Personally I think the actual truth lies somewhere in the middle between the hyper-life of the modern technologist and the future will be bleak anti-technologist. It depends almost entirely on not only what man invents but how he chooses to actually employ his inventions/technology. 

That being said I am a firm anti-Utopian. I do not believe in the human utopia (not socialistic, not economic, not technological or scientific, etc.) , either that it is possible, or desirable. It is a badly conceived, utterly juvenile and naive, and entirely impractical idea.

By the way, in listening to him, I can’t help but wonder if Nicholas Carr is not in some way related to Caleb Carr one of my favorite contemporary fiction writers.

 

Brett | February 7, 2017

Personal Development & Philosophy, Podcast

Podcast #276: Utopia is Creepy

A few weeks ago, I had futurist Kevin Kelly on the podcast to discuss the technological trends that are shaping our future. From driverless cars to artificial intelligence that will make new scientific discoveries, Kevin paints a fairly rosy picture of what’s to come.

My guest today sees a different side of the coin, and argues that the future envisioned by many in Silicon Valley is, well, kind of creepy.

His name is Nicholas Carr, and he’s the author of several books that critique the wide-eyed utopianism of technologists. In his book The Shallowshe reported on the research that shows how Google is making us dumber; in The Glass Cage he explored the science on why outsourcing our work and chores to computers and robots might actually make us miserable and unsatisfied in life; and in his latest book, Utopia is CreepyCarr pulls together all the essays he’s written over the years on how the rapid changes in technology we’ve seen in the past few decades might be robbing us of the very things that make us human.

Today on the show, Nicholas and I discuss why he thinks our utopian future is creepy, how the internet is making us dumber, and why doing mundane tasks that we otherwise would outsource to robots or computers is actually a source of satisfaction and human flourishing. We finish our discussion by outlining a middle path approach to technology — one that doesn’t reject it fully but simultaneously seeks to mitigate its potential downsides.

Show Highlights

  • Why the ideology that Silicon Valley is promoting and selling is bad for human flourishing
  • How the frictionless ideal of tech companies isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
  • Why is the idea of utopia so creepy?
  • Why don’t tech companies see that what they’re doing can be perceived as creepy?
  • The illusion of freedom and autonomy on the internet
  • What “digital sharecropping” is and why it exploits content creators
  • The myth of participation and the pleasures of being an audience member
  • Information gathering vs developing knowledge
  • Why Nicholas doesn’t use social media
  • The real danger that AI present humanity (and it’s not necessarily the singularity)
  • Is virtual reality going to catch on? Does it present any problems for society?
  • How can we opt out of the ideology that Silicon Valley is trying to sell?
  • How to ask questions of our technology

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

If you’re a bit leery of technology like myself, then you’ll definitely enjoy all of Nicholas’ books. Utopia Is Creepy gives you a big picture look at all of Nick’s ideas on the often overlooked downsides of our unquestioned adoption of digital technology. Pick up a copy on Amazon.

Connect With Nicholas Carr

Nicholas’ website

Nicholas’ blog, Rough Type

Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)

 

 

 

 

 

MAN OUT OF TIME

MAN OUT OF TIME

I can name a helluvah lot more than that: our absolute immorality and amorality, our obsession with politics, our thinking that we need to be constantly saved from ourselves by secular saviors, the idea that the government must control everything about us, our pathetic fear of death, our sociological and pathological hiding from death, our need to be entertained at every moment, our political propaganda system disguised as “public education,” the twisted idea that man is his own god and our object of self-worship, our disconnect from the natural world, our renewed paganism (I mean that in multiple senses), how little we use our own senses and minds, the crazy concept that there are no sins, only experiences, and I could go on and on and on.

Then again, I fully admit – I’m a man out of time.

Five Things Medieval People Would Hate About the Modern World

By Danièle Cybulskie

Although a medieval person vacationing in the twenty-first century would no doubt be overjoyed at things like electricity, modern transportation, and flushing toilets, there are a lot of things they probably wouldn’t appreciate about our time. Here are five things a medieval person might just hate about the modern world.

Portrait of a Man by Albrecht Durer

Portrait of a Man by Albrecht Durer

1. Our Oversharing

While I imagine mobile phones being embraced quickly, I do think the idea would be mystifying at first, and not just because they look like magic. After the initial enthusiasm, I can easily imagine a medieval person asking, “But who do you actually need to talk to right away, all the time?” Because of the pace of distance communication in the Middle Ages, people didn’t communicate as much trivial information as we do to as many people as we do across the astounding distances that we do. Undoubtedly, they’d welcome the chance to immediately communicate transportation mishaps (“My horse just blew a shoe…”) and medical emergencies, but I imagine it would take some time to adjust to the idea of sharing every thought (and meal) with the world.

2. Our Work Schedules

Medieval people worked hard for a living, but between Sundays, and the many, many saints’ days and religious feasts, medieval people actually got more official holidays than modern people do. Also, when it got too dark to work outside, outside work stopped. For modern people, connectivity has made it all too easy to work well past the hours we’re paid to work, while frantically squeezing in domestic chores. It might be hard to explain to a medieval visitor why we are still working so hard when our technology should be giving us more free time. Medieval people could well think we’re nuts.

3. Our Memories

A medieval person dropped into our century would be stunned by the amount of information we have access to – it’s one of this century’s greatest achievements. However, he or she would also be stunned to know how little we remember any of it. In the Middle Ages, students got their degrees by listening, remembering, and putting together long arguments based on what they’d learned, while students today may not remember their class schedules because they’re programmed into their phones. Modern people can depend on having the ability to look up what we need when we need it, so we don’t feel pressure to remember as much, but it’s very likely that a medieval time traveler might see this as a failing of ours.

4. Our Lack of Privacy

Medieval lives were very structured by rules put forth by the clergy and secular authorities; rules that were meant to control all sorts of public and private behaviours. It’s safe to say that medieval people comfortably ignored many of these rules – as long as they felt they weren’t going to get caught. The sheer number of cameras being pointed at modern people all day, every day would probably be tremendously unnerving to a medieval visitor (or anyone travelling from the past, for that matter), not to mention the power of a quick Google search to find out more than you ever needed to know about anything or anyone in less than a second. (I might just take bets on how quickly a medieval person might Google his/her ex, though.)
5. Our Obsessive Tracking

Modern people love, love, love statistics. We especially love statistics that involve ourselves. It would probably take quite a long time to explain to a medieval person why we need wearable technology that measures our steps, our sleep, and even our – ahem – bedroom activities. If we feel tired, they’d probably say, we already know we didn’t sleep well; if we have excess weight, we aren’t exercising enough; if we spend that much energy in the bedroom… well, isn’t any time spent at those activities a good thing? I’m not sure “because it’s cool” would be enough to convince a medieval person that they should take home a FitBit, but you just never know.

While there is so much about modern life that would be appealing to a medieval visitor (antibiotics might be first on the list), it would be pretty presumptuous to think that they would immediately jump at the chance to stay in the twenty-first century. We are so much the same as these ancestors of ours, and yet we are so very different in myriad ways. Before we dismiss their time period as being a terrible place to live, it’s worth taking a minute to see our own time through their eyes.

NO MAS – ACCULTURATION

God, that’s pathetic. That’s why I’ll hardly touch the damned things…

http://qz.com/523746

GHOST DOLLS – BODY OF EVIDENCE

Photo

A government laboratory found a way to listen to recordings on fragile wax cylinders inside dolls made by Thomas Edison in 1890. CreditCollection of Robin and Joan Rolfs

Though Robin and Joan Rolfs owned two rare talking dolls manufactured by Thomas Edison’s phonograph company in 1890, they did not dare play the wax cylinder records tucked inside each one.

The Rolfses, longtime collectors of Edison phonographs, knew that if they turned the cranks on the dolls’ backs, the steel phonograph needle might damage or destroy the grooves of the hollow, ring-shaped cylinder. And so for years, the dolls sat side by side inside a display cabinet, bearers of a message from the dawn of sound recording that nobody could hear.

In 1890, Edison’s dolls were a flop; production lasted only six weeks. Children found them difficult to operate and more scary than cuddly. The recordings inside, which featured snippets of nursery rhymes, wore out quickly.

Yet sound historians say the cylinders were the first entertainment records ever made, and the young girls hired to recite the rhymes were the world’s first recording artists.

Year after year, the Rolfses asked experts if there might be a safe way to play the recordings. Then a government laboratory developed a method to play fragile records without touching them.

Audio

A recording heard from Edison’s Talking Doll. (Audio quality is low.)

The technique relies on a microscope to create images of the grooves in exquisite detail. A computer approximates — with great accuracy — the sounds that would have been created by a needle moving through those grooves.

In 2014, the technology was made available for the first time outside the laboratory.

“The fear all along is that we don’t want to damage these records. We don’t want to put a stylus on them,” said Jerry Fabris, the curator of the Thomas Edison Historical Park in West Orange, N.J. “Now we have the technology to play them safely.”

Last month, the Historical Park posted online three never-before-heard Edison doll recordings, including the two from the Rolfses’ collection. “There are probably more out there, and we’re hoping people will now get them digitized,” Mr. Fabris said.

The technology, which is known as Irene (Image, Reconstruct, Erase Noise, Etc.), was developed by the particle physicist Carl Haber and the engineer Earl Cornell at Lawrence Berkeley. Irene extracts sound from cylinder and disk records. It can also reconstruct audio from recordings so badly damaged they were deemed unplayable.

“We are now hearing sounds from history that I did not expect to hear in my lifetime,” Mr. Fabris said.

The Rolfses said they were not sure what to expect in August when they carefully packed their two Edison doll cylinders, still attached to their motors, and drove from their home in Hortonville, Wis., to the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Mass. The center had recently acquired Irene technology.

Audio

A recording from Edison’s Talking Doll. (Audio quality is low.)

Cylinders carry sound in a spiral groove cut by a phonograph recording needle that vibrates up and down, creating a surface made of tiny hills and valleys. In the Irene set-up, a microscope perched above the shaft takes thousands of high-resolution images of small sections of the grooves.

Stitched together, the images provide a topographic map of the cylinder’s surface, charting changes in depth as small as one five-hundredth the thickness of a human hair. Pitch, volume and timbre are all encoded in the hills and valleys and the speed at which the record is played.

At the conservation center, the preservation specialist Mason Vander Lugt attached one of the cylinders to the end of a rotating shaft. Huddled around a computer screen, the Rolfses first saw the wiggly waveform generated by Irene. Then came the digital audio. The words were at first indistinct, but as Mr. Lugt filtered out more of the noise, the rhyme became clearer.

“That was the Eureka moment,” Mr. Rolfs said.

In 1890, a girl in Edison’s laboratory had recited:

There was a little girl,

And she had a little curl

Audio

The first recording heard from Edison’s Talking Doll. (Audio quality is low.)

Right in the middle of her forehead.

When she was good,

She was very, very good.

But when she was bad, she was horrid.

Recently, the conservation center turned up another surprise.

In 2010, the Woody Guthrie Foundation received 18 oversize phonograph disks from an anonymous donor. No one knew if any of the dirt-stained recordings featured Guthrie, but Tiffany Colannino, then the foundation’s archivist, had stored them unplayed until she heard about Irene.

Last fall, the center extracted audio from one of the records, labeled “Jam Session 9” and emailed the digital file to Ms. Colannino.

“I was just sitting in my dining room, and the next thing I know, I’m hearing Woody,” she said. In between solo performances of “Ladies Auxiliary,” “Jesus Christ,” and “Dead or Alive,” Guthrie tells jokes, offers some back story, and makes the audience laugh. “It is quintessential Guthrie,” Ms. Colannino said.

The Rolfses’ dolls are back in the display cabinet in Wisconsin. But with audio stored on several computers, they now have a permanent voice.

Correction: May 5, 2015
An earlier version of this article misstated part of the name of a center in Andover, Mass. that recently acquired the Irene technology. It is the Northeast Document Conservation Center (not National center).

GO TO HELL? BEEN THERE, DONE THAT…

Aging space probe records odd emanations on Mercury

Aging space probe records odd emanations on Mercury

NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Aging space probe records odd emanations on Mercury
Rich oversees Science‘s international coverage.

Staff Writer

WASHINGTON, D.C.—In an unusual press conference here today, NASA released a batch of bizarre sound recordings and video from the Messenger spacecraft moments before it impacted the surface of Mercury. Scientists are struggling to decipher what the data mean, but some contend they sound like human voices crying out in agony.

Messenger had been orbiting Mercury since 2011, but it used up nearly all of its propellant and was drifting closer to the surface of the planet. So last week, NASA officials decided to point the probe nose downward for a controlled crash. “We were hoping it would kick up some soot for spectroscopic analysis,” says Messenger Principal Investigator Angra Mainyu, a planetary scientist at Columbia University. Just what it did find instead is not entirely clear.

At the press conference, Mainyu played grainy recordings of what sounded like anguished voices in various languages. And she showed even grainier images of what appeared to be writhing figures. When asked by a reporter how NASA interpreted the data, Mainyu shrugged her shoulders and said, “How the hell should I know?”

Reactions to the news were swift and, in some cases, decisive. Welcoming what he called “ineluctable evidence of hell,” Father Felix Flammis, a spokesperson for the Vatican Observatory in Italy, said: “This wonderful discovery shows that science and religion can work together to discover the truth.” But Richard Dawkins, the famed evolutionary biologist and atheist, rejected the finding. “This is clearly a bunch of drivel,” he says. “Wind whistling past the spacecraft, electronic noise—there obviously has to be some other explanation.” Even if the evidence holds up, he quips, “proof of the devil ain’t the same as proof of God.”

The findings are somewhat of a surprise, because Venus had long been the leading contender, in our solar system at any rate, for harboring Hades. With a mean surface temperature of 462°C, an oppressive atmosphere, and sulfuric acid rains, it certainly seems to fit biblical descriptions. “Plus, it’s much closer to Earth, so lost souls would be only a hop, skip, and a jump from hell,” says Thor Kölski, an astrophysicist at the University of the Valkyrs in Reykjavik. Kölski has pinpointed the likely epicenter of hell as Venus’s Ganiki Chasma, a rift zone where infrared flashes were first observed last year—phenomena that he asserts are new arrivals to the underworld.

Still others think there may be multiple hells within our solar system. “Everything we know about string theory tells us that the ‘Many Hells theory’ isn’t only plausible, it highly likely,” says Franklyn Stein, a theoretical physicist at University College London.

Luminaries in the scientific community are by and large embracing the notion of hell. Even Stephen Hawking is on board. The cosmologist stirred controversy in 2010, when he wrote in his book The Grand Design that “[i]t is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” Earlier today, Hawking tweeted: “The devil is a different story. All hail Messenger!”

The discovery should provide a major shot in the arm to NASA, whose fortunes in Washington have faded since it retired the space shuttles in 2011. “This is a proud day for the space agency,” says Don Tey, a spokesperson for the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California, who insists that it’s merely a coincidence that the announcement was made on April Fools’ Day. “Congress told NASA to go to hell, and, by Jove, they made it.”

Posted in Space

TITAN’S COLD CURE

Regardless of whether it harbors life on Titan or not such a compound could provide great benefits and numerous applications for our future use, regardless of whether those applications are biological, chemical, or physical.

Also this would make for a great sci-fi story, mundane or hard sci-fi.

 

Ultracold-Resistant Chemical on Titan Could Allow It to Harbor Life

Computer simulations reveal that a compound found on Saturn’s largest moon may be able to form a freeze-resistant, flexible membrane that could encapsulate cells or organelles

This computational finding could have lasting implications for scientists who study Titan’s geochemistry.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

Astrobiologists and planetary scientists have a fairly good idea of which chemicals might indicate the presence of oxygen-breathing, water-based life—that is if it is like us. When it comes to worlds such as Saturn’s moon Titan, however, where temperatures are too cold for aqueous biochemistry, it’s much harder to know which chemicals could signal the existence of hydrocarbon-based life.

A Cornell University team may have found a plausible candidate chemical that future missions to Titan could search for. The computer-simulation study, which appeared in the February 27 Science Advances [http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/1/e1400067], found that acrylonitrile, a hydrocarbon known to form in Titan’s atmosphere, can organize itself into a structure having the same toughness and flexibility characteristic of the membranes that envelop cells on Earth and form the boundaries of organelles like mitochondria and the nucleus.

This computational finding could have lasting implications for scientists who study Titan’s geochemistry. For many planetary scientists, it’s their favorite moon. Like Earth, Titan has a dense atmosphere complete with clouds, mountains, riverbeds and liquid seas on its surface. In fact, Titan would probably be the most promising place, rather than Europa, to look for extraterrestrial life in the solar system if not for its frigidity.

Titan is way too cold for life as we know it. At Titanian surface temperatures (–179 Celsius) phospholipids—the chemical compounds that comprise cell membranes—and the water-based solutions that fill cells would be frozen solid. Any life that evolved on Titan’s surface would have to be made of a very different set of chemicals.

In the team’s computer model acrylonitriles formed hollow balls (called azotosomes) that behave, even in the cold, in much the way hollow balls made of Earthly phospholipids (called liposomes) that form membranes in our cells and organelles. Like liposomes, azotosomes can bend into many different shapes and could act as a barrier between the inside and the outside of the bubbles they form, keeping the ethane–methane mix of Titan’s seas from penetrating the encapsulation. (Because this study is the first of its kind, we don’t know much about which hydrocarbons would be inside the azotosome.)

The degree of similarity between the hypothetical azotosomes and Earth-based liposomes was a surprise to the researchers. “I’m not a biochemist, so I didn’t really know what I was looking for [at first],” says James Stevenson, the chemical engineering grad student who ran the computer simulations. “And when I did the calculations—lo and behold!” The simulated azotosomes at Titanian temperature were just as stretchable as liposomes at Earth temperatures. Because flexibility and the ability to withstand poking and twisting are crucial for evolving complex cellular behavior, azotosomes could potentially be a very useful structure for hypothetical alien life in ethane–methane seas and lakes such as those on Titan.

This study demonstrates that “at least in a computer simulation, one can build structures of a size and geometry [roughly] equivalent to the containers that were on the Earth when life began,” says planetary physicist and study co-author Jonathan Lunine. “You can do it with materials that we know are present on Titan…So we’ve presented potentially one step toward the evolution of life under Titan conditions.”

Chemical engineer and co-author Paulette Clancy compares figuring out how life might form on Titan in the absence of liquid water to “trying to make an omelet without any eggs. It sort of redefines how you think about an omelet,” she says.

Scientists will not know whether the acrylonitrile on Titan’s surface actually forms the azotosome structures, let alone whether those structures are components of life, unless a new we send another probe and investigate the hydrocarbon seas’ chemistry in more detail. “Titan is literally awash with organics—but it’s impossible to disentangle them remotely,” Ralph Lorenz, a NASA scientist who designs and builds planetary exploration probes and who was not involved in this study, wrote in an e-mail. “You need to land, sample the material and use sophisticated chemistry instruments (like those on the Mars rover Curiosity) to see how complex the compounds have become and whether they can execute any of the functions of life.”

Lorenz and others have proposed a few designs for automated submarines or torpedo-shaped probes that could remotely explore Titan’s seas, but those missions are several decades away. Furthermore, even if the space agencies began building a craft for a mission to Titan right away, it would be impossible to get it there before Saturn’s seasonal revolution renders the moon’s northern hemisphere inaccessible for direct-to-Earth communications. The hydrocarbons seas are clustered on Titan’s northern hemisphere, and because that hemisphere will be facing away from the Earth, any missions to Titan during the 2020s will require an orbiter companion that can relay signals back to Earth. Orbiters are expensive, so we probably won’t be able to probe Titan’s hydrocarbon seas until the 2030s.

So for the time being Titanian azotosomes will remain a hypothetical. But on the bright side, when the next mission does reach Titan, it will have a much more precise idea of which chemicals it should try to find.

 

 

YOUR BLACK MOON AT WORK

New supermoon – and Black Moon – on February 18, 2015

 

Tonight for February 18, 2015
Moon Phase Courtesy U.S. Naval Observatory

The new moon comes on February 18, 2015, and then reaches perigee less than one-third day later. It’s the closest new moon of the year, which qualifies it as a new moon supermoon. It’s also a seasonal Black Moon; that is, the third of four new moons in the current season (December solstice to March equinox). The moon reaches lunar perigee – the moon’s closest point to Earth for the month – some 7.6 hours after the moon turns new at 23:47 UTC (6:47 p.m. CDT) on February 18. Don’t expect to see anything special, not even a little crescent like that in the photo above. A full moon supermoon is out all night – brighter than your average full moon. But a new moon supermoon is only out during the daytime hours, hidden in the sun’s glare. Follow the links below to learn more about the supermoon/ Black Moon of February 18, 2015.

Can new moons be supermoons?

Spring tides accompany February 2015’s supermoon.

February 2015 new moon also a seasonal Black Moon

Seasonal Black Moon and monthly Blue Moon in 2015

Monthly Black Moon and seasonal Blue Moon in 2016
View larger. | Youngest possible lunar crescent, with the moon’s age being exactly zero when this photo was taken — at the precise moment of the new moon – at 07:14 UTC on July 8, 2013. Image by Thierry Legault. Visit his website. Used with permission.

View larger. | Youngest possible lunar crescent, with the moon’s age being exactly zero when this photo was taken — at the precise moment of the new moon – at 07:14 UTC on July 8, 2013. Image by Thierry Legault. Visit his website. Used with permission.

Can new moons be supermoons? Yes, the February 18 new moon qualifies as a supermoon, if you accept the definition by Richard Nolle that started the whole supermoon craze a few years ago. Nolle, who is credited for coining the term, defines a supermoon as:

… a new or full moon which occurs with the moon at or near (within 90% of) its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit.

Given that definition, the new moon of February 18, 2015 definitely makes the grade.

Some people dislike the term supermoon, maybe because some supermoons – like the February 18 supermoon – don’t look all that super. But we like the term. We like it better than perigee new moons, which is what we used to call a new moon closest to Earth.

Taking it further, some object to a new moon being called a supermoon because a new moon isn’t visible (unless there’s a solar eclipse).

Nonetheless, the February 2015 new moon enjoys supermoon status, according to Nolle’s definition. We’ve already seen other media talking about it. Hate to say it, y’all, but the term supermoon – which is so simple and clear – will likely outlive the objectors!

By the way, the next supermoon will arrive with the new moon of March 20, 2015. The March new moon will actually pass in front of the sun, to stage a total solar eclipse at far-northern Arctic latitudes. From Greenland, Iceland, Europe, northern Africa and northeastern Asia, varying degrees of a partial eclipse will be visible. In other words, if you’re on the right spot on Earth, the March 20 new moon will be seen in silhouette against the bright solar disk (remember to use eye protection).

Read more: Supermoon causes total eclipse of equinox sun on March 20

Live by the moon with your 2015 EarthSky lunar calendar!
You won’t see today’s new moon at perigee – the

You won’t see today’s new moon at perigee – the “supermoon” – but Earth’s oceans will feel it. Expect higher-than-usual tides in the days following a supermoon.

Spring tides accompany February 2015’s supermoon. Will the tides be larger than usual at the February new moon? Yes, all new moons (and full moons) combine with the sun to create larger-than-usual tides, but perigee new moons (or perigee full moons) elevate the tides even more.

Each month, on the day of the new moon, the Earth, moon and sun are aligned, with the moon in between. This line-up creates wide-ranging tides, known as spring tides. High spring tides climb up especially high, and on the same day low tides plunge especially low.

The February 18 extra-close new moon will accentuate the spring tide, giving rise to what’s called a perigean spring tide. If you live along an ocean coastline, watch for high tides caused by the February 2015 perigean new moon – or supermoon. It’s likely to follow the date of new moon by a day or so.

Will these high tides cause flooding? Probably not, unless a strong weather system accompanies the perigean spring tide. Still, keep an eye on the weather, because storms do have a large potential to accentuate perigean spring tides.

Learn more: Tides and the pull of the moon and sun
Total solar eclipse photo by Ben Cooper/Launch Photography. Visit Launch Photography online.

There’s no such thing as a black-colored moon seen in Earth’s sky, unless you mean the moon’s silhouette in front of the sun during a total solar eclipse. Read more: Supermoon causes total eclipse of equinox sun on March 20 This total solar eclipse photo is by Ben Cooper/Launch Photography.

February 2015 new moon also a seasonal Black Moon Some people may also call this February 2015 new moon a Black Moon. We’d never heard the term Black Moon until about a year ago, but here’s our best understanding of it. Usually, there are only three new moons in one season, the period of time between a solstice and an equinox – or vice versa. However, there are four new moons in between the December 2014 solstice and the March 2015 equinox. Some people call the third of these four new moons a seasonal Black Moon.

December solstice: December 21, 2014

New moon: December 22, 2014
New moon: January 20, 2015
New moon: February 18, 2015
New moon: March 20, 2015 (9:36 Universal Time)

March equinox: March 20, 2015 (22:45 Universal Time)

There is also a monthly definition for Black Moon. It’s the second of two new moons to occur in one calendar month. A Black Moon by this definition last happened on March 30, 2014, and will next happen on October 30, 2016.

Seasonal Black Moon and monthly Blue Moon in 2015 It may be of interest to know that in the year 2015, a seasonal Black Moon (February 18, 2015) and a monthly Blue Moon (July 31, 2015) occur in the same calendar year. A Blue Moon by the monthly definition of the term refers to the second of two full moons in one calendar month.

Monthly Black Moon and seasonal Blue Moon in 2016 And next year, in 2016, we find that a monthly Black Moon (October 30, 2016) and a seasonal Blue Moon (May 22, 2016) happen in the same calendar year. A Blue Moon by the seasonal definition of the term refers to the third of four full moons in one season.

Bottom line: The new moon on February 18, 2015, is both a supermoon and a seasonal Black Moon. Will you see it? No. The moon will be hidden in the sun’s glare throughout the day. However, those along coastlines might expect higher than usual tides in the days following this close new moon.

YEAH BUDDY!

YES!!!

I’ve been advocating for exploring the oceans of other worlds for years. And I’ve written fictional stories about it. Very, very good to see them preparing.

 

In a sneak peek of a possible future mission to Saturn’s moon Titan, NASA has showcased their vision of a robotic submersible that could explore the moon’s vast lakes of liquid methane and ethane.

VIDEO: Can a Moon be Older Than its Planet?

Studying Titan is thought to be looking back in time at an embryonic Earth, only a lot colder. Titan is the only moon in the solar system to have a significant atmosphere and this atmosphere is known to possess its own methane cycle, like Earth’s water cycle. Methane exists in a liquid state, raining down on a landscape laced with hydrocarbons, forming rivers, valleys and seas.

Several seas have been extensively studied by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft during multiple flybys, some of which average a few meters deep, whereas others have depths of over 200 meters (660 feet) — the maximum depth at which Cassini’s radar instrument can penetrate.

So, if scientists are to properly explore Titan, they must find a way to dive into these seas to reveal their secrets.

ANALYSIS: Cassini Watches Clouds Blow Over Titan’s Sea

At this year’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Symposium, a Titan submarine concept was showcased by NASA Glenn’s COMPASS Team and researchers from Applied Research Lab.

Envisaged as a possible mission to Titan’s largest sea, Kracken Mare, the autonomous submersible would be designed to make a 90 day, 2,000 kilometer (1,250 mile) voyage exploring the depths of this vast and very alien marine environment. As it would spend long periods under the methane sea’s surface, it would have to be powered by a radioisotope generator; a source that converts the heat produced by radioactive pellets into electricity, much like missions that are currently exploring space, like Cassini and Mars rover Curiosity.

Communicating with Earth would not be possible when the vehicle is submerged, so it would need to make regular ascents to the surface to transmit science data.

ANALYSIS: Cassini Spies Wind-Rippled Sea on Titan

But Kracken Mare is not a tranquil lake fit for gentle sailing — it is known to have choppy waves and there is evidence of tides, all contributing to the challenge. Many of the engineering challenges have already been encountered when designing terrestrial submarines — robotic and crewed — but as these seas will be extremely cold (estimated to be close to the freezing point of methane, 90 Kelvin or -298 degrees Fahrenheit), a special piston-driven propulsion system will need to be developed and a nitrogen will be needed as ballast, for example.

This study is just that, a study, but the possibility of sending a submersible robot to another world would be as unprecedented as it is awesome.

Although it’s not clear at this early stage what the mission science would focus on, it would be interesting to sample the chemicals at different depths of Kracken Mare.

ANALYSIS: Titan’s ‘Magic Island’ Appeared Mysteriously From the Depths

“Measurement of the trace organic components of the sea, which perhaps may exhibit prebiotic chemical evolution, will be an important objective, and a benthic sampler (a robotic grabber to sample sediment) would acquire and analyze sediment from the seabed,” the authors write (PDF). “These measurements, and seafloor morphology via sidescan sonar, may shed light on the historical cycles of filling and drying of Titan’s seas. Models suggest Titan’s active hydrological cycle may cause the north part of Kraken to be ‘fresher’ (more methane-rich) than the south, and the submarine’s long traverse will explore these composition variations.”

A decade after the European Huygens probe landed on the surface of Titan imaging the moon’s eerily foggy atmosphere, there have been few plans to go back to this tantalizing world. It would be incredible if, in the next few decades, we could send a mission back to Titan to directly sample what is at the bottom of its seas, exploring a region where the molecules for life’s chemistry may be found in abundance.

KICKING THE DOG

Odd that they designed the legs to move opposite those of a real dog (animal). Maybe that is the only way they could make the early designs function/move properly.

Boston Dynamics shows off new robot dog, dooms us all by kicking it

Google-owned Boston Dynamics has been making incredible robots long before it was purchased by Google.

Today it showed off its latest amazing robot, Spot – a smaller, more agile version of its WildCat robot.

Then, a BD team member decided to kick it, therefore dooming us all when robots become sentient.

Seriously, doesn’t this guy know that robots will be able to search YouTube in the future? Maybe the robots will just go after this guy and leave the rest of us robot-loving humans alone.

While I’m concerned about a robot uprising, Spot is incredibly impressive and maybe a little bit terrifying. The 160-pound, electrically-powered and hydraulically-actuated robot can walk and trot, so don’t bother try running away. It can also climb up stairs and walk up and down hills.

A sensor on the robot’s head helps it navigate over rough terrain.

While the thought of an army of these approaching you on the street might keep you awake at night, robots like Spot could be used to enter areas too dangerous for humans to occupy, or bring important supplies to destinations too treacherous for regular robots and too wooded for drones.

Plus, robots are cool. Just don’t go around kicking them.

➤ Introducing Spot [Boston Dynamics]

 

STRIPPING AWAY COMPLEXITY IN DESIGN

Being an inventor myself I completely agree with the concept of “stripping away complexity” in order to produce light, flexible designs for most commercial and market applications.

Of course once  the hoverbike becomes numerous in models and well-received or popular in usage additional complexities will be added back in, covering everything from entertainment, to pilot protections and security, to sensoring capabilities, to GPS navigation systems, to flight control automation and computerization, to running and warning lights, to communications . Just has occurred with cars and motorcycles. But for now, in the developmental and popularization phase, simplicity is the key to superior development.

By the way, back when I was in CAP this was already a Squadron and even a Wing project and I’ve seen several Air Force designs for basically the same kind of craft.

But I like this commercial/private model.

PLANETS X AND Y

“Planet X” might actually exist — and so might “Planet Y.”

At least two planets larger than Earth likely lurk in the dark depths of space far beyond Pluto, just waiting to be discovered, a new analysis of the orbits of “extreme trans-Neptunian objects” (ETNOs) suggests.

Researchers studied 13 ETNOs — frigid bodies such as the dwarf planet Sedna that cruise around the sun at great distances in elliptical paths. [Meet Our Solar System’s Dwarf Planets]

Image: Planet NASA/JPL-Caltech
Two or more unknown planets could exist beyond the orbit of Pluto in our solar system, new research suggests.

Theory predicts a certain set of details for ETNO orbits, study team members said. For example, they should have a semi-major axis, or average distance from the sun, of about 150 astronomical units (AU). (1 AU is the distance from Earth to the sun — roughly 93 million miles, or 150 million kilometers.) These orbits should also have an inclination, relative to the plane of the solar system, of almost 0 degrees, among other characteristics.

But the actual orbits of the 13 ETNOs are quite different, with semi-major axes ranging from 150 to 525 AU and average inclinations of about 20 degrees.Nightly News

“This excess of objects with unexpected orbital parameters makes us believe that some invisible forces are altering the distribution of the orbital elements of the ETNOs, and we consider that the most probable explanation is that other unknown planets exist beyond Neptune and Pluto,” lead author Carlos de la Fuente Marcos, of the Complutense University of Madrid, said in a statement.

“The exact number is uncertain, given that the data that we have is limited, but our calculations suggest that there are at least two planets, and probably more, within the confines of our solar system,” he added.

The potential undiscovered worlds would be more massive than Earth, researchers said, and would lie about 200 AU or more from the sun — so far away that they’d be very difficult, if not impossible, to spot with current instruments.

The new results are detailed in two papers in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Letters.

— Mike Wall, Space.com

This is a condensed version of a report from Space.com. Read the full report. Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow Space.com @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+.

More from Space.com:

GROWING MUSCLES

First contracting human muscle grown in laboratory

21 hours ago by Ken Kingery
First contracting human muscle grown in laboratory
A microscopic view of lab-grown human muscle bundles stained to show patterns made by basic muscle units and their associated proteins (red), which are a hallmark of human muscle. Credit: Nenad Bursac, Duke University
In a laboratory first, Duke researchers have grown human skeletal muscle that contracts and responds just like native tissue to external stimuli such as electrical pulses, biochemical signals and pharmaceuticals.

Build and Run Simulation Apps with COMSOL Server

The lab-grown tissue should soon allow researchers to test new drugs and study diseases in functioning outside of the .

The study was led by Nenad Bursac, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Duke University, and Lauran Madden, a postdoctoral researcher in Bursac’s laboratory. It appears January 13 in the open-access journal eLife

“The beauty of this work is that it can serve as a test bed for clinical trials in a dish,” said Bursac. “We are working to test drugs’ efficacy and safety without jeopardizing a patient’s health and also to reproduce the functional and of diseases—especially rare ones and those that make taking difficult.”

Bursac and Madden started with a small sample of human cells that had already progressed beyond stem cells but hadn’t yet become . They expanded these “myogenic precursors” by more than a 1000-fold, and then put them into a supportive, 3D scaffolding filled with a nourishing gel that allowed them to form aligned and functioning .

“We have a lot of experience making bioartifical muscles from animal cells in the laboratory, and it still took us a year of adjusting variables like cell and gel density and optimizing the culture matrix and media to make this work with human muscle cells,” said Madden.

 

Madden subjected the new muscle to a barrage of tests to determine how closely it resembled native tissue inside a human body. She found that the muscles robustly contracted in response to electrical stimuli—a first for human muscle grown in a laboratory. She also showed that the signaling pathways allowing nerves to activate the muscle were intact and functional.

To see if the muscle could be used as a proxy for medical tests, Bursac and Madden studied its response to a variety of drugs, including statins used to lower cholesterol and clenbuterol, a drug known to be used off-label as a performance enhancer for athletes.

The effects of the drugs matched those seen in human patients. The statins had a dose-dependent response, causing abnormal fat accumulation at high concentrations. Clenbuterol showed a narrow beneficial window for increased contraction. Both of these effects have been documented in humans. Clenbuterol does not harm muscle tissue in rodents at those doses, showing the lab-grown muscle was giving a truly human response.

“One of our goals is to use this method to provide personalized medicine to patients,” said Bursac. “We can take a biopsy from each patient, grow many new muscles to use as test samples and experiment to see which drugs would work best for each person.”

First contracting human muscle grown in laboratory
Two lab-grown human muscle bundles stretched in a rectangular frame submerged in media. Credit: Nenad Bursac, Duke University

This goal may not be far away; Bursac is already working on a study with clinicians at Duke Medicine—including Dwight Koeberl, associate professor of pediatrics—to try to correlate efficacy of drugs in patients with the effects on lab-grown muscles. Bursac’s group is also trying to grow contracting human muscles using induced pluripotent instead of biopsied cells.

“There are a some diseases, like Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy for example, that make taking biopsies difficult,” said Bursac. “If we could grow working, testable muscles from induced , we could take one skin or blood sample and never have to bother the patient again.”

Other investigators involved in this study include George Truskey, the R. Eugene and Susie E. Goodson Professor of Biomedical Engineering and senior associate dean for research for the Pratt School of Engineering, and William Krauss, professor of , medicine and nursing at Duke University.

The research was supported by NIH Grants R01AR055226 and R01AR065873 from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease and UH2TR000505 from the NIH Common Fund for the Microphysiological Systems Initiative.

Explore further: Self-healing engineered muscle grown in the laboratory

More information: “Bioengineered human myobundles mimic clinical responses of skeletal muscle to drugs,” Lauran Madden, Mark Juhas, William E Kraus, George A Truskey, Nenad Bursac. eLife, Jan. 13, 2015. DOI: 10.7554/eLife.04885

ISS SCARE

Good if it is a faulty sensor or relay.

Gas leak scare triggers International Space Station evacuation

Nasa says there is ‘no hard data’ to suggest a leak, and that the most likely culprit is a ‘faulty sensor or computer relay’

Astronauts onboard the International Space Station (ISS) have been evacuated to the Russian segment of the station after alarms were triggered that can “sometimes be indicative of an apparent ammonia leak.” Although an earlier report from Russia’s Federal Space Agency claimed that there were “harmful emissions,” Nasa has since clarified that “there is no hard data to suggest that there was a real ammonia leak” and that the problem is likely “a faulty sensor or computer relay.”

Nasa reports that onboard crew — comprising two American astronauts, one Italian astronaut, and three Russian cosmonauts — followed normal safety procedures and donned gas masks, moving to the Russian half of the ISS and sealing the American segment behind them. The flight control team in Houston reports that crew members are in “excellent shape” and that all other systems onboard the ISS are functioning perfectly.

Canadian astronaut and former ISS crew member Chris Hadfield tweeted that a leaking coolant system was one of the “big three” emergencies that astronauts train for on the station. “Ammonia is used for cooling through pipes & heat exchangers on the outside of Station,” said Hadfield. “We train for it & the crew and MCC [mission control center] have responded well.” He added that the other big emergencies were “fire/smoke” and “contaminated atmosphere/medical.”

NASA is currently updating the situation and says that the most likely cause at this point in time is “a faulty sensor or computer relay.”

Update January 4th, 8:23AM ET: This article was amended to reflect the latest reports from NASA suggesting that the alarm was falsely triggered.

FIH, GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER, HOMESCHOOLING, AND AGENT CARTER

There is a show I very much enjoy watching when I can. It’s called Faith in History. Yes, the guy who conducts the show has a very pronounced sort of stumbling delivery when he speaks, but despite that, which often makes it difficult to follow him, I very much like the guy and the show is superb.

Today at lunch my youngest daughter and I sat down to watch the latest recorded episode because it was about George Washington Carver (and lately she had requested that she be allowed to study African history, which I’ll get back to in a moment) and although Carver is as American as peanut butter he was black and he was in my opinion the second greatest native inventor this nation ever produced (shy of Edison), and the very greatest bio-chemist (bar none) and one of the very greatest scientists this nation ever produced.

(Being particularly partial and interested in the biological, chemical, and genetic sciences myself I really like Carver and his work. He was brilliant, and well ahead of his time.)

Plus, I very much agree with his approach to invention, which I’ll recount later, as it is the closest parallel to my own method of invention that I have ever encountered in history.

Anyway it was an extremely good episode on Carver, dwelling upon both his scientific achievements and his personal life and faith.

My daughter seemed to enjoy the episode quite a bit, and as we watched it we would stop the show at various points and discuss science, God, technology, history, invention, writing, politics, and so forth. As is our wont when watching or discussing anything educational.

As for Carver’s methods of discovery, experimentation, inspiration, and invention they closely parallel my own, as he described in numerous letters, and in this speech:

“God is going to reveal to us things He never revealed before if we put our hands in His. No books ever go into my laboratory. The thing I am to do and the way of doing it are revealed to me. I never have to grope for methods. The method is revealed to me the moment I am inspired to create something new. Without God to draw aside the curtain I would be helpless.

Locking the door to his laboratory, Dr. Carver confided:

Only alone can I draw close enough to God to discover His secrets.”

The closest other two parallels I can name are found in the methods of Newton and Archimedes, both of whom I also seek to emulate when it comes to scientific discovery and invention. Archimedes in particular, and perhaps one day soon I will discuss the Agapoloid techniques I employ, which are derived to a large extent from Archimedes’ internal and mental mathematical and geometric laboratory.

After that and as we were cleaning up from lunch my daughter asked me if she could begin two independent courses of study.

My oldest child began her independent courses of study (that is to say she would choose two out of six curriculum areas to study in a self-directed fashion) at the age of 17 but my youngest wants to start now, at age 15.

Knowing now what I do about how advanced my children are and having loosened up a good deal over time with my second child I agreed and asked her to make me a list of what she most wanted to study.

Independent Areas of study are, of course, courses of study she chooses for herself, based upon her own interests, and in which she will do detailed research and work at the college level. Of course she’s been at college level in all her subject areas for a while now, but I mean detailed enough to write a collegiate term paper.

Her list was as follows:
1. Germany (pre-Nazi war era – my oldest daughter is a WWII history nut, as I was at her age, but my younger daughter seems to prefer much earlier time periods. Ancient, Classical, and Medieval.)
2. Africa (I am going to suggest to her that she begins her in-depth studies of Africa with either Egypt, or with Cush or Nubia or Ethiopia, as I have already done my own in detailed archaeological and historical studies of these ancient areas and kingdoms/realms as research for my novels. So I am already familiar with some excellent research materials. Plus those kingdoms were either advanced or relatively advanced. I’m also going to suggest she make an entirely separate study of ancient Alexandria. But in the end it will be up to her, those are just my suggestions.)
3. African Wildlife, Biology, and Geography
4. English Grammar (yes, being a writer this pleases me, but the girl actually loves grammar, English and Latin – I love language and primarily vocabulary and philology, but she loves grammar)
5. Italy (I’ve yet to ask her if she means ancient Italy, such as Etruscan/Roman eras, of if she means Medieval or Modern Italy, prior to World War II. If it’s ancient Rome that’s good though she just finished the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and if Medieval Italy I’ll suggest studying Florence and Naples and Venice as city-states, and as commerce hubs. As a matter of fact just last year I finished a superb set of lectures on Florence, her naval power, and her trade that she should really enjoy.)

Lastly now that my older daughter is working and preparing for college my youngest daughter and I spend much more time together. The other night we were watching Agent Carter together and I was commenting on how much more clever the general level of conversation, formal or colloquial, was back then (in the Forties to early Fifties – language started declining in the mid-Fifties). That the language was snappier and more ironic than it is today, the level of conversation was far more clever, plus it was filled with universal cultural references and idioms.

“But,” I said, “I don’t care much for the décor or architecture of that time period. And I could have never walked around all day in a monkey suit.”

“Dad,” she said, “you must be crazy! I love the décor, the architecture, the clothes, and especially the cars and airplanes from that time period. I love almost everything about the Forties and I’d love to go back and live in that time period, minus, you know, the whole segregation and suppression of women things.”

“Yeah, I guess there is always that,” I said.

“But otherwise the Forties are for me!”

She’s a throwback to my Old Man. He grew up in that time period and always loved it too.

ADAPTIVE ASSEMBLY?

Very, very interesting. Adaptive assembly without prior instructional encoding. Is it then possible that many amino acids may have a molecularly adaptive equivalency function similar to undifferentiated stem cells (at a higher level) which allows disparate proteins to guide assembly in emergency situations in an almost ad hoc fashion – yet still produce biologically viable proteins?

If so that would mean far more than mere instructional assembly in biological construction and replication, it would mean adaptive biological construction at near the very base level of Life (animate matter).

That could not possibly be accidental for it would mean that base construction rates did not lose adaptive function as they advanced and differentiated but retained such functions (at least as a potential that can be later restimulated) throughout all stages of development.

It would also mean a near plethora of medicinal applications.

This definitely goes into my research files.

Defying Textbook Science, Study Finds New Role for Proteins

Published: January 1, 2015.
Released by University of Utah Health Sciences

Open any introductory biology textbook and one of the first things you’ll learn is that our DNA spells out the instructions for making proteins, tiny machines that do much of the work in our body’s cells. Results from a study published on Jan. 2 in Science defy textbook science, showing for the first time that the building blocks of a protein, called amino acids, can be assembled without blueprints – DNA and an intermediate template called messenger RNA (mRNA). A team of researchers has observed a case in which another protein specifies which amino acids are added.

2015010121590017l2

“This surprising discovery reflects how incomplete our understanding of biology is,” says first author Peter Shen, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in biochemistry at the University of Utah. “Nature is capable of more than we realize.”

To put the new finding into perspective, it might help to think of the cell as a well-run factory. Ribosomes are machines on a protein assembly line, linking together amino acids in an order specified by the genetic code. When something goes wrong, the ribosome can stall, and a quality control crew is summoned to the site. To clean up the mess, the ribosome is disassembled, the blueprint is discarded, and the partly made protein is recycled.

Yet this study reveals a surprising role for one member of the quality control team, a protein conserved from yeast to man named Rqc2. Before the incomplete protein is recycled, Rqc2 prompts the ribosomes to add just two amino acids (of a total of 20) – alanine and threonine – over and over, and in any order. Think of an auto assembly line that keeps going despite having lost its instructions. It picks up what it can and slaps it on: horn-wheel-wheel-horn-wheel-wheel-wheel-wheel-horn.

“In this case, we have a protein playing a role normally filled by mRNA,” says Adam Frost, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and adjunct professor of biochemistry at the University of Utah. He shares senior authorship with Jonathan Weissman, Ph.D., a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at UCSF, and Onn Brandman, Ph.D., at Stanford University. “I love this story because it blurs the lines of what we thought proteins could do.”

Like a half-made car with extra horns and wheels tacked to one end, a truncated protein with an apparently random sequence of alanines and threonines looks strange, and probably doesn’t work normally. But the nonsensical sequence likely serves specific purposes. The code could signal that the partial protein must be destroyed, or it could be part of a test to see whether the ribosome is working properly. Evidence suggests that either or both of these processes could be faulty in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Huntington’s.

“There are many interesting implications of this work and none of them would have been possible if we didn’t follow our curiosity,” says Brandman. “The primary driver of discovery has been exploring what you see, and that’s what we did. There will never be a substitute for that.”

The scientists first considered the unusual phenomenon when they saw evidence of it with their own eyes. They fine-tuned a technique called cryo-electron microscopy to flash freeze, and then visualize, the quality control machinery in action. “We caught Rqc2 in the act,” says Frost. “But the idea was so far-fetched. The onus was on us to prove it.”

It took extensive biochemical analysis to validate their hypothesis. New RNA sequencing techniques showed that the Rqc2/ribosome complex had the potential to add amino acids to stalled proteins because it also bound tRNAs, structures that bring amino acids to the protein assembly line. The specific tRNAs they saw only carry the amino acids alanine and threonine. The clincher came when they determined that the stalled proteins had extensive chains of alanines and threonines added to them.

“Our job now is to determine when and where this process happens, and what happens when it fails,” says Frost.

THE FALCON IS LANDING

BOO-YAH!

I’ll be hoping and praying for their success!

For The First Time, SpaceX Will Land A Rocket After Launch

New year, new reusable spacecraft

65

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket

SpaceX

Elon Musk is starting off 2015 with a bang – or hopefully, a soft landing.

On January 6, Musk’s company SpaceX will launch a Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station. The launch itself is fairly unremarkable; SpaceX has had a contract with NASA for some time now to transport cargo to the ISS via unmanned rockets, as part of the Commercial Resupply Services program. What SpaceX will attempt to do after the launch is what makes the mission so exciting. The company will try to land the first stage of its Falcon rocket on a platform in the ocean — a feat that has never been done before.

If successful, the landing will be the first major step toward one of the holy grails of the space industry: reusable rockets. Up until now, all rocket launches have been something of a one-and-done stunt. After a rocket blasts off, the first stage of the vehicle – which comprises the bulk of the rocket and contains most of the engines and fuel – burns up and falls away into the ocean, never to be used again. This rocket design is known as a disposable launch system, and it makes launching rockets extremely expensive. The only exception has been the Space Shuttle, which was considered a partially reusable launch system; although the shuttle itself and its solid rocket boosters were recovered after each launch, its large external tank, which carried most of the shuttle’s fuel, broke apart and was never re-used. This made launching shuttles quite costly, as well, since a new external tank had to be built for each flight.

Here’s to 2015: The year that space flight could become affordable.

Imagine if this type of design were applied to air travel, and every time you flew in an airplane, the plane had to be discarded and then rebuilt for its next trip; a ticket from New York to Los Angeles would require a lifetime of savings. Disposable launch systems are why space tourism is currently reserved for the nerdy 1 percent (and British pop singers) – but reusable rockets could change all that, by bringing down the cost of space flight and revolutionizing the space industry.

X-Wing Configuration

SpaceX

The hypersonic grid wings attached to the Falcon 9 rocket

To ensure the safe landing of its Falcon 9, SpaceX has equipped the rocket with four “hypersonic grid fins” (placed on the vehicle in an “X-wing” configuration). The fins will be closed during ascent, but when the first stage falls to Earth, the fins will extend perpendicular from the rocket’s body. They can then move independently of one another, to help control the vehicle’s descent and guarantee a precise landing on the rocket’s target.

That target is an autonomous spaceport drone ship, meant to catch the landing rocket in the Atlantic Ocean. The ship’s landing platform is 300 by 100 feet, but it also comes with wings that can extend its width to 170 feet. The seaport itself isn’t anchored, but boasts powerful thrusters that will help it stay in place.

Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship

SpaceX

Yet landing on such a small platform that isn’t completely stationary won’t be easy, and Musk estimates a 50 percent chance of success on January 6. Plus, the landing will occur after the first stage separates from the second stage — the part of the rocket that will take the cargo capsule the rest of the way to the ISS. That means not all of the rocket will be saved, as the second stage will never be recovered. (However, Musk plans to recover the second stage in future launches.)

Still, the fact that SpaceX is attempting such an endeavor instills hope for a cheaper commercial spaceflight industry. According to Quartz, the cost to build a Falcon 9 rocket is $54 million, but the cost of its fuel is only $200,000. If launching a rocket in the future only required refueling and other servicing costs on the ground, that could bring down the price of going to space by millions of dollars.

So here’s to 2015: The year that space flight could become affordable.

Correction (01/02/2015, 2:50 pm ET): The original story misstated where the rocket will attempt to land; it’s the Atlantic Ocean, not the Pacific, and it has been corrected. We regret the error.

There is but one way to advise – by example.

Homeschool on the Farm

Growing cotton, corn, and character

Duplicate My Success

How to Start a Blog From Scratch and Scale it to a Profitable Full-time Income on a Limited Budget

The Aramaic New Testament

Galilean Aramaic in the Context of Early Christianity

biblonia

Where ancient and medieval books and history meet the digital world. By Dr Cristian Ispir

Submit your story logline and showcase it on this network. Or, submit to get your story made into a Video Pitch

Submit your logline pitch and we'll make sure it gets seen be 1000s. Over 1 million plus combined twitter and facebook followers

Jarrad Saul

Travel, Lifestyle and Occasionally Waffle

Mephit James Blog

From one GM to another.

Kristen Twardowski

A Writer's Workshop

The Public Domain Review

There is but one way to advise – by example.

Fantastic Maps

Fantasy maps and mapmaking tutorials by Jonathan Roberts

Matthew Zapruder

There is but one way to advise – by example.

Susie Day | children's books

books for kids about families, friendship, feelings and funny stuff

The Millions

There is but one way to advise – by example.

The Public Medievalist

The Middle Ages in the Modern World

There is but one way to advise – by example.

Chuck Wendig: Terribleminds

Hey Did You Know I Write Books

%d bloggers like this: