Science Saturday: Final Shuttle Launch + James Webb Telescope In Danger + New Holodeck Tech + Air Power + More July 9, 2011by Kayla Iacovino , Filed under: Science/Technology , trackback
Say au revoir to the space shuttle program as Atlantis is the last ever shuttle to launch into space. The James Webb Space Telescope is in danger of being cut; What do we stand to loose? Plus, holodeck technology is in the making, and how to harness power from thin air. All this and more, plus our gadget of the week: Terrafugia flying car gets street legal!
NASA’s final shuttle mission blasts off
The 135th and final space shuttle mission blasted off yesterday from Kennedy Space Center, sending space shuttle Atlantis and her STS-135 crew into Earth orbit for the last time. This is a bittersweet moment for most, as it marks the transition into a new phase for NASA but also the end of an era. It’s estimated that nearly 1 million people came out to Kennedy to watch the launch. The rather mundane mission sent only four crew members into space, primarily to resupply the ISS. The only vehicle for sending Americans into space is now the Russian Soyuz capsule. Soon, it will be up to the commercial sector to send men into low Earth orbit, theoretically freeing up NASA to boldly go deeper into our solar system and really push the boundaries of the exploration of space.
More space shuttle fun: Check out this interactive Space Shuttle tribute by the guys at Vizme.
James Webb Telescope, Hubble’s successor, may get axed
Thanks to budget cut threats looming from congress, NASA may have to abandon the already in progress James Webb Telescope, set to launch in 2018 as the successor to the beloved Hubble Space Telescope. Congress has proposed a $1.6 billion cut to NASA’s budget, a whopping 9% of NASA’s overall budget. Such a huge cut will certainly bring about the end of the James Webb. The Webb was expected to make incredible new discoveries, as it is fundamentally different from the Hubble in that it will primarily scan the skies in infrared light (rather than visible) allowing it to see things we’ve never been able to image before.
I encourage you to read more about Webb’s mission in this article by PCMag’s Peter Pachal, where he outlines what we’ll loose if James Webb is never to be.
Once it’s in place, though, the Webb is quite literally expected to unlock a universe of discoveries. Positioned so far from the Earth and shielded from outside infrared interference, the telescope will be able to see things the Hubble never could. Chief among them: seeing back in time. Since light only travels so fast, the further you look out, the further you look back. The Webb is expected to be able to peer into some of the universe’s earliest moments, before even stars existed. This could give insight into how the cosmos came into being.
James Webb Space Telescope may never be completed
Holodeck technology in the making
IARPA, the advanced intelligence research program, has announced a new campaign to develop holodeck-like technology called the Synthetic Holographic Observation (SHO) Program. Specifically, it aims to develop a system allowing multiple collaborators to exist in and interact with a 3D environment in real time. In particular, this tech could be used with LiDAR data, which is used to create 3D images and maps of real world places and things. The real-life look and feel of the Enterprise’s holodeck is still a long ways away, but IARPA is taking a critical first step toward developing such a thing.
Holodecks: how long until we see the real deal?
Power from thin air: harnessing ambient electromagnetic energy to power small devices
Harmless, ambient electromagnetic energy is floating all around us. Energy waves are sent into the air by radio and television transmitters, cell phone networks, satellite communications systems, and more. Now, researchers have discovered a way to tap into this airborne energy source and have used it to power small electronic devices. The researchers have already successfully operated a temperature sensor using electromagnetic energy captured from a television station half a kilometer away. They are preparing another demonstration in which a microprocessor-based microcontroller would be activated simply by holding it in the air.
Power from thin air, just like magic!
Pic of the Week: Space Shuttle Atlantis on the launch pad
Today’s pic of the week comes once again from Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD). This is a gorgeous photograph of Space Shuttle Atlantis before it left Earth’s surface yesterday for it’s 33rd and final time.
Video of the Week: Diving in a volcanic ash-filled lake
Lake Nahuel Huapi in Argentina was filled with volcanic ash from the Puyehue volcano currently erupting in neighboring Chile. Some SCUBA divers go for a dip!
Gadget of the Week: Terrafugia Flying car gets green light from Feds
The Terrafugia flying car has finally been given the go ahead from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In March, 2009 we reported the Terrafugia’s first successful test flight followed by its FAA approval over a year later. Now, it’s air AND street legal. The revolutionary vehicle still has several safety and testing hurdles to overcome, so don’t expect to see them buzzing around anytime soon.
Terrafugia now tested, flight ready, and street legal
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a peek.
- Happy birthday! Next week, Neptune will make its first full orbit of the sun since it was discovered in 1846
A little perspective of NASA’s budget, courtesy of Neil deGrasse Tyson