Science Friday: Giant Laser, Nameless Rover, Space Tools, and Zombie Mammoths?

With the unveiling of the new Trek trailer, the interweb continues to be abuzz with giddy Trek fans and non-fans alike. But, the science must continue! This week Science Friday brings you a naming contest for the new Mars rover, the world’s largest laser, zombified mammoths, tools lost in space, and more. All this plus our gadget of the week: the G-Speak Spatial Operating Environment.

NASA Invites Students to Name Mars Science Laboratory
The newest edition to the Mars Rover family, currently known as Mars Science Laboratory (scheduled for launch in 2009) is looking for a new name. NASA, in cooperation with Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures’ movie WALL-E, is asking students to get in on the competition. The naming contest began Tuesday and is open to students 5 to 18 years old who attend a U.S. school and are enrolled in the current academic year. Disney will provide prizes to students submitting winning essays, including a trip to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, where the rover is under construction. The grand prize winner will have an opportunity to place a signature on the spacecraft and take part in the history of space exploration. Information about the contest is available at More information on Mars Science Laboratory is at

Mars’s newest rover needs a name!

Can the World’s Largest Laser Deliver Fusion Power?
The National Ignition Facility in California is the size of a football stadium and equipped with the largest laser in the world. With the laser nearing completion — it’ll be done by 2009 — and the facility scheduled to begin testing in 2010, the folks running the show have set an ambitious timetable of realizing fusion power by 2011. It sounds too good to be true, and maybe it is, but it centers around a concept called Laser Inertial Confinement Fusion-Fission Energy (or LIFE), which produces carbon-free electricity using a laser. According to a press release, LIFE could “generate gigawatts of power 24 hours a day for as long as 50 years without refueling while avoiding carbon dioxide emissions.”

The Governator inspects the giant laser!

Regenerating a Mammoth for $10 Million
Scientists are talking for the first time about the old idea of resurrecting extinct species as if this staple of science fiction is a realistic possibility, saying that a living mammoth could perhaps be regenerated for as little as $10 million. The same technology could be applied to any other extinct species from which one can obtain hair, horn, hooves, fur or feathers, and which went extinct within the last 60,000 years, the effective age limit for DNA (aw, shucks, no Jurassic Park?). Many are still skeptical of the idea. The method has not yet been published, and until other scientists can assess it they are likely to view genome engineering on such a scale as being implausible. We’ll just have to wait and see. More info…

Can scientists bring a mammoth to life?

Astronaut Looses $100,000 Tool Bag on Space-Walk
“Umm, we have a lost tool,” remarked Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper who, while cleaning and lubing a joint on a wing of one of the ISS’s solar panels, had a tool bag drift away just beyond her reach. The mission was able to be salvaged, however, as fellow spacewalk astronaut Stephen Bowen shared his tools to complete their work in 7 hours. In a video interview, Stefanyshyn-Piper said, “Well, it was definitely not the high point of the EVA.” The tool bag contained approximately $100,000 worth of tools and was one of the largest items ever lost by an astronaut on a spacewalk. See the video below for an interview with the astronauts.

International Space Station: 10 Years of Construction
Thursday November 20 was the 10th anniversary of the International Space Station (ISS). Ten years ago the first module of the ISS arrived in orbit nearly 200 miles above Earth. Since that day it has been a global effort with the cooperation of Russian, European, Japanese and other space agencies in constructing the station. The animation below (also found here) shows the construction of the space station over the years.

Gadget of the Week: G-Speak Spatial Operating Environment
Finally, a Minority Report-style media wall with full gesture control! Many technologies get compared to Tom Cruise’s interface in the movie Minority Report, but the G-Speak by Oblong Industries really is the top of the heap. The similarities to the movie? Oblong’s website notes: “one of Oblong’s founders served as science advisor to Minority Report and based the design of those scenes directly on his earlier work at MIT.”


Science Quickies
Here’s a warp-speed look at science tid-bits that didn’t quite make the cut, but nonetheless merit mention.



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Fusion power by 2011…

Let’s just hope they don’t forget to check the baffle plating.

Oh wow… That G-Speak looks amazing.

This is fantastic ! I can’t believe the ISS is ten years old! Colonies on Mars aren’t far away, the future is bright!

Anyone know if the animation on the opening for Enterprise is the ISS?

#4 yeah, that animation shows the progress of space exploration and technology. It fit well for that opening.

a concept called Laser Inertial Confinement Fusion-Fission Energy (or LIFE), which produces carbon-free electricity using a laser. According to a press release, LIFE could “generate gigawatts of power 24 hours a day for as long as 50 years without refueling while avoiding carbon dioxide emissions.”

EXCELLENT!!! Gives me hope for the future of our planet / civilization…

“Umm, we have a lost tool,”

Well, not exactly. My son catches Holy Hell when he tells me that he can’t find one of my wrenches that he used. That astronaut lost the cost equivalent of a small house.

She’s going to get her allowance docked for sure.

USA needs to change safety standards so that the electric cars can be LIGHTER, giving better range and performance; like the SMART car.

I’m going to be designing an electric conversion for my ’74 Porsche 914, hopefully soon (nice and light). =)

I’m also doing a commercially available electric conversion on my commuter bicycle (hopefully ~45MPH). =D

Live Long and Prosper (by going green!)

Ahnuld and DA LAZAH

News: Majel Barrett is not the computer voice.

#8 I would love to see the conversion of a ’74 Porche to electric! If you get that up and running, please let me know! That would definitely be TrekMovie worthy.

Happy Birthday ISS!

Didn’t Earth: Final Conflict do that kind of control interface long before Minority Report?

OUCH!!! Hey, I just got hit in the Head by some kinda Space
Wrench Over Here!!!!!!!

They should have built the ISS on earth like they will do with the enterprise!;))

Fusion power by 2011… Gigawatts of power… blah, blah, blah….. CARBON FREE!??!! Sign me up!!


hmmmm….the international space station’s acronym is ISS??? mmmm….interesting…(hears st: enterprise ‘in a mirror, darkly’ theme in the background…)

Call Sears, they replace Craftsman tools for life..

And I am too old but want to name the robot… dam..


I’m with you too, Xai! But good luck to the kids that get to enter! :)

look like a dinner table mated with Artoo Detoo

The robot needs to be named “Bob”.

Maybe they should name the rover


The g-speak music reminds me of Solaris (the one with Clooney)….

2011… well at least thats one year before the BIG 2012!

In the opening animation of enterprise if you mean the end of it that’s the first warp drive test ship. If you mean the beginning where you see the astronauts floating in space, then yes.