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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