Science Friday: Boxing Day Edition

Welcome to the day after Christmas (aka Boxing Day in many countries) edition of Science Friday. This week we take another look at Kirk’s magic fingers, celebrate the 40th anniversary of Apollo 8, discover new species with Google Earth, worry about NASA’s future, and protect the vulnerable from robot attack.


Re-analyzing Young Kirk’s Magic Fingers
Last week, Science Friday brought you a calculation done by POPSCI to see just how plausible a scene from the Star Trek trailer really is. Their argument is that, as young Kirk leaps from a car that is flying off a cliff, his fingers digging into the dirt would have to exert over 800 pounds of force to stop him from joining the car in its fatal plunge. Gizmodo was quick to point out (as were many keen Science Friday readers in the comments!) that POPSCI’s calculations were a bit flawed, as they didn’t take into account friction created by Kirk’s body, among other things. In the below video, Gizmodo gives their opinion of the true physics behind the scene.

Gizmodo’s take on the physics of the Kirk-fu grip

40th Anniversary of Apollo 8: Truly Going Where No One Had Gone Before
40 years ago in December of 1968 Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, the crew of Apollo 8, made the first manned voyage around the moon. These men truly journeyed where no one had gone before. Speeding onto a course for the moon, the men looked back and saw their world not as a landscape but as a planet: a vivid, deep-blue ball wrapped in brilliant white clouds. When Apollo 8 rounded the moon’s limb on its fourth orbit, astronaut Bill Anders snapped the below photograph. “Earthrise” has become an iconic image credited with giving us a new global perspective. After Apollo 8, people thought of themselves as inhabitants of a small, fragile planet–possibly unique in the universe. Thanks to Mark for the tip!

Earthrise, taken on Apollo 8

Google Earth Leads Scientists to Undiscovered Forest, New Species
We all know and love Google Earth, but this may be it’s most amazing feat yet: scientists recently stumbled across an unknown green patch that turned out to be a unexplored forest home to new undiscovered species. The 7,000 hectares of forest had been previously unexplored due to inhospitable terrain and decades of civil war in the country. In just three weeks, scientists led by a team from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew found hundreds of different plant species, birds, butterflies, monkeys and a new species of giant snake. More info…

Mount Mabu in Southern Africa

NASA’s Future In Doubt
As NASA celebrates man’s first trip to the moon, it may have to worry about sending someone there in the near future. The Constellation Program, the successor to the Space Shuttle, was designed to set up a permanent manned base on the Moon by 2020 and then launch missions to Mars. But, it looks like President-Elect Barack Obama doesn’t like the direction NASA is headed. In March, Mr Obama said: “I grew up on Star Trek. I believe in the final frontier.” But he expressed dismay about the way the space shuttle program was being run and said funding would be cut until mission objectives were more clear. Questions from Obama transition officials about costs have led some in NASA to conclude that the incoming president will scrap Constellation and with it hopes of sending humans back to the Moon.

Future man-to-the-moon missions may be delayed or cut

Scientist Warns We Must Protect The Vulnerable From Robots
Top robotics expert Professor Sharkey, of the University of Sheffield, has called for international guidelines to be set for the ethical and safe application of robots before it is too late. Prof. Sharkey, writing in Science journal, believes that as the use of robots increases, decisions about their application will be left to the military, industry and busy parents instead of international legislative bodies. "Research into service robots has demonstrated close bonding and attachment by children, who, in most cases, prefer a robot to a teddy bear," says Sharkey. He points out that short-term care is beneficial, but long-term care could be dangerous. I say, survival of the fittest. Let the vulnerable fend for themselves; I want robots!

Protect Grandma! The Robots are comin’!

Image of the Week: Periodic Table of Awesoments
This week, I bring you quite possibly the best periodic table ever constructed. It rivals that of “the elements”. Some of my favorites are Sh (William Shatner), Ry (Rayguns), and D (Dinosaurs).
Click on the image below for a closer look.

Video of the week: 5 years on Mars  


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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The science video is very impressive… a lot of formulae going on in that. But I do rather agree with their first sentiment… it IS a Science Fiction movie after all, not real life…

As cool as space is, I’d say it’s more fascinating that we actually just discovered 7 [b]thousand[/b] hectares of forest that we’ve never studied before. I think people tend to assume that we know all there is to know about our planet by now, this just goes to show how wrong that assumption is.

LOL @ “Periodic Table of Awesoments”!

Ummm…Happy Boxing Day? Lol!

Frankly, I was uninspired by the Constellation Program as well. It’s hard to imagine a step backward as being a step forward.

How the heck does Bill Shatner come AFTER Bob Saget on the Table of Awesoments??? Who’s running this show???

Can Google get me winning lottery numbers or a new career?? (Hey, the guy who came up with iFart is getting rich!!!)

Thanks Kayla!

But has Google Earth found Conan Doyle’s “Lost World” yet?

Too bad that periodic table didn’t bother to check for the multiple repeats of symbols. (is BS Bob Saget or Battleship? make up your mind)

“5 years on Mars” — great video.

I’m afraid budget contraints will limit human exploration of space for years to come. The unmanned program has reaped huge dividends. The manned program is too expensive at this point and wasteful (ie the International Space Station).

If I’m alive in 2063, I will make my way to Resurrection, MT to witness the launch of the Phoenix… (apparently a private sector venture)…

Unionize Nasa, and they’ll definitely get funding!!!!!

Note: I’m only being a smartass. I’m not trying to kick a political bull in the goolies. Please do not reply to this in order to start a fight or out of control debate.

Hey TrekMovie folks!

That is an amazing NASA video of the Mars rovers. Thanks for yet another wonderful holiday gift!

Happy Boxing Day, and Happy New Year!

I heartily concur wit’ them that wants ta’ reign in robots. And I think I can get Will Smith ta’ support me on that.

I got shang-hied by one o’ NASA’s secret robo-nappers (kept yelling “Danger! Danger! From me! Danger!”and NASA stuck me in a rocket ta’ Mars where I spent five long years lookin’ fur water.
So, I also agree wit’ Obama that NASA does need clear mission objectives other than “Shoot tha’ limey up and see what happens.”

I made me escape by fashioning an Apollo-like craft outta me rocket remains and all these little rovers that kept buzzin’ around me. Boy, they were annoyin’ little things. Kept diggin’ up me pee (and other items) after I buried it in tha’ sand.

Good thing I didn’t see POPSCI’s report on how improbable my whole adventure bein’ shipwrecked on Mars was, or I’d probably have died from lack o’ oxygen or Marvin shootin’ me.

I’m gunna use Google Earth ta’ find me a nice, non-Mars like place ta’ hold up fur awhile now, somewhere tropical but not beachy cuz sand sucks, me maties.


Forget Unionizing NASA.
Have them do what NASCAR dose, corporate sponsors.
I don’t see why this wouldn’t work.
The corporations have deep pockets after all.
Think of the tie-ins, SPACE meals from McD’s or Burger King.

– W –
* Think outside the box *

I agree with taking another look at NASA’s objectives. But I think ALL government agencies will have to and should have do the same thing. Lord knows there are a lot of other agencies that waste money

@ 6: Google Earth isn’t needed for that, just visit the Likouala swamp in the Congo.

Re: NASA Sponsors.

If I’m not mistaken, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s image was painted on the side of a French rocket to promote the release of “The Last Action Hero”

He believes in the final frontier, yet he wants to scrap what little hope we have for getting back into space again.

Glad I didn’t vote for the hypocrite (on many levels.)
Bash away.

The periodic table is complete and total win.

Great Trek-fu video! I’d love to use it in my class, but the F-bomb … denied! Still, funny conclusion.


Bob O

I’m not a physics major, and I suspect you werent, either. Still, lose James Anikin Kirk.

CLEARLY the kid is on wires even if they’re photoshopped out in post production. That bugs me. Like most movies, the actors are on wires but only in a select few do they have enough weight that they dont LOOK like theyre on wires. Witness Once Upon a Time in Mexico, where they leap from the hotel in handcuffs and they hang by their finertips but they’re not straining, and the Suspension of Disbelief is gone. In True Lies, Jamie Lee is on wires holding Arnie’s hand, and Cameron has enough weight on her that she looks like she’s struggling.

What’s next from JJ? Dusk ‘Til Dawn 4? Grindhouse 2?

About Space:

It’s time the USAF became the Aero-Space Force it was intended to be. It’s part of the Charter.

What we need to fund NASA is the slave labor of investment bankers and CEOs.

I smell a Bolshevik Revolution in the air for America.

Eat the Rich…

That is all, dismissed.

Screw robots–when can we give Grandma’s brain a cyborg death-machine?

Maybe you should put the POPSCI equations into excel like i did and then lecture on the dangers of bad input data (80 mph my foot!) :-)

The following, which are 3 m/s increases starting at 18 m/s, make no adjustments for Kirk’s leaping or sliding (the numbers would be lower otherwise):

at 40 mph only 33.72 lbs is needed
at 42.5 mph 75.31lbs is needed
at 44.7 mph 119.15 lbs is needed
at 46.9 mph 165.24 lbs is needed

(the above is of course assuming that POPSCI was right in their methodology.)

Now, if you all are of the opinion that the Vette is is careening off the cliff sideways at 70-80 mph, well you are welcome to that opinion. Me, I don’t see that kind of speed. At sub-50 speeds, which is what I am seeing (though the filmmaker uses some camera shots to enhance the drama), Kirk saving himself is barely within the realm of doable.

(note: I know that the filmmakers have a few gaffes in the realization on this sequence, like how the actor behaves with his arms after he has come to a stop. Gaffes aside, the question is, could Kirk have done it at SOME speed and is the speed large enough to be reflected on what we see on the screen?)

correction, 1 m/s increments. i originally did 3 m/s increments but went back and filled in between 18 and 21

“Kirk’s magic fingers….”

Not exactly what I was hoping, but interesting nonetheless…

A “new” forest and a “new” population of mountain gorillas several months ago..several tribes in the Amazon that have never seen man discovered by air…this year has been a year of discovery on our own planet. Incredible stuff….I just hope it stays protected for the years to come.

Get it right: Obama doesn’t want to scrap Constellation as a whole. His people simply question the amount of money going to design and build the new Ares rockets and suggest rockets already in use (Deltas, for example) can accomplish the job with much less expense.

agreed. sounds like typical “change of boss, justify your budget” stuff to me.

Es fascinante, lastima que aun somos muy primitivos en lo que trata sobre la exploracion espacial, navegacion y colonoizacion, va, que digo si apenas estamos asomando las narices hacia la costa del oceano cosmico…

I don’t support Obama’s plan to basically shut down the manned space program. I think its short sited and lacks vision to do that. NASA uses only 1% of the fiscal budget per year. Want to save some money- then stop spending so much money on the war in Iraq.

I say that Mount Mabu in southern Africa is the mysterious Escarpment in the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies. :-)

It’s friggin’ 2009 in a few days and I am curious.

When are we going to explore space in a dedicated manner?

Not just with rovers or satellites, but with manned missions.

I remember growing up as a little kid watching the first shuttle launches, dreaming of space flight. I always figured that by the time I got to be an adult we’d have some sort of futuristic Space Program, like those often seen on the cover of Scientific American.

Heck, I’d settle for seeing the next generation of shuttles take flight, like the X-33.

What’s happened to the DREAM, the PROMISE of reaching out into space with our own two feet.

DJT- Obama is wanting to kill that dream. He doesn’t think manned space flight is important.

Mr. Obama said very little in his campaign about , well………anything. Who knows what he wants to accomplish and how he will do it? (And don’t forget, we don’t elect kings in this country. There is a pesky branch of the government called Congress that has the real power)
Human spaceflight will continues one way or the other. It is not that expensive in government terms. The current NASA budget represents only about O.6% of federal outlays. You can argue that the Constellation program is not the best way to explore space, but I am not worried about human spaceflight going away. The private sector is also working on it. It is here to stay.

12 – “Have them do what NASCAR dose, corporate sponsors.”

Ever read Asimov’s short story, “Buy Jupiter”?

#14 – I looked up some entries on the Likouala swamp, and here’s one thing I found (among the various references to Mkele-mbembe)

“The forbidding Likouala swamp region, located in the northern part of the Congo, is about the size of the state of Arkansas”

So, maybe we should just be looking for dinosaurs in Arkansas? Save the trip?

NASA’s budget is actually closer to .6% of the total annual US budget. The Ares 5 as a heavy lifter for what we need to go to the moon isn’t a bad design… mostly a modified Space Shuttle withouth the Orbiter attacched, but a large container for the upper stage. We need more power thant the Delta V – Heavy for lunar missions in order to make it to the moon (250,000 miles away). It is the Ares 1 which is the unknown here… a little too risky for me. SRBs are not the most smooth ride because they are solid fueled. They are however efficient for first stage engines, and reusable for up to 20 times if maintained properly.

Obama first said to scrap NASA for 5 years and give the money to education. Then he realized he needed Florida to win, as well as Texas and a few other places. Then NASA became his friend. I don’t believe he is going to do good by the space program and you can be the Chinese are going to get a lunar base before we get there again at the rate things are going. You can also say goodbye to the Interntational Space Station, and say hello to Mir 2, the Russian Space Station, with the retirement of the Shuttle program.

Yep we need space planes not shuttles

Obama cant undermine everything. The people voted for “hope” not results, so let them have it for 4 years.

Space will happen because it has to. Watch the History Channel series on The Universe.

Sadly most Americans are decadent and more concerned with Brad & Angelina and Brittany and Lindsay than the survival of this or any species.

Bob O how about making a movie that would convince people to stop going to movies and do something beneficial for all mankind?

Oh, yeah, right…

Remember how the real Dr Suess wrote the Grinch to protest the commercialization of Christmas, but just after he died, his widow greenlit a movie rife with tie ins and merchandise and what nots? And the moral of the story was thrown away for toys that have since been thrown away?


America needs change, but how do you turn off MTV?

If Obama wants to fund NASA’s programs, give some of that money that was raised for his way over board champain!!! Almost 3/4 of a billion dollars!! Now that is waste!!! Have Oprah have a fund raiser for something really important!! Manned Space Flight!! We lost the moon back in the 70’s because of politics and maybe again. We’re 40 years behind now because of that!! If we don’t go to the moon now, China, Russia and others will! We’ll be left behind in the dirt!

Man, I’ll tell ya–

O’l Barry IS NO TREKKIE–DESPITE his retoric.

NO self-respecting member of the Order Of The Brethren (lol) would even THINK of cutting NASA’s budget.

If anything, BUSH is the Trekkie–NOT OBAMA!!!