Science Friday: Saving Hubble, Bionic Fun, Better Forensics, Trek Car + more

Science Friday is back to bring you the most exciting news happening in the sci/tech world. This week, spacewalk to save the Hubble, get yourself a flying penguin blimp, push for better science in forensics, and drive some real life Star Trek cars. All this and more plus our gadget of the week: SkyMap for Google Android.


Spacewalkers Save the Day for Hubble
The Hubble Space Telescope was in trouble. The newest Wide Field Planetary Camera 3 had to be installed, but the old camera was stuck on by a faulty bolt. If the bolt had snapped–and that was a possibility–the astronauts would have been unable to remove the 16-year-old Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. In that case, the new $132 million Camera 3 would have been returned to Earth aboard Atlantis in a major disappointment for the science community. But after removing a torque limiter from his wrench and applying extra muscle power, spacewalker Andrew Feustel was able to loosen the stuck bolt and had no problems installing the new equipment. “It’s been in there for 16 years, Drew, and it didn’t want to come out,” said spacewalker John Grunsfeld.

Astronauts Andrew Feustel (right) and John Grunsfeld remove the Wide Field Planetary Camera 3

Robots of the Week: Festo Bionics
Festo Bionics creates a variety of hardware and software solutions, from electromechanical control systems to valves and actuators. But, flying penguin blimps, hydrodynamic "aqua-penguins", and crazy dancing walls? This stuff is pretty amazing. And some of it is so realistic, you won’t be sure if it’s nature or machine. For the record, I want my own aqua-penguin. It’s still cute — even with creepy glowing eyes.

A Push for Better Science in Forensics
A report in February by a committee of the National Academy of Sciences found “serious problems” with much of the work performed by crime laboratories in the United States. One conclusion by the committee was that many forensic disciplines — including analysis of fingerprints, bite marks and the striations and indentations left by a pry bar or a gun’s firing mechanism — were not grounded in the kind of rigorous, peer-reviewed research that is the hallmark of classic science. DNA analysis was an exception, the report noted, in that it had been studied extensively. But many other investigative tests, the report said, “have never been exposed to stringent scientific scrutiny.” While some forensic experts took issue with that conclusion, many welcomed it. And some scientists are working on research necessary to improve the field.

But, they’re wearing lab coats!

The Aptera Electric Car Featured in Star Trek
Back in March of 2008, TrekMovie reported on some leaked photos from the Star Trek movie, some of which contained a “wacky futuristic car”. It turns out that said wacky car is a real modern electric car by the name of Aptera (Greek for “wingless flight”). If you remember reading the article, some of you just may have spotted the Aptera in the film. We sure did! In a scene on the lawn of Starfleet Academy, you can see the Aptera drive across the background. Did you miss it? Have a look next time you see the movie. Check out the video below to find out more about the real Aptera 2e.

Pic of the Week: A Shuttle at Dawn

Pictured below, the Space Shuttle Atlantis sat on Launch Pad 39A before dawn last month as it was prepared for the launch. The shuttle has now launched to space bringing with it several astronauts and a brand spanking new Wide Field Camera 3 for the Hubble Space Telescope. The shuttle orbiter is visible on the image right, attached to a brown liquid fuel tank and two white solid rocket boosters. In the image center is the Fixed Service Structure that stands just over 100 meters tall, including the white lightning rod at the top.

Click on the image for the full-size version

Gadget of the Week: SkyMap for Google Android-powered Phones
It’s an advanced planetarium in your pocket! Wondering what that bright star is up in the sky? With the SkyMap program, you can just whip out your phone, open SkyMap, and point your phone in the direction of the star and voi la! SkyMap uses GPS and compass data as well as the date and time to tell you what stars or night sky objects you are pointing at. This is the perfect way to learn more about your local astronomy. The application is made by Google and is currently only available for the Android mobile phone platform. Check out the video below for a visual demo.


If you are on Twitter, you know there are plenty of amazing people out there tweeting away. And, many of them are scientists! Every Friday I’ll be bringing you a new list of great scientists and techies to follow on Twitter. This week…

  • @Astro_Mike: NASA astronaut, mission specialist for STS-125. This week, Mike is in space fixing up the old Hubble Space Telescope. Read his tweets from orbit!
  • @HubbleTelescope: News from the Hubble Space Telescope. The Hubble has been all over the news this week. Stay up to date with our favorite orbiting space photographer.
  • @MarsRovers: Roaming the Red Planet on six wheels. The official mission Twitter of Spirit and Opportunity. Spirit and Oppy are rovin’ around, and making new discoveries all the time. You’ll never want to miss a beat!
  • @Aptera: Who said an efficient vehicle (or the company that makes it) couldn’t be fun? Follow that “wacky futuristic car” seen in the new Star Trek film!
  • @BadAstronomer: Phil Plait, astronomer, author, blogger-in-chief of Discovery’s Bad Astronomy Blog. Last week Phil share his Star Trek review with us here at  

Science Quickies
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a look.


TrekMovie’s Science Friday is an homage the the great NPR radio show Science Friday. Science Friday® is a registered service mark of ScienceFriday Inc.


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Remember when we thought the Aptera was going to be in the movie?


The Dyson Airblade hand dryer was also in the movie in sick bay.

Well, you’re missing THE science event of this week: The launch of the Herschel Space Observatory and Planck satellite by the European Space Agency!

The fish-fin bionic gripper looks a lot like one of those grab-y thing games.
If you understand what I am saying, don’t you agree???

I’ve seen a couple of Apteras up close a couple months ago, and asked the representatives from the company about it being in Star Trek and they didn’t know anything.

That bionic technology is awesome.

Hurrah for the Hubble! I’m so glad NASA is repairing it and not abandoning it.

Glad the HUBBLE won’t turn to RUBBLE!

I noticed the Aptera! I feel happy now…


Festo Bionics

Anybody else get kind of a creepy, fear the future vibe from the voice-over in that video? The tech looks great, but it sounded like a corporate ad for Skynet Technologies newset robotic advances. Terminator has ruined robotics for me.

the car is in the movie, just watch the first scene at the academy closly. behind jim and bones there is one just driving in the background;-)

The meditation arcticle gives nice hints to Vulcan neuroanatomy :D

That Festo Bionics is amazing stuff!

Thursday box office estimate: $5,630,000, putting Star Trek at $104,632,539 after one full week.

That would be only a 3% drop from Wednesday, and would put Star Trek about $2 million ahead of Wolverine after 7 days.

Star Trek is also going into 11 more theaters this week, upping it’s theater count to 3,860 (that doesn’t say how may screens it’s going to be showing on, however). Angels & Demons is only opening in 3,527 theaters, however.

Oh yeah, no movie has ever made $103 million or more in 7 days and NOT broken at least $200 million total.

@10: Here’s a link for building an electric motorcycle–

and here’s a link for a motorcycle with hubless wheels–

Now, go put ’em together! ;^)

Given the amount of money this movie will generate, I suspect we may never again see Trek on the small screen. That is the downside of a large box-office take; the profits are much larger NOT doing a series than doing one.

Screw a motorcycle that’s electric or has hubless wheels. I want the one the robot/cop/dude used to chase little Jimmy’s Corvette.

Okay, so we’re allowed to say where the Aptera can be spotted, but we’re not allowed to tell where you can spot James Cawley in the movie (twice)?

I completly forgot Cawley was in the movie and i have seen it now 5 times and twice in Imax. Wow. Over a 100 million in just a week. Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!. Glad to see the Hubble being repaired.

Those flying Festo penguins were really beautiful, like futuristic kinetic art. If you saw them in a movie, you’d assume they were CGI. Amazing stuff.

Scott B. out.

By the way, were was Randy Pausch in this movie?

Flying and swimming autonomous robo-penguins!

Might be a good form factor for exploring the clouds of Titan or the underground oceans of Europa.

Great pic of the Shuttle at Dawn. I think the reason they do those photos – with great, early-morning-blue sky background – is so they can matte in whatever they want behind the shuttle later. (grin)

OMG! Did you pay attention to the part of the Festo video where they introduced the “molycubes”? REPLICATORS!!! RUN!!!!

What about Herschel and Planck?


That’s what I’m sayin’.

omg omg omg omg OMG YES!~~~~ it’s back!

I SO MUCH APPRECIATE SCIENCE FRIDAY! It really is the highlight of this site. Can’t really escape Star Trek this week, not even in space.

While all the news this week is on Atlantis, making its 3rd from last flight ever (3 landings, 2 launches to go), there was other big news in space: Star Trek. Yes, Star Trek. During the day, NASA “beamed up” the movie … okay, with a station without lawyers and a NASA without a budget they probably just grabbed a copy from a bit torrent site while flying over it.

So there you have it … the Japanese, American, and Russian crew member watched the Star Trek movie, and from what I hear, the movie gets high marks in space … the final frontier.

…Star Trek the movie was seen on the International Space Station, but from what I hear Megan on the Shuttle is an outstanding Communications Officer, and she intercepted and translated it into A-Okay NASAism’s.

@3 – lukas

agreed….nothing against Hubble but Herschel’s main mirror has 2 1/2 times the size of Hubble’s. And when it reaches it’s L2 point in the shadow of earth – far away from all the suns interference it will hopefully blow your mind with pictures of never before seen quality….

I remember visiting a Trek Con in Berlin around ten years ago and a NASA guest reffered about the Next Generation Space Telescope to replace Hubble – I wonder what happened to it. Most likely Bush spent the money on one of his stupid wars….

I wish I could ride aboard the shuttle.

Where do I get that SkyMap application?

I don’t have that on my tricord- uh, phone.


My future car still runs on gas, gets about 70 miles a gallon, and is painted like a fighter jet from the Enterprise.

No electricity required.

Plus its over 20 years old……

some great stuff this week just one thing how much better will the hubble be once all upgrade’s are completed?

#19 –
screw Kirk’s bike, the cop’s hover bike, and the Aptera.

I want Kirk’s Corvette.

#35 – Hubble was launched before Bill Gates launched MS Dos 3.0. Hubble will be much better – like better than going from B&W TV on rabbit ears to BluRay DVD high-def. The difference, if you know someone who has rabbit-ears analog TV, will be the improvement in that picture when it is seen digital.

To be fair, half the problem was just in fixing failed parts. There have been 2 spacewalks each for both pairs. Pair 1 will go out tomorrow for the 5th. With each of these pairings – both men, one of them is a real smart geek and the other one is built like a tree.

They ran into some MAJOR delays and problems … stripped bolts, jammed bolts, and bent bolts. For the most part the problem was fixed by taking the guy sent out who is built like a tree to give the bionic arm wrestling contest a try. Today NASA was particularly concerned, because after breaking a bolt by force, using the handle it was attached to as a crow-bar, the bolt would fly out into space, and so could the Astronaut too once the thing gave way and broke free from the Hubble. Man, that that bolt ever leave like a bullet! It will be seen by someone maybe as an interesting meteorite soon. The delay meant that the first of two “thermal blanket” layerings planned between today and tomorrow will have to be cancelled. If there is time, the blankets … both today’s planned blanket and tomorrow’s planned blanket will be completed tomorrow.

These guys today were not exactly up to “circuit discipline.” All day long were comments like “you’re da’ bomb, man. You’re the best, man.” As a matter of fact, when it was time to go back into the Shuttle, the Astronauts refused to immediately go. They knew that on this flight, and perhaps for the last time until the 2020’s, they would never be able to see Earth from an EVA suit – which is remarkably better than the view from inside the Station or inside the Shuttle. After a very long delay and a long moment of silence, as the Astronauts just sat there watching Earth go by from South America to the sunset, they just stayed there and watched.

Now don’t get me wrong, “circuit discipline” has its place … like in the last 30 seconds of a landing attempt. But I have to hand it to the Russians. They know how to loosen up a bit. Recently the Russians had to inform the International Space Station of an emergency by “How are things going today? Good. Did you enjoy breakfast yet? Good. By the way, please cancel your planned activity for the next hour and go inside the Escape Capsule because debris is about to smash into you. If it misses we will resume where we left off.” The uplink from NASA to the American astronauts about the same “emergency?” “RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!” It is particularly pleasurable that the astronauts took some time to enjoy space. After all, if they don’t show interest, why should we? I’m very happy when Astronauts “dig” the view.

MOST INTERESTING to me is that the corrective “lens fix” that was put on the Hubble to restore the (unexpectedly) flawed mirror is being removed and being taken back down in the Payload Bay. Thanks to a scientist who perfected “optical correction” techniques to overcome the effects of the “shimmering” effect of the atmosphere, computers on the ground can do even better than what this “corrective lens” did, so they pulled the corrective lens off, and they’ll take the Hubble flawed image and correct it on the ground, producing even better results than what the “lens” was able to produce.

So capabilities and sub-routines that have failed over the years have been “alive-tested” by Goddard Spaceflight Center (that controls Hubble) and most have already passed “function tests” over the years. Many of these “Functions” have been down for many years.

So, so far, so good. We’ll know for sure once the “arm” that will lift out, and then “release” Hubble leaves the Satellite on its own, at which time we’ll really be able to see what Hubble can do. There is an additional module going onto Hubble … a bracket from which future spacecraft (Orion is obviously the plan) can rondezvouz with the Hubble and drive it out of orbit … once it really is dead … instead of waiting for a random landing entry like what we experienced with Skylab. But at 350 miles high – 125 miles higher than the Space Station … Hubble’s not falling anytime fast.

… I should mention that the Shuttle is flying about 125 miles higher than the Space Station, at 350 miles, where the curve of the Earth and the things seen on the horizon are much greater. There is a 34 degree difference in their path over Earth, and I don’t know how likely it is that they can ever come close enough to a crossing orbit to actually see each other.