This week in Science Friday: What is the fate of the Spirit Rover? Is nuclear fusion becoming a reality? Does Obama want to cancel a return to the moon? Can you skydive from more than 100,000 feet? All these questions answered! Plus, check out our gadget of the week: NASA’s Puffin personal air vehicle.
Spirit Rover to Rove No More?
NASA has released a statement saying that Spirit, the Mars Exploration Rover, which has been exploring the red planet for the past six years, will be converted from rover to stationary science platform. The announcement comes after months of the rover being stuck in a particularly sandy region near the edge of a crater. If you’ve been following news on Spirit, you know that NASA has been working with engineers to try and get the rover mobile again, so what has changed now that they are declaring the rover “unextractable”? Actually, nothing. It seems that this press release could be a PR move to try and quell overly-optimistic hopes for remobilization of Spirit. In other words, rumors of her death have been grossly exaggerated. Currently, engineers are maneuvering (yes, as in moving) Spirit so that her solar cells can get enough sun to sustain her through the winter. When summer hits again, it is likely that NASA will try again to free her.
Spirit’s last tracks on Mars?
Is Fusion Becoming a Reality?
For over half a century, scientists have been trying to harness the power of nuclear fusion, a reaction that could generate massive amounts of energy. Recent results from experiments at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) suggest that creating such a reaction might be within our reach. The tests involved blasting a cylinder the size of a pencil eraser, known as “hohlraum,” with 192 laser beams and seeing whether researchers could tweak the energy to create the right kind of implosion. The research reported by NIF represents a step toward actual energy production in a controlled fusion reaction. But, there are still many steps to go before scientists reach that break-even point. Even if successful, the research will take years or decades to adapt for commercial use.
Tiny gold-plated “hohlraum” cylinder
No Moon in Obama’s Vision of Space?
With President Obama’s new budget set to be released Monday, all eyes in NASA are on the White House. The recently released Augustine Report (PDF) outlines experts’ recommendations to the president for the future of human space flight, among other things. Early reports from the White House suggest that the Obama administration may move toward relying on commercially-built spacecraft, rather than NASA’s own vehicles, to carry humans to low-Earth orbit. The plan would also involve extending the International Space Station’s lifetime and abandoning current plans to send astronauts on moon missions by 2020. This is certainly a paradigm shift in the way our country will go about its space program, and there are mixed feelings about the plan. But many believe this is a positive move for NASA. Sally K. Ride, a former astronaut who served on the blue-ribbon panel, said she was encouraged by the budget increase for NASA in light of the planned freeze on domestic spending over all. “They plan to be sending people beyond low-Earth orbit, and they have a good formulation,” Dr. Ride said. “I think the way to evaluate this plan when it’s rolled out is to ask whether the administration has given NASA the funds for what it’s asked to do.” “It appears to me the answer is yes,” Dr. Ride said, based on briefings she had received on the plans. She said the administration took options the panel presented and “came up with an innovative approach for NASA.”
We’re waiting for the details of Obama’s plan for space
Skydiver to Re-enact Trek-style Orbital Skydive
Back in 1960, then Air Force Col. Joe Kittinger set the world record for the highest-ever parachute jump from a balloon floating 102,800 feet above the ground. Ever since then, skydivers in search of glory have tried (unsuccessfully) to break that record. Now, Felix Baumgartner, who is already a professional skyjumper, is gearing up to make the attempt this year. And, he has the help of Kittinger himself, who is coaching him through the jump. Red Bull is sponsoring Felix to promote their energy drinks. Check out the video below for an interview with the orbital sky-diving duo.
Gadget of the Week: NASA’s Puffin Personal Air Vehicle
If NASA has anything to say about it, personal flight vehicles may become a reality. Researchers at NASA have developed the Puffin – a Personal Air Vehicle with enough room for one passenger that uses electric motor variable rpt to accomplish an order of magnitude reduction in noise. This vehicle could be automatically piloted for the everyday person to fly to work. Check it out in all its glory in the two videos below.
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…
- @whitehouseostp: Official Twitter account of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy http://www.ostp.gov
- @USGS: United States Geological Survey. (Official USGS account) Science for a changing world.
- @newscientist: New Scientist is the world’s only science and technology weekly
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a look.
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