Welcome back to Science Friday! It’s been a long hiatus while I was away on field work in the great white south, but I’m back in action. So, be on the look out for regular Science Fridays again! This week, on a special Monday edition, Astronaut Mark Kelly makes a tough decision, heal burn victims in days with a new spray gun, and give a send off to Robonaut 2 as it prepares to launch into space. All this and more plus an infographic, image, and gadget of the week!
Astronaut Mark Kelly Decides to Fly Final Space Shuttle Mission
STS-134 will be the final flight of Space Shuttle Endeavor and, likely, Mark Kelly’s last chance to go into space. But, he had a tough decision to make. On Jan. 8 his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was nearly killed when she was shot in the head in front of a Tucson, AZ grocery store. Mark has been by his wife’s side throughout her recovery, but he needed to decide whether to stay with her or command his final space mission. At Kelly’s request, NASA had appointed a backup commander to train with STS-134 in his absence, but Kelly has decided that he will return to command STS-134:
"I ultimately made the decision that I would like to return and command STS-134," Mark Kelly said at a press conference yesterday at Johnson Space Center in Houston. "I absolutely thought this was the right thing for me to do."
"I know her very well and she would be very comfortable with the decision that I made," Kelly said.
Heal Severe Burns in a Matter of Days With ‘Spray-on Skin’
Doctors have invented a revolutionary new spray gun that fires stem cells onto damaged skin, and it has already been used successfully on a dozen patients. Rather than spending months to laboriously grow new sheets of skin, stem cells are harvested from a small patch of healthy skin and sprayed back onto the affected area in solution. University of Pittsburgh’s Jorg Gerlach explains that the process takes only 90 minutes and can heal burns in as little as four days. It eliminates a major flaw in current burn treatments in which patients can die from infection in the time it takes to grow new layers of skin in the lab. The skin gun will be featured on the National Geographic Channel on Monday February 7 on “How to Build a Beating Heart”.
Revolutionary new stem cell gun
Robonaut 2 Set to Launch in February
NASA’s Robonaut 2 is primed and ready for launch aboard space shuttle Discovery this month to join the crew aboard the International Space Station. The dextrous humanoid robot will be traveling ahead of its legs, which will follow on a later launch. “The robot’s legs aren’t ready yet,” says Rob Ambrose of the Johnson Space Center. “We’re still testing them. But there will be plenty for R2 to do while waiting for its lower extremities.” R2 will be the first humanoid robot to travel to and operate in space, with the long term goal of becoming the space station crew’s right hand. The R2 will start in training mode, hooked up to a fixed pedestal in front of a task board on which it will learn to operate switches, knobs, and connectors like the astronauts do. Once the legs are added, R2 will be able to whiz around the station performing mundane tasks such as vacuuming air filters for the crew. Eventually, Robonaut 2 will be able to perform EVAs (spacewalks) and perform more complex tasks.
Robonaut 2 preps for its journey into the final frontier
Infographic of the Week: Funding the Final Frontier (via good.is)
Image of the Week: Nyiragongo’s Lava Lake
Nyiragongo is one of only three volcanoes in the world to host an active lava lake in its summit crater. Lately, the lava lake has been increasingly active and lake levels have risen several meters. A team of German scientists were on hand last month to take some incredible photos. Make sure to see their gallery for more amazing images. The picture below shows the lava lake, red hot, with a gigantic volcanic plume steaming away from the depths of the Earth. Gorgeous!
Gadget of the Week: CBS Interactive Updates Star Trek TOS Communicator App for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
Surprisingly enough, CBS Interactive just released an update to the official Star Trek Original Series Communicator app for Apple devices. The new update (version 1.1) features new sound effects and the ability to choose your favorite classic Star Trek lines while ‘communicating’ with our crew. There is also a bit of new dialogue featuring Kirk, Spock, Sulu, Scotty, McCoy, and Uhura and some snappier graphics to boot. The upgrade is free if you already own the app. If not, the app is $0.99 to buy.
Screen shots from the newly updated communicator app
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, techies, and trekkies to follow on Twitter. This week…
- @NASA_Johnson: NASA’s Johnson Space Center is the lead center for space shuttle and ISS activities and is home of the Mission Control Center and NASA astronaut corps.
- @BadAstronomer: Phil Plait: Astronomer, author, skeptic, funny guy, writer, budding TV deity
- @AwkwardEmbraces: A self-proclaimed kick ass web series, and creators of this gem: “The Favorite Episode”.
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth your time.
- Mars scene proves to be a changing one via AZ Daily Star
- A fizzy ocean on Enceladus via NASA Science News
- NASA press conference on latest findings from the Kepler mission via C-SPAN
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.