Yesterday, a NASA test vehicle lifted off from the ground in Florida, flew freely through the air, and landed about 650 feet away. It landed, crucially, in the same position it launched—upright—and that makes it look kind of like a science fiction film.
Read more. [Image: NASA]
Space, on top of everything else, is cold. Really cold. The cosmic background temperature—the temperature of the cosmic background radiation thought to be left over from the Big Bang—is 3 Kelvin, or -455 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet there’s variation within that. Solar winds can reach millions of degrees Fahrenheit. And then there’s the Boomerang Nebula, the cloud of gas puffed out by a dying star in the constellation Centaurus. The Boomerang Nebula clocks in at a slightly-more-frigid-than-average -458 degrees Fahrenheit, making it, officially, the coldest spot in the known universe.
But that’s about to change. Soon, it seems, the coldest spot in the known universe will be … the International Space Station.
Yep. Meet the Cold Atom Lab, the “atomic refrigerator” NASA has planned for launch in 2016—a device that will, it’s hoped, allow the agency to study quantum mechanics in a controlled environment. “We’re going to explore temperatures far below anything found naturally,” JPL’s Rob Thompson told ScienceatNASA.
In October of 2018, the James Webb telescope will launch into space, where it will travel beyond the moon to peer, as NASA puts it, into “the beginning of time.” The Webb, all in all, is roughly the size of a tennis court. And it is, as space telescopes generally are, packed with tools and instruments that will allow it simultaneously to orbit the sun and to seek (NASA again) “the unobserved formation of the first galaxies.”
But you can’t very well launch a telescope with all its assorted gadgetry—mirrors, solar arrays, gyroscopes—into space as-is. Instead, you have to pack it all up, strategically. And then deploy its tools once the object has made its forceful departure from Earth.
After a two-month hiatus, the Messenger spacecraft has resumed sending home images of the sun’s closest companion.
Read more. [Image: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington]
News footage from one of the early tragedies of the U.S. space program
Water Falls is a beautiful combination of science and art. But to see it, you’ll need some pretty special equipment.
It doesn’t throw its own feces, but that’s mostly because it doesn’t have them.
Meet the Robosimian, a four-limbed robot designed to look and act, as its name helpfully suggests, like a primate. Created by the Robotics team at the NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the pseudo-simian (nickname: “Clyde”) finished fifth in DARPA’s recent Robotics Challenge in Florida. And it has now been named a finalist in that competition—which means that Clyde, along with seven other automatons, will be receiving continued DARPA funding and a spot in the agency’s Robotics Finals in late 2014.
As a matter of engineering, the Robosimian is impressive. As a matter of entertainment, the Robosimian is hilarious.
NASA’s social network discusses the potential of bicycle desk technology, and harnessing the energy of a workout.
Read more. [Image: Amblin Entertainment]
This is what happens when you put your launchpad near a wildlife refuge.
Read more. [Image: NASA/Bill Ingalls]
Biomimicry has taken us far in robotics. There’s the snake. There’s the mechanized pack animal. There’s the birds, and the bees, and the fleas. And on and on. It makes sense that we would, in constructing our autonomous animals, imitate the highly evolved species of the natural world.
Except … when it doesn’t. Sometimes robots are at their most effective when they’re self-consciously unnatural.
Case in point: the Super Ball Bot. Which is the machine’s actual name.