You know what’s less awesome, though? The food. Sure, you can do a lot of things to space food to make it less space-food-y: You can spice it and sweeten it and try to make it simulate, as much as possible, its Earth-bound counterparts. Ultimately, though, the foodstuffs you’re consuming are still desiccated/rehydrated/irradiated/thermostabilized. Which is all compounded by the fact that your taste buds are sort of shot by the whole microgravity thing, anyway.
But it’s Thanksgiving! And we celebrate Thanksgiving with our feasting! So how will the six people currently living on the International Space Station, among them two Americans, give their thanks—not so much for the food as with it? Here, per NASA, are the dishes that will grace the only Thanksgiving table whose crazy tablescape is space.
Read more. [Image: NASA]
On April 28, 2009, a box containing a newly isolated virus showed up at Doris Bucher’s lab. She and her colleagues at New York Medical College opened it up right away. Thousands, or perhaps millions, of lives might depend on what they did next.
The virus was a new kind of influenza, known as 2009 H1N1. It had abruptly started spreading across North America in the previous month, and was beginning to appear in countries around the world. Once scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed it, they realized that the vaccine already in production for the next flu season probably wouldn’t be effective against it. And because it was so new, people’s immune systems might also be unable to stop the virus, which meant that it could become a global outbreak—a pandemic.
No one knew how bad 2009 H1N1 might prove to be, but the experts did know that the virus had the capacity to be very bad. Flu pandemics had occurred three times in the previous century, and the worst of them, the so-called Spanish Flu of 1918–19, had killed an estimated 50 million people. It, too, was an H1N1 virus. Once researchers at the CDC got hold of the 2009 H1N1 virus, they had one urgent mission: make a new vaccine.
The first step was to send batches of the virus to a handful of vaccine experts like Bucher. As soon as she received her supply of 2009 H1N1, she got to work on creating a “seed stock” of modified viruses that could be used to produce hundreds of millions of vaccine doses. Manufacturers for the most part still make flu vaccines the way they did in World War II: in chicken eggs. Bucher had to transform the viruses, which grow very well in human airways, so that they would grow very well in eggs.
Read more. [Image: Kevin Van Aelst]
So, last night, a rocket took off. It launched from an island in Virginia, turned east over the Atlantic Ocean, and sailed into the atmosphere. Aboard were 29 satellites—a record for one launch.
And one of those satellites? It was built by high schoolers.
That satellite—in space right now, whizzing over our heads—is called the TJ3Sat. Built by Virginia high-school students and their teachers, it represents over six years of work. It is the first orbiting spacecraft built by high-schoolers.
You can also interact with it right now. Go outside, bring a short-wave radio, and listen to its specified frequency (437.320 MHz). You’ll hear words spoken by its on-board voice processor, which were converted into waves and beamed back to the ground. Humans submitted those words using an online form—so you’re hearing, via space, the assembled messages of TJ3Sat’s human audience.
Read more. [Image: NASA]
It’s a tomato plant! It’s a potato plant!
It’s Super—no, wait, it’s a tomato plant grafted onto a potato plant.
This summer, the British seed company Thompson and Morgan unveiled a new kind of plant: A TomTato™. It is, literally, a plant that grows both tomatoes and potatoes.
It’s made possible by good ol’ graft: A healthy tomato plant is grafted onto a healthy potato plant, and voila, the two become one. Both tomatoes and potatoes are nightshades, and, even more specifically, part of the genus Solanum. (Common eggplants are in that category, too, but Thomson and Morgan haven’t announced any plans to unleash an EggTato.)
You look up into the night sky. Before you—above you, around you—stretches a pitch-black canvas washed with streaks and studs of brightness. You are, you realize, surrounded by light that has traveled the expanse of the universe to reach your eyes. You feel tiny and enormous at the same time. You are, literally, awed.
But what, actually, is so awesome? How many stars are you actually seeing? Why simply marvel at the majesty and mystery of it all when you can also do some math?
Sure, Soviet cosmonauts had to face the difficulties of space travel, which were tough enough.
But what if they happened to crash land in some unknown territory? At the height of the Cold War? What would they do? How would they survive and contact their countrymen? What if they encountered hostile animals or other humans?
For all these reasons, the cosmonaut survival kit that our friends at The Appendix dug up is remarkable.
Read more. [Image: RuSpace]
When people with Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory—those who can remember what they ate for breakfast on a specific day 10 years ago—are tested for accuracy, researchers found what really goes into many memories.
Have you ever described a wine as “chewy”? Have you ever swirled that wine in a glass, then plunged your nose into the bowl to take in the bouquet? Have you ever examined a wine’s legs? I have done two of the three of these things, which means, basically, that I am two-thirds of an enormous jerk. But I am also, in my way, a bold sojourner into the field of scientific inquiry. Because wine snobbery has a purpose, and that purpose is science.
Read more. [Video: Dan Quinn; GIF: Megan Garber]
It is possible to examine any object—including a brain—at different levels. Take the example of a building. If we want to know whether the house will have enough space for a family of five, we want to focus on the architectural level; if we want to know how easily it could catch fire, we want to focus on the materials level; and if we want to engineer a product for a brick manufacturer, we focus on molecular structure.
Similarly, if we want to know how the brain gives rise to thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, we want to focus on the bigger picture of how its structure allows it to store and process information—the architecture, as it were. To understand the brain at this level, we don’t have to know everything about the individual connections among brain cells or about any other biochemical process. We use a relatively high level of analysis, akin to architecture in buildings, to characterize relatively large parts of the brain.
Read more. [Image: Wikimedia Commons]
Say you’re returning home after a long trip. Say, though, that the trip was to space. While most homecomings are rough, what with their jet lag and their grudging returns to routine, yours, I am sorry to tell you, will be worse.
You’ll leave the floaty frolickiness of microgravity to be crammed next to your crewmates inside a tiny capsule, which will plummet through the harsh atmosphere of Earth. Fiery plasma will streak outside your window. You’ll feel the heat through your bulky suit. You’ll make it through the fire only to have your freefall aborted by the abrupt opening of a parachute. And you’ll make it through that, in turn, only to make a harsh collision with the harsh ground of Earth—via a “soft landing” that, as the Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli puts it, “is not really soft.”
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