SpaceX's Dragon launch to the ISS earlier today went off smoothly, but the mission encountered trouble shortly after: three sets (of four) of the craft's maneuvering thrusters didn't work. CNET quotes SpaceX founder Elon Musk: "It looks like there was potentially some blockage in the oxidizer pressurization (system). It looks like we've been able to free that blockage, or maybe a stuck valve. We've been able to free that up by cycling the valves, essentially pressure hammering the valves, to get that to loosen. It looks like that's been effective. All the oxidizer tanks are now holding the target pressure on all four (thruster) pods. I'm optimistic we'll be able to bring all four of them up and then we'll work closely with NASA to figure out what the next step is for rendezvousing with space station," and follows up with the good news that "Shortly after the briefing concluded, engineers reported all four sets of thrusters were back on line and that testing was underway to verify the health of the system." Barring further problems, Dragon could reach the ISS as soon as Sunday.
Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive
New submitter oag2 writes "Discover Magazine has a new slideshow of NASA's pie-in-the-sky (or, rather, toroid-in-the-sky) mock-ups of what space colonies would look like, complete with verdant mountains, flowing rivers, cocktail parties, and a guy on a floating bicycle. Though the designs are retro-futuristic, the artist who made them was prescient in other ways. From the accompanying article: "In the context of the 70s, when we had some sense of momentum from Apollo as far as expanding the human presence in space, it seemed like the kind of thing we could have just picked up and moved with," Davis says. "And it's still possible. It's just a matter of where we decide to spend our money." But Guidice remembers a more telling prophecy from O'Neill. "One of the most memorable things I ever heard him say was, 'If we don't do it right now,' meaning in the next 20 years, and that was 20 years ago, 'then we'll never do it, because we'll be overpopulated and the strain on the natural resources will be the number one priority. We will not have any sort of inclination to see this through."'" The O'Neill referenced above is Gerard K. O'Neill, physicist and founder of the Space Studies Institute. He wrote a book in 1976 called The High Frontier which featured these mock-up paintings, and explained in great detail how the space habitats would function. It's a fascinating book, and well worth reading if the pictures pique your curiosity.
An anonymous reader sends word that NASA scientists using the Relativistic Electron Proton Telescope (REPT) about the Van Allen Probes have discovered a third radiation belt surrounding Earth. Scientists have been aware of the Van Allen radiation belts since the 1950s, but it was thought that there were only two of them. The probes were sent up to simply map the belts in fine detail; the discovery of a third belt was a complete surprise. Deputy mission scientist Shri Kanekal said, "By the fifth day REPT was on, we could plot out our observations and watch the formation of a third radiation belt. We started wondering if there was something wrong with our instruments. We checked everything, but there was nothing wrong with them. The third belt persisted beautifully, day after day, week after week, for four weeks." Part of the reason they caught a glimpse of this belt was that they turned the REPT on early, so it would overlap with another probe that had reached end-of-life and was about to de-orbit. If they hadn't decided to do so, or if the REPT hadn't worked perfectly, we still might be in the dark about a third Van Allen belt.
Bennett Haselton writes "The U.S. government recently announced that academic papers on federally-funded research should become freely available online within one year of publication in a journal. But the real question is why academics don't simply publish most papers freely anyway. If the problem is that traditional journals have a monopoly on the kind of prestige that can only be conferred by having your paper appear in their hallowed pages, that monopoly can easily be broken, because there's no reason why open-access journals can't confer the same imprimatur of quality." Read on for the rest of Bennett's thoughts on the great free-access debate.
the_newsbeagle writes "This year, a biotech company called Ion Torrent will introduce a new chip for its genome sequencing machine, which should enable researchers and doctors to scan a complete human genome for $1000 and in just a couple of hours. Compare that to the effort required to complete the first human genome: $3 billion and 13 years. Ion Torrent has nearly reached the $1000-genome milestone by virtue of a process called 'semiconductor sequencing,' and the company's founder says his chip-based sequencing machine benefits from all the efficiencies of the computer industry. At a price point of $1000, genome scans could become a routine part of medicine. And the price could keep dropping. To test out the technology, and to investigate just how useful genome scans are these days for your typical, reasonably healthy person, the IEEE Spectrum reporter got her own genome scanned and analyzed."
Later today, the U.S. government will enter the sequestration process, a series of across-the-board budget cuts put into place automatically because U.S. politicians are bad at agreeing on things. "At that moment, somewhere in the bowels of the Treasury Department, officials will take offline the computers that process payments for school construction and clean energy bonds to reprogram them for reduced rates. Payments will be delayed while they are made manually for the next six weeks." The cuts will directly affect science- and tech-related spending throughout the country. Tom Levenson writes, '[s]equester cuts will strike bluntly across the scientific community. The illustrious can move a bit of money around, but even in large labs, a predictable result will be a reduction in the number of graduate student and post – doc slots available — and as those junior and early-stage researchers do a whole lot of the at-the-bench level research, such cuts will have an immediate effect on research productivity. The longer term risk is obvious too: fewer students and post-docs mean on an ongoing drop from baseline in the amount of work to be done year over year.' The former director of the National Institute of Health says it will set back medical science for a generation. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has laid out how the cuts will affect the U.S. space program. He said, "The Congress wasn’t able to do what they were supposed to do, so we’re going to suffer." The sequester will also prevent billions of dollars from flowing into the tech industry. This comes at a time when there's a pressing need in the tech sector for professionals versed in the use of Linux, and salaries for those workers are on the rise.
Today at 10:10am ET (15:10 UTC) SpaceX will be launching an unmanned Dragon capsule, perched atop a Falcon9 rocket, to the International Space Station. The capsule is filled with about 1,200 pounds of supplies for the ISS crew, and it is scheduled to arrive early Saturday morning. The return trip, on March 25, will bring over 2,000 pounds of cargo back to Earth when Dragon re-enters the atmosphere and falls into the Pacific Ocean. Both NASA and SpaceX are covering the launch live. For text and pictures, you can watch on SpaceX Launch Central or NASA's launch blog. For streaming video, check out NASA TV. Spaceflight Now has both, and their live updates provide a bit more detail. SpaceX's press kit for the mission (PDF) explains how the launch will proceed: "At 1 minute, 10 seconds after liftoff, Falcon 9 reaches supersonic speed. The vehicle will pass through the area of maximum aerodynamic pressure—max Q—15 seconds later. This is the point when mechanical stress on the rocket peaks due to a combination of the rocket’s velocity and resistance created by the Earth’s atmosphere. Around 170 seconds into the flight, two of the first-stage engines will shut down to reduce the rocket’s acceleration. (Its mass, of course, has been continually dropping as its propellants are being used up.) The remaining engines will cut off around 3 minutes into the flight—an event known as main-engine cutoff, or MECO. At this point, Falcon 9 is 80 kilometers (50 miles) high, traveling at 10 times the speed of sound. Five seconds after MECO, the first and second stages will separate. Seven seconds later, the second stage’s single Merlin vacuum engine ignites to begin a 6-minute burn that brings Falcon 9 and Dragon into low-Earth orbit."
drew30319 writes "NPR reports that a team of researchers at the University of Rome required a group of surgical residents to play video games on a Nintendo Wii for an hour a day, five days a week, for four weeks resulting in 'statistically better' performance than a control group for laparoscopic skills. The study includes some interesting stats (e.g. while the control group showed a 10% improvement in accuracy, the Wii-playing group's accuracy improved by 83%). The study's authors add that '[t]he Nintendo Wii may be adopted in lower-budget Institutions or at home by younger surgeons to optimize their training on simulators before performing real procedures.'"
call -151 writes "An editorial appearing in the ACM notices complains about the effects of the Elsevier boycott particularly with respect to academics refusing to do unpaid review for for-profit journals, particularly the extortionate Elsevier journals. Mathematician Tim Gowers's post gave energy to this about a year ago and recently he reflected on progress in several directions, including developing new arXIv overlay journals. Not disclosed in the ACM editorial is that the author serves on three Elsevier editorial boards; I take it that his complaining about the difficulty of finding referees is an indication that the boycott is having some good effect. Open access issues in academic publishing have been discussed on Slashdot before and it's a good sign that the broader issue has been getting good exposure, including a reasonable White House directive in response to a strong petition effort."
ananyo writes "The brains of two rats on different continents have been made to act in tandem. When the first, in Brazil, uses its whiskers to choose between two stimuli, an implant records its brain activity and signals to a similar device in the brain of a rat in the United States. The U.S. rat then usually makes the same choice on the same task. Miguel Nicolelis, a neuroscientist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, says that this system allows one rat to use the senses of another, incorporating information from its far-away partner into its own representation of the world. 'It's not telepathy. It's not the Borg,' he says. 'But we created a new central nervous system made of two brains.' Nicolelis says that the work, published today, is the first step towards constructing an organic computer that uses networks of linked animal brains to solve tasks. But other scientists who work on neural implants are skeptical."
Last Thursday, we discussed news that millionaire Dennis Tito was planning a private mission to Mars in 2018, but details were sparse. Now, reader RocketAcademy writes that Tito has provided more information about the tip, and that he intends the mission to be manned: "Dennis Tito, the first citizen space explorer to visit the International Space Station, has created the Inspiration Mars Foundation to raise funds for an even more dramatic mission: a human flyby of the planet Mars. Tito, a former JPL rocket scientist who later founded the investment firm Wilshire Associates, proposes to send two Americans — a man and a woman — on a 501-day roundtrip mission which would launch on January 5, 2018. Technical details of the mission can be found in a feasibility analysis (PDF), which Tito is scheduled to present at the IEEE Aerospace Conference in March. Former NASA flight surgeon Dr. Jonathon Clark, who is developing innovative ways of dealing with radiation exposure during the mission, called the flight 'an Apollo 8 moment for the next generation.'"
astroengine writes "Astronomers have directly measured the spin of a black hole for the first time by detecting the mind-bending relativistic effects that warp space-time at the very edge of its event horizon. By monitoring X-ray emissions from iron ions (iron atoms with some electrons missing) trapped in the black hole's accretion disk, the rapidly-rotating inner edge of the disk of hot material has provided direct information about how fast the black hole is spinning. Astronomers used NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) — that was launched into Earth orbit in June 2012 — and the European observatory XMM-Newton measured X-ray radiation as a tool to directly infer the spin of NGC 1365's black hole. 'What excites me is the fact that we are able to do this for the very massive black holes at the centers of galaxies but we can also make the same measurement for black holes in our galaxy ... black holes that resulted from the explosion of a star ... The fact we can extend this from billions of solar masses to 10 solar masses is pretty cool,' Fiona Harrison, professor of physics and astronomy at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif., and principal investigator of the NuSTAR mission, told Discovery News."
Velcroman1 writes "Biochemical engineers can now download a piece of software and with a few simple clicks, assemble the DNA for new life forms through their laptops. 'With the proper computer tools, biologists can write their own genetic code — and then turn that code into life,' said biochemist Omri Amirav-Drory, who founded Genome Compiler Corp., the company that sells the software. He demonstrated at a coffee shop early one morning by manipulating a bacteria's genes on his laptop. The synthetic biology app is still in beta; on Jan. 15, the company added an undo feature and support for new DNA file formats. Building creatures is increasingly like word processing, it would seem. But such is the strange reality in the age of cheap genome sequencing, DNA synthesizing and 'bioinformatics.'"
astroengine writes "Helped by the extensive coverage of eyewitness cameras, CCTV footage and a fortuitous observation made by the Meteosat-9 weather satellite, Jorge Zuluaga and Ignacio Ferrin of the University of Antioquia in Medellin, Colombia, have been able to reconstruct the most likely orbit of the meteoroid that slammed into the atmosphere over the Russian Urals region on Feb. 15. What's more, they know what type of space rock it was — the Chelyabinsk-bound meteoroid originated from an Apollo-class asteroid (PDF). Apollo asteroids are well-known near-Earth asteroids that cross the orbit of Earth. Around 5,200 Apollo asteroids are currently known, the largest being 1866 Sisyphus — a 10 kilometer-wide monster that was discovered in 1972."
New submitter jollyrgr3 writes "If William Shatner gets his wish, one of Pluto's two new moons will be named Vulcan. The two small moons were discovered recently, and the SETI Institute launched an online poll to let people choose names. Captain Kirk himself suggested the names Vulcan and Romulus. Vulcan was accepted as a candidate, and Shatner exhorted his Twitter followers to vote. Vulcan ended up winning by a landslide, taking 174,000 of the 450,000 total responses. The next highest was Cerberus at just shy of 100,000. The names still have to be approved by the International Astronomical Union, as they have the final say. Leonard Nimoy approves."
AstroPhilosopher writes "In a move not far removed from the model T-101, U.S. researchers have succeeded in re-animating a dead sparrow. Duke scientists were studying male behavior aggression among sparrows. They cleverly decided to insert miniaturized robotics into an empty sparrow carcass and operate it like a puppet (abstract). It worked; they noticed wing movements were a primary sign of aggression. Fortunately the living won out this time. The experiment stopped after the real sparrows tore off the robosparrow's head. But there's always a newer model on the assembly-line. Good luck sparrows." Bad Horse has not yet made a decision on the researchers' application.
Hugh Pickens writes "UPI reports that for the first time in the history of Nobel Prize, one of the Nobel Prize medals, along with the diploma presented by the Nobel committee, is on auction — with an opening bid of $250,000. Awarded to Francis Crick, who along with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1962 'for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material,' the medal will be auctioned off in New York City, by Heritage Auctions. The medal has been kept in a safe deposit box in California since Crick's widow passed away in 2007 and a portion of the proceeds will go to the Francis Crick Institute of disease research scheduled to open in London in 2015. '"By auctioning his Nobel it will finally be made available for public display and be well looked after. Our hope is that, by having it available for display, it can be an inspiration to the next generation of scientists," says Crick's granddaughter, Kindra Crick. "My granddad was honored to have received the Nobel Prize, but he was not the type to display his awards; his office walls contained a large chalkboard, artwork and a portrait of Charles Darwin."'"
Billy the Mountain writes "A small UK company is bringing new technology online that could reduce the prices of tantalum and titanium ten-fold. According to this piece in The Economist: A tantalising prospect, the key is a technique similar to smelting aluminum with a new twist: The metallic oxides are not melted as with aluminum but blended in powder form with a molten salt that serves as a medium and electrolyte. This technology is known as the FFC Cambridge Process. Other metals include Neodymium, Tungsten, and Vanadium."
carmendrahl writes "Photos used to be second-class citizens in the art world, not considered as prestigious as paintings or sculpture. But that changed in the 1990s. As daguerrotypes and the like started selling for millions of dollars, fakes also slipped in. Unfortunately, the art world didn't have good ways of authenticating originals. Cultural heritage researchers had to play catch-up, and quickly. Two fraud cases, one involving avant garde photographer Man Ray, turned photo conservation from a niche field into a mature science."
astroengine writes "According to preliminary orbital prediction models, comet C/2013 A1 will buzz Mars on Oct. 19, 2014. C/2013 A1 was discovered by ace comet-hunter Robert McNaught at the Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia, on Jan. 3. When the discovery was made, astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona looked back over their observations to find "prerecovery" images of the comet dating back to Dec. 8, 2012. These observations placed the orbital trajectory of comet C/2013 A1 through Mars orbit on Oct. 19, 2014. Due to uncertainties in the observations — the comet has only been observed for 74 days (so far), so it's difficult for astronomers to forecast the comet's precise location in 20 months time — comet C/2013 A1 may fly past at a very safe distance of 0.008 AU (650,000 miles). But to the other extreme, its orbital pass could put Mars directly in its path."