SpaceX and NASA have reached an agreement (though negotiations on the details are ongoing) for the private space company to lease NASA's launch pad 39A. SpaceX rival Blue Origin had also sought the launch pad for its own use. From the article: "During the selection process, Blue Origin had filed a petition to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The spaceflight company was claiming that NASA was favoring single-use of the launch pad which was designed as a multi-user facility. ... The GAO decided on Thursday that the petition has no basis, which prompted NASA to proceed with its decision process. The next day, the space agency informed both companies that it is granting the exclusive lease to SpaceX."
Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive
Nerval's Lobster writes "Computer scientists at Harvard University have come up with a way to convert algorithms that teach machines to learn into a form that would allow artificial intelligence to be programmed into complex chemical reactions. The ultimate result could be smart drugs programmed to react differently depending on which of several probable situations they might encounter – without the need to use nano-scale electronics to carry the instructions. 'This kind of chemical-based AI will be necessary for constructing therapies that sense and adapt to their environment,' according to Ryan P. Adams, assistant professor of computer science at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), who co-wrote the paper explaining the technique (PDF). 'The hope is to eventually have drugs that can specialize themselves to your personal chemistry and can diagnose or treat a range of pathologies.' The techniques are part of a larger effort to program the behavior of molecules in manufacturing, decision-making and diagnostics, using both nano-scale electronics and the still-relatively-new study of bionanotechnology."
China's Chang'e 3 moon probe made its intended landing earlier today, setting down softly in the moon's Sinus Iridum, as reported by Reuters. From the article: "The Chang'e 3, a probe named after a lunar goddess in traditional Chinese mythology, is carrying the solar-powered Yutu, or Jade Rabbit buggy, which will dig and conduct geological surveys. ... China Central Television (CCTV) broadcast images of the probe's location on Saturday and a computer generated image of the probe on the surface of the moon on its website. The probe and the rover are expected to photograph each other tomorrow. ... The Bay of Rainbows was selected because it has yet to be studied, has ample sunlight and is convenient for remote communications with Earth, Xinhua said. The rover will be remotely controlled by Chinese control centers with support from a network of tracking and transmission stations around the world operated by the European Space Agency (ESA)."
savuporo writes "The Chinese Chang'e-3 probe will be landing on the moon [Saturday], 13:40 UTC. CCTV is likely to carry the event live as they did for initial launch. According to technical overview of the mission scenario and instruments, the landing will be fully autonomous with active landing hazard avoidance, which is the first time this has been attempted on any planetary landing. More real-time updates can be found on Twitter with ChangE3 hash tag and NASASpaceFlight forums live event section."
New submitter Kenseilon writes "Extremetech reports that the recent price hike of Litecoins has triggered yet another arms race for the *coinminers out there, leading to a shortage of AMD graphics cards. While Bitcoin mining is quickly becoming unfeasible for GPU rigs with general purpose graphics cards, there are several alternative currencies with opportunities. The primary candidate is now Litecoin, which has the aim of 'being silver if Bitcoin is gold' Swedish Tech site Sweclockers also reports [in Swedish] that GPU manufacturer Club3D have told them that miners are becoming a new important group of potential customers. However, concerns are being raised that this is a temporary boom that may hurt AMD in the long run, since gamers, their core consumer group, may not be able to acquire the cards and instead opt for Nvidia."
New submitter radioedit writes "When the MAVEN orbiter arrives at Mars on 22 September 2014, the spacecraft will join up with the other seven nodes of NASA's interplanetary internet, exchanging data with orbiters, rovers on the surface, and us back on Earth using delay-tolerant protocols. It's the latest part of Vint Cerf's mission (video) to create a giant antenna array across the solar system that'll be able to receive signals by laser from Alpha Centauri."
KentuckyFC writes "Optical engineers generally build imaging systems with the best possible resolving power. The basic idea is that an imaging system focuses light into a pattern known as a point spreading function. This consists of a central region of high intensity surrounded by a concentric lobe of lower intensity light. The trick to improving resolution is narrowing and intensifying this central region while suppressing the outer lobe. Now optical engineers have turned this approach on its head by suppressing the central region so that the field intensity here is zero while intensifying the lobe. The result is a three-dimensional beam of darkness that hides any object inside it. The engineers say this region can be huge — up to 8 orders of magnitude bigger than the wavelength of the imaging light. What's more, the optics required to create it are simple and cheap: a lens consisting of concentric dielectric grooves. The team has even tested a prototype capable of hiding a 40-micrometre object in visible laser light."
astroengine writes "In research accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal, astronomers documented the anomalous spin rate of a pulsar that has been observed 'multiple times' between 1988 and 2012. In September 2005, the spin rate of the well-observed PSR J0738-4042 changed and a team of astronomers headed by Paul Brook, of the University of Oxford, think they know why. 'The data lead us to postulate that we are witnessing an encounter with an asteroid or in-falling debris from a disk,' they write in a paper published to the arXiv pre-print service. The moral of the story? It's not just black holes that get the asteroid munchies."
cold fjord writes "The Washington Examiner reports, 'Oregon ... signed up just 44 people for insurance through November, despite spending more than $300 million on its state-based exchange. The state's exchange had the fewest sign-ups in the nation, according to a new report today by the Department of Health and Human Services. The weak number of sign-ups undercuts two major defenses of Obamacare from its supporters. One defense was that state-based exchanges were performing a lot better than the federal healthcare.gov website servicing 36 states. But Oregon's website problems have forced the state to rely on paper applications to sign up participants. Another defense of the Obama administration has attributed the troubled rollout of Obamacare to the obstruction of Republican governors who wanted to see the law fail as well as a lack of funding. But Oregon is a Democratic state that embraced Obamacare early and enthusiastically.'"
astroengine writes "Scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope have found plumes of water vapor shooting off the southern pole of Europa, an ice-covered moon of Jupiter that is believed to have an underground ocean. If confirmed — so far the plumes have only been spotted once — the finding could have implications for the moon's suitability for life and help explain why its surface appears relatively young and crater-free. "The plumes are incredibly exciting, if they are there. They're bringing up material from in the ocean, perhaps there's organic material that will be laying on the surface of the south pole. Those are the things that we want to know about," James Green, head of NASA's planetary science programs, told reporters at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco on Thursday."
Freshly Exhumed writes "What a father eats before his child is conceived may influence the chance a baby will be born with a birth defect, a new study suggests. Much of the focus on how diet relates to birth has been done on moms. A father's diet before conception plays a crucial role in the health of his offspring, researchers in Canada suggest. Sarah Kimmins, a researcher at McGill University in Montreal, said the study focused on vitamin B9, also known as folate, which is found in green leafy vegetables, cereal, fruit and meat. The researchers found that the mouse offspring of folate-deficient fathers had a 30 percent increased risk of birth defects, compared to those offspring who had received a sufficient amount of folate."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Suzanne Goldenberg writes at The Guardian that researchers at the University of Toronto's department of chemistry have identified a newly discovered greenhouse gas, perfluorotributylamine (PFTBA), in use by the electrical industry since the mid-20th century, that is 7,000 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the Earth. 'We claim that PFTBA has the highest radiative efficiency of any molecule detected in the atmosphere to date,' says Angela Hong. Concentrations of PFTBA in the atmosphere are low – 0.18 parts per trillion in the Toronto area – compared to 400 parts per million for carbon dioxide but PFTBA is long-lived. There are no known processes that would destroy or remove PFTBA in the lower atmosphere so it has a very long lifetime, possibly hundreds of years, and is destroyed in the upper atmosphere. 'It is so much less than carbon dioxide, but the important thing is on a per molecule basis, it is very very effective in interacting with heat from the Earth.' PFTBA has been in use since the mid-20th century for various applications in electrical equipment, such as transistors and capacitors. 'PFTBA is just one example of an industrial chemical that is produced but there are no policies that control its production, use or emission,' says Hong. 'It is not being regulated by any type of climate policy.'"
sciencehabit writes "Three lawsuits filed last week that attempted to achieve 'legal personhood' for four chimpanzees living in New York have been struck down. The suits, brought by the animal rights group the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), targeted two chimps on private property and two in a research lab at Stony Brook University in New York. NhRP says it will now appeal each lawsuit to a higher court, and that it will continue its campaign to grant chimpanzees, dolphins, and other cognitively advanced animals legal personhood nationwide."
astroengine writes "A coolant system glitch on the International Space Station has forced several of the orbital outpost's modules offline as astronauts and ground control manage the problem. The crew are not in danger and ground control teams are currently working to see how best to troubleshoot. The issue, that occurred early on Wednesday, focuses on one of the space station's two external ammonia cooling loops, along which the station's electrical systems use to regulate their temperatures. The loop 'automatically shut down when it reached pre-set temperature limits,' said NASA in a statement. It is thought that a flow control valve in the ammonia pump itself may have malfunctioned."
Lemeowski writes "Honeybees are disappearing at an alarming rate, with a third of U.S. honeybees vanishing last year. Since bees pollinate many fruits and vegetables, the disappearance of honeybees could cause the United States to lose $15 billion worth of crops, and even change the American diet. The honey bee disappearance is called Colony Collapse Disorder, a serious problem of bees abruptly leaving their hives. A new open source effort called the Open Source Beehives project hopes to help by creating "a mesh network of data-generating honey bee colonies for local, national, and international study of the causes and effects of Colony Collapse Disorder." Collaborators have created two beehive designs that can be downloaded for free and milled using a CNC machine, then filled with sensors to track bee colony health."
ananyo writes "A team of physicists has provided some of the clearest evidence yet that our Universe could be just one big projection. In 1997, theoretical physicist Juan Maldacena proposed that an audacious model of the Universe in which gravity arises from infinitesimally thin, vibrating strings could be reinterpreted in terms of well-established physics. The mathematically intricate world of strings, which exist in nine dimensions of space plus one of time, would be merely a hologram: the real action would play out in a simpler, flatter cosmos where there is no gravity. Maldacena's idea thrilled physicists because it offered a way to put the popular but still unproven theory of strings on solid footing — and because it solved apparent inconsistencies between quantum physics and Einstein's theory of gravity. It provided physicists with a mathematical Rosetta stone, a 'duality', that allowed them to translate back and forth between the two languages, and solve problems in one model that seemed intractable in the other and vice versa. But although the validity of Maldacena's ideas has pretty much been taken for granted ever since, a rigorous proof has been elusive. In two papers posted on the arXiv repository, Yoshifumi Hyakutake of Ibaraki University in Japan and his colleagues now provide, if not an actual proof, at least compelling evidence that Maldacena's conjecture is true."
MightyMait writes "There's a plan underway to build a space agency run by African nations, and there is a (non-fictional) George Clooney connection. This BBC article details the history of space exploration in Africa as well as current efforts. Quoting: 'To Western eyes, it may seem rather inappropriate to launch space programs in sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly 70% of the population still lives on less $2 a day. Yet Joseph Akinyede, director of the African Regional Center for Space Science and Technology Education in Nigeria, an education center affiliated with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, says that the application of space science technology and research to "basic necessities" of life – health, education, energy, food security, environmental management – is critical for the development of the continent.'"
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Dennis Overbye reports in the NY Times that two years ago Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss set off on a barnstorming tour to save the world from religion and promote science. Their adventure is now the subject of The Unbelievers, a new documentary. 'If you think a road trip with a pair of intellectuals wielding laptops is likely to lack drama, you haven't been keeping up with the culture wars,' writes Overbye. The scientists are mobbed at glamorous sites like the Sydney Opera House. Inside, they sometimes encounter clueless moderators; outside, demonstrators condemning them to hellfire. At one event, a group of male Muslim protesters are confronted by counterprotesters chanting, 'Where are your women?' 'Travelogue shots, perky editing and some popular rock music, as well as interview bits with such supportive celebrities as Woody Allen, Cameron Diaz, Sarah Silverman and Ricky Gervais, shrewdly enliven the brainy — but accessible — discourse,' writes Gary Goldstein in the LA Times, 'but mostly the movie is an enjoyably high-minded love fest between two deeply committed intellectuals and the scads of atheists, secularists, free-thinkers, skeptics and activists who make up their rock star-like fan base.' The movie ends at the Reason Rally in Washington, billed as the largest convention of atheists in history. Dawkins looks out at the crowd standing in a light rain and pronounces it 'the most incredible sight I can remember ever seeing' and declares that too many people have been cowed out of coming out as atheists, secularists or agnostics. 'We are far more numerous than anybody realizes.'"
coondoggie writes "Private Mars mission planners said today that Lockheed Martin is on board to build the spacecraft that would land a technology demonstration robot on the Red Planet by 2018. The Mars One group ultimately wants to establish a human outpost on Mars. The lander robot would use technology Lockheed previously built for NASA's Phoenix lander, which touched down on Mars in 2008. The Mars One lander will evaluate the use of the Phoenix design for the Mars One mission and identify any modifications that are necessary to meet future requirements. In addition, the mission would go a long way toward determining the cost and schedule of future missions."
Thorfinn.au sends this news from NASA: "What is the coldest place on Earth? It is a high ridge in Antarctica on the East Antarctic Plateau where temperatures in several hollows can dip below minus 133.6 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 92 degrees Celsius) on a clear winter night. Scientists made the discovery while analyzing the most detailed global surface temperature maps to date, developed with data from remote sensing satellites including the new Landsat 8, a joint project of NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., joined a team of researchers reporting the findings Monday at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. Researchers analyzed 32 years' worth of data from several satellite instruments. They found temperatures plummeted to record lows dozens of times in clusters of pockets near a high ridge between Dome Argus and Dome Fuji, two summits on the ice sheet known as the East Antarctic Plateau. The new record of minus 93.2 C was set Aug. 10, 2010."