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Russian Moon Landing May Take As Many As Six Launches ( 111

MarkWhittington writes: Russia has made no secret of its desire to land cosmonauts on the lunar surface sometime in the late 2020s. As the United States, at least for the current administration, has decided to bypass the moon in favor of Mars, Russia could move to wipe out the humiliation it suffered at the hands of NASA when it lost the 1960s race to the moon with the landing of Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969. However, a story in TASS suggests that a Russian moon landing effort would be complex, requiring up to six launches of its Angara rocket.

Swallow the Doctor: The Present and Future of Robots Inside Us ( 26

szczys writes: Feynman predicted that we would some day "swallow the doctor" and to some extent that is already happening. There are cameras in pill-form that the patient swallows to monitor the digestive track, and pacemakers are now inserted via catheter rather than major surgery. The question is, where are we going with robots we can put inside our bodies. Intuitively it seems far away, but there is already an open source platform for capsule robots. Medical devices are where the money is at when it comes to hardware development. We can expect to see a lot of work in the coming years to make the man-machine hybrid something that is much more organic, sprinkled with small tablets of robot.
The Courts

Young Climate Activists Sue Obama Over Climate Change Inaction ( 329

EmagGeek writes A recent lawsuit against Obama alleges he has a legal duty to act against climate change, and young climate activists, including 15-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh, are taking him to task on it. CNN reports: "Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh became a climate change activist at age 6 when he saw an environmental documentary. He asked his mom to find a way for him to speak at a rally. Now 15, the long-haired, hip-hop-savvy Coloradan is one of 21 young activists joining climate scientist James Hansen in suing the Obama administration for failing to ditch fossil fuels. 'It's basically a bunch of kids saying you're not doing your job,' he told me here at the U.N. COP21 climate change summit in Paris. 'You're failing, you know. F-minus. We're holding you accountable for your lack of action.'"

Diamond Nanothreads Could Support Space Elevator ( 139

Taco Cowboy writes with news that Penn State researchers have discovered a way to produce ultra-thin diamond nanothreads that could be ideal for a space elevator. According to the report at, The team, led by chemistry professor John Badding, applied alternating cycles of pressure to isolated, liquid-state benzene molecules and were amazed to find that rings of carbon atoms assembled into neat and orderly chains. While they were expecting the benzene molecules to react in a disorganized way, they instead created a neat thread 20,000 times smaller than a strand of human hair but perhaps the strongest material ever made. ... Just recently, a team from the Queensland University of Technology in Australia modeled the diamond nanothreads using large-scale molecular dynamics simulations and concluded that the material is far more versatile than previously thought and has great promise for aerospace properties.

Canadian, UK Law Professors Condemn Space Mining Provisions of Commercial Space Act ( 211

MarkWhittington writes: The Commercial Space Launch Act, which includes provisions allowing American companies the right to keep resources that they mine in space, was recently signed into law by President Barack Obama. While the act has been hailed as groundbreaking in the United States, the space mining title has gotten an angry reaction overseas. In an article in Science Alert, Gbenga Oduntan, Senior Lecturer in International Commercial Law, University of Kent, condemned the space mining provisions as environmentally risky and a violation of international law. Ram Jakhu, a professor at Canada's McGill University's Institute of air and space law, adds that space mining is a violation of the Outer Space Treaty and should not be allowed.

2 Planets Can Share the Same Orbit, In 3 Different Ways 71

StartsWithABang writes: One of the most important characteristics of a planet, at least according to the IAU definition, is that it clear its orbit of all other bodies. But if we allowed for a special caveat — the possibility of two similarly-sized objects sharing the same orbit — could we have a stable configuration where that occurred? Surprisingly, not only is the answer yes, but there are three ways to do it: to have one at the L4/L5 Lagrange point of the other, to have a close-orbiting binary planet, or to have orbit-swapping worlds, where they periodically change spots with one another. Unbelievably, our Solar System has a history of all three!

NASA Prepares To Launch an Orion and 3 Cubesats To Deep Space: 3 Years To Go ( 53

MarkWhittington writes: As NASA has noted, the space agency and its contractors are working diligently on the first launch of the heavy-lift Space Launch System. The launch, officially called EM-1, or Exploration Mission 1, will loft an unpiloted version of the Orion spacecraft around the moon. also noted that a number of secondary payloads, known as CubeSats, will be along for the ride as well. NASA considered EM-1, scheduled for 2018, a crucial step in its Journey to Mars which will, it is hoped, reach its ultimate destination sometime in the 2030s.

Scientists Turn Gold Into Foam That's Nearly As Light As Air ( 70

Zothecula writes: Along with its use in jewelry, gold also has numerous applications in fields such as electronics and scientific research. It's a handy material, but – of course – it's also expensive. That's why researchers at ETH Zurich have developed a new way of making a small amount of gold go a long way. They've created a gold foam that looks much like solid gold, but is actually 98 parts air and two parts solid material (abstract). As an added bonus, the aerogel-type foam can also be made in non-gold colors such as dark red.

Parts of the SpaceX Falcon-9 Rocket Found Off the Isles of Scilly ( 29

New submitter AppleHoshi writes: The BBC is reporting that a large chunk of the SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket, which exploded shortly after take-off from Cape Canaveral earlier this year, has been found 4,000 miles away, in the sea off the Isles of Scilly. The recovered section is approximately 10m (32ft) by 4m (13ft). It was discovered by a local coastguard patrol, though they didn't recognize it until they scraped off a layer of goose barnacles.

NASA Concludes That Comets, Not Alien Megastructures Orbit KIC 8462852 ( 102

MarkWhittington writes: Back in October, findings from the Kepler Space Telescope suggested that something strange was going on around a star called KIC 8462852. Kepler was built to detect exoplanets by measuring the cycles of dimming light from other stars, indicating that a large object was passing between them and Earth. But the dimming light cycle from KIC 8462852 seemed to suggest a lot of smaller objects swarming around it. Scientists narrowed down the explanations to either a swarm of comets or alien megastructures. NASA announced evidence garnered by two other telescopes that pointed to the comet explanation.

Japanese Company Makes Low-Calorie Noodles Out of Wood 156

AmiMoJo writes: Omikenshi Co, an Osaka based cloth manufacturer best known for rayon, a fibre made from tree pulp, is expanding into the health food business. Using a similar process, Omikenshi is turning the indigestible cellulose into a pulp that's mixed with konjac, a yam-like plant grown in Japan. The resulting fibre-rich flour, which the company calls "cell-eat," contains no gluten, no fat and almost no carbohydrate. It has just 60 calories a kilogram, compared with 3,680 for wheat.

Japanese Rocket Launches Its First Commercial Satellite ( 31

schwit1 writes: Using its H-IIA rocket, upgraded to lower cost, Japan launched its first commercial payload today, putting Canada's Telestar 12V into geosynchronous orbit. UPI reports: "Japan's Aerospace Exploration Agency said the H-IIA rocket was upgraded for the launch, permitting the satellite to stay closer to its geostationary orbit. Tokyo's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said he hoped the launch would exhibit the quality of Japan's rocket engineering, and that the successful launch would result in more orders from other global corporations. Following the launch, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries vice president Naohiko Abe said the firm plans to actively promote the H-IIA for satellite launches."

Neil deGrasse Tyson Touches Off Debate With Remarks On Commercial Space ( 370

MarkWhittington writes: In an interview published in The Verge, celebrity astrophysicist and media personality Neil deGrasse Tyson touched off a firestorm when he suggested that commercial space was not going to lead the way to open up the high frontier. Tyson has started a live show that he calls "Delusions of Space Enthusiasts" in which he touched on, among other things, why the Apollo program did not lead to greater things in space exploration such as going to Mars. Tyson repeats conventional wisdom about Apollo and the Cold War. In any case, it is his remarks on commercial space that has caused the most irritation.

Engineers Nine Times More Likely Than Expected To Become Terrorists ( 494 writes: Henry Farrel writes in the Washington Post that there's a group of people who appear to be somewhat prone to violent extremism: Engineers. They are nine times more likely to be terrorists than you would expect by chance. In a forthcoming book, Engineers of Jihad, published by Princeton University Press, Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog provide a new theory explaining why engineers seem unusually prone to become involved in terrorist organizations. They say it's caused by the way engineers think about the world. Survey data indicates engineering faculty at universities are far more likely to be conservative than people with other degrees, and far more likely to be religious. They are seven times as likely to be both religious and conservative as social scientists. Gambetta and Hertog speculate that engineers combine these political predilections with a marked preference towards finding clearcut answers.

Gambetta and Hertog suggest that this mindset combines with frustrated expectations in many Middle Eastern and North African countries (PDF), and among many migrant populations, where people with engineering backgrounds have difficulty in realizing their ambitions for good and socially valued jobs. This explains why there are relatively few radical Islamists with engineering backgrounds in Saudi Arabia (where they can easily find good employment) and why engineers were more prone to become left-wing radicals in Turkey and Iran.

Some people might argue that terrorist groups want to recruit engineers because engineers have valuable technical skills that might be helpful, such as in making bombs. This seems plausible – but it doesn't seem to be true. Terrorist organizations don't seem to recruit people because of their technical skills, but because they seem trustworthy and they don't actually need many people with engineering skills. "Bomb-making and the technical stuff that is done in most groups is performed by very few people (PDF), so you don't need, if you have a large group, 40 or 50 percent engineers," says Hertog. "You just need a few guys to put together the bombs. So the scale of the overrepresentation, especially in the larger groups is not easily explained."


Dark Matter Grows Hair Around Stars and Planets ( 166

StartsWithABang writes: Dark matter may make up 27% of the Universe's energy density, compared to just 5% of normal (atomic) matter, but in our Solar System, it's notoriously sparse. In particular, there's just a nanogram's worth per cubic kilometer, which makes the fact that we've never directly detected it seem inevitable. But recent work has demonstrated that Earth and all the planets leave a "wake" of dark matter where the density is enhanced by a billion times or more. Time to go put those dark matter detectors where they belong: in the path of these dark matter hairs.