The next generation of Russian spacecraft will be ready for test flights by 2017, according to Energia President Vitaly Lopota. 'We have completed the technical design project taking into account the fact that the new spaceship is to fly to the Moon, among other places,' he said. Federal Space Agency Roscosmos head Vladimir Popovkin says the new ship would be built by 2018 and would be able to conduct missions to the International Space Station and the Moon.
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A British plan to blast a path through more than two miles of ice to reach an Antarctic lake has been suspended because of technical problems. From the article: "In a move that clears the way for U.S. and Russian teams to take the lead, Professor Martin Siegert said technical problems and a lack of fuel had forced the closure on Christmas Day of the 7-million-pound ($11 million) project, which was looking for life forms and climate change clues in the lake-bed sediment. 'This is of course, hugely frustrating for us, but we have learned a lot this year,' said Siegert of the University of Bristol, principal investigator for the mission, which was headed by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). 'By the end, the equipment was working well, and much of it has now been fully field-tested,' he said on the BAS website."
jomama717 writes "Another chapter in the fascinating life of Srinivasa Ramanujan appears to be complete: 'While on his death bed, the brilliant Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan cryptically wrote down functions he said came to him in dreams, with a hunch about how they behaved. Now 100 years later, researchers say they've proved he was right. "We've solved the problems from his last mysterious letters. For people who work in this area of math, the problem has been open for 90 years," Emory University mathematician Ken Ono said. Ramanujan, a self-taught mathematician born in a rural village in South India, spent so much time thinking about math that he flunked out of college in India twice, Ono said.'"
skade88 writes "Does life exist on Mars? We might assume if there ever was life on Mars then it most likely came about when Mars was a wetter and warmer place than it is now. So the question is, if life did exist on Mars in the past, does it still exist? Ars takes a look at how microbes have survived on Earth in environmental conditions much like we currently see on Mars."
cylonlover writes "The SpaceX Grasshopper vertical takeoff vertical landing (VTVL) testbed has successfully flown to a height of 40 meters (131 ft), hovered for a bit and subsequently landed in a picture perfect test on December 17, 2012. The Grasshopper had previously taken two hops to less than 6 m (20 ft) in height, but the latest test was the first that saw it reach an altitude taller than the rocket itself, which is a modified Falcon 9 orbital launch vehicle. The flight lasted 29 seconds from launch to landing, and carried a 1.8 m (6 ft) cowboy dummy to give an indication of scale."
Lasrick writes "David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists analyzes the debris from North Korea's December 11th Unha-3 launch. From the article: 'According to press reports, traces on the inner walls of the tank show that the first-stage oxidizer is a form of nitric acid called "red-fuming nitric acid," which is the standard oxidizer used in Scud-type missiles. There had been some speculation that this stage might instead use a more advanced fuel with nitrogen tetroxide (NTO) as the oxidizer. Since the Nodong engines believed to power the first stage are scaled-up Scud engines, the use of RNFA is not a surprise. There have also been claims that the stage uses a more advanced fuel called UDMH, but it appears instead to be the kerosene-based fuel used in Scuds. In his recent RAND study, Markus Schiller noted that a test Iraq performed using UDMH in a Scud engine gave poor performance, and that burning UDMH gives a transparent flame. The North Korean video of the launch instead shows an orange flame characteristic of Scud fuels (Figure 3 is an image from 12:44 into the video). These findings confirm that the stage is still Scud-level technology.'"
An anonymous reader writes in with news about a bird flu outbreak in Bangladesh. "At least 150,000 chickens and 300,000 eggs have been destroyed at a giant poultry farm near Dhaka in Bangladesh after the major outbreak of avian flu was detected last week, officials said Wednesday. This season's bird flu outbreak was the worst in five years. Officials at Bay Agro at Gazipur detected the deadly H5N1 flu strain 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Dhaka on Monday after dozens of birds died, which had prompted the poultry company to send samples to a laboratory for testing. 'There are about 150,000 chickens at the farm. We have already killed and destroyed 120,000 chickens and we will kill the rest today,' livestock department director Mosaddeq Hossain said, according to AFP. Hossain said that it was the worst avian flu outbreak in five years."
An anonymous reader writes with news of a study out of the Netherlands (abstract) about the link between psychosis and marijuana use. The researchers wanted to examine what caused the relationship — was marijuana use leading to psychosis, or did those suffering from psychosis have a higher tendency to seek out marijuana? As it turns out, they found evidence for both. From the article: "... using pot at 16 years old was linked to psychotic symptoms three years later, and psychotic symptoms at age 16 were linked to pot use at age 19. This was true even when the researchers accounted for mental illness in the kids' families, alcohol use and tobacco use. Griffith-Lendering said she could not say how much more likely young pot users were to exhibit psychotic symptoms later on. Also, the new study cannot prove one causes the other. Genetics may also explain the link between pot use and psychosis, said Griffith-Lendering."
Tests on milk from several different farms across the U.K. have turned up evidence for a new strain of MRSA — bacteria which have evolved resistance to common antibiotics. As long as the milk is properly pasteurized, it poses no threat to consumers, but anyone working directly with the animals bears a small risk of infection. According to The Independent, "The disclosure comes amid growing concern over the use of modern antibiotics on British farms, driven by price pressure imposed by the big supermarket chains. Intensive farming with thousands of animals raised in cramped conditions means infections spread faster and the need for antibiotics is consequently greater. Three classes of antibiotics rated as 'critically important to human medicine' by the World Health Organization – cephalosporins, fluoroquinolones and macrolides – have increased in use in the animal population by eightfold in the last decade."
Lockheed Martin and Boeing have been getting all government launch contracts for the past six years. That is, until SpaceX demonstrated they could reach the International Space Station successfully this year. Asked about the new competition brought by SpaceX, Lockheed CEO Robert Stevens made light of the younger company's success. "I’m hugely pleased with 66 in a row from [the Boeing-Lockheed alliance], and I don’t know the record of SpaceX yet," he said. "Two in a row?" When he was asked about the skyrocketing price of launching his sky rockets, he said, "You can thrift on cost. You can take cost out of a rocket. But I will guarantee you, in my experience, when you start pulling a lot of costs out of a rocket, your quality and your probability of success in delivering a payload to orbit diminishes." SpaceX CEO Elon Musk was blunt about the source of the price difference between the companies: "The fundamental reason SpaceX’s rockets are lower cost and more powerful is that our technology is significantly more advanced than that of the Lockheed-Boeing rockets, which were designed last century." The Delta IV and Atlas V rockets of Lockheed-Boeing average about $464 million per launch, while SpaceX's Falcon 9 launches for $54 million. Its upcoming Falcon Heavy will go up for $80-125 million.
An anonymous reader sends this excerpt from a UC Berkeley news release: "Our eyes may be our window to the world, but how do we make sense of the thousands of images that flood our retinas each day? Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have found that the brain is wired to put in order all the categories of objects and actions that we see. They have created the first interactive map of how the brain organizes these groupings."
A recent paper in Science (abstract) examines the insurance industry's reaction to climate change. The industry rakes in trillions of dollars in revenues every year, and a shifting climate would have the potential to drastically cut into the profits left over after settlements have been paid. Hurricane Sandy alone did about $80 billion worth of damage to New York and New Jersey. With incredible amounts of money at stake, the industry is taking climate projections quite seriously. From the article: "Many insurers are using climate science to better quantify and diversify their exposure, more accurately price and communicate risk, and target adaptation and loss-prevention efforts. They also analyze their extensive databases of historical weather- and climate-related losses, for both large- and small-scale events. But insurance modeling is a distinct discipline. Unlike climate models, insurers’ models extrapolate historical data rather than simulate the climate system, and they require outputs at finer scales and shorter time frames than climate models."
At John Scalzi's blog, astronomer and science fiction author Diane Turnshek writes about spending the holidays at the Mars Desert Research Station, a place in Utah where The Mars Society is running test missions to figure out proper procedures for living in a habitat on Mars. She says, "In sim, we eat rehydrated/dehydrated food, have a 20-minute lag time for communication, spend time in airlocks before going out on the surface and conserve water (Navy showers every three days). A row of parked ATVs out in front awaits us for our more distant EVAs. We have to be careful–the nearest hospital is forty miles away on back roads and there’s no cell service here on Mars. Reports are sent via email to Mission Support every evening in which we have to clearly explain any technical or medical problems and they respond in kind. I’ve been working in the Musk Observatory, taking CCD photometry of eclipsing binary stars." You can also read the mission's daily crew reports and browse through their photostream.
dcblogs writes "China is on track to overtake the U.S. in spending on research and development in about 10 years, as federal R&D spending either declines or remains flat. The U.S. today maintains a large lead in spending over China, with federal and private sector investment expected to reach $424 billion next year, a 1.2% increase. By contrast, China's overall R&D spending is $220 billion next year, an increase of 11.6% over 2012, a rate similar to previous years. This finding is shared by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. 'China's investment as a percentage of its GDP shows continuing, deliberate growth that, if it continues, should surpass the roughly flat United States investment within a decade,' it said in a report last month."
An anonymous reader writes with a story about the possibility of genetically engineered salmon showing up on your table. "A controversial genetically engineered salmon has moved a step closer to the consumer's dining table after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Friday the fish didn't appear likely to pose a threat to the environment or to humans who eat it. AquAdvantage salmon eggs would produce fish with the potential to grow to market size in half the time of conventional salmon. If it gets a final go-ahead, it would be the first food from a transgenic animal - one whose genome has been altered - to be approved by the FDA."
SternisheFan writes "NASA scientists are planning to capture a 500 ton asteroid, relocate it and turn it into a space station for astronauts to refuel on their way to Mars. From the article: 'The 1.6bn-pound plan will be considered by the White House's Office of Science and technology in the coming weeks, as it prepares to set its space exploration agenda for the next decade, the Daily Mail reported. According to a report prepared by NASA and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) scientists, an, 'asteroid capture capsule' would be attached to an old Atlas V rocket and directed towards the asteroid between the earth and the moon. Once close, the asteroid capsule would release a 50ft diameter bag that would wrap around the spinning rock using drawstrings. The craft would then turn on its thrusters, using an estimated 300kg of propellant, to stop the asteroid in its tracks and tow it into a gravitationally neutral spot. From here space explorers would have a stationary base from which to launch trips deeper into space. Though NASA declined to comment on the project, it is believed that technology would make it possible within 10-12 years. The technology would also open up the possibility of mining other asteroids for their metals and minerals. Some are full of iron which could be used in the making of new space stations, others are made up of water which could be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen to make fuel. It is hoped that the project will increase our understanding of asteroids, and even shed new light on the origin of life on Earth.'"
An anonymous reader writes "Researchers have discovered four wooden water wells in the Greater Leipzig region, Germany, which are believed to be the oldest known timber constructions in the world. A team of experts led by Willy Tegel and Dr. Dietrich Hakelberg from the Institute of Forest Growth of the University of Freiburg, Germany, uncovered the wells built during the early Neolithic period between the years 5206 and 5098 B.C." The (quite short) paper itself, and some cool pictures of the artifacts, are freely available.
dryriver writes "The BBC reports that cosmetic products using bee venom as an ingredient are a new 'hot seller' in the cosmetics market. Bee venom is said to have an effect on female skin similar to Botox injections, tightening the skin and making wrinkles and other signs of aging appear less pronounced than before. Unlike Botox, however, bee venom does not need to be injected, and can be absorbed through the skin naturally as an ingredient of cosmetic skin creme. Now comes the kicker: A special electrified device that causes bees to sting a synthetic membrane and release their venom can harvest about one gram of bee venom from 20 bee hives. That one gram of bee venom is worth a whopping 350 dollars. This makes bee venom almost seven times more valuable than gold, which, in comparison, is worth only about 53 dollars per gram."
New submitter dgrobinson writes "NY Times reports that West Antarctica has warmed more over the last half century than was first thought. A paper released Sunday by the journal Nature Geoscience (abstract) found that the temperature at a research station in the middle of West Antarctica has warmed by 4.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1958. That is roughly twice as much as scientists previously thought and three times the overall rate of global warming, making central West Antarctica one of the fastest-warming regions on earth."
SternisheFan writes with a snippet from Science Recorder: "Reporting in the journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, researchers at Brigham Young University say that the Hawaiian Islands are slowly dissolving. Eventually, Oahu's Koolau and Waianae mountains will dwindle to little more than a flat, low-lying island like Midway. While erosion is certainly a guilty party, researchers contend that the mountains of Oahu are, in fact, dissolving from within. Researchers spent several months collecting samples of groundwater and stream water to determine which source removed more mineral material. They also put to use surface water estimates from the U.S. Geological Survey to calculate the quantity of mass that vanished from the island each year. Researchers point out that Oahu is actually rising in elevation at a slow but steady rate due to plate tectonics. [BYU geologist Steve Nelson] and colleagues believe that Oahu will continue to grow for as long as 1.5 million years. Beyond that, the force of groundwater will eventually win and Oahu will begin its transformation to a flat, low-lying island like Midway." (If you have journal access, or don't mind forking over $40, you can read the original paper.)