Tag: spaceship (page 1 of 3)

David Bowie – Space Oddity

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Take a Spaceship Journey to Arp. 273 ~ Hubble Zoom

Arp 273 is a group of galaxies which interact with each other.  The constellation is 300 million light years away from Earth in the constellation Andromeda. The Andromeda galaxy is also located in the Andromeda constellation. The larger of th...

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Take an amazing spaceship journey to Omega Centauri


From Wikipedia.org: Omega Centauri (ω Cen), or NGC 5139, is a globular cluster in the constellation of Centaurus that was identified by Edmond Halley in 1677. Located at a distance of 15,800 light-years (4,850 pc), it is the largest globular cluster in the Milky Way galaxy at a diameter of roughly 150 light-years. It is estimated to contain approximately 10 million stars and a total mass equivalent to 4 million solar masses.
Omega Centauri is so distinctive from the other galactic globular clusters that it is thought to have an alternate origin as the core remnant of a disrupted dwarf galaxy.

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Spacecraft Falls From Orbit Over the Pacific, Russia Says






Excerpt from nytimes.com

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — An unmanned Russian spaceship loitering in orbit after a failed cargo run to the International Space Station plunged into Earth's atmosphere late on Thursday, the Russian space agency reported.

The capsule, loaded with more than three tons of food, fuel and supplies for the station crew, fell from orbit at 10:04 p.m. Eastern time, the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, said in a statement.
At the time, the Progress-59 spacecraft was flying over the central Pacific Ocean, the statement said.

Most of the spacecraft was expected to burn up during its high-speed descent through the atmosphere, but small pieces of the structure could have survived and splashed down in the ocean.
“Only a few small pieces of structural elements could reach the planet's surface,” Roscosmos said in a statement earlier Thursday — similar to what happens at the end of routine Progress cargo missions.

The freighter was launched on April 28 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, but never made to the station, a $100 billion research laboratory that flies about 250 miles above the earth.

Ground controllers lost contact with the Progress spaceship shortly after it separated from the upper stage of its Soyuz rocket about nine minutes after launch.

An investigation into the failed mission is underway, Roscosmos said. Russia has flown 62 Progress spacecraft to the station to deliver modules and cargo, two of which were not successful.
Various versions of the Progress freighters have been flying since 1978, supporting previous Soviet-era stations including Salyut 6, Salyut 7 and Mir. The capsules are designed to burn up in the atmosphere after delivering their cargo.

The United States hired privately owned Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, and Orbital ATK to fly cargo to the station after the space shuttles were retired in 2011. SpaceX's missions have all been successful.

Orbital lost a cargo ship in October after a failed launch. Europe flew five ATV freighters to the station, all successfully, but has no plans to fly more. Japan is preparing for its fifth HTV cargo flight in August.

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What astronomers learned when Messenger space probe crashed into Mercury



Excerpt from statecolumn.com


On April 30, NASA concluded an historic voyage known as the Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging mission. The mission came to an end when the spacecraft carrying analytical instruments, Messenger, crashed into the planet’s surface after consuming all of its fuel.
The mission was far from a waste, however, as NASA rarely expects to see the majority of the spacecraft they launch ever again. According to Discovery, The probe sent back a spectacular photo of the surface of Mercury, using the craft’s Narrow Angle Camera in tandem with the Mercury Dual Imaging System. The photo shows a mile-wide view of the nearby planet’s surface in 2.1 meters per pixel resolution.
Right after the probe delivered the photo to NASA’s Deep Space Network, which is a collection of global radio antennae that tracks data on the agency’s robotic missions around the solar system, the signal was lost in what scientists assume was the craft’s final contact with the closest planet to the sun.
The four-year mission came to an end when the craft could no longer maintain its orbit around the solar system’s innermost planet due to lack of fuel. Mercury is just 36 miles from the sun, compared to Earth, which is 93 million miles away from the center of the solar system. Mercury is a peculiar world, with both frigid and extremely hot temperatures. Messenger also revealed that Mercury has a magnetic field similar to that of Earth’s, created by the motion of metallic fluids within the planet’s core.
The main challenge the Messenger mission faced was getting the space probe into orbit around Mercury. Due to the planet’s proximity to the sun, it was extremely difficult for flight engineers to avoid its gravitational pull. In addition to the challenge of catching Mercury’s comparatively weak gravitational force, high temperatures also made things tricky. Messenger was equipped with a sunshield designed to protect the spaceship cool on the side that faced the sun. NASA engineers also attempted to chart a long, elliptical orbit around Mercury, giving Messenger time to cool off as it rounded the backside of the planet.
Messenger made over 4,000 orbits around Mercury between 2011 and 2015, many more than the originally planned one-year mission would allow.
With the close-up shots of Mercury’s surface provided by Messenger, NASA scientists were able to detect trace signals of magnetic activity in Mercury’s crust. Using clues from the number of impact craters on the surface, scientists figured that Mercury’s magnetized regions could be as old as 3.7 billion years. Astronomers count the craters on a planet in order to estimate its age – the logic being that younger surfaces should have fewer impact sites than older surfaces.
The data sent back by Messenger has caused astronomers to reconsider their understanding of Mercury’s magnetic history. They now date the beginning of magnetism on Mercury to about 700 million years after the planet was formed. They cannot say for sure, however, if the magnetic field has been consistently active over this timeframe.
According to Messenger guest investigator Catherine Johnson, geophysicist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, that it was possible the magnetic field has been active under constant conditions, though she suspects it might also oscillate over time, like Earth’s. Information for the time period between 4 billion years ago and present day is sparse, though Johnson added that additional research is in the pipeline.
Johnson was pleased, however, with the insight offered into Mercury’s formation provided by these new magnetic clues. Magnetism on a planetary scale typically indicates a liquid metal interior. Since Mercury is so tiny, scientists originally believed that its center would be solid, due to the rate of cooling. The presence of liquid in the planet’s center suggests other materials’ presence, which would lower the freezing point. This suggests that a totally solid core would be unlikely.
Mercury’s magnetic field offers valuable insight into the formation of the planet, the solar system, and even the universe. Magnetism on Mercury indicates that it has a liquid iron core, according to Messenger lead scientist Sean Solomon of Columbia University.

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Take a spaceship journey to a galaxy cluster five billion light-years away


Annotated image of the field around CLASS B1608+656

Most of the galaxies visible in this Hubble image are members of a huge cluster called CLASS B1608+656, which lies about five billion light-years away. But the field also contains other objects that are both significantly closer and far more distant — including two gravitational lenses dubbed Fred and Ginger.

These contain enough mass to visibly distort the light from objects behind them. Fred, also known more prosaically as [FMK2006] ACS J160919+6532, lies near the lens galaxies in CLASS B1608+656, while Ginger ([FMK2006] ACS J160910+6532) is markedly closer to us. Despite their different distances from us, both can be seen near to CLASS B1608+656 in the central region of this Hubble image, and are labelled.
Credit:ASA, ESA


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The Messenger of fate: NASA spacecraft smashes into planet Mercury

Excerpt from usatoday.comIts fuel tanks empty and its options gone, NASA's Messenger spacecraft smashed into planet Mercury on Thursday afternoon after valiantly fighting off the inevitable.Engineers calculated that the spacecraft, traveling a scorc...

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Top Secret Government Programs That Your Not Supposed To Know About

Originally Posted at in5d.com The following is the alleged result of the actions of one or more scientists creating a covert, unauthorized notebook documenting their involvement with an Above Top Secret government program. Government publications and information obtained by the use of public tax monies cannot be subject to copyright. This document is released into the public domain for all citizens of the United States of America. THE ‘MAJIC PROJECTS’ SIGMA is the project whic [...]

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Have Aliens Left The Universe? Theory Predicts We’ll Follow

























Excerpt from robertlanza.com

In Star Wars, the bars are bustling with all types of alien creatures. And then, of course, there’s Yoda and Chewbacca. Recently, renowned scientist Stephen Hawking stated that he too believes aliens exist: “To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational.”

Hawking thinks we should be cautious about interacting with aliens — that they might raid Earth’s resources, take our ores, and then move on like pirates. “I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach.”
But where are they all anyhow?

For years, NASA and others have been searching for extraterrestrial intelligence. The universe is 13.7 billion years old and contains some 10 billion trillion stars. Surely, in this lapse of suns, advanced life would have evolved if it were possible. Yet despite half a century of scanning the sky, astronomers have failed to find any evidence of life or to pick up any of the interstellar radio signals that our great antennas should be able to easily detect.

Some scientists point to the “Fermi Paradox,” noting that extraterrestrials should have had plenty of time to colonize the entire galaxy but that perhaps they’ve blown themselves up. It’s conceivable the problem is more fundamental and that the answer has to do with the evolutionary course of life itself.

Look at the plants in your backyard. What are they but a stem with roots and leaves bringing nutriments to the organism? After billions of years of evolution, it was inevitable life would acquire the ability to locomote, to hunt and see, to protect itself from competitors. 
Observe the ants in the woodpile — they can engage in combat just as resolutely as humans. Our guns and ICBM are merely the mandibles of a cleverer ant. The effort for self-preservation is vague and varied. But when we’ve overcome our struggles, what do we do next? Build taller and more splendid houses?

What happens after life completes its transition to perfection? Perhaps across space, more advanced intelligences have taken the next evolutionary step. Perhaps they’ve evolved beyond the three dimensions we vertebrates know. A new theory — Biocentrism — tells us that space and time aren’t physical matrices, but simply tools our mind uses to put everything together. These algorithms are the key to consciousness, and why space and time — indeed the properties of matter itself — are relative to the observer. More advanced civilizations would surely understand these algorithms well enough to create realities that we can’t even imagine, and to have expanded beyond our corporeal cage.

Like breathing, we take for granted how our mind puts everything together. I can recall a dream I had of a flying saucer landing in Times Square. It was so real it took awhile to convince myself that it was a dream (that I was actually at home in bed). I was standing in a crowd surrounded by skyscrapers when a massive spaceship appeared overhead. Everyone started running. My mind had somehow generated this spatio-temporal experience out of electrochemical information. I could feel the vibrations under my feet as the ship started to land, merging this 3D world with my inner thoughts and sensations.

Although I was in bed with my eyes closed, I was able to run and move my arms and fingers. My mind had created a fully functioning body and placed it in a virtual world (replete with clouds in the sky and the Sun) that was indistinguishable from the one I’m in right now. Life as we know it is defined by this spatial-temporal logic, which traps us in the universe of up and down. But like my dream, quantum theory confirms that the properties of particles in the “real” world are also observer-determined.

Other information systems surely exist that correspond to other physical realities, universes based on logic completely different from ours and not based on space and time as we know it. In fact, the simplest invertebrates may only experience existence in one dimension of space. Evolutionary biology suggests life has progressed from a one dimensional reality, to two dimensions to three dimensions, and there’s no scientific reason to think that the evolution of life stops there.

Advanced civilizations would certainly have changed the algorithms so that instead of being trapped in the linear dimensions we find ourselves in, their consciousness moves through the multiverse and beyond. Why would Aliens build massive ships and spend thousands of years to colonize planetary systems (most of which are probably useless and barren), when they could simply tinker with the algorithms and get whatever they want?

Life on Earth is just beginning to send its shoots upward into the heavens. We’ve even flung a piece of metal outside the solar system. Affixed to the spacecraft is a record with greetings in 60 languages. One can’t but wonder whether some civilization more advanced than ours will come upon it. Or will it just drift across the gulf of space? To me the answer is clear. But in case I’m wrong, I have a pitch fork guarding the ore in my backyard.

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Virgin Galactic Opens LauncherOne Facility in Long Beach ~ Schedules March 7th Job Fair


 


Excerpt from spacenews.com
by Jeff Foust 

Virgin Galactic announced Feb. 12 that the company is opening a new facility in Long Beach, California, devoted to development of its small satellite launch vehicle.  Virgin Galactic said that it is leasing a 13,900-square-meter building at the Long Beach Airport that it will use for the design and manufacturing of LauncherOne.

The company did not disclose the terms of the lease.  “The technical progress our team has made designing and testing LauncherOne has enabled a move into a dedicated facility to produce the rocket at quantity,” Virgin Galactic chief executive George Whitesides said in a statement announcing the new facility. 

LauncherOne work has been based to date in Mojave, California.  LauncherOne is an air-launch system for satellites weighing up to 225 kilograms. The system will use the same aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo, as the company’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle, but replaces SpaceShipTwo with a two-stage launch vehicle using engines fueled by liquid oxygen and kerosene.  At the Federal Aviation Administration Commercial Space Transportation Conference Feb. 4, William Pomerantz, vice president of special projects for Virgin Galactic, said the company has already tested engines and other “core infrastructure” of LauncherOne. 

“We are a fairly vertically-integrated team,” he said. “We really do control a lot of the production in house.”  Pomerantz said that about 60 of the 450 employees of Virgin Galactic and its wholly-owned subsidiary, The Spaceship Company, are currently dedicated to the LauncherOne program.  Virgin Galactic said it will hold a job fair at its new Long Beach facility March 7, but did not disclose how many people it plans to hire there. The Virgin Galactic website lists approximately 20 job opening related to the LauncherOne program as of Feb. 12.  When Virgin Galactic announced the LauncherOne program in 2012, it said it had signed up several companies as initial customers, including Planetary Resources, GeoOptics, Spaceflight Inc., and Skybox Imaging, since acquired by Google.  

In January, the Virgin Group announced it was investing in OneWeb, a venture that plans a constellation of nearly 650 satellites in low Earth orbit to provide broadband communications, with at least some of those satellites to be launched by LauncherOne. 

Virgin Galactic Opens LauncherOne Facility in Long Beach

by — February 12, 2015
Virgin Galactic LauncherOne
Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne. Credit: Virgin Galactic
WASHINGTON — Virgin Galactic announced Feb. 12 that the company is opening a new facility in Long Beach, California, devoted to development of its small satellite launch vehicle.
Virgin Galactic said that it is leasing a 13,900-square-meter building at the Long Beach Airport that it will use for the design and manufacturing of LauncherOne. The company did not disclose the terms of the lease.
“The technical progress our team has made designing and testing LauncherOne has enabled a move into a dedicated facility to produce the rocket at quantity,” Virgin Galactic chief executive George Whitesides said in a statement announcing the new facility. LauncherOne work has been based to date in Mojave, California.
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LauncherOne is an air-launch system for satellites weighing up to 225 kilograms. The system will use the same aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo, as the company’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle, but replaces SpaceShipTwo with a two-stage launch vehicle using engines fueled by liquid oxygen and kerosene.
At the Federal Aviation Administration Commercial Space Transportation Conference Feb. 4, William Pomerantz, vice president of special projects for Virgin Galactic, said the company has already tested engines and other “core infrastructure” of LauncherOne. “We are a fairly vertically-integrated team,” he said. “We really do control a lot of the production in house.”
Pomerantz said that about 60 of the 450 employees of Virgin Galactic and its wholly-owned subsidiary, The Spaceship Company, are currently dedicated to the LauncherOne program.
Virgin Galactic said it will hold a job fair at its new Long Beach facility March 7, but did not disclose how many people it plans to hire there. The Virgin Galactic website lists approximately 20 job opening related to the LauncherOne program as of Feb. 12.
When Virgin Galactic announced the LauncherOne program in 2012, it said it had signed up several companies as initial customers, including Planetary Resources, GeoOptics, Spaceflight Inc., and Skybox Imaging, since acquired by Google.
In January, the Virgin Group announced it was investing in OneWeb, a venture that plans a constellation of nearly 650 satellites in low Earth orbit to provide broadband communications, with at least some of those satellites to be launched by LauncherOne.
- See more at: http://spacenews.com/virgin-galactic-opens-launcherone-facility-in-long-beach/#sthash.sxcVmjTW.dpuf

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The Future of Technology in 2015?




Excerpt from
cnet.com


The year gone by brought us more robots, worries about artificial intelligence, and difficult lessons on space travel. The big question: where's it all taking us?

Every year, we capture a little bit more of the future -- and yet the future insists on staying ever out of reach.
Consider space travel. Humans have been traveling beyond the atmosphere for more than 50 years now -- but aside from a few overnights on the moon four decades ago, we have yet to venture beyond low Earth orbit.
Or robots. They help build our cars and clean our kitchen floors, but no one would mistake a Kuka or a Roomba for the replicants in "Blade Runner." Siri, Cortana and Alexa, meanwhile, are bringing some personality to the gadgets in our pockets and our houses. Still, that's a long way from HAL or that lad David from the movie "A.I. Artificial Intelligence."
Self-driving cars? Still in low gear, and carrying some bureaucratic baggage that prevents them from ditching certain technology of yesteryear, like steering wheels.
And even when these sci-fi things arrive, will we embrace them? A Pew study earlier this year found that Americans are decidedly undecided. Among the poll respondents, 48 percent said they would like to take a ride in a driverless car, but 50 percent would not. And only 3 percent said they would like to own one.
"Despite their general optimism about the long-term impact of technological change," Aaron Smith of the Pew Research Center wrote in the report, "Americans express significant reservations about some of these potentially short-term developments" such as US airspace being opened to personal drones, robot caregivers for the elderly or wearable or implantable computing devices that would feed them information.
Let's take a look at how much of the future we grasped in 2014 and what we could gain in 2015.

Space travel: 'Space flight is hard'

In 2014, earthlings scored an unprecedented achievement in space exploration when the European Space Agency landed a spacecraft on a speeding comet, with the potential to learn more about the origins of life. No, Bruce Willis wasn't aboard. Nobody was. But when the 220-pound Philae lander, carried to its destination by the Rosetta orbiter, touched down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 12, some 300 million miles from Earth, the celebration was well-earned.
A shadow quickly fell on the jubilation, however. Philae could not stick its first landing, bouncing into a darker corner of the comet where its solar panels would not receive enough sunlight to charge the lander's batteries. After two days and just a handful of initial readings sent home, it shut down. For good? Backers have allowed for a ray of hope as the comet passes closer to the sun in 2015. "I think within the team there is no doubt that [Philae] will wake up," lead lander scientist Jean-Pierre Bibring said in December. "And the question is OK, in what shape? My suspicion is we'll be in good shape."
The trip for NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has been much longer: 3 billion miles, all the way to Pluto and the edge of the solar system. Almost nine years after it left Earth, New Horizons in early December came out of hibernation to begin its mission: to explore "a new class of planets we've never seen, in a place we've never been before," said project scientist Hal Weaver. In January, it will begin taking photos and readings of Pluto, and by mid-July, when it swoops closest to Pluto, it will have sent back detailed information about the dwarf planet and its moon, en route to even deeper space.


Also in December, NASA made a first test spaceflight of its Orion capsule on a quick morning jaunt out and back, to just over 3,600 miles above Earth (or approximately 15 times higher than the International Space Station). The distance was trivial compared to those those traveled by Rosetta and New Horizons, and crewed missions won't begin till 2021, but the ambitions are great -- in the 2030s, Orion is expected to carry humans to Mars.
In late March 2015, two humans will head to the ISS to take up residence for a full year, in what would be a record sleepover in orbit. "If a mission to Mars is going to take a three-year round trip," said NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who will be joined in the effort by Russia's Mikhail Kornienko, "we need to know better how our body and our physiology performs over durations longer than what we've previously on the space station investigated, which is six months."
There were more sobering moments, too, in 2014. In October, Virgin Galactic's sleek, experimental SpaceShipTwo, designed to carry deep-pocketed tourists into space, crashed in the Mojave Desert during a test flight, killing one test pilot and injuring the other. Virgin founder Richard Branson had hoped his vessel would make its first commercial flight by the end of this year or in early 2015, and what comes next remains to be seen. Branson, though, expressed optimism: "Space flight is hard -- but worth it," he said in a blog post shortly after the crash, and in a press conference, he vowed "We'll learn from this, and move forward together." Virgin Galactic could begin testing its next spaceship as soon as early 2015.
The crash of SpaceShipTwo came just a few days after the explosion of an Orbital Sciences rocket lofting an unmanned spacecraft with supplies bound for the International Space Station. And in July, Elon Musk's SpaceX had suffered the loss of one of its Falcon 9 rockets during a test flight. Musk intoned, via Twitter, that "rockets are tricky..."
Still, it was on the whole a good year for SpaceX. In May, it unveiled its first manned spacecraft, the Dragon V2, intended for trips to and from the space station, and in September, it won a $2.6 billion contract from NASA to become one of the first private companies (the other being Boeing) to ferry astronauts to the ISS, beginning as early as 2017. Oh, and SpaceX also has plans to launch microsatellites to establish low-cost Internet service around the globe, saying in November to expect an announcement about that in two to three months -- that is, early in 2015.
One more thing to watch for next year: another launch of the super-secret X-37B space place to do whatever it does during its marathon trips into orbit. The third spaceflight of an X-37B -- a robotic vehicle that, at 29 feet in length, looks like a miniature space shuttle -- ended in October after an astonishing 22 months circling the Earth, conducting "on-orbit experiments."

Self-driving cars: Asleep at what wheel?

Spacecraft aren't the only vehicles capable of autonomous travel -- increasingly, cars are, too. Automakers are toiling toward self-driving cars, and Elon Musk -- whose name comes up again and again when we talk about the near horizon for sci-fi tech -- says we're less than a decade away from capturing that aspect of the future. In October, speaking in his guise as founder of Tesla Motors, Musk said: "Like maybe five or six years from now I think we'll be able to achieve true autonomous driving where you could literally get in the car, go to sleep and wake up at your destination." (He also allowed that we should tack on a few years after that before government regulators give that technology their blessing.)
Prototype, unbound: Google's ride of the future, as it looks today Google
That comment came as Musk unveiled a new autopilot feature -- characterizing it as a sort of super cruise control, rather than actual autonomy -- for Tesla's existing line of electric cars. Every Model S manufactured since late September includes new sensor hardware to enable those autopilot capabilities (such as adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance and automated parking), to be followed by an over-the-air software update to enable those features.
Google has long been working on its own robo-cars, and until this year, that meant taking existing models -- a Prius here, a Lexus there -- and buckling on extraneous gear. Then in May, the tech titan took the wraps off a completely new prototype that it had built from scratch. (In December, it showed off the first fully functional prototype.) It looked rather like a cartoon car, but the real news was that there was no steering wheel, gas pedal or brake pedal -- no need for human controls when software and sensors are there to do the work.
Or not so fast. In August, California's Department of Motor Vehicles declared that Google's test vehicles will need those manual controls after all -- for safety's sake. The company agreed to comply with the state's rules, which went into effect in September, when it began testing the cars on private roads in October.
Regardless of who's making your future robo-car, the vehicle is going to have to be not just smart, but actually thoughtful. It's not enough for the car to know how far it is from nearby cars or what the road conditions are. The machine may well have to make no-win decisions, just as human drivers sometimes do in instantaneous, life-and-death emergencies. "The car is calculating a lot of consequences of its actions," Chris Gerdes, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, said at the Web Summit conference in Dublin, Ireland, in November. "Should it hit the person without a helmet? The larger car or the smaller car?"

Robots: Legging it out

So when do the robots finally become our overlords? Probably not in 2015, but there's sure to be more hand-wringing about both the machines and the artificial intelligence that could -- someday -- make them a match for homo sapiens. At the moment, the threat seems more mundane: when do we lose our jobs to a robot?
The inquisitive folks at Pew took that very topic to nearly 1,900 experts, including Vint Cerf, vice president at Google; Web guru Tim Bray; Justin Reich of Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet & Society; and Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher at Microsoft. According to the resulting report, published in August, the group was almost evenly split -- 48 percent thought it likely that, by 2025, robots and digital agents will have displaced significant numbers of blue- and white-collar workers, perhaps even to the point of breakdowns in the social order, while 52 percent "have faith that human ingenuity will create new jobs, industries, and ways to make a living, just as it has been doing since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution."


Still, for all of the startling skills that robots have acquired so far, they're often not all there yet. Here's some of what we saw from the robot world in 2014:
Teamwork: Researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale De Lausanne in May showed off their "Roombots," cog-like robotic balls that can join forces to, say, help a table move across a room or change its height.
A sense of balance: We don't know if Boston Dynamics' humanoid Atlas is ready to trim bonsai trees, but it has learned this much from "The Karate Kid" (the original from the 1980s) -- it can stand on cinder blocks and hold its balance in a crane stance while moving its arms up and down.
Catlike jumps: MIT's cheetah-bot gets higher marks for locomotion. Fed a new algorithm, it can run across a lawn and bound like a cat. And quietly, too. "Our robot can be silent and as efficient as animals. The only things you hear are the feet hitting the ground," MIT's Sangbae Kim, a professor of mechanical engineering, told MIT News. "This is kind of a new paradigm where we're controlling force in a highly dynamic situation. Any legged robot should be able to do this in the future."
Sign language: Toshiba's humanoid Aiko Chihira communicated in Japanese sign language at the CEATEC show in October. Her rudimentary skills, limited for the moment to simple messages such as signed greetings, are expected to blossom by 2020 into areas such as speech synthesis and speech recognition.
Dance skills: Robotic pole dancers? Tobit Software brought a pair, controllable by an Android smartphone, to the Cebit trade show in Germany in March. More lifelike was the animatronic sculpture at a gallery in New York that same month -- but what was up with that witch mask?
Emotional ambition: Eventually, we'll all have humanoid companions -- at least, that's always been one school of thought on our robotic future. One early candidate for that honor could be Pepper, from Softbank and Aldebaran Robotics, which say the 4-foot-tall Pepper is the first robot to read emotions. This emo-bot is expected to go on sale in Japan in February.

Ray guns: Ship shape

Damn the photon torpedoes, and full speed ahead. That could be the motto for the US Navy, which in 2014 deployed a prototype laser weapon -- just one -- aboard a vessel in the Persian Gulf. Through some three months of testing, the device "locked on and destroyed the targets we designated with near-instantaneous lethality," Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder, chief of naval research, said in a statement. Those targets were rather modest -- small objects mounted aboard a speeding small boat, a diminutive Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle, and so on -- but the point was made: the laser weapon, operated by a controller like those used for video games, held up well, even in adverse conditions.

Artificial intelligence: Danger, Will Robinson?

What happens when robots and other smart machines can not only do, but also think? Will they appreciate us for all our quirky human high and low points, and learn to live with us? Or do they take a hard look at a species that's run its course and either turn us into natural resources, "Matrix"-style, or rain down destruction?
laser-weapon-system-on-uss-ponce.jpg
When the machines take over, will they be packing laser weapons like this one the US Navy just tried out? John F. Williams/US Navy
As we look ahead to the reboot of the "Terminator" film franchise in 2015, we can't help but recall some of the dire thoughts about artificial intelligence from two people high in the tech pantheon, the very busy Musk and the theoretically inclined Stephen Hawking.
Musk himself more than once in 2014 invoked the likes of the "Terminator" movies and the "scary outcomes" that make them such thrilling popcorn fare. Except that he sees a potentially scary reality evolving. In an interview with CNBC in June, he spoke of his investment in AI-minded companies like Vicarious and Deep Mind, saying: "I like to just keep an eye on what's going on with artificial intelligence. I think there is potentially a dangerous outcome."
He has put his anxieties into some particularly colorful phrases. In August, for instance, Musk tweeted that AI is "potentially more dangerous than nukes." And in October, he said this at a symposium at MIT: "With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon. ... You know all those stories where there's the guy with the pentagram and the holy water and he's like... yeah, he's sure he can control the demon, [but] it doesn't work out."
Musk has a kindred spirit in Stephen Hawking. The physicist allowed in May that AI could be the "biggest event in human history," and not necessarily in a good way. A month later, he was telling John Oliver, on HBO's "Last Week Tonight," that "artificial intelligence could be a real danger in the not too distant future." How so? "It could design improvements to itself and outsmart us all."
But Google's Eric Schmidt, is having none of that pessimism. At a summit on innovation in December, the executive chairman of the far-thinking tech titan -- which in October teamed up with Oxford University to speed up research on artificial intelligence -- said that while our worries may be natural, "they're also misguided."

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NASA’s Orion Conquers Orbital Test as U.S. Budget Debate Looms




Excerpt from
businessweek.com

The Orion spacecraft’s almost flawless debut flight set the stage for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s next challenge: finding the funding to carry humans to Mars in the 2030s. 
The Apollo-like capsule orbited Earth twice yesterday to test critical functions, a 4 1/2-hour trip for the first U.S. vehicle built to transport humans to space since the shuttle in 1981. Now NASA must find political allies to keep championing a program that has already cost $7.4 billion. 

The voyage, less than two months after a pair of disasters stunned the commercial space industry, helps bolster NASA’s case for its biggest-ever expedition. Spending over 20 years for a Mars mission would dwarf outlays for the $100 billion International Space Station, the most expensive structure ever built.

“We have a new Congress in January -- let’s see what happens,” said Henry Hertzfeld, research professor of space policy and international affairs at George Washington University. At the very least, “anytime you have a success like that on something new, it’s great.” 

The NASA exploration budget that finances Orion and a new heavy-lift rocket is one of the few non-defense budget accounts for which House Republicans have proposed an increase from President Barack Obama’s request for fiscal 2015, said Brian Friel, a government fiscal analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence.

Spending Projections

Spending would rise 5 percent to $4.17 billion under the House bill, while the Senate proposes a 10 percent increase to $4.37 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The largest beneficiaries from more spending would be Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT:US), which manufactured the Orion, and Boeing Co. (BA:US), the contractor’s co-owner of the venture building the new rocket.

Orion is the first spaceship developed to carry humans beyond the moon, and later versions will be fine-tuned to travel to asteroids next decade and to Mars in the 2030s. NASA is targeting an Orion trip with astronauts by 2021. 

While Orion was among the top trending topics worldwide on Twitter.com, NASA’s new ambitions are unfolding amid a federal budget squeeze and the short attention spans of the social-media era, not the race-for-the-moon competition of the Cold War. 

At Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, where a Delta IV Heavy rocket carried Orion aloft, some of the weather-worn buildings displayed faded signs from news organizations that once camped out to chronicle the Apollo program. They were a reminder that interest in NASA diminished after the U.S. won the race to the moon.



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Mars Capsule Test Heralds New Space Age With Musk Alongside NASA




Excerpt from
bloomberg.com

The U.S. is preparing to launch the first craft developed to fly humans to Mars, presaging a second space age -- this one fueled by billionaires like Elon Musk rather than a Cold War contest with the Soviet Union. 

An unmanned version of the Orion spaceship built by Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) is scheduled for liftoff tomorrow to an altitude of 3,600 miles (5,800 kilometers), the farthest from Earth by a vehicle designed for people since the Apollo program was scrapped in 1972. 

Entrepreneurs such as Musk and longtime contractors like Lockheed are helping shape the technology needed to find other homes for humanity in the solar system with an eye to one day commercializing their work. 

“These are really exciting times for space exploration and for our nation as we begin to return to the ability to fly humans to space,” said Jim Crocker, vice president and general manager of civil space at Lockheed Martin Space Systems. “What Orion is about is going further into space than humans have ever gone before.”
Photographer: Brent Lewis/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop a Delta IV rocket, the Orion capsule will test the riskiest systems needed to carry astronauts far beyond the moon, although its first flight will cover only about 2 percent of the 238,900-mile distance to the lunar surface.

Speed Limit

After orbiting earth twice, Orion will accelerate to 20,000 miles per hour during descent, mimicking the speeds of a craft returning from a mission to deep space. The capsule is supposed to make a parachute-cushioned splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off Mexico’s Baja peninsula. 

To explore the universe, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration must first redevelop capabilities abandoned more than 40 years ago when the U.S. shifted focus from Apollo’s lunar forays to rocketing crews a few hundred miles to low Earth orbit.
NASA has used Russian craft to reach the International Space Station since the space shuttle program ended in 2011. 

In a strategic shift, the Obama administration canceled plans to return to the moon, turning some flights to commercial companies while setting its sights -- and limited funds -- on pioneering deep space. The Orion capsule was originally commissioned in 2006 for the defunct Constellation program.

Musk, Bezos

Those moves paved the way for technology chieftains including Musk and Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) founder Jeff Bezos to pursue their own space ambitions. 

Musk founded Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX in 2002 with the goal of enabling people to live on other planets, a massive endeavor that would require innovations such as reusable rocket stages to lower costs. 

Mars is also in focus for NASA as the space agency maps plans to “pioneer the space frontier,” according to a May 29 white paper.

$22 Billion

NASA proposes an initial $22 billion effort that includes two other Orion missions over the next eight years and building a powerful new rocket. The Delta IV being used tomorrow is manufactured by United Launch Alliance, a Lockheed-Boeing Co. (BA) venture.

A new Space Launch System rocket being developed by the partnership is slated to hoist the next Orion craft beyond the moon in fiscal 2018, Lockheed’s Crocker said in a phone interview. The first manned Orion mission is slated for early in the next decade.
NASA’s plans are “sketchy” beyond that, aside from broad goals to capture asteroid samples in the 2020s and reach Mars a decade later, said Marco Caceres, director of space studies with Fairfax, Virginia-based consultant Teal Group. 

Average Distance

While Mars’s distance from Earth varies because of the two planets’ orbits, the average is about 140 million miles, almost 600 times longer than a trip to the moon. It’s so far that radio communications take as long as 20 minutes to travel each way, according to Bill Hill, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development. 


Entrepreneurs such as Musk will have opportunities to get involved as NASA refines capsule and rocket designs. NASA plans to develop two larger rockets beyond the initial launch vehicle, which will be capable of hauling a 70-metric ton payload. 

“We’re not taking any options off the table,” Hill said. “We want to be sufficiently flexible so that if we find a new path, we can introduce it and not change course.” 

Expense, shifting political priorities and the lack of a clear NASA road map could still derail the latest effort as they did the Apollo program in the early 1970s, said Micah Walter-Range, director of research analysis with the Space Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. 

“All of the challenges that exist are surmountable,” Walter-Range said by phone. “It’s just a question of having the money to do it.”

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