A NASA center and the Pentagon’s lead research group are striking financial flint to steel in hopes of sparking a sustained effort to make interstellar space travel a reality.
On Thursday, an official with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced that the agency will award a $500,000 grant to the person or group who can lay out the most effective road map for financing and implementing a research and development program to lead to interstellar travel by early next century.
At that point, the government will bow out, leaving it up to the winner to turn the ideas on Powerpoint slides to a sustainable research program – one that also is likely to focus on the ethical, economic, and legal issues surrounding the prospect of launching humans to other stars.
If the first half of 2009 for NASA demonstrated the agency’s unwavering attention to safety, NASA not only continued that trend – upholding the utmost safety standards in the Space Shuttle and International Space Station Programs – during the second half of the year but also placed itself and its various programs in a tremendous position for the years to come.
Highlighting the second half of 2009 for NASA was the resolution of the Gaseous Hydrogen leaks at the Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate on the Shuttle launch pad (which resulted in the successful launch of STS-127/Endeavour in July), the midnight ride of Discovery on STS-128 in August, the amazingly successful test flight of the Ares I-X rocket in October, the discovery of water on the moon in October/November from the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the logistics run of shuttle Atlantis to the ISS in November.
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Earth as seen from Apollo 17 Credit: NASA Public domain
Myhrvold, is the president and founder of Intellectual Ventures and a former Microsoft Chief Technology Officer, who started his own company in 2000 to provide capital for new patents, innovative ideas, and software.
The former Microsoft engineer entered college at age 14 to study mathematics, space physics, and geophysics at UCLA, where he earned Masters and Bachelor of Science degrees. At age 23, he entered Princeton and completed his PhD in theoretical mathematics and earned a Masters in mathematical economics.
On a recent interview with CNN’s Zareed Zakaria, Myhrvold talked about how venture capital should be available, but in today’s market, it’s not.
“No one funds inventers,” Nathan said, and he wants to change that, because inventers from other countries, who used to come to the United States to get funding for their inventions innovative ideas, are no longer doing so. Without venture capital, Microsoft, Apple, and Intel would not exist today.
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Taken by astronaut William Anders from the Apollo 8 spacecraft, this December 1968 photo of Earth rising over the lunar surface would become one of the most famous images of the 20th century. Credit: NASA
NASA heads into 2010 with the bittersweet assignment of retiring the space shuttle after nearly three decades. But that’s not all the agency has planned: There are also launches of three new satellites aimed at better understanding the Earth’s climate and oceans, and the sun.
Two of the probes will examine Earth — specifically the concentration of salt in the world’s oceans and the presence of aerosol particles, such as soot, in the atmosphere. A third mission will study the sun and its effect on space weather including solar flares that can disrupt communication on Earth.
All three come at a critical time for NASA. Data from the two Earth probes will likely influence global-warming research, and the trio of launches could serve as bright spots in a year otherwise dominated by debate over the future of the agency’s manned space program.
“They are extraordinary timely,” said Michael Freilich, head of NASA’s Earth-science division, of the two Earth probes. “It is a quest for understanding of the Earth system and [to improve] our ability to predict how our wonderful environment and our planet is going to change in the future.”
Combined, the three missions will cost more than $1.5 billion.
Get the full details here…
Blue lines show Earth’s northern magnetic field and the magnetic north pole in an artist’s rendering. Credit: Stefan Maus, NOAA NGDC
Earth’s north magnetic pole is racing toward Russia at almost 40 miles (64 kilometers) a year due to magnetic changes in the planet’s core, new research says.
The core is too deep for scientists to directly detect its magnetic field. But researchers can infer the field’s movements by tracking how Earth’s magnetic field has been changing at the surface and in space.
Now, newly analyzed data suggest that there’s a region of rapidly changing magnetism on the core’s surface, possibly being created by a mysterious “plume” of magnetism arising from deeper in the core.
And it’s this region that could be pulling the magnetic pole away from its long-time location in northern Canada, said Arnaud Chulliat, a geophysicist at the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris in France.
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An unlikely source of energy has emerged to meet international demands that the United States do more to fight global warming: It’s cleaner than coal, cheaper than oil and a 90-year supply is under our feet.
It’s natural gas, the same fossil fuel that was in such short supply a decade ago that it was deemed unreliable. It’s now being uncovered at such a rapid pace that its price is near a seven-year low. Long used to heat half the nation’s homes, it’s becoming the fuel of choice when building new power plants. Someday, it may win wider acceptance as a replacement for gasoline in our cars and trucks.
Natural gas’ abundance and low price come as governments around the world debate how to curtail carbon dioxide and other pollution that contribute to global warming. The likely outcome is a tax on companies that spew excessive greenhouse gases. Utilities and other companies see natural gas as a way to lower emissions — and their costs. Yet politicians aren’t stumping for it.
In June, President Barack Obama lumped natural gas with oil and coal as energy sources the nation must move away from. He touts alternative sources — solar, wind and biofuels derived from corn and other plants. In Congress, the energy debate has focused on finding cleaner coal and saving thousands of mining jobs from West Virginia to Wyoming.
Utilities in the U.S. aren’t waiting for Washington to jump on the gas bandwagon. Looming climate legislation has altered the calculus that they use to determine the cheapest way to deliver power. Coal may still be cheaper, but natural gas emits half as much carbon when burned to generate the same amount electricity.
Nasa has released the latest raw images of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, from the Cassini spacecraft’s extended mission to the planet and its satellites.
The images show the moon’s rippling terrain in remarkable clarity.
Cassini started transmitting uncalibrated temperature data and images during a flyby on 21 November
The data will help scientists create a highly detailed mosaic image of the southern part of the moon’s Saturn-facing hemisphere, and a thermal map.
This thermal map will help researchers to study the long fractures in the south polar region of the moon’s surface, which have been dubbed “tiger stripes” and are warmer than the rest of the surface.
Scientists are particularly interested in these fissures because they spew out jets of water vapour, and other particles, in plumes that reach hundreds of kilometres above the surface.
This flyby was scientists’ last peek at the tiger stripes before the south pole fades into the darkness of winter for many years.
Read the rest here (more photos are also here)