Archive for the ‘NASA’ Category

by Bec Crew

Strange microbes have been found inside the massive, subterranean crystals of Mexico’s Naica Mine, and researchers suspect they’ve been living there for up to 50,000 years.

The ancient creatures appear to have been dormant for thousands of years, surviving in tiny pockets of liquid within the crystal structures. Now, scientists have managed to extract them – and wake them up.

“These organisms are so extraordinary,” astrobiologist Penelope Boston, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, said on Friday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston.

The Cave of Crystals in Mexico’s Naica Mine might look incredibly beautiful, but it’s one of the most inhospitable places on Earth, with temperatures ranging from 45 to 65°C (113 to 149°F), and humidity levels hitting more than 99 percent.

Not only are temperatures hellishly high, but the environment is also oppressively acidic, and confined to pitch-black darkness some 300 metres (1,000 feet) below the surface.

In lieu of any sunlight, microbes inside the cave can’t photosynthesise – instead, they perform chemosynthesis using minerals like iron and sulphur in the giant gypsum crystals, some of which stretch 11 metres (36 feet) long, and have been dated to half a million years old.

Researchers have previously found life living inside the walls of the cavern and nearby the crystals – a 2013 expedition to Naica reported the discovery of creatures thriving in the hot, saline springs of the complex cave system.

But when Boston and her team extracted liquid from the tiny gaps inside the crystals and sent them off to be analysed, they realised that not only was there life inside, but it was unlike anything they’d seen in the scientific record.

They suspect the creatures had been living inside their crystal castles for somewhere between 10,000 and 50,000 years, and while their bodies had mostly shut down, they were still very much alive.

“Other people have made longer-term claims for the antiquity of organisms that were still alive, but in this case these organisms are all very extraordinary – they are not very closely related to anything in the known genetic databases,” Boston told Jonathan Amos at BBC News.

What’s perhaps most extraordinary about the find is that the researchers were able to ‘revive’ some of the microbes, and grow cultures from them in the lab.

“Much to my surprise we got things to grow,” Boston told Sarah Knapton at The Telegraph. “It was laborious. We lost some of them – that’s just the game. They’ve got needs we can’t fulfil.”

At this point, we should be clear that the discovery has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, so until other scientists have had a chance to examine the methodology and findings, we can’t consider the discovery be definitive just yet.

The team will also need to convince the scientific community that the findings aren’t the result of contamination – these microbes are invisible to the naked eye, which means it’s possible that they attached themselves to the drilling equipment and made it look like they came from inside the crystals.

“I think that the presence of microbes trapped within fluid inclusions in Naica crystals is in principle possible,” Purificación López-García from the French National Centre for Scientific Research, who was part of the 2013 study that found life in the cave springs, told National Geographic.

“[But] contamination during drilling with microorganisms attached to the surface of these crystals or living in tiny fractures constitutes a very serious risk,” she says. I am very skeptical about the veracity of this finding until I see the evidence.”

That said, microbiologist Brent Christner from the University of Florida in Gainesville, who was also not involved in the research, thinks the claim isn’t as far-fetched as López-García is making it out to be, based on what previous studies have managed with similarly ancient microbes.

“[R]eviving microbes from samples of 10,000 to 50,000 years is not that outlandish based on previous reports of microbial resuscitations in geological materials hundreds of thousands to millions of years old,” he told National Geographic.

For their part, Boston and her team say they took every precaution to make sure their gear was sterilised, and cite the fact that the creatures they found inside the crystals were similar, but not identical to those living elsewhere in the cave as evidence to support their claims.

“We have also done genetic work and cultured the cave organisms that are alive now and exposed, and we see that some of those microbes are similar but not identical to those in the fluid inclusions,” she said.

Only time will tell if the results will bear out once they’re published for all to see, but if they are confirmed, it’s just further proof of the incredible hardiness of life on Earth, and points to what’s possible out there in the extreme conditions of space.

http://www.sciencealert.com/ancient-life-has-been-found-trapped-inside-these-giant-cave-crystals

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The crew of an Apollo mission to the moon were so startled when they encountered strange music-like radio transmissions coming through their headsets, they didn’t know whether or not to report it to NASA, it’s been revealed.

It was 1969, two months before Apollo 11’s historic first manned landing on the moon, when Apollo 10 entered lunar orbit, which included traversing the far side of the moon when all spacecraft are out of radio contact with Earth for about an hour and nobody on Earth can see or hear them.

As far as the public knew, everything about the mission went smoothly.

Almost four decades went by before lost recordings emerged that revealed something unsettling that the three Apollo astronauts had experienced while flying above the far side of the moon.

The taped recordings contained “strange, otherworldly music coming through the Apollo module’s radio,” according to the upcoming Science Channel series, “NASA’s Unexplained Files.”

The conversation between the three astronauts indicated they heard sounds like they had never heard before:

“It sounds like, you know, outer space-type music.”

“You hear that? That whistling sound? Whooooooooo!”

“Well, that sure is weird music!”
The unexplained “music” transmission lasted almost an hour, and just before the astronauts regained radio contact with Earth, they discussed whether or not to tell Mission Control what they had experienced:

“It’s unbelievable! You know?”

“Shall we tell them about it?”

“I don’t know. We ought to think about it.”

“The Apollo 10 crew was very used to the kind of noise that they should be hearing. Logic tells me that if there was something recorded on there, then there was something there,” Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden says on the Science Channel program. “NASA would withhold information from the public if they thought it was in the public’s best interest.”

The transcripts of the Apollo 10 mission were classified and untouched in NASA’s archives until 2008, producing an ongoing debate as to the nature and origin of the strange sounds heard by the astronauts.

“You don’t hear about anything like that until years after the incident occurs, and then you kind of wonder, because it’s such an old memory of those things that you get concerned about if they were making something up or was there something really there? Because you never really know,” Worden told The Huffington Post.

“If you’re behind the moon and hear some weird noise on your radio, and you know you’re blocked from the Earth, then what could you possibly think?” Worden said.

“We’d had a lot of incidents where guys who flew in space saw and heard things that they didn’t recognize, and you wonder about all of that. I have a very open mind about what could’ve happened. It’s somebody’s hearsay evidence — it’s only a visual or audio event, which is hard to pin down. Recollection is one thing, but actual proof is something entirely different.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/apollo-10-astronauts-reported-unexplained-music-at-moon_us_56c80662e4b0928f5a6c0679

Thirty years ago, as the nation mourned the loss of seven astronauts on the space shuttle Challenger, Bob Ebeling was steeped in his own deep grief.

The night before the launch, Ebeling and four other engineers at NASA contractor Morton Thiokol had tried to stop the launch. Their managers and NASA overruled them.

That night, he told his wife, Darlene, “It’s going to blow up.”

When Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, Ebeling and his colleagues sat stunned in a conference room at Thiokol’s headquarters outside Brigham City, Utah. They watched the spacecraft explode on a giant television screen and they knew exactly what had happened.

Three weeks later, Ebeling and another engineer separately and anonymously detailed to NPR the first account of that contentious pre-launch meeting. Both were despondent and in tears as they described hours of data review and arguments. The data showed that the rubber seals on the shuttle’s booster rockets wouldn’t seal properly in cold temperatures and this would be the coldest launch ever.

Ebeling, now 89, decided to let NPR identify him this time, on the 30th anniversary of the Challenger explosion.

“I was one of the few that was really close to the situation,” Ebeling recalls. “Had they listened to me and wait[ed] for a weather change, it might have been a completely different outcome.”

We spoke in the same house, kitchen and living room that we spoke in 30 years ago, when Ebeling didn’t want his name used or his voice recorded. He was afraid he would lose his job.

“I think the truth has to come out,” he says about the decision to speak privately then.

“NASA ruled the launch,” he explains. “They had their mind set on going up and proving to the world they were right and they knew what they were doing. But they didn’t.”

A presidential commission found flaws in the space agency’s decision-making process. But it’s still not clear why NASA was so anxious to launch without delay.

The space shuttle program had an ambitious launch schedule that year and NASA wanted to show it could launch regularly and reliably. President Ronald Reagan was also set to deliver the State of the Union address that evening and reportedly planned to tout the Challenger launch.

Whatever the reason, Ebeling says it didn’t justify the risk.

“There was more than enough [NASA officials and Thiokol managers] there to say, ‘Hey, let’s give it another day or two,’ ” Ebeling recalls. “But no one did.”

Ebeling retired soon after Challenger. He suffered deep depression and has never been able to lift the burden of guilt. In 1986, as he watched that haunting image again on a television screen, he said, “I could have done more. I should have done more.”

He says the same thing today, sitting in a big easy chair in the same living room, his eyes watery and his face grave. The data he and his fellow engineers presented, and their persistent and sometimes angry arguments, weren’t enough to sway Thiokol managers and NASA officials. Ebeling concludes he was inadequate. He didn’t argue the data well enough.

A religious man, this is something he has prayed about for the past 30 years.

“I think that was one of the mistakes that God made,” Ebeling says softly. “He shouldn’t have picked me for the job. But next time I talk to him, I’m gonna ask him, ‘Why me. You picked a loser.’ ”

I reminded him of something his late colleague and friend Roger Boisjoly once told me. Boisjoly was the other Thiokol engineer who spoke anonymously with NPR 30 years ago. He came to believe that he and Ebeling and their colleagues did all they could.

“We were talking to the right people,” Boisjoly told me. “We were talking to the people who had the power to stop that launch.”

“Maybe,” Ebeling says with a weak wave as I leave. “Maybe Roger’s right.”

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/01/28/464744781/30-years-after-disaster-challenger-engineer-still-blames-himself

When International Space Station commander Barry Wilmore needed a wrench, Nasa knew just what to do. They “emailed” him one. This is the first time an object has been designed on Earth and then transmitted to space for manufacture.

Made In Space, the California company that designed the 3D printer aboard the ISS, overheard Wilmore mentioning the need for a ratcheting socket wrench and decided to create one. Previously, if an astronaut needed a specific tool it would have to be flown up on the next mission to the ISS, which could take months.

This isn’t the first 3D printed object made in space, but it is the first created to meet the needs of an astronaut. In November astronauts aboard the ISS printed a replacement part for the recently installed 3D printer. A total of 21 objects have now been printed in space, all of which will be brought back to Earth for testing.

“We will use them to characterise the effects of long-term microgravity on our 3D-printing process, so that we can model and predict the performance of objects that we manufacture in space in the future,” explained Mike Chen from Made in Space.

Chen also explained the process of sending hardware to space. First, the part is designed by Made In Space in CAD software and converted into a file-format for the 3D printer. This file is then sent to Nasa before being transmitted to the ISS. In space the 3D printer receives the code and starts manufacturing.

“On the ISS this type of technology translates to lower costs for experiments, faster design iteration, and a safer, better experience for the crew members, who can use it to replace broken parts or create new tools on demand,” Chen said.

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2014-12/19/3d-printed-space-wrench

By Peter Shadbolt for CNN

A bio-drone that dissolves after use leaving no trace it ever existed may sound like the stuff of a James Bond film, but NASA and a team of researchers are actually building one.

Made from a substance that combines mushroom fibers and cloned paper wasp spit, the drone might resemble a propeller-powered egg carton, but its designers say it has the ability to fly into environmentally sensitive areas and leave almost no trace.

Lynn Rothschild, the NASA developer guiding students from Stanford-Brown-Spelman working on the project, says the drone could be made to disappear simply by ditching it into a stream or puddle.

She said her interest in unmanned aerial vehicles was sparked by work on environmentally sensitive areas in her Earth Science group at NASA.

“Periodically, UAVs get lost — for example on coral reefs or in other sensitive habitats,” she said in an interview with the project team.

“As I started to hear about this, I thought, ‘Well, wouldn’t it be useful if the UAV was biodegradable, so if it crashed somewhere that was sensitive, it wouldn’t matter if it dissolved.”

The mushroom-like substance known as mycelium, which makes up the chassis of the drone, is being hailed as the new plastic — a plastic that has the advantage of degrading quickly.

The team grew cellulose “leather” to coat the fungal body of the flying craft and then covered the sheets with proteins sourced from the saliva of paper wasps — a water resistant material that the insects use to cover their nests.

The circuits are printed from silver nanoparticle ink in an effort to make the machine as biodegradable as possible.

Despite a heavy preponderance of biological parts, the team said the project had its limits.

“There are definitely parts that can’t be replaced by biology, ” said Stanford University’s Raman Nelakanti.

At its first short flight at the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition in Boston, the team used a standard battery, motor and propellers to fly the drone.

Nevertheless, the team is working on making other parts biodegradable and is studying how to build its sensors from modified E. coli bacteria, the bacteria most commonly found in the intestines of humans and animals.

The team said that ultimately the drone could be sent into areas where it might not be expected to return such as wildfires or nuclear accidents, sending data and never coming back.

While the parts degrade naturally, the team also experimented with enzymes that would help the drone self-destruct, breaking it down further on impact.

Creating a drone that does not infect the environment has been another challenge for the team.

“If you have living organisms acting as biosensors and the plane crashes, there certainly could be problems as the plane interacts with the environment,” Rothschild said.

“Hopefully people could think of this in advance, and design such that this never becomes a problem.

“For example, on crashing, the cells might die. Or the cells could be attenuated. There are all sorts of other processes to keep them from contaminating the environment. But that, to me, is the largest concern with a biological UAV – having living things on the UAV.”

http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/10/tech/innovation/nasa-dissolving-drone/index.html?hpt=hp_c4

Here is the perfect example of how any two objects will fall at the same rate in a vacuum, brought to us by physicist Brian Cox. He checked out NASA’s Space Simulation Chamber located at the Space Power Facility in Ohio. With a volume of 22,653 cubic meters, it’s the largest vacuum chamber in the world.

In this clip from the BBC, Cox drops a bowling ball and a feather together, first in normal conditions, and then after virtually all the air has been sucked out of the chamber. We know what happens, but that doesn’t stop it from being awesome, especially with the team’s ecstatic faces.

http://www.iflscience.com/physics/dropping-bowling-ball-and-feather-vacuum

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

NASA’s Harold White has been working since 2010 to develop a warp drive that will allow spacecraft to travel at speeds faster than light — 186,000 miles per second.

White, who heads NASA’s Advanced Propulsion Team, spoke about his conceptual starship at a conference last fall. But interest in his project reached a new level this week when he unveiled images of what the craft might look like.

Created by artist Mark Rademaker, who based them on White’s designs, the images show a technologically detailed spacecraft that wouldn’t look out of place in a “Star Trek” movie. Rademaker says creating them took more than 1,600 hours.

For now, warp speed is only possible in TV and movies, with both “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” referencing an idea that was completely speculative at the time. White has fittingly named the concept spacecraft IXS Enterprise, for the starship famously piloted by Captain James T. Kirk in the “Star Trek” TV series and movies.

At the SpaceVision 2013 Space Conference last November in Phoenix, White talked about his design, the concepts behind it and the progress that’s been made in warp-drive development over the decades. He discussed the idea of a “space warp,” a loophole in the theory of general relativity that would allow for massive distances to be traveled very quickly, reducing travel times from thousands of years to days.

In his speech, White described space warps as faraway galaxies that can bend light around them. They work on the principle of bending space both in front of and behind a spacecraft. This would essentially allow for the empty space behind the craft to expand, both pushing and pulling it forward at the same time. The concept is similar to that of an escalator or moving walkway.

“There’s no speed limit on the expansion and contraction of space,” White said at the conference. “You can actually find a way to get around what I like to call the 11th commandment: Thou shall not exceed the speed of light.”

It’s the idea of space warps that inspired physicist Miguel Alcubierre in 1994 to first theorize a mathematical model of a warp drive that would be able to bend space and time. While studying Alcubierre’s equations, White decided to design his own retooled version of the Alcubierre Drive. His recently unveiled design has much less empty space than the first concept model, increasing its efficiency.

The warp drive that White’s team has been working on would literally transcend space, shortening the distance between two points and allowing the craft to break the speed of light. This would be a spaceship with no speed limit.

Because travel into space has been extremely limited due to existing means of propulsion, such a technology could blow open the possibilities of space exploration. It could allow for study of the farthest reaches of space, parts that scientists once considered unimaginable.

Although the technology to create the spacecraft or the warp drive doesn’t yet exist, the artistic renderings Rademaker created could potentially be a model of what’s to come — the first spacecraft to break the speed-of-light barrier and journey beyond our solar system.

In his design, White says he drew from Matthew Jeffries’ 1965 sketches of the Enterprise from “Star Trek,” saying parts of that ship were mathematically correct. He worked with Rademaker and graphic designer Mike Okuda to update the math and produce what he believes to be a viable spacecraft.

According to NASA, there hasn’t been any proof that a warp drive can exist, but the agency is experimenting nonetheless. Although the concept doesn’t violate the laws of physics, that doesn’t guarantee that it will work.

“We’re starting to talk about what the next chapter for human space exploration going to be,” White said at SpaceVision.

http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/12/tech/innovation/warp-speed-spaceship/index.html