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Posts Tagged ‘NASA’

NASA closer to getting extra space shuttle flight [via the AP]

President Barack Obama signed a budget bill for NASA yesterday directing the nation’s space agency to move ahead with one more space shuttle flight before retiring the fleet. Funding for the final mission is not yet secure, but Senate Democrats noted they hope the issues will be worked out during the upcoming lame duck session. Only four astronauts, rather than the usual seven, will go on the mission in case the shuttle is damaged and cannot land. In that case, the astronauts would have to wait for rescue at the International Space Station, which could take up to a year.

New carnivorous mammal species found in Madagascar [via the BBC]

Scientists have announced that they discovered a new mongoose-like mammal, dubbed Durrell’s vontsira, in the wetlands surrounding Lake Alaotra in Madagascar. The cat-sized creature was first discovered in 2005, and researchers believe its wetland habitat is being threatened by invasive species. Discovering a new carnivore is “particularly unusual,” said researcher Paula Jenkins. “We know of only two animals in the wild. It has only been found in the wetlands of [Lake] Alaotra in Madagascar, so it lives in a very small area and is consequently vulnerable to the pressures on this threatened habitat.”

More black people jailed in England and Wales proportionally than in US [via The Guardian]

England and Wales imprison a greater proportion of black people to the overall population than the United States, a report from Britain’s Equality and Human Right Commission found. The report “shows that the proportion of people of African-Caribbean and African descent incarcerated here is almost seven times greater to their share of the population. In the United States, the proportion of black prisoners to population is about four times greater.” “People will be and should be shocked by this data,” said Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust. “We have a tendency to say we are better than the US, but we have not got prison right.”

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They’ve already blown up the moon, and now NASA wants to crash a spaceship into the sun. That’s right: the sun.

By 2018 (they hope, but no one really believes the budget will let that happen), NASA wants to send a probe through the sun’s corona. Scientifically, it’s not as silly as it sounds. The solar probe “will measure electrons, protons and helium ions in the solar wind, produce amazing wide-field 3-D images of the Sun’s corona, detect the electromagnetic shock-wave concussions and fields in the solar atmosphere, sample and detect the elements in the atmosphere and attempt to work out the heliosphere’s origins,” Fast Company reported.

As the BBC wryly notes, “Researchers say that the Sun is one of the few places people have not yet sent a spacecraft.” Presumably someone cut out the addendum “in this solar system,” seeing as we have yet to, say, explore the nearest star several light-years away.

Never fear, though; for tips on crashing spaceships into the sun, NASA need look no further than the 2007 Cillian Murphy sci-fi film “Sunshine,” in which some scientists — oh yes — crash a Manhattan-sized bomb into the sun. Why? Some technobabble about the sun petering out in the near future, Earth becoming a ball of ice (a fate not too bad considering August’s temperature highs) and only a giant bomb can restart it. One massive bomb already failed, for unknown reasons, to reignite the star’s fission processes, so earth gathers the remainder of its fissile materials and flings it and a handful of scientists at the sun again.

So what can NASA learn from “Sunshine?” [WARNING: SPOILERS]

1. Make sure the scientists involved are mostly young and attractive.

Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Chris Evans, Michelle Yeoh, Troy Garity; if a massive nuclear blast wouldn’t make the sun hotter, these young studs could certainly help.

2. You need a gigantic heat shield because, well, the sun is hot. But never tilt it.

In the movie, the heat shield is a giant convex dish that keeps the enormous bomb and stick-like living area safe from the sun’s increasingly destructive rays. Anything that goes beyond the shadow of the shield burns off immediately. Unfortunately, critical parts of the ship are damaged or destroyed when their navigator changes course without tilting the shield.

3. You need a psychologist for when the hot young scientists screw up.

The guy who didn’t tilt the shield? Put on suicide watch. Of course, perhaps more importantly, make sure the psychologist doesn’t tan himself crazy. Speaking of, why would you even have a room where you can lower the sun shield? What’s the point? You know what?

4. No tanning salons.

Like this one.

5. The sun does not have a “surface.”

“Sunshine” ends with the ship/bomb crashing into the surface of the sun while Cillian Murphy reaches out to touch it. If you majored in physics in college, or have a rough understanding of the difference between gas and solid states, abandon ye knowledge here. The sun — essentially a giant ball of burning gas — does not have a surface, at least not the obvious-barrier-surface rocky planets such as Earth enjoy. The characters explain that its mass is so enormous time and space themselves fluctuate, blah blah blah, it’s more dramatic, but a real probe isn’t going to crash into any surface, so be aware.

6. The sun does not have a hole in it.

That’s where they were going to fling the bomb, and if you are staring incredulously at the screen slack-jawed, welcome to the scientifically literate community.

7. Do not explore any abandoned or alien ephemera floating around past Mercury’s orbit.

In “Sunshine” the crew discovers the previous ship drifting around near the sun. Naturally, they go explore it. What they find on board is the insane captain, who manages to sneak onto the new ship and nearly destroy it. Don’t want some insane guy damaging your $180 million probe.

8. Let more than one person know how the device works.

It’s sensible that everyone on the ship has different roles: physicist, navigator, captain, doctor, chef, etc. But really, when the entire Earth is at stake, maybe you should teach more than one person how to operate the bomb. Every time Cillian Murphy comes close to dying, so too does his unique knowledge of how to detonate the bomb. It took a few years to get to the sun, maybe he should have taken the time to teach someone else how to do it just in case.

9. There’s no way you could build a bomb big enough.

Although the point of NASA’s mission is less cool than blowing up the sun, this is still an important point to make. The sun contains 99.8 percent of the solar system’s mass. So, you know, a bomb made of all the earth’s materials would be like shooting a needle into a herd of charging rhinoceros.

10. No carrots; it slows up the narrative.

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