NASA is returning to the Moon – but they don’t know how

January 9, 2018 by  
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NASA is returning to the Moon . President Donald Trump signed a directive in December to “refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery” using the Moon as something of a first step before a mission to Mars . But not everyone is pleased with the idea – and the space agency doesn’t know how they’ll go back. How will NASA return to the Moon? When will they go? How much will it cost? These are questions that are as of yet unanswered. The Washington Post spoke with acting administrator Robert Lightfoot, who said the agency would partner with other countries, but didn’t specify which ones. He also said the effort would be a public-private partnership, but didn’t name any companies. The Washington Post said he offered “no specifics about the architecture of a moon program;” he told them, “We have no idea yet.” Related: Trump signs directive to send astronauts to the Moon and Mars The president’s yearly budget request to Congress could bring more details to light, according to Lightfoot. As for now many specifics are open to speculation – and the agency still doesn’t have a permanent administrator, just another top science position still unfilled in Trump’s administration, according to The Washington Post. Trump nominated United States Representative Jim Bridenstine, a Republican of Oklahoma, in September, but Florida’s two senators Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Bill Nelson criticized the choice. Some people say the top position in NASA – which has received bipartisan support for years – shouldn’t be handed to a politician. Other people expressed frustration the agency’s direction has been changed once again – the third time in this century. Former astronaut Scott Kelly told The Washington Post, “We’re always asked to change directions every time we get a new president, and that just causes you to do negative work, work that doesn’t matter. I just hope someday we’ll have a president that will say, ‘You know what, we’ll just leave NASA on the course they are on, and see what NASA can achieve if we untie their hands.” Via The Washington Post Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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NASA is returning to the Moon – but they don’t know how

Speed breeding technique inspired by NASA grows three times the wheat with less land

January 3, 2018 by  
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Scientists inspired by NASA have found a way to grow wheat at incredible speeds using intense lighting regimes. The method, called “speed breeding”, produces wheat that is not only healthier, but grows in half the time, meaning you could feed more people with less land. The rapid-growing technique not only works on wheat but sunflowers, lentils, peanuts, amaranth, pepper, and radish, which could signal a major breakthrough for feeding the planet’s growing population. By 2050, the planet could host an additional two billion people, but the space for growing and raising food isn’t increasing. So scientists have been looking for ways to tackle the problem of feeding a large population with less space. Scientists at the University of Sydney , the University of Queensland  and the John Innes Center took a look at technology developed years ago by NASA to grow crops in space. Building on this base, they developed their speed breeding technique. Related: Urban Produce vertical farm grows 16 acres of food in just 1/8 acre of space The technique involves growing plants under LEDs with a continuous, specific wavelength to boost photosynthesis. Using this lighting regime, the researchers grew wheat, barley, and chickpeas in half the time of traditional plants – six generations in one year to the two or three that can traditionally be grown. That’s from “seed to seed” in just six weeks. And the plants are actually better quality than traditional plants. This is likely the first time scientists have grown crops this quickly while also improving quality. “In the glasshouse we currently use high pressure sodium vapor lamps and these are quite expensive in terms of the electricity demand,” study co-author and UQ Senior Research Fellow Lee Hickey told New Atlas . “In our paper we demonstrate that wheat and barley populations can be grown at a density of about 900 plants per square meter, thus in combination with LED light systems, this presents an exciting opportunity to scale up the operation for industry use.” The researchers published their findings in the journal Nature Plants . Via New Atlas

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Speed breeding technique inspired by NASA grows three times the wheat with less land

Mirrored home in the woods is hidden in plain sight

January 3, 2018 by  
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Mexican architect Tatiana Bilbao has hidden part of a holiday home inside a forest by cladding it in mirrored glass . With a footprint of just under 2,200 square feet, Los Terrenos (Spanish for “The Terrains”) comprises three structures, each built with one of three main materials: mirrored glass, earth, or wood. Despite the diversity in construction materials, beautiful and complementary modern interiors are woven throughout the experimental residence. Located on a forested slope in Monterrey, Los Terrenos currently comprises two structures—the third, which will be built of wood and elevated for treetop views, has yet to be built. The larger of the two completed buildings is clad in mirrored glass and houses an open-plan living room, dining area, and kitchen in a double-height space. The one-way mirrors gives the building a greenhouse feel with floor-to-ceiling views of the forest. Related: Tatiana Bilbao’s $8,000 house could help solve Mexico’s social housing shortage The private areas consisting of two bedrooms and bathrooms are located in the L-shaped building built of clay brick and rammed earth placed diagonally opposite of the mirrored structure. A gorgeous chevron-shaped clay-brick wall in the bedrooms stylistically matches the chevron -shaped ceramic divider found in living room and the paver patterns on the paths around the residence. The bedrooms also look out to sweeping views of the forest. + Tatiana Bilbao Via Architectural Record Images by Rory Gardiner

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Mirrored home in the woods is hidden in plain sight

Shigeru Bans Mt. Fuji World Heritage Center opens in Japan

January 3, 2018 by  
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Japan’s Mt. Fuji World Heritage Center, designed by Pritzker winner Shigeru Ban , is officially open to the public at a time when visibility of Japan’s highest peak is at its best. Located 20 miles southwest of Mt. Fuji in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture, the sculptural building pays homage to Fuji with its inverted latticed cone that, when seen in the reflecting pool, mimics the shape of the famous dormant volcano. Shigeru Ban’s design for the new Mt. Fuji World Heritage Center was selected from 238 entries in a competition commissioned shortly after Fuji was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013. The highlight of the 3,400-square-meter facility is the viewing tower and ascent, where visitors walk up a 193-meter spiral slope simulating a climb up the Japan’s highest peak. Full-height glazing at the highest part of the tower frames views of the 3,776-meter-tall mountain. Related: Shigeru Ban uses shipping containers and paper tubes to create a surprising mobile museum Glass walls surround the Mt. Fuji World Heritage Center, giving it a sense of lightness, while the timber latticed cone is split between the interior and exterior. The facility also includes an exhibition room with a 4K theater and a touch screen with clips explicating the beliefs, culture, and nature of Mount Fuji. The Mt. Fuji World Heritage Center opened December 23, 2017. + Shigeru Ban Images via Shigeru Ban

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Shigeru Bans Mt. Fuji World Heritage Center opens in Japan

NASA scientists identify unknown microbes aboard International Space Station

January 2, 2018 by  
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Hurricane Harvey couldn’t stand in the way of a groundbreaking experiment on the International Space Station (ISS) this summer. NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and the Genes in Space-3 team have identified unknown microbes in space . Their work could help future astronauts monitor crew health and diagnose ailments in real time – without needing to send a sample back to Earth. Astronaut Kate Rubins sequenced DNA for the first time in microgravity in 2016 , which NASA described as a game changer. But scientists knew what the samples contained, as they’d been prepared on Earth. This past summer, the Genes in Space-3 team conducted an experiment with samples collected in space to see if they could sequence unknown organisms. Whitson was in the process of performing the investigation when Hurricane Harvey hit – and the Earth-based principal investigator Sarah Wallace was in Houston. The Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama came to the rescue, enabling the two women to communicate by patching Wallace’s cell phone into the space to ground loops. With a hurricane whirling outside, the experiment continued. Related: The International Space Station is a germophobe’s nightmare “Right away, we saw one microorganism pop up, and then a second one, and they were things that we find all the time on the space station,” Wallace said in a statement. The samples were sent to Earth, so biochemical and sequencing tests could confirm the ISS findings, which they did: the results were the same on our planet as in orbit. “As a microbiologist, my goal is really so that when we go and we move beyond ISS and we’re headed towards Mars or the moon or wherever we are headed to, we have a process that the crew can have that great understanding of the environment based on molecular technology,” said Wallace in a NASA Johnson video . She was the lead author on a study published in Scientific Reports in December. A team of 21 scientists from NASA and institutions in the United States and United Kingdom collaborated on the article. Via NASA Images via NASA Johnson on YouTube , NASA , and Rachel Barry

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NASA scientists identify unknown microbes aboard International Space Station

Scientists construct new theory of Yellowstone’s supervolcano hotspot

January 2, 2018 by  
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Scientists at the University of Illinois have constructed a new theory on how the hotspot beneath Yellowstone National Park ‘s supervolcano gets its heat. “A robust result from these models is that the heat source behind the extensive inland volcanism actually originated from the shallow oceanic mantle to the west of the Pacific Northwest coast,” said Lijun Liu, lead researcher and geology professor. Liu’s team monitored seismic waves that reverberate after an earthquake to create an X-ray-like map of subterranean activity. Using the intense processing power of a supercomputer to analyze the data, the team constructed models of various geologic outcomes and determined that the most likely explanation is that Yellowstone’s heat originates from the tectonic Pacific Coast. The conclusion drawn by the research team at the University of Illinois contradicts alternative, previously accepted theories on the roots of Yellowstone’s heat. “This directly challenges the traditional view that most of the heat came from the plume below Yellowstone,” said Liu. Known as mantle plume theory, the broadly accepted explanation for Yellowstone’s heat contends that much volcanic activity in North America has been caused by the slow stretching of the continent. This movement then results in a thinner, more easily breakable crust in certain regions, such as Yellowstone, that are far from areas of traditional tectonic-volcanic activity. In this scenario, Yellowstone’s shallow magma reservoir is fed by a much deeper mantle plume, from which heat is able to escape due to the thinner crust. Related: Two giant volcanic eruptions formed Yellowstone’s iconic caldera Liu believes that the plume below Yellowstone matters less than the westward movement of the hot Pacific mantle. Although his theory may be incomplete, so too is the conventional mantle plume theory. “If the vast body of mantle plume research has done nothing else, it has revealed the difficulties inherent in trying to plumb the depths of Earth’s interior ,” wrote Sarah Platt in Earth Magazine . “Reaching to a depth of 1,800 miles, the mantle cannot be sampled by fieldwork; it must be remotely sensed and modeled.” This lack of certainty has provoked a healthy debate that may lead to unexpected places. “Controversy in science is a good thing,” said Michael Poland, the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory scientist-in-charge, according to Independent Record . “That’s when we learn.” Via Independent Record Images via DepositPhotos ( 1 ,2) 

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Scientists construct new theory of Yellowstone’s supervolcano hotspot

NASA picks two finalists for exciting new robotic mission

December 22, 2017 by  
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NASA is planning a robotic mission for the mid-2020s, and they’ve chosen two finalists for a possible destination. One option could snag a sample from a comet nucleus, which could help us understand the origins of life and the oceans on Earth. The other could fly to Saturn’s moon Titan – which scientists think holds an ingredient for life and also has enough energy resources for a United States-sized colony. Out of 12 submitted proposals, NASA has selected two finalist concepts for their robotic mission slated for sometime in the next decade. One is the Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return (CAESAR), which would attempt to gather a sample from the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. According to NASA, comets are comprised of “materials from ancient stars, interstellar clouds, and the birth of our solar system .” Obtaining a sample could help us understand how those materials might have played a role in early Earth. Related: Saturn’s biggest moon has enough energy to power a US-sized space colony Option two is a voyage to Titan. NASA could send Dragonfly, a drone-like dual-quadcopter lander, to the ocean world near Saturn to “explore the prebiotic chemistry and habitability of dozens of sites” – some hundreds of miles apart. Dragonfly could conduct seismic studies, image landforms to delve into geological processes, and monitor surface and atmospheric conditions. NASA’s Science Mission Directorate associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said in a statement, “This is a giant leap forward in developing our next bold mission of science discovery. These are tantalizing investigations that seek to answer some of the biggest questions in our solar system today.” Cornell University leads the team behind CAESAR, while the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory is behind Dragonfly. Both will receive funding through the end of next year to develop the ideas further, and NASA plans to pick one in 2019. Via NASA Images via NASA

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NASA picks two finalists for exciting new robotic mission

Astronaut Cady Coleman on sustainability missions and beyond

December 18, 2017 by  
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The best of live interviews from GreenBiz events. This episode: The NASA leader dishes on what space has to do with sustainability.

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Astronaut Cady Coleman on sustainability missions and beyond

NASA uses Google’s artificial intelligence to discover the 8th planet in a distant solar system

December 14, 2017 by  
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Today NASA announced that its Kepler telescope, with the help of Google AI, has discovered the 8th planet in a distant planetary system. The solar system Kepler 90 now ties our own solar system for having the most known planets. The groundbreaking discovery confirms that artificial intelligence can assist astronomers in identifying patterns in space that may be too challenging for humans. The Kepler Space Telescope launched in 2009, and since then it has discovered 2,337 exoplanets, many of which could be possible candidates for hosting life. The most exciting discovery, made in 2015, was that of Kepler-425b, the first Earth-sized planet to be discovered in a habitable zone around a star. Building upon human research, NASA utilized Google’s neural network – a sort of artificial intelligence – to make the discovery. Essentially, the system was taught to differentiate between similar but different patterns, expanding its capability and learning over time. Now, the AI has learned enough to identify subtle differences in space to detect weak signals that humans had failed to detect. This led to the discovery of the planet Kepler 90I, which researchers hadn’t noticed after searching the area. NASA says that human researchers may have eventually identified the planet, but the AI made that process much faster and more efficient. Related: Kepler data reveals 20 potentially habitable worlds 90I is a small, probably rocky planet tucked in the middle of the Kepler 90 solar system. It likely has a thin atmosphere and isn’t very hospitable to life. While Kepler 90 appears to be similar in many ways to our own solar system, it also has some distinct differences: the planets cluster close to the sun, rather than being spread out. It is also possible that this solar system may have more planets that we haven’t identified yet. + NASA

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NASA uses Google’s artificial intelligence to discover the 8th planet in a distant solar system

Trump signs directive to send astronauts to the Moon and Mars

December 12, 2017 by  
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President Donald Trump’s administration has made overtures about sending American astronauts back to the Moon . Yesterday, he signed Space Policy Directive 1, calling for a United States-led program with private sector partners to do just that, and then send humans to Mars . Harrison Schmitt, the most recent living human to walk on Earth’s satellite, was present at the signing, which happened 45 years to the minute after he landed on the Moon. Space Policy Directive 1 says the NASA administrator should “lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities.” The policy halts NASA’s current work to send astronauts to an asteroid . Related: Mike Pence says America will send humans back to the moon Trump said, “The directive I am signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery. It marks a first step in returning American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972…This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprints – we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars, and perhaps someday, to many worlds beyond.” In their statement on the directive, the White House said Trump is refocusing the space program on feasible goals. They also said the country isn’t the accepted leader in human space exploration any longer, but “should be a leader in space.” The White House aims to send astronauts to space aboard American-made rockets in upcoming years, and said American companies will provide rockets and engines to the Pentagon for national security payloads. The policy was inspired by a unanimous recommendation from the National Space Council , which the White House says Trump revived after 24 years. Vice President Mike Pence chairs the council. Via NASA and The White House Images via NASA/Aubrey Gemignani and NASA HQ PHOTO on Flickr

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Trump signs directive to send astronauts to the Moon and Mars

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