Tag Archives: Science

NASA Commits to ISS Extension to 2030

SpaceX Dragon spacecraft heads to ISS as crewed version preps for debut
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(See my other Space related Blog posts) – A couple of days ago I came across the article, NASA has Purchased 5 More Crew Dragon Missions, Keeping the ISS Going Until 2030. I was very happy to see that the ISS will be with us for a few more years.

A few days prior to seeing this article I had expressed my concern in the post SECOND CREW REACH TIANGONG-3 that the Chinese Space Station, Tiangong-3, would outlive the ISS by several years.

Fortunately, NASA has committed to extending the life of the ISS until at least 2030. This will maintain the West’s ongoing presence in space for several years. The rational for the extension is stated clearly in this quote from the NASA Authorization Act of 2015.

It is the policy of the United States to maintain an uninterrupted capability for human space flight and operations in low-Earth orbit, and beyond, as an essential instrument of national security and the capability to ensure continued United States participation and leadership in the exploration and utilization of space

Second Crew Reach Tiangong-3

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(See my other Space related Blog posts) – I came across the article Three Chinese astronauts arrive at space station yesterday. The three, the second crew for the Tiangong-3 Space Station, are expected to remain aboard for six months. Their mission will be to complete the assembly and construction of the station. I am of two minds on this achievement.

On the one hand, establishing a second space station beyond the ISS is a step forward. Space is becoming the next frontier for humans to conquer. The zero gravity manufacturing techniques and abundant raw materials found in space offer substantial commercial opportunities. The use of space for terrestrial communications is already being harnessed. As is the use of space based platforms to provide rich data on the Earth’s ecosystem and geography. Likewise, it is the perfect place to observe distant star systems.

The Chinese have longer term plans to send manned missions to the Moon and to eventually establish a base there. These are steps towards spreading humanity out over more than a single vulnerable location.

On the other hand, I think too few realize that China has begun to catch up and could soon challenge the US. I suspect that if you polled average people on the street about Tiangong-3 few would have heard of it. The ISS is scheduled for retirement in 2024. There is currently no replacement. Tiangong-3 is expected to have at least a decade of life ahead. Given the political challenges that China has made, the US must at least maintain equivalence in space.

Book Review: “Conversations with Einstein: A Fictional Dialogue Based on Biographical Facts”

(See all my Book Reviews and Author Interviews) – Author Carlos I. Calle published the book “Conversations with Einstein: A Fictional Dialogue Based on Biographical Facts” in 2020. He has published several academic papers and five science books for the general public.

I received an ARC of this book through https://www.netgalley.com in return for a fair and honest review. I categorize this book as ‘G’.

The book is composed of two distinct parts. First is a brief biography of Albert Einstein. The second part constitutes a ‘conversation’ with Einstein. Questions are posed to Einstein, and then answers are formed from his writings or talks that he gave.

I enjoyed the 2+ hours I spent reading this 129-page biography and science history. The book, though quite short, gives an interesting view of Einstein. The author uses the conversation with Einstein to explain in everyday language, some of his famous theories. I like the chosen cover art. I rate this book as a 4.4 (rounded down to a 4) out of 5.

My book reviews are also published on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/31181778-john-purvis).

Heard of Tiangong or Tianhe?

(See my other Space related posts) – Have you heard of the Tiangong space station? It is China’s space station, and it received its first crew of three astronauts on June 17, 2021. They will spend three months aboard the low Earth orbit station. The station’s Tianhe core module was launched only two months ago. 

The module provides propulsion and navigation to the station. It also contains the power supply and life support systems. There is a 50 cubic meter quarters accommodation for the three astronauts. The Tianhe module includes several docking ports. The ports will allow the addition of planned expansion modules. Visiting Shenzhou spacecraft will also use them. The schedule calls for the launch of the first two expansion modules for the station in 2022. 

Watching the video the station has a very new and modern look. The Chinese build the station as a rival to the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS mission is currently set to expire in 2024, though there could be a 4-year extension.. 

Further Reading:

Boston Dynamics Robots Dance in the New Year

See my other Robot related posts) – It was only a few years ago when I watched a robot challenge where simply standing up and walking was an achievement. Seeing these Boston Dynamics Robots dance around shows how far they have come. It makes me really wonder what I will be seeing in 2030!

Are there at least 36 Intelligent Alien Civilizations in Our Galaxy?

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(See my other Space  related posts) – Most people have heard of the Drake Equation. This was the equation developed by Frank Drake in 1951 to predict the number of alien civilizations.

The article “There Are At Least 36 Intelligent Alien Civilizations In Our Galaxy, Say Scientists” talks a little about a new equation, the “Astrobiological Copernican Limit”.  The new equation is the development of a group of scientists at the University of Nottingham.

Based on their new equation, they estimate that there are at least 36 intelligent civilizations in our galaxy. Their study entitled “The Astrobiological Copernican Weak and Strong Limits for Intelligent Life” was appears in the June 2020 edition of The Astrophysical Journal, a publication of The American Astronomical Society.

The average distance to these proposed civilizations is 17,000 light-years. This means that communication with them or even detecting electromagnetic signals from them is impossible.

What do you think? Are we alone?

Neuralink Hopes to Test their Brain-Machine Interface before the end of 2020

For many years communicating with your computer by thought has been science fiction. Today, that is coming closer to reality. Many significant advances have been made to manipulate prosthetics. Efforts to create a wider brain/machine interface are underway.

One of the major efforts in this area is being made by Neuralink. Elon Musk, among others, founded the company in 2016. Elon Musk has said that humans must become cyborgs if they are to survive in the robot and AI filled future. He has predicted that we must enhance our own intellectual abilities. If we do not, we will become redundant. According to Musk, Neuralink’s first goal is to help people deal with brain and spinal cord injuries or congenital defects.

Musk has said, “Over time I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence.” The concept behind that is to integrate communications and computer processing power.

Neuralink is researching a direct link between the brain and computers. It has developed a system to feed thousands of electrical probes into a brain. According to Musk, it hopes to start testing the technology on humans sometime in 2020.

Neuralink has the potential to reshape both computing and humanity. The approach that Neuralink is taking uses a robot to insert tiny leads. Each of these leads is only a fraction of the width of a human hair.

First, sewing machine-like technology drills small holes. Ultra-thin electrodes called threads are inserted. A small chip is connected to a “wisp” of 1,024 threads. Up to 10 chips might be embedded under a user’s skin. Musk has said, “Ultimately, we can do a full brain-machine interfaces where we can achieve a sort of symbiosis with AI.” It might be possible for people to type 40 words per minute by thinking with such an interface.

Neuralink calls their approach a Neural Lace. The Neural Lace provides a technology layer above our brains. The expectation is for Neural Lace to increase our cognitive performance levels. The thought is that the closer we become to AI the less of a threat it will be. Neuralink hopes to have this in a human patient by the end of this year.

The Neuralink electrodes are being designed to both read and write data. The Neural Lace is a device that is intended to grow with your brain. Its major purpose is to optimize mental output.

In the long term, Neuralink sees brain-connected chips and wires placed under the skin. The user would wear a communications pod behind their ear like a hearing aid. The ‘pod’ would then use Bluetooth or WiFi to communicate with a phone or computer. The long-term goal is to build a “digital superintelligence layer”. It will provide a high bandwidth interface between the brain and machine intelligence. The distinction between humans and machines may become almost imperceptible.

The challenges to developing this technology are significant. There have been successes in tests with animals. According to Musk, “A monkey has been able to control a computer with his brain”. Many labs are researching brain-machine interface (BMI) technology. But some worry that Neuralink’s invasive method is risky.

The development of other non-invasive methods are underway. The hope is for these to not only read brain activity but also stimulate it. Using one of these technologies humans may someday be able to define what we want to become. It seems clear that humans are on a path to a more symbiotic relationship with our machines.

This is part of transhumanism. That is the enhancement of humans through the use of technology. At the low-end many of us have already taken a step along the transhumanism path. By wearing eyeglasses or a hearing aid we have augmented our bodies with technology. Other augmentations might enable us to ‘see’ wavelengths of light outside the usual visual spectrum. They might also include methods to accelerate the pace of learning. We might someday rapidly learn new skills or gain a better memory.
Further Reading

  1. Why Elon Musk’s transhumanism claims may not be that far-fetched
  2. Elon Musk: To Survive The Age of Artificial Intelligence, Humanity Must “Achieve Symbiosis With Machines”
  3. Elon Musk says Neuralink plans 2020 human test of brain-computer interface
  4. The merging of humans and machines is happening now
  5. An integrated brain-machine interface platform with thousands of channels

Holograms that you can Feel?

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Globe created by the Multimodal Acoustic Trap Display developed at the University of Sussex. Credit: Eimontas

I thought that this was something of interest. The article “From sci-fi to science lab: Holograms you can ‘feel’” describes a holographic system called Multimodal Acoustic Trap Display (MATD) which “can simultaneously deliver visual, auditory and tactile content”. This uses “acoustophoresis” to move and manipulate particles to create the hologram.

This work was written up in the article “A volumetric display for visual, tactile and audio presentation using acoustic trapping” that appeared on11/13/19 in Nature. This could bring some very interesting interactive displays in the future.

 

USA, Arizona, Winslow – Meteor Crater Natural Landmark

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While we were driving on our 2019 Road Trip to Henderson, NV to visit family we passed by Meteor Crater Natural Landmark just east of Flagstaff, AZ (Meteor Crater Enterprises, Inc., Interstate 40, Exit 233, Winslow, AZ 86047 USA). We were in no hurry so we took the time to visit. As you can see from the aerial photo above, the crater is quite large.

IMG_0884The meteorite that created the crater 50,000 years ago is estimated to have weighed 300,000 tons and was traveling at a speed of 26,000 miles per hour when it hit the Earth. The meteorite exploded with the force of 2 ½ million tons of TNT. In the photo above you can see the largest found fragment of the mostly iron meteorite.

IMG_0876The resulting crater was 3/4 of a mile (about 1 kilometer) wide and 750 feet deep. Over the intervening 50,000 years, the crater has filled in some so that it is now only 550 feet deep.

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To give you some perspective of the size, they have placed a 6′ astronaut figure (because the astronauts headed to the Moon trained here) and a 4′ x 6′ US flag at the base of the crater. They are placed inside the red circle in the photo above.

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Of course, you can’t see them with the naked eye. Even in the close up above you can’t see them.

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I had to use one of the prepositioned telescopes at the visitor center observation deck to see them. With a little effort, I captured a photo with my iPhone. That does put the distance in perspective!

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There is a nice visitor center (far right) with a film and museum on the edge of the crater. You can also see in the photo above how the rim of the crater is raised almost 150′ above the level of the ground. This is because the meteorite buried itself into the ground before exploding. That explosion pushed the edge of the crater up as well as spreading millions of small meteorite bits around the area.

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We were also on a short guided (man in yellow) tour that went about a quarter of a mile west along the north rim of the crater.

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We thought that this side trip was well worth the expense (Adults: $18.00, Seniors (60+):  $16.00, Juniors: (age 6 to 17) $9.00, Non-Active Duty U.S. Military/Veterans (with I.D.): $9.00) and time.


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Coffee Seems to Combat the Onset of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

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(See my other Coffee related posts) – I read “Dark Coffee Can Reduce The Risk Of Alzheimer’s & Parkinson’s Diseases, A New Study Showed” a few months ago now, but seeing it again today, I wanted to share it. This article is based on “Phenylindanes in Brewed Coffee Inhibit Amyloid-Beta and Tau Aggregation” published in the October 12, 2018 issue of the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.

In the study conducted at Krembil Brain Institute in Toronto, researchers tested three different Starbucks coffee blends (Instant light roast, dark roast, and decaffeinated dark roast) for phenylindanes. They looked for phenylindanes as these compounds which are produced in the coffee roasting process are known to inhibit proteins linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s from clumping.

The study links the consumption of coffee, particularly dark roast coffee, with a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The darker the roast, the more phenylindanes that are produced. This avenue of research is in its early stage and much is still unknown about the exact interaction of the compounds.

Still, this is yet another in a series of studies that indicate that chemicals contained in coffee have a beneficial impact on health.