NASA plays it safe for SLS rocket’s first flight

SLS launch

An artist’s view shows NASA’s Space Launch System launching an Orion capsule. (NASA Illustration)

NASA has broken the news to the White House and the world that speeding up the first crewed flight of its exploration launch system wouldn’t be worth the added cost and risk.

That means the first launch of NASA’s heavy-lift Space Launch System will fly without astronauts, as originally planned. And it will fly later than planned: NASA officials said today that liftoff will have to be delayed to 2019, although it’s too early to be more precise about the time frame.

The determination comes after weeks of discussions focusing on whether the flight plan for what’s known as Exploration Mission 1, or EM-1, could be tweaked to put people on board. Such a scenario would give the White House more to celebrate in President Donald Trump’s first term.

“We decided that while it’s technically feasible … the baseline plan that we had in place was the best way for us to go,” Robert Lightfoot, NASA’s acting administrator, told reporters today during a teleconference.

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200th spacewalk is short but does the job

A small water leak cropped up in one of the hoses designed to keep NASA astronaut Jack Fischer’s spacesuit cool while he waited to begin today’s 200th spacewalk on the International Space Station. That had a domino effect on the preparations, drawing down battery power and forcing NASA to trim back the time allotted to the outing from six and a half hours to a little more than four hours. The schedule still gave Fischer and NASA’s Peggy Whitson enough time to accomplish the spacewalk’s primary task.

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Elon Musk posts views of his first tunnel tests

Boring machine

The tunnel boring machine nicknamed “Godot” sits in a below-ground chamber. Elon Musk reportedly acquired the pre-owned machine from L.A. Metro. (Elon Musk via Instagram)

Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, demonstrated once again that he’s serious about boring tunnels beneath Los Angeles. But not boringly serious.

In a series of Twitter and Instagram posts, the billionaire brainiac showed off pictures of The Boring Company’s experimental tunneling machine (nicknamed “Godot,” after the famous Samuel Beckett in which the characters wait for something to happen, which doesn’t happen).

One video clip focuses on Godot’s slowly rotating cutter head, which will look familiar to anyone who’s kept track of Seattle’s recently departed Bertha machine.

But the piece de resistance is a clip showing the test run of a prototype sled, through what is obviously SpaceX’s mile-long Hyperloop tube track in Hawthorne, Calif. The lights that flash as the sled zooms through the tube earn the video a cautionary label. “Warning, this may cause motion sickness or seizures,” Musk writes.

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Trump’s cybersecurity plan points to the cloud

White House Matrix

The White House cybersecurity plan is taking shape. (White House / Pho.to / GeekWire Graphic)

President Donald Trump today signed a long-awaited executive order aimed at beefing up cybersecurity at federal government agencies – with a shift of computer capabilities to the cloud as a key part of the strategy.

“We’ve got to move to the cloud and try to protect ourselves instead of fracturing our security posture,” Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert told reporters during a White House briefing.

The executive order gives the lead role in managing the cloud shift to the director of the White House’s newly established American Technology Council, which is due to meet for the first time next month.

Although the council’s full roster of members has not yet been announced, the director is said to be Chris Liddell, who formerly served as chief financial officer at Microsoft and General Motors.

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Drone sets long-distance delivery record

Latitude HQ-40 drone

A Latitude HQ-40 drone similar to this one was used for the 97-mile test flight in Texas. (BNSF Photo)

Team Roadrunner, a Nevada-based drone consortium, says it set a record for long-distance drone delivery last week in Texas. The team’s fixed-wing drone flew more than 97 miles on May 5, during a circuitous trip that headed southward from Austin and then returned. Visual observers and a mobile command-and-control center guided the drone through the flight corridor using cellular communication links.

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Toys that listen spark privacy concerns

Hello Barbie

Hello Barbie is designed to take part in conversations with kids. (Mattel Photo)

The kids who play with internet-connected toys such as Hello Barbie and CogniToys Dino may not fully realize their voices are being recorded – but when they find out, University of Washington researchers say even the little ones understand the privacy concerns.

“That’s pretty scary,” one child was quoted as saying.

The researchers explored the attitudes of kids and parents toward Wi-Fi-enabled toys in a study presented today at the CHI 2017 computer conference in Denver.

The study found strong support for parental controls, leading the researchers to recommend taking such controls to the next level. They suggested that toys should be designed to delete their recordings after a week, or that parents should be given the ability to delete conversations permanently.

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Tesla starts taking orders for solar roofs

Tesla solar roof

Tesla’s demonstration house features solar glass roof tiles that can generate electricity. “That’s a real fake house,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk joked. (TED via YouTube)

Tesla has started taking orders for traditional-looking glass roof tiles that soak up solar power to generate electricity.

Installations are to start next month, beginning with California and gradually rolling out to other U.S. markets, Tesla said. Overseas markets will be added to the mix next year, said Elon Musk, Tesla’s billionaire CEO.

“I think it will be great,” Musk tweeted.

In a blog posting, Tesla said “the typical homeowner can expect to pay $21.85 per square foot” for the product it calls Solar Roof. That’s significantly more than the cost of a traditional asphalt roof, based on Consumer Reports’ estimates, but closer to competitive in price when the anticipated electric-bill savings are factored in.

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