Cosmic Space

The long goodbye begins for iconic radio dish

The radio telescope at Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory is on its way to extinction after 57 years of sparking dreams of alien contact — and after a grim three years of weathering nature’s blows.

Two of the cables supporting the telescope’s 900-ton instrument platform have slipped loose, ripping through the 1,000-foot-wide web of aluminum panels and steel cables that’s spread 450 feet below.

Engineers assessed the damage and determined that the risk of a catastrophic failure was too great to attempt repairs. If more cables snap, the entire platform could crash down, potentially causing the dish’s collapse and life-threatening injuries to workers.

“Although it saddens us to make this recommendation, we believe the structure should be demolished in a controlled way as soon as pragmatically possible, ” Thornton Tomasetti, the engineering firm that made the structural assessment, said in its recommendations to the National Science Foundation and the University of Central Florida, which manages operations at Arecibo on the NSF’s behalf.

“It is therefore our recommendation to expeditiously plan for decommissioning of the observatory and execute a controlled demolition of the telescope,” the firm said.

After consulting with other engineering firms and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, NSF decided to go ahead with the decommissioning.

“NSF prioritizes the safety of workers, Arecibo Observatory’s staff and visitors, which makes this decision necessary, although unfortunate,” NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan said in a statement.

Although the proximate cause of the damage was the structural failure of the two cables — on Aug. 10 and Nov. 6 — natural disasters have been particularly unkind to Arecibo in recent years. The telescope took a buffeting from Hurricane Maria in 2007, a string of earthquakes over the past winter and Tropical Storm Isaias in August. It’s conceivable that those blows could have contributed to the structural failures.

Over the past half-century, Arecibo has taken on more than its share of starring roles in radio astronomy. It had been considered the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope until China’s 1,600-foot-wide observatory — the Five-Hundred-Meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope, or FAST — took the title in 2016.

Arecibo has played a part in unraveling the cosmic mysteries surrounding exoplanets, near-Earth asteroids, black holes, gravitational waves, pulsars and fast radio bursts. But the observatory is best-known for its role in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI.

In 1974, astronomers at Arecibo sent out the most powerful radio signals intentionally aimed at aliens — a coded broadcast known as the Arecibo Message. The observatory also served as a base for SETI listening sessions including Serendip and Project Phoenix.

Arecibo had Hollywood-style brushes with stardom in the movie “Contact,” starring Jodie Foster as an astronomer looking for alien signals; and in “GoldenEye,” a James Bond movie that staged a climactic scene at Arecibo’s instrument platform.

I had my own brush with Arecibo back in 2003, during a quick visit arranged by NSF. “If E.T. ever were to pay a visit to Arecibo, even the aliens might be impressed,” I wrote at the time.

NSF says it has already authorized a high-resolution photographic survey of the telescope site, which is nestled in a sinkhole amid Puerto Rico’s karst mountains. The results of that survey will be factored into the plan for decommissioning and disassembling the telescope.

If all goes according to plan, the Arecibo Observatory would continue to host a lidar research facility, the visitor center and an off-site facility that analyzes cloud cover and precipitation data. The University of Central Florida has been working with Microsoft Azure to archive Arecibo’s science data in the cloud — and NSF says the observatory’s on-site data will be migrated to servers outside the affected area. A detailed timetable for the process hasn’t yet been announced.

Although Arecibo’s radio telescope has gone dark, SETI fans can take solace in the fact that other radio astronomy facilities are going strong.

The $100 million Breakthrough Listen campaign is giving a boost to the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, the Parkes Telescope in Australia and the MeerKAT radio telescope array in South Africa.

Meanwhile, the SETI Institute has the Allen Telescope Array in California (which does SETI as well as other types of radio observations). And this year, the institute forged a partnership with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory for use of the Jansky Very Large Array in New Mexico (which is where Jodie Foster’s character ended up detecting aliens in “Contact.”)

Within the next decade, a monster radio astronomy project known as the Square Kilometer Array, or SKA, is due to take shape in Australia and South Africa. SKA aims to knit together thousands of networked antennas to provide an observational capability equivalent to a single radio dish that’s more than a kilometer (3,280 feet) wide. That’d be twice as wide as China’s FAST antenna.

Losing Arecibo is a heavy blow to Puerto Ricans, who have pointed to the radio telescope as one of their top scientific attractions.

“As an astronomer, this upset me. As a Puerto Rican, this actually broke my heart,” University of Maryland graduate student Giannina Guzman Caloca wrote on Twitter. “I cried on the way to class. I don’t think people understand the sense of pride and inspiration that Arecibo brought to many Puerto Ricans, especially those who grew up wanting to become astronomers.”

NSF’s Panchanathan vowed to preserve the scientific ties with Puerto Rico. “For nearly six decades, the Arecibo Observatory has served as a beacon for breakthrough science and what a partnership with a community can look like,” he said. “While this is a profound change, we will be looking for ways to assist the scientific community and maintain that strong relationship with the people of Puerto Rico.”

That’d be a good thing, and not just for us earthlings: If extraterrestrials ever do respond to the Arecibo Message, we need to make sure the reply gets to the right address.


737 MAX cleared for flight — after software upgrades

Two years after the catastrophic crash of a Boeing 737 MAX jet in Indonesia touched off an aviation crisis, the Federal Aviation Administration today laid out the path for hundreds of 737s to return to flight.

But that can’t happen immediately: It’ll take months for the FAA to check the implementation of changes in pilot training procedures, and verify all the fixes that will be made. All 737 MAX planes have been grounded worldwide in the aftermath of a second crash that occurred in Ethiopia in March 2019.

“This is not the end of this safety journey,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson told CNBC. “There’s a lot of work that the airlines and the FAA and Boeing will have to do in the coming weeks and months.”

Stan Deal, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said in a news release that today’s FAA directive was an “important milestone” but agreed that there’s a lot of work to be done. “We will continue to work with regulators around the world and our customers to return the airplane back into service worldwide,” Deal said.

The key fixes involve software rather than hardware — and that part of the job is more like installing a Windows update than installing an actuator.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Cosmic Space

Space plane’s schedule slips due to COVID

Sierra Nevada Corp. is closing in on the orbital debut of its Dream Chaser space plane, but the curtain-raiser will be later than previously planned, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The company had planned to send its first space-worthy Dream Chaser, dubbed Tenacity, on its first uncrewed cargo run to the International Space Station next year.

Then COVID-19 hit.

“We’re targeting 2022 for first flight,” Steve Lindsey, SNC Space Systems’ senior vice president of strategy, told me today during a videoconference for journalists. “We’ve obviously dealt with a lot of challenges this year. Like COVID, as an example. There’s been a challenge for everybody.”

Lindsey cited a case involving a series of tests that were due to be conducted on the Dream Chaser’s Shooting Star cargo module in San Diego. “Unfortunately, due to COVID, our entire test team … got basically kicked out of the plant when they had some exposures.”

Eventually, Lindsey and the Dream Chaser team worked out an arrangement for having the structural tests done in San Diego, and getting the telemetry sent to engineers working remotely at SNC Space Systems’ home base in Colorado.

“That worked great,” Lindsey said. “Unfortunately, it also took probably three or four times as long as it normally should have, just because of the COVID challenges we’ve had.”

Now the cargo module is back in Colorado, and the stubby-winged space plane – which has been compared to a mini-space shuttle – is being assembled. “We’re running two shifts a day right now, we’ll probably be going to three here shortly, to get this thing built as quickly as we can,” Lindsey said.

After the assembly and integration tasks are complete, Tenacity will be shipped to NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio for environmental and thermal vacuum testing. Then it’s off to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a final round of tests, leading up to launch atop United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket.

Dream Chaser Tenacity had been penciled in as the second payload to be launched on a Vulcan in 2021, after Astrobotic’s NASA-funded cargo delivery to the moon. That schedule will shift – but Lindsey said the precise date is up in the air. “That’s something we work with NASA internally, and it’s a combination of when we’re ready, when our testing is done, also when NASA needs it,” he said.

Click on the pictures for a Sierra Nevada Corp. slideshow:

Sierra Nevada Corp. won NASA’s nod to deliver cargo to the space station back in 2016, when the space agency was awarding a second round of resupply contracts. The other winners were SpaceX and Orbital ATK (which is now part of Northrop Grumman). Those two companies already send shipments to the station, which will make the Dream Chaser the newest addition to NASA’s commercial cargo fleet.

Dream Chaser is the only winged space cargo vehicle capable of coming back from orbit and making an autonomous glider-style landing on a runway. That provides a capability that SpaceX’s Dragon and Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo capsules lack. Time-sensitive experiments can be quickly offloaded and sent where they need to go.

“Maybe it’s a little biased because of having been a shuttle astronaut, but I just really love the practical way that you could come back from space in a space plane, land on a runway,” said former NASA astronaut Janet Kavandi, who is now SNC Space Systems’ executive vice president. ” You could walk right up to the vehicle, take your delicate payloads off and go do your scientific analysis.”

Lindsey said the Dream Chaser is built to be used for 15 missions during its operating lifetime, which should help satisfy the station’s cargo needs for years to come. There’s also a second space plane in production that could be used for space station resupply as well as standalone space missions – such as the international mission being planned under the auspices of the United Nations.

Dream Chaser’s design is based on a NASA concept from the 1980s, known as the HL-20. Sierra Nevada Corp. first offered the plane for NASA’s use as a crewed vehicle a decade ago, and the company hasn’t given up on the idea of flying crew as well as cargo.

Lindsey pointed out that the cargo version and the crew version have 85% of their design in common.

“As we’ve matured the cargo version to where we are now, where we’re in production, we know the path back to crew,” he said. “Our intent is always to go back to crew someday. When that day is, I’m not sure yet right now … But we have plans for doing that.”

Here’s a 2011 clip about my turn in the Dream Chaser simulator:

In other developments:

  • Neeraj Gupta, director of programs for SNC’s Advanced Development Group, highlighted the company’s work on inflatable habitats that could be assembled into a commercial space station in low Earth orbit. “We consider it a shining city in space, if you will,” he said. The habitats, developed in partnership with ILC Dover, could also support missions to the moon or Mars, Gupta said.
  • Sierra Nevada Corp. is also one of three companies that received study contracts from the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit to look at the options for an “Unmanned Orbital Outpost” that could be used for experiments and logistical demonstrations. SNC would adapt the Dream Chaser’s Shooting Star cargo module for the Pentagon’s purposes. “We’re still working with the DIU team and we’re looking to continue the development,” Gupta said.
  • Tom Crabb, vice president of SNC’s Propulsion and Environmental Systems business unit, discussed the company’s “Astro Garden” plant growth system, which recently grew tomatoes in a simulated space station environment. SNC’s aeroponics technology is due to be tested on the International Space Station next year. Eventually, the system could be used to grow berries, beans and other staples for space crews. “We have our own Matt Damon,” Crabb joked, in reference to the potato-farming astronaut in a 2015 movie titled “The Martian.”
  • Sierra Nevada Corp. provided further detail about a $2.4 million contract to demonstrate a process for extracting oxygen from lunar soil, awarded by NASA’s Tipping Point program. The process, known as carbothermal reduction, concentrates heat into the soil within a methane gas environment. In a news release, CEO Fatih Ozmen said the technology is “the result of decades of research and development work that is focused on both reducing launch mass from Earth, drastically reducing mission costs, and enabling long-term activity in low Earth orbit, cislunar [space] and Mars.”

Check out Sierra Nevada Corp.’s interactive presentation on the Dream Chaser space plane and Shooting Star transport vehicle.


Sex robots and seniors: A match made in AI heaven?

Are sex robots just what the doctor ordered for the over-65 set?

In a newly published research paper, a bioethicist at the University of Washington argues that older people, particularly those who are disabled or socially isolated, are an overlooked market for intimate robotic companionship — and that there shouldn’t be any shame over seeking it out.

To argue otherwise would be a form of ageism, says Nancy Jecker, a professor of bioethics and humanities at the UW School of Medicine.

“Designing and marketing sex robots for older, disabled people would represent a sea change from current practice,” she said today in a news release. “The reason to do it is to support human dignity and to take seriously the claims of those whose sexuality is diminished by disability or isolation. Society needs to make reasonable efforts to help them.”

Jecker’s argument, laid out in the Journal of Medical Ethics, reawakens a debate that has raged at least since a bosomy robot made her debut in Fritz Lang’s 1927 film, “Metropolis.” In a 2007 book titled “Love and Sex With Robots,” computer chess pioneer David Levy argued that robot sex would become routine by 2050.

Over the past decade or so, the sex robot trade has advanced somewhat, with computerized dolls that would typically appeal to randy guys. At the same time, researchers have acknowledged that the world’s growing over-65 population may well need to turn to robotic caregivers and companions, due to demographic trends.

Jecker says sex should be part of the equation for those robots — especially when human-to-human sex is more difficult due to disabilities, or the mere fact that an older person’s parts don’t work as well as they once did. Manufacturers should think about tailoring robot partners for an older person’s tastes, she says.

Get the full story on GeekWire.


Moon rovers will get wireless charging systems

Seattle-based WiBotic says it’s working on a wireless charging system and energy management software for moon rovers, in partnership with Astrobotic, Bosch and the University of Washington.

The hardware and software for robotic lunar missions will build on the work that the UW spin-out has done on similar systems for applications here on Earth.

“We’ve conquered marine robotic systems, mobile terrestrial robots, aerial drones — and now, space,” WiBotic CEO and co-founder Ben Waters told GeekWire.

The team-up is supported by a $5.8 million NASA “Tipping Point” contract to overcome the power challenges that will face robots on the moon’s surface. One of the biggest challenges will be providing electric-powered rovers with enough juice to keep them active during the cold lunar night, which lasts two weeks.

Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic is the prime contractor. It aims to use WiBotic’s charging system on lunar rovers that will include its own CubeRover, a shoebox-sized, four-wheeled robot that would venture forth from a base station to take on exploration tasks.

“Bringing wireless power technology to the surface of the moon and beyond is a game-changer in the way space robotics systems have traditionally interacted,” Cedric Corpa de la Fuente, electrical engineer for planetary mobility at Astrobotic, said today in a news release.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Cosmic Space

Dragon’s crew hooks up with space station

After a 27-hour trip, three Americans and a Japanese spaceflier arrived at the International Space Station tonight for the first regular six-month tour of duty facilitated by a commercial space taxi.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, which was christened Resilience, handled the docking autonomously. “Excellent job, right down the center,” NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins radioed down to ground controllers at SpaceX’s California headquarters.

“All for one, Crew-1 for all,” Japan’s Soichi Noguchi declared.

The Dragon’s four crew members floated through the hatch a couple of hours later. As he brought up the rear, Noguchi carried a Baby Yoda toy mascot, which served as the Dragon’s zero-G indicator for the Nov. 16 launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Hopkins, Noguchi and their crewmates — NASA astronauts Shannon Walker and Victor Glover — were greeted with smiles and hugs by the three spacefliers on the other side of the hatch: NASA’s Kate Rubins and Russia’s Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov.

Tonight’s arrival marked the second Crew Dragon docking at the station. Six months ago, two NASA astronauts paid a visit for a 64-day demonstration mission. But the current flight is the first regularly scheduled crew rotation, operating under full certification from NASA with clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration.

“It’s been an incredible journey, and it’s really amazing that this is marking the start of operational crew rotation missions to the International Space Station from the Florida coast,” Hopkins said during the official welcoming ceremony. “It was an amazing ride. … The last 27 hours have gone really smooth, actually.”

The Dragon crew’s arrival chalks up a couple of firsts for the space station, which has been occupied continuously for 20 years.

Glover is the first African-American astronaut to join a long-duration crew, and the live-aboard crew has risen to seven for the first time. Because there aren’t enough private sleeping compartments to go around, Hopkins plans to bed down in the Dragon.

Cosmic Space

SpaceX kicks off its first certified crew flight to orbit

This is not a test: For the first time, a commercial space venture has sent astronauts on their way to the International Space Station for a regularly scheduled crew rotation.

Today’s launch of three Americans and a Japanese spaceflier in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, powered by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, followed the pattern set in May for the company’s first-ever crewed space mission. Like that earlier journey, this one is being funded by NASA at an estimated price of $55 million per seat.

But unlike May’s outing, this mission isn’t considered a test flight. Instead, it’s the first crewed SpaceX launch to be conducted under the terms of a post-certification contract with NASA. SpaceX’s space transportation system was officially certified for regular flights with astronauts last week — just in time for the flight known as Crew-1.

It’s also the first crewed orbital launch to be licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates commercial spaceflight. “This is a big night for many of us, and it’s a big night for the FAA,” the agency’s administrator, Steve Dickson, said at a post-launch briefing.

In response to issues that arose during the crewed test flight, SpaceX beefed up the Dragon’s heat shield and fine-tuned the triggering system for the parachutes used for the spacecraft’s at-sea homecoming.

The first opportunity for launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on Nov. 14, had to be put off for a day due to weather concerns — and when today’s countdown began, the chances of acceptable weather were rated at 50-50. But the weather improved, a glitch involving a hatch leak was quickly resolved, and the Falcon 9 rose from its launch pad into the night at 7:27 p.m. ET (4:27 p.m. PT.)

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, thousands watched the launch in person from Florida’s Space Coast. Hundreds of thousands watched streaming video coverage via NASA and SpaceX. Live coverage is scheduled to continue during the Dragon’s cruise to the space station.

Vice President Mike Pence flew in to lead a delegation of VIPs at the spaceport. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell were on hand as well — but SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who tweeted that he may have had “a moderate case of COVID,” kept a low profile.

Mission commander Mike Hopkins referred to the pandemic and its effects just before the launch of the Dragon capsule, which has been christened “Resilience.”

“By working together through these difficult times, you’ve inspired the nation, the world, and in no small part, the name of this incredible vehicle, Resilience,” Hopkins said. “And now it’s time for us to do our part — Crew-1 for All.”

Minutes after liftoff, the Falcon 9’s second stage separated and sent the Crew Dragon into orbit, while the first-stage booster flew itself back to an at-sea touchdown aboard a drone ship.

Only two astronauts rode the Dragon in May, but this time around, the reusable crew capsule is carrying a standard complement of four spacefliers. Hopkins was accompanied by pilot Victor Glover, NASA mission specialist Shannon Walker and Japanese mission specialist Soichi Noguchi.

After the crew reached orbit, mission controllers reported a pressure pump spike in the Dragon’s thermal control system, which maintains comfortable conditions inside the crew cabin. Engineers went into troubleshooting mode, returned the system to normal operation and gave the go-ahead for the trip to proceed.

Yet another issue, involving a balky set of propellant line heaters for the Dragon’s thruster system, was resolved fairly quickly.

The Crew Dragon is scheduled to hook up with the station around 11 p.m. ET (8 p.m. PT) on Nov. 16. Then the Dragon’s quartet is due to join the station’s three current occupants and spend the next six months on orbital duty. That’s significantly longer than the 63 days that the previous Dragon crew spent docked to the station.

Because the station has only six sleeping compartments, Hopkins plans to take a sleeping bag and bunk down in the Dragon capsule.

Glover, the crew’s only space rookie, will earn his own entry in the history books as the first African-American astronaut to serve as a member of a long-duration expedition crew — Expedition 64.

The Crew Dragon shuttle service to the space station is the culmination of a six-year-long, multibillion-dollar development effort, sparked by the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2011. That marked the start of an era during which Russia provided the only way to send NASA astronauts to and from the station, at a cost ranging as high as $90 million per seat.

With funding from NASA, Boeing has been working on a second type of space taxi known as the CST-100 Starliner. Last December, a Starliner suffered software glitches during an uncrewed orbital test. That forced a months-long investigation, and a repeat of the uncrewed test flight to the station is expected to take place early next year.

Update for 8:30 p.m. PT Nov. 15: Space crews are now in the habit of bringing along toy mascots that indicate when their flight enters its zero-G phase, by floating up in the cabin while the crews are still restrained in their seats. For the Dragon mission that was launched in May, a plush dinosaur called Tremor did the trick. This time around, a toy Baby Yoda served as the crew’s zero-G indicator. Hmm … with all this commercialization that NASA is conducting, maybe there’s an opportunity to make a few bucks on product placement.


Cosmic Science

Egypt’s Saqqara site yields still more mummies

It’s only been a month since Egyptian archaeologists took the wraps off the discovery of scores of mummies at Saqqara — and now they’re adding to the site’s store of archaeological treasures.

Today the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities announced that about 100 coffins dating back as far as 2,600 years have been found inside a network of buried shafts at Saqqara, Egypt’s oldest-known pyramid site. And there’s still more to come.

The Saqqara necropolis. about 20 miles south of modern-day Cairo, has been under excavation for several seasons. This year, it was the focus of a Netflix documentary titled “Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb,” and the most recent finds will be covered next year in a Smithsonian Channel series called “Tomb Hunters.”

Last month’s revelations related to the discovery of 59 decorated coffins dating back to the 26th Dynasty, in the time frame from around 664 to 525 B.C.E. Today’s follow-up focused on coffins and artifacts from ancient Egypt’s Late Period (664 to 332 B.C.E.) as well as the Greek-influenced Ptolemaic dynasty (320 to 30 B.C.E.)

One of the coffins was opened to reveal a nearly perfectly preserved mummy within. An X-ray scan suggested that it was a male who was in his 40s when he died, with teeth in perfect condition.

Wooden statue
Remains of ancient paint are still visible on a wooden statue recovered from the Saqqara site. (Smithsonian Channel Photo / Caterina Turroni)

Mostafa Waziri, general director of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, told NBC News that the man must have been wealthy and might have had royal connections, based on the way the arms were crossed over his chest. “We still have a lot to reveal,” he said.

In addition to the coffins, 40 “impressive statues” were found at the site, the ministry said in a Facebook posting.

The artifacts will be moved to museums in Cairo, including the yet-to-be-opened Grand Egyptian Museum, for further analysis and display. Still more discoveries will be announced in Saqqara soon, said Antiquities Minister Khaled el-Anany.

Egyptian officials are turning up the spotlight on archaeological finds in hopes of whetting interest in tourism, which has been hard-hit due to political turmoil and the coronavirus pandemic.


Industry alliance aims to advance DNA data storage

Microsoft is teaming up with other companies to form an alliance to advance the field of DNA data storage, which promises to revolutionize the way vital records are kept for the long haul.

The founding members of the DNA Data Storage Alliance, unveiled today at the Flash Memory Summit, include Microsoft as well as Twist BioscienceIllumina and Western Digital. Twist Bioscience has been partnering with Microsoft and the University of Washington for years on projects aimed at harnessing synthetic DNA for data storage.

Microsoft Research and UW’s Molecular Information Systems Lab have already demonstrated a fully automated DNA-based data storage and retrieval system — and in league with Twist, they’ve shown that their system can store a gigabyte of data in a DNA-based archive.

The UW lab is among 10 other organizations that have followed the founders’ lead and joined the alliance.

Get the full story on GeekWire.


New human cell atlases track how tissues develop

Two new human cell atlases have mapped the molecular machinery that builds tissue in the weeks after conception — and could eventually point the way to addressing developmental disorders.

The researchers behind the atlases say their method for single-cell analysis, detailed in a pair of studies published by the journal Science, could dramatically accelerate efforts to trace how individual cells develop from the embryo to adulthood.

“The key point is that the method scales exponentially,” said University of Washington geneticist Jay Shendure, a senior author for both studies. “When you think about the human body, there’s 37 trillion cells. To really get the kind of comprehensive atlases that we want, we want this kind of scalability.”

Study co-author Dan Doherty, a UW pediatrics professor, compared the procedure’s promise to the impact of the Hubble Space Telescope or the Human Genome Project. “Single-cell methods — it’s hard to overestimate their importance for understanding developmental biology,” he said. “They’re really giving us a picture that we’ve never seen before.”

Get the full story on GeekWire.