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Space station trio gets warm reception

Kate Rubins' return
NASA astronaut Kate Rubins is all smiles as she is carried from the Soyuz landing site to a medical tent shortly after touchdown. The Soyuz sits in the background of the picture. (Credit: Bill Ingalls / NASA)

Just a week after a fresh trio of spacefliers moved into the International Space Station, three other crew members returned to Earth tonight, closing out a 115-day stay in orbit.

NASA biologist-astronaut Kate Rubins, Russia’s Anatoly Ivanishin and Japan’s Takuya Onishi touched down safely in their Russian Soyuz capsule at 8:58 p.m. PT today (9:58 a.m. local time Oct. 30) in the steppes of Kazakhstan.

A Russian-led recovery team hustled the crew out of the Soyuz amid near-freezing temperatures. All were reported in good health.

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Where will Jeff Bezos put space colonists?

O'Neill colony
This artist’s conception from the 1970s shows the interior of an O’Neill cylinder. (Credit: NASA)

SpaceX’s Elon Musk wants to settle humans on Mars. Others talk about a Moon Village. But Seattle billionaire Jeff Bezos has a different kind of off-Earth home in mind when he talks about having millions of people living and working in space.

His long-range vision focuses on a decades-old concept for huge artificial habitats that are best known today as O’Neill cylinders.

The concept was laid out in 1976 in a classic book by physicist Gerard O’Neill, titled “The High Frontier.” The idea is to create cylinder-shaped structures in outer space, and give them enough of a spin that residents on the inner surface of the cylinder could live their lives in Earth-style gravity. The habitat’s interior would be illuminated either by reflected sunlight or sunlike artificial light.

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Hillary Clinton slumps, Donald Trump jumps

Clinton and Trump
The odds that Donald Trump will be elected president rose from its slump on the Iowa Electronic Markets, presumably due to reports about Hillary Clinton’s emails. (GeekWire graphic)

How much of a game-changer is the report that the FBI is looking into emails linked to an aide to Hillary Clinton, less than two weeks before the election? It’s a shocker, based on news reports as well as a sharp drop in Clinton’s stock on the Iowa Electronic Markets.

The IEM is one of the few places in the U.S. where traders can legally put down real money on the chances that a candidate will be elected president. It’s been weighing presidential campaigns – and doing at least as well as traditional polls – since 1988.

The market was set up by the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business as an educational project to study whether market-based mechanisms could anticipate real-world outcomes in realms outside the business world.

Other political prediction markets, ranging from PredictWise to FiveThirtyEight to Bing, have followed in the IEM’s footsteps. Those markets, however, generally aren’t as quick to reflect sudden changes in how traders see the campaign shaping up.

Before today, the IEM’s traders were assessing Clinton’s chances of election at around 90 percent. After the FBI news broke, those chances plunged to around 68 percent. GOP candidate Donald Trump’s chances rose correspondingly, from 10 to around 32 percent.

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New Horizons probe sends its last Pluto data

New Horizons probe
An artist’s conception shows the New Horizons spacecraft beaming data back to Earth. (Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI)

More than 15 months after NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto, the last bit of data captured during the flyby has finally been transmitted back to Earth.

NASA said the final transmission was a digital segment of an observation sequence captured by New Horizons’ Ralph/LEISA imager, focusing on Pluto and its biggest moon, Charon. The readings were stored up on July 14, 2015, as the piano-sized probe zoomed past Pluto about 3 billion miles from Earth. Since then, New Horizons’ distance from Earth has grown to 3.4 billion miles.

The downlink took place at 2:48 a.m. PT Oct. 25 via NASA’s Deep Space Network station in Canberra, Australia. In all, more than 50 gigabits of data relating to Pluto and its moons have been transmitted back to Earth.

Why did it take so long to send back an amount of data that would basically fit on a thumb drive?

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Allen Institute creates 3-D guide to the brain

Brain map
This image shows a cross-section from the “average” brain that serves as the basis for the Allen Institute’s 3-D mouse cortex map. A single neuron has been mapped onto the cortex in purple at upper left. (Credit: Allen Institute for Brain Science

After years of painstaking work, Seattle’s Allen Institute for Brain Science has completed a digital 3-D map of the mouse cortex, filled out with annotations that trace the brain’s neurons, genetic correlations and the connections between different functional regions.

The project provides a standardized coordinate system that should help neuroscientists place data points like pins dropped on an online map, but in three dimensions.

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Jeff Bezos explains Blue Origin symbols (and boots)

Blue Origin coat of arms
Blue Origin’s coat of arms is packed with symbolism. (Credit: Blue Origin)

You can’t buy stuff from billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture on Amazon just yet, but just wait: Sixteen years after its founding, Blue Origin offers enough symbols, mottos and mascots to keep the folks who make caps, shirts, coffee mugs – and yes, even cowboy boots – busy for years.

The symbolism adds a sense of tradition to Blue Origin’s 21st-century mission of getting millions of people living and working in space.

So far, the company has conducted five fully successful test flights of its New Shepard suborbital rocket ship, and it’s working on an orbital rocket as well as a super-rocket designed to carry people and payloads beyond Earth orbit.

During last weekend’s Pathfinder Awards banquet at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, Bezos provided a guide to Blue Origin symbology, which we’re supplementing here with some extra bits of background. Before you know it, you’ll be shouting “Gradatim Ferociter” like a pro (preferably as you brandish a Lady Vivamus sword).

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Apollo 11 spaceship slated to stop by Seattle

Apollo 11 command module
The Apollo 11 command module, shown here at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., is due to go on a road trip in 2019. (Credit: Smithsonian Institution / NASM)

The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum is laying the groundwork for a 50th-anniversary traveling exhibit featuring Apollo 11 space hardware, including the moon mission’s command module – and Seattle’s Museum of Flight could be a prime stop.

The 2019 road show is the Smithsonian’s preferred solution to an awkward problem: what to do with artifacts from the historic 1969 moon landing while a section of the museum in Washington, D.C., is being renovated.

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China snaps selfies of its space lab

Shenzhou 11 and Tiangong
A “selfie” from China’s Banxing 2 inspection satellite shows the Shenzhou 11 spaceship docked to the Tiangong 2 orbital lab. (Credit: CAS via CCTV)

China’s Tiangong 2 space lab has a paparazzi traveling alongside it, in the form of a picture-snapping satellite that’s the size of a desktop printer.

The satellite, Banxing 2, was released from the lab over the weekend and has already captured hundreds of images of Tiangong 2 with the Shenzhou 11 spacecraft docked to it.

Testing what’s been called an orbital “selfie stick” is one of the prime objectives of the 30-day Shenzhou mission currently being conducted by Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong.

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Elon Musk geeks out over his Mars plan on Reddit

Mars rocket
An artist’s conception shows SpaceX’s Interplanetary Transport System lifting off with a refueling tanker sitting beside it. (Credit: SpaceX)

In the weeks ahead, SpaceX plans to pressure-test a prototype carbon fiber tank on an oceangoing barge, to gauge how well the technology will stand up to the oomph that’d be required for trips to Mars.

The test is one of the near-term steps that SpaceX founder Elon Musk laid out today during an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit’s SpaceX discussion forum, focusing on his long-term plan to transport a million settlers to Mars.

Musk signed on to the AMA session to follow up into some of the geeky questions raised by last month’s big reveal about SpaceX’s Interplanetary Transport System. Which, by the way, Musk is not happy with as a name.

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The inside story behind Jeff Bezos’ Star Trek cameo

Lydia Wilson and Jeff Bezos
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos plays a Starfleet official (at right) who assists a rescued spacefarer (played by Lydia Wilson, at left). Credit: Justin Lin via Twitter

When “Star Trek Beyond” comes out on DVD next week, you can freeze-frame on the big-name cameo appearance that zipped past so quickly in the theaters: Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ moment as an alien Starfleet official.

If you missed recognizing him, don’t feel bad. Even Bezos acknowledges that it was a quickie, and the fact that he’s loaded up with face prosthetics doesn’t help.

“You will have to watch very carefully. Do not blink. You will miss me,” he said during Oct. 22’s Pathfinder Awards banquet at Seattle’s Museum of Flight. Bezos was one of the honorees, along with airplane restorer Addison Pemberton.

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