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Jeff Bezos shares big ideas at Museum of Flight

Jeff Bezos
Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos shows off a tortoise cufflink during the Pathfinder Awards banquet at Seattle’s Museum of Flight. The tortoise symbolizes the approach Bezos takes with his Blue Origin space venture. “We believe slow is smooth, and smooth is fast,” he says. (Credit: Tania Shepard / Azzura Photography)

Someday, you’ll be printing out a landing pad to guide an Amazon drone to its delivery, or maybe taking a suborbital space trip on a Blue Origin rocket ship, or marveling over the mechanism of a clock designed to run for 10,000 years.

Such were the visions laid out by Amazon’s billionaire founder, Jeff Bezos, on Oct. 22 as he received one of this year’s Pathfinder Awards from the Museum of Flight.

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Mars orbiter spots blackened remains of lander

Mars orbiter image
This image from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows the landing zone for the European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli probe on Mars. Analysts say the bright spot shows where the lander’s parachute fell, and the black spot shows where the lander hit. (Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS)

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has caught sight of the blackened spot where a European lander apparently hit the Martian surface, providing the first visual evidence that the Schiaparelli probe did indeed bite the dust.

Before-and-after pictures from the orbiter’s low-resolution Context Camera also showed the appearance of a brand-new bright spot in the expected landing zone in Mars’ Meridiani Planum region. That bright spot is thought to be Schiaparelli’s 40-foot-wide parachute, which was apparently ejected earlier than intended.

The “before” image was taken in May, and the “after” image was taken on Oct. 20, a day after the lander’s descent.

The pictures will help guide follow-up observations to be made next week using MRO’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE. The European Space Agency’s ExoMars team says even the low-resolution imagery is consistent with a high-speed impact that would have destroyed the lander.

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The musical instrument you play with your mind

Encephalophone
Neurologist Thomas Deuel practices on the encephalophone in preparation for a gig. (Credit: 9e2)

How many musical instruments can you play without moving a muscle? There’s at least one: the encephalophone, which turns brain waves into tunes with a beat you can dance to.

Swedish Hospital neurologist Thomas Deuel will show how it’s done, with the accompaniment of a musical ensemble, on Oct. 22 at Seattle’s King Street Station as part of the 9e2 arts and technology festival. There’ll be an encore performance on Oct. 24.

Various types of encephalophones have been around for decades, but Deuel’s contraption (patent pending) has a clinical twist: He developed his version to help train the brains of patients who suffer from neurological diseases, strokes or spinal cord injuries.

“At first, I wanted to make a new musical instrument. I thought it’d be really fun and interesting from an artistic standpoint and music standpoint,” Deuel said at this week’s MIT Enterprise Forum on augmented humans. “But as I developed it, I learned a lot about the feedback aspect, and I started thinking, ‘Well, I have all these patients with disabilities … how can I use this for therapeutics?”

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U.S.-Russian trio moves into space station

Soyuz craft
A Russian Soyuz craft approaches the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

Three new crew members were welcomed aboard the International Space Station today, just in time to help out with a big moving job.

NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough and his Russian crewmates, Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko, floated out of their Russian Soyuz capsule and through the hatch into the station’s Zvezda service module at 5:20 a.m. PT.

They went through a gauntlet of handshakes and hugs from the three spacefliers who have been living aboard the orbital complex since July: NASA’s Kate Rubins, Japan’s Takuya Onishi and Russia’s Anatoly Ivanishin, the station’s commander.

“We had a great flight,” Kimbrough said during a post-arrival news conference.

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Dreamliner jet becomes a canvas for Kung Fu Panda

Dreamliner color scheme
Illustrator Hannah R. Foss’ design won Hainan Airlines’ Dreamliner livery design contest. (Credit: Hainan Airlines / Boeing / DreamWorks)

It makes sense that a professional illustrator would win a contest to design a paint scheme for one of Hainan Airlines’ Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets.

But this isn’t just any paint scheme: The task at hand was to add some Kung Fu Panda razzle-dazzle, using characters from the animated movie series as well as graphic themes from the Chinese carrier.

Looks like Hannah R. Foss, a digital illustrator and CGI modeler at the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks aced it.

“We look forward to seeing your design on one of our Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, and we can’t wait to have you onboard on your free business-class trip to China,” Hainan Airlines said today in a Facebook post announcing the winner.

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Jeff Bezos compares space to the internet frontier

Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos says he plans to spend his “Amazon winnings” on Blue Origin’s effort to build the heavy lifting infrastructure for space ventures. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos says he’s trying to do for outer-space ventures what delivery services and the internet did for him: provide the “heavy lifting infrastructure” that will make it possible for entrepreneurs to thrive.

And he’s willing to commit billions of dollars of his “Amazon winnings” to make it so.

Bezos has talked about the parallels between the internet and space commercialization several times before. In April, for example, the subject came up during our fireside chat at the Space Symposium in Colorado.

But at this week’s Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in San Francisco, Bezos made a strong linkage between the work being done at Amazon and the work being done at Blue Origin, the space venture he founded 16 years ago.

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What went wrong with Europe’s Mars lander?

Schiaparelli lander
An artist’s conception shows the Schiaparelli lander at the end of its parachute. (Credit: ESA)

The European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli lander apparently crashed after its parachute was ejected too early and its thrusters switched off too soon, according to data relayed back from its orbiting mothership.

“We have data coming back that allow us to fully understand the steps that did occur, and why the soft landing did not occur,” David Parker, ESA’s director of human spaceflight and robotic exploration, said today in a news release.

However, ESA emphasized that the analysis was still continuing, and the conclusions were only preliminary.

The good news is that the saucer-shaped lander’s mothership, the Trace Gas Orbiter, entered its intended orbit around Mars and is in good health.

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Elon Musk sets a course for full auto autonomy

Field of view for Tesla sensors
A graphic shows an overhead view of a Tesla vehicle with the field of view for sensors installed on the car. (Credit: Tesla Motors)

Billionaire Elon Musk doubled down on Tesla Motors’ autonomous driving features today, saying that every vehicle produced from now on will offer the option of full self-driving capability. But that capability won’t be turned on immediately.

“The foundation is on board to bring full autonomy,” the Tesla CEO told reporters during a teleconference.

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Astronomers see more signs of Planet Nine

Planet Nine
An artist’s conception shows Planet Nine with the sun in the far background. (Credit: R. Hurt / IPAC / Caltech)

Astronomers haven’t yet seen Planet Nine, the theoretical world that some say lies far beyond Pluto’s orbit, but they’re seeing more phenomena that could be explained by its existence.

Today, astronomers laid out evidence that the undiscovered planet may be responsible for twisting the main plane of our solar system about 6 degrees off-kilter with respect to the sun.

In a paper accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal, astronomers say Planet Nine’s gravitational influence could disrupt planetary orbits to account for that much of a tilt.

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NASA’s Juno orbiter reboots itself at Jupiter

Juno at Jupiter
An artist’s conception shows the Juno orbiter during a close flyby of Jupiter. (Credit: NASA)

NASA says its Juno orbiter experienced a reboot of its onboard computer late Oct. 18, just as it was getting ready to collect data during a close flyby of Jupiter.

As a result, Juno’s instruments were off during the flyby, and the data went uncollected.

“At the time safe mode was entered, the spacecraft was more than 13 hours from its closest approach to Jupiter,” Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said today in a news release. “We were still quite a ways from the planet’s more intense radiation belts and magnetic fields.”

NASA said the spacecraft restarted successfully and is going through flight software diagnostics. Engineers are trying to pinpoint what set off the reboot.

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