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PBS’ ‘Nova’ gets into the Kickstarter spirit

David Pogue in "Hunting the Elements"
Samples of chemical elements are spread out on a periodic table for David Pogue, host of “Hunting the Elements.” Now Pogue and “Nova” are raising money for a sequel. (WGBH Photo / Cara Feinberg)

Kickstarter has given a boost to science projects ranging from satellites to “Bill Nye: Science Guy,” but now it’s opening a new frontier for crowdfunding: “Nova” documentaries for public TV.

Today marks the start of a 30-day “Make Science for All” campaign, pitched by the “Nova” team at WGBH and tech reporter David Pogue.

The objective is to raise at least $1 million for a two-hour broadcast special, “Beyond the Elements,” which Pogue would host. If the Kickstarter total reaches $2.25 million, that would fund a wider variety of multimedia works and make the show available for viewing at schools across the country.

“Beyond the Elements” would follow up on “Hunting the Elements,” an earlier program that was hosted by Pogue. The first film was based on Theodore Gray’s coffee-table book, “The Elements,” a colorful chronicle of all the elements on the periodic table.

The sequel would take the story a step further, showing how a limited set of atoms combine to form the tens of millions of substances that make up our world.

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Amazon unveils plans for $1.5B air cargo hub

Amazon Prime Air jet
The first branded Amazon Prime Air cargo jet made its debut in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Amazon says it will build a new air cargo hub at Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky International Airport to accommodate its growing fleet of Prime Air delivery jets, creating more than 2,000 jobs in the process.

Total investment in the hub is projected to amount to $1.49 billion, according to reports from Kentucky. The plan calls for extensive construction on a 920-acre site, and reportedly represents the largest single investment ever made by a company in Northern Kentucky.

“We couldn’t be more excited to add 2,000-plus Amazon employees to join the more than 10,000 who work with us today across our robust operations in Kentucky,” Dave Clark, Amazon senior vice president of worldwide operations, said in a statement.

Today’s announcement was timed to coincide with the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority’s preliminary approval for $40 million in tax incentives over 10 years for the project.

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Should we hook up AI to our brains?

AI graphic
The Beneficial AI conference developed 23 guiding principles for AI. (Future of Life Institute)

Hundreds of AI researchers, business leaders and just plain geniuses have signed onto a statement of cautionary principles for artificial intelligence, including a requirement to build in the ability for human authorities to audit how an AI platform works.

The 23 Asilomar AI Principles were drawn up this month at the Beneficial AI conference, conducted in the same California locale where a famous meeting to define the limits of biotech was held in 1975.

This Asilomar conference focused on concerns about the rapid rise of AI, voiced by luminaries ranging from British physicist Stephen Hawking to Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla.

Musk called attention to the findings today in a series of tweets that ended up endorsing the idea of building AI tools into devices that interface with the human brain.

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Join the satellite hunt for Peru’s lost cities

Sarah Parcak
University of Alabama archaeologist Sarah Parcak checks satellite imagery of a target site. (National Geographic via YouTube)

Armed with a $1 million TED Prize, archaeologists today launched the GlobalXplorer.org crowdsourcing project to scan satellite imagery for signs of ancient settlements.

“Archaeologists can’t do this on their own,” Parcak told National Geographic, one of the collaborators in the project. “If we don’t go and find these sites, looters will.”

The 38-year-old archaeologist from the University of Alabama at Birmingham has already made a good start, by using satellite images to identify buried pyramids in Egypt and a covered-over Viking village in Newfoundland.

Such feats (and her fedora) have earned her a snazzy nickname – “Indiana Jones of the 21st century” – and more importantly, $1 milllion in seed money from the TED Prize program.

That money has gone toward building a platform that takes in high-resolution images from DigitalGlobe’s satellites and sorts them for perusal by registered GlobalXplorer users. Online tutorials train the users to spot and flag potential archaeological sites, based on subtle variations in vegetation. The most promising crowdsourced sites are put on the list for on-the-ground exploration.

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Elon Musk hails Hyperloop and touts tunnel

Hyperloop test track
A pod rolls down an enclosed test track next to SpaceX’s headquarters. (SpaceX Photo)

Three student teams got through the engineering gauntlet and sent their Hyperloop pods through a mile-long tube to test a new mode of transportation today.

The pod races were the climax of this weekend’s first-ever Hyperloop competition – hosted by SpaceX at its headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., and backed by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who came up with the Hyperloop concept in 2013.

Twenty-seven teams, including a squad from the University of Washington, brought their fast-moving, high-tech machines to Hawthorne for testing.

But there was only enough time for three of the teams – coming from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and Germany’s Technical University of Munich – to pass all of today’s required preliminaries and make a tube run under full race conditions.

“We completed all tests and were ready to go, as were a few other teams,” David Coven, one of the leaders of the UW Hyperloop team, told GeekWire in an email. “There just wasn’t enough time to race each of the teams.”

The German team, known as WARR Hyperloop, clocked the fastest time of the three, traveling through the vacuum tube at a maximum speed of 94 kilometers per hour (58 mph). Delft won the overall prize, based on the points given for design and safety as well as for speed.

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What it’ll be like to ride Blue Origin’s rocket

An artist’s conception shows passengers looking through one of the windows in Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship. (Blue Origin Illustration)
An artist’s conception shows passengers looking through one of the windows in Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship. (Blue Origin Illustration)

The folks who ride New Shepard, the suborbital spaceship being tested by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture, will be given barf bags to tuck into their flight suits. But they almost certainly won’t need them.

That’s the word from former NASA astronaut Nicholas Patrick, who is now working out what passengers aboard New Shepard will experience. His official title at Blue Origin is human integration architect.

Patrick and other Blue Origin employees showed off what the company’s done so far, and what it plans to do over the next couple of years, for a standing-room crowd of about 500 folks on Jan. 27 during an “Astronomy on Tap” presentation at the Peddler Brewing Company in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.

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Air Force One, F-35 deals face Pentagon review

The current Air Force One planes were built more than a quarter-century ago. (White House Photo)
The current Air Force One planes were built more than a quarter-century ago. (White House Photo)

President Donald Trump’s defense secretary, James Mattis, has ordered reviews of the multibillion-dollar programs to acquire new Air Force One jets and more F-35 fighter jets – two programs that sparked his boss’ ire in the run-up to his inauguration.

“Yesterday Secretary Mattis directed separate reviews of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program,” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said today in a statement quoted by The Hill. “The purpose of these reviews is to inform programmatic and budgetary decisions, recognizing the critical importance of each of these acquisition programs.”

Lockheed Martin is the main contractor for the F-35 program, which has experienced cost overruns and production delays. The Boeing Co. is working with the Air Force on the specifications for two replacement Air Force One jets to be used for presidential flights.

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Pentagon gives Boeing $2.1B tanker contract

The KC-46A is a multirole tanker that can refuel allied and coalition military aircraft and also carry passengers, cargo and patients. (Boeing photo)
The KC-46A is a multirole tanker that can refuel allied and coalition military aircraft and also carry passengers, cargo and patients. (Boeing photo)

By Jillian Stampher and Alan Boyle

Boeing has won a $2.1 billion contract to build more tanker planes for the U.S. Air Force, the manufacturer and the Pentagon announced today.

Under the deal, Boeing will build 15 KC-46A tanker aircraft, plus spare engines and wing air refueling pod kits. It’s the third low-rate initial production order for the company. The first two orders were for seven and 12 planes.

“This award is great news for the joint Boeing-Air Force team and reinforces the need for this highly efficient and capable tanker aircraft,” Mike Gibbons, Boeing’s KC-46A tanker vice president and program manager, said in a statement.

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Artifacts on display 50 years after Apollo 1 fire

Apollo 1 exhibit
Kennedy Space Center’s “Ad Astra Per Aspera” exhibit honors Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, who died in a launch pad fire in 1967. (NASA Photo / Kim Shiflett)

Fifty years ago today, three NASA astronauts died in a launch pad fire when they couldn’t open the hatch of their Apollo command module to escape. Remains of that module have been held in storage for decades, but never put on display. Until now.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 tragedy, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex opened an exhibit titled “Ad Astra Per Aspera: A Rough Road Leads to the Stars,” featuring the scorched hatch and other artifacts from the mission that never lifted off.

“I think it’s about time that we paid tribute to the crew with a memorial here at the Kennedy Space Center,” center director Bob Cabana, a former shuttle astronaut, said today during the exhibit’s opening ceremonies.

Astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee were killed during the pre-launch test on Jan. 27, 1967, after a spark from an electrical short ignited flammable materials inside the capsule where they were sitting.

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SpaceX adds lab to Seattle satellite operation

SpaceX Redmond facility
SpaceX has leased Building 117 at Redmond Ridge Corporate Center, which has 40,625 square feet of space. (Sierra Construction)

SpaceX has taken on a 40,625-square-foot facility in Redmond, Wash., that will become a research and development lab for its ambitious satellite operation.

The warehouse-style space in the Redmond Ridge Corporate Center, owned by M&T Partners, is slated for a $2.1 million interior remodeling job, according to a permit application filed last month with King County.

SpaceX is already using a 30,000-square-foot office building that’s about a 10-minute drive away in Redmond.

Setting up the lab, and hiring the engineers who will work there, marks a significant ramp-up for SpaceX’s presence in the Seattle area’s Eastside region. The California-based company’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, established the Redmond operation in 2015 to develop satellites that would provide global internet access.

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