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Elon Musk sells 20,000 flamethrowers: What now?

Elon Musk with flamethrower
A gleeful Elon Musk shows off his flamethrower in an Instagram video. (Elon Musk via Instagram)

Even if billionaire Elon Musk ever decides to pack it in as CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, he can point to his success as a pitchman for flamethrowers.

Tonight he declared that his planned inventory of 20,000 fire-spitting guns was sold out, just four days after the sale opened on the Boring Company’s website.

At $500 a pop, that means he’s grossed $10 million for the company, whose main purpose is to lower the cost of excavation and open the way for high-speed transit tunnels.

But wait … there’s more: Musk said every buyer would get a free fire extinguisher, which was going for $30 extra when the sale began.

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TV show reveals turmoil behind solar-powered flight

Solar Impulse pilots and plane
Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg shared the piloting duties on the single-seat Solar Impulse 2 airplane. (Niels Ackermann Photo / Rezo / Solar Impulse)

From the outside, it looked as if the Swiss-led Solar Impulse project smoothly soldiered through adversity as its solar-powered plane made a record-setting trip around the world in 2015 and 2016.

But the perspective was different when seen from the inside: The multimillion-dollar campaign nearly came crashing down when teammates debated whether to go ahead with a crucial Pacific crossing, even though the monitoring system for the autopilot wasn’t working right.

“The engineers were crying,” said Bertrand Piccard, the Swiss psychiatrist and adventurer who served as Solar Impulse’s co-founder, chairman and one of its pilots. “They were begging me to stop.”

The turmoil as well as the technology behind the globe-girdling, fuel-free odyssey are on full display in “The Impossible Flight,” a two-hour NOVA documentary premiering on PBS tonight.

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SpaceX launches satellite, and rocket survives

SpaceX Falcon 9 launch
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, sending the GovSat-1 satellite to space. (SpaceX via YouTube)

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket sent a telecommunications satellite into orbit today for Luxembourg’s government and the SES satellite venture, setting the stage for next week’s maiden launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket.

The GovSat-1 spacecraft is the first component in a NATO satellite constellationthat’s designed to provide secure communications for tactical operations, maritime missions or over areas affected by humanitarian crises. It was built by Orbital ATK, with anti-jamming and encryption systems, and is meant exclusively for governmental and institutional security applications.

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Boeing outperforms expectations, boosting stock

Boeing logo
Boeing, which has its corporate headquarters in Chicago, is reporting record results. (Boeing Photo)

The Boeing Co. today reported better-than-expected financial results for the fourth quarter of 2017 and a rosier-than-expected outlook for the year ahead, sending its share prices up 5 percent.

“Thanks to the dedicated efforts of employees throughout our company, Boeing delivered 2017 financial results that included record earnings, record cash flow, and record commercial aircraft deliveries,” Dennis Muilenburg, the company’s CEO, president and chairman, told journalists and analysts in a conference call.

Boeing’s performance was boosted by an upturn in the airline industry’s jet purchases as well as the recently enacted tax-cut bill, and the company projects a continuation of the positive trend in 2018.

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Feast your eyes on the total lunar eclipse

Lunar eclipse
A sequence of images shows the progression of the lunar eclipse, captured by photographer Mike Massee from Tehachapi, Calif. (Mike Massee Photo)

Cloudy weather blocked Seattle’s view of the “super blue blood moon” early today — but as a consolation, skywatchers from Vancouver to Siberia shared their images of the total lunar eclipse.

Total lunar eclipses arise when Earth’s shadow falls fully over the moon, and the long-wavelength light that’s refracted by our planet’s atmosphere turns the full moon’s disk a sunset-like shade of red.

The event received an extra burst of hype because it took place during a time when the moon is closer to Earth than usual (qualifying by some definitions as a “supermoon”), and because it was the second full moon in the course of a month (a so-called “blue moon”).

Putting all these features together results in the super-blue-blood label, which NASA readily adopted. “Sounds like an opportunity for vampires,” University of Washington astronomer Julie Lutz joked.

Whatever you call it, the lunar eclipse is totally worth a recap …

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What Donald Trump said (and didn’t say) about tech

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union Address to Congress with Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan in the background. (White House Photo)

Immigration, tax cuts and crime loomed large in President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union Address, but technology and innovation went unmentioned tonight during a speech that lasted nearly an hour and a half.

The word “science” was used once, toward the end, when Trump paid tribute to the American people. “They push the bounds of science and discovery,” he said.

There was no mention of space exploration, as there was when Trump addressed Congress last year soon after taking office. The impacts of climate change, artificial intelligence and automation — trends that are already reshaping the nation and the world — went unaddressed. Not a word was spoken about the internet or net (non-)neutrality.

Such omissions didn’t sit well with science policy experts such as Rush Holt, a former Democratic congressman who now serves as the CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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Bill Nye’s State of the Union date creates a stir

Bill Nye
Planetary Society Bill Nye flashes a Vulcan greeting during a 2014 visit to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Planetary Society Photo)

Bill Nye the Science Guy is going to the State of the Union Address, but as a guest of President Donald Trump’s choice for NASA administrator. And therein lies the rub.

The NASA nominee is U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., who became notorious as a climate policy opponent during the Obama administration. In 2013, for instance, Bridenstine called on President Barack Obama to apologize for spending so much money on climate research.

Bridenstine backtracked a bit last year during Senate hearings on his NASA nomination. He said he didn’t know whether climate change was being driven primarily by human activities, “but I do know that humans have absolutely contributed to global warming.”

Such statements may have helped smooth relations with Nye, who has spoken up long and loudly for climate science and measures to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. He explained why he accepted Bridenstine’s invitation to Capitol Hill on Monday in a Facebook posting.

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Wireless wristbands could track warehouse workers

Ultrasonic wristbands
A diagram shows how an ultrasonic wristband can track a warehouse worker’s position in relation to a given inventory bin. (Amazon Illustration via USPTO)

Amazon has been issued a pair of patents for a wristband system that monitors whether warehouse workers are putting their hands in the right places.

The patents, published today, cover bracelets that could emit ultrasonic sound pulses or radio transmissions to let a receiver system get a fix on where the workers’ hands are, in relation to an array of inventory bins.

Amazon doesn’t typically comment on its patents, but if the technology makes economic sense, it could conceivably be picked up for use in the Seattle-based online retailer’s hundreds of fulfillment centers.

This isn’t the first time the concept has come to light: When the applications for the patents were published last fall, there was a spate of stories about “buzzing wristbands that bosses can use to track workers and order them around.”

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Your guide to the super blue blood moon eclipse

Lunar eclipse
A total lunar eclipse gives the full moon a reddish tinge in 2015. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Geographically speaking, the Pacific Northwest is one of the best places in America to see tonight’s super-hyped total lunar eclipse. Meteorologically speaking? Not so much.

Seattleites might have to go as far east as Ellensburg to get a clear view of what’s touted as a “super blue blood moon.” And in reality, the moon won’t be bloody, or blue, or even all that super.

Before we go into full sour-grapes mode, let’s acknowledge that if there’s a chance of seeing the full moon fade to red between 4:51 a.m. and 6:07 a.m. PT Jan. 31, it’s definitely worth getting out of bed.

“Set your alarm early and go out and take a look,” NASA’s Gordon Johnson says in the space agency’s preview of the eclipse.

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@BoeingCEO gets ready for Twitter takeoff

Dennis Muilenburg Twitter profile
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg is due to post his first tweet this week. (Boeing via Twitter)

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg’s corporate Twitter account has lain fallow like an Iowa farm field ever since he took over the top post in mid-2015, but now it’s time for @BoeingCEO to sing out.

Muilenburg, who also serves as Boeing’s chairman and president, will make his Twitter debut on Jan. 31 with the announcement of the company’s fourth-quarter financial results for 2017 and Boeing’s guidance for business in 2018.

“This new communications approach for our CEO will provide an effective platform for sharing company news and industry insight,” Phil Musser, Boeing senior vice president of communications, said today in a news release. “It also will help us highlight the inspirational, innovative work of our people, and better connect with customers, stakeholders and aerospace enthusiasts — where the conversations are taking place.”

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