Categories
GeekWire

Lessons from a 15-year Mars rover mission

Steve Squyres
Planetary scientist Steve Squyres, who headed the science team for NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity rovers and now serves as Blue Origin’s chief scientist, demonstrates how the rovers were parked on slanted slopes to soak up maximum solar energy during the Martian winter. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — For 15 years, planetary scientist Steve Squyres’ life revolved around Mars, with good reason. He was the principal investigator for one of the longest-running NASA missions on the surface of another world, executed by the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

If anyone has a sense of the lay of the land on the Red Planet, it’d be Squyres. So what does he think of the idea of setting up permanent cities on Mars?

“My take on this one is no, I don’t think so,” Squyres said here today at Penn State University during the ScienceWriters 2019 conference.

He’s not opposed to sending people to Mars. Far from it. “Human research base? Absolutely, as soon as possible,” Squyres said. It’s even possible that super-rich tourists will want to travel to Mars and back, he said.

But based on the problems that Spirit and Opportunity encountered during their longer-than-anticipated operating life on the Red Planet, plus Squyres’ experience as a researcher in Antarctica and Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, he isn’t convinced that Mars can ever be a place to raise a family.

“Antarctica is international territory,” he said. “If you want to build a home, if you want to go homesteading, set up shop, build a community, build a town, nobody’s going to stop you. … And yet, nobody does it. Why? Antarctica is a terrible place, it really is. And Mars is just so much worse.”

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

How VR can make things go better in the real world

VR anatomy
Freelance science writer Berly McCoy uses a VR headset and controller to manipulate a virtual human brain at the Maryland Blended Reality Center. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Can being in the middle of an opera take your mind off pain?

Here at the University of Maryland, scientists are studying the therapeutic value of experiencing a virtual-reality recording of Francis Poulenc’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites.” The hope is that, at least in some situations, the distraction of an immersive virtual experience can provide pain relief without having to turn to opioids.

“The pathways through which we receive pain are the same pathways through which distraction travels,” computer scientist Amitabh Varshney told journalists last week during a tour of the university’s Maryland Blended Reality Center.

To see whether the idea could work, a research team recorded a performance of “Dialogues” in VR from three vantage points, including a 360-degree camera mounted right on the stage. Headset-wearing users can switch between the vantage points to experience the opera as if they were watching from the orchestra pit or standing in the midst of the action. The experience can be far more powerful than merely listening to audio or watching a video.

“We are working to see how far we can take this,” Varshney said.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Why tech titans are leaping into quantum computing

D-Wave computer
A team member at D-Wave Systems, based in Burnaby, B.C.,, works on the dilution refrigerator system that cools the processors in the company’s quantum computer. (D-Wave Systems Photo)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The small world of quantum physics is a big deal on the frontier of computer science.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella rates quantum computing as one of three key technologies that will shape his company’s future, along with artificial intelligence and mixed reality. Google and NASA are working with D-Wave Systems to blaze a quantum trail. IBM has its Q initiative, and Boeing’s newly formed Disruptive Computing & Networks unit is targeting quantum as well.

There’s been a White House summit on quantum information science, and Congress is considering legislation that’d give quantum computing a $1.3 billion boost over the next 10 years.

What’s going on?

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

50 years after Apollo, will China spark space race?

Apollo 17 flag
NASA astronaut Harrison Schmitt stands next to the U.S. flag on the moon with Earth hanging in the black sky above during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. (NASA Photo)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — An American rivalry with China could stoke a new space race in the years ahead, prominent members of the space community said at a session marking the 50th anniversary of NASA’s Apollo missions.

But it may not play out the way the U.S.-Soviet space race did, said Scott Pace, executive secretary for the White House’s National Space Council.  Billionaire-backed space efforts such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin could play a leading role, he said.

“China has billionaires, too,” Pace said today at the ScienceWriters 2018 conference, held at George Washington University. “China has a growing commercial space sector that is not simply People’s Liberation Army guys in new suits, but a commercial industry also emerging out there. And so they are not merely national security competitors, but they’re also potential commercial competitors — as China is in many other areas.”

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Moonwalker stirs up a buzz over climate change

Harrison Schmitt
Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt speaks at an “Apollo Plus 50” session during the ScienceWriters 2018 conference in Washington, D.C. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  I didn’t invite Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt to get his views on climate change, but that’s the topic that created the most fireworks here today at the ScienceWriters 2018 conference.

The title of the session was “Apollo Plus 50,” and the focus was the past and the future of America’s space program in light of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon missions.

Get the full story on GeekWire.