21 Mar 2012

Bring out the laser, Mini Me, well, at least the ultraviolet one.  A team at the National Ignition Facility in Livermore, California has fired the world's first two megajoule ultraviolet laser.  Earlier this week, a 1.875-megajoule shot was sent into the target chamber and after it passed the final lens it hit the 2.03 megajoule mark.  It was accomplished using a combination of 192 lasers.  This step is important for science, as scientists have been trying to get past the ignition phase to get fusion energy from tiny frozen (hydrogen) fuel pellets. 

Ultimately the goal is to have the laser fire 15 shots per second, but for now at least, we know one can be done without a major explosion.  Once they get the rate increased, it might be possible to start a fusion reaction by imploding the hydrogen isotope pellets where the energy output would be higher than the energy required to boot.

Scientists feel that things are advancing in such a way that a fusion reaction that just breaks even may occur within six months.  The US Department of Energy has focused most of its efforts on magnet-based fusion, so for laser fusion to achieve ignition by years end, would be great because funding for laser fusion is due to run out by years end.

The Tech-Stew Take Home

This laser test firing is huge for the purpose of starting a fusion reaction.  Fusion has many advantages as far as energy production goes.  The fuel for fusion reactions are readily available and nearly inexhaustible.  Unlike burning fossil fuels, fusion doesn't emit harmful toxins into the atmosphere.  Fusion produces only helium which doesn't contribute to global warming.  Fusion also doesn't have the nuclear waste that fission power contains.

Source:  Geekosystem.com

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21 Mar 2012

An artist's impression of the SpaceX Dragon capsule landing on Mars, as early as 2018 some say.

SpaceX CEO, California entrepreneur, Elon Musk believes he can get the cost of a round trip to Mars to around a half million dollars and has worked out how to do it and possibly get there by 2018.  He says that he will reveal these details later this year or early 2013.

SpaceX is one of NASA's key private commercial partners, one that will be pivotal in getting our astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) in years to come.  They expect to give a full demonstration of going to ISS next month.  To do so they use the Falcon 9 launcher and Dragon vessel.

Musk's vision to Mars can be heard in Scott's Legacy, a BBC Radio 4 program or via this player.  

21 Mar 2012

Vaccinia Virus

Those pesky viruses can make us all sick, but one day could be engineered to defeat cancer.  Cancer cells have one trait that may leave them open to attack.  They aren't good at killing off viral infections, hence, at least in theory, you could use a virus to kill cancer cells without affecting the patient.

Some of the efforts to use viruses to defeat cancer date back to 1951.  A 4-year old with leukemia caught chicken pox.  As a result the leukemia went into remission, but later returned once the chicken pox was gone, unfortunately the child later died.  Continued efforts to use these techniques went on until the 1960s and after this point, other methods began to be investigated.  Since the 1960s much has happened in science, with an understanding in the genetics and workings of viruses and cancer.  

20 Mar 2012

The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) sits a-top a Delta IV Heavy, ready for a test flight, one of the first ever to reach this deep into space since the Apollo missions of 1972.  The year of the test is 2014.  The video below breaks down the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) from launch until splashdown.

We have a real need for such space craft right now, especially in the even of an asteroid threat, but unfortunately, as always, budget constraints keep pushing the future of the space program and exploration into the future.  Hopefully 2014 will at least be the year of the test.  See the simulation of the test in the video below.  

19 Mar 2012

From Star Wars to real sound of rockets:  Skywalker Sound, the George Lucas audio department has created a sound effects mix of the real sound of a Rocket Booster from the moment of lift-off until splashdown, about 400 seconds worth of space shuttle goodness.  This via the NASA Glenn Research Center.

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15 Mar 2012

(Image Credit: Philipp Salzgeber)

Space.com is reporting that Russia plans on sending cosmonauts to the moon as well as unmanned spacecrafts to Mars, Jupiter and Venus by 2030.  To date, the United States is still the only country who has successfully landed landers on Mars.  Considering the recent launch failures in Russia, these plans seem very ambitious.

These plans were detailed in a strategy document by Russia's Federal Space Agency (Roscomos), according to the Russian Newspaper Kommersant on Tuesday March 13th.

In addition they want a new rocket called Angara to become their main launch vehicle by 2020 that will replace Soyuz and Proton rockets (that have been around since the 1960s).  Soyuz is only a 3 passenger spaceship, while Angara will have a 6 seat spaceship.  Roscosmos is also considering building a space station around the Moon by 2030.  Russia is still our key partner with the $100 billion International Space Station, which is only supposed to remain active until 2020.

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14 Mar 2012

There has been hope for a few years now about the concept of re-animating and re-creating the woolly mammoth, but such progress has been impeded by the lack of undamaged mammoth genes, until now.  Last August, paleontologists reported discovering a well-preserved mammoth's thigh bone in Siberia which raised the chances of a successful cloning procedure.  The mammoth became extinct about 10,000 years ago.  Scientists from South Korea and Russia have signed onto the cloning project, which seems like something from Jurassic Park. 

28 Feb 2012

Mother of pearl or nacre is made by mollusks and
can be used as a temperature gauge for past
climate studies.
(Credit dianamower / Fotolia)

Mother of pearl, otherwise known as nacre is an organic-inorganic material that is produced by certain molluscs in an inner shell layer and also what makes up pearls.  Its used with a wide variety of jewelry and art.  Nacre is also extremely resilient, about 3,000 times more so than the aragonite from which it is made. 

A new study published from the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS), with scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have shown that nacre can be used as a thermometer and pressure sensor, which can reveal both the temperature and ocean depth at which the nacre formed.  The microscopic structure of the material tells the maximum temperature and maximum pressure which the mollusk lived.

Nacre is widespread throughout the world and can go back 450 million years.  Using the same techniques applied to the mollusks on fossil nacre, there is an unprecedented opportunity to reconstruct a global record of environments and environmental change going much further back than before possible.  Essentially, by correlation, its a thermometer that goes back in time or a "paleothermometer" of the water temperatures when the nacre formed.

Scientists can also look at the two independent parameters, by looking at two parts of the nacre structure.  Maximum temperature is measured by seeing how disordered the nacre crystal alignments are and maximum pressure via the thickness of the layers themselves.

Considering the many holes in past climate history and change that still exist, this finding could potentially increase our knowledge of ancient Earth climate dramatically and give insight to current and future changes.

Source:  ScienceDaily.com

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