My favourite has to be the ‘water bears’, or Tardigrades, little extremophiles that successfully survived their time in orbit.
As a science fiction and futurism buff, I can only get excited at the prospect of Asteroid Mining. Not because of their plan to mine things like platinum, which is appealing enough. I like the idea because if they manage to make asteroid mining profitable, space will open up quickly and dramatically.
A major barrier to space exploration has always been cost and risk. Government agencies like NASA have been seriously constrained by the confluence of these two issues – as you reduce risk you increase cost. A zero risk effort is monstrously expensive, and NASA has been (somewhat rightly) shy of risking humans in risky ventures. Fair enough – if they lost a Mars mission full of astronauts, they would likely have to shut their doors and Mars exploration would be pushed back a generation or two.
But commercial ventures have different risk/cost ratios. If a corporation like Planetary Resources loses a robot mining craft, or even loses everything, others can and will learn from their mistakes. They can still reduce risk, but they are not required to eliminate it altogether in the way that government entities must.
This makes me very optimistic. I don’t have an attachment to any particular entity or type of organization reaching space, and I think that viable space commercialization and (possibly) colonization will be enough of a singularity that it is impossible to predict the outcomes as they apply down here on earth. But what I am enthusiastically in support of is humans expanding into space, as soon as possible.
We are an adaptable species, but we are also at our best when we have significant challenges. Space exploration is a much more interesting and exciting challenge than many of the dystopian futures current SF seems obsessed with.
Via GFR and many others.
ExtremeTech has gathered a collection of videos that showcase the many exciting developments in robots over the last couple of years. I think this is one of those SF tropes that will change our lives in dramatic and unexpected ways over the next ten years.
That said, outside of anticipated (and terrifying) military applications, I think the advent of smart machines in our lives is now so commonplace that we won’t be as amazed as we expected. A robot to do the dishes? Of course, along with driving the car, mowing the lawn and a zillion other things that are merely logical extensions of the smart computing we are coming to terms with now.
Some of the videos have appeared here on the Rocket Ship, but many are new to me and hopefully to you as well. Enjoy.
This video speeds up geologic time scales to show us how the moon evolved over 4.5 Billion years. I have no clear understanding of how scientists settled on particular time frames for some of the events, but I love the visuals.
What the video does not mention is that similar processes were likely happening on Earth at the same time, which goes a long way to demonstrating how dangerous the universe can actually be.
I spotted this originally on Geekosystem.
A recent study had some mice spend 91 days in space to test their bone retention, bone loss being one of the biggest challenges for human space exploration and colonization.
To examine other options, her team sent six mice up to the International Space Station. Three of the mice were genetically modified to produce extra pleiotrophin (PTN) – a protein involved in bone development.
The mice with extra PTN were protected from the breakdown of bone – losing only 3 per cent of the volume of their spine compared with a 41.5 per cent decrease in the normal mice
Three percent is still an issue, and obviously a study of six mice is only a tentative start, but that is definitely a promising result. All of our ideas about space exploration and every other SF trope become somewhat pointless if we don’t figure out a way to keep people healthy and alive while in space for long periods.
Read the research abstract here.
via New Scientist.
Live Science has a short but interesting article about the plausibility of time travel, one of the classic SF concepts. The article explores the two basic directions of time travel – forward and back. There isn’t much to argue with in the writer’s conclusions.
As much as many of us might hate to admit it, the past, with all of its mistakes, could remain sealed off from our efforts to redo it.
I think the obvious logical paradox about travel to the past about eliminates it as a possibility (‘if travel to the past is possible, where are all the travellers from the future?’). And yes, technically we are all travelling into the future all the time.
I do think that we are only likely to experience time travel through some form of suspended animation/cryofreezing technology. People who undergo that sort of procedure might see the world well beyond their natural lifespans, and from their perspective it will amount to time travel. But physics based travel into the future at a rate greater than the normal passage of time is not only unlikely, but hardly worth the effort. We’ll arrive there eventually.
The Tricorder project aims to develop handheld devices that can sense a diverse array of phenomena that we can’t normally see, and intuitively visualize them so we might see temperature or magnetism or pressure as naturally as we see colour.
Go, check it out.
Live Science has a brief but interesting discussion of the plausibility and practicality of laser guns, one of the biggest SF tropes. Short version: We are likely to see some energy weapons, but they won’t use visible light and they won’t look anything like the light pulses in films like Star Wars. There also won’t be hand-held energy weapons anytime soon.
“For strategic and tactical weapons, you can store energy on planes, boats or Humvees,” said Beason, “but unless a super-source of energy is invented, you may never be able to do it with handheld weapons.”
The reason a visible light beam shows up is that particles along its path scatter photons into the eyes of an observer. (Think of a flashlight beam in fog versus the same beam on a clear night.) “Anytime you can see a beam, that means light is being scattered in some way,” said Beason. That, in turn, means less energy reaching the target.
Though I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it, I can see them existing most often in space where there isn’t an atmosphere to diffuse the light, and where discharging a projectile would have more challenges (no atmospheric oxygen to make a bang and the kickback pushing your ship in the other direction). It will be quite awhile before we see any of this, if ever.