Science is the poetry of Nature.

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Posts tagged "space exploration"


Should Humanity Try to Contact Intelligent Aliens?

Astronomers have detected nearly 2,000 alien planets to date. As that number continues to rise, so too does the prospect of finding intelligent extraterrestrial life.

In terms of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), it may no longer be a matter of answering the “are we alone” question, some scientists say. Rather, just how crowded is the universe?

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(via afro-dominicano)



The prototype for a new NASA rover is being tested for underwater space exploration

Yaaaaaas send that to Europa asap!

The quest for knowledge and understanding never gets dull. It’s actually the opposite; the more you know, the more amazing the world seems. It’s the crazy possibilities, the unanswered questions that pull us forward.


Photo of the launch site, the day before takeoff. Tomorrow NASA’s maven project (Mars atmosphere and volatile evolution) will take off.

Photo from NASA instagram page

(via afro-dominicano)


How India’s First Mars Mission Works

The Indian Space Research Organization’s Mars Orbiter Mission (“Mangalyaan”) is a technology demonstration. The 2,980-pound (1,350 kilograms) probe will take a 300-day cruise to Mars and then circle the planet, testing equipment and practicing space maneuvers. Scientific objectives are secondary.

After launch, the probe is placed in a highly elliptical orbit around Earth. Further rocket firings modify the probe’s path into a departure trajectory.

The cruise to Mars lasts 300 days. Arriving at Mars, the probe fires its rocket again to slow down and be captured into orbit.

India’s Mars probe is expected to spend six to ten months in orbit, studying the Red Planet’s environment, snapping photos of its surface and searching for methane in the atmosphere, which might be an indicator of life.

Source:; enlarged infographic HERE.

Researchers’ new system could study other worlds with a cell phone camera.

(ISNS) — An international team of researchers has developed a simple way to make a future planetary rover behave more like a human geologist, using just a cell phone camera and laptop. Dubbed “the cyborg astrobiologist,” the system is designed to pick out novel features in rocky landscapes to speed up exploration and identification of alien terrain.

The science missions of current rovers, like Curiosity on Mars, are slowed in part by their reliance on human operators, whose instructions take 14 minutes to reach the rover from Earth. Despite Curiosity’s high-tech cameras, a human pair of eyes is still required to evaluate any images of Martian rocks, and even the rover’s navigation is mostly under external control. The goal of the cyborg astrobiologist is to automate the geological analysis portion of the decision-making for future rovers, said the project’s lead author, planetary scientist Patrick McGuire of Freie Universität in Berlin.

McGuire and his colleagues report on the first field test of their computer vision system in an upcoming issue of the International Journal of Astrobiology. A former coal mine in West Virginia served as the study’s Mars-like backdrop. The scientists used a conventional cell phone to take pictures of rock outcroppings, lichens, shale, and sandstone. The pictures were then sent via Bluetooth to a nearby laptop that analyzed the images. Essentially, said McGuire, the cyborg astrobiologist “compares color and textures in images and looks for redundant color patches or repeating pixels.” Much like a human geologist, it’s looking for novelty, or attractive regions for further exploration, and similarity, to categorize and place images with already identified rock features.

Of the 55 images taken in just an hour, the cyborg software correctly classified 91 percent of images that geologists considered similar, and for novel images, the software’s verdict matched the geologists’ findings 64 percent of the time. After initial geological detection, more sophisticated sensors could be trained on novel areas to look for biochemistry or organics, said McGuire.

The system tended to have difficulty with images that contained similar colors but completely different textures, like lichens and sulfur-streaked coalbeds that were both yellow.

"Lighting and scale are perennial challenges," David Thompson, a computer vision expert at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Inside Science via email. He has been working on similar questions in image analysis. "The human eye, backed with its billion-neuron computer, is adept at distinguishing important attributes from incidental ones like lighting or surface coatings. Teaching a silicon computer to make the ‘right’ distinctions is a challenge."

When he started this computer vision project 11 years ago, McGuire elected not to use robots to test the algorithms – they are “too complex, and break down. A human replaces a lot of robotic capabilities” at the software development and testing stage and acts as a control for judging its output, hence the astrobiology software is a “cyborg.” A cumbersome wearable computer system with a video camera gave way to a simpler phone camera for testing the skills of the software. A laptop and cell phone obviously won’t be in the arsenal of Curiosity’s successor; rather, the software would be integrated into the robot, whose cameras would also have more sophisticated imaging capabilities.

McGuire acknowledges that further field testing on Earth, plus improvements to the software’s speed, are necessary before the cyborg astrobiologist could be deployed to Mars. But the ability for robots to perform even simple geology analyses autonomously could make missions more efficient, and computer vision has now advanced to a stage where this is possible, said Thompson.

One advantage that the cyborg astrobiologist software has – it is unsupervised, meaning it does not have to learn image characteristics from prior datasets to work well – is also a limitation. As the researchers write in their paper, “the algorithm cannot really identify lichens or coal as being lichens or coal.”

A human must evaluate the software’s output, and for the time being at least, will also have a keener eye for discontinuities or small details in rock formations that could prove interesting.

"Robots are ultimately just tools" said Thompson, "and the real intelligence – for the long-foreseeable future – lies with investigators on Earth."

But until people are sent to other planets to have a look for themselves, a semi-independent system like the cyborg astrobiologist could prove very valuable for mapping planetary surfaces, and in the search for extraterrestrial life.


A great look at 3d printing for lunar operations. [Greetings! I have returned from vacation in Chile and our regular program of posts will resume of the next few days - Lee]


Printing the Moon - 3D printing (or additive manufacturing) holds amazing promise in reducing what it takes to create … anything. That is especially true in environments without established industrial infrastructure. The ability to transport a minimal self-contained set of tools to a remote location, combine it with a power source, and then transform local raw material into useable technology, may be the most powerful application of 3D printing ever envisioned. And few other locations are as remote as the surface of another celestial body like our planet’s moon.

Industrial partners including renowned architects Foster + Partners have joined with ESA to test the feasibility of 3D printing using lunar soil. Foster + Partners devised a weight-bearing ‘catenary’ dome design with a cellular structured wall to shield against micrometeoroids and space radiation, incorporating a pressurised inflatable to shelter astronauts. A hollow closed-cell structure – reminiscent of bird bones – provides a good combination of strength and weight.

The base’s design was guided in turn by the properties of 3D-printed lunar soil, with a 1.5 tonne building block produced as a demonstration. The UK’s Monolite supplied the D-Shape printer, with a mobile printing array of nozzles on a 6 meter frame to spray a binding solution onto a sand-like building material. “First, we needed to mix the simulated lunar material with magnesium oxide. This turns it into ‘paper’ we can print with,” explained Monolite founder Enrico Dini. “Then for our structural ‘ink’ we apply a binding salt which converts material to a stone-like solid.

(via futurist-foresight)


Astronaut Thomas P. Stafford, command pilot of the Gemini 9-A space flight, is photographed during the Gemini 9 mission inside the spacecraft by Astronaut Eugene Cernan, Gemini 9 pilot.

(via afro-dominicano)


$12.8 Billion Budget Approved for European Space Agency

I know for a fact that Tumblr science readers hold a special place in their hearts for anything astronomy-related (along with Brian Cox, Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson…)

So, without further ado, rejoice!


New Spaceship For Asteroid Missions

As of 2010, Obama has challenged NASA to get astronauts to an asteroid by 2025, and on to Mars by the mid-2030s. Whether or not the space agency can stick to that schedule largely depends on itsfuture budget, experts say, but regardless of the pace, work on the asteroid mission is already under way.

The Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV) is a prototype that began its design life as a wheeled moon rover. When the president shifted NASA’s focus from the moon-oriented Constellation program set up by the Bush administration, the space agency adapted the SEV to meet the needs of an asteroid mission instead.

That meant taking off the wheels and converting the vehicle into two parts: a robotic sled that will be used for propulsion and guidance, and a detachable crew cabin that can be fitted on top.

2025 Asteroid Mission -

- SEV Site -

[x]Read Article[x]


Just a reminder: Doubling NASA’s budget can transform the country.


Vintage Koppel postcards from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, featuring the Apollo 11 Saturn V rocket, and the Apollo 11 crew; Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins.

(via afro-dominicano)


Goodbye Neil Armstrong.

1930 - 2012

(c) 0011101000110011

It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”

(via hydrogeneportfolio)

Neil Armstrong (1930-2012) was not entirely human. He was the spiritual repository of our spacefaring dreams & ambitions. In death, a little bit of us all dies with him. Farewell my friend. And now, perhaps more than ever, I bid you godspeed.
Neil deGrasse Tyson