Burning metal

The astronaut tugged at the lever but she couldn’t move it.  The servos that were built into the fabric of her space suit to help with heavy lifting had failed over ten minutes ago.  Rather than return to safety inside the craft she had chosen to stay outside and try to fix the parasol.  She knew that without the parasol she would only be safe inside the craft for an hour before the heat started to breach its integrity.  The blisters on the outside surfaces were already creeping towards her.  She looked up.  Her polarising visor was not enough to turn her attention away from the boiling surface of the Sun.  The slow moving eruptions played a mesmerising dance across her field of vision.  Each cell of heat and light growing before folding into its neighbouring cells.  An alarm sounded inside her helmet and she turned her attention back to the broken parasol deployment mechanism.

EAS, the European Space Agency, has selected Astrium to lead the build of a new Solar Orbiter.  It will pass closer to the Sun than Mercury and will contain a range of scientific equipment.  Its 3-year orbital insertion trip will see it use the gravitational wells of both the Earth and Mercury to adjust its trajectory.  It is scheduled to spend 7 years orbiting the Sun and will be launched in 2017.  See a press release here: http://www.astrium.eads.net/node.php?articleid=8611 See a video here: http://videos-en.astrium.eads.net/#/video/36f387af2e2s  Visit the mission page here: http://sci.esa.int/solarorbiter



Harvesting the richness of space

The dim solar light flickered as the cloud of dust rose from the surface of the asteroid.  Three suited figure stood gripping tethers to hold them down against the gentle spin.  Gravity was weak.  As the dust cleared one of the figures crouched next to the excavation.  A suited hand brushed aside the dust that had settled and revealed metallic crystals that glinted in the light.  Glints that meant riches beyond imagine.

A group of technology innovators and NASA experts have teamed up to found and fund a company, Planetary Resources, to explore and commercialise the resources available on asteroids and other non-Earth territories.  An announcement and update to the website is scheduled for tomorrow, 24 April.  Visit the website here: http://www.planetaryresources.com/ See the wiki page here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetary_Resources


Creatures from the goo

The creature pulled itself from the layer of stagnant water and fell against the glass wall of the chamber.  As it scraped at the smooth surface it felt the glands in its extremities secrete a thick, tacky liquid.  On its second attempt it was able to cling to the lower portion of the wall and slowly drag itself upwards, towards the light.  When it was high above the water below it turned its single complex eye to look back down.  Context started to snap into place and it became aware of itself, its surroundings and the possibilities that lay ahead.  It turned its attention to one of its simple limbs.  After several minutes of focussed thought it felt a tingle as its DNA started to adapt, splitting the limb first into two, then four.  It flexed its newly formed hand and turned its attention back to the light above it and the world it would lead to.

A group of scientists at the MRC Laboratory of Moleculary Biology have created synthetic molecules that can store genetic information in a manner similar to RNA and DNA.  The six encoding mechanisms, including XNA, both open the possiblity of new therapeutic treatments and shed light on the meta-ancestors of the prevalent RNA and DNA encodings.  Read the press release here: http://www2.mrc-lmb.cam.ac.uk/news-and-events/lmb-news/development-of-new-genetic-polymers  See the Science article here: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/336/6079/341.abstract


Robotic salvation

He shivered.  The cold was starting to creep through him.  He pushed at the concrete beam again, but it did not give.  Thirst welled up inside him as he recalled the water cooler that had been just across the office before the building collapsed four days earlier.  He tried to put it from his mind.  Suddenly a low-powered drilling noise sounded above him.  Dust started to fall on to his face, causing him to cough and raise his free arm against the downfall.  When the dust stopped he moved his arm away.  In front of him a white plastic shape was pulling itself through the opening.  Once through it reconfigured itself into the shape of a humanoid.  It popped open a compartment on its chest and retrieved a water bottle.  Holding it in front of him the machine said, “Drink this.”

DARPA has announced a competition with a $2 million prize for robotics and software enthusiasts to build a machine that can be used to help out in disaster situations.  The winning robot will need to perform a series of tasks including using tools and vehicles. See the press release here: http://www.darpa.mil/NewsEvents/Releases/2012/04/10.aspx Go to the challenge page here: https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=ee8e770bcfe1fe217472342c67d6bd5a&tab=core&_cview=0


The beast under salmon skies

The creature rose to its hind feet, looked upwards at the salmon-coloured skies and roared.  The rocks nearby started to shake and dust drifted from the widening cracks.  It was unchallenged as the dominant creature of the dominant species on the planet and it would assert this as often as possible.  It saw a metallic streak puncture the atmosphere and plunge towards the surface.  Calculating its impact point the creature returned to all-fours and galloped to meet the craft.  It hadn’t tasted metal before and was keen to see if there was anything edible inside.

Scientists working on the HARPS project at the ESO have announced that there are far more Earth-sized planets in the universe than previously thought.  Many within the habitable zone that could give rise to life.  They estimate that there about 100 potentially habitable planets orbiting red dwarfs within 30 light-years of Earth.  See the press release here: http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1214/


Reality fading into view

A pulse of light flashed in her peripheral vision drawing her attention away from the ghost image of the book she was reading.  As she turned her head to follow the pulse the text floating before her faded from sight.  Behind it was revealed the real-world departure board.  She examined the line her reality tracker had picked out – her plane was boarding.  It was time to leave.  She nodded her tracker to idle, picked up her case and headed for the gate.

Google has announced a prototype wearable computer system, Project Glass.  It provides an interactive augmented reality that is delivered by lightweight glasses. See the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9c6W4CCU9M4