Your Flying Car

By Carl Slaughter:  (1) Larry Page’s secret flying car project: “Welcome to Larry Page’s Secret Flying-Car Factories”.

In the handful of news articles that ensued, all the startup would say was that it wasn’t affiliated with Google or any other technology company. Then it stopped answering media inquiries altogether. Employees say they were even given wallet-size cards with instructions on how to deflect questions from reporters. After that, the only information that trickled out came from amateur pilots, who occasionally posted pictures of a strange-looking plane taking off from a nearby airport.

Turns out, Zee.Aero doesn’t belong to Google or its holding company, Alphabet. It belongs to Larry Page, Google’s co-founder. Page has personally funded Zee.Aero since its launch in 2010 while demanding that his involvement stay hidden from the public, according to 10 people with intimate knowledge of the company. Zee.Aero, however, is just one part of Page’s plan to usher in an age of personalized air travel, free from gridlocked streets and the cramped indignities of modern flight. Like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, Page is using his personal fortune to build the future of his childhood dreams.

Previously known patents registered by Zee.Aero show a craft that matches this description, with a thin central fuselage and twin rows of propellors like outriggers. The patent, filed in 2012, says the aircraft is capable of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) and is described as a “safe, quiet, easy to control, efficient and compact aircraft.” Not quite a flying car, then, but certainly a vision of personal aviation.

The other startup Page has been investing in, Kitty Hawk, has reportedly been building its own craft “that resembles a giant version of a quadcopter drone,” according to Bloomberg‘s sources. The startup is smaller than Zee.Aero, and kept separate from its older rival. Some of its engineers come from AeroVelo — a firm that previously won the $250,000 Sikorsky Prize in 2013 for building a human-powered helicopter that can stay aloft for more than a minute (see the video below). And Kitty Hawk wouldn’t be the first firm to design a quadcopter-inspired aircraft; similar concepts have been floated by Chinese firm Ehang and even built by lone engineers.

(2) Uber hires NASA engineer to develop flying car — “Uber hires NASA veteran to help it figure out flying cars”.

Mark Moore, a 30-year veteran of NASA, has left the aeronautics agency for a seemingly more terrestrial business: ride-hailing giant Uber. But Moore won’t be working on anything as boring as expanding Uber’s ground operation. According to Bloomberg, he will be working on the company’s nascent on-demand aviation service, also known as Uber’s flying car project.

To be sure, Moore won’t be building a flying car for Uber — at least not yet. Last October, the company released a white paper that envisioned a flying taxi service as a network of lightweight, electric aircraft that take off and land vertically from preexisting urban heliports and skyscraper rooftops. These VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing, pronounced vee-tol) aircraft would operate using fixed wings with tilt prop-rotors.

(3) Europeans take flight in cars. “Flying cars take off on French Riviera”.

Bratislava-based Aeromobil, whose first prototype presented two years ago suffered an accident, is back with a “new generation” of flying vehicle named after the firm which makes it.

“We are taking reservations from today for deliveries expected in 2020, after the process of (regulatory) approvals is completed,” the Slovak firm’s spokesman Stefan Vadocz told AFP.

The Aeromobil vehicle, six metres long and with a fully-deployed span of nine metres, is a normal four-wheeled car which can unfold its wings to transform itself into a plane able to fly two passengers at a cruising speed of 260 km/h for up to 750 kilometres.

Flying cars, that perennial dream for futurists that always seem to be at least five years away, may be a little closer to reality than we realize. A lot of prototypes have been showcased recently, and a lot of money is being tossed around. More people than ever seem to buy into the crazy notion that in the near future we’ll be buzzing between rooftops in private, autonomous drones. Today, Munich-based Lilium Aviation announced an important milestone: the first test flight of its all-electric, two-seater, vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) prototype.

In a video provided by the Munich-based startup, the aircraft can be seen taking off vertically like a helicopter, and then accelerating into forward flight using wing-borne lift.

 

(4) China does passenger drones. “Passenger-Carrying EHang 184 Drone Unveiled At CES”

Imagine dressing for work, grabbing your lunch, and then hopping in a drone for your commute.

That is what Chinese company EHang imagines life could be like with its man-sized drone — although the company is light so far on evidence that it can actually pull it off.

(5) Forget flying cars, passenger drones are the future. “Forget Flying Cars: Passenger Drones May Be Hovering Soon at a Location Near You”

At first blush, human-carrying drones sound no more realistic than flying cars. Until recently inventors had never been able to marry automobiles and aircraft in a practical way. Yet a few companies have kept at it: Woburn, Mass.–based Terrafugia, for example, has since 2006 been developing Transition, a “roadable aircraft” that resembles a small airplane that can fold its wings and drive on roads. A personal flying car in every garage has proved to be a tough sell, however, and there are serious safety concerns about asking the average commuter to train for a pilot’s license and take to the skies.

Passenger drones, by contrast, would operate autonomously and leave the “roadable” part behind in favor of larger versions of aircraft that already exist. Chinese start-up EHANG last month announced it would debut its passenger drone service in Dubai in July. The EHANG184 autonomous aerial vehicle resembles an overgrown quadcopter with a passenger cab perched on top. Last October ride-hailing service Uber publicized its Elevate program for urban air transportation and announced support for companies building vehicles similar to the 184. Uber recently bolstered its plans by hiring Mark Moore, an aircraft engineer at NASA Langley Research Center and pioneer in vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft designs. Several other companies, including Joby Aviation and Silicon Valley start-ups Zee.Aero and Kitty Hawk—the latter two backed by Google co-founder Larry Page—are racing to develop electric-powered VTOL aircraft that could help make Elevate a reality. Terrafugia likewise plans to eventually offer a VTOL flying vehicle—the TF-X—in addition to the Transition.

(6) Hover golf cart.  See a video report — “The Amazing Hovering Golf Cart of the Future”.

(7) Yes, but will it come with a parachute? “Flying cars may be poised to take off, but survey shows Americans want a parachute “.

As for takeoff and landing, most respondents — 83% — would prefer vertical launch to taking flight runway-style. (The survey didn’t ask, but earth-bound cars and truck drivers may feel even more strongly about it.)

Nearly 80% said a parachute would be “very” or “extremely” important.

Last Friday, the AeroMobil 3.0 prototype, recently featured in Popular Science’s 2015 Invention Awards, crashed during a flight test in Slovakia. When the flying car ran into trouble, its pilot, company co-founder Štefan Klein, deployed a whole-aircraft parachute, which slowed the descent and saved Klein’s life. But the impact on the ground seems to have destroyed the craft itself.

(8) Yes, but does it meet FAA standards? “FAA Gives Flying Car Prototype the Go-Ahead as a Light Sport Aircraft”.

The Terrafugia Transition is a prototype automobile-aircraft that is about the closest thing to a flying car that we have. It’s street legal and it can fly, and now the FAA has granted the Woburn, Massachusetts-based company exemption from weight and stall-speed limits so the Transition flying car can be certified as a light sport aircraft (LSA), according to Aviation Week.

(9) Never happen. “Man will never walk on the Moon.”  “Man will never have flying taxis.” “Uber’s Flying Car Ambitions Are Lofty And Ridiculous”.

So Uber is mostly skipping the car part, instead making a plane that takes off and lands like a helicopter, and designing it to fly from helipads. Helicopters–an existing, proven technology–already meet most of the needs for Uber’s planned flying machine, but they’re too slow for the commuter flights of 20 minutes or less that Uber wants from urban hubs to residential suburbs (or the downtown hubs of suburban areas). To meet this, Uber wants an aircraft that can fly between 150 mph and 200 mph. That’s speedier than all but the most cutting edge military helicopters, but within the range of VTOL aircraft–which is why Uber wants it to switch to flying like a plane once it’s off the ground. On top of all that, the company wants the vehicle to be all-electric, to keep down noise and emissions.

They Blinded Me With Science News

By Carl Slaughter: (1) We are rapidly approaching a new singularity.  Not a singularity in which the universe collapses under its own gravity.  Not a singularity in which the progress of AIs outpaces the input of their creators.  But a singularity in which scientists bring inventions out of the lab faster than science fiction writers can imagine them or craft stories about them, faster than patent attorneys can file claims for them.  Only a few years ago, Pacific Rim depicted giant, piloted robots used for military purposes.  This prototype bears a striking resemblance.  The Pentagon is planning to use them to patrol the border of North Korea.  I’m sure there’s no shortage of American warriors willing to climb into one of these mechanical beasts and adopt Idris Elba-esque.

“This giant manned robot might patrol the North Korean border” says BGR reporter Mike Wehner:

Robots can be terrifying all on their own, but stick a human being inside and give them control of the mechanical muscles that provide superhuman strength and you’ve got a recipe for a horror movie. South Korean robotics firm Hankook Mirae Technology has done exactly that, and its Method-2 robot just took its first steps towards world domination this week.

(2) It’s not (just) rocket science. The key to a successful, manned mission to Mars is the “invisible tool” of biotechnology.  So says Maxx Chatsko, editor of Syn Bio Data, in “Boeing and SpaceX Aren’t Going Anywhere Without Biotechnology” for The Motley Fool.  I would say, forget biotechnology for now.  Instead, develop robotics, AI, and data analysis technology.  Let androids pave the way for humans.

Radiation is far from the only threat to our health during interplanetary travel. Eighty percent of astronauts who participate on long-duration missions in space return to Earth with permanently altered vision. The condition was first recognized in astronaut John Phillips, who left Earth with 20/20 vision and returned with 20/100 vision after a six-month stay on the International Space Station. Doctors discovered that the shape of his eyes changed during his mission, which was shorter than a trip to Mars, because of pressure imbalances in the skull.

The only known treatment involves spinal taps or drilling holes into a patient’s skull and must be conducted at the onset, meaning in the zero-gravity environment of space. Aside from the logistical hurdles of performing invasive procedures in space, astronauts and future colonists — SpaceX and Boeing customers — would probably prefer a biological solution.

(3) Russian Terminator prototype. “Stay calm, citizens: Russia’s gun-wielding robot is definitely ‘not Terminator’”.

When it comes to fears of robots taking over the world, mental images inspired by Terminator immediately spring to mind. But if robots really were going to wage war against their creators some day, they wouldn’t be walking around with guns, would they? Thanks to Russia’s new military robot, a future filled with armed humanoid machines might actually be in the cards.

(4) World’s largest X-ray laser. “Milestone on way to switching on world’s biggest X-ray laser”.

Scientists say they’ve reached a milestone on the way to switching on the world’s biggest X-ray laser, designed to capture images of structures and processes at the atomic level.

The DESY research center near Hamburg, Germany, said Wednesday it successfully fired electrons through a 2.1 kilometer (1.3 mile) particle accelerator.

(5) First glimpse of dark matter.  “Scientists Created the First Composite Image of Dark Matter” at Yahoo! News.

Dark matter, which apparently looks at least a little like a ghost face, doesn’t absorb or reflect light, which makes it impossible to spot through traditional means. The only way to detect it is through gravity.

(6) Asia commercial space programs. “SpaceX doesn’t scare Asia’s space players” according to Yahoo! Finance.

The commercial space industry is dominated by Western heavyweights, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos ‘ Blue Origin. But players in Asia say they aren’t worried about that competition.

As corporate spending eclipses government activity throughout the global space sector, Japan ‘s PD Aerospace and China ‘s Kuang-Chi Science are among Asia’s homegrown private firms planning to offer spaceflight services to civilians.

Shuji Ogawa, CEO of PD Aerospace, acknowledges that it’s unlikely Asian companies can rival SpaceX , Virgin Galactic or Blue Origin , but he said there’s more than enough demand to go around.

(7) Asteroid Hits Ocean, Humans Sleep Sound. A USA Today video shows “No, an asteroid hitting the ocean wouldn’t cause waves of destruction”.

Simulations show that unless an asteroid hit really close to the shore, humans would probably be safe.

(8) The game of alien life. “Gamers help scientists find exoplanets and maybe even extraterrestials”, a Newsweek interview with Michael Mayor, who made the first exoplanet discovery in 1995.

EVE Online’s fans are quick to remind you that it isn’t just a video game, it’s a hobby. You control a spaceship, mine asteroids and engage in massive space battles or old-fashioned piracy. But you don’t control your character in real time, instead setting up spreadsheets and codes that let the game play itself. EVE requires an analytical mind and is played by people who love numbers; computer programmers, software coders and even a NASA scientist or two.

Lights, Tricorders, Action!

By Carl Slaughter: More science links.

Satellite killers. Chinese laser weapons.

China’s military is developing powerful lasers, electromagnetic railguns and high-power microwave weapons for use in a future “light war” involving space-based attacks on satellites.

Beijing’s push to produce so-called directed-energy weapons aims to neutralize America’s key strategic advantage: the web of intelligence, communication and navigation satellites enabling military strikes of unparalleled precision expeditionary warfare far from US shores.

Check out this diagram and these videos illustrating railguns.

I’m a doctor not a… Early model tricorders.

These handy medical devices are inspired by the ‘Star Trek’ tricorder.

Two hundred years from now, medical tricorders like the ones depicted in Star Trek will be as common as tongue depressors. They’ll be unremarkable, mobile tools on our SpaceX starships shuttling us back and forth to Mars.

It’s in the stars. Republican Controlled Congress, Trump, and NASA. “What do the stars hold for the Trump administration? Here’s how NASA’s mission could change”.

Some big changes could be in store for American space exploration under President Trump and the Republican Congress. Sending more humans to the moon, as well as a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa seem to be part of a plan that extends years beyond the Trump administration.”

Miner change in plans. Trump wants to mine the Moon.

“NASA envisions a future in which low Earth orbit is largely the domain of commercial activity while NASA leads its international and commercial partners in the human exploration of deep space,” the agency wrote. So while Trump’s motivations may sound a bit sinister on the face of things, it’s about getting as much back as possible from the research and investments NASA makes and not necessarily about Trump lining his pockets with cash from commercial space endeavors.

Writers and Scientists, Saving the Future

By Carl Slaughter: Scientists and science fiction writers speak out on Trump, science, climate change, and environmental responsibility.

Getting warmer. Sci-fi writers sound off about climate change — “We Asked Sci-Fi Writers About The Future Of Climate Change”.

Jeff VanderMeer, Lidia Yuknavitch and others discuss solutions to the urgent problem.

Voting with their feet. Will they or won’t they? “Update: Some 100 groups have now endorsed the March for Science”.

The March for Science, set for 22 April, is creating a buzz in the scientific community. The march arose as a grassroots reaction to concerns about the conduct of science under President Donald Trump. And it has spurred debate over whether it will help boost public support for research, or make scientists look like another special interest group, adding to political polarization.

Leaders of many scientific societies have been mulling whether to formally endorse or take a role in the event, which will include marches in Washington, D.C. and some 400 other locations.

Pinning it down. Some will be wearing a special decoration: “These pins defend scientists and science in the Trump era”.

The couple behind the pins that said “I love you” in American Sign Language, made for the Women’s March in January, are back with a new pin raising money for science and research.

Ahead of the “March for Science” on April 22 in Washington, D.C. and all over the world, Kate Lind and Nate Stevens of Pincause designed a new pin with illustrator Penelope Dullaghan. This one says “Science not silence,” with a rocket ship launching into space.

“This is a critical time for not just the science community, but for humanity and our planet. Staying silent is no longer an option,” Lind said in an email.

What’s at risk. What science will be sliced from the budget? “Trump wants to cut billions from the NIH. This is what we’ll miss out on if he does”.

The Trump administration wants to cut billions of dollars from funding biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health. It’s unclear if it will be able to, considering how funding for cancer, diabetes, and other disease research tends to have bipartisan consensus, and many prominent Republicans in Congress are opposing the cuts.

The White House has suggested the size of the agency’s budget — roughly $32 billion in 2016 — is the problem. “Only in Washington do you literally judge the success of something by how much money you throw at the problem, not actually whether it’s solving the problem or coming up with anything,” Sean Spicer, President Trump’s press secretary, said in March, defending the proposed cuts of $6 billion to the 2018 budget. (There’s also talk of slashing $1.2 billion from NIH research grants this year.)

Bu we can judge the success of the NIH by measures other than the amount of money being spent at it. Because for decades scientists have been studying a version of this question: “What does public spending on biomedical research actually buy us?”

A lot, it turns out. So let’s run through some of the evidence…

Astronomy Update

By Carl Slaughter: A roundup of astronomy news.

Dry country. Water on Mars  — gone, baby, gone.

“We’ve determined that most of the gas ever present in the Mars atmosphere has been lost to space,” Bruce Jakosky, principal investigator of the MAVEN mission, explains. That lost gas — somewhere in the neighborhood of 65% — greatly depleted the planet’s atmosphere, causing oceans, lakes, and rivers to dry up as the vital elements were swept away into space by intense radiation and solar wind.

The count. Nine planets, 100 planets.  Why stop there  Redefine a sun, redefine a moon, redefine an asteroid.  Go all the way and redefine life.

Most of us grew up learning that there are nine planets in our solar system. Back in 2006 that all changed, when Pluto was demoted from being labeled a proper planet to its new classification as a dwarf planet, leaving just eight true planets in our celestial neighborhood. Now, a group of scientists says Pluto should definitely be added back to the planet list — oh, and that there are over 100 other objects in our solar system that should also be called planets.

Right stuff. A super-earthlike planet.

Do you like Earth? Yeah, it’s pretty neat, huh? Well despite living on a planet as awesome as our own, astronomers are super eager to find more Earths, just for fun. A planet called Gliese 1132 B (GJ 1132b if you feel like making it slightly shorter) is one such planet. It’s called a “Super Earth” because it’s larger than our own planet, but is thought to be made of similar stuff, and researchers just discovered something extremely awesome that makes GJ 1132b the most Earth-like exoplanet humans have ever found: it has an atmosphere.

The new Number 9. Planet 9 – convincing evidence.

Using data from the SkyMapper telescope at the Australian National University, nearly 21,000 citizen volunteers browsed an astounding 100,000 images of the region of the solar system where the mythical Planet Nine is thought to exist. The group labeled over five million objects, and rapidly completed the classifications in just a few days, instead of the years upon years that it would have taken a single astronomer to perform the same task.

Disturbance in the force 11,000 neighboring galaxies fizzle out.

When we think about the survival of the human race we often focus on making sure our planet stays alive and habitable, but out there in the depths of space there are entire galaxies being killed off in a manner that is utterly perplexing scientists. A new paper (PDF) from researchers working at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research addresses the odd and extremely troubling trend and attempts to propose an answer for what exactly is leading literally thousands of galaxies to die premature deaths.

There goes the neighborhood. The Borg, solar flares, crashing meteors, now a traveling black hole.  The universe just isn’t safe any more.

Supermassive black holes are one of the scariest, most destructive and utterly intimidating forces in the universe, but the good news is that they usually don’t do a whole lot of moving around. They often reside at the center of large galaxies, like our own Milky Way, with a gravitational pull keeps us all swirling around it. So what could be more frightening than a stationary black hole? How about one that is flying through space like a colossal vacuum, sucking up whatever it happens upon? Astronomers think they’ve spotted one doing exactly that.

Say cheese. First picture of a black hole.

The closest astronomers have come to directly “seeing” a black hole happened last year, when the LIGO observatory detected the spacetime-warping gravitational waves radiating from a pair of black holes that collided some 1.3 billion years ago.

That’s cool. But for astronomers, it’s not enough. What’s eluded them is a view of the event horizon, the boundary of the black hole from which, when crossed, there is no return. After the event horizon, gravity is so intense that not even light can escape.

We’ve never seen a direct image of a black hole. But if an audacious experiment called the Event Horizon Telescope is successful, we’ll see one for the first time.

More on black holes. “Massive explosion from unknown source billions of light years away baffles astronomers”

At 10:49pm Western Australian time on February 2 this year, cosmic gamma rays hit the Nasa satellite, Swift, orbiting the Earth. Within seconds of the detection, an alert was automatically sent to the University of WA’s Zadko Telescope. It swung into robotic action, taking images of the sky location in the constellation Ophiuchus.

Up Above the World So High

By Carl Slaughter: Hover technology is making news.

They’re here. Video proof — hoverbikes are now real.

Okay, so maybe the 21st century under-delivered on the whole flying car thing, but it appears we’re a lot closer to another form of personal flight than you probably thought. It seems the hoverbike, a tried and true addition to any futuristic science fiction arsenal, is already a reality. Hoversurf just released a trailer for its first fully manned hoverbike, built on a heavy duty drone platform called the Scorpion 3, and it’s just as cool as it sounds.

 

Don’t be dubious about Dubai. Hovercraft available possibly as early as this summer.

Science fiction from the 1940s and 50s might have predicted we’d all have our very own personal flying cars by now, but back here in reality things are a bit different. Still, with Airbus, Uber, and others expressing some serious interest in creating personal sky vehicles for the world to use, it’s clear that the flying car promise wasn’t a total farce. In fact, Dubai might actually make autonomous flying vehicles a common sight as soon as this summer, and the city’s transportation authority just revealed that it’s been testing a self-driving, single passenger quadcopter from Chinese company EHang.

Hovercraft evolution. Hovercrafts, hoverbikes, now a now a hoverboat.  Holy envy, Batman.  Judging from the video, the hydrofoil technology seems to have eliminated the bumping associated with boating.  OK, now one of you science geeks explain to me what hydrofoil is.

Can we just take a moment to marvel at human ingenuity? It’s brought us the toaster, the smartphone, and now it’s given birth to this ridiculous electric boat car that has no business even existing, but it does anyway. It’s called the Quadrofoil Q2S Electric Limited Edition, and everyone on the planet should own one. I mean, just look at this ridiculous thing…

To The Stars

By Carl Slaughter: A roundup of space exploration news.

Luna, ho! China accelerates its Moon program.

The Chinese government just announced that it’s planning on speeding up its roadmap for space exploration, with planned trips to the Moon in 2017 and 2018, and even a Mars probe mission by 2020. China’s Chang’e 5 mission is scheduled for 2017, and will attempt to land a high tech probe on the Moon where it will observe, dig, and collect samples before returning to Earth.

The big sleep. Space hibernation research receives $500,000 NASA grant.  (Surely there’s a couple of zeroes missing from that grant figure.)

Spaceworks Enterprises is currently using a grant from NASA in the amount of $500,000 to develop systems that could keep a human alive in “low metabolic stasis” for long space trips, such as those to Mars. Spaceworks CEO John Bradford told reporters at a recent panel that “it’s medically possible” to create a system like the one from the film [Passengers], though the first steps will be smaller than the decades-long hibernation Pratt and Lawrence endure.

Not waiting. Lockheed Martin projects Mars base by 2028.

Speaking at a meeting of the National Space Club at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Lockheed Martin’s Tony Antonelli explained that a trip to Mars isn’t just theoretical, but would utilize technologies that either currently exist or are actively being perfected. “We’re not waiting for the future and some kind of magic,” Antonelli explained.

Stepping stone. Boeing’s Deep Space Gateway.

Boeing is helping develop the Space Launch System, NASA’s next endeavor to get humans into space with the goal of returning to the moon and eventually Mars.

While it won’t be until late 2018 before the SLS Exploration Mission-1 takes flight, down the line Boeing would use SLS launches to get a habitat Boeing is calling the Deep Space Gateway near the moon. This habitat would be powered by a solar propulsion system and Boeing says it could be used for both government and commercial deep-space partnerships including missions to the moon.

Map of the future. Integrated Space Plan update.

As a spokesperson for Integrated Space Analytics noted, the Integrated Space Plan (ISP) will offer a detailed, 100-year forecast of the future in space. An ISP was first developed in the 1980s, giving people a good idea of how major space infrastructure elements fit together. In 2014, the team from Integrated Space Analytics updated the ISP, and brought it to the internet for the first time.

Follow the money. Goldman Sachs Tells Investors: Space economy will become a multi-trillion dollar industry within the next two decades.

“Since 2000, more than $13 billion has been poured into space-related start-ups and established companies.”

“Space mining could be more realistic than perceived … a single asteroid the size of a football field could contain $25 billion to $50 billion worth of platinum.”

Freebies. Download NASA software free.

Of course, most of the available downloads are related to topics that are perhaps of no real use for you (unless you’re launching satellites from your rooftops), like rocket science and propulsion, but there’s health monitoring, environmental science software, and data processing tools.

With 15 different categories, ranging from Design and Integration to Climate Simulators, there’s plenty of browsing material for you to check out at your leisure, but NASA kindly compiled a Top 20 most requested software titles for you to start your software download journey.

Sky scheduler. Monitor Space.com’s Space calendar.

LAST UPDATED April 7: These dates are subject to change, and will be updated throughout the year as firmer dates arise. Please DO NOT schedule travel based on a date you see here. Launch dates collected from NASA, ESA, Roscosmos, Spaceflight Now and others. Please send any corrections, updates or suggested calendar additions to hweitering@space.com.

NASA budget. Is this another case of fake news or does Trump actually support space exploration?

“I’m delighted to sign this bill,” Trump said. “It’s been a long time since a bill like this has been signed, reaffirming our national commitment to the core mission of NASA, human space exploration, space science and technology.”

“With this legislation, we support NASA’s scientists, engineers and astronauts and their pursuit of discovery,” he continued, adding that the new legislation would support jobs. “This bill will make sure that NASA’s most important and effective programs are sustained.”

Links To The Lab

By Carl Slaughter: A roundup of science news.

DARPA:  Truly mad scientists funded by truly mad bureaucrats.  All in the name of, you guessed it, national security. Newsweek profiles The Imagineers of War: The Untold Story of DARPA, the Pentagon Agency That Changed the World, by Sharon Weinberger (Knopf, 496 pages) — “New History of DARPA Reveals Wacky, Terrifying Schemes”.

Quasistatic Cavity Resonance.  That’s a mouthful.  It just means recharging your gadgets wirelessly.

“Wirelessly charging a cell phone or laptop in a cubicle would be awesome, but what about a garage that juices up your electric car without a plug, or a gym locker that keeps your wireless headphones topped off for your next workout? The possibilities are pretty much endless.”

Body Heat. Remember Laurence Fishburne explaining to Keanu Reeves that the human body is a potential battery?  It’s not science fiction any more.  Meet the body heat-powered smart watch.

“If there’s one thing that’s keeping the smartwatch movement from gaining mass market traction, it’s the fact that they need to be charged more often than almost any other device.”

Pie in the sky. First successful drone pizza delivery.  If you live in an apartment building, don’t start cheering yet.  Domino’s chose New Zealand over Australia because drone delivery is banned in Australia.  Either the Kiwis like pizza and the Aussies don’t or the Kiwis like drones and the Aussies don’t.

After testing drone delivery systems for some time, Domino’s finally rolled out its aerial pizza delivery service for the first time, successfully sending pizzas to residents of Whangaparaoa, New Zealand.

As Quartz reports, the small rollout, which includes just one Domino’s location and a drone delivery radius of about a mile, is still a big milestone for unmanned delivery services. Domino’s plans to expand the delivery radius to just over 6 miles in the near future, along with additional drone fleets at other restaurant locations.

 

Laser on steroids. Laser on steroids. Won’t fit in your holster.  Price the size of some country’s GDP.

Gone in 10 seconds. “Your television show, Jim, is no longer science fiction.” “Self-destructing phones are finally a reality”

Say cheese. Big Brother is scanning.

Filmmakers have long used focus groups and test audiences to determine how to best tweak their vision for maximum crowd appeal. It makes good business sense, and can increase the likelihood that you enjoy a film in the long run. Now, the science of getting moviegoers out of their homes and into theaters just got kicked into overdrive thanks to a new study that shows how neuroscience and brain scanning can actually forecast whether a movie will be a hit or a bust.

Robot language. “Elon Musk’s lab forced bots to create their own language”.

Have you ever experienced the dread of overhearing two people, speaking a language you don’t understand, begin laughing wildly? You just have to wonder what it is they’re talking about, and if it’s a joke at your expense. Heck, maybe you even check your teeth to make sure you aren’t walking around with half of your lunchtime ham sandwich stuck to your gums. Now, thanks to Elon Musk’s OpenAI lab, we’re one step closer to experiencing the exact same thing, only with software bots doing the talking.

Cyborgs at work. Employees getting implanted with microchips.

Bees do it. Don’t give up on saving the bees, but in a worst case scenario, pollinator drones to the rescue.  And like a lot of other inventions, they resulted accidentally.

Juno Arrives at Jupiter on the Fourth of July

The mission’s five-year transit to Jupiter resonates with the opening of classic Star Trek, and timing the arrival of NASA’s Juno spacecraft for the Fourth of July is a Roddenberry touch. (Think “Omega Glory.”)

And in sci-fi movie style, NASA dramatizes the hazards of operating so close to Jupiter in this mission trailer:

On July 4, 2016, NASA’s Juno spacecraft will plunge into uncharted territory, entering orbit around the gas giant and passing closer than any spacecraft before. Juno will see Jupiter for what it really is, but first it must pass the trial of orbit insertion.

 

Ironically, given the July 4th theme, if the probe doesn’t survive nobody on Earth will see those fireworks.

You’ll have the option of viewing live coverage of the orbital insertion tonight.

Monday, July 4 — Orbit Insertion Day

9 a.m. PDT (Noon EDT) — Pre-orbit insertion briefing at JPL

7:30 p.m. PDT (10:30 p.m. EDT) — Orbit insertion and NASA TV commentary begin

10 p.m. PDT (1 a.m. EDT on July 5) — Post-orbit insertion briefing at JPL

To watch all of these events online, visit:

Live coverage on orbit insertion day also will be available online via Facebook Live at:

To hold you til then, here’s a video of today’s press briefing.

On July 4, just hours before NASA’s Juno spacecraft was scheduled to arrive at the planet Jupiter, NASA held a press briefing at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California to provide a status update on the mission. Once in Jupiter’s orbit, the spacecraft will circle the Jovian world 37 times during 20 months, skimming to within 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers) above the cloud tops. This is the first time a spacecraft will orbit the poles of Jupiter, providing new answers to ongoing mysteries about the planet’s core, composition and magnetic fields.

 

Once, When We All Were Scientists

By James H. Burns: There was a time, when we all were scientists…

Or many of us wanted to be!

There were certain hallmarks of growing up somewhere between the 1950s and 1970s, if you had an interest in science…

First off, were those amazing How and Why Books of Wonder. The artwork in many of which is still superb, and whose texts, in certain editions, remain first class introductions to their subjects!

The most unusual element to these volumes may have been what in New York, anyway, seemed to be their excellent distribution in pet shops!  In both local pet stores of my youth (one of which occasionally had a tiger on display!), were spinner racks filled with the books.il_570xN_656847232_ej5t

The Science Service Science Program books were another talisman of the times…

The Science Program 5-1/2 by 8-1/4 inch volumes, were offered as  a monthly subscription  from Nelson Doubleday Inc. Each sixty-four page “digest” was in two-colors, but their special feature was a centerfold of beautiful full color photo stamps, which the reader could then attach in the appropriate “boxes” throughout the book.

Album slipcases which could hold a number of the volumes were also included with the subscription membership.

(Doubleday also used this overall format for other series, including the National Audobon Society Nature Program and the American Geographical Society Around the World Program.)Science-Program-Advertisement-1960 COMP

z0205goz0rk9jnDifferent Introductory membership kits throughout the 1960s, could include a poster, as well as the Mercury model seen here.  By my era, in the early 1970s, the model offered was a lovely rendition of the lunar module on the moon, with Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin upon the surface.Science-Program_Membership-Card-Back

“The Science Service,” itself remains an active organization as the publishers of Science News magazine.

With a name-change to the Society For Science and the Public in 2008,the group also publishes Science News For Students online (as well as The Science News website), and is one of the sponsors of the Intel Science and Engineering Fairs and Talent Searches, and other events.

Its contributions to the children of another time were also significant, on many fronts.

The Science Service was launched in 1921 by newspaper publisher Edward W. Scripps and California zoologist William Emerson Ritter, under the name the American Society for the Dissemination of Science, as a news service to make the latest scientific information available to the public. One year later, they started distributing their own periodical, Science Newsletter to “satisfy curiosity from educators, and the general public.”

One of the group’s greatest boons to youthful encouragement was their series of small science kits, Things of Science. Each month, a new small blue box (or sometimes a manila envelope) would be sent out, containing several “samples;” or the parts to make a basic but effective apparatus (some times out of cardboard cutouts!)  or other material, along with a miniature pamphlet with experiments.

(Kits through the years included “Aerodynamics,” “Liquid Crystals,” “Pendulum,”‘ “Buoyancy,” “Hydroponics,” “Optical Illusions,” “Seeds….”)

Things of Science was evidently the invention of Watson Davis, who was director of the Science Service from 1928 until 1967. It developed when the Service would send out samples to accompany articles. Things of Science officially commenced in 1940, and it was soon realized that its main audience was schools and science clubs, and other youngsters!

(One early mailing contained dinosaur bones, pounded into slivers, so that every member could have his own prehistoric specimen!)

Things of Science was sold to another company in 1981, who kept the club going for another nine years.  Historian George B. Moody says that at some point, the Science Service reacquired the rights to the series….

There were other instruments of wonder in many like-minded American homes. I can’t remember a time when my Dad didn’t have a “Star-Finder” in one of his bookshelves.

And the Edmund Scientific catalog was filled with a cavalcade of delights.

Intriguingly, I don’t remember my family ever actually ordering anything from the catalog, but it was the possibilities that were always so enticing. (I must admit, I still would like six-foot weather balloon, although I’m not quite exactly sure why…)576d12a9f2e4e21d485e474299c2ee78

And then, there was the Gilbert Chemistry Set….  An astonishing amalgam of chemicals and equipment, and experiments neatly printed out on index cards. I set up my “laboratory” on an old desk in the basement.

What, exactly, was I hoping to discover, as a ten-year old?

But I can still remember the sense of trust implicit when my father said I could use the bunsen burner on my own. And the thrill when my folks picked me up my first Erlenmeyer flask.

Earlier, there had been the fun of working with the microscope my Dad passed on down to me. And there were always a couple of telescopes somewhere nearby. But for some skygazing, it was my father’s World War II binoculars, brought home from Europe in 1945, that seemed to be the most stable.

Somewhere around my house were copies of Popular Science, Mechanix Illustrated…  Set apart, in a special place, were the Life magazine issues from 1955 debuting “The Epic of Man” series (with extraordinary depictions of primitive humanity), and the still remarkable Complete Book of Outer Space, from 1954.

Surely, there were signposts of your own scientific life as a girl or boy.

But all these ruminations lead me to one more pioneer of our nascent knowledge, someone who helped educate the young in years and temperament for over a couple of generations, through some of the most crucial periods of our history.

It also brings us to the aforementioned mystery that you just might be able to help solve…

When I was a little boy in the 1960s, there was a column in the newspapers, “Uncle Ray’s Corner.” (I suspect that the feature was in The New York Post, back when that was actually considered New York’s liberal newspaper.)

I can remember being disconcerted when Uncle Ray’s column was suddenly gone from the daily, just a while after I had discovered it. Like other kids, I had clipped and saved some of the installments, in a notebook which was now destined to have too many empty pages.

I remember “Uncle Ray’s Corner” as being a science column, an early stop for those enchanted by the era’s sense of exploration. But apparently, the articles were across a wide range of subjects, anything that might interest a school-age child.

My parents actually said they remembered “Uncle Ray,” from their own younger days, but I didn’t see how that was quite possible…

Until the dawn of the internet.

When I finally got actively online, later than many, in 1999. I’d occasionally look for information about Uncle Ray, but with little luck. Whatever kindness and good fellowship of awareness had been in his columns, had made an impression that lasted decades.

Suddenly, years later, I was able to begin finding listings for some of his old books.

Uncle Ray was Ramon Peyton Coffman. Beginning in the 1930s (if not earlier), he wrote such volumes for “young people” as The Child’s Story of the Human Race, Uncle Ray’s Story of the Stone Age People, Famous Kings and Queens, and New World Settlement.  (There was even a Big Little Book edition, Uncle Ray’s Story of the United States.)

Commencing in the late 1940s, Coffman was also responsible for Uncle Ray’s Magazine, subtitled “Adventures in Fascinating Facts.” It seems to have been devoted to any of the myriad of historical, scientific and current world events that might interest kids.

A few years ago, an obituary tribute to Coffman popped up from the Madison Wisconsin Central High School Records.

The obit says that Coffman was born circa 1896, in Indianapolis, and grew up in Madison.  He attended Yale and Columbia Universities, as well as the New York College for Social Research, and earned a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1927.  Coffman lived in Shorewood Hills, Wisconsin from 1935 until 1949, and then resided in several states, “often returning to Madison.”0_0_4858_6927

uncle ray clipping“Uncle Ray’s Column” was launched around 1925, “to teach children about science.” Appearing in many newspapers in the United States “and several foreign countries.” It ran, it seems, through 1970.

Coffman passed in June, 1989 in Palo Alto, California, survived by four children, Gratton, Peyton, Roger and Kathleen Davis.

Why all this curiosity from me about Coffman?  His column was from a time when more of our society celebrated the simple pleasure of knowing about things. It’s extraordinary to think that Coffman’s career as a popular educator spanned the time before jets, and the splitting of the atom, and, of course, the space age; from before the Depression, to the heart of the tumult and joy of the 1960s…

The internet must be a godsend for scientifically inclined children, but the beauty of a column like Ray Coffman’s was that it was there for anybody in the newspaper, from a precocious tot to a like-minded adult.

Surely, those who helped set so many of our paths of exploration should be remembered!

It strikes me as sad that someone like “Uncle Ray” has so little trace on the web. I’m hoping that some here can help expand our familiarity with this gentleman of elucidation.

I also have a somewhat selfish wish.

In the late 1960s, I sent in a request to the column: just for the asking, a reader could receive a special certificate proclaiming that you belonged to Uncle Ray’s club (or legion of fellow junior wonderers!).

I had that yellowish heavy-stock proclamation, attached to my science scrapbook from the 1960s, until less than two years ago, when due to an awful calamity, almost all my collection was destroyed.

I’ve found no sign of the Uncle Ray “diploma” anywhere on the net and would love to see it again.

(I had planned on scanning it, along with many other irreplaceable mementos from the era, and later, other histories.)

In fact, all the books and items seen here were once part of that assemblage.

But all these totems of the future, very happily, belong to all of us.

They are always nice to revisit, and remember such gifts of inspiration, and strive to create such passages for all our tomorrows.