Space

Cassini's Saturn Mission Goes Out In A Blaze Of Glory (npr.org) 74

An anonymous reader shares a report: Controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory sent a final command Friday morning to the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn. Not long after, accounting for the vast distance the message traveled, the order was received, putting the craft into a suicidal swan dive, plummeting into the ringed planet's atmosphere. Flight Director Julie Webster called "loss of signal" at about 7:55 a.m. ET, followed by Project Manager Earl Maize announcing "end of mission" as the spacecraft began to break up in Saturn's atmosphere. "Congratulations to you all," Maize announced to applause. "It's been an incredible mission, incredible spacecraft, and you're all an incredible team." With Cassini running on empty and no gas station for about a billion miles, NASA decided to go out Thelma & Louise-style. But rather than careen into a canyon, the plucky probe took a final plunge into the object of its obsession. Just how obsessed? Its 13-year mission to explore the strange world of Saturn went on nearly a decade longer than planned. It completed 293 orbits of the planet, snapped 400,000 photos, collected 600 gigabytes of data, discovered at least seven new moons, descending into the famed rings and sent its Huygens lander to a successful 2005 touchdown on the surface of yet another moon, Titan. Also read: Cassini's Best Discoveries of Saturn and Its Moons.
Robotics

South Korea Moves Towards The World's First 'Robot Tax' (zdnet.com) 83

An anonymous reader quotes ZDNet: It's being called the world's first robot tax. If it goes into effect, South Korea will be the first country to change its tax laws in recognition of the coming burden of mass robotic automation on low and middle-skill workers. The change proposed by the Moon Jae-in administration isn't a direct tax on robots. Rather, policymakers have proposed limiting tax incentives on investments in automation... Under existing law, South Korean companies that buy automation equipment, such as warehouse and factory robots, can deduct between three and seven percent of their investment. The current proposal, which seems likely to advance, is to reduce the deduction rate by up to two percentage points.

The move is evidently not an attempt to staunch companies from adopting automation technology. Rather, it is a kind of formal acknowledgment that unemployment is coming on a big enough scale to eat into South Korea's tax revenue. Policymakers are hoping that reducing the deduction incentives by a couple percentage points will offset the lost income tax and help keep the country's social services and welfare coffers filled.

The Korea Times, which broke the story, reminds readers that former U.S. treasury secretary Lawrence Summers has called robot taxes "profoundly misguided... A sufficiently high tax on robots would prevent them from being produced."
NASA

NASA's Cassini Probe Begins Its 'Grand Finale' Through Saturn's Atmosphere (space.com) 44

An anonymous reader quotes Space.com: After orbiting Saturn for more than 13 years, NASA's Cassini spacecraft is getting ready to say goodbye. On Monday (August 14), Cassini made the first of five passes through Saturn's upper atmosphere, kicking off the last phase of the mission's "Grand Finale." After completing those five dives, Cassini will come back around again one last time, plunging into Saturn's atmosphere on September 15. This will be a suicide maneuver: Cassini will burn up in the ringed planet's thick air, turning into a meteor in the Saturn sky...

Cassini's radar will be able to look into the atmosphere and see features as small as 16 miles (25 km) wide, about 100 times smaller than what it could see from its usual orbital positions. The Grand Finale will include one final swing by Saturn's largest moon, Titan, on Sept. 11. Titan's gravity will slow Cassini's orbit around Saturn and bend its path to send the spacecraft toward its September 15 encounter with the planet... Cassini will keep sending back data on September 15 until it gets to an altitude where atmospheric density is about twice what it encountered during its final five passes, NASA officials said. At that point, mission controllers will lose contact with the probe because its thrusters won't be able to keep Cassini's antenna pointed toward Earth; there will simply be too much air to push against.

The second dip happens this weekend, and NASA has created a special web page tracking Cassini's current location for its final 28 days.
Science

Self-sufficient Eclipse Chasers Hit the Road To 'Totality' (reuters.com) 42

An anonymous reader shares a report: Michael Zeiler packed his portable toilet then headed out on a 10-hour drive from New Mexico to Wyoming where, on Monday, he intends to mark the ninth time he has seen the moon pass in front of the sun in a total solar eclipse. Zeiler is a self-described "eclipse chaser," part of a group of avid astronomy buffs, telescope hobbyists and amateur photographers whose passion for such celestial events takes them to the far corners of the earth. For the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in the United States in almost a century, and the first visible anywhere in the Lower 48 states since 1979, Zeiler had only to drive some 650 miles (1,046 km) from the desert Southwest to the Rockies. He showed up prepared and early on Wednesday at his destination in Casper, Wyoming, within the "path of totality," the corridor over which the moon's 70-mile-wide shadow will be cast as it crosses the United States over 93 minutes. Along that path at the height of the eclipse on Aug. 21, the sun will be completely blotted out except for its outer atmosphere, known as the corona.
Google

Google Lunar X-Prize Extends Deadline Through March 2018 (space.com) 30

schwit1 writes: The Google Lunar X-Prize has announced that it has extended its contest deadline from the end of 2017 to the end of March 2018 for the finalists to complete their lunar rover mission and win the grand prize of $30 million. They also announced several additional consolation prizes that all of the remaining five contestants can win should they achieve lunar orbit ($1.75 million) or successfully achieve a soft landing ($3 million), even if they are not the first to do it. At least one team, Moon Express, will be helped enormously by the extra three months. This gives Rocket Lab just a little extra time to test its rocket before launching Moon Express's rover to the Moon.
Android

Essential Phone Will Ship Next Week, Shortly After Breaking $1 Billion Valuation (9to5google.com) 88

New submitter cloud.pt writes: Andy Rubin's Essential Phone will be released next week according to 9to5Google, just shy from its initial June mark. The company has been speculated to be worth around $1.2 billion, after giant Foxconn filed yesterday for a 0.25% acquisition at around $3 million -- clearing unicorn status as it hasn't shipped a single unit at the time. According to Engadget, future and existing pre-orders will have a chance to switch to the Pure White version of the slab, despite initial shipments being scheduled to be of the Black Moon variety. Essential's storefront orders will get the device unlocked, while the only parties offering the device will initially be Sprint. Rumor has it Amazon plans to sell the device as it invested in the company through its Alexa fund. No matter the contract attached, it will come with the full range of network capabilities unlocked.
Microsoft

The Docx Games: Three Days At the Microsoft Office World Championship (theverge.com) 57

An anonymous reader shares a report: On a Sunday night two weeks back, in the Rose Court Garden of the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, California, 150 antsy competitors between the ages of 13 and 22 milled around eating miniature whoopie pies by the light of the Moon, sizing up their global rivals in the efficient use of Excel, PowerPoint, and Word. It was as if the Olympics opening ceremony was replaced by a networking event: teens were decked out in national T-shirts, while others handed out business cards specially made for the event. At one table off by the bar, two chaperones nudged their folding chairs closer together and taught each other how to say hello ("Yassas," "Ciao") in their respective mother tongues. In the distance, through the palms, the tiki torches of Trader Sam's, the hotel's poolside lounge, were flickering into the black sky. This marked the first night of the 16th Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) World Championship, in which teens and young 20-somethings compete for the title of World Champion in their chosen professional application. It's an event put on annually by Certiport, a Utah-based subsidiary of standardized testing giant Pearson VUE. It's also a marketing stunt, pure and simple, devised to promote Certiport's line of Microsoft Office certifications. This allows the certified to confirm the line on their resume that claims "proficiency in MS Office" is backed up by some solid knowledge of deep formatting and presentation design.
NASA

NASA is Sending Bacteria Into the Sky on Balloons During the Eclipse (cnbc.com) 54

An anonymous reader shares a report: As the Moon blocks the Sun's light completely next week in a total solar eclipse, more than 50 high-altitude balloons in over 20 locations across the US will soar up to 100,000 feet in the sky. On board will be Raspberry Pi cameras, weather sensors, and modems to stream live eclipse footage. They'll also have metal tags coated with very hardy bacteria, because NASA wants to know whether they will survive on Mars. Every time we send a rover to the Red Planet, our own microorganisms latch on to them and hitch a ride across space. What happens to these bacteria once they're on Mars? Do they mutate? Do they die? Or can they continue living undisturbed, colonizing worlds other than our own? To answer these questions we need to run experiments here on Earth, and the eclipse on August 21st provides the perfect opportunity. The balloons are being sent up by teams of high school and college students from across the US as part of the Eclipse Ballooning Project, led by Angela Des Jardins of Montana State University. When Jim Greene, the director of planetary science at NASA, first heard that over 50 balloons were being flown to the stratosphere to live stream the eclipse, he couldn't believe his ears. "I said, oh my god, that's like being on Mars!" Greene tells The Verge. NASA couldn't pass on the opportunity.
Space

Startup To Put Cellphone Tower on the Moon (space.com) 76

An astronaut wandering the moon next year could use a smartphone to call home. If everything goes according to a plan, that is. A German startup is preparing to set up the first telecommunication infrastructure on the lunar surface. From a report: The German company Part Time Scientists, which originally competed for the Google Lunar X Prize race to the moon, plans to send a lander with a rover in late 2018 to visit the landing site of Apollo 17. (Launched in 1972, this was NASA's final Apollo mission to the moon.) Instead of using a complex dedicated telecommunication system to relay data from the rover to the Earth, the company will rely on LTE technology -- the same system used on Earth for mobile phone communications. "We are cooperating with Vodafone in order to provide LTE base stations on the moon," Karsten Becker, who heads embedded electronics development and integration for the startup, told Space.com. "What we are aiming to do is to provide commercial service to bring goods to the moon and also to provide services on the surface of the moon," Becker added.
Moon

Moon Had Magnetic Field At Least a Billion Years Longer Than Thought, Says Study (theguardian.com) 41

While the moon has no global magnetic field nowadays, it did have one in the past and researchers believe it lasted at least a billion years longer than previously thought. The Guardian reports: Between 4.25 billion and 3.56 billion years ago, the lunar magnetic field was similar to that of the Earth. The field is thought to have been generated by the churning movement of fluids within the moon's molten core -- a sort of lunar dynamo. But scientists have long puzzled over when the magnetic field disappeared, with previous research unable to tell whether the field had disappeared completely by 3.19 billion years ago or had lingered on in a weaker form. Writing in the journal Science Advances, Sonia Tikoo, a planetary scientist and co-author of the research from Rutgers University, and colleagues from the University of California, Berkeley and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, describe how they set about unpicking the conundrum by analyzing a lunar rock brought back by the Apollo 15 mission in 1971. The sample contains fragments of basalt that had broken off larger rocks. According to a dating technique based on the ratio of different isotopes of argon, the basalt formed from lava flows about 3.3 billion years ago. These fragments are bound together in the sample by a glassy material, which the team say probably formed when some of the basalt melted following a meteorite impact. The researchers dated the formation of the glassy material to between 1 billion and 2.5 billion years ago. Crucially, the impact also melted iron-containing grains within the basalt. These crystalized again within the glassy material as it quickly cooled, capturing a record of the magnetic field of the moon at that time.
Space

SpaceX Releases Animation of Planned Falcon Heavy Launch (gizmodo.com.au) 108

intellitech writes: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk recently shared a new (and, really freaking cool) animation demonstrating how the company plans to launch the maiden flight of their Falcon Heavy system later this year, which will be the most powerful rocket since the Saturn V used for the moon landings during the Apollo-era. According to Elon Musk's Instragram post, "FH is twice the thrust of the next largest rocket currently flying and ~2/3 thrust of the Saturn V moon rocket." He also reiterates that there's a "lot that can go wrong in the November launch."

Direct link to the YouTube video.

Space

National Solar Observatory Predicts Shape of Solar Corona For August Eclipse (phys.org) 16

bsharma shares a report from Phys.Org: August 21st will bring a history-making opportunity for the entire United States. On that day, every person in the country, including Hawaii and Alaska, will have an opportunity to witness at least a partial solar eclipse as the moon moves in front of the Sun. If you have the good fortune to be along the path of totality, stretching from Oregon to South Carolina, you will get to witness one of the most awe-inspiring views in nature -- the wispy wonders of the solar corona. But there is more to the corona than one might initially realize.

Dr. Gordon Petrie from the National Solar Observatory (NSO) explains: "The corona might look like it's a fuzzy halo around the Sun, but it actually has quite a lot of structure to it. The Sun has a magnetic field that, at first glance, might remind us of the middle-school experiment where you sprinkle iron filings over a bar magnet to get a butterfly shape. However, on closer inspection, it is far more complicated than that. Since we are exactly one solar rotation away from the solar eclipse, we're able to use today's observations to predict the structure of the corona on Aug. 21st," says Petrie. "The corona is not likely to change too much between now and the eclipse, unless we get lucky and a large active region appears! We expect to see faint, straight structures protruding from the north and south poles of the Sun -- these are the polar plumes. We will be able to see brighter bulbs of material closer to the equator -- these are called helmet streamers."

Space

Luxembourg Just Passed A New Asteroid Mining Law (engadget.com) 177

Remember when NASA visited an asteroid with $10 quintillion worth of minerals? Now the lucrative asteroid-mining industry is being pursued by "the European banking hub with a population not much bigger than Albuquerque's," reports Bloomberg, as low-cost reconnaissance missions are already looking "increasingly feasible." An anonymous reader writes: Last week Luxembourg's parliament unanimously passed an asteroid mining law (which goes into effect Tuesday) "that gives companies ownership of what they extract from the celestial bodies..." according to Engadget. "Luxembourg's law is pretty similar to the one President Obama signed back in 2015 in that it gives mining companies the right to keep their loot. Both of them also take advantage of a loophole in the UN's Outer Space Treaty, which states that nations can't claim and occupy the moon and other celestial bodies. They don't give companies ownership of asteroids, after all, only the minerals they extract.. Unlike the U.S. version, though, a company's major stakeholders don't need to be based in Luxembourg to enjoy its protection -- they only need to have an office in country."

Bloomberg reports that the law "could serve as a model for other small countries hoping to explore asteroids -- and to get a piece of the booming space business," since the tiny country is also offering to buy equity stakes in any companies which relocate to Luxembourg. "Luxembourg's success in attracting these companies should show other small countries that space isn't just for superpowers any more... Competition has made space achievable for many more companies, and for the countries that support them."

For the last few years Luxembourg has begun quietly investing in asteroid mining, including a joint venture with "Deep Space Industries" to build a spacecraft to test asteroid-mining technologies -- while another collaboration with Kleos Space is working on "in-space manufacturing technology."
Moon

A New Study Shows the Moon's Interior Could Contain Water (npr.org) 69

A new study from Brown University shows the moon might be flowing with more water than we thought, thanks to ancient volcanic deposits. NPR reports: Using satellite data, scientists from Brown University studied layers of rock on the moon that likely formed from large volcanic eruptions, called lunar pyroclastic deposits. The magma created by these eruptions has been carried to the moon's surface from very deep within its interior, the study showed. What's interesting about this new study, though, is that it shows the water is far more than just ice hiding in shadowy areas of the moon. In fact, there are likely pools of water in the moon's mantle, as well. If there's water in the moon's mantle, that suggests that the water was delivered to the moon very early in its formation, before it fully solidified, the study's lead author, Ralph Milliken told Space.com. Because the magma originally comes from deep within the lunar interior, Milliken explains, "the deep interior of the moon must also contain water."
NASA

Kickstarter Campaign Launched To Save NASA's Mission Control (kickstarter.com) 37

Long-time Slashdot reader yzf750 shares sad news about the facility where NASA conducted the Apollo moon landing in 1969: Mission Control at Johnson Space Center is a wreck and this Kickstarter project is trying to save it. The nearby city of Webster, Texas has promised to match Kickstarter funding up to $400,000. The goal is to raise $250,000 to add to the $3.5 million already budgeted by the city of Webster to restore Mission Control.
Contributors on Kickstarter can receive rewards including models of the Apollo 11 command module, lunch with Apollo flight controllers, VIP tours, or a free download of the documentary Mission Control: the Unsung Heroes of Apollo. The Kickstarter campaign was launched by Space Center Houston, which is also contributing $5 million to preserve what's been called a "cathedral of engineering."

In December the Houston Chronicle noted that though Mission Control is listed in America's National Register of Historic Places, "plans to restore it have been discussed for more than 20 years. But its restoration and preservation remain in limbo, with no set date for work to begin."
Moon

Water Found Deep Inside the Moon (nationalgeographic.com) 12

From a report: There's even more water on the moon than we previously thought, according to new analysis of tiny glass beads left over from ancient volcanic eruptions. The naturally occurring beads were collected in the 1970s as part of the Apollo 15 and 17 missions, which landed near zones of volcanic activity. The beads formed when magma bursting onto the surface crystallized in such a way that water became trapped inside. However, scientists couldn't be sure if the Apollo samples are unique or if other volcanic flows on the moon are filled with water-bearing glass. In a new study published today in Nature Geoscience, scientists reexamined the Apollo samples and used more recent satellite data to look for signs of water-bearing beads elsewhere on the moon. They found that the volcanic deposits are indeed widespread, which suggests that the material inside the moon is wetter than previously thought.
Mars

SpaceX Pulls the Plug On Its Red Dragon Plans (arstechnica.com) 161

SpaceX has largely confirmed the rumors that the company is no longer planning to send an uncrewed version of its Dragon spacecraft to Mars in 2020, or later. Ars Technica reports: The company had planned to use the propulsive landing capabilities on the Dragon 2 spacecraft -- originally developed for the commercial crew variant to land on Earth -- for Mars landings in 2018 or 2020. Previously, it had signed an agreement with NASA to use some of its expertise for such a mission and access its deep-space communications network. On Tuesday, however, during a House science subcommittee hearing concerning future NASA planetary science missions, Florida Representative Bill Posey asked what the agency was doing to support privately developed planetary science programs. Jim Green, who directs NASA's planetary science division, mentioned several plans about the Moon and asteroids, but he conspicuously did not mention Red Dragon. After this hearing, SpaceX spokesman John Taylor didn't return a response to questions from Ars about the future of Red Dragon. Then, during a speech Wednesday at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference, Musk confirmed that the company is no longer working to land Dragon propulsively for commercial crew.

"Yeah, that was a tough decision," Musk acknowledged Wednesday with a sigh. "The reason we decided not to pursue that heavily is that it would have taken a tremendous amount of effort to qualify that for safety for crew transport," Musk explained Wednesday. "There was a time when I thought the Dragon approach to landing on Mars, where you've got a base heat shield and side mounted thrusters, would be the right way to land on Mars. But now I'm pretty confident that is not the right way." Musk added that his company has come up with a "far better" approach to landing on Mars that will be incorporated into the next iteration of the company's proposed Mars transportation hardware.

Medicine

The Myth of Drug Expiration Dates (propublica.org) 316

schwit1 shares a report from ProPublica: Hospitals and pharmacies are required to toss expired drugs, no matter how expensive or vital. Meanwhile the FDA has long known that many remain safe and potent for years longer. The box of prescription drugs had been forgotten in a back closet of a retail pharmacy for so long that some of the pills predated the 1969 moon landing. Most were 30 to 40 years past their expiration dates -- possibly toxic, probably worthless. But to Lee Cantrell, who helps run the California Poison Control System, the cache was an opportunity to answer an enduring question about the actual shelf life of drugs: Could these drugs from the bell-bottom era still be potent?

Gerona and Cantrell, a pharmacist and toxicologist, knew that the term "expiration date" was a misnomer. The dates on drug labels are simply the point up to which the Food and Drug Administration and pharmaceutical companies guarantee their effectiveness, typically at two or three years. But the dates don't necessarily mean they're ineffective immediately after they "expire" -- just that there's no incentive for drugmakers to study whether they could still be usable.

Tests on the decades-old drugs including antihistamines, pain relievers and stimulants. All the drugs tested were in their original sealed containers. The findings surprised both researchers: A dozen of the 14 compounds were still as potent as they were when they were manufactured, some at almost 100 percent of their labeled concentrations. Experts say the United States might be squandering a quarter of the money spent on health care. That's an estimated $765 billion a year.

Moon

Private Company Plans To Bring Moon Rocks Back To Earth In Three Years (arstechnica.com) 66

mi writes: Moon Express, founded in 2010 to win the Google Lunar XPRIZE, says it is self-funded to begin bringing kilograms of lunar rocks back to Earth within about three years. "We absolutely intend to make these samples available globally for scientific research, and make them available to collectors as well," said Bob Richards, one of the company's founders, in an interview with Ars. From the report: "The privately held company released plans for a single, modular spacecraft that can be combined to form successively larger and more capable vehicles. Ultimately the company plans to establish a lunar outpost in 2020 and set up commercial operations on the Moon."
China

China's Rocket Fails After Liftoff (cnn.com) 114

An anonymous reader quotes CNN: The second launch of China's new-generation Long March-5 carrier rocket failed Sunday -- dealing a blow to the country's ambitious space aspirations. Carrying an experimental communications satellite, China's largest rocket lifted off at 7:23 p.m. local time (7:23 a.m. ET) toward clear skies from the seaside Wenchang space launch center on the southern Chinese island of Hainan. But 40 minutes later, the state-run Xinhua news agency flashed a headline declaring the launch a failure -- without providing any details.

Dubbed "Chubby 5" for its huge size -- 5 meters in diameter and 57 meters tall -- the LM-5 rocket is designed to carry up to 25 tons of payload into low orbit, more than doubling the country's previous lift capability... The launch failure means further delay for a series of planned Chinese space endeavors -- including its robotic and eventual human lunar programs -- according to Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor at the US Naval War College and an expert on China's space program... China has announced plans to land a robotic probe on the dark side of the moon later this year and to reach Mars around 2020. All such future missions will depend on the LM-5 and space officials told reporters Sunday that the latest launch would help perfect the rocket design, including enabling it to send a space station into orbit "in a year or two."

This morning Elon Musk tweeted his condolences, adding "I know how painful that is to the people who designed & built it."

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