Archive for the ‘Nasa/Outer Space’ Category

Formatting Gaia + Technological Symbiosis

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

Patrick Millard | Formatting Gaia + Technological Symbiosis from vasa on Vimeo.

Moon Packed with Precious Titanium, NASA Probe Finds

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

This lunar mosaic shows the boundary between Mare Serenitatis and Mare Tranquillitatis. The relative blue color of the Tranquillitatis mare is due to higher abundances of the titanium-bearing mineral ilmenite.

A new map of the moon has uncovered a trove of areas rich in precious titanium ore, with some lunar rocks harboring 10 times as much of the stuff as rocks here on Earth do.

The map, which combined observations in visible and ultraviolet wavelengths, revealed the valuable titanium deposits. These findings could shed light on some of the mysteries of the lunar interior, and could also lay the groundwork for future mining on the moon, researchers said.

“Looking up at the moon, its surface appears painted with shades of grey — at least to the human eye,” Mark Robinson, of Arizona State University, said in a statement. “The maria appear reddish in some places and blue in others. Although subtle, these color variations tell us important things about the chemistry and evolution of the lunar surface. They indicate the titanium and iron abundance, as well as the maturity of a lunar soil.

The results of the study were presented Friday (Oct. 7) at the joint meeting of the European Planetary Science Congress and the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences in Nantes, France.

Mapping the lunar surface

The map of the moon’s surface was constructed using data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which has been circling the moon since June 2009. The probe’s wide angle camera snapped pictures of the surface in seven different wavelengths at different resolutions.

Since specific minerals strongly reflect or absorb different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, LRO’s instruments were able to give scientists a clearer picture of the chemical composition of the moon’s surface.

Robinson and his colleagues stitched together a mosaic using roughly 4,000 images that had been collected by the spacecraft over one month.

The researchers scanned the lunar surface and compared the brightness in the range of wavelengths from ultraviolet to visible light, picking out areas that are abundant in titanium. The scientists then cross-referenced their findings with lunar samples that were brought back to Earth from NASA’s Apollo flights and the Russian Luna missions.

These titanium-rich areas on the moon puzzled the researchers. The highest abundance of titanium in similar rocks on Earth hovers around 1 percent or less, the scientists explained. The new map shows that these troves of titanium on the moon range from about 1 percent to a little more than 10 percent.

“We still don’t really understand why we find much higher abundances of titanium on the moon compared to similar types of rocks on Earth,” Robinson said. “What the lunar titanium-richness does tell us is something about the conditions inside the moon shortly after it formed, knowledge that geochemists value for understanding the evolution of the moon.”

Valuable titanium ore

Titanium on the moon is primarily found in the mineral ilmenite, a compound that contains iron, titanium and oxygen. If humans one day mine on the moon, they could break down ilmenite to separate these elements.

Furthermore, Apollo data indicated that titanium-rich minerals are more efficient at retaining solar wind particles, such as helium and hydrogen. These gases would likely be vital resources in the construction of lunar colonies and for exploration of the moon, the researchers said. [Lunar Legacy: 45 Apollo Moon Mission Photos]

“Astronauts will want to visit places with both high scientific value and a high potential for resources that can be used to support exploration activities,” Robinson said. “Areas with high titanium provide both — a pathway to understanding the interior of the moon and potential mining resources.”

This composite image of the lunar surface highlights regions with varying mare compositions and enigmatic small volcanic structures known as “domes.”

The lunar map also shows how space weather changes the surface of the moon. Charged particles from solar wind and micrometeorite impacts can change the moon’s surface materials, pulverizing rock into a fine powder and altering the chemical composition of the lunar surface.

“One of the exciting discoveries we’ve made is that the effects of weathering show up much more quickly in ultraviolet than in visible or infrared wavelengths,” study co-author Brett Denevi, of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., said in a statement. “In the [Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera] ultraviolet mosaics, even craters that we thought were very young appear relatively mature. Only small, very recently formed craters show up as fresh regolith exposed on the surface.”

Source | SPACE

NASA research shows DNA building blocks can be made in space

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

Scientists at  GNASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center have foundtrace amounts of three molecules related to DNA nucleobases adenine and guanine in samples of 12 carbon-rich meteorites, nine of which were recovered from Antarctica.

These nucleobase-related molecules, called nucleobase analogs, provide the first evidence that the compounds in the meteorites came from space and not terrestrial contamination.

The team analyzed an eight-kilogram (21.4-pound) sample of ice from Antarctica, where most of the meteorites in the study were found. The amounts of nucleobases found in the ice were much lower than in the meteorites.

NASA-funded researchers have found more evidence meteorites can carry DNA components created in space

More significantly, none of the nucleobase analogs were detected in the ice sample. The team also analyzed a soil sample collected near one of the non-Antarctic meteorite’s fall site. As with the ice sample, the soil sample had none of the nucleobase analog molecules present in the meteorite.

Source | Kurzweil AI

2011 State of the Future

Monday, August 1st, 2011

The Millennium Project’s 2011 State of the Future Report, due out August 1, finds that while people are getting richer, healthier, better educated, and living longer, and the world is more peaceful and better connected, half of the world is potentially unstable.

“Food prices are rising, water tables are falling, corruption and organized crime is increasing, environmental viability for life support is diminishing, debt and economic insecurity are increasing, climate change continues, and the gap between the rich and poor is widening dangerously,” the report says. “People voting in elections, corruption, people killed or injured in terrorist attacks, and refugees and displaced persons are also identified as key problems.

“The world is in a race between implementing ever-increasing ways to improve the human condition and the seemingly ever-increasing complexity and scale of global problems.”

The 2011 State of the Future is an overview of our global situation, problems, solutions, and prospects for the future. “15 Global Challenges” including energy, food, science and technology, ethics, development, water, organized crime, health, decision-making, gender relations, demographics, war and peace, and others are analyzed, studied, and recommendations are made.

Where we are winning. An international Delphi panel selected more than 100 indicators of progress or regress for the 15 Global Challenges. Indicators were then chosen that had at least 20 years of reliable historical data and later, where possible, were matched with variables used in the International Futures model. The resulting 28 variables were integrated into the State of the Future Index with a 10-year projection.

This report discusses a broad range of future-oriented policy initiatives, such as shifting from fresh water-based agriculture to saltwater-based agriculture; making environmental security the focus of US-China strategic trust, a global strategy to counter organized crime, and collective intelligence as one of the next big topics of interest.

Where we are losing

It also alerts readers to major changes that seem inevitable. For example, the coming biological revolution may change civilization more profoundly than did the industrial or information revolutions. The world has not come to grips with the implications of writing genetic code to create new lifeforms. Thirteen years ago, the concept of being dependent on Google searches was unknown to the world; today we consider it quite normal. Thirteen years from today, the concept of being dependent on synthetic life forms for medicine, food, water, and energy could also be quite normal.

The 2011 State of the Future comes in two parts: a print 106-page distillation of research with tables, graphs, and charts, and an 8,500-page CD. comes in two parts: a print 106-page distillation of research with tables, graphs, and charts, and an 8,500-page CD. Price: $49.95 US dollars plus shipping.

The Millennium Project was established in 1996 as the first globalized think tank. It conducts independent futures research via its 40 Nodes around the world that connect global and local perspectives.

Source | Kurzweil AI

Exploring Space with Chip-sized Satellites

Monday, August 1st, 2011

IN FLIGHT: NASA astronaut Andrew Feustel installs a materials science experiment pallet on the outside of the International Space Station. The box includes three prototypes of integrated circuit spacecraft. The spacecraft prototype at right was photographed before installation on the space station.

Gravity may be woven into the very fabric of space-time, but some objects seem nearly immune to its pull.

Scale something down to the size of a dust particle and you’ll find it can stay aloft almost indefinitely, dancing in midair on thermal currents. With matter that size, the force of air striking the surface of the particle outmatches gravity’s effect on its tiny mass.

This behavior is more than just a curiosity: It could have profound implications for space exploration. Spacecraft have been getting bigger and bigger for decades, ballooning in size to carry ever more impressive equipment, from the Herschel Space Observatory‘s 3.5-meter telescope to the Cassini probe’s 11-meter magnetometer boom. But if we can reverse that trend and instead build the tiniest spacecraft possible, we can create entirely new ways to study the solar system and beyond.

Miniaturization will inevitably mean limitation—less power, fewer instruments, and reduced ability to store and broadcast data. But dust-mote-size spacecraft could do things that no current space probe can do: coast without a parachute onto the plains of Mars or float for weeks in the soupy atmosphere of Titan. They could be mass-produced and launched by the thousands to form vast space-based networks of sensors. And if the probes could be made thin and lightweight enough, alternative forms of propulsion could eventually send them to distant worlds, without the need for rocket fuel.

In the fall of 2005 at Cornell University, graduate student Justin Atchison and I set out to create such miniature spacecraft. The aim of our project, called Sprite, is to fit everything a satellite might need on a 1-square-centimeter integrated circuit. The project finally took its first step into space on 16 May of this year, when the space shuttle Endeavour, on its final mission, carried three of our prototypes to the International Space Station. We’ll find out in a couple of years how these first chips withstood the rigors of space. If all goes well, we then plan to launch smaller Sprites into orbit on their own, where they can be used to test new forms of propulsion that could ultimately take them to other planets.

Sprite is the first spacecraft-on-a-chip project to launch a prototype, but ours isn’t the only group exploring the potential of miniature spacecraft. The idea goes back at least 15 years, and it has its origins in “smart dust”—tiny microelectromechanical sensor systems that can be used to measure light and temperature, register movement and location, and detect chemical and biological substances. The notion of sending such systems into space was slow to gain momentum. But it began to take off once space researchers realized that integrated circuits had become quite inexpensive, dense, and easy to fabricate, and that almost everything a spacecraft needs can now be made with semiconductors alone: solar cells for power, capacitors for energy storage, and all the memory and processing capability you could want. As with smart dust, a diversity of payloads can be fabricated to ride on a chip, including basic spectrometers, load sensors to measure particle impacts, chemical sensors, and simple CMOS cameras. Researchers around the world, including groups at Surrey Space Centre, the University of Strathclyde, the Aerospace Corp., and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, have explored the possibility of making chip-based spacecraft and are investigating their capabilities.

Our Sprite prototypes weigh about 10 grams, but their successors will ultimately weigh between 5 and 50 milligrams and will likely be able to carry just one simple sensor each. At that size, a single Sprite will never be able to rival the data-gathering capability of such precision instruments as the Hubble Space Telescope. But we envision launching these tiny, easy-to-fabricate chips en masse to form something new: distributed sensor networks.

We could, for instance, send tens of thousands of Sprites into orbits between Earth and the sun. These simple chips would have one task: to send a signal to Earth when the local magnetic field or the number of charged particles that hit the spacecraft exceeded some threshold. Taken alone, each chip would provide just one data point. But a network of these scattered chips could produce 3-D snapshots ofspace weather, something no traditional spacecraft, no matter how sophisticated, could ever do on its own. A payload of a million of the relatively heavy 50-mg version of the Sprite would amount to just 50 kilograms, about the mass of a single science instrument on one of NASA’s larger interplanetary spacecraft. So the launch costs of a Sprite network would be significantly lower than that of a traditional satellite.

Launching a million Sprites would be pointless unless a substantial number of them could survive the many hazards of space, including charged particles, micrometeorites, and extreme temperature swings. Their hardiness is one of the things we hope to gauge in our current experiment aboard the space station.

The Sprite prototypes have been mounted on the exterior of the ISS on a materials-science pallet called MISSE-8, which stands for Materials on International Space Station Experiment 8. Fabricated by hand in the lab, each prototype measures 3.8 cm on a side and contains seven tiny solar cells, a microprocessor with a built-in radio, an antenna, an amplifier, and switching circuitry to turn on the microprocessor whenever there’s enough stored energy to create a single radio-frequency emission—a digital “beep.” We’ll use the timing of the Sprites’ beeps to tell us the sun’s angle of incidence on the chip. The more oblique the angle, the longer it will take for the chip’s capacitor to charge. Measuring the time between beeps will give a rough measure of the chip’s orientation to the sun.

Beyond just telling us how well the Sprite components survive in space, the experiment will reveal whether the 902-megahertz radio pulses that the chips emit can be detected on the ground. The transmitters on the prototypes must operate on very little power: The capacitors store just 1 microjoule of energy, enough to power a 100-watt lightbulb for about 10 nanoseconds. As a result, the signals are weak, only 7 percent as strong as the buzz of background noise coming from the sun and man-made sources.

To pick up this subtle signal, we need a way to make it unique and easy to extract. The best technique for the job is a technology called code-division multiple access(CDMA), more commonly used in GPS and cellphone signal processing. With CDMA, every bit of data that a given Sprite transmits is converted into a sequence of shifts in the timing, or phase, of the radio signal. These “m-sequences” will make it easier to pull the signal out from noise. They will also allow listeners on the ground to differentiate one Sprite from another, because the patterns are as unique as fingerprints, and each chip gets just one. CDMA will thus allow many Sprites to share the same carrier frequency and transmit signals to the same ground receiver, just as it lets hundreds or even thousands of cellphone users place calls at the same time.

Expanding each bit into an m-sequence should make up for the Sprites’ power limitations. That’s because the longer the sequence, the more powerful it will be: The signal strength is effectively integrated over time. We calculated that signals coming from the space station should be fairly easy to detect if each bit is split up into a sequence of 512 phase shifts. Such sequences take a few milliseconds to send. Sprites that are farther from Earth will need to use longer sequences to transmit each bit. A Sprite in orbit around Jupiter, for example, will likely need a full day to send a signal that can be picked up on Earth. But the chip would be able to do that with a transmitter that draws only a few milliwatts of power. With thousands of Sprites in orbit, kilobits of data can be sent each day, but it would take many millions to rival the transmission rate of conventional spacecraft. NASA’s Cassini orbiter, in orbit around Saturn, can send as much as 165 kilobits of data back to Earth each second.

Because of their power limitations, it will be difficult to create Sprites that can communicate with one another fast enough for them to operate as a collaborative swarm. But the spacecraft could still stay close together as they travel through the solar system by taking advantage of what’s known as the Interplanetary Transport Network. The network consists of pathways that wind through space according to the gravitational potentials of the planets. For a cluster of Sprites, the pathways would act like ocean currents, binding them together and sweeping them along as if they were a colony of plankton.

Sprites would have other ways of getting around. Although carrying onboard propellant is impractical, the Sprites’ diminutive size will make them ideal for harnessing the sun’s radiation pressure. Photons carry momentum, and when they strike a surface, they transfer that momentum as force. This force blows dust particles out of the solar system and has also been used to adjust the trajectories of interplanetary probes, including NASA’s Messenger spacecraft, which entered orbit around Mercury in March.

The basic physics that would propel a Sprite is the same as for cosmic dust. Sprite propulsion relies on the fact the surface area of an object does not shrink as fast as its volume. Halving the radius of a uniform ball, for example, will reduce its volume by a factor of 8, but it will drop the surface area by only a factor of 4. As an object shrinks in size, this property of geometry favors forces that operate on the surface, such as aerodynamic drag, allowing it to more easily overcome the object’s inertia.

With a big enough ratio of surface area to volume, a spacecraft could be propelled just by solar radiation pressure. That’s the basic idea behind a solar sail, a spacecraft that employs large, thin sails to boost its surface area to catch as much sunlight as possible.

For decades, solar sails were little more than notions, but in the last few years, both NASA and Japan’s space agency, JAXA, have successfully demonstrated the technology. The large sails remain folded during launch and are unfurled in space. Solar sails are difficult to deploy and are often quite delicate. Japan’s IKAROS spacecraft, which launched in 2010, used a 14-meter-wide polymer sail that was just 0.0075 millimeter thick.

If a Sprite could be made thin enough, then its entire body could act as a solar sail. We calculate that at a thickness of about 20 micrometers—which is feasible with existing fabrication techniques—a 7.5-mg Sprite would have the right ratio of surface area to volume to accelerate at about 0.06 mm/s2, maybe 10 times as fast as IKAROS. That should be enough for some interplanetary missions. If Sprites could be printed on even thinner material, they could accelerate to speeds that might even take them out of the solar system and on toward distant stars.

The low mass of Sprites should also allow them to harness the magnetic fields that surround planets and pervade the solar system. In this case, they’d be taking advantage of the Lorentz force, which bends the paths of charged particles that move in the presence of a magnetic field. Like radiation pressure, the Lorentz force dominates the dynamics of very small bodies. The effect is evident in pictures of the rings of Saturn, where sunlight and plasma have ionized dust particles. Saturn’s magnetic fields tug on these electrically charged particles, pulling them into streams or “spokes” that cut across the planet’s rings.

A Sprite would need an electric charge to take advantage of this property of electromagnetism. In Earth orbit, charging a Sprite could be as simple as establishing a potential, via a power supply, between two wires that extend from the chip; the plasma in Earth’s ionosphere would do the rest. Lightweight free electrons would quickly neutralize the Sprite’s positive wire, but the heavier and slower positively charged ions wouldn’t be able to discharge the negative wire as quickly, leaving the spacecraft with a net negative charge. This charge would be maintained as long as the Sprite continued to power the wires.

At Cornell, we have begun testing this charging process by exposing Sprite-size spheres to a stream of xenon plasma. The setup mimics conditions in Earth’s ionosphere, and our early results suggest that the charging technique will work. If it can be accomplished in Earth’s orbit, Lorentz propulsion could allow Sprites to rendezvous with other satellites without releasing exhaust plumes that could damage delicate equipment. Charged Sprites would also be able to change their orbital inclination, enabling the chips to enter an equatorial or polar orbit regardless of their original launch location. Sprites could also raise their orbits, to counteract the tug of Earth’s atmosphere, and they might even escape Earth’s gravity entirely if the charge is high enough.

A more spectacular application of Lorentz propulsion could turn Jupiter into a particle accelerator. Jupiter’s magnetic field is 20 000 times as powerful as Earth’s, and so a charged Sprite could use this magnetic field to accelerate itself in orbit around the planet. Once it reached speeds of a few hundred or thousand kilometers per second, the chip would turn off its supply of power to the wires. Jupiter’s magnetic fields would then no longer confine the spacecraft, and it would be flung out of its orbit and indeed out of the solar system.

Sprites may be able to accelerate fast enough to reach the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, in a few hundred years. That might not seem impressive; the speedup process itself could take decades, and the Sprites would arrive beyond any of our lifetimes. But consider the alternative: Solar sails, which have long been considered for interstellar trips, would take at least a thousand years—and probably a lot longer—to make such a journey.

Interstellar exploration may be a long way off, but the idea of miniaturizing spacecraft isn’t speculative. Even as the largest spacecraft have been getting bigger, there has also been substantial interest and investment in smaller spacecraft. One of the most compact designs now in use is the CubeSat, an open-architecture, grapefruit-size spacecraft weighing no more than a kilogram. Dozens of CubeSat-based university research projects have now been launched into space.

The main advantage of a CubeSat is that it’s cheap to build and launch. And because multiple CubeSats can fit on the same rocket, the launch costs can be shared. This strategy has reduced the price tag of sending a payload into space to about US  $100 000, a fraction of the cost of sending a traditional telecommunications satellite, weighing hundreds of kilograms, into orbit. Sprites will continue this trend, allowing tens of thousands of spacecraft to be launched for the price of a single CubeSat.

But spacecraft-on-a-chip projects have very different aims from those of CubeSat and other such efforts. Our main goals are to exploit the physics of small objects and the power of mass production. In that sense, Sprite represents a paradigm shift. Rather than hand building one-of-a-kind spacecraft, we envision constructing spacecraft on wafers in much the same way that common integrated circuits are made today. During fabrication, solar cells and other components would be incorporated with microelectromechanical systems techniques. Instead of exhaustively testing each part, as is done with current spacecraft, engineers will be able to monitor Sprite quality in a less labor-intensive fashion by using statistical process control, testing a few chips from each batch to make sure they meet specifications.

Of course, chip-scale spacecraft would have some downsides. Like larger satellites, out-of-commission Sprites would contribute to the growing collection of space junk until atmospheric drag brought them back to Earth. Fortunately, Sprites in low-Earth orbit should reenter within a few days. To make missions last longer, magnetic torque coils could help orient chips so that they fly edge-on around the planet. When a Sprite reached the end of its mission, this attitude control system would turn off and the chip would turn to orbit face-on, boosting the drag it experiences. Without a parachute, a 50-mg Sprite would burn up on reentry, but Sprites weighing closer to 5 mg could flutter back down to Earth intact.

Sprites will also be far more vulnerable to damage than present-day spacecraft. Because they are lightweight and have solar cells built directly on the chip, Sprites can’t be equipped with radiation shielding to protect their electronics. This lack of shielding also makes the chip more vulnerable to impacts with micrometeorites, which zip at high speed throughout the solar system. Sprites could compensate for these hazards through sheer numbers; missions could be designed so that a significant fraction of the chips could be lost without dooming the operation.

That’s a fundamentally different way to explore space. Right now, we invest hundred of millions and sometimes billions of dollars in one-off satellites that are meticulously designed to survive a range of contingencies. But if we allow some failure here and there, we will open up intriguing new possibilities for investigating the universe.

Source | Spectrum IEEE

New NASA data challenges global warming alarmism

Friday, July 29th, 2011

NASA satellite data show the Earth’s atmosphere is allowing far more heat to be released into space than alarmist computer models have predicted, according to a new study in the peer-reviewed science journal Remote Sensing.

Volcanic particles in upper atmosphere slow down global warming, says NASA

Data from NASA’s Terra satellite shows that when the climate warms, Earth’s atmosphere is apparently more efficient at releasing energy to space than models used to forecast climate change have been programmed to “believe.”

The result is climate forecasts that are warming substantially faster than the atmosphere, says Dr. Roy Spencer, a principal research scientist in the Earth System Science Center at The University of Alabama in Huntsville.

In research published in the journal Remote Sensing, Spencer and UAHuntsville’s Dr. Danny Braswell compared what a half dozen climate models say the atmosphere should do to satellite data showing what the atmosphere actually did during the 18 months before and after warming events between 2000 and 2011.

“The satellite observations suggest there is much more energy lost to space during and after warming than the climate models show,” Spencer said. “There is a huge discrepancy between the data and the forecasts that is especially big over the oceans.”

Not only does the atmosphere release more energy than previously thought, it starts releasing it earlier in a warming cycle. The models forecast that the climate should continue to absorb solar energy until a warming event peaks.

Energy lost, not gained: satellite data

Instead, the satellite data shows the climate system starting to shed energy more than three months before the typical warming event reaches its peak.

“At the peak, satellites show energy being lost while climate models show energy still being gained,” Spencer said.

Applied to long-term climate change, the research might indicate that the climate is less sensitive to warming due to increased carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere than climate modelers have theorized. A major underpinning of global warming theory is that the slight warming caused by enhanced greenhouse gases should change cloud cover in ways that cause additional warming, which would be a positive feedback cycle.

Instead, the natural ebb and flow of clouds, solar radiation, heat rising from the oceans and a myriad of other factors added to the different time lags in which they impact the atmosphere might make it impossible to isolate or accurately identify which piece of Earth’s changing climate is feedback from manmade greenhouse gases.

“There are simply too many variables to reliably gauge the right number for that,” Spencer said. “The main finding from this research is that there is no solution to the problem of measuring atmospheric feedback, due mostly to our inability to distinguish between radiative forcing and radiative feedback in our observations.”

For this experiment, the UAHuntsville team used surface temperature data gathered by the Hadley Climate Research Unit in Great Britain. The radiant energy data was collected by the Clouds and Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) instruments aboard NASA’s Terra satellite.

The six climate models were chosen from those used by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The UAHuntsville team used the three models programmed using the greatest sensitivity to radiative forcing and the three that programmed in the least sensitivity.

Source | Kurzweil AI

The Biological Canvas

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Curatorial Statement

The Biological Canvas parades a group of hand selected artists who articulate their concepts with body as the primary vessel.  Each artist uses body uniquely, experimenting with body as the medium: body as canvas, body as brush, and body as subject matter.  Despite the approach, it is clear that we are seeing new explorations with the body as canvas beginning to emerge as commonplace in the 21st century.

There are reasons for this refocusing of the lens or eye toward body.  Living today is an experience quite different from that of a century, generation, decade, or (with new versions emerging daily) even a year ago.  The body truly is changing, both biologically and technologically, at an abrupt rate.  Traditional understanding of what body, or even what human, can be defined as are beginning to come under speculation.  Transhuman, Posthuman, Cyborg, Robot, Singularity, Embodiment, Avatar, Brain Machine Interface, Nanotechnology …these are terms we run across in media today.  They are the face of the future – the dictators of how we will come to understand our environment, biosphere, and selves.  The artists in this exhibition are responding to this paradigm shift with interests in a newfound control over bodies, a moment of self-discovery or realization that the body has extended out from its biological beginnings, or perhaps that the traditional body has become obsolete.

We see in the work of Orlan and Stelarc that the body becomes the malleable canvas.  Here we see some of the earliest executions of art by way of designer evolution, where the artist can use new tools to redesign the body to make a statement of controlled evolution.  In these works the direct changes to the body open up to sculpting the body to be better suited for today’s world and move beyond an outmoded body.  Stelarc, with his Ear on Arm project specifically attacks shortcomings in the human body by presenting the augmented sense that his third ear brings.  Acting as a cybernetic ear, he can move beyond subjective hearing and share that aural experience to listeners around the world.  Commenting on the practicality of the traditional body living in a networked world, Stelarc begins to take into his own hands the design of networked senses.  Orlan uses her surgical art to conceptualize the practice Stelarc is using – saying that body has become a form that can be reconfigured, structured, and applied to suit the desires of the mind within that body.  Carnal Art, as Orland terms it, allows for the body to become a modifiable ready-made instead of a static object born out of the Earth.  Through the use of new technologies human beings are now able to reform selections of their body as they deem necessary and appropriate for their own ventures.

Not far from the surgical work of Orlan and Stelarc we come to Natasha Vita-More’s Electro 2011, Human Enhancement of Life Expansion, a project that acts as a guide for advancing the biological self into a more fit machine.  Integrating emerging technologies to build a more complete human, transhuman, and eventual posthuman body, Vita-More strives for a human-computer interface that will include neurophysiologic and cognitive enhancement that build on longevity and performance.  Included in the enhancement plan we see such technologies as atmospheric sensors, solar protective nanoskin, metabrain error correction, and replaceable genes.  Vita-More’s Primo Posthuman is the idealized application of what artists like Stelarc and Orlan are beginning to explore with their own reconstructive surgical enhancements.

The use of body in the artwork of Nandita Kumar’s Birth of Brain Fly and Suk Kyoung Choi + Mark Nazemi’s Corner Monster reflect on how embodiment and techno-saturation are having psychological effects on the human mind.  In each of their works we travel into the imagined world of the mind, where the notice of self, identity, and sense of place begin to struggle to hold on to fixed points of order.  Kumar talks about her neuroscape continually morphing as it is placed in new conditions and environments that are ever changing.  Beginning with an awareness of ones own constant programming that leads to a new understanding of self through love, the film goes on a journey through the depths of self, ego, and physical limitations.  Kumar’s animations provide an eerie journey through the mind as viewed from the vantage of an artist’s creative eye, all the while postulating an internal neuroscape evolving in accordance with an external electroscape. Corner Monster examines the relationship between self and others in an embodied world.  The installation includes an array of visual stimulation in a dark environment.  As viewers engage with the world before them they are hooked up simultaneously (two at a time) to biofeedback sensors, which measure an array of biodata to be used in the interactive production of the environment before their eyes.  This project surveys the psychological self as it is engrossed by surrounding media, leading to both occasional systems of organized feedback as well as scattered responses that are convolutions of an over stimulated mind.

Marco Donnarumma also integrates a biofeedback system in his work to allow participants to shape musical compositions with their limbs.  By moving a particular body part sounds will be triggered and volume increased depending on the pace of that movement.  Here we see the body acting as brush; literally painting the soundscape through its own creative motion.  As the performer experiments with each portion of their body there is a slow realization that the sounds have become analogous for the neuro and biological yearning of the body, each one seeking a particular upgrade that targets a specific need for that segment of the body.  For instance, a move of the left arm constantly provides a rich vibrato, reminding me of the sound of Vita-More’s solar protective nanoskin.

Our final three artists all use body in their artwork as components of the fabricated results, acting like paint in a traditional artistic sense.  Marie-Pier Malouin weaves strands of hair together to reference genetic predisposal that all living things come out of this world with.  Here, Malouin uses the media to reference suicidal tendencies – looking once again toward the fragility of the human mind, body and spirit as it exists in a traditional biological state.  The hair, a dead mass of growth, which we groom, straighten, smooth, and arrange, resembles the same obsession with which we analyze, evaluate, dissect and anatomize the nature of suicide.  Stan Strembicki also engages with the fragility of the human body in his Body, Soul and Science. In his photographic imagery Strembicki turns a keen eye on the medical industry and its developments over time.  As with all technology, Strembicki concludes the medical industry is one we can see as temporally corrective, gaining dramatic strides as new nascent developments emerge.  Perhaps we can take Tracy Longley-Cook’s skinscapes, which she compares to earth changing landforms of geology, ecology and climatology as an analogy for our changing understanding of skin, body and self.  Can we begin to mold and sculpt the body much like we have done with the land we inhabit?

There is a tie between the conceptual and material strands of these last few works that we cannot overlook: memento mori.  The shortcomings and frailties of our natural bodies – those components that artists like Vita-More, Stelarc, and Orlan are beginning to interpret as being resolved through the mastery of human enhancement and advancement.  In a world churning new technologies and creative ideas it is hard to look toward the future and dismiss the possibilities.  Perhaps the worries of fragility and biological shortcomings will be both posed and answered by the scientific and artistic community, something that is panning out to be very likely, if not certain.  As you browse the work of The Biological Canvas I would like to invite your own imagination to engage.  Look at you life, your culture, your world and draw parallels with the artwork – open your own imaginations to what our future may bring, or, perhaps more properly stated, what we will bring to our future.

Patrick Millard

Source | VASA Project

Inside FAST, Soon to be the World’s Biggest and Baddest Radio Telescope

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory will soon be the world’s largest radio telescope no more. After years of planning, China has broken ground on the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST), a massive bowl-shaped radio signal collector that will be the world’s most sensitive when it opens for business in 2016.

FAST’s framework was China’s engineering contribution to the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), the international initiative to build a radio telescope with a full square kilometer of telescope surface area. That project has moved ahead and is now considering sites in South Africa and Australia where arrays of smaller distributed telescopes will be integrated into massive radio collecting instrument. But Chinese engineers knew that a massive, singular reflector like FAST was feasible and in 2006 gave the project the green light, choosing a natural depression in Guizhou province in southern China as FAST’s home.

new paper now details the progress in FAST’s design since then, and it shows that while FAST is rooted in Arecibo’s successful design, several engineering tweaks and the addition of a now-characteristic Chinese flourish–make it bigger and more powerful–mean that FAST will be able to see three times further in to space than Arecibo, scanning larger sections of the sky and processing all that data more quickly.

How? Arecibo has a fixed spherical curvature, so radio waves are focused into a line above the dish where more mirrors focus them to a single point that can be processed by instruments. Because of the way this works, Arecibo can only really use 221 meters (725 feet) of its 305-meter (1,000-foot) dish at any give time.

But a similar setup for FAST’s 500 meter (1,640 feet) array would result in the overhanging mirrors weighing some 11,000 tons. So instead the dish itself will focus the radio signals, using a subset of the dish’s 4,400 triangular aluminum panels to form a roughly 1,000-foot parabolic mirror–nearly the size of the entire Arecibo dish–within the larger bowl. This dish-within-a-dish can be formed anywhere across the larger bowl, allowing FAST to examine more of the sky.

Further, the receiver hanging above the dish will be capable of collecting and studying signals from 19 sky regions simultaneously, compared to Arecibo’s seven. That makes for one speedy, strong radio telescope, faster and stronger than any existing instrument on the planet. As such, it should yield the sharpest radio observations of pulsars, supernovas, and other astronomical phenomena.

Perhaps more interestingly, it will also join SETI in the search for extraterrestrial life. FAST should be able to detect extraplanetary transmissions at distances of greater than 1,000 light years.

Source | PopSci

The Sun lets loose a HUGE explosion

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Early this morning, the Sun erupted with an explosion I can only describe as ginormous. We’re in no danger from it, but the size and scope of this thing are simply spectacular. Here’s a video I put together of the event using Helioviewer, a public-domain solar viewer:

Yowza! [Make sure to set the resolution to at least 720p, and make it full screen to get the full effect.]

What you’re seeing here is a solar flare (an enormous explosion of pent-up magnetic energy) coupled with a prominence (a physical eruption of gas from the surface). This event blasted something like a billion tons of material away from the Sun. Note the size of it, too: while it started from a small region on the Sun’s surface, it quickly expanded into a plume easily as big as the Sun itself! I’d estimate its size at well over a million kilometers across. It looks like most of the material fell back down to the Sun’s surface; that’s common, though sometimes such an event manages to blast the material completely away into space.

The above video shows the Sun in the ultraviolet (304 Angstroms for those playing at home, a bit bluer than what the eye can naturally see) and is colored orange to make it easy to see. The folks at Helioviewer put together a close-up looking at even higher energy; it’s still UV but at 171 Angstroms:

Again, may I say, yowza! The material is silhouetted against the Sun’s brighter surface, making it appear dark. I think the expanding circle you can see is a shock wave pummeling the Sun’s surface, but it might be a line-of-sight effect of the edge of the explosion, like seeing a soap bubble’s bright edge.

You can read more about this event at the very cool Geeked on Goddard blog. The energy of the event was colossal. A good flare can release up to 10% of the Sun’s total energy, the equivalent of billions of nuclear bombs exploding. What’s funny to me is that this wasn’t all that big a flare; it was rated as a class M2.5, far lower in energy than the vast explosions from the Sun back in February.

Again, the good news is that we’re not in any danger from this; it wasn’t aimed our way (most of these types of events miss us). But as I’ve said before, the solar cycle is heating up and we can expect to see more incredible events from our friendly neighborhood star in the coming years.

Source | Discovery Magazine

Humanity+ @ Parsons The New School For Design, Transhumanism Meets Design

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

Patrick Millard | Formatting Gaia + Embodiment

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Astronaut scientists for hire open new research frontier in space

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

At a joint press conference Monday with Virgin Galactic at the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference, XCOR, SwRI, and others, Astronauts for Hire Inc. announced the selection of its third class of commercial scientist-astronaut candidates to conduct experiments on suborbital flights.

Among those selected was Singularity University inaugural program faculty advisor, teaching fellow, and track chair Christopher Altman, a graduate fellow at the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience, Delft University of Technology.

“The selection process was painstaking,” said Astronauts for Hire Vice President and Membership Chair Jason Reimuller. “We had to choose a handful of applicants who showed just the right balance of professional establishment, broad technical and operational experience, and a background that indicates adaptability to the spaceflight environment.”

“With the addition of these new members to the organization, Astronauts for Hire has solidified its standing as the premier provider of scientist-astronaut candidates,” said its President Brian Shiro. “Our diverse pool of astronauts in training represent more than two dozen disciplines of science and technology, speak sixteen languages, and hail from eleven countries. We can now handle a much greater range of missions across different geographic regions.”

Altman completed Zero-G and High-Altitude Physiological Training under the Reduced Gravity Research Program at NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley and NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, and was tasked to represent NASA Ames at the joint US-Japan space conference (JUSTSAP) and the launch conference (PISCES) for an astronaut training facility on the slopes of Mauna Kea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Altman’s research has been highlighted in international press and publications including Discover Magazine and the International Journal of Theoretical Physics. He was recently awarded a fellowship to explore the foundations and future of quantum mechanics at the Austrian International Akademie Traunkirchen with Anton Zeilinger.

“The nascent field of commercial spaceflight and the unique conditions afforded by space and microgravity environments offer exciting new opportunities to conduct novel experiments in quantum entanglement, fundamental tests of spacetime, and large-scale quantum coherence,” said Altman.

Source | Kurzweil AI

Technology 25 Years Hence

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

“The law of accelerating returns is the only reliable method I know that allows us to forecast at least certain aspects of the future,” said Ray Kurzweil in “Why Do We Need Predictions?,” a New York Times special feature published Monday.

“A computer that fit inside a building when I was a student now fits in my pocket, and is a thousand times more powerful despite being a million times less expensive. In another quarter century, that capability will fit inside a red blood cell and will again be a billion times more powerful per dollar.”

Source | Kurzweil AI

Astronomers Find Evidence Of Other Universes In Cosmic Microwave Background

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

There’s something exciting afoot in the world of cosmology. Last month, Roger Penrose at the University of Oxford and Vahe Gurzadyan at Yerevan State University in Armenia announced that they had found patterns of concentric circles in the cosmic microwave background, the echo of the Big Bang.

This, they say, is exactly what you’d expect if the universe were eternally cyclical. By that, they mean that each cycle ends with a big bang that starts the next cycle. In this model, the universe is a kind of cosmic Russian Doll, with all previous universes contained within the current one.

That’s an extraordinary discovery: evidence of something that occurred before the (conventional) Big Bang.

Today, another group says they’ve found something else in the echo of the Big Bang. These guys start with a different model of the universe called eternal inflation. In this way of thinking, the universe we see is merely a bubble in a much larger cosmos. This cosmos is filled with other bubbles, all of which are other universes where the laws of physics may be dramatically different to ours.

These bubbles probably had a violent past, jostling together and leaving “cosmic bruises” where they touched. If so, these bruises ought to be visible today in the cosmic microwave background.

Now Stephen Feeney at University College London and a few pals say they’ve found tentative evidence of this bruising in the form of circular patterns in cosmic microwave background. In fact, they’ve found four bruises, implying that our universe must have smashed into other bubbles at least four times in the past.

Again, this is an extraordinary result: the first evidence of universes beyond our own.

So, what to make of these discoveries. First, these effects could easily be a trick of the eye. As Feeney and co acknowledge: “it is rather easy to find all sorts of statistically unlikely properties in a large dataset like the CMB.” That’s for sure!

There are precautions statisticians can take to guard against this, which both Feeney and Penrose bring to bear in various ways.

But these are unlikely to settle the argument. In the last few weeks, several groups have confirmed Pernose’s finding while others have found no evidence for it. Expect a similar pattern for Feeney’s result.

The only way to settle this will be to confirm or refute the findings with better data. As luck would have it, new data is forthcoming thanks to the Planck spacecraft that is currently peering into the cosmic microwave background with more resolution and greater sensitivity than ever.

Cosmologists should have a decent data set to play with in a couple of years or so. When they get it, these circles should either spring into clear view or disappear into noise (rather like the mysterious Mars face that appeared in pictures of the red planet taken by Viking 1 and then disappeared in the higher resolution shots from the Mars Global Surveyor).

Planck should settle the matter; or, with any luck, introduce an even better mystery. In the meantime, there’s going to be some fascinating discussion about this data and what it implies about the nature of the Universe. We’ll be watching.

Source | Technology Review

Company is first to return spacecraft from orbit

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

NASA took a giant leap away from the spaceflight business Wednesday as a private company launched a spacecraft into orbit and for the first time guided it safely back to Earth, a feat previously achieved only by large national governments.

The capsule built by Space Exploration Technologies Inc. splashed down into the Pacific Ocean, right on target, following a three-hour mission that should pave the way for an actual flight to the International Space Station next summer.

NASA wants to enlist private companies to handle space station supply runs as well as astronaut rides after the shuttles stop flying next year. Until then, the space agency will have to continue paying tens of millions of dollars to the Russians for every American astronaut ferried back and forth.

Prior to Wednesday’s test flight, recovering a spacecraft re-entering from orbit was something achieved by only five independent nations: the United States, Russia, China, Japan and India, plus the European Space Agency, a consortium of countries.

NASA immediately offered up congratulations, as did astronauts, lawmakers, and aerospace organizations and companies.

“I’m sort of in semi-shock,” said the company’s CEO, Elon Musk. “It’s just mind-blowingly awesome. I apologize, and I wish I was more articulate, but it’s hard to be articulate when your mind’s blown — but in a very good way.”

Speaking from the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., Musk said his Falcon 9 rocket and the capsule named Dragon operated better than expected.

If astronauts had been on board, “they would have had a very nice ride,” Musk told reporters. “The vehicle that you saw today can easily transport people,” with the addition of escape and life-support systems.

The Dragon flown Wednesday — nearly 17 feet tall and 12 feet in diameter — was reminiscent of the NASA capsules of old, which ended their missions with ocean splashdowns.

Designers of most next-generation spacecraft have abandoned the shuttle system, which proved extremely complicated, expensive and vulnerable to damage. Many engineers believe Apollo-style capsules will be cheaper, safer and capable of a wider variety of missions.

Wednesday’s flight was only the second for this type of rocket.

Musk envisions that later models of the capsule, for crews, will be equipped for precision landings on patches of ground as small as a helipad. These would be powered touchdowns using landing gears, similar to the lunar landings. The spacecraft could refuel and then be used again, he said.

This early version of the capsule circled the world twice, then parachuted into the Pacific. It splashed down roughly 500 miles off the Mexican coast, within a few miles of the targeted area. Recovery crews were quickly on the scene, putting floats on the spacecraft.

Musk raised his arms in victory when the three red-and-white-striped parachutes deployed. He knew then “it was a done deal.”

“This was done with 1,200 people,” Musk noted, versus the efforts of entire countries and their supporting industries.

The spacecraft carried thousands of patches for company employees; no official payload was required for this test. A humorous payload, though, was on board. Musk promised to divulge its identity Thursday so it would not overwhelm Wednesday’s headlines. An Army nanosatellite hitched a ride on the upper stage of the 158-foot rocket in a technology demonstration.

The accolades quickly mounted as the afternoon wore on.

“These new explorers are to spaceflight what Lindbergh was to commercial aviation,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

“SpaceX changes the game in spaceflight,” noted the Space Frontier Foundation.

And from Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat and former space shuttle flier: “We’ve arrived at the dawn of new era of U.S. space exploration that should ensure America remains a leader in space exploration.”

In orbit, space station commander Scott Kelly nagged NASA’s Mission Control for updates. He told a reporter earlier in the day he would gladly fly on a commercial rocket “if that’s the path we’re proceeding on.”

If, after Wednesday’s success, any detractors still doubt the prospects for private spaceflight, Musk said, “I pity them … They would be fighting on the wrong side of yesterday’s war.”

This was the first flight under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, as well as the first flight of an operational Dragon spacecraft. SpaceX’s first flight of a Falcon 9 rocket, in June, carried a capsule mock-up that deliberately burned up on re-entry.

Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration issued its first re-entry license to SpaceX, paving the way for Wednesday’s flight.

SpaceX intends to fly to the space station on its very next Dragon flight, targeted for next summer. During Wednesday’s mission, the capsule replicated some of the orbital maneuvers that would be needed for a station docking.

Musk said he could be launching station crews within three years of getting the go-ahead from NASA.

The Dragon spacecraft as well as the first stage of the Falcon 9 rockets are meant to be reusable, a long-term goal intended to save money. The company notes it will take many missions, however, to achieve that.

NASA already is relying on Russia to ferry U.S. astronauts to and from the space station. It’s an expensive arrangement: $26 million per person this year, rising to $51 million next year, and to $56 million in 2013.

Ideally, NASA wants multiple companies to take over the job of cargo and crew transport, which would allow the agency to focus on deep-space travel to asteroids and to Mars.

The effort has taken on increased significance since the working lifetime of the space station was extended to at least 2020.

NASA has just two shuttle missions remaining, in February and April. The space agency hopes to get funding for a third and final flight next summer, to restock the orbiting lab in case the commercial launch companies fall behind, before ending the 30-year shuttle program.

SpaceX currently has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA for 12 supply runs. Orbital Sciences Corp. of Virginia has a $1.9 billion contract for eight.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the company has poured more than $600 million into the test flight effort so far and received $278 million from NASA. She took aim at critics, some of whom don’t trust companies to provide the same level of crew safety as NASA.

“I bristle a little bit at the whole concept of ‘cutting corners,’ ” she said earlier this week. “Just because it’s faster doesn’t mean it’s more risky.”

To be clear, “there were no corners cut” in this week’s rocket repairs, Shotwell noted. The Falcon should have blasted off Tuesday, but two small cracks were discovered Monday in the upper-stage rocket nozzle. A technician simply cut away the nozzle extension containing the cracks, enabling the company to launch Wednesday, a day earlier than anticipated when the damage was detected.

The quick repair work and grasp of the problem demonstrates the company’s skill and agility, said Alan Lindenmoyer, NASA’s commercial crew and cargo program manager at Houston’s Johnson Space Center.

“Thank you for the early Christmas present,” he told SpaceX officials with a smile.

Source | Businessweek