Here’s what we know: On its first powered flight with a new motor, Virgin galactic’s Spaceship Two had a major engine failure that resulted in loss of the vehicle. Two test pilots, names still unknown, were onboard. One died. These are the only images I’ve been able to find:
There have definitely been those in the “NewSpace” community who have criticized Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic for the way they’ve managed the development of this vehicle — pushing too fast in some areas, while making little progress in others. But it hurts to already see the kinds of criticisms begin that make me cringe: TIME already has an article up entitled “Enough With Amateur Hour Space Flight.”
Yeah — the Big Government way has done such a great job in the past: Two out of five of the space shuttle orbiters lost to preventable accidents (40% or the fleet, with a loss of 14 lives together) and the first version of the Apollo spacecraft killing three on the launch pad because it was an incinerator waiting to happen. Those are just some of the more egregious examples. There are plenty more.
It won’t surprise me if this kills Virgin Galactic. As a business and an engineering and project development enterprise, it is NOT the best of the “NewSpace” initiatives. Unfortunately, there will be plenty of idiots like the guy at TIME who will lump it all together and insist that NASA, that paragon of efficiency and safety, manage all US space activity.
Some Guys Who Didn’t Bitch and Moan About Quarantine: Apollo 11 Astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins & Neil Armstrong, July 1969Posted: October 29, 2014
Within the Mobile Quarantine Facility, Apollo 11 astronauts (left to right) Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong relax following their successful lunar landing mission. They spent two-and-a-half-days in the quarantine trailer en route from the USS Hornet to the Lunar Receiving Laboratory at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. The Hornet docked at Pearl Harbor where the trailer was transferred to a jet aircraft for the flight to Houston.
NASA/USAF Martin Marietta X-24B – Lifting Body Test
Orbital Sciences Corp. said in a Tweet shortly after the explosion:
There has been a vehicle anomaly. We will update as soon as we are able.
— Orbital Sciences (@OrbitalSciences) October 28, 2014
The cargo rocket was supposed to launch Monday night, but that had to be scrubbed because a boat was too close to the “hazard zone” near the launch site.
This launch was the third of eight International Space Station cargo resupply missions under NASA’s $1.9 billion contract with Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Virginia. Orbital provides the launch vehicle and cargo spacecraft and NASA runs the range operations.
“Radar aircraft detected the boat and hailed it several times, but there was no response. A spotter plane made multiple passes around the boat at low altitudes using commonly understood signals such as wing waving to establish contact. However, the operator did not respond.”
– NASA statement
The Antares rocket was carrying 4,483 pounds of equipment to the station including 1,360 pounds of food.
Orbital Sciences said everyone at the launch site had been accounted for, and the damage appeared to be limited to the facilities. Read the rest of this entry »
Date: September 16, 2014
Elon was 43 years old
First Apple and then Google announced that they would use encryption on new phones that wouldn’t permit them to help police execute warrants to examine data on a cell phone or other device.
For City Journal, Judith Miller writes: Law enforcement officials in New York and Washington criticized technology superpowers Google and Apple this week for selling cell phones and other devices that cannot be accessed by the government, warning that such technology jeopardizes public safety.
In his first major policy address, FBI director James B. Comey called on Congress and the Obama administration to counter the expanding use of such devices, which he and other law enforcement officials assert endanger efforts to prevent terrorism and fight crime. Without lawful government access to cell phones and Internet devices, Comey warned, “homicide cases could be stalled, suspects could walk free, and child exploitation victims might not be identified or recovered.”
“Law enforcement officials many legitimate ways to obtain the data stored on our devices. Weakening the security of smartphones and trusted communications infrastructure should not be one of them.”
– Nuala O’Connor, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology
Comey, who became FBI director last year, said that he understood Americans’ “justifiable surprise” at former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations about U.S. government surveillance practices. Read the rest of this entry »
After last week’s auction of an Apple I motherboard for hundreds of thousands of dollars, we wondered: Just how much could you wind up paying for a technology relic?
For PopMech, Jared Newman writes: The Kenbak-1 doesn’t bear the mark of any industry heavyweights. You might not even have heard of it. But the machine, which debuted in 1971 for a reasonable $750, is widely considered to be the first “personal computer.”
To keep costs down, the Kenbak’s program-running capabilities were limited to a handful of standardized input switches and output lights. Nevertheless, it was a hard sell to non-professionals, and creator John Blankenbaker only produced 40 machines, mostly for schools, before folding his company a couple years later. Read the rest of this entry »
Russian hackers use ‘zero-day’ in cyber-spy campaign
For The Washington Post, Ellen Nakashima reports: A Russian hacking group probably working for the government has been exploiting a previously unknown flaw in Microsoft’s Windows operating system to spy on NATO, the Ukrainian government, a U.S. university researcher and other national security targets, according to a new report.
“This is consistent with espionage activity. All indicators from a targeting and lures perspective would indicate espionage with Russian national interests.”
– iSight Senior Director Stephen Ward
The group has been active since at least 2009, according to research by iSight Partners, a cybersecurity firm.
Its targets in the recent campaign also included a Polish energy firm, a Western European government agency and a French telecommunications firm.
“This is consistent with espionage activity,” said iSight Senior Director Stephen Ward. “All indicators from a targeting and lures perspective would indicate espionage with Russian national interests.”
“The firm began monitoring the hackers’ activity in late 2013 and discovered the vulnerability in August…The flaw is present in every Windows operating system from Vista to 8.1, he said, except Windows XP.”
There is no indication that the group was behind a recent spate of intrusions into U.S. banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Ward said.
“ISight dubbed the recently detected hacking group SandWorm because of references embedded in its code to the science-fiction novel ‘Dune.’ There were various mentions in Russian to the fictional desert planet of Arrakis, for instance.”
Current and former U.S. intelligence officials say the capabilities of Russian hackers are on par with those of the United States and Israel. Read the rest of this entry »
Fantastic New York Times headline from the 1919 solar eclipse when the “bending” of light was observed as predicted by general relativity
— NASA (@NASA) October 8, 2014
Security experts say China is a leading source of hacking attacks aimed at foreign governments and companies to computers in China
HONG KONG (AP) — The Chinese government might be using smartphone apps to spy on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, a U.S. security firm said.
“The Xsser mRAT represents a fundamental shift by nation-state cybercriminals from compromising traditional PC systems to targeting mobile devices.”
The applications are disguised as tools created by activists, said the firm, Lacoon Mobile Security. It said that once downloaded, they give an outsider access to the phone’s address book, call logs and other information.
The identities of victims and details of the servers used “lead us to believe that the Chinese government are behind the attack,” said a Lacoon statement.
China is, along with the United States and Russia, regarded as a leader in cyber warfare research. Security experts say China is a leading source of hacking attacks aimed at foreign governments and companies to computers in China. Read the rest of this entry »
This isn’t really my department, but I’m trolling for our Hong Kong Bureau Chief — a hopeless Supercar wonk and noted ‘vette enthusiast — to add commentary. Consider this a Bat-signal.
I wonder if primatologist has read this yet. Before the era of fairy tales, superstition and nonstop Global panic — back in the milk & honey days of late 20th century–he was our Matt Drudge of science news, kept everybody up on the latest life extension research. This should come as welcome news, if it can deliver benefits fast enough. Read the full text here.
Scientists at the Salk Institute have discovered an on-and-off “switch” in cells that may hold the key to healthy aging. This switch points to a way to encourage healthy cells to keep dividing and generating, for example, new lung or liver tissue, even in old age.
“Previous studies had suggested that once assembled, telomerase is available whenever it is needed. We were surprised to discover instead that telomerase has what is in essence an ‘off’’ switch, whereby it disassembles.”
– Senior author Vicki Lundblad
In our bodies, newly divided cells constantly replenish lungs, skin, liver and other organs. However, most human cells cannot divide indefinitely–with each division, a cellular timekeeper at the ends of chromosomes shortens. When this timekeeper, called a telomere, becomes too short, cells can no longer divide, causing organs and tissues to degenerate, as often happens in old age. But there is a way around this countdown: some cells produce an enzyme called telomerase, which rebuilds telomeres and allows cells to divide indefinitely.
In a new study published September 19th in the journal Genes and Development, scientists at the Salk Institute have discovered that telomerase, even when present, can be turned off. Read the rest of this entry »
Sharon Weinberger writes: For almost two years, an unmanned space plane bearing a remarkable resemblance to NASA’s space shuttle has circled the Earth, performing a top-secret mission. It’s called the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle — but that’s pretty much all we know for certain.
“Despite the secrecy surrounding its mission, the space plane’s travels are closely watched. The Air Force announces its launches, and satellite watchers monitor its flight and orbit. What is not revealed is what’s inside the cargo bay and what it’s being used for.”
Officially, the only role the Pentagon acknowledges is that the space plane is used to conduct experiments on new technologies. Theories about its mission have ranged from an orbiting space bomber to an anti-satellite weapon.
The truth, however, is likely much more obvious: According to intelligence experts and satellite watchers who have closely monitored its orbit, the X-37B is being used to carry secret satellites and classified sensors into space — a little-known role once played by NASA’s now-retired space shuttles.
For a decade between the 1980s and early 1990s, NASA’s space shuttles were used for classified military missions, which involved ferrying military payloads into space.
“Now, with the X-37B, the Pentagon no longer has to rely on NASA — or humans.”
But the shuttles’ military role rested on an uneasy alliance between NASA and the Pentagon. Even before the 1986 Challenger disaster, which killed all seven crewmembers, the Pentagon had grown frustrated with NASA’s delays.
Now, with the X-37B, the Pentagon no longer has to rely on NASA — or humans.
The X-37B resembles a shuttle, or at least a shrunken-down version of it. Like the space shuttles, the X-37B is boosted into orbit by an external rocket, but lands like an aircraft on a conventional runway. But the X-37B is just shy of 10 feet tall and slightly less than 30 feet long.
Its cargo bay, often compared to the size of a pickup truck bed, is just big enough to carry a small satellite. Once in orbit, the X-37B deploys a foldable solar array, which is believed to power the sensors in its cargo bay.
“It’s just an updated version of the space shuttle type of activities in space,” insisted one senior Air Force official in 2010, the year of the first launch, when rampant speculation about the secret project prompted some to question whether it was possibly a space bomber. Read the rest of this entry »
Walter Isaacson writes: We live in the age of computers, but few of us know who invented them. Because most of the pioneers were part of collaborative teams working in wartime secrecy, they aren’t as famous as an Edison, Bell or Morse. But one genius, the English mathematician Alan Turing, stands out as a heroic-tragic figure, and he’s about to get his due in a new movie, “The Imitation Game,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch, which won the top award at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month and will open in theaters in November.
“He also wrestled with the issue of free will: Are our personal preferences and impulses all predetermined and programmed, like those of a machine?”
The title of the movie refers to a test that Turing thought would someday show that machines could think in ways indistinguishable from humans. His belief in the potential of artificial intelligence stands in contrast to the school of thought that argues that the combined talents of humans and computers, working together as partners, will always be more creative than computers working alone.
Despite occasional breathless headlines, the quest for pure artificial intelligence has so far proven disappointing. But the alternative approach of connecting humans and machines more intimately continues to produce astonishing innovations. As the movie about him shows, Alan Turing’s own deeply human personal life serves as a powerful counter to the idea that there is no fundamental distinction between the human mind and artificial intelligence.
[Check out Walter Isaacson's book "The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution" at Amazon.com]
Turing, who had the cold upbringing of a child born on the fraying fringe of the British gentry, displayed a trait that is common among innovators. In the words of his biographer Andrew Hodges, he was “slow to learn that indistinct line that separated initiative from disobedience.”
He taught himself early on to keep secrets. At boarding school, he realized he was homosexual, and he became infatuated with a classmate who died of tuberculosis before they graduated. During World War II, he became a leader of the teams at Bletchley Park, England, that built machines to break the German military codes.
Feeling the need to hide both his sexuality and his code-breaking work, Turing often found himself playing an imitation game by pretending to be things he wasn’t. He also wrestled with the issue of free will: Are our personal preferences and impulses all predetermined and programmed, like those of a machine?
These questions came together in a paper, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” that Turing published in 1950. With a schoolboy’s sense of fun, he invented a game—one that is still being played and debated—to give meaning to the question, “Can machines think?” He proposed a purely empirical definition of artificial intelligence: If the output of a machine is indistinguishable from that of a human brain, then we have no meaningful reason to insist that the machine isn’t “thinking.”
His test, now usually called the Turing Test, was a simple imitation game. An interrogator sends written questions to a human and a machine in another room and tries to determine which is which. If the output of a machine is indistinguishable from that of a human brain, he argued, then it makes no sense to deny that the machine is “thinking.” Read the rest of this entry »
Modern Meadow’s CEO explains how he’ll culture leather and make steak from giant vats brewing muscle and skin cells
Modern Meadow, a startup based in Brooklyn, New York, is aiming to commercialize leather and meat products that are not made from slaughtered animals but brewed in cell-culture vats. If it works, and if the market embraces the resulting products, it would lead to vast savings in water, land, and energy use associated with livestock production.
“Ah, the Hannibal Lecter question. Could we do it? Of course it could be done. But we take bioethics seriously, and it’s not something we would do. “
Company CEO and cofounder Andras Forgacs—who previously cofounded Organovo, a company that uses 3-D printers to create human tissue for biomedical applications—spoke today at EmTech and later sat down with David Talbot, chief correspondent of MIT Technology Review.
What’s the idea behind Modern Meadow?
The company was founded to expand the ideas from biomedical tissue engineering: if we can grow skin, can we make leather? If we can grow muscle, can we make meat? We’ve now done so—and are working with chefs and leather artisans to perfect our materials. We’re a materials company, and our near-term focus is on leather. You want to make sure we have high quality and have achieved the right kind of material, and then develop a process that can scale.
But you’ve also been making batches of snacks you are calling “steak chips” made from cow muscle cells, with flavors like teriyaki and shiitake mushroom. You didn’t bring any. When will they be ready?
We’re doing private tastings but are still are refining the recipe and developing ways to scale production. We have to think about whether this is the project we take to market...(read more)
Who gets access to the info in your vehicle’s event data recorder?
A black box, formally known as an event data recorder (EDR), and informally known as a narc-in-the-box, logs a variety of data regarding the operation of the vehicle in which it’s installed. The good news is that EDRs do not (yet) track your location, nor do they beam real-time information to feds, cops, carmakers, or mothers-in-law. That’s what your smartphone is for.
EDRs, standard these days in 96 percent of new cars, do, however, take note of how fast you’re going and whether you’re wearing your seat belt, along with details like the status of your car’s throttle and brakes at any given moment. This is the sort of data most likely to have legal implications, particularly in the event of an accident. Police and lawyers can indeed subpoena the data from your car’s EDR and use it against you. The info can also make its way into the hands of your insurance company, which might join authorities in taking a dim view of the fact that you thought to apply the brakes only after you’d sailed off the end of the pier toward that passing barge hauling kittens and dynamite…(read more)