Rumbling into a mostly sunny sky, SpaceX’s new Falcon Heavy rocket — the world’s most powerful present-day launcher — soared into orbit Tuesday, and its two strap-on boosters came back to Cape Canaveral for an electrifying double-landing punctuated by quadruple sonic booms.
The dramatic test flight took off at 3:45 p.m. EST (2045 GMT) Tuesday from launch pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the same facility used by the Apollo 11 lunar landing crew and numerous space shuttle missions.
Standing nearly 230 feet (70 meters) tall, the Falcon Heavy’s 27 main engines put out nearly 5 million pounds of thrust, one-and-a-half times more than any other rocket flying today, and around two-thirds the power output of the space shuttle at liftoff. Read the rest of this entry »
Susan Schneider writes: Humans are probably not the greatest intelligences in the universe. Earth is a relatively young planet and the oldest civilizations could be billions of years older than us. But even on Earth, Homo sapiens may not be the most intelligent species for that much longer.
“Why would nonconscious machines have the same value we place on biological intelligence?”
The world Go, chess, and Jeopardy champions are now all AIs. AI is projected to outmode many human professions within the next few decades. And given the rapid pace of its development, AI may soon advance to artificial general intelligence—intelligence that, like human intelligence, can combine insights from different topic areas and display flexibility and common sense. From there it is a short leap to superintelligent AI, which is smarter than humans in every respect, even those that now seem firmly in the human domain, such as scientific reasoning and social skills. Each of us alive today may be one of the last rungs on the evolutionary ladder that leads from the first living cell to synthetic intelligence.
What we are only beginning to realize is that these two forms of superhuman intelligence—alien and artificial—may not be so distinct. The technological developments we are witnessing today may have all happened before, elsewhere in the universe. The transition from biological to synthetic intelligence may be a general pattern, instantiated over and over, throughout the cosmos. The universe’s greatest intelligences may be postbiological, having grown out of civilizations that were once biological. (This is a view I share with Paul Davies, Steven Dick, Martin Rees, and Seth Shostak, among others.) To judge from the human experience—the only example we have—the transition from biological to postbiological may take only a few hundred years.
I prefer the term “postbiological” to “artificial” because the contrast between biological and synthetic is not very sharp. Consider a biological mind that achieves superintelligence through purely biological enhancements, such as nanotechnologically enhanced neural minicolumns. This creature would be postbiological, although perhaps many wouldn’t call it an “AI.” Or consider a computronium that is built out of purely biological materials, like the Cylon Raider in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica TV series.
The key point is that there is no reason to expect humans to be the highest form of intelligence there is. Our brains evolved for specific environments and are greatly constrained by chemistry and historical contingencies. But technology has opened up a vast design space, offering new materials and modes of operation, as well as new ways to explore that space at a rate much faster than traditional biological evolution. And I think we already see reasons why synthetic intelligence will outperform us.
Silicon microchips already seem to be a better medium for information processing than groups of neurons. Neurons reach a peak speed of about 200 hertz, compared to gigahertz for the transistors in current microprocessors. Although the human brain is still far more intelligent than a computer, machines have almost unlimited room for improvement. It may not be long before they can be engineered to match or even exceed the intelligence of the human brain through reverse-engineering the brain and improving upon its algorithms, or through some combination of reverse engineering and judicious algorithms that aren’t based on the workings of the human brain.
In addition, an AI can be downloaded to multiple locations at once, is easily backed up and modified, and can survive under conditions that biological life has trouble with, including interstellar travel. Our measly brains are limited by cranial volume and metabolism; superintelligent AI, in stark contrast, could extend its reach across the Internet and even set up a Galaxy-wide computronium, utilizing all the matter within our galaxy to maximize computations. There is simply no contest. Superintelligent AI would be far more durable than us.
Suppose I am right. Suppose that intelligent life out there is postbiological. What should we make of this? Here, current debates over AI on Earth are telling. Two of the main points of contention—the so-called control problem and the nature of subjective experience—affect our understanding of what other alien civilizations may be like, and what they may do to us when we finally meet.
Illustration by Kristian Hammerstad
Ray Kurzweil takes an optimistic view of the postbiological phase of evolution, suggesting that humanity will merge with machines, reaching a magnificent technotopia. But Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and others have expressed the concern that humans could lose control of superintelligent AI, as it can rewrite its own programming and outthink any control measures that we build in. This has been called the “control problem”—the problem of how we can control an AI that is both inscrutable and vastly intellectually superior to us. Read the rest of this entry »
On board was a $200m, 12,000lb communications satellite – part of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org project to deliver broadband access to sub-Saharan Africa.
Zuckerberg wrote, with a note of bitterness, on his Facebook page that he was “deeply disappointed to hear that SpaceX’s launch failure destroyed our satellite”. SpaceX founder Elon Musk told CNN it was the “most difficult and complex failure” the 14-year-old company had ever experienced.
“Musk, who founded SpaceX in 2002, is arguably the most visible billionaire in the new space race. The apparent inspiration for Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark character in Iron Man, Musk has become a god-like figure for engineers, making his fortune at PayPal and then as CEO of luxury electric car firm Tesla and clean energy company Solar City.”
Yet despite those challenges, a small band of billionaire technocrats have spent the past few years investing hundreds of millions of dollars into space ventures. Forget gilded mansions and super yachts; among the tech elite, space exploration is the ultimate status symbol.
Musk, who founded SpaceX in 2002, is arguably the most visible billionaire in the new space race. The apparent inspiration for Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark character in Iron Man, Musk has become a god-like figure for engineers, making his fortune at PayPal and then as CEO of luxury electric car firm Tesla and clean energy company Solar City. Yet it is his galactic ambitions, insiders say, that really motivate him. “His passion is settling Mars,” says one.
SpaceX has completed 32 successful launches since 2006, delivered cargo to the International Space Station and secured more than $10bn in contracts with Nasa and other clients. Musk has much grander ambitions, though, saying he plans to create a “plan B” for humanity in case Earth ultimately fails. He once famously joked that he hoped to die on Mars – just not on impact. Read the rest of this entry »
Glenn Reynolds writes: Space entrepreneur Peter Bigelow, who’s working on hotels in space, wants the Trump Administration to sharply increase NASA spending. But although I’m all in favor of making America’s space program great again, I’m not so sure that pumping money into NASA is the way to do it. For that matter, I’m not even sure that the term “space program” makes much sense in the 21st century.
Rather than a space program, what we really have is a package of space policies. Unlike the Apollo era, when the nation was fixed on a single major goal of landing men on the Moon before 1970, we now want a bunch of different things, all of them important, but no single one of them is our sole focus. And, honestly, much of what’s going on at NASA isn’t even close to overridingly important.
The good news is that, as I’ve noted before, space — at least the burgeoning commercial space industry — has been one of the Obama Administration’s notable policy successes. Where not long ago the United States was looking at an aging fleet of increasingly dangerous space shuttles, we now have a flourishing collection of private companies providing transportation into earth orbit, from SpaceX, to Blue Origin, to Virgin Galactic, to a number of smaller companies. (Full disclosure: I own a small amount of friends-and-family stock in one of those smaller companies, XCOR Aerospace). Moon Express even plans to land a robot on the Moon.
Orbital Sciences will once again attempt to rendezvous with the International Space Station when it launches the Cynus spacecraft aboard its Antares rocket, shown here in a file photo of an earlier launch. Photo courtesy Orbital Sciences
Artist’s concept of the new SpaceX Dragon, which may one day fly from Brownsville, Texas (Image: SpaceX)
New camera views of past launches and reentries.Missions in order of appearance: May JCSAT-14; July CRS-9 launch, stage separation, engine plume interaction, and re-entry burn; December 2015 ORBCOMM landing burn; July CRS-9 landing burn.
Among the arriving cargo is the first of two international docking adapters, which will allow commercial spacecraft to dock to the station when transporting astronauts in the near future as part of our Commercial Crew Program.
This metallic ring, big enough for astronauts and cargo to fit through represents the first on-orbit element built to the docking measurements that are standardized for all the spacecraft builders across the world.
Experiments launching to the station range from research into the effects of microgravity on the human body, to regulating temperature on spacecraft. Take a look at a few:
A Space-based DNA Sequencer
DNA testing aboard the space station typically requires collecting samples and sending them back to Earth to be analyzed. Our Biomolecule Sequencer Investigation will test a new device that will allow DNA sequencing in space for the first time! The samples in this first test will be DNA from a virus, a bacteria and a mouse.
How big is it? Picture your smartphone…then cut it in half. This miniature device has the potential to identify microbes, diagnose diseases and evaluate crew member health, and even help detect DNA-based life elsewhere in the solar system.
OsteoOmics is an experiment that will investigate the molecular mechanisms that dictate bone loss in microgravity. It does this by examining osteoblasts, which form bone; and osteoclasts, which dissolves bone. New ground-based studies are using magnetic levitation equipment to simulate gravity-related changes. This experiment hopes to validate whether this method accurately simulates the free-fall conditions of microgravity. Read the rest of this entry »
Startup Proposes to Land Payload of Scientific Gear on Lunar Surface Some Time Next Year.
Andy Pastor reports: U.S. officials appear poised to make space history by giving the green light to the first private mission aiming to go beyond Earth orbit, according to people familiar with the details.
The government’s endorsement would eliminate the largest regulatory obstacle to plans by Moon Express, a relatively obscure space startup, to land a roughly 20-pound package of scientific hardware on the Moon sometime next year. It also would provide the biggest federal boost yet for unmanned commercial space exploration and, potentially, the first in an array of for-profit ventures throughout the solar system.
The expected decision, said the people familiar with the details, is expected to set important legal and diplomatic precedents for how Washington will ensure such nongovernmental projects comply with longstanding international space treaties. The principles are likely to apply to future spacecraft whose potential purposes range from mining asteroids to tracking space debris.
Approval of a formal launch license for the second half of 2017 is still months away, and the proposed mission poses huge technical hurdles for California-based Moon Express, including the fact that the rocket it wants to use hasn’t yet flown.
But the project’s proponents have considered federal clearance of the suitcase-size MX-1 lander and its payload as well as approval of a planned two-week operation on the Moon itself to pose the most significant legal challenges to the mission.
After months of lobbying by Moon Express officials and high-level deliberations among various federal agencies led by the White House science office, the people familiar with the matter said, the company appears close to obtaining what it has called “mission approval.” Until recently, Moon Express faced a regulatory Catch-22 because there was no template for getting Washington’s blessing for what it proposed.
What’s truly notable is that tomorrow’s launch will be the fifth one for SpaceX this year, demonstrating an increased launch frequency compared to last year.
In 2015, SpaceX conducted a total of six successful Falcon 9 launches, putting their launch frequency at about one launch every other month. So far this year, they’ve doubled that frequency with nearly one launch per month.
In March, President of SpaceX, Gwynne Shotwell, stated that the company actually plans to launch a total of 18 times in 2016, which would triple the number of successful launches compared to 2015. She also said that they plan to increase that launch rate even further the following year with 24 hopeful launches in 2017.
The expected increase would be remarkable considering there were only 82 recorded successful orbital launches in the entire world last year. This number was down from 2014, which saw 90 successful orbital launches – the highest number of annual launches in two decades.
With more Falcon 9 launches comes more rocket recovery attempts, and tomorrow’s mission will be no exception.
After the launch, SpaceX will make another attempted recovery of the first stage of their rocket on a drone ship out at sea.
SpaceX’s Of Course I Still Love You drone ship / Image Courtesy of SpaceX
A land-based recovery was ruled out for this mission because Thaicom 8 needs to be inserted into geostationary orbit (GEO: an altitude of above 22,000 miles), which means the mission will require higher speeds and more fuel and wouldn’t be able to navigate back to land.
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL—Expressing their excitement to share the historic item with visitors, Kennedy Space Center officials confirmed Thursday that the suit worn by Buzz Aldrin on February 24, 2015 when he lobbied the Senate to increase NASA funding was now on display for public viewing. “We are honored to add to our collection the actual jacket and trousers Dr. Aldrin wore that fateful day when he stepped out into room 253 of the Russell Senate Office Building and uttered the immortal words ‘I wish to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak with you about the future of American human spaceflight,’” the facility’s associate director, Kelvin Manning, said of the charcoal single-breasted suit, which was displayed together with the crisp button-down shirt, mission patch–patterned tie, and various lapel pins the former astronaut donned as he made the case for expanding the U.S. space program through strategic investments…(more)
More and more people are signing up to be frozen for a chance at life after death. So the question is, would you?
Zack Guzman writes: In the desert climate of Scottsdale, Arizona, rest 147 brains and bodies, all frozen in liquid nitrogen with the goal of being revived one day.
It’s not science fiction — to some it might not even be science — yet thousands of people around the world have put their trust, lives and fortunes into the promise of cryonics, the practice of preserving a body with antifreeze shortly after death in hopes future medicine might be able to bring the deceased back.
“If you think back half a century or so, if somebody stopped breathing and their heart stopped beating we would’ve checked them and said they’re dead,” said Max More, CEO of the Scottsdale-based Alcor. “Our view is that when we call someone dead it’s a bit of an arbitrary line. In fact they are in need of a rescue.”
That “rescue” begins the moment a doctor declares a patient dead. Alcor’s team then prepares an ice bath and begins administering 16 medications and variations of antifreeze until the patient’s temperature drops to near freezing.
Alcor CEO Max More poses in front of the dewars that house his 147 cryopreserved patients. Qin Chen | CNBC
“The critical thing is how fast we get to someone and how quickly we start the cooling process,” More said. In order to ensure that can happen, Alcor stations equipped teams in the U.K., Canada and Germany and offers members a $10,000 incentive to legally die in Scottsdale, where the record for getting a patient cooled down and prepped for an operation is 35 minutes.
Next, a contracted surgeon removes a patient’s head if the member selected Alcor’s “Neuro” option, as it’s euphemistically called, in hopes that a new body can be grown with a member’s DNA once it comes time to be thawed out. It’s also the much cheaper route. At a price tag of $80,000, it’s less than half the cost of preserving your whole body. “That requires a minimum of $200,000, which isn’t as much as it sounds, because most people pay with life insurance,” More said.
In fact, such a business model is pretty consistent in the nonprofit cryonics community. Michigan-based Cryonics Institute offers a similar payment structure, albeit at the more affordable cost of just $28,000 for whole-body preservation. Which begs the question: Why the price discrepancy?
“We’ve been very conservative in the way we plan the financing,” More said. “Of that $200,000, about $115,000 of it goes into the patient care trust fund,” which is meant to cover eventual costs and is controlled by a board of trustees (a certain number of which is required to have loved ones currently in cryopreservation). More says the trust currently boasts a total of over $10 million, which is supported by Alcor’s most recent nonprofit 990 filings.
Who is doing this?
When More came to the U.S. in 1986 from Britain to train at Alcor, it was run by volunteers and he signed up as Alcor’s 67th member. Since then, the company has hired a full-time staff of eight employees, boosted its membership to more than 1,000, and is looking into doubling the size of its patient care bay.
The crew of Apollo 1 were the first fatalities in America’s space programme, but they will forever be remembered as pioneers of manned space exploration.
Gemma Lavender writes:Following the success of the Mercury and Gemini missions in the 1960’s, NASA set about planning a series of manned missions to the Moon that would become known as the Apollo missions, under direction of John F. Kennedy to land a man on the moon by 1970. Apollo 1 was to be the first manned mission and, although it would not travel to the moon itself, it was intended to test important technologies in Earth orbit with Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee on board. Tragically, however, the spacecraft was destroyed in a cabin fire during a launch pad test 47 years ago on 27 January 1967.
Each of the three astronauts had been influential during NASA’s space exploration program in the run-up to Apollo 1. Gus Grissom was the second American in space aboard Liberty Bell 7, the second Project Mercury flight, in 1961. He later became the first American to fly in space twice, piloting the Gemini 3 spacecraft in orbit in 1965.
The Apollo 1 crew are pictured here during water egress training. Image Credit: NASA
Edward White was the first American to walk in space during the Gemini 4 spaceflight, also in 1965, when he spent 36 minutes outside the spacecraft. Roger Chaffee was the only one of the three who had not flown in space before. He was chosen in NASA’s third pool of astronauts in 1963 and served as capsule communicator on the ground alongside Grissom for White’s Gemini 4 mission. Read the rest of this entry »
Charles Krauthammer writes: Fractured and divided as we are, on one thing we can agree: 2015 was a miserable year. The only cheer was provided by Lincoln Chafee and the Pluto flyby (two separate phenomena), as well as one seminal aeronautical breakthrough.
On Dec. 21, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, after launching 11 satellites into orbit, returned its 15-story booster rocket, upright and intact, to a landing pad at Cape Canaveral. That’s a $60 million mountain of machinery — recovered. (The traditional booster rocket either burns up or disappears into some ocean.)
The reusable rocket has arrived. Arguably, it arrived a month earlier when Blue Origin, a privately owned outfit created by Jeffrey P. Bezos (Amazon chief executive and owner of this newspaper) launched and landed its own booster rocket, albeit for a suborbital flight. But whether you attribute priority to Musk or Bezos, the two events together mark the inauguration of a new era in spaceflight.
Musk predicts that the reusable rocket will reduce the cost of accessing space a hundredfold. This depends, of course, on whether the wear and tear and stresses of the launch make the refurbishing prohibitively expensive. Assuming it’s not, and assuming Musk is even 10 percent right, reusability revolutionizes the economics of spaceflight.
Which both democratizes and commercializes it. Which means space travel has now slipped the surly bonds of government — presidents, Congress, NASA bureaucracies. Its future will now be driven far more by a competitive marketplace with its multiplicity of independent actors, including deeply motivated, financially savvy and visionary entrepreneurs. Read the rest of this entry »
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Christian Davenport reports: Elon Musk’s SpaceX successfully landed the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket at its landing pad here Monday evening in its first flight since its rocket exploded six months ago.
The historic landing, the first time a rocket launched a payload into orbit and then returned safely to Earth, was cheered as a sign that SpaceX, the darling of the commercial space industry, has its momentum back.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Florida before the reusable main-stage booster turned around, soaed back to Cape Canaveral and landed safely near its launch pad. (Reuters)
“The Falcon has landed,” a SpaceX commentator said on the live webcast, as workers at its headquarters went wild, chanting “USA! USA!”
Monday’s flight, initially delayed because of technical concerns, was the second time in a month that a billionaire-backed venture launched a rocket to space and recovered it. And it represents yet another significant step forward in the quest to open up the cosmos to the masses.
In a call with reporters, Musk said that it appeared the stage landed “dead center on the landing pad. … We could not have asked for a better mission.” He called it a “revolutionary moment.”
Typically, rocket boosters are used once, burning up or crashing into the ocean after liftoff. But Musk, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal and Tesla, and Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com who has his own space company, have been working on creating reusable rockets that land vertically by using their engine thrust. If they are able to recover rockets and fly them again and again, it would dramatically lower the cost of space flight.
Reusing the first stage, which houses the engine and is the most expensive part of the rocket, was thought impossible by many just a few years ago. But last month Bezos’s Blue Origin flew a rocket to the edge of space, and landed it in a remote swath of West Texas. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
On Monday, SpaceX’s first flight since its Falcon 9 rocket blew up in June, Musk topped his fellow tech billionaire and space rival, by landing a larger, more powerful rocket designed to send payloads to orbit, and not just past the boundary of what’s considered space. It was a much more complicated feat that was celebrated as another leap forward for Musk and his merry band of rocketeers.
SpaceX’s unmanned — and recently upgraded — Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral at 8:29 p.m. on a mission to deliver 11 commercial satellites into space for Orbcomm, a communications company. A few minutes later, the second stage separated and headed further on while the towering booster performed an aerial U-turn and headed back to Earth, hurtling back through gusty winds and using its engine thrust to slow down. Read the rest of this entry »
“Musk isn’t a newcomer to the idea of a carbon tax. He’s been calling for one for years. But the evolution of his businesses and the advent of Tesla Energy, his power-storage undertaking, appear to have sharpened his pitch.”
“We have to fix the unpriced externality,” he told the audience, shifting into the wonky quasi-academic mode that he actually appears to enjoy indulging in, when he isn’t running two companies and serving as the Chairman of a third, Solar City.
His entire speech hinged on this simple observation: that the addition of carbon to the atmosphere is effectively a worldwide subsidy that’s contributing to global warming and preventing humanity from freeing itself from the fossil fuel era.
Musk called this a “hidden carbon subsidy of $5.3 trillion per year,” citing the IMF. In response to questions after his speech, he said that a good outcome of the current UN Climate Summit (COP21) taking place in France would be that governments “put their foot down” and use a revenue neutral, gradually applied carbon tax to accelerate the shift from an economy driven by fossil fuels to one driven by sustainable energy.
ScreenshotThe “untaxed negative externality” is the right to put carbon into the atmosphere for free.
Musk is convinced that the current fossil fuel era will end — it’s just a question of when. In his analysis, the transition will occur simply because we’ll run out of carbon-based stuff that we can dig out of the ground and burn. But the existing carbon subsidy, in his estimation, is slowing down progress. Read the rest of this entry »
“The six astronauts won’t be sneaking a sip. It’s all for science.”
A Japanese company known for its whiskey and other alcoholic beverages included five types of distilled spirits in a space station cargo ship. The station’s big robotic arm — operated by Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui — grabbed onto the supply craft launched Wednesday by his homeland. Flight controllers helped anchor it down.
The supply ship contains nearly 10,000 pounds of cargo, including the six liquor samples. Suntory Global Innovation Center in Tokyo wants to see if alcoholic beverages mellow the same in space as they do on Earth.
The samples will be used for experiments and will spend at least a year in orbit before being returned to Earth. An identical set of samples will be stored on the ground in Japan. Read the rest of this entry »
“These distinguished, veteran astronauts are blazing a new trail, a trail that will one day land them in the history books and Americans on the surface of Mars.”
— NASA Administrator Charles Bolden
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA has selected four veteran astronauts to lead the way back into orbit from U.S. soil.
On Thursday, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden named the four who will fly on capsules built by private companies — SpaceX and Boeing. Each astronaut has test pilot experience and has flown twice in space.
“These distinguished, veteran astronauts are blazing a new trail, a trail that will one day land them in the history books and Americans on the surface of Mars,” Bolden said on his blog.
SpaceX and Boeing are aiming for test flights to the space station by 2017. It will be the first launch of astronauts from Cape Canaveral, Florida, since the space shuttles retired in 2011.
In the meantime, NASA has been paying Russia tens of millions of dollars per ride on Soyuz spacecraft to ferry astronauts; the latest tab is $76 million.
Bolden noted that the average cost on an American-owned spacecraft will be $58 million per astronaut, and each mission will carry a crew of four versus three, in addition to science experiments.
The four — who will work closely with the companies to develop their spacecraft — range in age from 44 to 50, and have been astronauts for at least 15 years. Each attended test pilot school; Williams specializes in helicopters. Read the rest of this entry »
Christian Davenport reports: An unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket bound for the International Space Station exploded a couple of minutes after liftoff Sunday morning. It was the third cargo mission to the space station to be lost in recent months.
SpaceX tweeted: “The vehicle experienced an anomaly on ascent. Team is investigating. Updates to come.”
NASA officials said it was not clear what caused the explosion.
SpaceX was carrying more than 4,000 pounds of food and supplies to the space station, where American Scott Kelly is spending a year in space. There were no astronauts on board.
The failure follows two earlier mishaps. An Orbital Antares rocket blew up in October, and then a Russian Progress 59 spun out of control after reaching orbit.
Before the launch, Stephanie Schierholz, a NASA spokeswoman, said that the station had plenty of supplies on board and that the crew would be fine even if there was another failure. Read the rest of this entry »
“Should Congress, however bad the precedent, climb down from sanctions enacted last December curtailing the Pentagon’s reliance on a Russian-made engine to put U.S. military satellites in orbit?”
Witness how frequently the words “to compete with SpaceX” appear in industry statements and press coverage. To compete with SpaceX, say multiple reports, the United Launch Alliance, the Pentagon’s traditional supplier, is developing a new Vulcan rocket powered by a reusable engine designed by Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin.
Because of SpaceX, says Aviation Week magazine, Japan’s government has instructed Mitsubishi to cut in half the cost of the Japanese workhorse rocket, and China is planning a new family of kerosene-fueled Long March rockets. “Stimulated by SpaceX’s work on reusable rockets,” reports SpaceNews.com, Airbus is developing a reusable first stage for Europe’s venerable Ariane rocket.
“Yes, say the Pentagon, the national intelligence leadership and the White House, because avoiding disruption to crucial military launches is more important than any symbolic weakening of sanctions against Russia.”
All this comes amid one of those Washington battles ferocious in inverse relation to the certainties involved. Should Congress, however bad the precedent, climb down from sanctions enacted last December curtailing the Pentagon’s reliance on a Russian-made engine to put U.S. military satellites in orbit?
Yes, say the Pentagon, the national intelligence leadership and the White House, because avoiding disruption to crucial military launches is more important than any symbolic weakening of sanctions against Russia. Read the rest of this entry »
“It was a great, great outcome,” Musk said after the test. “Had there been people on board, they would have been in great shape.”
The two-minute video shows the Dragon capsule blasting off from its Florida launchpad, separating from its trunk and reaching a maximum velocity of 345 mph, according to SpaceX. The Crew Dragon flew about 5,000 feet into the air before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean under its parachutes….(read more)
A panel of experts discusses the prospect of machines capable of autonomous reasoning
Ted Greenwald writes: After decades as a sci-fi staple, artificial intelligence has leapt into the mainstream. Between Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, IBM’s Watson and GoogleBrain, machines that understand the world and respond productively suddenly seem imminent.
The combination of immense Internet-connected networks and machine-learning algorithms has yielded dramatic advances in machines’ ability to understand spoken and visual communications, capabilities that fall under the heading “narrow” artificial intelligence. Can machines capable of autonomous reasoning—so-called general AI—be far behind? And at that point, what’s to keep them from improving themselves until they have no need for humanity?
The prospect has unleashed a wave of anxiety. “I think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” astrophysicist Stephen Hawking told the BBC. Tesla founder Elon Musk called AI “our biggest existential threat.” Former Microsoft Chief Executive Bill Gates has voiced his agreement.
How realistic are such concerns? And how urgent? We assembled a panel of experts from industry, research and policy-making to consider the dangers—if any—that lie ahead. Read the rest of this entry »
Both have to demonstrate effective launch escape technologies for their rockets and capsules to receive certification. Only with the necessary assurance will Nasa permit its astronauts to climb aboard.
SpaceX has elected to use a so-called pusher system on the Dragon.
Eight SuperDraco thrusters have been integrated into the side of the ship, and these fired in tandem for just over five seconds at the start of the test to hurl the ship up and to the east of the Cape. Read the rest of this entry »
After six successful missions to the International Space Station, including five official resupply missions for NASA, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft are set to liftoff from Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, for their sixth official Commercial Resupply Services (CRS)
“What’s impressive about this test is, when ignited, the booster will be operating at about 3.6 million pounds of thrust, or 22 million horsepower. This test firing is critical to enable validation of our design.”
— Alex Priskos, manager of the SLS Boosters Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama
The SLS rocket booster test takes place at the facilities of aerospace firm Orbital ATK in Promontory, Utah, with webcast coverage beginning at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT). There will be no spaceflight involved: Engineers will fire the 177-foot-long (54 meters) booster for two minutes on the ground, in a horizontal configuration.
“What’s impressive about this test is, when ignited, the booster will be operating at about 3.6 million pounds of thrust, or 22 million horsepower,” Alex Priskos, manager of the SLS Boosters Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, said in a statement. “This test firing is critical to enable validation of our design.”
Another booster test is planned for early 2016, NASA officials said.
The SLS will incorporate two of the five-segment boosters, as well as four RS-25 engines, on its first two flights, which will be capable of lofting 70 metric tons of payload to low-Earth orbit (LEO). NASA intends to scale the rocket up to deliver 130 metric tons to LEO, to enable manned missions to faraway destinations such as Mars. The first SLS flight is currently scheduled for 2018.
This evening, NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova will wrap up their nearly six-month-long mission aboard the International Space Station and come back down to Earth. Read the rest of this entry »
Designed to compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge, this “female” robot could be the precursor to robo-astronauts that will help colonize Mars.
What if NASA’s Robonaut grew legs and indulged in steroids? The result might be close to what NASA has unveiled: Valkyrie is a humanoid machine billed as a “superhero robot.” Developed at the Johnson Space Center, Valkyrie is a 6.2-foot, 275-pound hulk designed to compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC). It will go toe to toe with the Terminator-like Atlas robot from Boston Dynamics in what’s shaping up to be an amazing modern-day duel. In an interesting twist, Valkyrie seems to be a girl. Read the rest of this entry »
But as a researcher who works on modern, industrial AI, let me offer a personal perspective to explain why I’m not afraid.
Science fiction is partly responsible for these fears. A common trope works as follows: Step 1: Humans create AI to perform some unpleasant or difficult task. Step 2: The AI becomes conscious. Step 3: The AI decides to killus all. As science fiction, such stories can be great fun. As science fact, the narrative is suspect, especially around Step 2, which assumes that by synthesizing intelligence, we will somehow automatically, or accidentally, create consciousness. I call this the consciousness fallacy. It seems plausible at first, but the evidence doesn’t support it. And if it is false, it means we should look at AI very differently.
Intelligence is the ability to analyze the world and reason about it in a way that enables more effective action. Our scientific understanding of intelligence is relatively advanced. There is still an enormous amount of work to do before we can create comprehensive, human-caliber intelligence. But our understanding is viable in the sense that there are real businesses that make money by creating AI.
Coming online: some 95,000 new professional service robots, worth some $17.1bn, are set to be installed for professional use between 2013 and 2015
Consciousness is a much different story, perhaps because there is less money in it. Consciousness is also a harder problem: While most of us would agree that we know consciousness when we see it, scientists can’t really agree on a rigorous definition, let alone a research program that would uncover its basic mechanisms. Read the rest of this entry »
Ashlee Vance reports: Because he doesn’t have enough going on, Elon Musk—he of Tesla Motors, SpaceX, SolarCity, and the Hyperloop—is launching another project. Musk wants to build a second Internet in space and one day use it to connect people on Mars to the Web.
Musk is tonight hosting a SpaceX event in Seattle, where the company is opening a new office. The talk will mostly be about SpaceX’s plans for hiring aerospace and software engineers in the Pacific Northwest to boost the company’s rocket-building efforts. But he’ll also use the talk to announce his newest idea, which would launch a vast network of communication satellites to orbit earth. The network would do two things: speed up the general flow of data on the Internet and deliver high-speed, low-cost Internet services to the three billion-plus people who still have poor access to the Web. “Our focus is on creating a global communications system that would be larger than anything that has been talked about to date,” Musk told Bloomberg Businessweek ahead of the announcement.
“In Musk’s vision, Internet data packets going from, say, Los Angeles to Johannesburg would no longer have to go through dozens of routers and terrestrial networks. Instead, the packets would go to space, bouncing from satellite to satellite until they reach the one nearest their destination, then return to an antenna on earth.”
The Space Internet venture, to which Musk hasn’t yet given a name, would be hugely ambitious. Hundreds of satellites would orbit about 750 miles above earth, much closer than traditional communications satellites in geosynchronous orbit at altitudes of up to 22,000 miles. The lower satellites would make for a speedier Internet service, with less distance for electromagnetic signals to travel. The lag in current satellite systems makes applications such as Skype, online gaming, and other cloud-based services tough to use. Musk’s service would, in theory, rival fiber optic cables on land while also making the Internet available to remote and poor regions that don’t have access. Read the rest of this entry »
Joan Elizabeth Higginbotham (born August 3, 1964) is an American engineer and a former NASA astronaut. She flew aboard Space Shuttle Discovery mission STS-116 as a mission specialist.
Higginbotham began her career in 1987 at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida, as a Payload Electrical Engineer in the Electrical and Telecommunications Systems Division. Within six months she became the lead for the Orbiter Experiments (OEX) on OV-102, the Space Shuttle Columbia. She later worked on the Shuttle payload bay reconfiguration for all Shuttle missions and conducted electrical compatibility tests for all payloads flown aboard the Shuttle. She was also tasked by KSC management to undertake several special assignments where she served as the Executive Staff Assistant to the Director of Shuttle Operations and Management, led a team of engineers in performing critical analysis for the Space Shuttle flow in support of a simulation model tool, and worked on an interactive display detailing the Space Shuttle processing procedures at Spaceport USA (Kennedy Space Center’s Visitors Center). Higginbotham then served as backup orbiter project engineer for OV-104, Space Shuttle Atlantis, where she participated in the integration of the orbiter docking station (ODS) into the space shuttle used during Shuttle/Mir docking missions. Two years later, she was promoted to lead orbiter project engineer for OV-102, Space Shuttle Columbia. In this position, she held the technical lead government engineering position in the firing room where she supported and managed the integration of vehicle testing and troubleshooting. She actively participated in 53 space shuttle launches during her 9-year tenure at Kennedy Space Center.
Selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in April 1996, Higginbotham reported to the Johnson Space Center in August 1996. Since that time, she had been assigned technical duties in the Payloads & Habitability Branch, the Shuttle Avionics & Integration Laboratory (SAIL), the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Operations (Ops) Support Branch, where she tested various modules of the International Space Station for operability, compatibility, and functionality prior to launch, the Astronaut Office CAPCOM (Capsule Communicator) Branch in the startup and support of numerous space station missions and space shuttle missions, the Robotics Branch, and Lead for the International Space Station Systems Crew Interfaces Section. Read the rest of this entry »
Within minutes, the cargo-filled capsule separated from the first-stage booster rocket and continued on its way to orbit and rendezvous with the space station.
That was when SpaceX attempted what had never been done: flying the 13-story booster back to Earth and landing it upright on an ocean barge.
The booster made it to the barge, but Musk tweeted that some of the vessel’s equipment was damaged by the impact. “Ship itself is fine,” he wrote. “Some of the support equipment on the deck will need to be replaced.”
“Didn’t get good landing/impact video,” he tweeted. “Pitch dark and foggy. Will piece it together from telemetry and … actual pieces.”
Hawthorne-based SpaceX hopes to one day be able to reuse the first stage, which includes the expensive and powerful engines needed to blast the capsule to orbit. The planned landing and recovery of the first stage is part of Musk’s goal to eventually be able to refly the same spacecraft many times, greatly lowering the cost of space flight. Read the rest of this entry »
During the Dec. 16 launch from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which will send SpaceX’s robotic Dragon capsule toward the orbiting lab, the California-based company will try to bring the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket back to Earth for a controlled landing on a floating platform in the Atlantic Ocean.
“There are a lot of launches that will occur over the next year. I think it’s quite likely that [on] one of those flights, we’ll be able to land and refly, so I think we’re quite close.”
A photo of the “autonomous spaceport drone ship” on which SpaceX will attempt Credit: Elon Musk/SpaceX
Musk shared photos of the Falcon 9 and landing platform via Twitter late last month, ratcheting up interest in the cargo mission, the fifth of 12 unmanned resupply flights SpaceX will make to the space station for NASA under a $1.6 billion contract. Read the rest of this entry »
Our co-found and Editor-At-Large. Though this snapshot looks vintage, it was actually taken fairly recently, around 2007, back when he had a bit less gray hair, and long before he had a 3-D printer. But his hobbies are essentially the same. He’s currently heading up our Hong Kong Bureau, where his time and space doesn’t allow for recreational rocket building, so I’m sure he’ll enjoy this archival snapshot as a winsome reminder of a cherished pastime.