Nasa Explores Inflatable Spacecraft Technology

January 6, 2015

Devising a way to one day land astronauts on Mars is a complex problem and Nasa scientists think something as simple as a child's toy design may help solve the problem.

Safely landing a large spacecraft on the Red Planet is just one of many engineering challenges the agency faces as it eyes an ambitious goal of sending humans into deep space later this century.

At Nasa's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, engineers have been working to develop an inflatable heat shield that looks a lot like a super-sized version of a stacking ring of doughnuts that infants play with.

The engineers believe a lightweight, inflatable heat shield could be deployed to slow the craft to enter a Martian atmosphere much thinner than Earth's.

Such an inflatable heat shield could help a spacecraft reach the high-altitude southern plains of Mars and other areas that would otherwise be inaccessible under existing technology.

The experts note that rockets alone can't be used to land a large craft on Mars as can be done on the atmosphereless moon. Parachutes also won't work for a large spacecraft needed to send humans to Mars, they add.

Hence the inflatable rings. The rings would be filled with nitrogen and covered with a thermal blanket. Once deployed for landing, the rings would sit atop the spacecraft, somewhat resembling a giant mushroom.

"We try to not use propulsion if we don't have to," said Neil Cheatwood, the senior engineer at Langley for advanced entry, descent and landing systems. "We make use of that atmosphere as much as we can, because it means we don't have to carry all that fuel with us."

A hypersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator is shown in the background at the Nasa Langley research center in Hampton, Virginia. It is made up of high-tech fabric rings, similar to those seen in the foreground. The rings will be filled with nitrogen.

Nasa's leaders acknowledge that getting humans safely to and from Mars as early as the 2030s will poses extreme challenges.

The agency's scientists acknowledge they also must design new in-space propulsion systems, advanced spacesuits, long-term living habitats aboard spacecraft even communication systems for deep space.

Work is proceeding, sometimes fitfully. When an unmanned private rocket destined for the International Space Station exploded in October soon after liftoff from Wallops Island, Virginia, numerous scientific experiments went up in flames with it.

But one Nasa experiment that Orbital Sciences Corp originally invited aboard, for a second-generation inflatable spacecraft, never made it for lack of time to get it together, Nasa officials say.

That experiment calls for testing how second-generation inflatable spacecraft technology performs upon re-entry in Earth's atmosphere.

Software To Predict Bacteria's Reaction To New Drugs

Researchers have developed a novel computer software which identifies genetic changes that allow bacteria to develop resistance to new experimental drugs.

Duke University researchers used the software to predict a constantly-evolving infectious bacterium's countermoves to one of these new drugs ahead of time, before the drug is even tested on patients.

The team used their programme to identify the genetic changes that will allow methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, to develop resistance to a class of new experimental drugs that show promise against the deadly bug. When the researchers treated live bacteria with the new drug, two of the genetic changes actually arose, just as their algorithm predicted.

"This gives us a window into the future to see what bacteria will do to evade drugs that we design before a drug is deployed," said co-author Bruce Donald, a professor of computer science and biochemistry at Duke.

Now, A Pot That Waters The Plants On Its Own

Paris-based company Parrot is ramping up its Flower Power with a pot that not only detects whether plants have enough light and fertilizer, but also waters them as needed.

A Parrot "smart pot" is heading for global release this year at a price yet to be revealed by the Paris-based company known for its drones and in-car communications and audio.

Sensors in the pot measure light, moisture, temperature, and the level of fertilizer to determine whether plants are getting proper amounts of each to flourish, Vanessa Loury of Parrot said on Sunday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

There is also water in the pot so it will water the plants for you,- Loury said. 

Each pot holds enough water to irrigate a plant for several weeks to a month, depending on the type.

If plants need more light or fertilizer, alerts are fired off through free Flower Power applications available for mobile devices powered by Apple, Android or Windows.

A database compiled with help from scientists boasts of a catalogue of more than 7,000 plants from herbs, to flowers, to teas to Cannabis.

The smart pot builds on technology in a Flower Power sensor released about two years ago for use with plants in old-fashioned dumb pots.

"This is not a crazy idea," Loury said. "This is something we are really interested in."

Parrot also works with farmers to survey crops with drones. The drones are equipped with cameras that scrutinize leaves to determine when fertilizer is needed, according to Loury."It is a green approach, and a cost saving for the farmer as well," she said.

Lab Grown Penises Are Soon To Be Ready For Us

In a ray of hope for patients suffering from congenital abnormalities and those who have undergone surgery or suffered traumatic injury, US researchers are planning for a human trial of lab-grown penises in next five years.

Scientists at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, have successfully engineered the first six lab-grown human penises.

They are now waiting for the US Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) approval to move forward with what they call "in-man" testing, Guardian reported.

"Our target is to get the organs into patients with injuries or congenital abnormalities," professor Anthony Atala, director of the institute, was quoted as saying.

He supervised the successful engineering of penises for rabbits in 2008.  "The rabbit studies were very encouraging," he noted.

Currently, men can have a penis reconstructed using a flap from their forearm or thigh with a penile prosthetic implanted to simulate an erection.

My concern is that they might struggle to recreate a natural erection, Asif Muneer from University College hospital, London was quoted as saying. 

The breakthrough technique involves constructing a collagen "scaffold" out of a donor penis.

The scaffold is washed with a special solution that removes the donor's DNA, then injected with cells from the patient's penis - which can be retrieved internally even if no organ remains on the surface.

The work is funded by the US Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine.

Desk - IANS

Watch The Psychology Of Your Future Self

Human beings are always work in progress that mistakenly think they're finished.

Dan Gilbert shares his recent research on a phenomenon he calls the "end of history illusion," where we somehow imagine that the person we are right now is the person we'll be for the rest of time. Hint: that's not the case.

This talk was presented at an official TED conference

In 2015, Robots Will Be Able To Keep Your Secrets

Dying to share a secret but can't trust anyone? How about sharing it with your robot? Robots that can keep secrets are presently being designed by scientists from Britain.

Humanoid robots are not just the stuff of science fiction — these computing devices are likely to be walking around our streets in the next decade.

That is why Oxford University researchers are exploring privacy concerns surrounding surrogate robots.

The research team, from the Universities of Oxford, Bath, Exeter, Queen Mary University of London and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory have started measuring how people respond to robotic surrogates in public spaces.

The researchers are introducing an advanced-programmed humanoid robot, " Nao" to the public in Bristol in 2015. Finding ways of preventing information stored on the robot being hacked or passed on to others is one of the main challenges.

Explain his work to embed privacy in the design of robots; Dr Ian Brown said that while they will record and transmit what they see and hear, they will not unnecessarily reveal the identities of the people they have captured.

Humanoid robotics is an emerging research field that will become increasingly important as robots start to assist people in their daily lives — for example, becoming companions for older people in their homes.

Dr Brown, associate director of Oxford University's Cyber Security Centre and senior research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute and his Oxford colleague Dr Joss Wright, are part of a UK team of researchers working on this £2 million three-year project examining the implications of robots in public spaces.

The issue is around how much information is gleaned and stored, particularly as these sociable human-seeming devices could lead to us being less guarded about what we reveal.

Dr Brown said, "When we begin to interact with friendly-looking humanoid robots, our expectations and assumptions shift. New questions arise about how much we trust these devices. Some people might develop an emotional attachment to them, particularly in situations where robots play the role of companions. It is important, therefore, that we design robots that have privacy embedded into their design, so their information gathering is restricted to what is needed to interact and carry out their tasks, and information about the identity of their human users is kept to a minimum. Otherwise, these robot friends could betray the trust of the people they come into contact with, passing on information to third parties."

"Humanoid robots have the potential to gather, store and analyse data about our movements and activities," said Dr Wright. "While they provide opportunities to make our lives easier, the potential loss of control over this information should concern us. At Oxford we have been exploring how individuals can maintain control over information about themselves, while still enjoying the potential benefits of robotic technology."

The techniques being developed for providing information without compromising users' privacy include matching people into groups with similar interests, either online or at social gatherings, without needing each person to share their interests.

This would also allow commuters to search for car-pooling partners without broadcasting their home location and work route, which will be useful as self-driven cars start appearing on Britain's streets. It would also help motorists plan routes allowing for rush-hour traffic without the need for pervasive monitoring infrastructures.

Documentary: How Our Future Life Will Be on Earth

What will our future look like? Floating cities, flying to work and traveling in cars capable of operating underwater? And how will technology advance to make use of our natural resources to help feed our growing population in such areas as food, water and electricity?

The era of smog-filled skies will be over, because fewer of us will be driving cars. There will no longer be the use for cars and roads as we’ll be piloting environmentally friendly personal vehicles between cities and under the seas. And we will never be lost again thanks to GPS-driven virtual mapping. Then again, with teleportation we will not need to travel at all.

And, best of all, we’ll all have more time to enjoy the astounding advances of our near future, because we’ll all be living longer. A lot longer. Find out what we can expect to see in the future in this well produced documentary.

Watch the full documentary now

Mercedes-Benz F 015 is The Future's Self-driving Car

Mercedes-Benz brought a new concept car here at CES this week, and considering the setting, it's appropriately loaded to the gills with technology.

The F 015 Luxury in Motion — yes, "Luxury in Motion" is part of the car's name — is basically a sleek pod with a huge passenger compartment, a fortuitous side effect of an imagined future where we spend most of our times chilling out in cars while they drive us around all by themselves.

Mercedes actually calls the cabin "lounge-like," thanks to four rotating seats that can face each other. An array of screens throughout the car let passengers interact with controls and entertainment, supporting not-quite-production features like gestures and eye tracking.

One notable feature is the pair of "LED fields" at the front and rear that change color based on the car's current driving mode: white in manual, blue in autonomous.

It seems innocuous enough, but it's easy to imagine a future where everyone around you wants to know whether you're driving or your car is — pedestrians, law enforcement, and so on.

The Photosynthetic French Sea Pods From 2050

October 23, 2014

The water is going to redefine our future. By 2050, its level will get sixteen centimeters more than today and Asia is planned to be very affected by this phenomenon. Conceived to be first installed in Indian Ocean, Bloom is an initiation of a link which purpose is to find an alternative issue on rising water due to global warming. This is why the concept of this large-scale project is to practice the culture of phytoplankton that absorb C02 excesses and create 02.

Bloom is a semi-submersible center that can also alert in case of tsunamis. Moored to the seabed with a system of cables, it is a controller of water level and quality in died zones of the oceans, rivers, coastal zones… Its goal is to regulate their O2 quantity by injecting phytoplankton making photosynthesis.

The project offers a living environment for the permanent staff of scientists and for phytoplankton in big aquariums. It is thus the first project created for these algae. It is a catalyst structure of their growing and in a way it’s a matrix pocket of oxygen on Earth that can also desalinize sea water.

Bloom wishes to be a sustainable answer by decreasing our carbon footprint while learning to live in accordance with our oceans. Every factory producing CO2 would have its own Bloom to testify of its interest for a better environment.

By giving us responsibilities on our CO2 consumptions, we would become aware of our ecological impact on the planet. Cause resourceful water is the mother of our civilizations and we will always need it.

Project facts

  • Name of the project: Bloom – An Aquatic farm for phytoplankton culture
  • Location: Indian Ocean
  • Gross floor area: 2 070 sqm
  • Height: 45m / 5 levels
  • Structure: aluminum + methacrylate
  • Designer: Sitbon Architectes
  • Credits: Sitbon Architectes
  • Website:

Written by David K. Originally appeared on PlusMood
All images courtesy Sitbon Architectes

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