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Can Astronaut Waste Be Turned Into Fuel?

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space toiletOne of my favorite aspects of Mary Roach’s book Packing for Mars is her hilarious but thorough examination of what happens to astronauts’ bodily functions in space. Given how much these rely on gravity, microgravity is a challenge in many ways, including using the bathroom. I certainly never thought about the advantages of a toilet with a vacuum system before reading the book. But all those messy details may soon amount to more than just a funny story. NASA commissioned researchers at the University of Florida to see how human waste could be useful, and the results indicate that we may be able to make rocket fuel out of astronaut poop.

Just yesterday I was watching a nature documentary that featured small communities living in India just south of the Himalayas. They burn goat and buffalo poop, which establishes the dual purpose of maintaining a degree of cleanliness while also providing cooking and heating energy–though they’re not trying to get rockets off the ground.

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Pretend To Be James Bond With This Laser Watch

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laserwatchGerman inventor Patrick Priebe has just fulfilled many people’s dreams: he’s invented a gizmo that turns him into James Bond, at least for a little while. The guy actually made a working laser watch that blows stuff up (alas, it can’t make a martini, not yet anyway). I don’t think I need to state how cool that is.

Priebe has a substantial background for this sort of thing, and he has a company called Laser Gadgets, which does exactly what you’d think it does. There are a number of awesome devices on his site, including laser gloves, a pulse laser gun, a flame glove, and many more tools for your spy kit. Many of his mechanism are inspired by movie characters, such as Iron Man, Wolverine, and Spiderman. The disclaimers are also fantastic: “You understand ESD (Electrostatic Discharge) and the precautions necessary to prevent it!” “You will NEVER use this device outside or in front of crowds.” Aw…why ruin all the fun?

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SpaceX Plans To Use These Drones For Reusable Rocket Landings

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landing pad droneIf you’ve been following Elon Musk and SpaceX, you know that one of the ways the company drastically decreases the cost of transporting cargo (and eventually humans) into space is by the implementation of reusable rockets, such as the Grasshopper and the Falcon 9, the rocket that will eventually launch the Dragon capsule. EMusk recently announced a new addition to this plan: autonomous landing pads that serve as movable launch and recovery platforms for those rockets.

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Want Free Data From Space? Check Out The Lantern

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lanternIt seems like everyone’s jumping on the “internet for everyone” bandwagon these days. But what about people who live in places where the government censors or blocks connections? And what about the data-mining, information-harvesting pitfalls associated with the internet? And what about the costs? The answer may be something called Outernet, a free information service that bills itself as “Humanity’s Public Library,” and its corresponding hardware, the “Lantern.”

The Lantern is currently in the midst of a successful Indiegogo campaign, having surpassed its $200,000 goal with more than two weeks left. The best way to think of the Outernet and Lantern is by likening it to a radio station and radio. Satellites send radio waves to Outernet, which functions like a radio station. Except instead of converting those waves into sound, it converts them into files, which are received, stored, and accessed on the Lantern, which essentially functions like a radio in that it presents the information to consumers. Thus, Lantern becomes a portable library that’s constantly updated with the data sent from satellites and the subsequent broadcast. Instead of simply playing sound, Lantern converts the signals into files of all types—music, videos, ebooks, webpages, etc. Someone with a Lantern can access the stored files via a device with WiFi.

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Microsoft Is Making DALEKs Now

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k5I write on a Lenovo with a Windows 8 operating system. Or, I used to. For six months, my computer has been urging me to upgrade to Windows 8.1. After reading about it, and generally being both unimpressed and mistrustful when it comes to Windows updates and upgrades, I kept declining. About two weeks ago, my computer again urged me to upgrade, but this time, instead of giving me the usual array of download options (not now, remind me later, etc.), it only presented options to download now, in one hour, in two hours, or in four hours. There was no “not now” or “fuck off” option. I tinkered with the settings, trying to make sure no updates would happen automatically, and I thought I solved the problem. But four hours later, as I was typing away, the screen suddenly went dark and the thing began updating. When it was done, I couldn’t connect to the internet. It’s a typical problem with Windows 8.1, I guess — a driver issue. Once I restored an old version of the driver, it was fine. But for a while there, I was cursing Microsoft, consumed by the kind of rage only computer-related issues can cause. I came to the conclusion (not for the first time) that Microsoft is evil. And now, my suspicions are confirmed — Microsoft is working with DALEKs.

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Scientists May Be Prohibited From Advising The EPA

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epaWarning: this post may devolve into a rant, but not without reason. Some people argue that science shouldn’t be political—and perhaps they’re right, it shouldn’t. But NASA is a government agency, subject to the winds of political change and funding struggles—I don’t know how NASA would divest itself from politics. But other issues, such as climate change, shouldn’t be a political issue, and I’m not entirely sure how it became one, but its association with the pitfalls of partisanship attracts just as much attention, if not more, than the actual issue itself, which is a problem. Part of the problem with coupling an environmental or scientific issue with a political one is that decisions get made that aren’t in the interest of science, which is exactly what has just happened with a new bill that just passed the House of Representatives. The bill prohibits independent scientists from giving advice to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Instead, more of the people advising the EPA would work for industry companies, much like sides in a court case find an expert they can pay to testify on their behalf.

The purpose of the EPA is, broadly, to “protect human health and the environment” by enforcing regulations, as well as levying fines and sanctions for those who ignore them. It was established in 1970, and since then has been responsible for a number of amendments to the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Food Quality Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Hazardous and Solid Wastes Amendments Act, and more. Of course, in order to do its job, the EPA has to rely on qualified scientists to make sure that its acts reflect accurate research and scientific understanding. Thus, in 1978, their Science Advisory Board was established, and it has advised the EPA ever since.

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