I officially have a new entry on my bucket list — someday, I will attend CES, the Consumer Electronics Association’s (CEA) international conference showcasing the best inventions and innovations from around the world. With over 3,000 exhibits and 300 conferences and sessions, this is a tech geek’s dream. They’ve got electronics, computers, gaming, telecommunications, driverless cars, and, most importantly, robots. And more robots. For those of us who didn’t get to attend the conference, I’m sure we’ll see some of these bots on the market soon. Until then, here’s a preview to get you all excited and ready to shell out dough for these robots that perform very specific tasks.
The Virgin Galactic doubters are eating their words after their soon-to-be low-Earth orbit spaceship made its third successful test flight on Friday. Each test flight has reached higher altitudes, with Friday’s flight making it 71,000 feet above the Mojave Desert.
Virgin Galactic’s White Knight Two airplane carried the six-passenger spaceship between its hulls to just over 45,000 feet and then released it, leaving the spaceship to use its impressive rocket motor to keep on soaring. The rocket burn lasted 20 seconds, achieving Mach 1.4. That part of the flight lasted 10 minutes, and the two pilots had landed the plane safely in the desert within an hour. Chief pilot David Mackay said that the craft “flew brilliantly.” Virgin Galactic happily tweeted the news, along with some pretty awesome photos.
If you watched Gravity, or any other space flick, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that while spacesuits are pretty damn important, they’re also bulky and cumbersome. Sandra Bullock can’t wait to shed hers every time she safely gets into an oxygen-rich environment. I remember seeing an awesome IMAX movie about the Hubble a few years back, in which an astronaut had to do some repairs that involved taking out, and later replacing, 117 screws. With those huge gloves, each turn of the screwdriver was a labor and thought that being an astronaut is perhaps more about achieving a state of zen-like patience than anything else. But in the future, that may not be an issue. In fact, astronauts may soon don space suits that make them look like space-faring sci-fi heroes.
I’m not sure if you knew that the International Space Station had a pre-planned death date. Maybe that’s being melodramatic. Let’s call it decommissioning and deorbiting. Whatever name you slap on it, the ISS’s final days were planned for 2020. While there are only a handful of people, robots, and private companies who will be directly affected when facility powers down, the significance and symbolism loom large. The ISS is a symbol of cosmic collaboration, as well as the first step of the realization of the dream that people will one day live and work in space. So let’s all celebrate because the station just received a four-year extension, and will be in service until 2024. If nothing else, that’s four more years of Chris Hadfield videos.
The Obama administration announced the plan to keep the ISS running until 2024, although obviously the current President will be long out of office by then and whoever comes next could potentially reverse that decision. But the next Chief of Staff is unlikely to do so, and not because he or she is a fan of the station, not only because the ISS cost about $100 billion to make and has prompted over 100 rocket launches and spacewalks, but also because getting it down safely is an undertaking.
Every year, thousands of people descend upon Austin, Texas for South by Southwest, the 9-day multimedia extravaganza where the only limits are imagination and the human body’s stamina. The film festival recently announced the opening night slate, and the most surprising of the seven entries is Fox’s upcoming science series COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey, which will debut along with Jon Favreau’s star-studded comedic drama Chef and Rob Thomas’ long-awaited Veronica Mars feature. Rubbing shoulders with such potentially esteemed films means COSMOS will help keep Austin smart as well as weird.
The new show is of course an updated edition of the classic Carl Sagan series, and was developed by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane. The public face of the program is world renowned astrophysicist and socially approachable genius Neil deGrasse Tyson, who will also give a keynote speech on Saturday, March 8, as part of the Interactive portion of the festival. THe announcement doesn’t provide any specifics on the topic of the day, and only says that deGrasse Tyson will “enlighten and inspire with unique insights regarding the Universe that surrounds us.”