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Mousetronauts Headed To The ISS

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mousetronautsSoon there won’t be any cosmonauts on the ISS, but new residents will soon arrive, and while they might not be as helpful as cosmonauts, they may be cuddlier. Elon Musk calls them “mousetronauts,” and in August they’ll fly to the ISS on a SpaceX Dragon cargo ship to be part of a NASA study on the physiological effects of long-duration weightlessness.

The rodent research focuses on the physiological changes that occur when living for long periods in zero or microgravity. Even though astronauts exercise while on the ISS, they invariably lose muscle, immune system capabilities, and bone density, among other problems. Prolonged stays in microgravity also affect the nervous, endocrine, and reproductive systems, as well as genetic and molecular processes. Researchers believe that studying the mice will help them learn how and why these changes occur.

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Like Red Meat? Avoid Ticks. Like Ticks? Avoid Red Meat.

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ticksApparently, it’s a particularly bad year for ticks (though when it is ever a good year. unless you ask the ticks?). If you thought the long, brutal winter would kill off some of our favorite biting bugs, you were mistaken. Ticks hang out deep in the soil during the winter, oblivious to the suffering of the rest of us. And while they’re down there, they breed. Given that winter lasted forever this year, that means we’ll have even more ticks now that it’s warmed up. Good times! Aside from Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, it turns out that ticks carry other diseases, including one that renders its victims deathly allergic to red meat.

The Lone Star tick doesn’t carry Lyme Disease — in fact, according to the CDC, their saliva kills Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease. Instead, these ticks, which are common in wooded areas of the East, Southeast, and South Central parts of the U.S., cause southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI). In addition to a rash, STARI can cause fever, headache, fatigue, and muscle pain, as well as a lethal meat allergy.

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Blocking Pain Receptors May Lead To A Longer Life

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miceAs scientists continue to make breakthroughs in radical life extension, Google’s lofty goal of solving death and transhumanists’ pursuit of immortality seem less and less farfetched. The latest of these discoveries is that mice genetically designed to lack a pain receptor called TRPV1 are less prone to age-related diseases and live much longer.

Pain receptors serve an important purpose, they indicate when we might be in danger. If they didn’t, we might jump into fires or step into the ring against someone twice our size. But for all the important warning messages pain receptors send, pain harms us, and not just in the obvious way. Studies have shown that people who suffer chronic pain are likely to live shorter lives, though no one knows exactly why.

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NASA’s Morpheus Project Successfully Completes Test Flight

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project morpheusIt won’t get astronauts to the ISS anytime soon, but NASA’s Morpheus is pretty darn cool, and it’s always good to see the agency working on new spacecraft technology. In addition to sounding like a Matrix spin-off, the Morpheus Project is NASA’s planetary lander development program. Among other goals, the space agency wants a device that can take off and land vertically, like SpaceX’s Grasshopper. A few days ago, Morpheus completed a successful test flight at the Kennedy Space Center.

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Meet OutRunner, The World’s New Fastest Robot

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outrunnerThe world’s fastest robot used to belong to Boston Dynamics. Everything that used to belong to Boston Dynamics now belongs to Google, and now their robot cheetah, which could beat Usain Bolt in a foot race, has been dethroned. The good news for the robot cheetah is that it’s still the fastest robot on four legs, but the six-legged OutRunner can run up to 45 miles an hour on a treadmill.

Florida-based company Robotics Unlimited designed the aptly-named OutRunner, which is also the world’s first remote-controlled running robot. At a top speed of 45 mph, it leaves the robot cheetah, which can reach just over 28 mph on a treadmill, in the dust. Outside, OutRunner clocks 25 miles per hour, while robot cheetah slows down to 16 mph. OutRunner has six legs—three on each side—which it spins kind of like a windmill as it whirls down the road. Its design is actually meant to emulate the human form, which is a departure from the technique of most of these robots. It’s also incredibly stable, balancing itself on even rugged terrain, and can run for two hours on a single charge.

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NSA Bill Passes The House, But Doesn’t Look Like It Used To

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NSAWatching House of Cards is enough to make anyone more cynical than ever about the government these days. The Capitol Hill soap opera makes Shakespeare seem light on betrayal and greed, but even as I watch I find myself thinking it may not be so far off, namely when it comes to the wheeling and dealing that happens behind closed door to push through or defeat bill in congress. It’s with that increased skepticism that I regard the NSA bill that recently passed the house. What once would have been a major win for people who care about privacy now seems to be an example of defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

When it was first introduced last October, the USA Freedom Act was supposed to stop the NSA from spying on and harvesting information from Americans, as well as enforce new requirements regarding transparency in surveillance. The bill was backed by the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, which included companies like AOL, Apple, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Twitter, and Linked In. Those companies have now withdrawn their support, because the proposal has been thoroughly gutted. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) co-sponsored the bill, but says it “was altered in some worrisome ways.” She also noted that “it’s ironic that a bill that was intended to increase transparency was secretly changed between the committee markup and floor consideration.” This move has the stench of Hollywood political dramas, with meetings behind closed doors with people who not only have a vested interest in continuing to gather information from the public, but who hope to pass this skeleton bill as a way to prevent real reform in the future.