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Exoskeletons Aren’t Just for Iron Men Anymore—Now They’re For Astronauts Too

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exoskeleton
While Elysium raises some frightening possibilities about the implications of the class divide, it did present a pretty awesome futuristic possibility in Matt Damon’s exoskeleton. A possibility that, like so many others from sci-fi, seems poised to become reality.

NASA, along with engineers from Oceaneering Space Systems of Houston and the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, is developing the X1 Robotic Exoskeleton, intended to make astronauts more like Iron Man.

The device weighs 57 pounds and attaches to the astronaut via a back and shoulder harness and fittings over the legs. The knee and hip joints are motorized, and the exoskeleton has other passive joints that enable turning, flexing, and other adaptive and reactive movements. All told, it has 10 joints or degrees of freedom.

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Comet Dives Into The Sun, Scores A 9.8

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Comets sure are dramatic sometimes — last week, one dove right into the sun! Scientists from NASA and the ESA observed the comet via the cooperative Solar & Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), which was launched in 1995 to study the Sun’s internal structure, atmosphere, solar winds, and ionized gases. The comet was relatively tiny — a few tens of meters across, according to a U.S. Naval Research Lab scientist. And while that may seem big to us, it wasn’t anywhere near big enough to survive the solar radiation.

The video below shows the dramatic nosedive. It takes close to 40 seconds for the comet to appear at the bottom right of the screen, where it quickly heads into the sun with a dramatic finish.

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Space Station Astronaut Describes Nearly Drowning In Outer Space

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parmitano space stationA little over a month ago, we reported that a maintenance spacewalk outside the International Space Station had to be cancelled due to astronaut Luca Parmitano experiencing leakage in his helmet. At the time, it definitely sounded like a problem, but it was reported to be a non-emergency and that the astronaut was never in any danger. Of course, that news didn’t come from the Parmitano himself, who recently wrote a harrowing blog post about the experience that makes me wonder who doesn’t consider a near-drowning in outer space an emergency. Probably the people who didn’t nearly drown in outer space.

With a talent for prose that one might not expect, Parmitano details the entire experience, from the anticipation he felt before leaving the airlock, up until when he returned to it with a helmet full of water. “It is pitch black outside,” he writes, “not the color black but rather a complete absence of light. I drink in the sight as I lean out to attach our safety cables. I feel completely at ease as I twist my body to let Chris [Cassidy] go by.” The two men separated and went on their planned routes around the space station in order to complete their tasks.

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Mars MAVEN Arrives At Kennedy Space Center For Launch Prep

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MAVENIf you saw the 55th anniversary infographic of NASA’s planned missions through 2030, you will have already heard about MAVEN, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft.

Scheduled for launch in November 2013, MAVEN was transported in a metal shipping container from Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida last week to undergo final preparations. I wonder what the shipping charges were?

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NASA’s MESSENGER Probe Shows You What It’s Like To Leave Earth In The Rearview

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One of the key ingredients of science fiction as a genre—not all, of course, there are many kinds of sci-fi—has always been the idea of leaving the confines of Earth in the metaphorical rearview mirror as you blast off into the great black unknown, ready for whatever adventures come your way. Now, thanks to science—with a great assist from the engineers—we know what that view would look like, and it is rather spectacular.

Eight years ago, en route to Mercury, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft took a slight detour around our humble little rock, and like any good tourist, it shot an ass load of photographs along the way. String those images together, and what do you have, but a view of what it looks like to peel space rubber, and leave the comfy confines of Earth in the dust. This is a time-lapse video, not real time, but it definitely gives the appearance of pulling out of the cosmic driveway.

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The Sun’s Magnetic Field Will Flip In The Next Few Months

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sun

Every so often, we go through changes in life that can be quite confusing. Puberty, marriage, childbirth, zombification, or what have you; they’re all extremely personal and draw from our experiences as human beings. And then there are some things so far beyond our control that it seems ridiculous, such as the sun’s magnetic poles changing places, which Stanford University solar physicist Todd Hoeksema says we get to look forward to before the year’s end probably. Even though I write for this website, I don’t pretend to be an expert in anything but terrible puns, and I wasn’t even aware that something like this could happen, much less that it happens on a fairly consistent basis. Now I’ve got the perfect icebreaker for non-science parties.

Hoeksema is the director of Stanford’s NASA-supported Wilcox Solar Observatory, which began keeping a lensed eye on the sun’s magnetic field back in 1976, and it has witnessed four such polarity flips, which occur every 11 years or so, when the sun’s inner magnetic system reverts itself. This particular change will mark the midpoint of Solar Cycle 24, for those counting.