Search results for: NASA plants

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Tumbleweed Robot May Help Stop Desertification

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TumbleweedAll you ballad writers and singers, get ready to croon. Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds is a robot designed to help stop the spread of deserts.

Didn’t know deserts were a problem? Apparently, desertification, the process by which dry land becomes arid and unable to sustain any water, plants, or animal life, has become a rapidly worsening problem over many areas of the globe. Scientists know that climate change, mining, overpopulation, deforestation, and widespread agricultural proliferation all contribute to it in some measure to desertification, but they don’t understand precisely how it works. Part of that gap in information is because it’s difficult to gather data from and about deserts, especially from their dry and dangerous depths. Shlomi Mir, a Jerusalem-based industrial designer, has developed a robot to help solve the data-harvesting problem, and perhaps help make a dent in the problem of desertification itself. Appropriately enough, the robot is called Tumbleweed, for obvious reasons.

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The Most Amazing Science Stories Of 2013

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genome_editing

Writing a round-up of best science stories of the year is a tall order—it’s kind of like writing a piece about the best and brightest stars in the sky. There are countless stories to choose from, and so many that are inarguably awesome. That in itself says something—if my biggest dilemma as a science writer is sifting through the innovations to find the biggest nuggets of gold, then that’s a pretty great problem.

I’m going to cheat a little. I’m allowed, right? I’ve narrowed it down to categories, with a few stories in each.

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Want To Help Scientists Discover New Antibiotics?

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ILIADNASA has proven adept at crowdsourcing — it leverages the exuberance and talents of students to build nanosatellites or to participate in lunar plant growth. Now, NASA has other crowdsourcing plans — ones that involve biology rather than cosmology. Josiah Zayner, a NASA synthetic biology fellow, wants to leverage the public to provide greater efficiency when it comes to developing antibiotics.

To that end, Zayner and a neurobiologist colleague have launched The International Laboratory for the Identification of New Drugs, otherwise known as the ILIAD project. Think SETI, except instead of users trying to crunch data about potential alien life at home, they’ll be part of a “Massively Multi-Scientist Open Experiment” in which they tap into their inner mad scientist by examining and testing plant and insect specimens to help identify their antibiotics. Many antibiotics are derived from naturally occurring organisms such as fungi, plants, and herbs, so it’s a perfect way to get citizens involved.

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A Plan Make The Moon A Hub For Solar Power By Putting A Ring Around It

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Luna Ring
America may not be sending people to the moon anytime soon, but recently NASA has been interested in how we can use the moon to advance the scientific and space frontiers. From growing plants to using the moon as a way to destroy threatening asteroids to establishing a national park there, scientists seem to be realizing that there’s more to be done on Earth’s favorite space rock than simply sticking a flag in it. The latest idea for the moon, proposed by Japan’s Shimizu Corporation, involves turning it into a major hub for solar power by putting something called a Luna Ring around it. Would that make us married to the moon?

The moon is an advantageous venue for harvesting solar power, given that it’s constantly sunbathing. Solar-powered instruments, such as some used by Apollo astronauts and China’s recently launched Yutu moon rover have successfully harnessed the endless sunlight available to the moon. So why not increase the scale? Shimizu Corporation’s proposal involves wrapping a 250-mile-wide ring of solar panels around the moon’s equator and then beaming the solar power back to mother Earth.

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Government Shutdown Screws Science

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House of RepsSigh… I think that about sums up most people’s feelings about the government shutdown. Oh, did you not hear me smash things against the wall, pretending to nail the heads of our elected leaders who stubbornly refuse to compromise, and at our expense? At least they’re still getting paid. Oh, and they all still have health insurance. Phew! I sure was worried about them.

I actually had a student walk in this morning asking if the shutdown meant class was canceled. Why didn’t I think of that? In my writing classes this semester, we read, analyze, and write about space. It’s pretty awesome. Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, space speeches and goals set forth by presidents — we cover them all. So when another student asked if NASA would be impacted by the shutdown, I had to sigh again, refrain from throwing anything, and say that yep — NASA’s getting screwed, along with a bunch of other science-related agencies. Great job, government!

Spoiler alert: the rest of this post will be depressing. Unless you hate science and technology.

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Solar-Powered Autonomous Greenhouse Could Produce Fresh Spinach On Mars

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Popeye on MarsAs plans for a Mars colony are underway, at least preliminarily and tentatively, scores of questions arise about the logistics of supporting such a colony. Will people live under a dome? (Yes, until/unless we terraform Mars) What about radiation? And, most importantly, what will the Mars colonists have for dinner?

The answer: spinach.

A team from Greece recently won NASA’s Deployable Greenhouse Space Apps challenge. The challenge was for teams to design a deployable greenhouse small and light enough to stow aboard a spacecraft, that would require as few resources as possible, could function at low pressure, and could store plant-generated oxygen. Ideally, the greenhouse would also have a growing system, a system for recycling water, and a thermal control system.

The winning greenhouse, called “Popeye on Mars,” has an aeroponic system that can operate autonomously for 45 days, which is all the time needed for it to produce spinach. It can stabilize its internal environment, store oxygen, and harvest the spinach at the end of the 45-day cycle. It’s powered by photovoltaic panels that convert that pesky solar radiation into electricity via semiconductors, and is protected against the extreme conditions on the red planet.