Icarus is getting another shot at fame.
Next month, Japan's Aerospace Exploration Agency plans to send a craft - actually it's more of a solar sail - into space with name of Ikaros. ("Ikaros"is an acronym for "Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun.)
For some it's the ultimate frontier with (nearly) endless possibilities for exploration -- both manned and robotic. For others it's not worth the time and effort (and risk).
What are your thoughts? Should we invest more in earth science or deep-space telescopes? Who should be the next NASA chief? Does the Obama administration see the same emphasis on returning to the moon? What's out there?
In the meantime, stay connected.
First there was the news last week that a U.S. Iridium communications satellite slammed into a defunct Russian military satellite, each weighing more than a thousands pounds and traveling at 17,500 miles per hour. The collision, taking place about 500 miles over Siberia, created hundreds of pieces of debris to add to the growing total of space junk. Then Sunday video was captured of a mysterious fireball searing across the Texas sky -- but apparently nothing has been discovered on the ground. Coincidence? A meteor or part of a satellite? It's becoming something of a space mystery and we'll have that story tonight on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.
There are reportedly about 18,000 objects larger than the size of a cell phone and as many as 200,000 particles smaller than half an inch just orbiting around the planet. Granted, most of them are at a very high altitude relative to the planet and don't pose a major threat to anyone in orbit or on the ground, but the space around Earth is getting very crowded indeed. It's something else for the NASA crew to think about when they travel to the Hubble space telescope in May to repair it since it orbits at closer to 300 miles.
And now from the merger of terrestrial media companies to the collision of satellites in space; a derelict Russian military satellite and a working U.S. Iridium commercial satellite both missed the stop sign at about 500 miles up. The impact sent thousands of pieces of space junk circling around the planet, and it could apparently remain there for more than 10,000 years. While there have been other crashes between orbiting satellites this one could perhaps be the most serious. It's an interesting story, and for more just click here where you can also read comments from CBS space analyst Bill Harwood about what it means to the international space station and future shuttle flights.
Finally, to end the week, a birthday shout-out to Charles Darwin – we've evolved 200 years since he was born.
These are some of the questions that we try to answer in an upcoming story for the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. It may be airing tomorrow (Friday) night. We spoke to a number of prominent people from all those fields about their expectations and hopes. We also talked to one woman who may be directly affected by any policy decisions; she puts a human face on all the scientific data and studies.
Also, before cozying up for commercials and football this weekend, I hope you'll tune in to CBS Sunday Morning. It's the 30th anniversary edition of the beloved program (OK, I'm a little biased), and I'm contributed a story about ice. Yes, ice. As in cubes. But not just any old frozen water. For those who enjoy imbibing a good cocktail it can be the unsung hero by adding a touch of class or esthetic. But at too many bars or (Super Bowl) parties the ice ends up melting in such a hurry that it ruins the work of your favorite mixologist. It's also a story about people who carve ice, eat ice (true), and generally believe that ice is now hot. You'll have to watch to find out more -- including the secrets to a bar in Las Vegas that's all made of ice, even the glasses.
Also worth noting this week -- Google has launched a new service called Google Flu Trends that aims to track flu outbreaks by monitoring Web searches. The information could be accessed by someone looking to see what's going on in their neighborhood or, perhaps more importantly, by organizations like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to compare against its own data. For more details just click here or on the official Google blog site.
More to come soon -- a rather busy week! In the meantime, stay connected.
According to Space.com, Fincke and flight engineer Greg Chamitoff are only the fifth and sixth Americans to ever vote from space. No optical scanners or lever machines or high-tech touchscreens for these voters. They apparently used a secure electronic ballot that was routed through Mission Control. Makes you wonder about the potential future of secure online ballots for earthbound citizens...nah, couldn't really happen -- or could it? Not that it'll help me before the 2012 presidential election. As a Canadian and (fingers crossed) eventually-to-be U.S. citizen I must wait until then!
Also, watch for a story about the "Facebook factor" in deciding the 2008 victor on Thursday's CBS Early Show.
A few minor disclaimers before we go too far: I've played BioWare games for many years dating back to "Baldur's Gate," and I've had the opportunity to interview the two co-founders -- Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk -- who happen to be Canadian (like myself). And a good friend of mine is a game writer/designer for BioWare's studio in Austin. But all that aside, I've always enjoyed the way BioWare crafts its stories and characters, and who could argue that "Mass Effect" was one of the best games of 2007? In any case, "SWTOR" is one to watch. For more on "Star Wars: The Old Republic" be sure to check out the now-available official Web site.
In other gaming news, I'm playing a few new titles that have me hooked -- "Fable II" and "Warhammer Online." I've also got "Dead Space" ready to pop into my Xbox 360 but it'll have to wait a little while. Some exciting games coming out in the next few months and I'll post some more info when I've further immersed myself. In the meantime, I'll be at the Digital Hollywood event in L.A. next week moderating a panel on how virtual worlds and MMOs have impacted the business world (e.g. executives working together, problem-solving, group play, etc.).
The much-anticipated game from Will Wright called "Spore" was also released Sunday, and last week we got a chance to chat with Wright at his Maxis (EA) studio in Emeryville, California. He's an intriguing guy with a dedicated following, and I first had the chance to interview him for Salon.com back in early 2000 right before "The Sims" was released. Once called "Sims Everything," "Spore" allows players to, in a sense, "play god" at the ultimate level -- controlling your own species as it evolves from tide pool to galactic warrior. There have been more than 3 million creatures already created and about 100,000 videos posted on YouTube. It'll be part of a series on video games airing next week on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.
Earlier this week I was in Houston attending the pre-flight briefings and interviewing the astronauts who will be aboard Atlantis next month as part of the Hubble servicing mission. It's been called the "last great shuttle flight" since every other trip is relatively more routine (if you can ever consider space travel routine) ferrying supplies and parts to the international space station. In early October (launch slated for Oct. 10), seven astronauts will attempt to repair Hubble and extend its life for at least another five years. It's a risky mission (complete with back-up rescue plan), but one the science community (and NASA) is passionate about. Since 1990 we've all become familiar with the now iconic photos from Hubble, and its had quite a storied history in that 20 years. Be sure to visit CBS space analyst Bill Harwood's "Space Place" and we'll be bringing a few stories to you on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric in the next few weeks.
I also attended a press conference this week put together by Space Adventures, which has been sending private citizens to the international space station aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket for several years now. Other than announcing that the company has booked its own mission to the ISS (as in not just piggybacking on the Russians), it also revealed that Google co-founder Sergei Brin has submitted a $5 million deposit to reserve a seat on an upcoming journey. (Sure, it costs $35 million in total, but I think Brin will somehow find a way to scrape together the remaining $30 million or so.)
This week I also interviewed Avi Rubin, a noted computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University, about his project sponsored by the National Science Foundation to improve electronic voting. The group is called ACCURATE or A Center for Correct, Usable, Reliable, Auditable, and Transparent Elections. Rubin and his colleagues' main goal is to ensure voting machines are verifiable, and you can listen to the interview Continue »
Back on the ground and positioned in front of a TV at the JFK airport baggage claim, Anthony and I watched the Phoenix Mars Lander ease its way down, going through the final stages of landing that NASA dubbed "seven minutes of terror" since there was no inflated balloon to cushion its descent. But all went according to plan with the chute and thrusters, and the engineers at JPL in Pasadena, CA, erupted in cheers.
In gadget news, it seems the ranks of the iPhone "killers" are preparing to swell again. Word has leaked of RIM's latest Blackberry edition, the code-named "Thunder" (no word if it's from "Down Under," like the platypus). So, to recap, we've had offerings from Samsung, HTC, Verizon, and Nokia plus a few others, and no doubt more will follow. I'm just not convinced mimicking the touchscreen part of the iPhone is the way to compete again Apple in the overall cellphone market. But when has the herd mentality stopped tech companies before? I can't recall.
I'm working on a few stories for the coming days (yes, including the weekend) -- on CBS Sunday Morning I've got a story about new, high-tech swimsuit designs from companies like TYR and Speedo. The report includes interviews with two Olympic-calibre swimmers: Peter Marshall and Jessica Hardy. Plus me in a swimsuit! (Sort of.) Actually, be sure to watch this Sunday -- the whole show is about design (and annual tradition), and host Charles Osgood taped it from Berlin. On Sunday's Evening News there may be an encore presentation of our story about saving coral in Florida, and Monday morning on the CBS Early Show we're planning to demo Nintendo's Wii Fit live from Central Park. Gamers getting in shape -- NO WAY!!
I started out in Miami on Sunday night and Monday as part of a story about a marine biologist there named Andrew Baker who's trying an innovative if somewhat controversial approach to improving the future of disappearing coral reefs. His research, in simplistic terms, involves transplanting more heat-resistant algae from other parts of the world to the coral off the coast of Florida. Coral and algae have a symbiotic relationship, with the coral receiving life-giving photosynthesis through the algae, and the microscopic algae finding a safe haven from predators as part of the coral.
But as waters in the area warm even by only a degree or two the algae can die and in turn cause the coral to "bleach" and also wither (there are other factors, too, like over-fishing and pollution). Baker wants to strengthen the algae in the waters in Florida, and he's got a Pew Foundation grant to help make it happen. But there are those who say it won't work, that "messing" with nature isn't the answer. At this point, his story is slated to air on the Evening News with Katie Couric on Monday night.