NASA honors 'Hidden Figures' inspiration with a new research facility

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More than 50 years after Katherine Johnson first helped send astronauts into space, the once “hidden figure” is hidden no more at NASA. 

The federal agency named a new research facility in Johnson’s honor this week. The Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia opened Friday. 

Johnson was part of a group of black women mathematicians whose calculations — done by hand — were essential to NASA’s early space missions. She was memorably portrayed by Taraji P. Henson in the movie Hidden Figures last year.  Read more…

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Watch NASA record-breaker Peggy Whitson return to Earth

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Record-breaking astronaut Peggy Whitson has finally returned to Earth, closing the book on a chapter of space history that will provide inspiration for many for years to come. 

The Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft landed safely near Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Sunday, carrying Whitson as well as commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos, and NASA flight engineer Jack Fischer. 

Image: nasa via youtube

After accumulating 534 days, 2 hours, and 49 minutes of time in space, Whitson officially broke the previous record for the most time spent in space, previously held by NASA’s Jeff Williams. In total, Whitson has spent 665 days in space, according to NASA, putting her at number eight on the all-time space endurance list. Read more…

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NASA Presented EPIC Video Shows Dark side of the Moon

NASA on Wednesday released an animation that shows the moon’s dark side as it transits the Earth.

NASA-EpicVideo-Dark-Mon

Although the primary mission of NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) is to to monitor solar winds, the satellite is also doing a great job of letting all of us Earth-bound creatures see beautiful views of our own planet. The latest images from DSCOVR not only offer a stunning view of Earth, they also provide an “epic” view of the moon.

NASA on Wednesday released an animation that shows the moon’s dark side as it transits the Earth — a rare site for all us non-astronauts indeed. The animation was created with a series of images obtained from DSCOVR’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) camera and telescope. The images were taken between 3:50 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. ET on July 16 and show the moon moving over the Pacific Ocean near North America.

DSCOVR is located one million miles away from Earth and is meant to serve as an early warning system of sorts when harmful solar activity is heading our way.

In addition to capturing great images of our own space rock, the EPIC camera aboard the craft “will be used in science applications to measure ozone amounts, aerosol amounts, cloud height and phase, vegetation properties, hotspot land properties and UV radiation estimates at Earth’s surface,” according to NASA. The camera snaps a full-color image of our planet every day, and once every few months, it’s lucky enough to catch the moon when it is directly between Earth and the craft.

Youtube Video Here

The Richest Californians In Technology 2015

If you want to make a fortune in technology, it’s no secret that California is the place to be. A full 40% of the billionaires on Forbes’ newly released list of the world’s 100 Richest in Tech live in California, far surpassing any other state in the U.S. Altogether 51 of the 100 are from the U.S., so the Golden State accounts for a whopping majority of American tech fortunes.

Mile signpost to California

Silicon Valley’s fingerprint is evident on the majority of California’s tech billionaires. All but one of the top 10 Californians on the Richest in Tech list live in the Bay Area near the companies that made them rich. These ten billionaires, eight of whom founded their own companies, represent the entrepreneurial spirit for which the Golden State is famous. Together the 10 are worth a collective $227 billion.

Oracle ORCL +0.61% Chairman and Chief Technology Officer Larry Ellison tops the list of California tech folks with a net worth of $50 billion. While the majority of California’s tech billionaires made it big with consumer-facing companies, Ellison’s wealth comes from the database software company he founded in 1977. He is now the second richest man in tech (behind Bill Gates) and the fifth richest man in the world.

Besides Ellison, Workday founder David Duffield is the only other billionaire in the top 10 who made it big by founding an enterprise tech company. After selling his first company, PeopleSoft, to his rival Ellison’s Oracle in 2005, Duffield founded Workday at the age of 65; its post-IPO success has propelled him to a $6.9 billion fortune.

The rest of California’s top 10 wealthiest tech billionaires got rich at consumer tech companies–specifically Facebook and Google. These two tech giants are responsible for the billionaire status of six of the top 10 Californians on the list.

California’s second richest tech titan is Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose net worth of $41.2 billion has quadrupled in the past three years as the social media giant he founded in 2004 has grown to global dominance. Dustin Moskovitz, Facebook’s third employee and Zuckerberg’s college friend, left Facebook in 2008 to found software firm Asana. His net worth of $9.6 billion, which makes him the eighth richest Californian tech billionaire, comes mainly from Facebook stock. Whatsapp founder Jan Koum became a billionaire in 2014 when Facebook bought his mobile messaging app—now the biggest in the world with more than 800 million users—for $19 billion. He’s California’s ninth richest billionaire in tech with a net worth of $7.9 billion.

Google’s worldwide dominance as a search engine, Android platform, advertiser, and much more has made its cofounders—and stakeholders—some of the richest people in California. CEO Larry Page is California’s third richest man with a net worth of $33.4 billion, while his cofounder and Director of Special Projects Sergey Brin is close behind with a net worth of $33 billion. Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt comes in sixth on the list among Californians with a net worth of $9.9 billion. Outside of California’s top ten, Arista Networks chairman Andreas von Bechtolsheim (net worth $4.6 billion) and Stanford professor David Cheriton (net worth $3.5 billion) are billionaires thanks early $100,000 investments each made in Google when it was a fledgling startup.

The other two Californian tech billionaires among the top ten from the state are Laurene Powell Jobs, who comes in fifth with a net worth of $21.4 billion, and Tesla and Space X founder Elon Musk, whose $13.9 billion fortune places him sixth on the list. Jobs, the only woman in the top ten, is the largest single shareholder in Disney with a 7.7% stake, worth about $15 billion – more than three times that of her estimated stake in Apple, founded by her late husband, Steve Jobs. Luxury electric car manufacturer Telsa has made Musk rich, but all eyes are now on his newer venture, SpaceX. The spacecraft manufacturer received a $1.6 billion contract from NASA but faced a disaster in June when one of its rockets exploded on its way into space.

While Silicon Valley is known for quick riches made by young startup founders–Zuckerberg is a prime example–the very richest in tech in California are largely part of Silicon Valley’s older guard. In the top 10, only the three who made their wealth at Facebook—Zuckerberg, Moskovitz and Koum—are under the age of 40. And of California’s 40 billionaires on the Richest In Tech list, only eight are under the age of 40, while 15 are in their 60s or older, including the likes of venture capitalist John Doerr and Intel cofounder Gordon Moore.

How ion thruster technology will power future NASA missions

For its crazy 2020 asteroid capture mission and other projects, NASA is developing next-gen “Hall effect thrusters” to corral an asteroid and put it into the moon’s orbit. At the same time, the European Space Agency (ESA) is trying to improve its own Hall thrusters to power future missions. If you’re wondering what the heck they are, Hall effect motors are a type of ion thruster that produce a tiny 0.7 pounds of force, or the weight of 54 US quarters, according to NASA. However, they’re much more efficient than standard rockets, and if run long enough, can power a spaceship to speeds as high as 112,000 mph. So how do they actually work?

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Hall thrusters were developed by the Soviets in the 1950’s and first deployed in 1971 on a Russian weather satellite. Over 240 have flawlessly flown since, often to boost satellites into orbit and keep them there. The motors are around ten times more efficient than chemical propulsion rockets, and can run for long periods of time using a fixed stock of inert gas combined with solar- or nuclear-generated electricity. The first Hall thruster used outside of Earth orbit (on the ESA’s Smart-1 moon-orbiting spacecraft) ran for a record-setting two years. On top of being reliable, such motors are also very safe since the non-reactive gases can’t explode.

Hall thrusters use a magnetic field effect to accelerate ions (charged particles) to high speeds, producing thrust. Here’s how it works: a spacecraft’s solar panels or other power source charge an anode’s walls to a high positive energy level. Electrons injected by a downstream cathode are attracted to the anode and drawn into an insulator channel. At that point, they’re trapped by powerful magnets to form a circling ring called a Hall current.

An inert gas, usually Xenon, is then injected into the anode tube, where it collides with the electrons to form positive ionized Xenon gas, otherwise known as plasma. The magnetic field accelerates the plasma to speeds of up to 35,000 mph, generating thrust. With a positive charge, the plasma also pulls electrons from the original downstream cathode, neutralizing the charge and preventing static from building up on the spacecraft.

gridded-ion-thruster-NASA

In comparison, so-called gridded ion thrusters work a bit differently. In those motors, electrons combine with an inert gas to create ionized Xenon in the same way as a Hall thruster, but the resulting plasma is accelerated by a negative grid at the end of the motor, rather than a magnetic field, to create thrust. Once the plasma leaves the engine, a “cathode neutralizer” injects electrons to prevent a static charge buildup on the spacecraft.

As for performance? Gridded ion thrusters are more fuel efficient than Hall thrusters. However, Hall thrusters provide more power in a smaller package, which is why both NASA and ESA have keyed in on that tech — especially for missions beyond Earth’s orbit. For more info on how they work, check the video below.

Youtube Video Here

Google comes Microsoft HoloLens

Less than a week after Google said that it would stop selling prototypes of its Glass wearable, Microsoft announced today that it’s coming out with its own computerized headset.

During Microsoft’s much-anticipated Windows 10 event, the company said it is working on a what CEO Satya Nadella said will be the world’s first holographic computing platform. Dubbed HoloLens, the wearable enables the user to view high-definition holograms with surround sound and understand voice commands and hand gestures.

“It was a special moment this morning when we were able to share that Windows 10 is the world’s first holographic computing platform – complete with a set of APIs that enable developers to create holographic experiences in the real world,” the company said in a blog post. “With Windows 10, holograms are Windows universal apps… making it possible to place three-dimensional holograms in the world around you to communicate, create and explore in a manner that is far more personal and human.”

The device is scheduled to be released in the Windows 10 timeframe, according to Microsoft. The company posted this video of the device on its website.

Google-Microsoft-HoloLens

“My initial response was that they may have nailed it,” said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, who tried out HoloLens yesterday. “Google should be worried as Microsoft’s approach is spot-on and Glass is coming off as a miserable failure.”

The device, which looks like a pair of goggles or wrap-around sunglasses, has a transparent screen, allowing users to see the hologram in front of them while also seeing the real world. Gestures and voice commands can be used to create, bring up and size the holograms.

Using HoloStudio, a developer tool, users should be able to 3D print the objects they’ve created in their holograms.

Microsoft said NASA will be using HoloLens to take images sent back to Earth from the Mars rovers and view them as 3D holograms, helping them better explore the Red Planet. The wearables are intended to enable scientists to feel as if they are walking on the Martian surface.

“If successful, HoloLens will ultimately expand the way people interact with machines, just as the mouse-based interface did in the 1990s, and touch interfaces did after the introduction of the iPhone in 2007,” said Forrester analyst James McQuivey, in a statement. “HoloLens will expand the way brands interact with consumers forever more, working its way through industry after industry, much the way Web and mobile experiences did before it.”

Of course, much of the exuberance is reminiscent of Google’s Glass project, which created a prototype of computerized eyeglasses with a small display screen that sits in front of the user’s right eye.

With Glass, which has been used by more than 10,000 early adopters, users were able to read their email and see maps. They also could take photos and videos that could be posted to Twitter or Facebook.

After initial positive attention, Google’s device began to lose momentum, raised concerns over privacy and was banned from some businesses.

Google stopped selling its Glass prototypes this week and shut down its early adopter program.

Google said it’s not canceling Glass, but is moving the project from the GoogleX research umbrella and placing it under the direction of its own team, much like the company’s search and Android teams.