Space Station Sunday Standby

Good afternoon, space fans!  We've swung a little outside the usual orbit today, but will be back later on this evening (or possibly early tomorrow, depending on your Earthling location) with all of this week's stories from space!  Standby for the this space!
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Space Station Sunday: National Treasures

Good afternoon space fans!  It's been another wonderful week for our friends whipping around above the world.  Here's what was up!

The SpaceX Dragon heads back to the realm of mortals.
(Image courtesy

Commander Jeff Williams set a record for most accumulated time in space by an American, surpassing even the famed One-Year Crew member Scott Kelly.  As of August 21, Williams had served a total 520 days in orbit. Williams had previously served as a shuttle crew member on STS-101 in 2000, as well two previous tours on the station, in 2006 and 2009.  When he returns to Earth this September, he will have acccured 534 total days hauling around in the heavens.

Congratulations, Commander!
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SpaceX Dragon returned to Earth on Friday, stocked with some 3,000 thousand of pounds of cargo and science experiments.  It landed 326 miles off the coast of Baja, California, as part of the 9th commercial cargo mission contracted with NASA.  It will be transported to MacGregor, Texas for processing, after offloading some materials in Los Angeles.

Astronauts Kate Rubins and Commander Jeff Williams
watch the Dragon fly home.
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Experiments included the heart cells study, a study on astronauts' immune systems, a study of liquid crystals in microgravity, and a group of tomato seeds that had been flown to space and will be planted on Earth to examine the differences between them and seeds that had always been bound by gravity.

NASA gave a shout-out to the 100th anniversary of the American National Parks system, and included some images that are a little different from what you'd see on your family vacation!

The Grand Canyon, looking particularly grand.
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And, since Commander Williams has spent so much time in space, he's got a great eye for the lovely nuances of our planet!  Take it away, Commander!


Surat, India!

Mississippi Delta!

That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next Sunday with more excellence from orbit!

Redwood National Park, California.
Those giant redwoods don't look so big from up here!
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Sounds Like Victory: New Ultrasonic Brain Surgery Heals Tremors Sans Cracking Skulls

It sounds like something out of the future, but it's actually in operational trials for human beings right now:  a new type of surgery that uses ultrasonic sound waves to target specific neurons for eradication, thus healing certain brain malfunctions non-invasively...

This is a "song" that can heal certain brain anomalies,
if it gets stuck in your head properly.
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According to, a team at Sunnybrook Health Sciences in Toronto, Canada, is using this new technology to treat patients who suffer from "essential tremors", a debilitating disease that threatens the quality of life dramatically in whom it afflicts.  Essential tremors, while not life-threatening, cause spasms that make victims spasm in a manner that could stop them from doing tasks as simple as holding a glass or writing their name.

The pre-op signature of Maureen, one of the patients in the study.
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Forty patients have been selected for the clinical trial.  The process involves the afflicted patients undergoing an "MRI-guided focused ultrasound" wherein the focus of the ultrasound targets the specific troublesome neurons in the brain's thalamus that are responsible for the tremors.  While in an MRI machine, the doctors can "see" the affected areas, and use pulses of ultrasonic sound to break up the neurons desired.

Sunnybrook neurosurgeon Dr. Nir Lipsman extolled, "This is a game changer...It really changes the way we think about surgical treatments for tremor. No scalpel needed. No drill needed."

In Dr. Lipsman's initial study of 76 patients, 47% saw improvement within 3 months of treatment, with 40% reporting marked  improvements within the year.  Side effects only included some gait disturbance and numbness.  The procedure takes about four hours.

Maureen's signature, post-operation.
She was reported to have leapt from her wheelchair and
danced an Irish jig with joy at the cure.
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This take on technology could feasibly rewrite the book for the methodology behind a variety of surgeries.  Dr. Kullervo Hynynen, director of physical sciences at Sunnybrook Research Institute and part of the technique's development team, states the ultrasonic surgery "will open up a new era that will revolutionize the way brain diseases will be treated, eventually benefitting millions of patients." 

Good there anything they can't do?

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3-D Print-ception: Scientists Create New, Working Ovaries Via 3-D Printing

It seems that the only technology progressing as rapidly as the robots who are going to take your jobs is that of 3-D printing.  Capable of creating clothes, huts, offices, art, prosthetic limbs, space station parts, and more, the science has now expanded to being able to reproduce the organs that are used to reproduce.

Even though they actually work, can we please call them "faux-varies"?
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According to, researchers at Northwestern University have successfully 3-D printed synthetic ovaries that have enabled infertile mice to resume their menstrual cycles and even give birth.  The ovaries were constructed from a Jello-like material combined with living cells.  Once implanted into mice that had had their ovaries removed, the Jellovaries (which is not a scientific term, but it should be) reacted as normal organs would.

The 3-D printed elements, as explained in a press release on, created a “scaffold” in which hormone producing cells and immature egg cells (oocytes) were implanted.  The scaffold was created based on biological principles, accounting for enough rigidity to survive the surgery, as well as enough space to provide for blood vessel formation, oocyte growth, and ovulation.  By assessing human cell cultures, the scientists designed the scaffolding with crisscrossing struts, allowing the cells to anchor at multiple points.

A standard ovary.
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The mice who were the recipients of the transplants were able to ovulate, give birth to healthy pups, and nurse.  No additional substances were needed to spur on the growth of blood vessels in the mice, and the bioprosthesis interacted well with the soft tissues in their bodies.  Future work on soft-tissue replacement could take cues from this experiment.

Oh science, is there anything you can't improve?
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This bioprosthesis could someday be of tremendous help to women who have survived ovarian cancer or other troubles of the lady-bits that could have led to the impediment of fertility.  An estimated 1 in 250 adults has survived childhood cancer, and 1 out of 55 women will develop ovarian cancer in their lifetime.  Hopefully, science will be able to print up the perfect cure!

Ladies, stay vigilant!
But hopefully these new ovary upgrades will help...
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Spice Up Your Dinner Conversation With ACTUAL Conversation, Courtesy "Pepper Hacker"

Sometimes, it doesn’t take Wikileaks or the Russians to make a hack that changes everything.  Even a small-scale rerouting of the information superhighway can have an impact on everyday humans, and possibly even work in everyone’s best interests.  That was the thought behind this one unassuming new invention…

The Internet of Things?
How about the NON-Internet of Things?
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According to, a new, technologically-modified pepper grinder may abet conversations and interactions that were previously thwarted by internet-enabled devices.  “Pepper grinder” is not a fancy futuristic tech term…the device is actually a pepper grinder.  Namely, a pepper grinder that shuts down your wi-fi temporarily so that you can enjoy dinner. 

The device was created by the Dolmio company, who conducted a survey of Australian households and deduced that 63% of family mealtime arguments were due to over-use of technology at the table.  38% felt like there was no reasonable way to thwart this modern menace, with one in three households having unsuccessfully attempted to ban web-surfing while meals were served.

Come on, you can deal with your family IRL for a FEW minutes each day.
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Enter the Pepper Hacker – a device that effectively curtails the use of home wi-fi on phones, tablets, or laptops, so you can chow down with your family’s heads not afloat in cyber-space.  The Pepper Hacker can block up to four devices at a time, and has a rechargeable battery that lasts for “six dinners.”

This is Pepper Hacker's message to your meddling.
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Of course, your screen-scrolling spawn or spouse can simply choose to eat up their cell data as they eat their meals, but is Instagramming your reaction to mom’s pot roast really that crucial?  Can’t the online games or Netflix marathon take a brief break for, you know, real life?

Don’t let your memories just be in the form of those little notifications facebook sends you every day.  Your life will soon be filled with robots of all sorts…don’t let your family act like them already.  Who knows…your discussions might even generate a few quotes worthy of Tweeting (AFTER dinner)!  

You can bet Einstein would choose corned beef hash over hashtags.
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Space Station Sunday: Dock Stars

Good afternoon, space fans!  It's been another week of outstanding operations in orbit!  Here's what was up...

Astronaut Rubins makes space for more spacecrafts
by installing the new International Docking Adapter.
(Image courtesy

On Friday, Commander Jeff Williams and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins went for an E.V.A. (extravehicular activity, a.k.a spacewalk) to install an International Docking Adapter.  The adapter is a port that makes it possible to accommodate the docking of a number of different types of modern spacecraft.  The SpaceX crew Dragon, the Boeing Starliner, and other types of manned spacecraft will be able to utilize the docking adapter to gain entrance into the station.

Plenty of parking, if you can handle the drive...
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The spacewalk took 5 hours and 58 minutes to complete (faster than the scheduled 6.5 hours projected for the installment.)  The relative speed was abetted by the fact that the adapter had been maneuvered from the "trunk" of the Dragon spacecraft into its installation position via the Canadarm-2 robotic arm.  Another similar docking adapter will be added to the station at a later date.  Wonder what spacewalking feels like?  NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock answered some questions on the topic on these spectacular strolls.

"At the edge of the world installing the Int'l Docking Adapter.
Congrats to the teams who made this possible." -Astronaut Kate Rubins
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Other science this week included making observations on a physics study of particles suspended in water.  This could be beneficial for possible materials sciences endeavors back on Earth,as the particles might find unique ways to align themselves thanks to the microgravity environment on the ISS.  JAXA astronaut Takuya Onishi studied how microgravity would affect the genetics of mice.

The cosmonauts kept busy as well, with Anatoly Ivanishin and Alexey Ovchinin working on a variety of experiments.  They worked on a system that detects micro-meteorite impacts on the station, as well as how bacteria interact with viruses in space.

Love everything about space?  NASA has made its complete archives free to the public for perusal!  Everything (except that which deals with possible issues of national security) is included, so you can expand your mind as far as the stars!

And as always, Commander Jeff Williams snagged some sweet space snaps!  Here's how we'd look from a realllllly long selfie stick...

"A place of inspiration, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
#FindYourPark #NPS100."

"The last month has gone by quickly…full Moon again!"

"Mount St. Helens looks spectacular from directly above!
#FindYourPark #NPS100."

That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next Sunday with even more excellence from orbit!  Watch this space!

Great job, astronaut Rubins and Commander Williams!
(Image courtesy

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And We All Float On, Alright: Flying Taxis To Be Tested In 2017

Alright nerds.  It’s Friday, and while you’re dreaming about the impending weekend, why not also dream about the phenomenal parts of our future?  Especially that old (new?) chestnut, flying cars.  Why aren’t they already floating around in this glorious 21st-century utopia we’ve created for ourselves?  Well, glorious 21st-century utopia or no, the flying cars could be swooping in for testing as early as next year.

It is time.
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According to, the Airbus company wants autonomous flying taxi prototypes to hit the skies sometime in late 2017.  The company is the second largest aerospace firm in the United States (behind Boeing) and thus has the clout (and cash) to make this a reality.

The sky-taxis, which we still haven’t figured out a cute portmanteau title for, would be flown autonomously.  Prospective passengers would book a seat on a zenHop “City Airbus” drone, then would be ferried to a zenHub helipad.  The sky-taxi would then airlift them (and other passengers headed in the same direction, to save costs) to their destination.  It’s thought that the cost-sharing system could keep the price of these trips around the same price as a conventional taxi.

We have a lot of bodies.  Why fight them as traffic,
when you can float above the fray?
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Luggage would be ferried in a traditional manner on the ground (since, you know, hefting weight into the air isn’t easy, and you pack too many socks) via a parallel service called zenLuggage.  All of this would be monitored by security systems experts at zenCyber, to keep your flight on track and never hacked.

Artist's rendition of the Airbus sky taxi.
The only bad thing is you can't hail them via whistling.
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Airbus has reportedly been working on the electric aircraft’s design for two years, styling the sky-taxis after large drones.  They claim it “could soon become reality without having to wait for too many regulatory changes.”

Up, up, and away!

What's a mere 60 years' wait for fantastic futurism?
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Here Comes The Sun King: Elon Musk's New "Solar Shingles" To Cut Power Bills, Ties To Grid

Having safely ensconced himself as a pioneer in modern spacefaring, electric vehicle technology, sustainable-electric storage, and even a completely unheard-of new type of transportation, Elon Musk has now focused his sights on improving home energy for the average human.  The plan is simple, but he’s the man for the job:  solar roofing tiles.

Easily the best way to get your home looking
and operating at peak futuristic capacity.
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While the notion has been batted around for decades, Musk has announced that his “solar shingles” will be a new kind of roof for a new kind of electrical paradigm.  According to, Musk says this innovation will not be “a thing on the roof”, rather, “it IS the roof.”

Musk’s cousin and compatriot Lyndon Rive, who is CEO of the SolarCity company that is abetting the plans, has already raised some $8 billion in startup capital from investors such as U.S. Bancorp, Google, Merril Lynch and PG&E Corporation.  Rive maintains that since some 5 million roofs are built or replaced across America every year anyway, the new ones might as well support sustainability.

A ray of hope in this dark world.
A ray of hope that could feasibly even power your computer.
And fridge.  And TV.  And guitar amplifier.
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Musk’s wildly popular Tesla automobile line, of which the “3” model was released for pre-order in April, are a testament to his firm commitment to changing the world through sustainable electricity and transport. “It’s very important to accelerate the transition to sustainable transport," Tesla said. "This is really important for our future.”  The Tesla 3 is currently in demand to the tune of 325,000 pre-orders.

The "smart home" plan could also feasibly include the Powerwall or Powerpack, designs inspired by Tesla cars' battery technology that is re-purposed to power a home or business.  These would work in conjunction with the shingles from SolarCity, of which Musk is a co-founder, and which is currently the #1 full-service solar provider in America.  SolarCity was acquired by Tesla on August 1st, for $2.6 billion in shares.  The intent of the merger is to provide citizens with low carbon-emission lifestyles including a “simple, aesthetically beautiful one-stop solar and storage experience."

Musk discusses the solar shingles and Powerwall,
a.k.a. the iTunes and iPod of this decade.
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Musk's other plans currently include in-depth notions about colonizing Mars.  You know, just in case this whole “humanity on earth” thing doesn’t pan out.  What will he conquer next?  Today, cheap and grid-free power...tomorrow, the universe!

These guys land rockets, upright, on barges.
You can probably trust them with some roofing work.
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NSA = Not So Adept: Hackers Loot Brash Stash Of NSA Exploits & Data

Who watches the watchers?  Apparently, now it’s…well, everybody with a computer.  A massive hack against the NSA has revealed a treasure trove of previously-private exploits and other data, and it doesn’t make our “security agency” look very secure at all…

If the future won't let us have space-war, we'll have cyberspace-war.
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According to, the hack was perpetuated by a group called the Shadow Brokers, who lifted a stash of NSA-created malware from an internal hacking team called The Equation Group.  Two chunks of data have been published, one that is open to the public for perusal and one that contains “the best files”, which will likely be auctioned off at the starting price of $1 million.

An additional image collection of a file tree containing NSA exploits was released, as well as a page calling out “cyber warriors” and “WealthyElites.”  The full extent of the free file contains staging programs that the NSA could ostensibly use to inject malware into servers for the purposes of espionage.  These hacking tools include “RATS” – remote access Trojans – and exploits that target web and file servers.  Such programs could be used to remotely access a machine, copy or monitor its information, and then be deleted (theoretically) without a trace.

Well, that's...bold.
They couldn't name it "Punk Rock Tracks - The Exploited" or anything less overt?
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The files are mostly written in Python or shell script, with a few compiled binaries.  The Shadow Brokers have released the following statement regarding the acquisition:
"How much you pay for enemies cyber weapons? Not malware you find in networks. Both sides, RAT + LP, full state sponsor tool set? We find cyber weapons made by creators of stuxnet, duqu, flame. Kaspersky calls Equation Group. We follow Equation Group traffic. We find Equation Group source range. We hack Equation Group. We find many many Equation Group cyber weapons. You see pictures. We give you some Equation Group files free, you see. This is good proof no? You enjoy!!! You break many things. You find many intrusions. You write many words. But not all, we are auction the best files."

The stunted English grammar may imply Russian origin for the group, or may be ruse to throw others off the trail.  Regardless, the second file will be sold to the highest bidder via bitcoin, and the files are promised to be “better than stuxnet” (the computer worm that derailed Iran’s nuclear program several years ago.)

How nice...they even included user instructions.
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Wikileaks claims that they are already in possession of the “best” files, and will publish them “in due course.”  In the meantime, whistleblowing winner Edward Snowden calls the entire affair “not unprecedented.”  Snowden went on to elucidate, “This leak is likely a warning that someone can prove US responsibility for any attacks that originated from this malware server."

While this is not (yet) thought to be a tremendously devastating hack, it does not look favorably on the much-maligned NSA.  This sort of sloppy spywork is not the sort of thing that inspires confidence in those who repeatedly exhorted that they were keeping us secure by ransacking our privacy.  Loose ‘chips sink ships.

We don't know all of what we don't know,
but we learn more about it every day.
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Space Station Sunday: Small Satellites, Science And Spacewalks

Good afternoon, space fans!  It’s been another week of excellence in orbit.  Here’s what was up!

The sun rises on another 16 mornings (per day!) in space.
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This week, a group of Earthling middle school students competed in the Zero Robotics competition that involved programming and orienting SPHERES robots (miniature satellites) aboard the station.  The small satellites run on programs written by the students, and the competition involved maneuvering the SPHERES to different locations to complete challenges.  Inspiring young people to get involved in aiding space is a great harbinger for future exploration!

Can they program one to clean the space toilet?
No humans want that job.
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Commander Jeff Williams and Flight Engineer Kate Rubins have been working in preparation for an upcoming spacewalk on August 19th, but both took the day off on Thursday to relax.  The spacewalk will find the two astronauts installing the first of two International Docking Adapters, which will enable new commercial crew spacecraft to easily dock with the station.  JAXA astronaut Takuya Onishi, who got the day off as well (in celebration of Japan’s new “Mountain Day” holiday) will be assisting the spacewalkers during their spin outside.

You'll be able to watch the spacewalk live on NASA TV, right here!

Formal dress for floating:  astornaut Rubins dons her spacesuit in practice.
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Rubins also celebrated seeing heart cells beating in space as part of the Heart Cells investigation, which assesses how the muscle tissue of the human heart changes in microgravity.  By watching the cells expand, contract, and interact in the micro-G investigation, it could aid future diagnostic technology, drug screening, or cell replacement therapy on Earth…or maybe even on a long-distance space trip!

The cosmonauts kept busy as always, with second-time station veteran Oleg Skripochka sampling air and various surfaces in the Russian segment to search for errant microbes and ensure overall cleanliness.  Alexey Ovchinin and Anatoly Ivanishin tested communication connections interacting with various systems in the Russian modules.  

The crew also collected biological and data samples for several experiments, including taking eye exams as part of the Fluid Shifts study.  This study assesses the impact of microgravity on the human eyeball when the fluids of the body move around in micro-gravity.  Findings could help improve ocular health for long-term spaceflight.

Space does not care about your weak human flesh.
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And speaking of looking at cool things, Commander Jeff Williams captured even more spectacular space snaps this week!  Take it away, Commander!

"Elephant shape in the Namibia Sossusvlei dunes,
Namib-Naukluft National Park."

"Bighorn National Forest, Cloud Peak Wilderness area."

"Center of Badwater Death Valley National Park.
#FindYourPark #NPS100."

That’s all for this week, space fans!  Check in with us next week to hear about all the excellence involved in the extravehicular activity (that’s NASA-speak for “spacewalk”, landlubbers.)  Watch this space!

Don't you wish this was your Sunday brunch?
Gotta love the big happy space family.
(Image courtesy

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