This Week in Space News

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by Jill Cassidy

Things That Are So Apollo Era

Using radio to communicate.  NASA’s Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS) team is hoping to scrub radio comms for good and convert data into a laser beam that will travel from the International Space Station to Earth.

GOOOOOOAAAAALLLLLL!!!!!  Yeah, it was kind of like that.  The laser successfully transmitted a 22 MB video to a ground station in California in 3.5 seconds.  To put this in perspective, current equipment aboard the International Space Station would need more than 10 minutes to make the same transfer.  The sun is solar flaring in excitement.

Easy Peasy?  Not exactly.  OPALS project manager Michael Kokorowski likened the feat to hitting a human hair with a laser pointer from 20 feet away … while walking.  Suffice to say, the 600-pound laser is still in beta mode, but its future looks promising to us.

Quote of the Week

“More likely, we are a big mistake and the cute little puppy dogs that should have dominated the Earth have been trumped by a glitch called humans.” – Harvard University biologist Gary Ruvkun, speaking about printing humans on another planet.  (Yep, you read that right.)

Things That Can Be Bought By Google

Skybox Imaging.  Last week we talked about the big G’s plans to invest in satellites.  The wait is over, friends.  Google struck a deal to acquire satellite producer Skybox Imaging for $500 million.  Google says that Skybox’s satellites will help keep its Maps accurate with up-to-date imagery.  Over time, they plan to use Skybox’s technology in order to bring Internet access to unwired regions of the globe.  Such gents.

Virgin Galactic.  Sky News has reported that the Mammoth out of Mountain View is in advanced talks to take a “small” stake in Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Loose lips sink ships, but people in the know are saying it’s $30 million for a 1.5% stake.  There are also murmurings of a joint venture between the two.  Stay tuned, sports fans.

What to Say to Your Friend Who’s Nervous About It Being Friday the 13th

Astronauts are a superstitious bunch, too.  Multiply that if they’re cosmonauts.  Let’s just say there are gold pom-poms, viewings of The White Sun of the Desert, listening to Russian love songs on the launch pad and — to be politely inexplicit — displays of relief that require the help of suit technicians (see #9).

What to Say to Your Friend Who Just Touched Down in Rio …

NASA’s got the best seat in the house, mate.  America’s favorite space agency just released a Flickr account with shots from space of every participating country.  You’re welcome for your rotating desktop background for the next 32 days.

What to Google When Stressing About Acid Lakes

Italian scientists from the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Catania, Italy have successfully used data from an orbiting satellite six miles above Earth to measure the temperature, thickness and volume of volcanic lava. They say the technique could be used to monitor volcanoes across the planet.  (Cue the Really!?! commentary out of Pompeii)

Things to Know

FURLOUGH.  A temporary leave of absence.  Sometimes granted to people accused of always getting special treatmentBP knows what I’m talking about.

C is for Crew Module.

Brazil is beautiful at night.

NatGeo has compiled the best, most recent space pictures for us.

When it comes to space travel, things are looking up.

Netflix is bringing back The Magic School Bus.  Because kids need science education.  And we all need Ms. Frizzle.

(Always give credit where credit is due. I owe everything I know about writing to theSkimm. If you’re not a subscriber, you’re missing out.)

Image sources: Chandra X-ray Observatory, 

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