November 6, 2014

String Field Theory Could be the Foundation of Quantum Mechanics (Source:
Two USC researchers have proposed a link between string field theory and quantum mechanics that could open the door to using string field theory - or a broader version of it, called M-theory - as the basis of all physics. "This could solve the mystery of where quantum mechanics comes from," said Itzhak Bars. Rather than use quantum mechanics to validate string field theory, the researchers worked backwards and used string field theory to try to validate quantum mechanics. (11/4)

Image Shows Never-Before-Seen Detail in a Solar System Being Born (Source: Air & Space)
Astronomers at ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, have used the telescope's exquisite resolution to take the best-ever picture of planet formation. In the image, young planet-like objects are forming around HL Tau, a sun-like star about 450 million light years away.

Gas and dust are swirling in a protoplanetary disk around the star, slowly bumping and coalescing as gravity pulls them into more and more substantial objects. Astronomers have never been able to see such clearly defined gaps in the disk, which make it appear as a series of rings. These gaps are made as the planets form and grow, pushing away or sweeping up debris in their orbits. Click here. (11/6)

The Break-Off Effect (Source: Fast Company)
At first they thought it was asthma. The fighter squadron's 37-year-old commander suddenly started refusing to fly at high altitudes because of mysterious breathing problems. He also struggled to control feelings of wrath toward his coworkers, and that made him hyperventilate. It was only later that the commander would tell a Navy psychologist what really triggered him: That while flying at the edge of the troposphere, “a frightening feeling of detachment” set in. There, in the halo of thin silence surrounding the earth in 1956, he didn’t trust his own mind not to self-destruct.

The atmosphere gets threadbare above 45,000 feet. There are fewer nitrogen and oxygen molecules to populate the air, the colors start to deepen and change. Higher than that, at roughly 70,000 feet, some pilots and engineers say you can grasp the curvature of the earth. Strange things have happened to the human mind at those heights. A year after the commander reported his symptoms, a Navy medical officer and a psychologist published a study on a dissociative anomaly pilots experienced while flying at high altitudes.

The “break-off" phenomenon, they called it. Not many pilots wanted to tell shrinks about break-off. Talking about your feelings was the opposite of what you were supposed to do as a hyper-masculine alpha pilot. A few pilots were willing to take that risk. Of the pilots that did report breaking-off, most felt peaceful, others totally euphoric. And then there was the other group. More than a third of the break-off pilots freaked out. Click here. (11/5)

The Surreal Task of Landing on a Comet (Source: Scientific American)
On November 12th 2014 the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission will eject the small robotic lander Philae on a trajectory that should take it down to the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (or 67P/C-P for short). Already Rosetta is maneuvering from its 10 kilometer orbit to get into the right place to deploy Philae.

The landing site is on the ‘head’ of the rubber-duck shaped cometary nucleus (although it might also be likened to a half-eaten, and rather rotten apple core). This target area has now been named ‘Agilkia’ after an island in the Nile river here on Earth – a place where the ancient Temple of Isis was moved to after its original island home of Philae was flooded during the construction of the Aswan dam. Click here. (11/4)

NASA Sites Across US Vulnerable to Climate Change (Source:
NASA has been at the forefront of climate science, launching satellites that take the pulse of Earth's land, oceans and atmospheric systems, gathering data on climate, weather and natural hazards. But the agency is increasingly vulnerable itself to the effects of a changing climate.

Hurricane Isabel partially flooded the Langley Research Center in Virginia in 2003; Hurricane Frances damaged the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 2004; and Hurricane Katrina damaged buildings at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi in 2005, among recent incidents. Other facilities have been damaged or threatened by tornadoes and wildfires. Click here. (11/5)

Orbital Announces Go-Forward Plan for Commercial Cargo and Antares (Source: Orbital)
Orbital Sciences Corp. announced comprehensive plans to fulfill its contract commitments under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program as well as to accelerate an upgrade of the Antares launcher’s propulsion system. Under the new approach, all remaining cargo will be delivered to the International Space Station (ISS) by the end of 2016. There will be no cost increase to NASA and only minor adjustments will be needed to the cargo manifest.

An Accident Investigation Board (AIB) is addressing preliminary evidence of a probable turbopump-related failure in one of the two Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ26 stage one main engines. As a result, the use of these engines for the Antares vehicle likely will be discontinued. Orbital plans an early introduction of its previously selected Antares propulsion system upgrade in 2016.

This will be preceded by one or two non-Antares launches of the company’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the ISS in 2015-2016. In addition, the company expects repairs to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) launch complex at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility to be undertaken quickly, allowing launch operations to continue at Wallops Island with the upgraded Antares beginning in 2016. (11/5)

NASA Wants to Build Lytro's Camera Tech Into Space Probes (Source: Mashable)
Lytro has big ambitions that go way beyond just selling a few technically impressive cameras. The company behind the "shoot first, focus later" camera wants nothing less than to evolve traditional the entire field of photography with tools that incorporate depth, dimensionality and computation.

To that end, Lytro is releasing a program to license its technology to third parties. The Lytro Platform will enable businesses and government agencies to build upon the company's unique imaging tech for applications separate from consumer photography.

Lytro says one of the first organizations to buy the Lytro Development Kit (LDK) is the Department of Defense, who has plans to adapt the light-field camera to build better night-vision goggles. NASA is another client, aiming to install the imaging tech into space probes. (11/6)

Virgin Plans Continued Test Flights in 2015 (Source: Huffington Post)
The space tourism company that suffered a tragic setback when its experimental rocket-powered spaceship broke apart over the California desert could resume test flights as early as next summer if it can finish building a replacement craft, its CEO said Wednesday. The sleek composite shell and tail section of the new craft are sitting inside the company's manufacturing facility in Mojave, California.

After more than two years of work, it's beginning to look like a spaceship, but Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said there's much more to be done, from relatively simple things such as installing windows to the more complex fitting of flight controls and other wiring.

The ship — dubbed SpaceShipTwo Serial No. 2 — will replace one that was destroyed last week after its feathering system that controls descent deployed prematurely and aerodynamic forces ripped it apart, killing the co-pilot and seriously injuring the pilot. In the wake of the accident, workers have focused on building the new ship. (11/5)

African States Endorse Installation of a Mega Radio Telescope (Source: Xinhua)
Nine African countries on Tuesday agreed on modalities of setting up one of the world's largest radio telescopes that will revolutionize space science in the continent. Government officials meeting in Nairobi said the countries have finalized the harmonization of policies and laws to facilitate the installation of the radio telescope dubbed Square Kilometer Array (SKA). (11/5)

European Satellite Gaia Could Discover Thousands of Planets (Source: Science Daily)
A recently launched European satellite could reveal tens of thousands of new planets within the next few years, and provide scientists with a far better understanding of the number, variety and distribution of planets in our galaxy. Researchers calculated that the observational satellite Gaia could detect as many as 21,000 exoplanets during its five-year mission. If extended to 10 years, Gaia could detect as many as 70,000 exoplanets. (11/5)

Parallel Universes May Interact With And Affect Our Own Universe (Source: IFL Science)
The concept of parallel universes has been depicted frequently in science fiction, without any real evidence that they actually exist. Howard Wiseman of Griffith University in Australia led a team that believes quantum theory allows for multiple versions of our universe to exist and overlap, and even interact with one another on the quantum level.

Studying the nuances of quantum theory can get tricky, as things behave contrary to what would be expected from ordinary matter. Quantum states of a system are believed to simultaneously exist in all possible configurations until an observer forces it to adopt one state. Click here. (11/5)

Why Our Galaxy's Black Hole Didn't Eat Mystery Object (Source: Discovery)
In 2011, astronomers were excited to discover a large cloud of gas careening toward the supermassive black hole that resides in the center of the Milky Way. But earlier this year, astronomers discovered that far from being eaten by the black hole — which is located in a radio-emitting region called Sagittarius A* (or, simply, Sgr A*) — the cloud of gas carried on its merry way, orbiting past the gravitational behemoth. Click here. (11/5)

Virgin Galactic Pilot Defied the Odds to Survive Crash (Source: LA Times)
At almost twice the height of Mt. Everest, the air is dangerously thin and the temperature is about 70 degrees below zero. It was a real world case of survival in the face of disaster, like the movie "Gravity." Siebold managed to deploy his parachute and land in the Mojave Desert. His shoulder was smashed and a fellow pilot described him as "pretty banged up." He was discharged from the hospital Monday.

"The fact that he survived a descent of 50,000 feet is pretty amazing," said Paul Tackabury, a veteran test pilot who sat on the board of directors of Scaled Composites until it was sold to Northrop Grumman Corp. "You don't just jump out of aircraft at Mach 1 at over 50,000 feet without a spacesuit." Siebold's partner, 39-year-old copilot Michael Alsbury, was found dead, strapped into his seat in the wreckage.

The exact details of Siebold's more than 10-mile fall are still unknown. On Monday night, federal investigators said they still had not been able to interview him. "We don't know how he got out," National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Eric Weiss said Tuesday. (11/5)

Editorial: Space And Entertainment Worlds Not So Far Apart (Source: Aviation Week)
Elon Musk seems to be successful in all his other businesses, be it Tesla or SolarCity, implying he may have found a miracle recipe to break through markets where incumbents—be they defense and space conglomerates, car manufacturers or energy companies—have traditionally crushed potentially disruptive entrants. So what could this miracle recipe be?

Years ago, I was a consultant to a European startup that wanted to revive the old Zeppelin’s rigid airship design on a large scale for multiple applications, from freight transport to luxury passenger cruises. At first glance, the idea was appealing, to bring back to life a proven technology to offer an environment-friendly, safe, economical and versatile mode of transportation that could help alleviate road and airport congestion in the busiest parts of Europe. Yet the venture never took off beyond preliminary studies.

In hindsight, four main reasons stand out: lack of resources, lack of talent, no “system approach” and no “dream” to connect with. Just reverse those causes for failure and you possibly have Elon Musk’s recipe for success. The first two, while obvious, are not easy to get. Not everybody has lots of cash to start a company and the charisma and self-confidence to attract top talent. (11/3)

Space Club Names Kolcum Award Winners & Inducts Hall of Fame Recipients (Source: NSCFL)
The National Space Club - Florida Committee (NSCFL) will honor Irene Klotz of Reuters and Alysia K. Lee of Abacus Technology with the 2014 Harry Kolcum Memorial News and Communications Award during its monthly luncheon meeting. NSC will also recognize the successes of the Florida space worker with its first annual NSC Space Worker Hall of Fame recognition. Twelve individuals were chosen for the 2014 Hall of Fame class. The November 12 recognition event will be held at the Radisson Resort at the Port Convention Center in Cape Canaveral at 11:30 am. (11/4)

Dark Matter May Be Massive (Source: Case Western)
The physics community has spent three decades searching for and finding no evidence that dark matter is made of tiny exotic particles. Case Western Reserve University theoretical physicists suggest researchers consider looking for candidates more in the ordinary realm and, well, more massive. Dark matter is unseen matter, that, combined with normal matter, could create the gravity that, among other things, prevents spinning galaxies from flying apart. Physicists calculate that dark matter comprises 27 percent of the universe; normal matter 5 percent. (11/4)

U.S. Midterm Elections Reshape Leadership of Key Senate Committees (Source: Space News)
With the Republican Party winning control of the U.S. Senate, the new leadership of key committees may take a different approach to some key military space issues, although NASA is less likely to see a significant shift there. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is widely expected to assume the chairmanship of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

McCain has been a powerful and persistent advocate of competition in the national security launch market. He also has been a vocal critic of government launch services provider United Launch Alliance of Denver the past two years. Additionally, McCain was the author of language in the Senate’s defense authorization bill that would ultimately ban the use of Russian engines, including the RD-180.

On the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) is in line to take over chairmanship from Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), who spent much time and effort working on national security launch issues as well as questioning the Missile Defense Agency. Durbin has been a strong advocate of increased competition for national security launch missions. (11/5)

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