Category Archives: Science/Technology

Moon Landing: 50 years since, between and beyond

It started off as one small step for man, continued to one giant leap for mankind. Having humans on the moon will soon find ourselves in a fearless flight for future exploration.

Today marks 50 years since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin step foot outside of the command module and onto the lunar surface. Even though it’s been 50 years since, it remains one of the most crowning technological achievements of mankind.

The Apollo 11 landing was the first of six crewed moon landings of the America’s Apollo program in that eras Space Race, the last coming in December 1972. No other man from any country has landed on the moon since.

Many have since wondered why have we not returned to the moon, or have gone beyond the moon, when will we ever go back to the moon and even if we ever really landed on the moon. All good questions, but don’t seem to be universally known and accepted by the general public. There are several real factors in determining a viable trip there and beyond. Factors that stretch the limits of our science and technology.

For starters, regarding the question on if we’ve ever actually landed on the moon, there’s undeniable proof that can been seen and measured from items left there from the Apollo missions. As far as why we haven’t gone back and when will we go back are a little more ambiguous. Naturally a big part of that reasoning is financial. At one point in the late 1960s NASA’s budget was just under five percent of our national budget. These days it not have half of one percent.

And speaking of funding. There’s a couple very important elements that have to be factored. Not the least of which is how you would have to break the law of gravity. Gravity could easily be one of the most underappreciated forces in the universe. Quite literally, it surrounds us, it penetrates us and it holds our world together. Without careful planning, construction and design, everything on Earth is meant to go down and stay on the ground. It’s a force that keeps it there. It’ll only take a greater, expensive and technical force to defeat gravity to travel several thousands of miles away. And it’s those thousands of miles that present another hurdle.

To leave Earth’s atmosphere would take a vessel approximately 50 miles. Could be done in a couple minutes with proper propellant. But after that 50 miles, that vessel would have to go about another 239,950 miles to get to the moon. That would be like taking a flight from the United States to China 25 times in a row. It’s not Mars, but it’s definitely not close.

But we did do it though, six times. But was it not important enough to keep doing it? Well, sorta…it was as important enough. There was a purpose to launching into space and getting humans on the moon. On the surface it’s probably something more loftier like to explore the outer reaches of our solar system, or to make humans an interplanetary species, to seek out new life and civilization, or just to boldly go where no man has gone before. But in actuality the main reason was political, and to beat Russia.

Modern warfare began with the nuclear program after America used the bombs in Japan. Since then it was a race to outdo the other with Russia; a race that we were winning. The nuclear race led to innovations of delivery systems of those bombs. In 1957, the Russians successfully launched Sputnik, a rocket propelled satellite into space. It was then Americans realized not only were they hopelessly embarrassed by the technological advances of Russia, but now they had the ability to delivery a nuclear-tipped rocket to the mainland U.S. in just minutes. They had to be one-upped. In comes the Space Race.

Russians launched a satellite in space, the U.S. launches a satellite in space. Russians launch a person in space, U.S. launches a person into space. Russians completes a spacewalk, the U.S. completes a spacewalk. Back and forth it went for years, each time the Americans coming in second. But in this Cold War era, the U.S. could not come in second to Russia in anything. A moon landing would be the homerun we’d need to take the lead for good.

In just 11 years after the United States launched our first rocket into space, and the creation of NASA,  and after 13 near perfect test space missions, the U.S. was able to make it to the moon with a crew on board. But going just once wasn’t good enough to secure America’s dominance of victory in making it to the moon. U.S. astronauts would go to the moon six times in three years. The U.S. had won the space race, and the future to the cosmos was ours.

Then reality sat in. The reality as in, if you’ve won a race, there’s no need to run any longer. Kennedy, who didn’t care about space as much as caring about beating Russians, was dead. Further moon exploration wasn’t accomplishing anything significant. And NASA’s free-flow of funding from the national budget was cut drastically after the Apollo program was done. Grant it, there was still missions to be completed, space explorations to be done, we do have an International Space Station, and a previous shuttle program, but nothing as daunting as a moon landing. Without the motivation, and the money, going  to the moon was not a priority to the United States government.

But who really needs government. Government money that is. Today, we have a new Space Race. The Billionaire Space Race. Private companies are now throwing their hat into space exploration, along with the government to accomplish further moon exploration. Some people like to think Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos mavericks. Fortunately for them, we have our own “maverick” in the White House. President Trump is set on going back to the moon as well. He set a timeline, which has now been moved up to about five years from now. NASA’s Artemis program (the twin sister to Apollo) will be the next mission to the moon.

But as it stands, we await to see what the future will bring us. For now though, we celebrate the accomplishment that man made 50 years ago. Traveling a 1000 times further than our current International Space Station, to succeed in a feat that several other countries have tried and failed, or just cannot fathom a path to success. Just remember, the United States did it 50 years ago, with technology less than the equivalent of the device you are reading this article. Think about that. That’s what makes it such an achievement.



Total Recall: A cure to PTSD. A reality?

BrainHas a cure for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder been discovered? The illness that has plagued millions over time as being the root of a varied amount of deviant behavior could be on its way to extinction.

Scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently published a study of a process of erasing memories, or more particularly bad memories. PTSD, often triggered by a memory, is a traumatic moment in someone’s life when he or she is exposed to a sexual assault or a threat of injury or death.  That memory has led to several criminal and immoral transgressions within our society. Specifically thousands of servicemen are diagnosed with PTSD every year. In many cases, when not treated properly, we’ve seen veterans homeless, violent and suicidal, all because of this illness. This illness that’s linked to memories is one of many that are extremely hard to cure. Maybe that’s all coming to an end.

In the MIT study, a gene called Tet1 is used to erase the bad memory, essentially by making the process of creating new memories more efficient. And when there’s not enough space for the two memories, the good new memory suppresses the fear memory. Le-Huei Tsai, director of MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, told Discovery News of the study, in which the most significant findings deals with reducing and eliminating fear.

The experiment they used involved mice in a cage that would shock them, but once they learned to fear that cage, they were put in the same cage but not shocked. The mice that were injected with Tet1 were no longer afraid of the cage once the new memories were formed without the shock. Without the Tet1 gene, mice continued to fear the cage even if there was no shock delivered.

Mice were also used in a similar experiment. Earlier this summer, some of the same scientist at MIT were able to create false memories. Neuroscientist Steve Ramirez and his colleagues manipulated a specific memory of a mouse to make it believe something had happened when it hadn’t.  Researchers say that while it’s still a bit far off for human test, it is possible, and there’s no reason to believe that it wouldn’t happen the same way as it did with mice.

If any of that sounds familiar, it’s what was portrayed on the big screen in the science fiction film Total Recall. In fact in several science fiction films, shows and books we’ve seen the consciousness of people altered to forget things, remember things, act good, or bad, whatever the genius in the lab coat wanted them to do. Well with implanting new memories, or replacing bad ones with them, these genius will bring us much closer to a remedy that causes so much pain and distress to millions.

Rendering PTSD useless is one way this research could be applied to humans. But imagine your worst memory, replaced with pleasantries. Or any fear, anxiety or addiction gone, like you never knew it was there.

Not for nothin’ but while it may not be the way to extravagant vacations without leaving your chair, this is a huge scientific breakthrough nonetheless. The brain is the one part of the human body that’s the most difficult to manipulate. Technology is bringing us closer to seeing inside us to truly find out how and why we operate. The thing that sits inside our head is the ultimate final frontier.

Changing socialization, one hashtag at a time

hashtagThe Facebook is changing again. Hopefully this time around people won’t see much of a difference. The social media giant announced this week that they are adding the coveted hyperlinked hashtag symbol to their arsenal of microblogging.

As we’ve seen on Twitter, Instagram and other sites here and there, hashtagging is a way of grouping topics in an online social medium. It was a long time coming for the change, but pretty much inevitable considering the popularity of hashtagging on Twitter. That and many people were already hashtagging on Facebook anyway.

Now we will see all of our favorite topics grouped together on a larger scale. Also with this new change we could likely see a significant change with online socialization and possibly a stark change with socialization altogether.

A hashtag is the “#” symbol that we’ve seen before. Often called the number sign, or pound, if you will, the terminology of “hashtag” is taking the symbol by storm being what most recognize it by these days.

By adding a simple “#” to the front of any word or phrase, you are instantly connected by a hyperlink to anyone else who used those same words or phrases. Commonly known as trending, it’s also used to spark discussion or promote items, businesses and ideas.

Hashtags are also used to make the meaning of your message standout. Essentially that would be a word or phrase that gives definition to what you are saying, at the end of what you’re saying. Although not necessarily a trending topic, it’s there for context.

It was that context that gave hashtagging its popularity on Facebook. Even though a hashtag virtually had no purpose on Facebook because it’s not hyperlinked, people still used it after posting what they wanted to say to add more emphasis.

Grant it, there were those times when users who would update their Facebook status and tweet at the same time, using the hashtag for Twitter purposes primarily. But when we see a Facebook status that’s more than 140 characters, but the user has decided to hashtag a word at the end, you know it was solely for Facebook. One or two words okay. But it would bug me and become ridiculous when we’d see users who would run multiple word phrases together with a hashtag. But because there was no hyperlink and no purpose, it was hard to read and made the user look stupid. So in comes the change to make Facebook hashtags relevant.

Not for nothin’ but with the amount of people using Facebook versus Twitter, and other places we see hashtags, this could unleash more connectivity among the people of the world. Its definitely going to change Facebook from merely a way of connecting with friends to a way of making new friends.

The popularity of hashtags and Twitter can go hand in hand. But with close to five times as many users on Facebook, hashtagging will explode. All it takes is one cute status update on how awesome the San Francisco 49ers are (that would be #49ers) and instantly I could have millions of other 49er fans see and agree. You will find that even the most obscure things you find of interest could be a shared interest of hundreds of thousands around the world.

We are finding little reason these days to feel alone.

More than a giant leap for mankind

Mars OneWant to make Columbus, Magellan and Marco Polo seem like they were playing in a kiddie pool? Apply and be one of the first people to set foot on the planet Mars. Monday, an organization called Mars One announced they are taking applications to send people to Mars… permanently.

Mars One is a Dutch company whose sole purpose is to establish the first human colony on Mars in 10 years. The expensive six billion dollar price tag is actually lessened because it’s a one-way trip. Of course we’ve heard of potential space explorations to Mars, culminating in a colonization of the red planet. The idea doesn’t exclusive rest in the fictional realm. Technology remains a big deterrence from Mars exploration to Mars colonization, as the big question of “how are we going to get back?” has yet to be tangibly answered. So in comes Mars One.

Mars One, is essentially a process that starts with selecting astronauts, to communication satellite and supply launches, to the first group of four settlers in 2023, a second group in 2025 and as many as 20 in 2033. To compare, the Curiosity rover in 2011 cost NASA $2.5 billion. That was just a car-sized robot. How Mars One plans to spend their $6 billion budget plan rest in big donor sponsors, a great media push and our culture’s thirst for reality TV.

It won’t be like Survivor, Big Brother or any of the Got Talent programs. Think Olympics, but not just for a few weeks, but more like a few years. We’d be able to follow along with the selection of astronauts, training, lift-off and landing. Of course all of this would come complete with the publicity and advertising bids that you’d expect to help sell and fund this undertaking.

Colonization of MarsSo how do you choose the first person on the face of the Earth to become the first person on the face of Mars? Within the past year over 10,000 people have inquired about becoming transplant Martians. But as of Monday, anyone in the world can throw their name in with an online application and a small fee.

At the end of August of this year the Mars One group will select their applicants in this first round of the selection process. After three more rounds of training an intense seven-year training period will be required for the select few. And just like any good reality show, when they get to about two or three dozen the final four will be decided by audience participation. As long as you are ready for a lifetime of challenges, are in good physical and mental health and have a few key character traits you could be the first person on Mars.

Not for nothin, but you have to first agree to be evicted from Earth. Some people are already there, like those who have completely lost their mind. Others who are considering this are trying to lose their minds, or their lives. It’s a risky proposition and Mars One is preying on people’s fascination to pay for their venture and to be their human guinea pigs. To add, much of the criticism of the project comes not with the technology of making this all possible, but with the funding it’ll take. The $6 billion is just for the first flight.

Not saying its a bad idea. If this comes to fruition anyone who becomes part of the first human colony on another planet would go down in history as among the greatest human beings of all time, likely to jump right to the top of the list. So once you endure a seven month flight in space just to get there and prepare yourself for a lifetime of isolation with very little human contact in a dangerous and daring environment that no other human has ever faced, how would you bask in your glow of greatness? Easy answer is you wouldn’t have to worry about that.

The Feat of a Fall

Felix Baumgartner jumps from space
Felix Baumgartner jumps from space

Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner defied natural human ability and experience Sunday afternoon by jumping from space above Earth to free fall all the way back to ground. The incredible stunt to attempt to break a skydiving record took place early Sunday afternoon. Baumgartner took off in a helium balloon and flew close to 25 miles above Earth into the Stratosphere then jumped out. During the fall, he reached speeds of over 800 miles per hour breaking the sound barrier before deploying his parachute and falling back down to Earth. Baumgartner actually broke several records in the process and would go on to catch the attention of the world as thousands of people were able to watch it unfold on live TV.  The extreme nature of the act which now has the world buzzing is being heralded as one of the most dangerous exploits ever attempted and an experience that now only one person can say they have had. In which case now he is the only one who can answer the question. Was it worth it?

Felix Baumgartner teamed up with Red Bull to put together the project. The mission had Baumgartner in a small capsule attached to the balloon which left an airport in Roswell, New Mexico at approximately 9:30 a.m. It would take over two hours to arrive at the final destination of 24 miles up and after a few last-minute checks, he was ready to go. Baumgartner stood at the edge of the capsule looking down at the Earth and said, “I know the whole world is watching now. I wish you could see what I can see. Sometimes you have to be up really high to understand how small you are. I’m coming home now.” He saluted and jumped. After 42 seconds of falling he reached his max speed of 834 mph, or Mach 1, easily going faster than the speed of sound. Close to another three and a half minutes later the opened his parachute and after another five minutes he finally made it back to Earth. Baumgartner fell short of his effort  to become the longest free faller, but he was able to break records for highest manned balloon flight (at 24.261 miles), highest skydive (119,846 ft), and he became the first human to break the sound barrier without vehicular assistance (834.4 mph/Mach 1.24).

Felix Baumgartner
Felix Baumgartner

We’ve seen so-called “adrenaline junkies” do some amazing things. They climb the highest of mountains, jump from perfectly good airplanes and fall from heights with just a cord attached to them. All of which provides some level of extraordinary danger so that a person could get a “rush”. Rush, being what you get from the chemical produced by the human body commonly known as adrenaline. Because of the danger, fear, or anxiety produced by the act, practitioners present themselves with the fight or flight option that could rival some narcotics. Felix Baumgartner has been doing this essentially his whole adult life. Skydiving and BASE jumping at various places around the world. But this last escapade was his most thrilling of all of his thrill seeking adventures. Anyone would have to admit, traveling faster than the speed of sound is pretty cool.

Not for nothin’ but I’m sure it was very worth. Well at least it had to been for him. It was worth it for scientist who were gathering data for a new generation of pressurized suits. It was worth it for Red Bull for the exposure to the company. Everyone watching had to be glued to watch Baumgartner fall for over 20 miles. But many of us are left scratching our heads, mainly asking the question, would you do it? Part of the whole thrill-seeking culture I have yet to understand. People climb a mountain because it’s there, you can’t move it so go around it. Sometimes planes go down and you’d have to jump from them before they crash. But Felix Baumgartner dedicated years and considerable resources for literally 15 minutes of fame? Don’t know how profitable it was for him, but perhaps the sole purpose was to benefit from the high.