Futuristic tech for daily living outshines outer spaceFeatured stories
Many of the leading breakthroughs in science and cutting edge technology in 2009 were focused on improving everyday living. But the year also saw some significant otherworldly discoveries--and even offered the promise of personal exploration of outer space.
Here on Earth, academics turned heads with bright white LEDs, more efficient cooling systems for computers and car electronics, and sonic lasers. Several existing technologies got significant improvements. Bridges and airplanes stand to become safer due to a new polymer material that changes color when under physical stress. Bus stops in San Francisco and Italy got makeovers from drab rain shelters to places that offer solar power, multilingual services, real-time information, and touch-screen computers.
Funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency facilitated the development of putty that can used in lieu of pins and screws for broken bones. The wow factor? The putty acts as chemical scaffolding to induce regeneration of a person's own bones, and then disintegrates as it's replaced with real bone.
DARPA and defense contractors showed their visions for the future of defensive technology. This year saw the introduction of self-replicating robots, unmanned aerial vehicles running on solar power and batteries, and robots made from morphing material.
Looking toward more lofty goals, the 40th anniversary year of Neil Armstrong's moon walk passed with both awe and frustration. NASA confirmed the existence of water in the form of ice on the moon, as well as buried ice on Mars, and gave the world a view of a significant impact on Jupiter.
But the agency also spent the year waiting for politicians to make funding decisions on America's participation in the International Space Station, and a manned space flight program. There was even talk of NASA possibly being rolled into U.S. Department of Defense. As 2009 comes to a close, a final decision still has not been reached, and the direction the U.S. space program will take remains vague.
But things did become easier for average people to explore the realm beyond. Google released Google Earth maps and historic maps of Mars, as well as roaming "street" views allowing virtual exploration of the Red Planet's terrain. Microsoft updated its WorldWide Telescope, a Web-based virtual telescope, to include over 100 terabytes of high-resolution image data, putting extensive views from NASA telescopes into the hands of anyone with an Internet connection.
We also came that much closer to commercial space travel becoming a reality. Virgin Galactic unveiled the Virgin Space Ship Enterprise, a rocket/plane for suborbital flights designed by legendary aircraft designer and X Prize winner Burt Rutan. If testing goes well, expect the first flights to begin toward the end of 2010.
Finally, the Large Hadron Collider, a particle accelerator that was meant to begin work last year, finally fired up in November. And so far, it's been humming along, performing its first collisions, its first beam acceleration, and setting a new record for beam intensity.
--by Candace Lombardi
President-elect is reportedly considering tearing down some of the walls between the two groups to make the U.S. more competitive with China in space exploration.
Google Earth 5.0 gives users the ability to explore the Red Planet, much the way they do with our own home planet.
NASA and Microsoft team up to make data of the universe available to the public via Microsoft's WorldWide Telescope.
Florence will get the first taste of bus stops with MIT-developed tech that tells you exactly where the bus is and when it's actually arriving.
'Fracture putty' may replace screws, plates, and rods to repair broken legs.
Mayor hopes to have 1,100 energy-efficient bus shelters in place by the end of 2013.
University researchers in the U.K. and the Ukraine develop the first laser to emit sound waves in the terahertz frequency range.
Work by a group of researchers could point the way to bright white, inexpensive LEDs down the road.
Hubble Space Telescope, still undergoing checkout after a shuttle servicing mission in May, takes dramatic pictures of Jupiter that show remnants of a presumed impact.
Recent data from three spacecraft provide clear evidence of lunar water, while a Mars orbiter discovers huge ice sheets buried on the Red Planet.
Mars' antique maps and latest streaming satellite images now viewable in Google Earth.
Final review submitted to White House Thursday presents five post-shuttle options, concludes NASA's planned shuttle replacement will cost too much and take too long.
Deliberate crash of an empty rocket stage in a permanently shadowed crater near the moon's south pole last month kicked up definitive signs of water ice, scientists say.
Nations plan to discuss expanded cooperation in space science and to start a "dialogue" on human space flight and exploration, according to a joint statement.
A gossamer cloud of LED-laced "bubbles" supported by towers may hover above London while broadcasting real-time data and images.
Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic finally unveils SpaceShipTwo, a commercial rocket plane designed to launch space tourists on the ultimate thrill ride--a suborbital flight into space.