Under the watchful eyes of anxious engineers, NASA's $2.4 billion Mars Science Laboratory rover has taken its first baby steps, rolling a few feet forward and back in an environmentally controlled clean room.
It was a seemingly modest test for an unfinished spacecraft that still faces technical challenges and months of assembly and testing. But with landing on the Red Planet now just two years away, the short drive on July 23 marked a major milestone for the men and women building the car-size rover.
"It's gone from designs on napkins to PowerPoint, to CAD drawings, … Read more
The International Space Station's coolant system is back up and running normally after a challenging three-spacewalk repair job, astronauts said Thursday.
The fix allows the crew to power up science equipment and other systems that had to be shut down when an ammonia pump shorted out July 31.
In an interview with CBS News, the station's three NASA astronauts--robot arm operator Shannon Walker and spacewalkers Douglas Wheelock and Tracy Caldwell Dyson--said the impromptu repair went well, despite unexpected problems.
"I think it was really NASA at its finest with all the teams on the ground and the … Read more
A new study shows that despite regular exercise, astronauts on long-duration spaceflights experience significant muscle wasting and a surprising loss of force, reducing their efficiency in space and their ability to respond to emergencies when returning to Earth.
The research suggests the reduction in the capacity for work after six months in space can exceed 40 percent, which would temporarily reduce the performance of a returning astronaut to that of an 80-year-old. The study suggests more effective exercise techniques are required to keep astronauts in shape during long missions.
Robert Fitts of Marquette University, lead author of a paper published … Read more
Getting more accurate forecasts about space weather may not help you decide whether to water your garden, but it could soon clue you in better to when events in the solar system may be putting a damper on your electronic activities.
Johns Hopkins University, Boeing, and Iridium Communications announced on Wednesday that they have launched a new space-based service that they say will help scientists monitor magnetic storms around Earth.
Dubbed the Active Magnetosphere and Planetary Electrodynamics Response Experiment (AMPERE), the system utilizes commercial satellites orbiting Earth to take magnetic-field measurements in real time. The result is output that gets … Read more
NASA seems to be continuously developing rovers to explore and possibly colonize the moon and Mars, but none is as downright bizarre as the Athlete, an imposing, spidery robot that H.G. Wells might love.
Initially built in 2005, the latest-generation Athlete (or, All-Terrain Hex-Limbed Extra-Terrestrial Explorer) is actually two three-limbed robots that join together to form a platform for transporting payloads weighing up to 990 pounds in Earth gravity.
At full height when standing, the prototype is about 13 feet tall, but that's only half the size of what a launch version of Athlete might be.
We all know what it's like to send a text message or e-mail whose tone is completely misinterpreted. A series of additional messages to better explain ourselves ensues and the efficiency of the original message is long gone.
That's one reason engineers at the University of Washington are testing a tool called MobileASL that uses motion detection to identify American Sign Language and transmit images over U.S. cell networks. Sometimes, words alone just don't cut it.
"Sometimes with texting, people will be confused about what it really means," says Tong Song, a Chinese national who is studying at Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf in Washington, D.C., and participating in UW's summer pilot test. "With the MobileASL, phone people can see each other eye to eye, face to face, and really have better understanding."
Eve Riskin, a UW professor of electrical engineering, says the MobileASL team's study of 11 students is the first to examine how deaf and hearing-impaired people in the U.S. use mobile video phones. The researchers plan to launch a larger field study this winter.
The engineers are now working to optimize compressed video signals for sign language, increasing the quality of the images around the face and hands to reduce the data rate to 30 kilobytes per second. To minimize the amount of battery power, the phones employ motion sensors to determine whether sign language is being used.… Read more
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--Astronauts Douglas Wheelock and Tracy Caldwell Dyson wrapped up a successful spacewalk Monday, installing a new ammonia pump to help flight controllers recover from a failure that shut down half the International Space Station's cooling systems.
"We had an extremely successful EVA today," Kirk Shireman, deputy manager of the space station program at the Johnson Space Center, said after the spacewalk. "We're very pleased with the results. We still have some more activities this afternoon and tomorrow to fully recover from the pump module failure, but things are certainly looking positive … Read more
A new NASA mission aims to come to grips with the way nature whips up hurricanes.
Set to begin Sunday, the agency's six-week Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes (GRIP) mission will see a series of planes outfitted with sophisticated instruments take to the skies in an attempt to understand the birth of a hurricane, in order to give people a better chance to prepare for them.
This is NASA's first domestic hurricane project since 2001 and its largest ever. Three NASA planes, several satellites, and four planes from research partners will team up to measure tropical storms as … Read more
If you think robots are heartless piles of plastic and silicon, you're correct. But soccer-playing humanoid robot Nao has been evolving by developing "emotions" under a European project and is now being used in the U.S. in sessions to treat autistic children.
Under the recently concluded Feelix Growing project--aimed at designing bots that can detect and respond to human emotional cues--researchers at the University of Hertfordshire's Adaptive Systems Group and other centers have been trying to get Nao to simulate human emotions.
Researcher Lola Canamero and colleagues have been programming Nao--created by Aldebaran Robotics and used worldwide as a research bot--based on how human and chimpanzee infants interact with others. Working with a budget of some $3.2 million, the researchers have been trying to create robots that can be better companions for people.
In a gushing report, the Daily Mail has hailed Nao as "the first robot capable of developing emotions and forming bonds with humans."
Robot fans who remember Sony's robot dog Aibo, discontinued in 2006, will recall that it had a range of synthetic emotions and could "grow" emotionally according to how it interacted with its owner.
It's no surprise that the researchers have also been experimenting with Aibo, including the cyberpup and Nao in a "robot nursery" designed to incubate emotional behaviors. Nao can so far express excitement, anger, fear, sadness, happiness, and pride, and supposedly has the "emotional skills" of a 1-year-old child.
Using its facial-recognition skills, Nao can become attached to people who help it learn, just like a human infant. When confronted with an unfamiliar situation, or when neglected by its human caregiver, Nao can become agitated. It will remember past experiences it interprets as positive or negative. … Read more
How do you send a robot to space? Very, very carefully.
When Robonaut 2 heads to the International Space Station this fall, it won't be strapped into a seat like its astronaut companions. Instead, it will be carefully packed inside dense foam and an aluminum frame that's specially designed to withstand the intense vibrations and gravity forces the bot will experience during its ascent into orbit.
Engineers have spent several months devising the best way to secure the humanoid, nicknamed R2, so it arrives at the ISS unharmed. The engineers concocted a plan to attach the robot to … Read more