The year of the stargazers
As the worlds of science and technology continue to merge, the editors of CNET News.com decided it would be a natural progression to expand news coverage to include new fields such as space exploration, nanotechnology, biotechnology and robotics.
When it comes to science, the year 2005 might be remembered best for the raging debate in schools and the courts over teaching intelligent design vs. the theory of evolution to schoolchildren.
But apart from that, scientific communities were alive this year in many areas, including space exploration, artificial intelligence and bioinformatics, or the use of computer in the study of biology. Scientists also saw the woeful ramifications of global warming take effect through the likes of Hurricane Katrina and took steps to develop technologies to better forecast and communicate during disasters.
In the first shuttle mission since the destruction of Columbia in 2003, NASA launched the space shuttle Discovery to land at the International Space Station this year. And although the 14-day mission was successful in restocking the ISS, NASA temporarily grounded future flights of its aging shuttles after learning that a large chunk of insulating foam broke off Discovery's external fuel tank during launch. The action threw future missions into a state of uncertainty, and NASA announced in December that it hopes to pass on the job of transporting cargo and crew to and from the space station to private companies.
Meanwhile, NASA also started testing a series of robots such as Robonaut, which it hopes to put on a shuttle flight in 2007 as part of a program to develop bots to assist humans in outer space.
Another big theme this year was technology development for detecting natural calamities faster and alerting the populace beforehand. Disasters like the Indian Ocean tsunami of late 2004 and Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Gulf Coast in early September wreaked havoc on habitants of those areas, and prompted demand for better systems to understand, forecast and protect against future hazards.
The spread of the contagious disease Avian Influenza in Asia and into Europe this year also stoked fears that a pandemic is approaching--another cause for disaster preparedness technology.
Meanwhile, artificial intelligence got a big boost this year. Scientists around the country engineered AI-powered cars to race in the second annual DARPA Grand Challenge, a government sponsored 144-mile race in the desert. This year, for the first time, four contestants crossed the finish line, a milestone for the field of robotics and what will likely touch off a wave of innovation in cars and other products in the years to come.
Artificial intelligence technology is already catching on commercially. The Massachusetts-based robotics specialist iRobot went public in October and maintained healthy sales of its smart vacuum cleaner, the Roomba. The company also announced a follow-up product, the Scooba, which adds mopping capabilities to the device.
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Nonprofit wants to harness the computing power of millions and help people discover new planets and stars.
Scientists hope integrating cutting-edge technology projects will help predict and mitigate natural disasters.
Philosophers, technologists and, yes, writers debate whether today's technology is making for a brainier world.
Internet pioneer has big ideas for Google Earth and mobile phones. He's also got his eyes on outer space.
One of the world's most famous physicists offers his observations on the origin of the universe.
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Massive hurricane slams into the Gulf Coast, turning lives upside down. It's a long road ahead for recovery efforts.
Behind the headlines