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    Making a B.F. Goodrich Mercury Mark IV Helmet, Part 1

    When Adam commissioned us to make a hybrid NASA Mercury space program suit, we didn’t give much thought to the helmet or really any of the “hard parts” with the exception of the neck and wrist rings. We just figured that if anyone was interested in buying another suit, they would have to find a helmet on their own, and that we’d probably have to re-cast or find standalone MIG neck rings. Adam advised us they would be hard to find.

    But initial feedback from prospective customers indicated that we might not be able to sell many suits without including helmets and accessories. Pictured below are Adam’s suits. One with rings on the left and one without rings on right:

    Since Adam supplied the neck ring for the first build and we returned it to him, we had to find another for our third suit. We weren’t really in a hurry to find one but weeks passed and we saw nothing except MIG helmets with rings, so we bought one hoping maybe we could sell the MIG helmet later. The upside of buying the helmet and ring was understanding how the ring locked onto the helmet as Adam never sent us his helmet at this point for scrutiny. Now that we’ve had a closer look at his helmet during the Comic-Con Incognito walk, we can see he manufactured a similar locking system we have based on the MIG helmet and neck ring design.

    I remember Adam saying he needed another neck ring so I kept looking and eventually found one and bought it. Because it was expensive we considered recasting it in four-part molds for future projects. It wouldn’t be functional but may look good enough for some buyers.

    When I told Adam what we were planning and asked him where he got his helmets he offered to send us his spare helmet blank to re-cast but we would have to return it as it was his only one. I’ve never had quite this experience before. We’ve been lent stuff in the past but nothing that couldn’t be replaced easy enough. It was very generous for Adam to send his helmet so we didn't have to sculpt one from scratch, and really aligns with his philosophy of opening these projects up to makers. Above is a photo of what he sent over. We were absolutely thrilled to have access to it!

    Soviet Moon Colonization Dreams, Circa 1965

    Produced in 1965, this Soviet documentary was produced to educate citizens about Soviet rocket technology and what astronomers knew back then about the Moon. Its second half is a fantastic imagination of how humans might colonize the Moon in the distant future. Just great retrofuturist fodder, even if you can't understand the Russian. "The film consists of two parts: popular scientific and science-fiction. In the first part in the popular form the modern (1965) scientific convergence on the Moon are stated. In the second part the director and the artist create a picture of the future of the Moon." More context about the production of this video on The NewStatesman. (h/t io9)

    Here's The Drill Designed for Space Mining

    Like many good ideas, Dave Boucher’s Moon mining drill started as a sketch on a napkin. That was in 1999 (just one year after the space drilling adventures of Armageddon). But sometime this fall, his company Deltion Innovation’s latest prototype of a real Moon drill will go through one of its final tests. And with any luck, DESTIN — which stands for Drilling Exploration & Sample Technology Integrated — will be chosen to spearhead NASA’s lunar prospecting mission in 2018 or 2019, bringing us one step closer to leaving Earth forever and moving to the Moon.

    “Space mining has now become a must-do activity for every space agency in the world,” Boucher said in an interview earlier this year. “They all recognize that they have to be able to go mine in space just to support the missions that they're planning.”

    In other words, space mining isn’t so much about monetizing the supposed wealth of precious resources contained on the Moon’s surface (though, yes, there is apparently a lot). Not yet, at least. For now, it’s all about figuring out how to make future missions, manned or otherwise, self-sustainable — what’s known as In-Situ Resource Utilization — should we have any hope for the long-term exploration and colonization of world’s beyond our own.

    Of central interest for NASA’s prospecting mission are the pockets of water ice that satellite imagery believe exist in the Moon’s Polar Regions. “Water and oxygen extracted from lunar soil could be used for life support,” suggests a NASA document describing the eventual mission, “and methane produced from the Martian atmosphere could be used to refuel spacecraft for the trip back to Earth.”

    But we don’t know it’s there for sure. And that’s where Boucher’s drill comes in.

    How To Make A Replica Hybrid Mercury IV Pressure Suit

    (Editor's note: One of Adam's favorite costumes is his Mercury program spacesuit, which we've previously featured here on Tested. It's one of the costumes he wore at this year's Comic-Con. Elizabeth Galeria of The Magic Wardrobe, who made the costume in collaboration with Adam, reached out to us to share the process of designing and patterning this suit to meet Adam's specific needs and requests. This is the first in a series of articles in which Elizabeth and her partner explain their fabrication process fort his project. Feel free to ask Elizabeth--Tested user "antylyz"--questions directly in the comments section below.)

    An accurate replica of any costume or prop is only as good as the source images and what budget a “detail enthusiast” is willing to spend to get what’s envisioned. When Adam approached me to make him a Mercury suit, his celebrity factored into my quote. I really wanted to do this project having been a fan of MythBusters for many years.

    Adam had no shortage of images to show me so quoting him was pretty easy. It’s not often you get 100+ high-res images of the actual suits from the Smithsonian so I was able to count stitches-per-inch as is often the case needed for detail enthusiasts.

    Adam was very specific that all he wanted was someone to do the “soft parts” and he would provide all the “hard parts,” which made the project easy. Adam was also very specific about what details he liked about the various iterations of suits used by NASA in the Mercury space program, and he focused on the following image in particular.

    The biggest challenge in almost any replica costume or prop is finding the same or similar fabrics and materials used to make the original. Adam was very specific in describing the fabric he thought the original suit was made of. It's something he has described in his videos about the suit.

    In Brief: Physicists Make a Tractor Beam in Water

    Have you ever sat in the bathtub or swimming pool and made waves on the surface of the water with your hands to push or pull away a rubber duck? That's the basic idea behind what Australian physicists have been experimenting with in what popular media is calling "tractor beams" in water. Researchers at the Australian National University released a paper in Nature Physics describing how precise generation and manipulation of surface flows in a pool of water can force small objects to move against the direction of the resulting waves--returning to the source of the water disturbance. Computer models and tank experiments show how complicated and precise the movements have to be to get a desired result, but the researchers are hopeful that their discovery could be applicable for real-world tasks like collecting oil spills.

    Norman
    NASA's LDSD Supersonic Test Flight

    "Ian Clark, principal investigator of the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator, takes us through a play-by-play of NASA's recent 'flying saucer' Test in Hawaii, using high-definition video shot from cameras on board the test vehicle." NASA's LDSD technology demonstration mission explores the use of a supersonic parachute for use with landers on future missions to Mars.

    MIT's Gravity-Defying "Magnetic Hair"

    "MIT engineers have fabricated a new elastic material coated with microscopic, hairlike structures that tilt in response to a magnetic field. Depending on the field's orientation, the microhairs can tilt to form a path through which fluid can flow; the material can even direct water upward, against gravity." More information here.

    In Brief: The Science of Designing Slot Machines

    Among all the artifice and constructs in a Las Vegas casino, none may be more engineered to entrance visitors and suck their wallets dry than the venerable slot machine. The evolution of the one-armed bandit is the topic of this Vox feature, which chronicles the many innovations and psychological tricks that slow machine designers employ to keep players in those ergonomic stools. These games are another example of activities that tap into psychological "flow"--even the architecture of the casino floor is designed to make the most persistent players feel like they're holed up in a private nook, free from the outside world. It's pretty scary stuff. MIT cultural anthropologist Natasha Dow Schull, who was interviewed for Vox's report, has written a book about the ongoing manipulation of human-[slot]-machine interaction, and was previously featured in this 2013 episode of 99 Percent Invisible.

    Norman
    The Secret to Smarter Robots: Ants

    Your cat is stuck in a burning building too dangerous for rescue crews to go inside, so off go the drones instead – five little unmanned aerial models that hover and flit through fiery beams and door frames without any human control. They know to spread out to cover more ground, and know how to adjust their search patterns when the communication links with the other drones go down. Their algorithms find and retrieve your cat in what rescue crews tell you is record time.

    Or that's the dream anyhow, to one day build artificially intelligent, self-organizing robot systems that can collaborate on complex tasks – or, at the very least, rescue imperiled cats. We're not there yet, but researchers have been getting closer, thanks in part to what we're learning from the collective behavior of ants.

    Photo credit: National Geographic

    Look back through artificial intelligence literature from the past few decades and you'll find ant-inspired algorithms are a popular topic of study. Of note, Swiss artificial intelligence researcher Marco Dorigo was the first to algorithmically model ant colony behavior in the early 1990, and Stanford University biologist Deborah Gordon published her own study on the expandable search networks of ants a few years after. Today, both have different but related ideas on how we might implement so-called ant-inspired swarm intelligence in robots – and perhaps soon, drones – outside of the lab.

    Consider, for example, how ants explore and search. Ants change the way they scour for things such as food and water depending on the number of ants nearby. According to Gordon, if there is a high density of ants in an area, the ants search more thoroughly in small, random circles. If there are fewer ants, the ants adjust their paths to be straighter and longer, allowing them to cover more ground.

    Photo credit: NASA

    This is all well and good in typical ant environments – but how do the ants adapt when interference is introduced, and their communication with other ants interrupted? To find out, Gordon sent over 600 small, black pavement crawlers to the International Space Station in January, and believes that studying how they react to the unfamiliar microgravity of space could help build better robots. Her research is especially prescient in the age of the drone.

    In a Stanford news release, Gordon likened the interference introduced by microgravity as "analogous to the radio disruption that robots might experience in a blazing building." Depending on how Gordon's space ants adapt, she thinks the results when applied to robotics and artificial intelligence could help us program more efficient algorithms for search and exploration – especially when our robots are faced with unfamiliar environments, and with little to no human control.

    In Brief: Why Your Best Thinking Happens in the Shower

    Wired Science has an interesting blog post about why our best thinking seems to happen when we're in the shower. According to psychologists, it's because the shower is a perfect situation for our brains to enter the "default mode network," a mental state in which the environment seems to fade and you become more aware of your internal thoughts. Kind of like an out-of-body experience. Activities like showering (or building LEGO!) engage a part of your brain to keep you just mentally active enough to be stimulated, but still allow for you to have an uninterrupted stream of thought for those eureka moments. It's also known in psychology as a state of "Flow." Earlier this week, we tested Birdly, a virtual reality apparatus that attempts to put your brain in that state of flow--by giving you the sensation of flying like a bird. We'll have video and a writeup recapping it soon!

    Norman 2
    In Brief: NASA Announces Marks 2020 Rover Payload

    Last Thursday, NASA JPL announced the loadout for the still-as-yet unnamed Mars 2020 rover. The follow up to 2012's Curiosity will carry seven scientific instruments, selected from 58 proposals made by engineers and researchers worldwide. The 2020 rover is based on Curiosity's proven chassis and landing system design, with upgraded hardware to explore its surroundings. (A landing site has not yet been determined.) Among the new gear--which will be developed by partners at academic and private institutions--is the Mastcam-Z, an advanced camera system with the ability to zoom. While filmmaker James Cameron was involved with the development of the imaging system on Curiosity (NASA eventually nixed his 3D camera system), the Mastcam-Z design will be spearheaded by Arizona State University's Jim Bell. And yes, the current plan is for it to be a stereoscopic camera system.

    Norman
    Show and Tell: The Curta Calculator

    Inventern champ Sean Charlesworth joins us in the Tested office this week to share one of his prized possessions: a Curta mechanical calculator. Designed in the 1940s before electronic calculators, this hand-cranked device was considered the the most precise pocket calculator available, and was used by rally car drivers and aviators.

    Tested Mailbag: Thanks, Elon!

    A mystery package arrives at the office, sent by a Tested reader! We could not be more stoked by what we find inside. Thanks for the awesome mailbag, Grant!

    In Brief: The Origins of the "10% Brain Power" Misconception

    Adam linked us to this good story on Gizmodo examining the origins of the common misconception that we only use 10% of our brains. Neuroscience and psychologists researchers in the early 20th century attempted to quantify how much of our brains (by mass) that we use for everyday activities, to find a correlation between brain mass and cognitive capacity. That line of thinking endures, as a means to explain latent cognitive potential. Of course, we actually use virtually all of our brain, and recent studies have shown that most of our brains are active over the course of a day, even if not all at once. Further reading on the topic here.

    Norman 1
    OverDrive: The Flying Car on Kickstarter

    Over the years, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected from my friend and former NASA colleague, Fitz Walker. I’ve long been aware of his engineering and fabrication talents from projects that I have collaborated with him. Fitz has a secretive side too. The true depth and breadth of his skills always seem to be revealed through random, casual conversations: “That thing? Oh, that’s my RC submarine…I’ve been building them for years.” “What? I didn’t tell you that I built an electric motorcycle?”

    Fitz’s most recent bomb was borderline atomic. He confided that he has spent years working with a team to create an honest-to-goodness flying car--which many consider to be the holy grail of engineering challenges! I was able to get him to divulge a few details, and later met with the project’s originator and driving force, Mitchell LaBiche. I caught Mitch just as he was preparing to launch a Kickstarter campaign for his project. He provided deep insight into his design as well as the regimented approach that he has taken to avoid the pitfalls that foiled so many other flying car entrepreneurs.

    The LaBiche Automotive OverDrive is a flying car project that looks more like an Italian supercar than airplane. Attractiveness was one of the development team’s primary design requirements.

    Tested: You call your flying car design “OverDrive”. How did the concept develop?

    LaBiche: During my early years of flying, I became stranded or delayed at a few destinations on multiple occasions. One such event was when I became stranded at an airport for three days and could not take off. However, just 50 miles away, the weather was clear. If I could have moved my plane down the road to the clear weather, it would have turned my disastrous weekend into a mere inconvenience. That event got me to start thinking of a better way to own, use, and integrate civil aviation/personal aircraft into everyday life.

    During that time, I was employed as an engineer working on the Apache helicopter program and had envisioned that what I (and others) wanted was some sort of vertical takeoff, personal air vehicle. The plan changed when I took a friend’s suggestion to ask a few people what they wanted…and possibly turn my personal project into a money making venture. I invested three years and lots of money in marketing questionnaires which produced over 3,000 data points. From that, I found that what most people actually wanted was a not a vertical takeoff machine, but a personal travel vehicle that could both fly fast and go down the road. That changed everything.

    OverDrive's proposed conversion from car to plane. (Click to play)

    The original R&D project (named the FSC-1, for Flying Sports Car #1 under the LaBiche Aerospace banner) was started to see if a marketable flying car could be designed and built. After nearly 20 years of continuous, low-level development, it was deemed ready to move on to the next phase as a real product in 2012. A new sister company was formed (LaBiche Automotive) and the FSC-1 became “OverDrive” to sell the vehicle under a new name indicative of a product for the advanced automotive market.

    How to Steal a Soviet Lunar Probe

    In the mid-60s, the Soviet Union staged an international exhibition to showcase the achievements of Communism to westerners. Included in the exhibition was a never-flown, production version of one of the USSR's Luna moon probes. This io9 article details the caper, but The National Security Archive has a declassified version of the original report as well as several other fascinating declassified documents, including details about the Navy's attempts to use the Moon for untraceable communication.

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    In Brief: Predicting Someone's Age By Their Name

    In the new Planet of the Apes movie, Keri Russell's character briefly talks about how she had a young daughter who died of the simian flu virus. As the character was telling the story, my friend--who had not seen the film--leaned over to me and said "I bet her daughter's name was Sarah." And indeed, just a second later, that's what was uttered on screen. This prediction led to a discussion post-screening about why Sarah was such a suitable (and predictable) name to evoke the image of a child never seen in the film. Why is Sarah evocative of a young child and not a name like Bessie or Helen? Earlier this year, Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight did a statistical analysis of the popularity of names, based on public data from Social Security Administration. We've seen websites and apps that show how popular names are over time, but Silver's team went a step further to calculate the median ages for every common and uncommon name, for both male and female names. Of all living Sarah's, for example, the median age is 26. While if you were to meet a Helen in person, it's more likely that she's older, given that the median age for Helen's still alive is 73. And the names with the youngest median age? For girls, it's Ava, and for boys, it's Liam. Jayden comes in at a close second. Thanks, Will and Jada.

    Norman