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    In Brief: Three Fascinating Interviews to Watch Today

    A couple of interviews that popped up over the weekend that I think you guys should watch. The first is the latest episode of Neil deGrasse Tyson's Star Talk, in which he interviews Edward Snowden via a telepresence robot. It's a great conversation about surveillance and data encryption that also includes one possible answer to the Fermi Paradox. I also loved this talk by artist Theo Jansen at MIT's Media Lab, as part of the school's MLTalks series. Jansen just debuted a Strandbeest exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum, which also has a wonderful accompanying exhibition catalog (always buy the catalog). Finally, an older interview from the MLTalks series that merits watching is this conversation with director JJ Abrams--before he was attached to do Episode VII!

    Tested Builds a Hydrogen Converter

    This week, Adam challenges Will and Norm with the task of building a hydrogen converter--a simple electrolysis rig that can split water into oxygen and hydrogen. It's a science experiment to demonstrate one way of harnessing hydrogen gas with basic chemistry! (Special thanks to John Duncan for supervising the shop for this build!)

    Awesome Jobs: Meet Tom Iliffe, Underwater Cave Explorer

    Tom Iliffe only studies animals that live in the hardest-to-reach locations -- those weird colorless, sightless organisms that exist only in the world's deepest, darkest, underwater caves. As a biologist and a diver, he has been down to 460 feet below the ocean's surface and spelunked some of the world's most remote locations all while breathing through a dive regulator. Throughout his career, Iliffe has discovered 250 new species of marine and freshwater cavernicolous invertebrates, including 3 new orders, 7 new families and 50 new genera. He talked to us about how to find your way around a previously undiscovered cave without getting lost, how to swim through tiny cracks and crevices, and what it's like to grab samples of tiny nearly-invisible animals in the darkness of an underwater cave.

    Dr. Tom Iliffe in Deep Blue cave. Image courtesy of Jill Heinerth, Bermuda Deep Water Caves 2011, NOAA-OER

    Why study caves?

    First of all, it's like any form of basic research. You may set out just to learn how something works but you never know where the path is going to lead you. Some of the most exciting scientific discoveries that have taken place were because people were curious about a phenomenon and investigated.

    So that's kind of the starting point. We have a totally unknown realm, we know nothing about it, this is a challenge, let's learn what's happening here. Not: "let's find something that has immediate commercial potential." Just because you start out at the bottom rung of the ladder, doesn't mean you can't end up making very important discoveries.

    A lot of the most important discoveries that have ever been made have been by accident, by a fortuitous discovery. You don't have to have a rationale other than scientific curiosity.

    That's to begin with.

    In Brief: Download NASA's 1975 Graphics Standards Manual

    Possibly in response to the highly publicized (and successful) Kickstarter campaign to reprint NASA's 1975 Graphics Standards Manual, the US space agency has released a PDF copy of the manual for anyone to download. The document is in the public domain, so you can print (and sell) as many copies as you want, but the graphic designers behind the Kickstarter campaign claim that their $80 copy will be better scanned and a more accurate reproduction of the original. (h/t Wired)

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    Dissecting the Technology of 'The Martian': Electrical Power

    This is the third in a series of articles that examine the real-life NASA hardware which inspired the fictional equipment found in Andy Weir's novel (and soon-to-be-released movie) The Martian. In the previous installments, we looked at the many ways in which water and air are managed in space. This time around, we will investigate some of the components that NASA uses to provide electrical power to their manned and unmanned spacecraft!

    Volts in a Blanket

    The International Space Station (ISS) is a big spaceship. Its outer perimeter is about the same size as an American football field. Much of the area within that perimeter is taken up by huge swaths of copper-colored solar arrays. More specifically, there are eight individual solar arrays, each measuring 112 feet by 39 feet (34.1m x 11.9m). Each array consists of two light-collecting blankets and the truss structures necessary to keep them outstretched.

    The ISS's eight huge solar arrays are perhaps its most dominant visual feature. They can provide the station with power equivalent to 55 average homes.

    The blankets are comprised of photovoltaic solar cells--lots of them. The job of these cells is to convert sunlight to electrical energy. The vast number of these purified silicon cells (more than 250,000) reflects the immense power needs of the ISS. If you look at the combined output potential of the ISS's solar arrays (there are some smaller Russian arrays as well), it's enough power for approximately 55 average US households – that is, if the average US household utilized 160 volt DC power.

    'Star Stuff' Short: Sagan's Science Spark

    Hollywood's Carl Sagan biopic was only just announced, but director Ratimir Rakuljic has already imagined how a young Carl Sagan began a lifelong voyage of scientific curiosity and discovery in this charming short film. According to Rakuljic, the story here was inspired by anecdotes from Sagan's life and works, including material found in the Sagan archives at the Library of Congress. Behind-the-scenes of the production here. (h/t Gizmodo)

    Kickstarter: Reissue of the 1975 NASA Graphics Standards Manual

    Hot on the heals of NASA's old 1975 Graphics Standard Manual getting some love in blogs and on Flickr, a new Kickstarter campaign is raising funds to republish that manual for fans of the NASA worm logo. Jesse Reed & Hamish Smyth have had success with crowdfunded reissues of famous graphics manuals before, and are sourcing this reprint with scans from designer Richard Danne's personal copy of the 1975 document.

    Surprising Places Where Hydrogen Energy Is Being Used

    It's obvious to pretty much everybody that fossil fuels aren't going to last this planet forever. Alternative energy is the way of the future, and scientists are working to find all kinds of different sources to tap. One that has already seen some use is hydrogen - one of the most common gases in the universe, in fuel cells it's combined with oxygen to produce electricity, with clean water as the only byproduct. Several companies have introduced hydrogen-powered vehicles, but here's an interesting look at other places using the technology that you might not have guessed.

    Dissecting the Technology of 'The Martian': Air

    This is the second in a series of articles that examine the real-life systems aboard the International Space Station (ISS) which inspired the fictional equipment found in Andy Weir's novel (and soon-to-be-released movie) The Martian. In the first installment, we looked at the many ways in which water is conserved and recycled. This time around, we will investigate the components that process air to make the ISS both habitable and comfortable for the humans inside.

    The Basics

    Before getting into too much detail about the air systems on the ISS, a brief overview of the general layout is probably warranted. As with the water systems, many of the US-made air management components on the ISS have foreign counterparts. For the sake of simplicity, this article will focus only on the US equipment.

    The habitable areas of the ISS are pressurized modules that are typically cylindrical in shape. Three node sections (named Unity, Harmony, and Tranquility) serve as the crossroads for all of the modules No matter which direction you choose to exit a node, your path will soon reach a dead end in some module.

    On Earth we have the luxury of myriad natural processes that create air currents on a local and global scale. This helps to ensure that the same patch of air never lingers over any location for very long. In the manmade ecosystem of the ISS, however, such air flow does not occur naturally. The Intermodule Ventilation system (IMV) compensates by using fans to force airflow between the modules. Without it, the air would stagnate in those dead ends. Well, everywhere, actually.

    The inter-module airflow is extremely important because the life support systems that manage the composition of the air are not present in every module. In fact, most of the US-managed life support systems are located in Tranquility. IMV mixes and moves the atmosphere to ensure that the air quality in every module is homogeneous--or nearly so.

    The Talking Room: Adam Savage Interviews Author Mary Roach

    While researching topics for her books, author Mary Roach puts the obscure and fascinating stories of science under a spotlight. Her books cover a diverse range of topics, including sex, colonizing Mars, death, and the human alimentary canal. Please welcome Mary Roach to The Talking Room!

    Calculating The Raw Power of Natural Occurrences

    If there's one thing our culture values, it's power. Whether we get it from burning fossil fuels, pumping water through dams or absorbing it from the sun, it makes our way of life possible. Scientists are always trying to find new sources of energy in the natural world, and today, we're going to crunch some numbers to find out just how much is really out there. From lightning strikes to volcanic eruptions, let's calculate exactly how much power we could harness from these acts of nature.

    Ryan Nagata's Space Suit Replicas

    Adam isn't the only replica prop builder obsessed with spacesuits. At the recent Replica Prop Forum showcase, we met Ryan Nagata, a propmaker and independent director who collaborated with Adam on his Mercury suit, and made his own Apollo-era spacesuit as well. Every part of Ryan's suits is an original fabrication, and the suits are wearable!

    Photo Gallery: The Dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum

    Much of my past two weeks was spent in Calgary, Alberta where some of you suggested a visit to the Royal Tyrrell Museum in nearby Drumheller. I'm so glad I made that trek--it ended up being one of the highlights of my trip. The paleontology museum is filled with incredible displays of dinosaur fossils and skeletons, including quite a few T-Rex's. The exhibits are beautifully arranged and lit, making them really fun to photograph as well. Here are a few of my favorites from the visit.

    Dissecting the Technology of 'The Martian': Water

    Andy Weir's novel The Martian has struck a chord with an audience of readers that extends far beyond the traditional sci-fi demographic. I think that part of the book's broad popularity stems from the fact that Weir never leaps too far ahead of the current human condition. This makes his storyline approachable for readers who would normally dismiss the sci-fi genre as too fantastical, myself included.

    Much of what grounds the story is the technology that is referenced throughout. There are no Zenon alien zappers or antimatter toothbrushes. In fact, many of the systems found on Weir's imaginary Martian outpost are actually in use on the International Space Station (ISS) today. Weir sometimes extrapolates the capabilities of these systems into the future, but he invariably remains faithful to the science at their core.

    Water is a tremendously valuable commodity in space. The ISS contains numerous systems aimed at getting the most out of every drop.

    This is the first in a short series that will examine a few of these real-life space systems that are referenced in The Martian. The intent is not to compare any differences between the actual components and Weir's versions. What would be the point? Although he aimed for (and largely achieved) technical accuracy, Weir had creative license to write about death rays powered by peanut butter if he chose. So there's no point in splitting hairs. Rather, the goal here is simply to provide greater insight into the life-sustaining systems that that are referenced in the book and relied upon by astronauts and cosmonauts every day.

    Today, we'll discuss the use and recycling of water in manned space missions.

    Aging Suit Simulates Experience of Old Age

    Speaking of conceptual transhuman experiences, here's video of an "aging suit" that simulates the experience of being 75 years old. The Atlantic's James Hamblin tests this exoskeleton, which limits movement, impairs hearing, and blurs vision (to approximate cataracts). It's the latest invention of technologist (and ex-Imagineer) Bran Ferren's Applied Minds, and is intended to get people talking about issues around aging and long-term care.

    In Brief: Real Life Goat Simulator

    Our buddy and former writer Matt Braga reports on an experiment by English speculative designer Thomas Thwaites, who recently investigated what life would be like living as goat. As in, Thwaites donned custom limb prosthetics and lived among goats for a few days in the Swiss Alps. The bizarre experiment is more performance art project than scientific endeavor, but totally worth it for the surreal photographs.

    Astronauts on ISS to Eat Veggies Grown in Space

    My biggest takeaway from the two videos we did with Commander Hadfield in 2013 about eating in space is that fresh produce is one of the astronauts most precious commodities. From cosmonauts chomping into raw onions to astronauts snarfing apples sent up in resupply missions, getting a bite of crisp food is a high point for most long-duration astronauts. Right now, those bites are limited to the few days after the arrival of a resupply mission since the station lacks food refrigeration facilities.

    That's about to change. The Veggie plant growth system has been used to grow leafy greens and flowers on orbit since May 2014. The first crop was returned to earth for safety analysis last year, and astronauts have gotten the go-ahead to chow down on half of the most recent crop (the other half will be sent back to Earth for analysis). I believe this marks the first time humans have eaten food grown on-orbit while still on-orbit. This is an awesome step toward figuring out how to grow food in space and a problem we must solve before we can make it to Mars and points beyond with manned missions.