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    In Brief: ILM's John Knoll on the Death Star and Star Wars Physics

    A week ago, attendees at Star Wars Celebration got the first glimpse of the first Star Wars Anthology film, named Rogue One. Director Gareth Edwards revealed that the film would be about the theft of the Death Star plans before the events of Episode IV, and showed a short teaser clip created by ILM specifically for the announcement. The clip, which has yet to be officially released by Lucasfilm (but for which bootleg copies were immediately uploaded to YouTube), showed the massive Death Star looming over the horizon of a forested planet. AICN writer and professional astronomer used screencaps of that footage to calculate the physics of that shot to assess it's "realism", and was subsequently contacted by effects legend John Knoll to walked through ILM's thinking behind that shot. Knoll's explanation is wonderfully geeky, and shows how much thought effects artists and engineers put into their work, beyond just the "wow" factor. It's the very best of sci-fi apologetics, from the behind-the-scenes technicians closest to canon. (h/t Gary Whitta)

    Norman
    Watch SpaceX Rocket Launches in 4K

    SpaceX just uploaded this montage of its recent rocket launches (but not landing attempts) which were shot in 4K resolution. YouTube 4K is pegged by some reports at around 15mpbs, though Google recommends that 4K source files are encoded at 35-45mbps. Regardless, the footage looks spectacular, even if you're viewing it on a 1440p monitor. Happy Friday!

    In Brief: Apollo Flight Control Consoles Explained

    An oldie but a goodie: Ars Technica's Lee Hutchinson explains the role and purpose of each control station in NASA's Apollo-era Mission Control room, which was restored in 1992. Lee, a friend of Tested, interviewed retired NASA Flight Controller Sy Liebergot to go through every console and panel in the hallowed operations room. We've previously shared photos of other Mission Control Centers from space agencies around the world and taken photos at JSC's MCC during our visit back in 2013.

    Norman
    Adam Savage's Navy Mark IV Helmet

    We've shared Adam's passion for NASA spacesuits, including his Mercury era spacesuit replica that he wore at Comic-Con. The helmet for that suit was based off of B.F. Goodrich's Navy Mark IV design, and Adam has recently come into possession of an original Mark IV helmet. Time to geek out about it!

    A Brief Explanation of Gravitational Lensing

    From the New York Times' "Out There" astronomy column: "A century after Albert Einstein proposed that gravity could bend light, astronomers now rely on galaxies or even clusters of galaxies to magnify distant stars." The use of gavitational lensing has allowed astronomers to observe the same supernova nine billion light years away four times since 1964. (h/t Laughingsquid)

    In Brief: Why M&Ms are the Perfect Space Snack

    Smithsonian magazine has a fun little feature about the history of chocolate in the space program. Chocolate has been a choice treat for cosmonauts and astronauts since the very first manned space flights, but has travelled in many different forms: tubed sauce, pudding, brownies, and of course, M&Ms. We were privileged to be able to see some of these freeze-dried and vacuum-sealed snacks during our visit to JSC in 2013. I can neither confirm nor deny that I have a sealed package of space travel-ready 'candy-coated chocolates'. (Sort of related: the contents of Neil Armstrong's Apollo 11 stowage bag 'purse', recently discovered and brought to the National Air and Space Museum. Its incredible contents here.)

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    10 Little-Known Achievements Of Space Explorers

    We all know the big space records – first man on the moon, first dog in space, the usual. But of the hundreds of brave men and women who have traveled outside of Earth’s atmosphere, some hold more unusual records. Today, we’ll run down ten pretty awesome achievements that don’t always make the history books.

    Behind-the-Scenes at the Explorers Club Headquarters

    From Science Friday: "Tour the unique artifacts, including a yeti scalp and 4-tusked elephant, collected by Explorers Club members during research expeditions over the last century. Executive Director Will Roseman reveals the remarkable science and stories of the collection at the Club Headquarters in New York City."

    10 Things You Didn't Know about Going to the Bathroom in Space

    In space, nobody can hear you scream. But they sure can hear you use the bathroom. The question of how astronauts deal with their waste is one that has occurred to every eighth grader since the dawn of the space program, and we’re about to give you all the answers with this rundown of NASA’s space toilet.

    Why NASA's Orion Mission is So Important

    Ever since the final space shuttle mission, STS-135, landed more than three years ago, NASA has lacked a vehicle to send its own astronauts back into space. Current timelines put astronauts back in American-made rockets no sooner than 2021. The Orion mission that launched this morning [more specifically, Exploration Flight Test -1 (EFT-1)], is a huge milestone in NASA’s path back to the business of launching humans into space. It can’t be overstated: This mission is a BIG deal.

    ORION WAS LIFTED BY A DELTA IV HEAVY ROCKET FOR EFT-1. SUBSEQUENT LAUNCHES WILL USE THE SLS LAUNCH VEHICLE CURRENTLY BEING DEVELOPED. (NASA Photo)

    What is Orion?

    Orion is NASA’s next generation of man-carrying spacecraft. It is chartered to carry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), lunar destinations, or even Mars. Orion is really only the top part of what was sitting on the launchpad earlier today. The uppermost section of Orion is the Launch Abort System, which completely enshrouds the 4-to-6 person Crew Module. Just below the conical Crew Module is the Service Module that provides thrust, power and provisions in space. The Orion-to-Stage Adapter mates Orion to the rocket it sits atop. In the case if EFT-1, that rocket was a Delta IV Heavy (currently the largest operational rocket in the world).

    ORION IS NASA’S NEXT MAN-CARRYING SPACECRAFT. IT JUST WON’T HAVE ANY ASTRONAUTS ABOARD UNTIL ITS THIRD MISSION IN 2021. (NASA Photo)

    The genesis of Orion dates back to 2005 and the now-defunct Constellation program. When Constellation was cancelled in 2009, the Orion aspect of the program was retained for use in whatever program would come next. That program emerged in 2011 as Space Launch System (SLS). SLS is what will launch those astronauts in 2021.

    First Launch of NASA's Orion Next-Generation Capsule

    This morning at 7:05am EST in Cape Canaveral, a Delta IV Heavy rocket lifted off carrying the first unpiloted test flight of the next-generation Orion capsule. Orion is designed to take humans back to the Moon, near Earth asteroids, and hopefully Mars. Right now, the two-orbit, 4.5 hour mission, which is designed to test the systems designed to slow the capsule from almost 20,000mph to 20mph, is almost complete. You can watch the live feed of the splashdown on NASA TV.

    "Wanderers" Imagines Human Exploration Through Our Solar System

    Set to a beautiful original score and a Carl Sagan audio recording, Wanderers is an awe-inspiring short film created by filmmaker Erik Wernquist. As he describes it, the four minute piece is "a vision of humanity's expansion into the Solar System, based on scientific ideas and concepts of what our future in space might look like, if it ever happens. The locations depicted in the film are digital recreations of actual places in the Solar System, built from real photos and map data where available. Without any apparent story, other than what you may fill in by yourself, the idea of the film is primarily to show a glimpse of the fantastic and beautiful nature that surrounds us on our neighboring worlds - and above all, how it might appear to us if we were there." It's a beautiful and haunting vision of the vastness of space, like a Chesley Bonestell painting brought to life. Stills and commentary from the short can be found here.

    False Starts: Astronauts Recall Stories of Shuttle Launch Aborts
    Every manned US spacecraft had its share of white-knuckle moments, but the space shuttle holds a monopoly on launch aborts. (NASA photo)

    Many astronaut autobiographies attempt to convey the exceptionally rare and coveted experience of riding a fire-belching rocket into space. It must surely be a situation where all adjectives and analogies fall short. While the trip to orbit seems to affect each person in different ways, the stories all share happy endings. You have to look much harder to find memoirs of launches that didn’t go so well.

    The primary reason for the dearth of launch abort stories is that so few missions in the history of the US manned space program provided astronauts with unsavory launch experiences. Historically-speaking, once the engines were fired up, an astronaut had a very high probability of making it safely to their planned orbit.

    Every manned US spacecraft had its share of white-knuckle moments, but the space shuttle holds a monopoly on launch aborts. It’s worth noting that the Challenger disaster is considered a launch failure rather than an abort because events unfolded too quickly for any corrective measures to be taken. There were a handful of other missions where, after the smoke cleared and the echoes faded, the shuttle was still firmly shackled to the launch pad. I spoke with five astronauts who endured these launch aborts to get a glimpse of what it was like.

    In Brief: Examining the Woodward Effect

    Have you heard of the Woodward Effect? It's a decades-old theory for a method of generating thrust without expending mass--basically limitless propulsion without the need to refuel. It's no wonder that this concept has been used to fuel theoretical engine designs for spacecraft. Steady acceleration without the need for propellants sounds too good to be true, so BoingBoing visited the office and laboratory of Dr. James Woodward to learn about his theory and see an application of it in an experimental thruster. Real-world science is sometimes stranger and more awesome than fiction.

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    In Brief: Rosetta's Philae Has Landed

    At about 8AM Pacific time this morning, the Philae lander made contact with the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.The first pictures have come back from the lander, including a gorgeous shot of the comet taken during the descent and this image of the landing site, Rosetta's ten-year journey wound through the solar system so the probe could match orbits with the comet. It will stay with the comet for the next 12 months, following its orbit around the Sun. Be sure to keep an eye on Phil Plait's excellent blog for more updates on Rosetta and Philae. Today's XKCD is also lovely, in both live updated form and GIF form.

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    10 Biological Challenges Of Traveling To Mars

    Let’s face it: we’ve done just about everything we can do on the Moon. That hunk of gray rock doesn’t hold much romance anymore. The next big thing is going to be to get human boots on Mars. But it’s not as easy as you might think. Today, we’ll examine the obstacles that make it difficult for Earth lifeforms to endure the long trip to Mars and land on the planet’s surface.

    ISS Astronauts Put a GoPro in a Floating Water Bubble

    We haven't posted a video shot by Astronauts on the International Space Station in a while, but that doesn't mean they're not shooting awesome stuff up there! Here's a recent one that is especially cool: "During Expedition 40 in the summer of 2014, NASA astronauts Steve Swanson and Reid Wiseman - along with European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst - explored the phenomenon of water surface tension in microgravity on the International Space Station." And because tours of the ISS are always fun to watch, here's the most recent one shot by Astronaut Reid Wiseman, travelling from the very back of the station to the very front!