Tuesday Evening Open Thread: Robotics Alliance, NASA Edition

Ever heard of the Robotics Alliance Project? If so, you're aware of their mission:

To create a human, technical, and programmatic resource of robotics capabilities to enable the implementation of future robotic space exploration missions.

That sounds like a pretty cool mission to me. It's even more impressive when you check out their goals and some of their alliances.

Here's their goals, as stated on the website, for your perusal:

Robotics Alliance Project Goals

The NASA Robotics Alliance Project focuses on four multi-year goals:
RAP-I: Enroll American support for the advancement of Robotics Technologies required for Extraterrestrial Exploration. Outcome #3 of NASA's Education Framework. See Milestone Objectives RAP-I-73 and RAP-I-75.
RAP-II: Inspire American high school students to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Robotics Engineering. Outcome #2 of NASA's Education Framework. See Milestone Objectives RAP-II-71 and RAP-II-74.
RAP-III: Motivate American BSRE undergraduates and graduates to pursue M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in robotics. Outcome #1 of NASA's Education Framework. See Milestone Objectives RAP-III-72 and RAP-III-76 and RAP-III-77.
RAP-IV: Engage BSRE, MSRE and PhDRE students prior to graduation.

I love tinkering with robots. The potential for extending our reach and understanding of the world, and worlds, around us increases phenomenally when we apply our ingenuity and technology - robotics are just one example.

It's a field that touches many other areas of technology, and even occasionally takes us on brief forays into the Uncanny valley.

Have you ever experimented with anything robotic? (Have you ever been experimented on robotically?) Tell us more about it in the comments below, and remember: This is an Open Thread.

Friday Morning Open Thread: Life On Mars, NASA Goals & Priorities Edition

NASA needs a goal, a destination and objective upon which to focus, else it is going nowhere. That's effectively what US Sentators told the space agency on Wednesday. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden disagreed.

...Bolden said after the hearing that critics were confusing the lack of a specific destination or timetable with the lack of a goal.

NASA has a goal, a big one, Bolden said. It's going to Mars. But Bolden added that getting astronauts to Mars is more than a decade away and NASA needs to upgrade its technology or else it never will get there.

"We want to go to Mars," Bolden said. "We can't get there right now because we don't have the technology to do it."

That is why he said the new NASA plan invests in developing in-orbit fuel depots, inflatable spaceship parts, new types of propulsion and other technology.

Bolden would not even guess when NASA would try to send astronauts to Mars, but said the technology NASA is studying could cut the trip to the Red Planet from three months to a matter of days if it works.

"We're oh-so-close, but we've got to invest in that technology," Bolden testified.

Bolden is correct; the amount of technological, economic and industrial growth that resulted from our push to the Moon resulted in many of the marvelous advances in science that have revolutionized many areas in the public and private sectors.

Another goal -- one that has been "out there" for a while and constantly revived -- is the desire to bring back samples of Martian life for study on Earth:

"At this particular time, I can't provide a date certain for the first human mission to Mars," Bolden told the Senate's science and space subcommittee. However, Bolden recently told the Houston Chronicle's editorial board it was his "personal vision" to put NASA on a path toward a human Mars landing sometime in the 2030s.

That's the kind of talk that could energize further robotic exploration of Mars, including two-way trips. "Non-human sample return would feed very directly into the technology for human exploration," Conley told me.

If Bolden's vision holds true, a lot of questions will have to be answered in the next 20 years. Conley said one biggie is how safe astronauts would be on the Red Planet. A report from the National Research Council, titled "Safe on Mars," outlined a whole list of potential nasties ranging from alien microbes to toxic hexavalent chromium. Some of those risks can be assessed only by up-close analysis of Martian samples, Conley said.

Of course, bringing back samples of extra-terrestrial life has its own inherent risks, as speculated in science fiction fare such The Andromeda Strain, Alien and -- perhaps most appropriate of the three -- Species. From the article cited above by Alan Boyles on MSNBC,

When fresh Martian material is brought back - either by astronauts or by special-delivery robots - it'll have to be contained much more tightly than the Apollo moonwalkers were 40 years ago. The way Rummel sees it, our planet was lucky that the moon was most sincerely dead. "If there had been anything alive on the moon at that time, it would be alive here now," he said. (On the flip side, we may have left something alive on the moon.)

NASA's plans call for Martian samples to be handled as if they were top-priority biohazards, in a containment facility equivalent to a Biosafety Level 4 lab.

Ideally, such a lab would also have the contact numbers for Michael Madsen and Sigourney Weaver.

This is an Open Thread.

Open Thread: To Robonaut or Not, Spaced Out Edition

Good morning.

It's Friday, 5 February 2010 -- welcome to the Open Thread.

NASA and GM have paired up to work on the newest iteration of robotic technology for the space agency, Robonaut 1 -- also known as "R2."

In an article appearing in The Tech Herald by Stevie Smith, the promise of the R2 was described in glowing terms:

Utilising leading-edge control, sensor and vision technology, NASA is looking to create robots capable of providing direct assistance to human astronauts during hazardous space missions. While, on the flip side of the deal, GM sees the robotic creations as potentially helping it to build safer cars and manufacturing facilities.


“This new generation of robot can use its hands to do work beyond the scope of prior humanoid machines,” offers NASA. “R2 can work safely alongside people, a necessity both on Earth and in space.”

Is it me, or does this R2 unit look a little more like a C3PO...?

R2 (c) NASA, R2D2 and C3PO (c) Lucasfilm

Perhaps these are not the droids you seek, after all...but just in case, maybe we shouldn't yell "Who's your daddy, R2" all that loudly at the GM plant or on the space station.

This is an Open Thread.

Tuesday Morning Open Thread: Space Shuttle for Sale, NASA Discount Edition

NASA Space Shuttle STS-107911Hey, anyone out there got a spare $29 million? NASA has heavily discounted the cost of a space shuttle as the time approaches to sell 'em, and I could really use one to help with my morning commute.

It could also help me get a prime parking spot if I time re-entry right.

Leave any thoughts in comments, including any reasonable offers re: how to pick up one of these babies while the prices are still so low.

This is an Open Thread.

Sunday Evening Open Thread: Atlantis Landing, Trailblazing Edition

Here's a video clip of the recent landing of the Space Shuttle Atlantis as it returned from its latest mission.

Some other fun stuff on the science and technology front -- specifically historical in nature, can be found here:

"Trailblazing" website reveals 350 years of science
Sun Nov 29, 2009 8:49pm EST

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A gruesome account of a 1666 blood transfusion and amusing notes about how an 8-year-old Mozart responded to tests of his genius were published on Monday as part of an online history of scientific endeavor.

The "Trailblazing" website was created by Britain's influential science academy the Royal Society, and includes handwritten papers on some of the most important scientific discoveries of the past three and a half centuries.

Neat stuff, eh?

This is an Open Thread.

Moon's leaders declare war on Earth after attack by NASA

Reprinted with permission; original post here. -- GH

by Robert Gillis, who really has too much time on his hands.


Lunar officials declared war on Earth early Friday morning after NASA launched a preemptive strike on Cabeus Crater, home to thousands of Moonies, Moonites, and Moon-Units.

CNN had reported that NASA engineers crashed a rocket and a satellite into the moon's surface on Friday morning in a $79 million mission, to supposedly "kick up enough dust to find whether there is any water in the moon's soil."

Saturday Morning Open: Man in the Moon Edition, with Video

An article in the Mercury News yesterday, 14 August 2009, dealt a serious blow to the hopes of some of our serious supporters of manned spaceflight:


Presidential panel concludes NASA can't afford return to moon by 2020

WASHINGTON — NASA's Constellation program, conceived four years ago to return Americans to the moon by 2020, can't afford to do that — and the agency's budget won't allow humans to explore beyond the international space station for two decades, a presidential panel has concluded.


"We haven't found a scenario that includes exploration that's viable," said former astronaut Sally Ride, one of 10 committee members who have until Aug. 31 to present President Barack Obama with future options for NASA.

Panel chairman Norm Augustine, the retired CEO of Lockheed Martin, said NASA is the victim of both budget cuts and technical problems with its Constellation program of new rockets and capsules that are supposed to return humans to the moon.


The report shouldn't have held much of a surprise for those who have been paying attention. When former President George W. Bush announced his intended thrust toward the moon and Mars, I initially thought it was simply an attempt to mimic a speech by his father, also a former President, in order to act as background noise and filler for kicking off his 2004 term -- a speech that, as Shakespeare might say, was "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

I wasn't alone in that assessment. According to an article that appeared in BBC News in January of 2004,


Critics say it is an expensive election year gimmick but US officials say all Americans will benefit and the scheme will not "bust" the federal budget.


As recently as July of 2008 notable voices such as Senator John Glenn echoed similar criticisms of the program when he said that "the Bush Administration’s vision to take Americans back to the moon as a first step to going to Mars was a 'big unfunded mandate.'"

As we've been discovering during the first few months of the Obama Administration, much of what we were told during the Bush Administration was purposeful misdirection, lies or propaganda in order to keep their true objectives -- and far more self-serving, illegal and immoral goals -- free from investigative scrutiny and oversight.

After the fold, a YouTube video of REM, with Bruce Springstein, performing "Man on the Moon" during Vote for Change in Washington...don't miss the Springstein hip thrust as he imitates Elvis...

Saturday Morning Open Thread -- Eclectic Collection Edition

Good morning, guten morgen and all that. Today is Saturday, July 18, 2009, and here's a smattering of items that may be of interest.

First, we remember Walter Cronkite, who passed away yesterday, only two days before the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing:

Image credit: CBS News,
via NASA website.

Image is of the Apollo 14
landing site. Hat-tip LA Times.

NASA has a fitting tribute to Mr. Cronkite here.

Open Thread -- Endeavoring To Be The Best, Shuttle Rescue Edition

As a normal facet of even the smallest part of any mission, NASA scientists and engineers must include failover planning in case of emergency.  One of the more recent sets of plans to hit the wire services includes launching a second shuttle within a week in the event of a problem with the upcoming repair mission to the Hubble Telescope.

MSNBC has the story by James Oberg, NBC News space analyst:

If the Hubble repair crew due for liftoff on Monday got into the deepest sort of orbital trouble, yet another shuttle would have to be launched into orbit as little as a week later. NASA hasn’t launched two piloted spacecraft so close together in more than 40 years. But that's just the first act of the drama.

The rescue shuttle, Endeavour, would have to pull within about two dozen yards of the stranded shuttle Atlantis, and then help Atlantis' crew members make their way across a lifeline to refuge. Then Endeavour, full to capacity, would have to leave Hubble as well as Atlantis behind and return home — but not before Atlantis' controls are set for a self-destruct sequence.

Pretty neat, eh?

This is an Open Thread.

Open Thread -- Debris-Dodging Edition

"Space -- the final frontier...vast, mostly empty...and HEY -- WATCH OUT! DUCK!"

(no, not a ~real~ duck, but some flying space debris)

From the Associated Press: 

Discovery nears space station as debris nears, too

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Seven astronauts raced to the international space station aboard space shuttle Discovery on Monday, while NASA debated whether the orbiting outpost will need to move aside to dodge part of an old Soviet satellite.


NASA has moved the space station out of the way of debris eight times in the past, most recently in August, according to NASA records.

...Read the full story by clicking here...

Gee, you'd think they'd get a better parking space since they're one of the few Earth-bound agencies that can issue parking passes.

This is an Open Thread.


Open Thread: Retro-Ice Edition

David Perlman, Chronicle Science Editor, reports Mars probe appears to have landed atop ice in today's SFGate, the Sunday June 1 online edition:


"It's the consensus of all of us that we have found ice," said Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson, as he talked to reporters in a conference call only six days after Phoenix landed safely from Earth. "It's shiny and smooth - it's absolutely astounding!"

But Smith did add a note of scientific caution: "It's not impossible that it's something else," he conceded, "but our leading interpretation is ice. We are looking at an extended table of ice."


Discovered by the orbiter itself after its retro-rockets blew away the top 3-6 inches of topsoil during landing, Smith and his fellow scientists have named the patch "Holy Cow."