Building Space Ships

That was quick. SpaceX, a private space ship company, will begin sending shipments to the international space station this fall:

A little less than six months after the final space shuttle launch, a private space company will launch a rocket carrying a cargo capsule bound for the International Space Station. SpaceX said this week that it plans a Nov. 30 launch date for its first rendezvous with the ISS — an encounter that will mark a major milestone in private space exploration.

We heard last month that NASA agreed to speed up SpaceX’s flight demo schedule, as SpaceX, eager to start making deliveries under its $1.6 billion NASA contract, asked NASA for permission to combine two planned missions into one. That mission is now targeted for the week after Thanksgiving, according to SpaceX.

I found SpaceX’s website to be surprisingly interesting. The Falcon Heavy is bad. ass.

The Great Sand Dunes

This is not how I normally picture Colorado:


The dunes sit at the edge of the Rockies, and are held in place by two opposing wind currents. They’re a third of a kilometer tall and can shift by as much as ten feet per day. Climbing to the top (where this picture was shot) was a good hike, running down was a blast. Some people had sleds.

MIT Researchers Are Killing…

Viruses. Via Marginal Revolution:

…in a development that could transform how viral infections are treated, a team of researchers at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory has designed a drug that can identify cells that have been infected by any type of virus, then kill those cells to terminate the infection.

…In a paper published July 27 in the journal PLoS One, the researchers tested their drug against 15 viruses, and found it was effective against all of them — including rhinoviruses that cause the common cold, H1N1 influenza, a stomach virus, a polio virus, dengue fever and several other types of hemorrhagic fever.

The drug works by targeting a type of RNA produced only in cells that have been infected by viruses. “In theory, it should work against all viruses,” says Todd Rider…

Good stuff.


The Dragon’s Awake (II)

This cracked me up. Via Popular Science, “European Space Agency Plans to Team Up with Russia for the First Manned Mission to Mars“:

If it’s a space race the Russians want, a space race they shall have. But et tu, Europe? Russian news outlet Ria Novosti is reporting that the European Space Agency (ESA), long the ally of Cold War champion NASA, is teaming with Russia on a joint manned mission to Mars, and that their crew will be the first to set foot on the Red Planet.

At a press briefing at an air show in Russia this week, ESA chief Jean-Jacques Dordain said the ESA and Roskosmos will “carry out the first flight to Mars together.” Apparently a major catalyst in this decision is the ongoing success of the Mars500 project, in which a six-member simulated crew is undergoing a 520-day isolation experiment simulating the long trip to and from Mars. Russia’s Institute of Biomedical Problems is heading Mars500–which “returns to Earth” in November–but the ESA is closely participating.

Dordain stopped short of declaring a timetable for such a mission, or on whose spacecraft the joint mission will ride. But he did set the stage for another epic, decades-long scientific struggle between two great world powers. So who will set foot on Mars first, the U.S. or Russia and its European partners?

Somewhere, a group of Chinese scientists is laughing.

Sounds about right.


“There are ‘obvious benefits’ of straight-up sex”

Well that should give my daily traffic a bump. The quote is actually referring to the benefits of “straight-up sex” (as opposed to asexual reproduction) for a type of insect — the cottony cushion scale. Via National Geographic, this is fascinating and weird (as is the picture):

An Icerya purchasi beetle and its children.

Are males necessary?

Maybe not for long, at least in an insect species whose females have begun to develop sperm-producing clones of their fathers—inside their bodies.

In the cottony cushion scale—a common agricultural pest that grows to about a fifth of an inch (half a centimeter) long—a new phenomenon has arisen: When some females develop in fertilized eggs, excess sperm grows into tissue within the daughters.

This parasitic tissue, genetically identical to the female’s father, lives inside the female and fertilizes her eggs internally—rendering the female a hermaphrodite and making her father both the grandfather and father of her offspring, genetically speaking.

Though this new form of reproduction hasn’t replaced cottony cushion scale sex, “this parasitic male has taken off like an epidemic in population,” said study leader Andy Gardner, an evolutionary theorist at the University of Oxford.

“Once [this trend] gets started, it’s going to sweep through the population so all the females carry it. So there’s no point for regular males to exist,” Gardner added.

“If you mate with yourself, that doesn’t generate the sort of adaptive variation that regular sex does.”

There are “obvious benefits” of straight-up sex, he said—the offspring get new combinations of genes that can make species overall more robust, he said.

National Parks

I’ve been on a bit of a National Park kick lately. Three months ago, I had yet to visit my first park. Since the start of my road trip out to California, I’ve now visited six. Here are some of the highlights.

The Badlands:



Joshua Tree:

Death Valley:

and Yosemite:

For obvious reasons, I’m eager to see more.

Today I begin my 4,500 mile drive back to Boston. If all goes as planned, I’m going to visit quite a few more parks along the way over the coming weeks: Zion, Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, the Great Sand Dunes, Rocky Mountain, the Great Smokey Mountains, and Shenandoah.

I really should have shelled out the $90 for the National Park season pass back in June at the Badlands.

I’ve queued up a few posts for the next few days, but for obvious reasons, blogging may be a bit light until September.