Discovering an alien life form would be quite an achievement, but we've been burned before by over-eager press releases that claimed to find evidence of life from beyond our planet. NASA might be more careful about making any announcements about life based on peculiar and potentially extra-terrestrial-based life, but NASA seemed to have forgotten about the extraordinary claims over ALH84001. Overall, though, it's probably good that NASA hasn't given up on searching for aliens, so here are a few links on looking for life from outer space.
If you're going to go after the world leader in untargeted data collections, you might as well be just as unfocused. After details of the NSA's spying efforts in Brazil drove the president to cancel her trip to the US, some of that anger spilled over to the public. And a certain member of the Brazilian public, one "BMPoc," decided to lash out in the most internet of ways -- by defacing websites linked with the intelligence agency. The only problem was BMPoC was one letter off.
Multiple NASA websites were defaced last week by a Brazilian hacktivist who may have misread the sites' URLs, because he wasn't protesting about the US space agency giving joyrides to inhuman stowaways – he was protesting against NSA spying.
“BMPoC” hit kepler.arc.nasa.gov and 13 other sites with messages protesting against US spying on Brazil, as well as a possible US military intervention in Syria.
Ah, NASA. The non-spy agency whose efforts over the years have resulted in a number of technological advancements we take for granted. NASA is a very, very, VERY outwardly focused agency, which perhaps explains why its internal controls are so lax it's referred to as the "low hanging fruit" of the government website defacement field.
What the hacker lacked in accuracy, he made up for in successful hits and enthusiasm. The following warning graced unsuspecting NASA aficionados for several hours earlier this week.
NASA HACKED! BY #BMPoCWe! Stop spy on us! The Brazilian population do not support your attitude! The Illuminati are now visibly acting!
Obama heartless! Inhumane! you have no family? the point in the entire global population is supporting you. NOBODY! We do not want war, we want peace!!! Do not attack the Syrians.
Coherent, it is not, thanks to the language barrier, a fundamental misunderstanding that all acronyms are not created equal, and the obligatory Illuminati reference. NASA, duly chastened by orders to cease all "spy" and change its unsupported attitude, released the following statement.
"A Brazilian hacker group posted a political message on a number of NASA websites. ... Within hours of the initial posting, information technology staff at the Ames Research Center discovered the message and immediately started an investigation, which is ongoing," he said. "At no point were any of the agency’s primary websites, missions or classified systems compromised."
In other words, the attack was about as harmful as graffiti. Perhaps even safer considering it wasn't scrubbed off the "walls" by a group of low-level criminals putting in community service hours.
Other than the wrong acronym and the Illuminati, BMPoC is absolutely correct. Brazilians do not support the NSA's spying or attitude and most of the world is very definitely not supportive of the US engaging with Syria. (Well, "engaging" by way of bombs, missiles and boots on the ground, anyway.)
If the secret to fighting a successful battle is knowing your enemy, BMPoC is no Sun Tzu (or even Ambrose Burnside, for that matter). On the plus side, website defacing is much more anonymous and less prone to crippling embarrassment than an in-person protest -- especially one that finds the protester a few blocks away from his or her intended target, yelling at equally confused people about actions they never took and things they never said.
Private space technology is becoming ever more affordable. Not too long ago, only large governments were able to send stuff into space. Now, large companies can do it, and even some wealthy individuals can control their own satellite (or their own part of one). Here are just a few (more) interesting projects that suggest satellites will be ever more accessible to regular folks (and not just for satellite TV or internet access).
Humans -- not content to be stuck on this planet and itching to find alien life -- are hard at work developing better ways to send satellites and spacecraft into orbit and outer space. If we actually want to colonize Mars by 2023, then some new propulsion technologies might be in order. Here are a few examples of various efforts going on around the world.
Over the next few years, we should be learning quite a bit more about our Martian neighbors. The Curiosity Rover is just starting out, but if it performs as well as its predecessors, then it should provide tons of interesting data about Mars and its geological history. When Curiosity ceases to function, maybe we'll be more willing to send manned missions, but robots seem to be doing a pretty good job so far. Here are just a few interesting tidbits on the red planet.
We hear from copyright system supporters that bogus copyright takedowns are rare and we only highlight the "exceptions." Of course, it seems like there are an awful lot of these exceptions. The latest is that with the massive success of last night's Mars landing of the Curiosity Rover, NASA posted the video to YouTube for those who didn't watching the thrilling, suspenseful landing live... except, if you checked out NASA's own YouTube page a few hours later, you got this:
It's back now, but as Vice's Motherboard blog explains, this kind of thing happens all the time. They spoke with Bob Jacobs, NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Communications, who said that this happens about once a month, and almost always happens with NASA's popular videos.
“We spend too much time going through the administrative process to clear videos slapped with needless copyright claims,” says NASA’s Bob Jacobs. “YouTube seems to be missing a ‘common sense’ button to its processes, especially when it involves public domain material paid for by the American taxpayer.”
Jacobs is quite reasonably annoyed at the lack of consequences for these bogus takedowns:
“There seems to be few consequences for companies that engage in such activities, which often include legitimate news organizations. We do agree that people who make false copyright claims against our material should be held accountable, regardless of their automated systems.”
What's amazing here is that Scripps is a repeat offender with NASA. Back in April, people noticed that it had forced the removal of NASA's (again, public domain) footage of the Boeing 747 that carried the space shuttle Discovery to the Smithsonian (its "final journey"). But, of course, there aren't many (or even any) serious consequences for these kinds of mistakes. While it's not clear what happened, it seems likely that Scripps replayed the footage itself somewhere, and via some semi-automated process uploaded it to YouTube's ContentID, in which it claimed copyright on all its works. But, of course, it was actually broadcasting public domain video from NASA. Unfortunately, YouTube can't recognize that Scripps is the latecomer here, rebroadcasting others' public domain material, and thus took down the material, only to have it corrected later.
Given that Scripps is now a repeat offender, it seems that perhaps YouTube should cut it off from automatically censoring others' videos.
Oh, and if you want to know one of the reasons we're so concerned about a possible broadcast treaty (which the US government is now supporting), it's because it actually would make these kinds of claims quasi-legal, in that broadcasters who broadcast public domain material could then claim a separate "broadcast right" over that footage. Even without that, we see operations like Scripps abusing the law. Do we really want to expand that power?
Now, since the video is back up, here's the actual (public domain) footage, in case you missed it (and if you did miss it, you should watch it, as it really is incredible):
Commercial space flights for tourists could be a routine program someday soon. With that in mind, there is some renewed excitement surrounding manned spaceflight, and for people with a few million bucks burning a hole in their pockets, an opportunity to go up into low earth orbit is not a ridiculous vacation idea. But before you pack your bags, you should check out some next generation spacesuit designs that claim to be more comfortable than ever before.
Well, well. After some delays and an aborted attempt a few days ago, it appears that the SpaceX "test" flight to get a bit of cargo into orbit and aimed at the International Space Station has worked according to plan -- and we're now a step closer to a private space program (photo from NASA):
The SpaceX folks webcast the whole thing from its website (hopefully, they'll post the video for people to rewatch -- as of right now there's nothing). The White House immediately offered its congratulations for "the potential of a new era in American spaceflight..." powered by the private sector.
This is the second time that SpaceX has gotten this far, but rather than just orbiting the earth a couple times, the current mission goal is to have the Dragon capsule actually dock with the International Space Station (and deliver some food). The actual docking process is a bit complex, apparently, so there are still some worries. However, things certainly seem to be progressing.
And, of course, this is just one of many stepping stones towards actually offering private manned spaceflight, which goes beyond just touching the edges of space, but actually into orbit. Either way, it's an important milestone along the way.
Depending on how you look at it, the current state of space exploration can be seen as dismally underfunded -- or as the most amazingly productive in history. Unmanned probes are checking out all sorts of interesting destinations in our solar system, but manned missions have lately been limited to orbiting the Earth. The unmanned space race is generating plenty of fascinating science, nonetheless. Here are just a few interesting developments in the field of space exploration.
Unmanned missions to explore other planets and asteroids in our solar system look like a really cost-effective way to collect scientific data. But manned missions are so much more inspirational. Here are just a few space projects that are trying to keep manned spaceflight alive.