This week: NASA is on track to take us to Mars, the nearest potentially habitable exoplanet, a space-grown salad, building the hyperloop, and paving the way for quantum computing.
NASA SLS Program “Right on Track” for Journey To Mars
NASA’s Space Launch System Program has completed its review – another step forward for the program that will help launch astronauts on missions to an asteroid placed in lunar orbit, and eventually to Mars.
You know the feeling of pride and achievement when you’ve worked really hard on a term paper, and finally turn it in? That’s how the critical design review team for NASA’s Space Launch System is feeling this week as the program completed its review.
The in-depth review – the first in almost 40 years for a NASA exploration class vehicle — provides a final look at the design and development of the integrated rocket before full-scale fabrication begins. Throughout the course of 11 weeks, 13 teams – including representatives from several NASA field centers – reviewed more than 1,000 files of data as part of the comprehensive assessment process.
The Nearest Potentially Habitable Exoplanet
A new study from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has examined Kepler observations for exoplanet transits around lower mass M-dwarf stars, revealing that the nearest potentially habitable Earth-sized planet is likely to be about nine light-years away.
The Kepler mission has so far spotted an astonishing 4696 possible exoplanets; about one third of them, 1030, have been confirmed as exoplanets so far. A small percentage of this set are potentially habitable, by which astronomers generally mean that they have surface temperatures suitable for water to remain liquid, rather than frozen out as ice or suspended as vapor in the atmosphere. Exoplanets can exist around all kinds of stars, not only ones like the Sun. Sun-like stars are comparatively rare – the less massive (“M dwarf”) stars are about ten times more common. They are also cooler and dimmer, and so their planetary systems will have habitable zones closer to the star than is the case in our solar system, but exoplanets orbiting in that zone are of great interest, especially rocky, Earth-sized ones large enough to retain an atmosphere.
Astronauts Eat Space Grown Food For First Time
A plain bite of lettuce was “awesome,” astronauts aboard the International Space Station concurred. It helped that it was a rare bite of fresh vegetable. And it was also a tasty milestone in spaceflight history: the first time astronauts ate food grown and harvested in space.
The garden, called Veggie, is part of NASA’s research into food provision for a future manned mission to Mars.
Hyperloop Prototype Set to Begin Construction
California-based Hyperloop Transportation Technologies is poised to begin laying the groundwork for the Hyperloop, a futuristic steel tube transportation system that would shuttle passengers at speeds of 1,200 kilometers per hour (almost 750 mph).
“So at the beginning of 2016, we will break ground on Quay Valley,” a proposed renewable-energy-fueled city in King’s County, California, said Dirk Ahlborn, the company’s CEO. “It’s an 8-kilometer track.”
Paving the Way for Quantum Computing
A team of physicists from the University of Vienna and the Austrian Academy of Sciences have demonstrated a new quantum computation scheme in which operations occur without a well-defined order. The researchers led by Philip Walther and Caslav Brukner used this effect to accomplish a task more efficiently than a standard quantum computer. Moreover, these ideas could set the basis for a new form of quantum computing, potentially providing quantum computers with an even larger computational speed-up. Their results will be published in an upcoming issue of Nature Communications.
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