This week: NASA’s new rocket passes critical review, Asthma drug causes brain regeneration, new research into natural “highs”, miniature tractor beams, and a real life “martian”.
NASA’s Space Launch System Completes Design Review
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) has completed all steps needed to clear a critical design review. It is the first vehicle designed to meet the challenges of the journey to Mars and the first exploration class rocket since the Saturn V.
SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built and, with the agency’s Orion spacecraft, will launch America into a new era of exploration to destinations beyond Earth’s orbit. The CDR provided a final look at the design and development of the integrated launch vehicle before full-scale fabrication begins.
Drug Used to Treat Asthma Reverses Aging in Rat Brains
It’s as good as new. An asthma drug has rejuvenated rat brains, making old rats perform as well as young rats in tests of memory and cognition. The drug also encouraged the birth of new brain cells.
As we get older, most of us will experience some kind of brain degeneration. Typically, we lose the ability to make new neurons. Another problem is chronic, low-grade inflammation in the brain, which is implicated in many age-related brain disorders.
To tackle both problems in one go, Ludwig Aigner at Paracelsus Medical University Salzburg in Austria and his colleagues targeted a set of receptors in the brain that, when activated, trigger inflammation.
Getting “High” On Your Own Supply
Earlier this month, researchers discovered that at least part of the euphoria that comes after a strenuous workout — runner’s high — is due to endocannabinoids, the body’s self-produced counterparts to some of marijuana’s mood-enhancing chemicals.
The finding overturned decades of conventional wisdom claiming that natural highs come from endorphins, the chemicals that became famous in the 1980s for their euphoric effects. While endorphins seem to help numb our muscles during a workout, their molecules are too large to cross the blood-brain barrier and trigger a “high” like endocannabinoids can.
Tiny “Tractor Beam” Moves Objects With Acoustic Holograms
It’s a classic science fiction scene: A large vessel moves near a smaller one, captures it in a so-called tractor beam, and pulls it inside.
Now imagine bringing that technology to life, but instead of moving meddlesome space ships, terrestrial tractor beams would perform touchless assembly, microsurgery or deliver drugs directly to the body part that needs them. You may not have to imagine for long: A British research team is making early strides toward developing small-scale tractor beams, using high-amplitude sound waves to create invisible force fields they can adjust in real-time.
Meet a Real Life “Martian”
Jocelyn Dunn spent eight months living on the red, rocky surface of Mars. Last year she shared a 1,000-square-foot habitat with five crewmates, wore a space suit every time she stepped outside, and showered for just six minutes a week. Or at least, she was as close to experiencing Mars as any human (including Matt Damon) can get right now. Dunn, an engineer, was participating in the third mission of HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation), which takes place on the barren slopes of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano. The NASA-funded study probes how potential astronauts will react to isolation, confinement, and the extreme environment of life on another planet. Popular Science recently spoke with Dunn—the mission’s chief scientist and a real-life Martian (almost).
Know any interesting stories we missed?Let us know in the comments!