By Irene Klotz CAPE CANAVERAL Fla. (Reuters) - NASA’s new heavy-lift rocket, designed to fly astronauts to the moon, asteroids and eventually Mars, likely will not have its debut test flight until November 2018, nearly a year later than previous estimates, agency officials said on Wednesday. NASA is 70 percent confident of making a November 2018 launch date, given the technical, financial and management hurdles the Space Launch System faces on the road to development, NASA associate administrators Robert Lightfoot and Bill Gerstenmaier told reporters on a conference call. NASA estimates it could spend almost $12 billion developing the first of three variations of the rocket and associated ground systems through the debut flight, and potentially billions more to build and fly heavier-lift next-generation boosters, a July 2014 General Accountability Office report on the program said. While the rocket might be ready for a test flight in December 2017, as previously planned, the new assessment showed the odds of that were “significantly less” than the 70 percent confidence level NASA requires of new programs, Gerstenmaier said.
British and Finnish scientists have found a way of generating renewable propane using a bacterium widely found in the human intestine and say the finding is a step to commercial production of a fuel that could one day be an alternative to fossil fuel reserves. "Although we have only produced tiny amounts so far, the fuel we have produced is ready to be used in an engine straight away," said Patrik Jones of the department of life sciences at Imperial College London, who worked on the research. He said while work is at a very early stage, possibly 5-10 years from the point where commercial production would be possible, his team's findings were proof of concept for a way of producing renewable fuel now only accessible from fossil reserves. It is already produced as a by-product during natural gas processing and petrol refining, but both of these are fossil fuels that will one day run out.
By Vladimir Soldatkin VOSTOCHNY Russia (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday ordered construction sped up on a multi-billion-dollar spaceport in Russia's Far East that he said would break reliance on the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and launch future missions to the Moon and Mars. Putin flew in a helicopter over the sprawling building site in Vostochny at a time when conflict with Ukraine, maker of Zenit and Dnepr rockets, is highlighting the fragility of Russia's dependence on former Soviet republics in defense and space. Building a new launchpad on its own soil is central to Putin's effort to reform a once-pioneering space industry hobbled by years of budget cuts and a brain drain in the 1990s. "Our own space infrastructure and modern network of cosmodromes ... will allow Russia to strengthen its standing as a leading space superpower and guarantee the independence of space activities," Putin said at Vostochny, near Russia's border with China.
The number of people infected with Ebola in West Africa will likely increase significantly over the next few weeks, according to the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who just returned from the region. "As bad as the situation is now, everything I've seen suggests that over the next few weeks, it's likely to get worse," Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, said today (Sept. 2) in a news conference. Although health officials know how to stop the spread of Ebola, the current response needs to be scaled up in order to end the outbreak, Frieden said. "The challenge is that the number of cases is so large, the outbreak is so overwhelming, what it requires now is an overwhelming response," Frieden said.
The geckos Russia sent to space to have sex have sadly perished, the Russian space agency said yesterday (Sept. 1). The lovemaking lizards were launched into orbit for an experiment on mating and reproduction in a weightless environment, but all five of them (four females and one male) were found dead when the spacecraft carrying them returned to Earth, according to the space agency, Roscosmos. The space agency launched the spacecraft carrying the Foton M4 satellite with the five live geckos on July 18, for a two-month mission.
A German pop artist who once painted the side of a Russian rocket is selling his collection of Soviet space memorabilia, including pieces of his own space art and a "dog space suit." Andreas Hoge, better known by his one-name pseudonym Andora, consigned more than 100 Russian space program artifacts and collectibles to the Berlin-based auction house Auctionata.
A fan's idea for a LEGO toy to celebrate the Hubble Space Telescope's 25th anniversary just came into greater focus. On Sunday (Aug. 31), Gabriel Russo's design for a model of the famous orbiting observatory topped 10,000 votes on LEGO Ideas, a website where fans can share and vote for new LEGO kits. Projects that get 10,000 votes of support are considered by LEGO for production and sale. The 10,000th vote for Russo's Hubble model came in just before the cutoff for LEGO's fall review period, giving the Danish toy company perhaps enough time for a set to be ready for the satellite's anniversary next year.
An extensive look at the genome of the Ebola virus reveals its behavior, when it arrived in West Africa and how it spread in the region to cause the largest-ever recorded Ebola outbreak. Researchers sequenced 99 Ebola virus genomes from 78 patients in Sierra Leone, one of the countries affected by the outbreak that started in the neighboring Guinea, and found that the virus' genome changes quickly, including parts of the genome that are crucial for diagnostic tests to work. "We've uncovered more than 300 genetic clues about what sets this outbreak apart from previous outbreaks," co-author Stephen Gire of Harvard said in a statement. The researchers studied the viruses isolated from the blood of these patients, as well as subsequent Ebola patients, to identify the genetic characteristics of the Ebola virus responsible for this outbreak.
Watch out, Sherlock, there's a new Dr. Watson in town. IBM's Watson, the computer that famously won the quiz show 'Jeopardy!', is now helping researchers make scientific discoveries. The new system, known as the Watson Discovery Advisor, could accelerate the scientific process by sifting through massive amounts of information and visualizing patterns in the data. But unlike when Watson was on 'Jeopardy!,' its new role as Discovery Advisor is "not about getting to an answer, but [rather] gaining insight into a large body of information," Merkel told Live Science.
By Julie Steenhuysen CHICAGO (Reuters) - Fewer than half of Saudi Arabian patients in a study passed the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus to household members, and many of those who developed secondary infections contracted mild cases of MERS, global researchers reported on Wednesday. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, confirmed observations that the virus can cause mild disease, but overall transmission rates are low. "If less than half of infected patients transmit the virus to contacts, such as in this study, we can be pretty sure that this virus will not be able to start an epidemic in humans," co-author Christian Drosten of the Institute of Virology at the University of Bonn Medical Center said in an email. MERS, thought to originate in camels, causes coughing, fever and pneumonia, and kills about a third of its victims.
When looking for a place to settle down, these animals use chemical cues to avoid reefs that are littered with seaweed and flock to healthy habitats instead, according to a new study. Scientists have seen corals decline around the world over the past several decades, and the new findings help explain why some reefs aren't recovering or recruiting new corals, despite conservation efforts. "The reefs in Fiji have such a stark contrast between the healthy areas and the degraded areas," said Danielle Dixson, an assistant professor of biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, who led the study. Dixson and colleagues studied the waters off of three villages along the southern side of Fiji's main island, Viti Levu, which each managed a small marine protected area, or MPA, next to another area where fishing was allowed.
A new atomic clock is due for installation on the International Space Station in 2016, ushering in a new age of physics experiments probing the relationship between space and time. Once there, the space station's robotic arm will install it on a payload platform outside the Columbus Laboratory, one of the station's research modules. Another atomic clock called SHM, or Space H-Maser will also be on the orbiting outpost. Together the two clocks will make up the Atomic Clock Ensemble in Space (ACES), a device that will be so accurate that it will lose only one second every 300 million years.
When researchers first discovered the fossil worm Hallucigenia in the 1970s, they were so perplexed they identified its head as its tail and its legs as its spines. The finding is surprising because it rewrites the evolutionary history of spiders, insects and crustaceans, said study researcher Javier Ortega-Hernandez, a paleobiologist at the University of Cambridge. Most genetic studies have found that these arthropods are close relatives of today's velvet worms, Ortega-Hernandez said in a statement. "The peculiar claws of Hallucigenia are a smoking gun that solves a long and heated debate in evolutionary biology," said study researcher Martin Smith, an earth scientist at the University of Cambridge.
By Sharon Begley NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. government scientist working with bird flu rushed through lab procedures in order to get to a staff meeting, setting off what could have been a fatal mishap, health officials said on Friday. They said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lab worker, who was not identified, allotted only about half the time necessary to carry out the procedures safely, and as a result samples of mild avian flu were tainted with a highly deadly strain and sent from CDC to researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. CDC released the report of its investigation of the avian flu incident and said disciplinary action is under consideration. CDC did not report the incident until July.
Lionfish, an invasive Pacific Ocean species, have been wiping out native fish populations in the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean for the past couple of decades. Now, research reveals the "terminator"-style approach to hunting that has likely made them so successful: When other predatory fish quit stalking their prey to look for easier targets, lionfish just keep on killing. "Lionfish seem to be the ultimate invader," study researcher Kurt Ingeman, a doctoral student at Oregon State University, said in a statement. Ingeman, who presented his research at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Sacramento, California, studied populations of the fairy basslet, a common lionfish prey, at reefs in the Bahamas.
Clouds cruise through the skies of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, in striking new imagery captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. In a rare sight for scientists, Cassini captured views of methane clouds drifting across Ligeia Mare, a big hydrocarbon sea near Titan's north pole, from July 20 through July 22. Few clouds had been seen on Titan since the dissipation of a major storm in 2010, so researchers are trying to gauge the significance of the new observations. "We're eager to find out if the clouds' appearance signals the beginning of summer weather patterns, or if it is an isolated occurrence," Cassini imaging team associate Elizabeth Turtle, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland, said in a statement.
At just 99 million base pairs of nucleotides (DNA's building blocks), the midge's genome is smaller than that of the body louse — and far more miniscule than the human genome, which has 3.2 billion base pairs. "It's a pretty exciting fly," Washington State University genomics researcher Joanna Kelley, who worked on the project to sequence the midge's genome, said in a statement. It's the only true insect that lives on the Antarctic continent, and at 0.23 inches (6 millimeters) long, it actually qualifies as the largest terrestrial animal in Antarctica, according to Miami University of Ohio's Laboratory for Ecophysiological Cryobiology. Antarctic midge larvae exist in a deep freeze for two winters.
For the first time ever, physicists have mapped the path that particles are most likely to take when moving from one quantum state to another. In physics, a concept called the "path of least action" describes the trajectory that an object is most likely to follow, similar to the familiar concept of the "path of least resistance." For example, a tossed football follows a parabolic arc through the air instead of spinning off in crazy loops or zigzags. However, physicists didn't know whether quantum particles, like electrons, neutrinos or photons, follow the same rule. Instead, they are governed by the weird rules of quantum mechanics that even Einstein called "spooky." [Wacky Physics: The Coolest Little Particles in Nature]
An astronomer and a graphic artist have teamed up to turn powerful explosions in distant galaxies into spellbinding music and animations. Known as gamma-ray bursts, these explosions of high-frequency electromagnetic radiation are the brightest events known to occur in the universe. Sylvia Zhu, a graduate student in physics at the University of Maryland, College Park, studies gamma-ray bursts at NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, using the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. "I figured it would be fun to 'hear' what these explosions might sound like, if we converted each photon into a musical note," Zhu told Live Science.
Scientists in South Korea say they have found a way of converting used cigarette butts into a material capable of storing energy that could help power everything from mobile phones to electric cars. In a study published on Tuesday in the journal Nanotechnology, researchers from Seoul National University outlined how they transformed the used filters, which are composed mainly of cellulose acetate fibres and are considered toxic and a risk to the environment when discarded. "Our study has shown that used cigarette filters can be transformed into a high-performing carbon-based material using a simple one-step process, which simultaneously offers a green solution to meeting the energy demands of society," said professor and study co-author Jongheop Yi. According to anti-smoking campaigners Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, cigarette butts are the most commonly discarded item worldwide, contributing more than 765,000 tonnes of waste annually.