TIME technology

Watch NASA Test These 3D-Printed Rocket Parts

3-D printers can bring rockets to space.

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If you thought the coolest application of a 3-D printer was creating a miniature model of yourself to show to your friends, then NASA has just proven you wrong.

Two 3-D printed rocket injectors were recently successfully tested by NASA at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. These powerful injectors mix liquid nitrogen and hydrogen to produce a combustion that can reach temperatures over 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit and generate over 20,000 pounds of thrust.

It sounds simple enough — the injectors’ design was entered into a 3-D printer’s computer, and the printer then built each part through a process known as selective laser melting.

“We wanted to go a step beyond just testing an injector and demonstrate how 3-D printing could revolutionize rocket designs,” said Chris Singer, director of Marshall’s Engineering Directorate.

With conventional manufacturing methods, the rocket injectors would require the creation and assembly of 163 individual pieces; with the 3-D printer, only 2 pieces were necessary. This unique method not only saved scientists and engineers time and money, it is also less likely to fail than the traditionally-built piece.

TIME space

Astronomers Just Witnessed the Formation of an Ancient Galaxy

An artist's impression of star birth deep inside the core of young, growing elliptical galaxy. Z. Levay, G. Bacon— STScI/NASA,

They call it "Sparky"

Think Milky Way, but smaller.

Astronomers have for the first time witnessed the formation of a massive galaxy, which they have dubbed “Sparky.” This galaxy contains twice as many stars as our own galaxy, but is is just a fraction of the size.

This galactic behemoth is so far from Earth that its observable light reaching our planet was actually created 11 billion years ago — that’s just 3 billion years after the Big Bang.

“We suspect that this core-formation process is a phenomenon unique to the early universe” explains Erica Nelson of Yale University, who’s a member of the team that put together the findings and research.

Astronomers suspect that there are other galaxies similar to Sparky. In the future, infrared telescopes such as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which is set to launch in 2018, should help to shed some light on these issues.

TIME space

NASA Spacecraft Reaches Neptune on Its Way to Pluto

Neptune's Great Dark Spot, accompanied by white high-altitude clouds as photographed by the Voyager 2 spacecraft.
A color image of Neptune's Great Dark Spot, accompanied by white high-altitude clouds taken from the Voyager 2 spacecraft. NASA

The New Horizons spacecraft is on its way to Pluto

NASA’s Pluto-bound spacecraft has reached Neptune, officials said Monday.

Passing through Neptune’s orbit is the last major crossing before the spacecraft, New Horizons, reaches its intended destination of Pluto. New Horizons is scheduled to be near Pluto on July 14, 2015. In a coincidence of timing, the spacecraft’s crossing through Neptune’s orbit has occurred on the exact same day NASA’s Voyager 2 encountered Neptune 25 years ago.

“It’s a cosmic coincidence that connects one of NASA’s iconic past outer solar system explorers, with our next outer solar system explorer,” Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said in a statement. “Exactly 25 years ago at Neptune, Voyager 2 delivered our ‘first’ look at an unexplored planet. Now it will be New Horizons’ turn to reveal the unexplored Pluto and its moons in stunning detail next summer on its way into the vast outer reaches of the solar system.”

New Horizons is the size of a piano and launched in January 2006. It reached Neptune’s orbit in a record of eight years and eight months. If the spacecraft’s journey continues successfully, it will be the first probe to reach Pluto.

TIME space

See the 10 Best Photos Taken by Voyager 2

Twenty-five years ago today the Voyager 2 spacecraft flew past Neptune, the furthest planet from the sun. The craft, which has been in operation for over thirty-seven years, continues to transmit data back to earth

TIME Science

Mesmerizing Six-Second Timelapse Video Shows How the Earth Changed Over Six Months

Created by NASA using images from January to July

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According to NASA, no planets have “matched the dynamic complexity of our own.” This video by the NASA Earth Observatory, which will take you just six seconds to watch — unless you keep hitting refresh like we did — showcases that dynamic complexity over the course of six months.

You see the eastern hemisphere, from January 18 to July 25, and its subtle changes in weather systems and vegetation. The best part is the clouds — swirling, lovely, mesmerizing clouds. Good job, Earth. You’re pretty awesome.

WATCH: Breath-taking NASA Timelapse Video Shows a Star Exploding

TIME space travel

NASA’s Hubble Finds Supernova Star System Linked to Potential ‘Zombie Star’

The two inset images show before-and-after images captured by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope of Supernova 2012Z in the spiral galaxy NGC 1309. The white X at the top of the main image marks the location of the supernova in the galaxy. NASA

Thankfully, there are no brains anywhere around this particular zombie

Less like The Walking Dead and more like The Floating Dead: Astronomers believe they have identified the remnants left from an exploded white dwarf, otherwise known as a “zombie star,” about 110 million light-years from Earth.

Images like this one, shot with NASA’s Hubble Telescope, reveal the onset and aftermath of a “weaker” supernova, which happens when something changes in the core of a star and sets off a nuclear reaction.

The discovery of one of these less robust supernovas is a rare find in the world of interstellar study, and can help “to measure vast cosmic distances and the expansion of the universe,” said Rutgers University scientist Saurabh Jha, who’s part of the team that put together findings on the zombie star for Thursday’s edition of Nature.

TIME

Martian Vistas: A Look at the Curiosity Rover’s Strange Home

Two years ago, NASA’s Curiosity Rover landed on Mars, transforming an engineering team’s high-risk brainstorming into reality. See the planet's topography, captured by Curiosity's HiRise cameras

TIME language

Congress and Its Do-Nothing Code Words

Nothing doing—ever: House Speaker John Boehner, after meeting with his stalled caucus on border legislation
Nothing doing—ever: House Speaker John Boehner, after meeting with his stalled caucus on border legislation Alex Wong; Getty Images

Conditional phrasing is the red flag of uselessness. Congress no longer talks about the things it "will" do; only the things it "would" or "could do"

Time was, reading news stories about NASA was a thrilling experience. What helped make it that way was something most people didn’t even consider: the verbs. Even before the hardware had been built and the people had been launched, the space agency knew where it was going. And so the press releases and the reporters’ stories were filled with promises that “the Gemini program will allow astronauts to walk in space,” and “the Apollo program will achieve the first lunar landing before 1970.” In early 1969, NASA even issued a “Neil Armstrong to Be First Man on Moon” press release.

As history notes, the Gemini and Apollo programs did just as they promised and Neil Armstrong was indeed the first man on the moon, and the only reason NASA didn’t get called on its hubris was because — as baseball Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean, the subject of TIME’s April 15, 1935 cover, famously put it — it ain’t bragging if you can do it.

But then the Apollo program ended, the manned space program started to drift, and slowly the declaratives gave way to the conditionals. So reports trickled out about a new spaceplane NASA was building that would take off and land like a jet, and the new Mars program the agency was planning that could have humans on the Red Planet by 2019, and the return-to-the-moon Constellation program that should be ready to go by 2020. But the space plane never flew and the Mars and Constellation missions were scrapped and, in its defense, NASA could at least say, well, we never lied to you.

Now, as NASA finally, slowly rebounds, an entire branch of government — Congress — has descended to the land of the conditionals. Increasingly, lawmaking in Washington has been reduced to little more than a pantomime, with both parties retreating to their bicameral would-sheds, cranking out a lot of doomed, never-gonna-happen bills — base-pleasing legislation that could or would do a lot of things, but never actually will.

Google the phrase “the bill would,” along with the words “House” and “Senate” and you get 59.8 million hits. That’s an admittedly imprecise way to go about things, not least because it gathers in a lot of similarly partisan behavior in state legislatures — though all that may indicate is that the celebrated laboratories of democracy have begin working with the same inert chemicals the federal legislature has.

Still, there are more than enough examples of Congress taking the lead—introducing a river of proposed legislation that would defund Obamacare (50 times), or reform the immigration system, or turn Medicare into a voucher program, or raise taxes on the 1%, or lower taxes on the 1%, or require background checks for gun purchases, or streamline the tax code, or raise the minimum wage, but that never actually will do any of those things. On Friday, the GOP majority in the House moved toward approving a bill that would at last address the unfolding border crisis, but only at the cost of deporting the 500,000 so-called Dreamers, people brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

The move faces a certain death in the Senate or White House veto but allows the legislators to go home to campaign, claiming that at least they tried something. President Obama — who has proposed plenty of his own dead-on-arrival legislation — dismissed the bill as “the most extreme and unworkable versions of a bill that they already know is going nowhere.”

Showpiece legislation designed more to make a point than anything else is a part of every parliamentary body, and in the U.S. it has always been a bipartisan form of mischief — even if in the 112th and current 113th Congresses, the Republicans have been guiltier than the Dems. Both parties learned a powerful lesson in the uses of legislative vaporware 20 years ago, with the Republicans’ sweep of the House and Senate in the 1994 midterms.

The GOP surfed to power that year thanks in part to New Gingrich’s and Dick Armey’s celebrated Contract With America, an ingenious campaign gimmick that promised House action within 100 days of a Republican takeover on 10 bills dear to party stalwarts, including a balanced budget amendment, term limits, and capital-gains tax cuts. Every one of the proposals did come to a vote and cleared the House. And virtually none of them went anywhere — nor were they expected to, given a balky Senate and a Democratic president with a veto pen. But the strategy worked — at least insofar as shifting the balance of power in Washington — and that did not go unnoticed by strategists in either party.

Nobody at this point expects a return to the dew-kissed days of Ronnie and Tip and Lyndon and Everett, when politicians would maul one another for show, then quietly worked out deals for real. Even then, members of both parties would often take care to describe their bills humbly, hedging with the conditional would. But the will was usually implicit, because passing legislation was what they’d been sent to Washington to do.

That, however, no longer seems possible. The members of the current Congress are increasingly content to produce only hollow bills that benefit no one but themselves—and why not? It’s easy, it costs nothing, and it gets them re-elected. Voters — eventually — will catch wise and punish them for that behavior. History, surely, will pillory them for it — and on that last point, there is nothing conditional at all.

TIME technology

Dad Builds NASA Spaceship Simulator in His Son’s Bedroom

Complete with interactive switches, LED lights and sound effects

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Some kids have Star Wars posters in their bedrooms — but this kid has an actual SPACE SHIP.

Father of two and general hero Jeff Highsmith decided to craft an interactive space shuttle for his 4-year-old kid, he explains on MAKE. It’s got controls, switches, glowing lights and a bunch of other realistic-looking spaceship stuff. Oh, it’s even got a bass shaker to simulate the feeling of the shuttle taking off.

He decided to build the spaceship after creating a mission control desk a few months back. Clearly, he thought, his kids would need a spaceship to go with it. The mission control center is in one room and the spaceship is in another — but his sons can collaborate on space mission using headsets. Coolest. Dad. Ever.

(h/t Laughing Squid)

 

TIME space travel

NASA Mars Rover Breaks Driving Record

Mars Rover
An artist's rendering of NASA’s Opportunity Mars Rover NASA/AP

Opportunity Mars Rover has driven 25 miles and surpassed expectations since it reached the planet in 2004

NASA’s Opportunity Mars Rover has set a new record for the longest off-Earth driving distance, the administration announced.

Opportunity has driven 25 miles since it arrived on Mars in 2004. It crossed the milestone after a 157-foot drive on Sunday.

“This is so remarkable considering Opportunity was intended to drive about one kilometer and was never designed for distance,” John Callas, Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager, said in a statement. “But what is really important is not how many miles the rover has racked up, but how much exploration and discovery we have accomplished over that distance.”

Opportunity is traveling along the rim of the Endeavor Crater, where NASA has gathered evidence of ancient water supply that was less acidic than those studied elsewhere on the planet.

As the rover approached this milestone, the team behind it named a 20-foot-wide Mars crater after the previous record holder, the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2, which drove 24.2 miles on the moon in 1973.

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