by James Poulos | March 22, 2017 4:04 pm
Amid ongoing controversy over the economic impact of California’s thick regulatory environment, its leading space pioneers continued to notch new successes, underscoring the potential value of orbital and interplanetary technology to more earthbound challenges and opportunities.
Off the Pacific coast, a SpaceX capsule successfully returned to Elon Musk’s company cutting-edge research samples developed above the skies. “The pressurized capsule carrying about two tons of science projects splashed down in the Pacific Ocean off Baja California on Sunday after a five-hour free-fall from the International Space Station,” the San Jose Mercury News reported.
“Human stem cells were included in the Dragon cargo. It’s very difficult to expand stem cells on Earth but, in space, microgravity is believed to allow for accelerated expansion – which could improve treatment of stroke victims and others. Among other research, scientists looked at why microgravity causes wounds to heal more slowly, how it impacts muscle contraction, and how future antibiotic-resistant bacteria may mutate.”
Meanwhile, in Palm Springs, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos joined other industry leaders in giving the latest tech with potential space applications a spin. He climbed into a “14-foot-tall Method-2 robot, developed at Hankook Mirae Technology’s lab near Seoul in South Korea” and unveiled at an exclusive conference presented by Amazon, MARS 2017, according to GeekWire. “To create the 1.5-ton monstrosity, Hankook Mirae’s engineers worked with Hollywood robot designer Vitaly Bulgarov, who has been involved in mech-monster movie franchises such as Transformers, RoboCop and Terminator.”
In a bit of quintessentially Silicon Valley humor, Bezos tweeted an image of himself inside the mech with the #MARS2017 hashtag, raising speculation that he might sense an opportunity to link up massive exoskeletal technology with his own spacefaring program, Blue Origin. “Method-2 is controlled by a pilot who sits inside a cockpit in the robot’s torso, as Bezos demonstrates in the picture he tweeted.”
At the event, the Bezos-led firm let Americans gain a peek at one of its other leading-edge initiatives – a delivery drone – tested in England rather than California due to a smoother regulatory path. “The drone demonstration suggests that Amazon is making progress in its Prime Air development effort. When the service goes commercial, it’s expected to deliver packages in 30 minutes or less, using flying robots that can travel up to 50 mph,” GeekWire added separately. “It shouldn’t be a surprise that Amazon is providing a sneak peek at its delivery drones at MARS 2017. Amazon is presenting the semi-secret conference this week to show off technologies in Machine learning, home Automation, Robotics and Space exploration for a select audience.”
Bezos has joined Musk in pushing for greater and faster human space travel, methodically building and testing increasingly powerful engines capable of propelling rockets beyond Earth’s gravitational pull – and back. Blue Origin “has the suborbital New Shepherd, and engineers are working on the heavy-lifter New Glenn, an orbital vehicle that’s scheduled to fly for the first time by 2020,” as Space.com noted. “This same incrementalist philosophy will also apply to crewed flights, which will begin aboard New Shepard. (Blue Origin also intends to launch people to orbital space eventually, Bezos has said.)”
Musk has already announced that, pending preemption by a NASA crew, several private citizens have ponied up for a personal flight extending past the moon’s orbit. “Musk says the trip is scheduled to happen in late 2018 and if he and his company manage to pull it off, it will be the first time in 45 years that humans will venture that deep into space,” ABC San Francisco recalled. “They’ve not yet been identified, but two people have put down significant deposits for a trip around the moon. Musk says they will fly faster and farther into the solar system than anyone before them.”
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