Monday, September 15, 2008

NASA Cooks Up Plans for Nuclear Reactor Under the Surface of the Moon

It's about time we start populating the moon, don't you think? I mean, we've got to do it eventually, so why not now? NASA knows what's up, which is why they're working on plans for an underground nuclear reactor buried under the surface of the moon. Badass. Hit the jump for NASA's full press release, which describes the plan in more precise terms.

NASA Developing Fission Surface Power Technology

CLEVELAND — NASA astronauts will need power sources when they return to the moon and establish a lunar outpost. NASA engineers are exploring the possibility of nuclear fission to provide the necessary power and taking initial steps toward a non-nuclear technology demonstration of this type of system.

A fission surface power system on the moon has the potential to generate a steady 40 kilowatts of electric power, enough for about eight houses on Earth. It works by splitting uranium atoms in a reactor to generate heat that then is converted into electric power. The fission surface power system can produce large amounts of power in harsh environments, like those on the surface of the moon or Mars, because it does not rely on sunlight. The primary components of fission surface power systems are a heat source, power conversion, heat rejection and power conditioning, and distribution.

"Our goal is to build a technology demonstration unit with all the major components of a fission surface power system and conduct non-nuclear, integrated system testing in a ground-based space simulation facility," said Lee Mason, principal investigator for the test at NASA's Glenn Center in Cleveland. "Our long-term goal is to demonstrate technical readiness early in the next decade, when NASA is expected to decide on the type of power system to be used on the lunar surface."

Glenn recently contracted for the design and analysis of two different types of advanced power conversion units as an early step in the development of a full system-level technology demonstration. These power conversion units are necessary to process the heat produced by the nuclear reactor and efficiently convert it to electrical power.

The first design concept by Sunpower Inc., of Athens, Ohio, uses two opposed piston engines coupled to alternators that produce 6 kilowatts each, or a total of 12 kilowatts of power. The second contract with Barber Nichols Inc. of Arvada, Colo., is for development of a closed Brayton cycle engine that uses a high speed turbine and compressor coupled to a rotary alternator that also generates 12 kilowatts of power.

"Development and testing of the power conversion unit will be a key factor in demonstrating the readiness of fission surface power technology and provide NASA with viable and cost-effective options for nuclear power on the moon and Mars," said Don Palac, manager of Glenn's Fission Surface Power Project.

After a one year design and analysis phase, a single contractor will be selected to build and test a prototype power conversion unit. When complete, the power conversion unit will be integrated with the other technology demonstration unit's major components. Glenn will develop the heat rejection system and provide the space simulation facility. Glenn also will work in conjunction with the Department of Energy and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Marshall will develop and provide a non-nuclear reactor simulator with liquid metal coolant as the heat source unit for the technology demonstration.

A nuclear reactor used in space is much different than Earth-based systems. There are no large concrete cooling towers, and the reactor is about the size of an office trash can. The energy produced from a space reactor also is much smaller but more than adequate for the projected power needs of a lunar outpost.

Testing of the non-nuclear system is expected to take place at Glenn in 2012 or 2013. These tests will help verify system performance projections, develop safe and reliable control methods, gain valuable operating experience, and reduce technology and programmatic risks. This technology demonstration is being conducted as part of NASA's Exploration Technology Development Program.

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Stephen Hawking to unveil strange new way to tell the time

By Roger Highfield

Prof Stephen Hawking is to unveil a remarkable £1 million clock with no hands that pays tribute to the world's greatest clockmaker.

One clock made by the legendary John Harrison, the pioneer of longitude, took 36 years to build and he was still calibrating it when he died at his home in London on March 24, 1776, his 83rd birthday.

The Corpus Clock will be unveiled by Prof Stephen Hawking
The Corpus Clock will be unveiled by Prof Stephen Hawking

The Corpus Clock has been invented and designed by Dr John Taylor for Corpus Christi College Cambridge for the exterior of the college's new library building.

It will be unveiled on 19 September by Prof Stephen Hawking, cosmologist and author of the global bestseller, A Brief History of Time.

Dr Taylor, an inventor and horologist who studied at the College in the 1950s has put £1 million of his own money and five years into the project.

"One of my heroes is John Harrison," he says.

Of Harrison's many innovations, he came up with the 'grasshopper escapement', explained Dr Taylor, referring to the device used by Harrison to turn rotational motion into a pendulum motion for timekeeping.

"No one knows how a grasshopper escapement works, so I decided to turn the clock inside out and, instead of making the escape wheel 35 mm across and hidden in the case, it is 1.5 m across and visible with the grasshopper escapement around the outside," said Dr Taylor.

He calls the new version of the escapement a 'Chronophage' (time-eater) - "a fearsome beast which drives the clock, literally "eating away time".

It is the largest Grasshopper escapement of any clock in the world.

The Chronophage "hypnotises the watcher with its perpetual motion, punctuated by an extraordinary repertoire of slow blinks, jaw-snaps and stings from its tail," says Dr Taylor.

The Corpus Clock, a true mechanical mechanism, which is wound up by an electric motor, has no hands. "It is a new way to show time, with light," said Dr Taylor.

The clock has no digital numbers, either, but instead a series of slits cut into the face, each a tenth of a degree across.

Blue LED lights are arranged behind the slits, and 60 quarter inch lenses, so that when the escape wheel moves, a series of rapidly darting lights runs in concentric circles to mark passing seconds, and pause at the correct hour and minute.

What appears to be lights flashing in sequence are actually controlled mechanically, using the same principle as a zoetrope, the old fashioned way to view a moving image through slits. The total wattage used by the clock is less than that of three 60 watt bulbs.

Its massive round face, nearly five feet in diameter, was engineered from a single sheet of stainless steel, the mouldings - like a series of waves rippling outwards - were blasted into place by precisely-controlled explosions under water. On the hour, a chain drops into a wooden coffin hidden behind the clock "to remind us of our mortality," he said.

The clock also plays tricks on the observer, seeming occasionally to pause, run unevenly and even go backwards. All this is achieved through mechanics rather than computer programming.

Harrison used his clocks as time standards for the marine chronometers he had pioneered to deliver accuracy great enough to allow the determination of longitude at sea.

There have been few significant advances in the mechanical clock since Harrison went against the grain of contemporary thinking by using large pendulum swings, enlarging the pendulum's "dominion" to reduce errors.

Among Harrison's many remarkable innovations was the gridiron mechanism, consisting of alternating brass and iron rods assembled so that expansion and contraction rates cancelled each other out as the chronometer moved from the tropics to colder climes.

He was also the inventor of the first caged roller bearing, the father of the ball bearing, in his last clock. Over 100 ball bearings are used in the Corpus clock.

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Dinosaurs Got by With a Little Bit of Luck


You might say that the dinosaurs were extremely unlucky 65 million years ago. Things were going along swimmingly and then, poof! that nasty asteroid came along and wiped them out.

But before that, apparently, the dinosaurs led a charmed life. A study published in Science suggests the dinosaurs ruled the roost for some 135 million years not so much because they were superior to the competition, but because they were lucky.

Mike Benton of the University of Bristol in England, Stephen L. Brusatte, now at Columbia University, and colleagues studied dinosaurs in relation to a major competing group of reptiles, the crurotarsans, the ancestors of the crocodiles. Both groups survived an extinction about 225 million years ago, but few of the crurotarsans made it through another mass extinction at the end of the Triassic, 200 million years ago.

Scientists had long thought that the reason for this was that the dinosaurs were somehow superior — they were able to outcompete the crurotarsans when the going got tough. But the new study indicates this was not the case.

The researchers developed a database of hundreds of skeletal features of more than 60 dinosaurs and crurotarsans, as well as a new family tree of both groups, and used them to determine evolutionary patterns. They found much more disparity among crurotarsans’ morphological features — a much broader array of shapes and forms.

“The assumption is that the diversity or range of body forms is more or less proportional to the number of modes of life that they’d occupy,” Dr. Benton said. So the finding shows that the crurotarsans were more diverse in terms of their lifestyle, diet and habitat — they filled more ecological niches and were, if anything, the more successful of the two groups in the late Triassic. “The dinosaurs didn’t find a way to squeeze into the crurotarsans’ role,” he said.

But then at the end of the Triassic, for some unknown reason the dinosaurs survived while almost all the crurotarsans did not. “There was a certain amount of luck involved,” Dr. Benton said. “One group got pretty much wiped out and another group soldiered on and took off. The dinosaurs finally got their chance.”

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MTV Cuts Down Rainforest for Reality TV Show

Ten Ways to Save Green by Going Green

Going green inherently saves money—by using less, we save more—but some big-ticket items can cost a lot. I’d love to install solar panels on my roof or a wind turbine in my backyard so I’d never have to see another PG&E bill again, but the reality is that I simply can’t afford either of those. Nor can I purchase a low-flow toilet, buy a Prius, or have the plumbing know-how to install a greywater system.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t save money on gas, water, and other living expenses by taking simple—often free—steps to reduce consumption of natural resources. Even if you’re not trying to save the planet, by consuming and wasting less, you’ll save money. And that’s something we all like to conserve.

1. Become Anti-Bottle
A bottle of water usually runs between one to two dollars, which means buying a few bottles every week could add up to over one hundred dollars a year. While that doesn’t seem like a lot, consider what else it costs: 1.5 million barrels of oil go into making those bottles, and 22 million head to landfills every year. Plus, toting around a bottle of water is a bit like wearing a badge that says, “I’m a sucker.” After all, some companies simply bottle tap water and then sell it to consumers; the other companies are selling something that we can get for free. Seems like a no-brainer. Buy a reusable water bottle for $15 bucks, use a cup when you can, and pocket the extra cash.

2. Displace Instead of Replace
After consecutive dry summers, many parts of the country are experiencing droughts. In the Bay Area, where I live, water rationing has begun and my local municipal district is charging extra per gallon if conservation efforts are not undertaken. But for those of us that can’t afford to upgrade appliances, how can we reduce water consumption?

Instead of a fancy, new low-flush toilet to replace old large tank toilets, there is a simple, cheap (even free) method: displacement. By placing a brick, a plastic bag filled with water (sometimes called toilet tummies), or anything that takes up space (last year’s fruit cake?) inside the tank it will reduce the amount of water per flush. I ordered a free toilet tummy from my municipal district; check to see if yours subsidizes them too.

For the truly stringent, you can implement the mantra I learned as a child during water-strapped summers in Northern California: If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.

3. Go Low-Flow
Low-flow showerheads will reduce water consumption, and, because they save hot water, energy consumption as well. If you have older pipes and your shower takes a while to heat up, simply put a bucket in the stall to capture the cold stuff and use this to water plants, mop, or wash dishes.

Adding aerators and low-flow faucet adapters (usually less than $5 at hardware stores) on all sinks will save water—and ultimately, money.

4. Move It, Don’t Lose It
Can’t afford a Prius? Not a problem. There are cheap, even free, ways to keep money in your pocket while still getting around town: bike, walk, run, carpool, or use public transit. Since gas prices aren’t likely to drop much from where they are now, getting in the habit of going car-free is not only a cheap way of transport, it’s a long-term habit that will save you money and reduce your carbon output.

If you do have to drive, there are ways to make your dollar go further. Drive laid back—don’t accelerate too fast from green lights and gradually slow down to red lights. And don’t let the tires slow you down. According to the Consumer Reports Web site, properly inflated tires can save up to one mile per gallon.

5. Weather Strip It
The windows in my old house are single-paned, drafty, and in serious need of replacing. However, until I save enough to do so, weather stripping or caulking is a great substitute. (Weather strip usually costs between $20 and $30; caulk is less than $5 per tube.) Consumer Reports advises that weather stripping can reduce heating costs by almost 30 percent during the winter for those who live in cold areas. And if you’re like me, and suffer through the cold months with lots of clothes and little heat, sealing up the windows could actually make the winters at home enjoyable.

6. Wash Smart
Although you can often get rebates when buying energy-efficient appliances, some people may still find them priced out of reach. So how to make do with the old versions without spending a dime?

For dishwashers, make sure to fill the dishwasher to the brim before washing, and opt out of the “heat dry” cycle, which uses extra energy. Skip pre-rinsing dishes, except for the two-day-old crusted oatmeal bowls. For those hand washers like me, use a tub to soak and rinse instead of having the water run constantly. When rinsing fruits and vegetables, I also save the water in a bowl and use it to water patio or indoor plants.

For the clothes washer, use cold water, and during the summer months, line-dry. Yes, your neighbors might see your undies, but you’ll save on energy so you can replace the worn out ones.

7. Make Your Own
Rather than buying often-overpriced green cleaning products, you can make your own with everyday household items like baking soda and vinegar. Both items can be purchased cheaply (around $1.50 for the soda and $4 for a huge tub of vinegar) at grocery stores.

Along the line of simplifying to save, one way to cut back on how much we spend on disposables like paper towels, napkins, aluminum foil, and plastic bags is to use tea towels, cloth napkins, and Tupperware instead. Once we free ourselves from the use-it-once-and-throw-it-away mindset, we find money in our pockets.

8. Ward off the Vampires
You know those appliances that, although turned off, still have a standby screen that’s lit up or flashing? These are known as “vampire” or phantom electricity loads, and have been estimated to be responsible for 10 to 40 percent of the energy used in homes. One way to cut back on their consumption is to buy a power strip (usually about $5) that can be shut off when they’re not in use. Or simply unplug them.

9. Cook Green
Although “budget” menus are supposed to save money, cooking similar meals at home is almost always cheaper. Plus, eating out uses excess packaging which usually ends up in the trash. Save money, paper, and plastic by eating in or brown-bagging it to work. When you do grocery shop, look for inexpensive bulk items, which use less packaging than processed foods and cost less too.

We can also save on energy costs by keeping our fridge and freezer full of food (which retains the cold) and keeping the temperature around 37 to 40 degrees.

10. Buy Less
One of the best ways to save money is simply to buy less stuff. That said, sometimes we need and want new things. In this case, hit the vintage stores, garage sales, Web sites like freecycle where you can get used items for free, flea markets, and scavenger yards. This not only saves money, it saves items from the landfill.

Of course, these are simply a few of the simple things that can be done to cut costs and emissions. Replacing light bulbs with compact fluorescents, getting an automatic thermostat, bundling up in the winter rather than turning on the heat, and letting the lawn go brown are other cheap and easy ways to save on bills. Perhaps one day, I’ll be able to afford to go off the grid.

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5 Acre Marijuana Farm Found and Destroyed in Redwood National Park