Tag Archives: U.S.

SpaceX Releases Inspiring Video of Dragon’s Historic Journey Through Space

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SpaceX made history in May when its Dragon capsule became the first privately-built spacecraft to dock at the International Space Station. Now, the company has released a YouTube video that follows its historic journey through space, from liftoff to its return drop in the Pacific Ocean.

The video begins with footage from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launch on May 22 that carried the Dragon spacecraft into orbit from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It also features footage of it orbiting the Earth, U.S. astronaut Don Pettit opening Dragon’s hatch and SpaceX’s reaction to the successful mission.


Not only was the Dragon the first privately developed vehicle in history to ever successfully attach to the International Space Station, only four governments — the United States, Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency — had previously achieved this feat.

SpaceX — which has a $1.6 billion contract to fly 12 supply missions — is gearing up for more launches in the near future. The first contracted cargo flight is scheduled for September.

What do you think of the video? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Image courtesy of SpaceX

BONUS: SpaceX and NASA’s Historic Dragon Capsule ISS Docking in Pictures

U.S. Must Release Legal Justification for Drone Strikes, Court Rules

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A MQ-9 Reaper drone, armed with GBU-12 Paveway II laser guided munitions and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, piloted by Col. Lex Turner during a combat mission over southern Afghanistan.
Image: AP Photo/Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt, US Air Force/Associated Press

In an unprecedented decision, a federal appeals court ordered the U.S. government to release a memo detailing the legal justification behind the killing of American citizens by drone strikes overseas.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday that the government can’t claim the memo needs to be secret anymore, because various U.S. officials have repeatedly acknowledged the so-called targeted drone strikes program in general and the killings of three American citizens in Yemen in 2011 in particular. This is an addition to a U.S. Department of Justice White Paper, leaked by NBC News and confirmed by DOJ, which explained the legal rationale behind drone strikes.

“Whatever protection the legal analysis might once have had has been lost by virtue of public statements of public officials at the highest levels and official disclosure of the DOJ White Paper,” wrote Judge Jon O. Newman in a decision (embedded below), that was made unanimously by a three judge panel in Manhattan.

Monday’s decision overturns a January 2013 lower court ruling that allowed the Department of Justice to keep secret a memorandum that provided the legal justification for the drone strikes that killed three United States citizens in Yemen: Anwar al-Awlaki, a cleric who allegedly had become a prominent Al-Qaeda spokesperson, his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman, and Samir Khan.

At the time, U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon ruled in favor of secrecy despite the fact that she found herself in a “paradoxical situation” of letting the government claim it was legal to kill Americans outside of declared war zones, while also claiming it can’t reveal the legal reasoning behind that decision.

“The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement is not lost on me,” she wrote.

The lawsuit in Monday’s decision was filed by The New York Times, which has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see the legal memo, with the support of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

It’s unclear whether the DOJ will now appeal the decision, and, for now, there’s no timetable for the release of the documents.

Both the Times and the ACLU, however, celebrated the ruling.

“This is a resounding rejection of the government’s effort to use secrecy and selective disclosure to manipulate public opinion about the targeted killing program,” ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer said in an emailed statement. “The public has a right to know why the administration believes it can carry out targeted killings of American citizens who are located far away from any conventional battlefield.”

“The court reaffirmed a bedrock principle of democracy: The people do not have to accept blindly the government’s assurances that it is operating within the bounds of the law; they get to see for themselves the legal justification that the government is working from,” David McCraw, the Times‘ lawyer, said in a statement.

Here’s the full ruling from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Federal Court Decision Ordering U.S. Government to Disclose Drone Killinds Memo

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/04/21/federal-court-drone-strikes-ruling/

NASA’s Newest Mars Rover Is Biggest and Best Yet

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When NASA’s newest rover, Curiosity, reaches Mars in about three weeks, it will not be the first to set its wheels on the Red Planet, but it will be the largest and most advanced robotic explorer that has ever been sent to our planetary neighbor.

The Curiosity rover, also called the Mars Science Laboratory, was launched in late November 2011, and is expected to land on Mars on the night of Aug. 5 PDT (early Aug. 6 EDT). The $2.5 billion rover will touch down at Gale Crater, and is designed to search for clues that Mars could be now, or in the ancient past, a habitable planet for microbial life.

NASA first set its sights on landing on the Red Planet in the 1970s. The agency achieved its first Mars landing in 1976 with the Viking 1 lander. Since then, the agency has had six spacecraft successfully touch down on the Martian surface. But with the impending arrival of Curiosity, NASA will showcase the most sophisticated Martian rover yet.

“The Curiosity landing is the hardest NASA robotic mission ever attempted in the history of exploration of Mars, or any of our robot exploration,” John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a news briefing Monday (July 16) at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Bigger and better

For starters, the way Curiosity will lower itself to the surface of Mars in less than 20 days is unprecedented. The rover will use a new and complex sky crane system to slow its descent.

According to Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters, Curiosity’s landing “could arguably be the most important event — most significant event — in the history of planetary exploration.” [How Curiosity’s Nail-Biting Landing Works (Pictures)]

Previous Mars rovers, such as the twin Spirit and Opportunity rovers (collectively known as the Mars Exploration Rovers), used airbags to cushion their landing. Spirit and Opportunity arrived at the Red Planet about three weeks apart in January 2004. Each rover weighs about 384 pounds, but since Curiosity tips the scales at 1 ton, it was deemed too heavy and too large for an airbag-assisted landing.

“The mass of Spirit and Opportunity was just about at the limit for what that airbag design could handle,” McCuistion said.

Spirit and Opportunity were designed for three-month missions on Mars, but both far outlived their warranties. After getting stuck in Martian sand and losing contact with Earth, Spirit was officially declared dead in May 2011. But, Opportunity is still alive and well, and is currently exploring a massive crater, called Endeavour. Since it landed on the Red Planet, Opportunity has logged an impressive 21.4 miles.

Like its two predecessors, Curiosity will be equipped with six wheels with individual driver motors and a suspension system to help it drive up inclines and combat the difficult Martian terrain. But Curiosity will also be able to move faster, with 3.35 miles per hour being its top speed on flat, hard ground. For comparison, Opportunity’s maximum speed is approximately 0.1 miles per hour.

“Mars Science Lab [is the] most challenging mission we’ve ever sent to another planet, and certainly the most challenging we’ve sent to Mars,” McCuistion said. “It truly is a major step forward both in technology and in potential science return and science capability, to unlock the mysteries of Mars in places that have never been accessible to humankind in the past.” [7 Biggest Mysteries of Mars]

A New Suite of Instruments

Curiosity is designed to perform detailed analyses of Martian rocks and soil, including what lies beneath the surface. The rover is equipped with 10 different instruments that have a collective mass of 165 pounds. Spirit and Opportunity each carried five instruments, totaling 11 pounds.

Curiosity will be able to dig, snap high-definition pictures of Mars, analyze chemical properties of soil and rock samples, study minerals and even blast rocks with a laser to measure their chemical compositions.

As one of the key indicators of potential habitability, Curiosity will investigate the presence of water around Gale Crater.

“Over the last decade-and-a-half of exploration, we have found more water than expected,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Program at NASA headquarters. “With the landing of Curiosity, the adventure begins as we explore the past and present of Gale Crater.”

As NASA prepares for Curiosity’s nail-biting trip through the atmosphere of Mars, mission managers anticipate the huge rover will herald a new age of exploration on the Red Planet and beyond.

“The Mars Exploration Program was designed to create steady progress in both technology and scientific capabilities at other planets,” McCuistion said. “NASA was created to take on big challenges, and that’s what this one is. MSL is forging ahead in greater and greater ways for science and for technology. Robert Kennedy said, ‘Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.’ MSL is poised to do great things.”

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/07/20/nasa-new-mars-rover/

Your Safety Depends on Air Traffic Controllers Who Are Still Working Crazy Shifts

Air-traffic

Air traffic controllers, from left, Kristen Karcz, Bob Francis and Ross Leshinsky work in the tower at Logan International Airport in Boston, Friday, Nov. 15, 2013.
Image: Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Air traffic controllers are still working schedules known as “rattlers” that make it likely for them to get little or no sleep before overnight shifts, more than three years after a series of incidents involving controllers sleeping on the job, according to a government report released Friday.

A report by the National Research Council expressed concern about the effectiveness of the Federal Aviation Administration’s program to prevent its 15,000 controllers from suffering fatigue on the job, a program that has been hit with budget cuts. The 12-member committee of academic and industry experts who wrote the report at the behest of Congress said FAA officials refused to allow them to review results of prior research the agency conducted with NASA examining how work schedules affect controller performance.

The FAA-NASA research results “have remained in a ‘for official use only’ format” since 2009 and have not been released to the public, the report said.

The committee stressed its concern that controllers are still working schedules that cram five eight-hour work shifts into four 24-hour periods. The schedules are popular with controllers; at the end of their last shift, they have 80 hours off before returning to work the next week. But controllers also call the shifts “rattlers” because they “turn around and bite back.”

An example of the kind of schedule that alarmed the report’s authors begins with two consecutive day shifts ending at 10 p.m. followed by two consecutive morning shifts beginning at 7 a.m. The controller gets off work at 3 p.m. after the second morning shift and returns to work at about 11 p.m. the same day for an overnight shift — the fifth and last shift of the workweek.

When factoring in commute times and the difficulty people have sleeping during the day when the human body’s circadian rhythms are “promoting wakefulness,” controllers are “unlikely to log a substantial amount of sleep, if any, before the final midnight shift,” the report said.

“From a fatigue and safety perspective, this scheduling is questionable and the committee was astonished to find that it is still allowed under current regulations,” the report said. The combination of “acute sleep loss” while working overnight hours when circadian rhythms are at their lowest ebb and people most crave sleep “increases the risk for fatigue and for associated errors and accidents,” the report said.

LAX control tower

A view from the control tower at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

Image: Reed Saxon/Associated Press

FAA officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association defended the scheduling, citing the 2009 study that hasn’t been publicly released. The union said in a statement that NASA’s research showed that “with proper rest periods,” the rattler “actually produced less periods of fatigue risk to the overall schedule.”

In 2011, FAA officials and then-Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood promised reforms after a nearly a dozen incidents in which air traffic controllers were discovered sleeping on the job or didn’t respond to calls from pilots trying to land planes late at night. In one episode, two airliners landed at Washington D.C.‘s Reagan National Airport without the aid of a controller because the lone controller on the overnight shift had fallen asleep. In another case, a medical flight with a seriously ill patient had to circle an airport in Reno, Nevada, before landing because the controller had fallen asleep.

Studies show most night shift workers, not just controllers, face difficulties staying awake regardless of how much sleep they have gotten. That’s especially true if they aren’t active or don’t have work that keeps them mentally engaged. Controllers on night shifts often work in darkened rooms with frequent periods of little or no air traffic to occupy their attention, conditions scientists say are conducive to falling asleep.

“We all know what happens with fatigue,” said Mathias Basner, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania medical school and the sleep expert on the committee. “The first thing you expect to see is attention going down, reaction time slows, you have behavioral lapses or micro-sleeps. … If you have to react quickly in that situation, that is problematic.”

After the 2011 incidents with falling asleep, the FAA stopped scheduling controllers to work alone on overnight shifts at 27 airports and air traffic facilities and increased the minimum time between work shifts to nine hours.

Another change was the creation of a “fatigue risk management program” for controllers. However, budget cuts “have eliminated the program’s capability to monitor fatigue concerns proactively and to investigate whether initiatives to reduce fatigue risks are providing the intended benefits,” the report said.

Basner said the FAA was making no effort to determine whether there is a correlation between work schedules and controllers errors. For example, there were near collisions between airliners near Honolulu and Houston recently.

On April 25, 2014, a controller failed to notice when two airliners were on a collision course in Honolulu. The pilot of one of the aircrafts had to initiate an abrupt dive to avoid an accident.

In Houston, two planes almost collided during takeoff — the aircraft came within a few hundred feet of each other when a controller told one plane to turn right when it was supposed to turn left.

The FAA and the controllers’ union have established a program that encourages controllers to report errors by promising they won’t be penalized for honest mistakes. The reports are entered into a database that the agency is supposed to use to spot trends or problem areas. But controllers are sometimes too busy to file reports, and the report forms don’t seek information on the controller’s schedule or other details that might be used to determine whether schedules are contributing to errors, Basner said.

When FAA officials were asked about this, they indicated “they didn’t see the necessity to analyze the data that way,” he said.

The committee also thought it was “a bit strange” that FAA officials wouldn’t show them their 2009 study conducted with NASA, Basner added.

“You would think you would get 100% support, but we didn’t get it.”

Additional reporting by Mashable

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/06/13/air-traffic-controllers-faa-schedules/

What If Huge NASA Mars Rover Crashes Sunday Night?

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If NASA’s newest Mars rover doesn’t touch down safely Sunday night (Aug. 5), the future of Red Planet exploration could be thrown into serious doubt.

The 1-ton Curiosity rover‘s main goal is to determine if Mars can, or ever could, support microbial life. But the huge robot is also carrying the hopes and dreams of NASA’s venerable Mars program on its back to some extent, so a crash Sunday night could be devastating.

“It could take the entire Mars program down with it,” Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society, which pushes for human settlement of the Red Planet, told SPACE.com’s Leonard David. “It is victory or death.”

Big funding cuts

President Barack Obama’s 2013 federal budget request, which was released in February, slashes NASA’s planetary science program funding from $1.5 billion to $1.2 billion, with further cuts expected in the coming years.

Much of the money will come out of NASA’s robotic Mars exploration program, which has enjoyed a string of successes in the past decade. After landing in January 2004, for example, the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity discovered plenty of evidence that Mars was once warmer and wetter than it is today. And the Phoenix lander found subsurface water ice near the planet’s north pole in 2008.

Nevertheless, the White House budget proposal cuts NASA’s Mars funding from $587 million this year to $360 million in 2013, and then to just $189 million in 2015. [NASA’s 2013 Budget: What Will It Buy?]

As a result, NASA was forced to drop of out the European-led ExoMars mission, which aims to deliver an orbiter and a rover to the Red Planet in 2016 and 2018, respectively. And the agency is fundamentally restructuring and downscaling its Mars program, in an attempt to figure out how to make the most out of every precious dollar.

But NASA planetary science officials still hold out hope for a funding comeback, with the help of Curiosity. They think the rover’s discoveries could loosen politicians’ pursestrings and reinvigorate the agency’s robotic exploration efforts.

“What a tremendous opportunity it is for us,” Jim Green, head of NASA’s planetary science division, said at a conference in March. “I believe [Curiosity] will open up that new era of discovery that will compel this nation to invest more in planetary science.”

Sticking the landing

So a successful landing on Sunday night is of paramount importance to the space agency, officials have said.

Curiosity‘s touchdown “could arguably be the most important event — most significant event — in the history of planetary exploration,” Doug McCuistion, director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, said last month.

But success is not a given. Landing a robot on another planet is never an easy task, and Curiosity‘s touchdown will perhaps involve more hand-wringing than usual.

Because it’s so heavy, engineers had to devise an entirely new landing method for the rover. A rocket-powered sky crane will lower Curiosity to the Martian surface on cables, then fly off to intentionally crash-land a short distance away. Such a maneuver has never before been tried on another world.

If success over the course of the mission could bring great dividends to NASA’s Mars program, then failure Sunday night could have a chilling effect.

“I think if we are fatal on landing, that will have a very negative influence,” said Caltech’s John Grotzinger, lead scientist for Curiosity‘s $2.5 billion mission, which is officially called the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL).

“It’s going to force people to look back and ask if it’s possible to achieve these very complex, more demanding missions from a technological perspective,” Grotzinger told SPACE.com. “How can you talk about sample-return if you can’t do MSL first?”

Keeping the program vital

NASA has one more Mars mission firmly on the books beyond MSL, an atmosphere-studying orbiter called Maven that’s due to launch next year. The agency plans to launch another mission in 2018 or 2020, partly to keep the program vital.

But a Curiosity crash could persuade some talented scientists and engineers that there’s not much of a future at Mars, at least not for a while, researchers say.

“If this thing were to fail, I think a lot of people would trickle away and do other things,” said Ken Edgett, of Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego. Edgett is principal investigator for Curiosity‘s Mars Hand Lens Imager instrument, or MAHLI.

He added that a crash might spark discussions within NASA about shifting resources from Mars to other promising destinations, such as Jupiter’s moon Europa, which harbors a liquid-water ocean beneath its icy shell.

“I don’t like that either-or scenario, but I think that’s where we’re headed,” Edgett told SPACE.com in April.

Mars keeps calling us

Edgett stressed, however, that he didn’t think a landing mishap would be the end of the Mars program. Other experts echo that viewpoint, saying that Mars will continue to hold our interest and draw our scientific explorers back.

“It’s one of the most scientifically compelling objects in the solar system — perhaps in terms of ease to get to, the most compelling,” said Scott Hubbard of Stanford University. “And it’s the place, ultimately, for human exploration. So I think Mars exploration will continue.”

Hubbard speaks from experience. He’s the former “Mars Czar” who restructured NASA’s Red Planet program after the agency’s Mars Polar Lander and Mars Climate Orbiter both failed in 1999.

Still, success would definitely be preferable for those who care about Red Planet exploration. A strong showing by Curiosity could lead to bigger things down the road at Mars, Hubbard said.

“There’s a window, I feel, with a successful mission — particularly if it finds evidence of organics — to give the scientific community even more stimulus and ammunition to ask for a re-look at the budget,” Hubbard said.

Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/04/mars-rover-crash/

Bacteria in Space Grows in Strange Ways

Pseudomonas-aeruginosa

When bacteria grows in a dish of fake urine in space, it behaves in ways never-before-seen in Earth microorganisms, scientists say.

A team of scientists sent samples of the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa into orbit aboard NASA’s space shuttle Atlantis to see how they grew in comparison to their Earth-dwelling counterparts.

The 3D communities of microorganisms (called biofilms) grown aboard the space shuttle had more live cells, were thicker and had more biomass than the bacterial colonies grown in normal gravity on Earth as controls. The space bacteria also grew in a “column-and-canopy” structure that has never been observed in bacterial colonies on Earth, according to NASA scientists.

“Biofilms were rampant on the Mir space station and continue to be a challenge on the [International Space Station], but we still don’t really know what role gravity plays in their growth and development,” NASA’s study leader Cynthia Collins, an assistant professor in the department of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., said in a statement. “Our study offers the first evidence that spaceflight affects community-level behaviors of bacteria, and highlights the importance of understanding how both harmful and beneficial human-microbe interactions may be altered during spaceflight.”

Most biofilms found in the human body and in nature are harmless, but some are associated with disease, NASA officials said.

The space bacteria were cultured in artificial urine on NASA’s Atlantis shuttle in 2010 and again in 2011 before the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle program. Collins and her team of researchers used fabricated urine because it can be used to study the formation of biofilm outside and inside the body. Understanding how to safely remove and recycle waste is particularly relevant because of its importance in long-term spaceflight, NASA officials said.

“The unique appearance and structure of the P. aeruginosa biofilms formed in microgravity suggests that nature is capable of adapting to nonterrestrial environments in ways that deserve further studies, including studies exploring long-term growth and adaptation to a low-gravity environment,” Collins said in a statement. “Before we start sending astronauts to Mars or embarking on other long-term spaceflight missions, we need to be as certain as possible that we have eliminated or significantly reduced the risk that biofilms pose to the human crew and their equipment.”

Scientists sent 12 devices with eight vials of P. aeruginosa — a bacterium that can be associated with disease on Earth — into orbit on Atlantis. Once in space, astronauts on the shuttle introduced the bacterium to the fake urine while scientists on the ground began the control experiment.

After the samples arrived safely on Earth, Collins and her team took a detailed 3D image of the biofilms to investigate their internal structure, and used other research methods to investigate the colony’s thickness and cell growth.

The study, published in the April 20 issue of the journal PLOS ONE, also could have implications for bacterial research on Earth. It’s possible that this kind of research could help scientists and doctors more effectively limit the spread of infection in hospitals, Collins said.

Image courtesy of NASA

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/07/10/bacteria-growth-space/

Sandy Prompts FCC Hearings on Communications Outages

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The Federal Communications Commission announced on Wednesday it will hold field hearings examining ways to keep communications systems up and running during natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy.

Lawmakers called for probes into communications outages after Sandy left as much as 25% of cell sites in its path inoperable when it hit the East Coast in October.

“This unprecedented storm has revealed new challenges that will require a national dialogue around ideas and actions to ensure the resilience of communications networks,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement.

The hearings will start in 2013, with the first round in New York and continuing in other disaster-prone areas of the country.

In the wake of Sandy, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called for the FCC to determine where system weaknesses exist and develop plans to make communications networks more resilient.

“Field hearings will increase our understanding of the problems encountered during Superstorm Sandy and harvest the best ideas to ensure that mobile phone service doesn’t fail after future storms,” he said in a statement after the FCC announced the hearings. “Mobile communication has become an essential part of our lives, and increasing its reliability must be a top priority.”

Several House Democrats have also called for a congressional hearing on the issue.

Harold Feld, senior vice president at the consumer group Public Knowledge, said he hopes the outages will lead to federal standards for communications networks.

“Hopefully, the experience with Sandy underscores how dependent we as a nation have become on these networks, and that the federal government does indeed have a role in setting minimum standards for preparedness and response,” he said.

Image courtesy of Flickr, edenpictures

This article originally published at National Journal
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/21/sandy-fcc-outages/

Hillary Clinton Opens the Social Good Summit

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The third annual Social Good Summit kicked off Saturday in New York with a surprise address from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Leaders around the world are coming together around at the United Nations seeking solutions for some of the toughest challenges we might face,” Clinton said. “At the same time a revolution in social media is helping people everywhere take part in a global conversation about how we can work together to advance the common good.”

Clinton encouraged the connected generation to get involved helping to build a better future.

“We need your help,” she said. “Please use this unprecedented opportunity to become involved. Share your ideas. Mobilize your friends. Take action online and off.”

Even if you couldn’t make it to New York, you can catch all of the excitement on the Social Good Summit livestream.

About Ericsson

Read more of Mashable’s coverage of the 2012 Social Good Summit:

Day One:

Day Two:

Day Three:

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/22/hillary-clinton-social-good/

Why You Can’t Vote Online Tuesday

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A decade and a half into the web revolution, we do much of our banking and shopping online. So why can’t we vote over the Internet? The answer is that voting presents specific kinds of very hard problems.

Even though some countries do it and there have been trial runs in some precincts in the United States, computer security experts at a Princeton symposium last week made clear that online voting cannot be verifiably secure, and invites disaster in a close, contentious race.

“Vendors may come and they may say they’ve solved the Internet voting problem for you, but I think that, by and large, they are misleading you, and misleading themselves as well,” Ron Rivest, the MIT computer scientist and cryptography pioneer, said at the symposium. “If they’ve really solved the Internet security and cybersecurity problem, what are they doing implementing voting systems? They should be working with the Department of Defense or financial industry. These are not solved problems there.”

The unsolved problems include the ability of malicious actors to intercept Internet communications, log in as someone else, and hack into servers to rewrite or corrupt code. While these are also big problems in e-ecommerce, if a hacker steals money, the theft can soon be discovered. A bank or store can decide whether any losses are an acceptable cost of doing business.

Voting is a different and harder problem. Lost votes aren’t acceptable. And a voting system is supposed to protect the anonymity of a person’s vote — quite unlike a banking or e-commerce transaction — while at the same time validating that it was cast accurately, in a manner that maintains records that a losing candidate will accept as valid and verified.

Given the well-understood vulnerabilities of networked computer systems, the problem is far from solved, says David Dill, a Stanford computer scientist. “Basically, it relies on the user’s computer being trustworthy. If a virus can intercept a vote at keyboard or screen, there is basically no defense,” Dill says. “There are really fundamental problems. Perhaps a system could be tightened so some particular hack won’t work. But overall, systems tend to be vulnerable.”

This year, the U.S. Department of Defense canceled plans to allow Internet voting by military personnel overseas after a security team audited a $22 million system developed by Accenture and found it vulnerable to cyberattacks.

While some nations, including Estonia, allow Internet voting — and other European nations and cities are pursuing projects (Italy is conducting a large test this year), Dill says these adoptions do not prove that they are secure. “I contend that nobody knows whether there is fraud in those nations, because there is no way to detect it,” Dill said.

Some of the theoretical hacking problems could already plague electronic voting systems that are widely used in the United States and other countries, especially if the machines do not produce paper records. But these machines, because they are disconnected from the Internet, are vulnerable to a much narrower range of attacks.

The problems of Internet voting were made clear in a trial two years ago, when the District of Columbia set up a system that let voters go online, enter an ID code they’d received in the mail, cast a vote, and get a record of the result. Election officials invited computer scientists to try to hack the system in a mock election.

Alex Halderman, a computer scientist at the University of Michigan, and two grad students accepted that offer — and soon found an error in the source code that “allowed us to completely steal the election,” Halderman said at the Princeton symposium. They were even able to change the choice of candidates that appeared on people’s screens.

Rivest put the matter in plain terms. “I think when we talk about voting over the Internet, my gut reaction says: Why vote over the Internet? Why? Why are you doing this? Why? Really, why? Why? I think you need to ask that question a lot, just like a two-year-old,” he said. “There are other approaches to getting information back and forth that are better, and have better security properties.

Voting over the Internet is rarely going to be the best choice. It’s very complicated, and you are asking for trouble. Would you connect your toaster to a high-tension power line? Putting a voting system online is very much like that. Would you invest your pension in credit default swaps? You want to stay away [from] complexity. You want something simple. You are entering a world of attacks and risk that you don’t want to be in.”

Photo courtesy Flickr, Theresa Thompson.

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/05/why-you-cant-vote-online/

See Space Station and Cargo Ship in Night Sky This Week

Stargazing

The International Space Station and a European cargo-carrying spacecraft are locked in a cosmic dance, and you can see it all unfold right from your own backyard.

The European Space Agency’s bus-size Automated Transfer Vehicle-4 (ATV-4) — a space cargo ship loaded with food, rocket fuel and experiments — launched toward the space station last Wednesday. This week, weather permitting, you’ll be able to see both the station and the ship (named “Albert Einstein”) pass overhead.

This is a sight that should easily be visible to almost anyone, even those in brightly lit cities across southern Canada, all of Europe and much of the United States.

The appearance of either the International Space Station or an ATV cargo ship moving across the sky is not unusual. On any clear evening, within a couple of hours of local sunset and with no optical aid, you can usually spot several Earth-orbiting satellites creeping across the sky like moving stars.

Satellites become visible only when they are in sunlight and the observer is in deep twilight or darkness; this usually means shortly after dusk or before dawn.

What makes this week’s prospective passages so interesting is that you’ll be able to see the ATV-4 gradually “chase down” the space station around the Earth, ultimately catching up and docking with the orbiting outpost. Docking is scheduled for Saturday, June 15 at 9:46 a.m. EDT.

Both vehicles will appear to travel across the sky along the same path, and the gap between the two will diminish as the week unfolds.

Today they have about 42 minutes of travel time between them. By Wednesday, they’ll be 36 minutes apart and, by Thursday, 20 minutes apart. But on Friday evening — mere hours before docking — they will be flying in close tandem with each other.

Resembling a pair of bright “stars,” the International Space Station will shimmer brightly and seem to lead the dimmer Albert Einstein across the sky. The space station is, by far, the largest and brightest object currently orbiting the Earth. It shines as brightly as Jupiter and can occasionally even rival Venus in brilliance.

Traveling in their respective orbits at 18,000 mph (29,000 km/h), both should be visible for about one to four minutes as they glide with a steady speed across the sky.

Although the “chase” will be visible in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, it will be difficult to spot in parts of the southern United States (particularly in Florida and the Gulf Coast region), as the few (if any) passes will occur before sunset in the daytime sky.

So what is the viewing schedule for your hometown? You can easily find out by visiting Chris Peat’s Heavens Above or NASA’s SkyWatch.

Both websites will ask for your ZIP code or city and, using that information, will formulate a list of suggested spotting times. Predictions computed a few days ahead of time are usually accurate to within a few minutes. They can change, however, due to the slow decay of the space station’s orbit and the periodic reboosts to higher altitudes. Check frequently for updates.

Another site, N2YO.com, tracks more than 8,000 satellites in real time. Check out the website’s sidebar for additional data, including the satellite’s speed, elevation and altitude. The sidebar also provides a forecast (with a corresponding map) of any given satellite’s movements in the next five days.

Image courtesy of Flickr, jacsonquerubin

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/12/see-iss-in-the-sky/