Tag Archives: U.S.

Biggest Threat to the Economy Could Come From Outer Space

Spaceweather

Imagine waking up just after midnight to a sky so bright you swear it must be early morning. Imagine seeing the Northern Lights as far south as Cuba or Hawaii. Imagine that the same phenomena behind both has also generated electric fields in the ground strong enough to power small electronics. That’s what happened in 1859, when the earth was struck by the most severe geomagnetic storm ever recorded.

Forget asset bubbles, recessions, or hurricanes—space weather could prove far more economically harmful. A severe geomagnetic storm—a sudden, violent eruption of gas and magnetic fields from the sun’s surface—could prove particularly devastating. If the 1859 storm, known as the “Carrington event,” were to recur today it could cause trillions of dollars in economic damage and take years to recover from, according to estimates.

The sun would sneeze and the economy could shatter.

That’s a worst-case scenario, of course. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was less dramatic at a space-weather conference hosted by the agency last week, though he did say such events can be “just as punishing as a tornado” and are “a problem that crosses all borders.” Magnetic storms can force Earth’s magnetic fields to go temporarily haywire, overwhelming power grids.

The 1859 event didn’t cause as much damage as it would today—electrical engineering was in its infancy—but it was globally felt. Here’s how a 2008 space-weather report from the National Academy of Sciences described that year’s storm:

From Aug. 28 through Sept. 4, auroral displays of extraordinary brilliance were observed throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia, and were seen as far south as Hawaii, the Caribbean and Central America in the Northern Hemisphere and in the Southern Hemisphere as far north as Santiago, Chile.

Even after daybreak, when the aurora was no longer visible, its presence continued to be felt through the effect of the auroral currents. Magnetic observatories recorded disturbances in Earth’s field so extreme that magnetometer traces were driven off scale, and telegraph networks around the world—the “Victorian Internet”—experienced major disruptions and outages…. In several locations, operators disconnected their systems from the batteries and sent messages using only the current induced by the aurora.

In other words, they literally ran the telegraphs from the electrical fields generated by the storm.

The 1859 event may be an extreme case, but there are more-recent examples of such space weather: In March 1989 a geomagnetic storm took down northeastern Canada’s Hydro-Quebec power grid in just 90 seconds, leaving millions without power in the cold for up to nine hours. And a set of “Halloween” solar storms between October and November of 2003 sparked a National Academy of Sciences-led meeting on the societal and economic impact of space weather, which served as the basis of the report.

But it’s not just scientists who are concerned about space weather. Lloyd’s of London, the giant insurer, issued a report on the issue in 2010. In the foreword to the report, Lloyd’s Tom Bolt warned of a scientist-predicted spike between 2012 and 2015. “In terms of cycles, we are in late autumn and heading into winter,” he wrote then. A severe space-weather event could prove devastating, according to the Lloyd’s report.

In the worst case it can permanently damage transformers. In most cases, systems protecting power grids will detect problems and switch off before serious damage occurs. However, this may lead to a cascade effect in which more and more systems are switched off, leading to complete grid shutdown. In these situations it will take many hours to restore grid operation, causing disruption to operations and services, and potential loss of income.

The 1989 storm permanently damaged a $12 million New Jersey transformer. In 1921, a storm 10 times as bad struck. Today, that storm would permanently damage roughly 350 transformers, causing blackouts that would affect as many as 130 million people, according to a Metatech estimate.

An outside analysis conducted by Metatech for the Electromagnetic Pulse Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency found that the effects of a severe geomagnetic storm would not only be widespread, but long-lived. Such an event has “not only the potential for large-scale blackouts but, more troubling … the potential for permanent damage that could lead to extraordinarily long restoration times,” Metatech’s John Kappenman told the NAS report’s authors.

In a globalized world, all kinds of sectors would be impacted by a power failure. Fuel, food, water, sanitation, communications, medical/health, finance, and transportation would all feel cascading effects. Many businesses rely solely on satellite navigation for transportation on land and sea, and cell phones would be vulnerable to interference.

“Impacts would be felt on interdependent infrastructures, with, for example, potable water distribution affected within several hours; perishable foods and medications lost in about 12-24 hours; and immediate or eventual loss of heating/air conditioning, sewage disposal, phone service, transportation, fuel resupply, and so on,” the NAS report found.

Hurricane Katrina caused roughly $80 billion to $125 billion in damage, according to the report. A future geomagnetic storm like the 1859 event could cost 10 to 20 times as much and take up to a decade to fully recover from, according to Metatech’s estimates.

Image courtesy of NASA

This article originally published at National Journal
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/13/threat-economy-outer-space/

Hate Telemarketing Robocalls? FTC Wants to Stop Them

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Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz is not a fan of Rachel from Card Services.

“Rachel, you are now Public Enemy No. 1,” Leibowitz joked on Thursday at the start of an FTC summit focused on ways to crack down on the not-so-humorous subject of illegal robocalls, which are automated telemarketing calls. Leibowitz said the commission gets thousands of complaints a month about the robocalls from Rachel and the credit card scam her sponsors are pushing, as well as many others.

The FTC summit focused on both technological and regulatory tools to curtail annoying robocalls to consumers from telemarketers. While the calls are often associated with landline phones, robocalls also are migrating to wireless phones as more Americans give up their landline phones and rely only on a cell phone.

Experts who appeared at the summit offered consumers a variety of ways to help reduce the annoying calls. Some of the proposed remedies are as simple as using caller i.d. and signing up for the National Do-Not-Call Registry to screen out unwanted calls or technologies that aim to block such calls. For wireless callers, there are apps that consumers can use to screen out both wireless robocalls and associated text messages, said Andrew Whitt, Verizon Communications director of network operations and corporate technology. But none of these solutions are foolproof.

The FTC said it is aggressively going after companies that call consumers with pre-recorded telemarketing calls without their permission. Violators could face fines as stiff as $16,000 per call. Despite this, there is still enough of an economic incentive for robocallers to chance getting caught, said Kevin Rupy, US Telecom’s senior director of law and policy. Some of the ways they make money include getting consumers to respond to the scams they are pushing, which might promise lower-credit card rates, he said.

The FTC offered up a challenge on Thursday to innovators to come up with a “technological solution that will reduce substantially the number of illegal robocalls both on landlines and mobile phones,” FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection Director David Vladeck said at the end of the summit.

The agency is offering a $50,000 award to college students or other individuals or small companies who come up with a new solution that blocks illegal robocalls but allows legitimate calls to go through. It must be easy to use and deploy and work much better in tackling the robocall problem than other technologies on the market today, Vladeck said. The contest formally opens on Oct. 25 and the deadline for submitting a solution is Jan. 17. The FTC plans to announce the winner in early April.

“Everyone wants to put Rachel and her robotic colleagues in their rear view mirror,” Vladeck said.

Image courtesy of Flickr, brenbot

This article originally published at National Journal
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/10/19/robocall-challenge/

Drone Beat: Amazon Drones in India, National Parks Bans and More

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Pakistan’s cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan talks on the phone as a camera-equipped drone hovers outside a parliament in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Aug. 21, 2014.
Image: B.K. Bangash/Associated Press

Drone-Beat

The U.S. government uses them to bomb alleged terrorists in far-away places. Tech companies such as Amazon, Google and Facebook are all toying with the idea of incorporating them into their businesses, and now they’re a photographer’s secret weapon.

Drones are a big part of our lives, whether we see them or not. Drone Beat collects the best and most important stories every week.

If you want more on Drones, subscribe to the Center for the Study of the Drone’s Weekly Roundup, which features news, commentary, analysis and updates on drone technology.

Drone Beat’s coverage areas this week

Last update: August 22, 11:45 a.m. ET

Will India be the launchpad for Amazon’s drones?

The cities of Mumbai and Bagalore in India might become the test sites for Amazon’s much hyped drone delivery program, known as Prime Air, according to a report by India’s newspaper the Economic Times.

In the United States, drone regulations are thorny and not business friendly for now. In late June, the Federal Aviation Administration specifically called out delivery by flying robot as something that is not allowed. India, on the other hand, would be an ideal candidate for Amazon because the country has no rules regarding the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

“Amazon will not be breaking any laws in India,” Bharat Malkani, an aviation expert and CEO of Mumbai-based Max Aerospace, told Quartz.

Amazon could be planning to start delivering packages via drone as early as October, taking advantage of the days ahead of the shopping-friendly festivity of Diwali.

More U.S. national parks ban drones

In June, the National Park Service issued a memorandum to ban drones from parks across the U.S. But that was just the first step, each park then needed to issue its own ban for it to be effective. Zion National Park in Utah and Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona were the first ones to do so.

This week, more have joined in. The National Park Service’s office in Moab, Utah, officially banned drones in the Arches and Canyonlands national parks and in the Hovenweep and Natural Bridges national monuments.

The National Park Service also banned drones from flying over the entire Appalachian Trail.

Yosemite National Park was the first to attempt to ban the flying robots, even before the rule was issued by the National Park Service.

It seems it’s just a matter of time before others join in. As a result, we might miss out on videos like these.

Rescuers use drones in aftermath of earthquake in China

First responders used drones to survey the areas hit by a 6.1-magnitude earthquake earlier this month in China’s Yunnan province.

After the quake, rescuers from the China Association for Disaster and Emergency Response Medicine got some help from a team of pilots at DJI, a large manufacturer of commercial unmanned aerial vehicles based in Hong Kong, as Motherboard reported.

“Aerial images captured by the team were used by workers in the epicenter area of Longtoushan, where most of the traditional buildings in the area collapsed,” the company told Motherboard. “The dense rubble and vegetation have made ground surveying extremely difficult, so using aerial images has helped identify where relief teams can focus on searching for survivors.”

Australian football team uses drones to film trainings

A team in the Australian Football League (AFL) has bought two small drones to film its training from above, according to local newspaper The Age.

The Hawthorn Football Club, also known as the Hawks, bought the drones in an attempt “to find an edge in technology to improve its on-field performance.”

There aren’t a lot of details on how the team plans to use its drones, but the newspaper said they’ll use them to analyze their strategies and plays from a better vantage point.

How will drone photography change society? A look into the past can help predict the future

In a fascinating, must-read article, author Clive Thompson opined that drones — with their high-resolution photo and video cameras — might change photography and society just as much as the first personal camera and the rise of the so-called “snapshot” in the late 19th century.

Drones “allow for entirely new forms of voyeurism: peering into windows, over fences or zooming above public crowds to pick out individuals,” but they are also “creating new aesthetics for picture-taking by everyday people — some of which are strikingly lovely and useful,” Thompson wrote in the Smithsonian article.

“For good and ill, photography is being born anew,” he said.

Read the full article here.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/08/25/drone-beat-amazon-parks/

Google Internet Service May Actually Bring U.S. Up to Speed

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Google’s effort to install a blazingly fast, gigabit-per-second fiber Internet service in the two-state metropolis of Kansas City — a speed 100 times faster than the national average — is a radical new business direction for the company, and perhaps provides an unorthodox model for how to rewire parts of the United States.

At one level, the project reflects Google’s desire to keep developing new businesses by giving people ultrafast speeds and then offering experimental services like Google TV. But if Google’s business model for actually getting fiber built pans out, it may usher in a new era for privately built broadband.

Compared to many countries, the United States has slow and patchy Internet service. While a few areas enjoy very fast service, overall the United States ranks 24th worldwide in speed, with consumers receiving an average of 11.6-megabits-per-second download speeds.

An affordable service that is nearly two orders of magnitude faster began in one neighborhood in Kansas City last Tuesday.

In planning the deployment, Google carved the metropolis into 202 neighborhoods, and asked interested residents and businesses to pay $10 to pre-register for the service. Once a critical mass did so — ranging from 5-25% per neighborhood (Google calls them fiberhoods), depending on the population density — Google went ahead with the street-level installation. If people reneged on their pledge to subscribe, they’d lose the $10.

The actual service is a bargain compared to many services that provide much slower speeds. Google’s gigabit Internet service is priced at $70 per month. When bundled with TV, the price rises to $120 — and Google is certainly pushing that additional service. Users subscribing for a TV service get a two-terabyte storage box for recorded shows and a Nexus 7 Android tablet to use as a remote control. (As a budget alternative, Internet at five megabits per second is available for a one-time fee of $300.)

While some people who preregistered have expressed irritation at having to wait in line, so far it seems to be working, says Jenna Wandres, a spokeswoman for Google Fiber. “We’re pleased with how many people in Hanover Heights have fiber,” she says, referring to the neighborhood that got the service on Tuesday.

Some industry veterans have expressed skepticism that Google can make the installation economics work, with some saying that it can cost between $850 and $1,250 per customer to get fiber installed— far more than the one-time fee of $300 that Google is charging for basic service.

While Google won’t disclose any numbers about costs or numbers of subscribers, Wandres insists that the strategy is economical. “This is not a beta program or an experiment. Efficiency is a huge focus for us as we build out Kansas City. And efficiency can cut costs,” she says.

The entry of superfast Internet may aid local entrepreneurship. An effort called Homes for Hackers is trying to get Kansas City homeowners with Google Fiber service to give free rooms to developers for three months, and a collection of local startups is betting the service will attract new companies.

W. Russell Neuman, professor of media technology at the University of Michigan, says Google’s effort is certainly novel, but that it is an open question whether it could change the economics of Internet service overnight. “Laying fiber is so far out of the scope of what Google normally does. But does Google know something that Verizon doesn’t know?” He says.

Major telecoms like AT&T and Verizon are taking a different path. They’ve focused on upgrading service in areas that they are already providing with wireline DSL service. Verizon has built out a fiber optic network over the past eight years — a $23 billion investment that has made the new service, called FiOS, available to 18 million U.S. households. And then it went about trying to sell the service plans. “Our business model does not call for FiOS to be built out into areas where we have not historically provided wireline service,” says Bill Kula, a Verizon spokesman.

The approach of those two giants has made high-speed Internet available to millions. (In Verizon’s case, the company generally charges $99 per month with a two-year contract for service of up to 300 megabits per second for downloads and 65 megabits per second for uploads). But it hasn’t extended the reach of the network. “Google Fiber is the most niche community approach that has been taken to date, but it remains to be seen how sustainable that approach is,” Kula says. “The question also is whether there will be a consumer demand and need for such speeds.”

Another route to juicing Internet speeds to gigabit-per-second levels is government investment. Chattanooga, Tenn., received such a boost when the local power utility got a $111 million U.S. Department of Energy grant as part of federal stimulus efforts that built out the city’s smart grid.

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/19/google-fiber-us-internet/

Inside Mitt Romney’s Digital Campaign

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Mitt Romney’s social media guru does not quantify success in his candidate’s number of Facebook followers, but by their level of activity.

Despite a recent Pew report that pegs President Obama as winning the battle for digital audiences, Zac Moffatt, the head of the Romney campaign’s digital operation, says the Republican candidate is ahead of Obama in terms of building an engaged and dedicated online following.

The raw numbers lean Obama’s way. He has more than 27 million “Likes” on his Facebook page, for example, versus fewer than 5 million for Romney. But according to Moffatt, Romney’s followers are more likely to share information, post and spread the word about their candidate.

He cites June 28, the day of the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act as an example. On that day, he says, the Romney campaign saw activity in the form of comments or sharing from 27% of its list of followers, compared to 1.7% for Obama. “That’s how I’d define success for us,” Moffatt says.

This is a tough sell. Obama’s campaign team is legendary for its online prowess and its data-driven digital outreach. The Obama campaign appears to have raised the bar yet again, with the release of a mobile app that integrates digital outreach with the door-to-door shoe-leather efforts of volunteers, providing canvassers with voter-registration lists, neighborhood maps, campaign talking points and a fundraising interface.

According to Moffatt, the release of this app so late in the game points to the challenges of leveraging digital assets in the real world.

“The Obama folks knew they were going to be running for president three years ago,” he says. “It took them 100 days to build out this app that does all these pieces. You should look at that as realistic of how difficult it is to build a multipurpose, integrated app.”

The Romney campaign “still has millions of doors being hit every month, whether or not we have an app,” Moffatt says.”That just reduces some of the barriers, but it’s not going to stop us from doing what we do every day.”

The Romney campaign does have a couple of apps, including one that was built to deliver advance news of the candidate’s vice presidential pick. Although the app failed to scoop the press on the news about Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., it did generate 100,000 “Likes” on the Romney campaign’s Facebook page, Moffatt says, while gathering email addresses and other data on potential supporters.

The campaign has been mum on how it is going to retool Mitt’s VP app for the general-election drive, but Moffatt says he has a plan. “I wouldn’t be much of a digital director otherwise,” he says.

Using search and other online media as a conduit to more standard advertising fare is an important part of the online media mix. Moffatt’s research has shown that in a given week, there are one in three voters who don’t watch live television other than sports. “That just means they live on DVR, Netflix and Hulu. If we ran our entire campaign predicated on TV, that’s a lot of voters we’re missing,” he says.

And in Ohio, that figure could be 2 million voters. “The election will be won or lost most likely in that group,” Moffatt says.

In the Nevada caucuses, for example, the Romney team placed an ad on Google that directed people searching for information on Newt Gingrich to an ad that criticized the former House Speaker for taking consulting fees from federally backed mortgage-finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

In the 2012 cycle, Moffatt says, digital has seen a transformation from a “base list-building and fundraising effort” to “becoming a persuasion and mobilization tool.” In 2008, digital strategy was not a major piece of Romney’s primary election bid. Now, Moffatt says, the numbers make it impossible to ignore.

Romney’s immediate family is more engaged on digital than in the past, and this has meant greater exposure for the candidate to social media. Ann Romney was an early adopter of the photo-sharing site Pinterest. Romney’s sons are active on Twitter and Facebook.

Presumptive vice presidential nominee Ryan has a lot of everyday, hands-on experience with social media. “Whenever it breaks into your peer groups, it makes a difference,” Moffatt says.

Where the election won’t be won or lost is on Twitter. Moffatt says he’s a little irate about the Pew report, which gives the Romney campaign low marks for use of Twitter, and criticizes both campaigns for failing to engage ordinary users via retweets.

“We try to keep the Twitter account in Mitt’s voice, and have him be a part of it. It limits the amount we do. We’re not able to tweet 25 times a day like the Obama folks have.”

That’s not to say that the candidate is tapping out his own tweets, or even dictating them to staff. “It’s more often that something will occur, and he’s like, ‘We should get that out on Twitter,'” Moffatt says.

Image courtesy of Mitt Romney on Facebook.

This article originally published at National Journal
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/22/mitt-romney-zac-moffatt/

Social Good Summit, Day 2: Watch the Global Conversations Live

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The Social Good Summit continues Sunday in New York — but you can still join in the global conversation even if you couldn’t make it to New York. This year’s livestream is available in seven languages — English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, Russian and Hebrew.

This year’s Social Good Summit expands beyond the 92nd Street Y’s New York walls. Partner events, forming The Global Conversation are taking place in Beijing, China; Nairobi, Kenya; and Mogadishu, Somalia on Monday.

One of the early Meetups took place Sunday morning in Madagascar:

All Meetups in dangerous regions of the world have been cleared with U.N. security officials, who are taking responsibility.

Are you taking part in a community Social Good Meetup? Let us know what’s taking place your region in the comments.

About Ericsson

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

Day One:

Day Two:

Day Three:

Thumbnail image courtesy of iStockphoto, skegbydave

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Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/23/social-good-livestream-summit/

Tropical Storm Isaac as Seen From NASA Satellite

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Tropical Storm Isaac will hit the Gulf Coast on Wednesday this week, and forecasters say it’s gaining enough speed to reach hurricane status by that time. Eerily enough, Isaac is set to make landfall in New Orleans on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

NASA just released an animation of satellite observations from Aug. 25-27, which shows Tropical Storm Isaac moving past Cuba and the Florida Keys and into the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Created by the NASA GOES Project at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the visualization shows how quickly the storm evolved over the weekend.

When Isaac reaches maximum sustained winds of 74 mph, it will be classified as a category one hurricane. As of 11 a.m. Eastern on Monday, Isaac’s cloud extent is about 480 miles in diameter, as tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 240 miles from the center, according to NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder. Isaac is moving at a speed of about 14 mph, but it’s expected to slow down tomorrow as it approaches the Gulf Coast, which could make it a stronger storm.

How are you keeping up with Tropical Storm Isaac?

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/27/tropical-storm-isaac-nasa/

See the Rare Photo of Neil Armstrong on the Moon

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There is only one photograph of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, and in it, he has his back to the camera.

The first man to set foot on a planetary body other than Earth was not camera shy. It was just that for most of the time he and Buzz Aldrin were exploring the moon in July 1969, the checklist called for Armstrong to have their only camera.

When the news broke Saturday that Armstrong, 82, had passed away, it is likely that many people’s memories of the first man on the moon were of black and white television images or color film stills. If they did recall a photo captured during the Apollo 11 moonwalk, it was almost certainly one of Aldrin, whether it was of him saluting the flag or looking down at his bootprint.

In fact, perhaps the most iconic photo taken of an astronaut on the surface of the moon is also of Aldrin. A posed shot, he is facing the camera with the reflection of his photographer, Armstrong, caught in Aldrin’s golden helmet visor.

Of course, there were photographs taken of Neil Armstrong at other points during the moon flight, and on his previous mission, Gemini 8. Cameras were ready when he was named an astronaut seven years before walking on the moon, and were more than ever present after he returned to Earth as a history-making hero.

A few of those other photos ran alongside obituaries in the numerous newspapers that told of Armstrong’s death in their Sunday editions. But they — the photos, not necessarily the obituaries — only told part of the story. A great many lesser seen photos capture Armstrong as the research pilot, astronaut, engineer and, as his family described in a statement, “a reluctant American hero.”

To help illustrate that record, collectSPACE.com asked RetroSpaceImages.com to search its extensive archives of NASA photographs and pick out those that showed the Armstrong that the public didn’t always get to see. The three dozen photos they chose have been presented chronologically, with one exception: The gallery begins with the rare photo of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. Where are space shuttle Atlantis’ launch director and mission management team today? Continue reading at collectSPACE.com.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/27/rare-photo-neil-armstrong/

Want to Run Code on the ISS? There’s a Competition For That

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Any high school-aged coders with a love for space and NASA out there? Read on.

Zero Robotics, a robotics programming competition set up through MIT, is entering its fourth year — and there’s still a day left to register.

Here’s how it works: Students can sign up in teams for free on the website. Over the course of the semester, they compete head-to-head with other teams in writing programs — sort of situational, scenario-based challenges. Gradually, the challenges get more difficult. Then, after several phases, finalists are selected to compete in running code for the International Space Station (ISS) — which is broadcast live by an astronaut on board the ISS.

Since 2009, the competition has allowed participants to compete in a series of coding challenges through an online platform.

“There’s a whole ranking system that tells them how well they’re doing as they’re going through it,” said Jake Katz, co-founder of the competition and research assistant in the Space Stations laboratory at MIT. “And throughout the course of the season, the game gets slightly more complex. They start out in two dimensions and then they will soon, around Oct. 5, be going into 3-D competition — then we add some additional challenges towards the end.”

The original kick off for this year’s competition was on Sept. 8. But, Katz said, there’s still a day left to register.

“There have been people participating so far, and are already off and running with it, but it’s still possible to join in and make a submission for the first phase,” he said. “We have 75 teams so far, and that’s just from the U.S.”

There are an additional 43 teams from 19 other countries, he said.

The competition is sponsored by NASA, DARPA, TopCoder, Aurora Flight Sciences, CASIS and MIT. TopCoder, a programming company, designed the platform the games are played on.

“In 2009, when we started, we had just two teams competing against each other,” Katz said. “Just two years later, we had about 100 teams from all over sign up.”

Check out the promotional video below:

What kind of code would you write to run on board the ISS? Let us know in the comments.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/26/zero-robotics-mit/

Russian Soyuz Spacecraft Malfunction Delays Arrival at ISS by 2 Days

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The Soyuz TMA-12M rocket launches from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 carrying Expedition 39 Soyuz Commander Alexander Skvortsov of the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, Flight Engineer Steven Swanson of NASA, and Flight Engineer Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos to the International Space Station.
Image: NASA Joel Kowsky

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft suffered an apparent malfunction in orbit late on March 25, forcing its three-man crew to circle the Earth two extra days before reaching the International Space Station as planned, NASA officials say.

The Soyuz TMA-12M space capsule launched into space March 25 carrying an American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts on what was expected to be a standard six-hour trip to the International Space Station. But a malfunction on the Soyuz spacecraft prevented a critical engine burn to keep the capsule on course for its planned orbital arrival on the night of March 25.

Riding aboard the Soyuz are NASA astronaut Steve Swanson and cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev. The U.S.-Russian crew will now arrive at the station on the evening of March 27, NASA spokesman Josh Byerly said in an update.

“The crew is fine, but the ground teams are taking a look at what exactly happened aboard the Soyuz and what caused that [engine] burn to be skipped,” Byerly said during NASA’s televised coverage.

Russian Soyuz engineers are unsure if a software glitch or a mechanical malfunction caused the problem, Byerly said. An initial look at conversations between mission flight controllers in Moscow and Houston suggests, that the problem may beem caused by the Soyuz not being in the proper orientation for the planned engine burn, according to a NASA status update.

The Soyuz capsule launched into orbit atop a Russian-built Soyuz rocket from the Central Asian spaceport of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 5:17 p.m. EDT. Its crew planned to join three other crewmates already aboard the station with docking at 11:05 p.m. EDT.

Now, Swanson and his crewmates must wait until March 27 at 7:58 p.m. EDT to link up with the International Space Station, Byerly said, adding that the exact time of the docking could change.

“They have supplies to keep them in orbit for many, many days,” Byerly said of the three space travelers.

Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft originally flew on two-day rendezvous flights to the space station similar to the backup trajectory the current Soyuz mission is forced to fly now. It is a two-day trip that includes 32 orbits of Earth in order to catch up with the space station. The last two-day Soyuz trip before this mission was in December 2012.

Russia’s Federal Space Agency began flying shorter, six-hour trips to the space station with unmanned cargo ships in 2012. The first crewed single-day trips to station on Soyuz vehicles launched in 2013.

Expedition 39 Launch
This long expsoure photograph shows the flight path of the Soyuz TMA-12M rocket as it launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

A standard six-hour trip to the International Space Station includes four orbits of the Earth and requires four major engine burn maneuvers, performed automatically by the spacecraft, in order to reach the International Space Station.

Byerly said the Soyuz TMA-12M’s flight computer failed to perform the third maneuver in the flight sequence slated for 7:48 p.m. EDT.

“Right now we don’t understand exactly what happened, so we’ll analyze and review all the telemetry of it,” a Russian flight controller radioed the Soyuz crew, according to a audio translation.

Russia’s three-person Soyuz spacecraft are currently the only vehicles capable of ferrying astronaut and cosmonaut crews to and from the International Space Station. NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011, and is dependent on Russian Soyuz vehicles to fly American astronauts to the station and back. The U.S. space agency plans to fly American astronauts on commercial U.S. spacecraft beginning in 2017.

Swanson, Skvortsov and Artemyev are due to spend nearly six months in space during their current mission, which will bridge the space station’s Expedition 39 and 40 crews. The trio will join Expedition 29’s Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio and cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin already aboard the station, then stay on to serve as the outpost’s Expedition 40 crew.

Editor’s Note:

This story was updated at 10:50 pm ET to clarify that the cause of the Soyuz spacecraft’s missed engine burn is being studied as a possible software issue, mechanical malfunction or incorrect attitude.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/03/26/russian-soyuz-spacecraft-malfunction/