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An Experimental Space Junk Collector Is On Its Way to the ISS

Posted: 03 Apr 2018 10:12 AM PDT

A group of European engineers are about to go fishing in space. Their target: space junk.

Yesterday, SpaceX launched the Dragon spacecraft, which, if all goes according to plan, will reach the International Space Station on Wednesday, April 4. Among the many different experiments it has in tow, one didn’t receive much attention: a new “proof of concept” space junk collector called RemoveDEBRIS.

Created by scientists at the University of Surrey Space Center in the U.K., this spacecraft will run a series of experiments over the coming months aimed at capturing and destroying some of the debris floating around our planet.

NASA currently estimates there are more than 500,000 pieces of debris currently orbiting the Earth, all traveling fast enough to seriously damage any unlucky spacecraft that happens to cross their path. And while scientists have proposed many creative solutions for removing some of these dangerous bits, none have been ever been tested out in space.

Enter: RemoveDEBRIS. When the 100-kilogram (220-pound) space junk collector arrives at the ISS, the station’s six-person crew will unpack it in the next few weeks (makes sense that they would want to first get to the fresh food in the same shipment). At the end of May or in early June, Spaceflight Now reports, the crew will then transfer the craft to the Japanese Kibo lab’s airlock, and transfer it out into space via a robotic arm. When released, RemoveDEBRIS will be the largest satellite ever launched from the ISS.

Once out in space, REMOVEDebris will run three tests. It will:

  • Attempt to snag a dummy piece of debris (mimicked by an inflatable miniature satellite called a CubeSat) using a net
  • Track another CubeSat using close-up ranging lasers and navigation technology, as a space junk collector would need to pursue a target piece of junk
  • Fire a harpoon at a test target attached to the RemoveDEBRIS arm

If successful, these tests could show that the simple technology once applied to sea creatures could be useful in snagging some of the junk threatening orbiting spacecraft.

Guglielmo Aglietti, RemoveDEBRIS principal investigator, told Spaceflight Now that the primary aim of the mission is to show that cleaning up space debris can be relatively affordable.

"At the end of the day, everything boils down to funding," Aglietti said. "We all agree, in the space sector, that it is a good idea to start to remove larger pieces of debris… if the cost to do it is exorbitant, then people will prefer to take the risk that their new satellite is going to be hit by a piece of debris. If we manage to lower the cost of the missions, then this is much more likely to happen.”

At the end of its mission, RemoveDEBRIS will run one final test: opening an expandable sail to generate drag (remember, it will be in the upper atmosphere still has some air, unlike the vacuum of space), pulling itself down into the atmosphere and burning up there. That will happen up to 1.5 years after the experiment begins.

It’s a fitting end for RemoveDEBRIS. After all, it would be pretty ironic for a space junk cleaner become space junk itself.

The post An Experimental Space Junk Collector Is On Its Way to the ISS appeared first on Futurism.

Russia Debuts Postal Drone, Which Immediately Crashes Into Wall

Posted: 03 Apr 2018 09:26 AM PDT

Someday, in the future, our skies will be full of whirring machines delivering anything we could ever want or need, from medical supplies to pizzas to the latest item from our Amazon overlords.

That day is not today.

On Monday, Russia’s postal service tested a delivery drone in the city of Ulan-Ude, Siberia. Instead, though, the drone crashed violently into a wall of nearby building, turning the UAV into a mess of jumbled parts.

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Russia had announced its plans to start delivering mail via drone. It seems like a smart idea, especially in such a huge country where severe weather often interrupts mail delivery.

Here was the original plan for Monday’s test. The $20,000 drone was supposed to pick up a small package and deliver it to a nearby village, Reuters reports. Instead the device failed spectacularly, only making it a short distance before crashing into a three-story building. The small crowd gathered to watch the test can be heard uttering expletives, according to Reuters.

No one was injured in the crash, and it didn’t do any damage, except to Russia’s pride.

"We won't stop with this, we will keep trying," Alexei Tsydenov, the head of the region who was present at the test, told Reuters. "Those who don't risk don't get a result."

And risk they shall. The organizers aren’t quite sure what went wrong, but they suspect the 100 or so nearby wifi spots could have had something to do with it.

Russia might have succeeded in meddling in our elections, but, hey, at least our drones work.

The post Russia Debuts Postal Drone, Which Immediately Crashes Into Wall appeared first on Futurism.

Diet to Reduce Blood Pressure May Help Combat Depression

Posted: 03 Apr 2018 07:05 AM PDT

Medication. Therapy. These are some of ways people can treat depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

But there’s one a surprising one that may help reduce the symptoms: going on a diet.

And not just any diet. The DASH diet.

Let’s backtrack a second. Scientists have known for a long time that food — the kinds we eat, how we digest it  can affect our moods. People who are obese are more likely to have depression, studies have shown; neurotransmitters that alter our moods, such as serotonin and dopamine, are in fact produced by the microbes that live in the gut. There have been so many studies linking diet and depression that Psychiatry Research published a meta-analysis of 21 such studies in April 2017. That analysis concluded what you might expect: a healthy dietary pattern may decrease the risk of depression.

But the relationship is, in many ways, still a correlation. That is, scientists may know that these thing are related, but they haven’t figured out a specific intervention or treatment that would use this knowledge to help patients.

Now, however, it seems they may have stumbled upon a diet that could do just that. It’s called the DASH diet — the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute developed the diet in the 1990s to treat (you guessed it) hypertension, aka high blood pressure.

The diet takes a pretty common sense approach to healthy eating. Fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and low-fat dairy? Good. Foods high in salt and sugar? Bad.

Laurel J. Cherian, an assistant professor of vascular neurology at Rush University Medical Center, performed a study to firm up the relationship between the DASH diet and lower rates of depression. Cherian will present her research at the meeting of the American Academy of Neurology this month.

“There is evidence linking healthy lifestyle changes to lower rates of depression and this study sought to examine the role that diet plays in preventing depression,” Cherian said in a press release.

For more than six years, Cherian screened 964 participants over the age of 60 for signs of depression every year. She also asked them to complete a 144-item questionnaire focused on the foods they ate. Cherian then divided the participants into three groups based on how closely their diets mirrored the DASH diet.

Even after controlling for variables known to affect depression, such as age and education level, Cherian found that the group that most closely adhered to the DASH diet was less likely to experience depression. And conversely, those that strayed the most from the diet were the most likely to show symptoms of depression.

But don’t throw out your antidepressants just yet.

“I think we need to view food as medicine,” Cherian told The Atlantic. “Medications to treat depression are wonderful, but for many people, it’s going to be a combination of things.”

Hear that? Combination is key. A new diet might not totally clear up symptoms of depression. But, then again, it might not hurt.

Admittedly, we’re not there yet. According to Felice Jacka, a professor of nutritional psychiatry at Australia’s Deakin University, now that we are more certain there’s a link between diet and depression, we need to figure out how to exploit it to help people.

“Given how many observational studies there are already published, the field does not really need more of these,” Jacka told The Atlantic. “What it needs now are interventions that show that if you improve diet, you also improve depression.” (Jacka performed a similar study of her own, published in January 2017, concluding that “people who improved their diets showed significantly happier moods than those who received social support,” according to the Wall Street Journal.)

There are lots of benefits to improving your diet, including weight loss and better management of existing health conditions. Improved mood may very well come along with it (that’s what the science suggests), but then again it might not since it’s not a proven treatment yet.

It’s worth trying, at least. But it’s also a good idea to stick to whatever treatments you’re already using for depression.

The post Diet to Reduce Blood Pressure May Help Combat Depression appeared first on Futurism.

How a New Provider Is Democratizing the Cloud

Posted: 03 Apr 2018 04:00 AM PDT

The history of cloud computing is unfolding before our eyes. Advances in cloud computing have already changed the way we live, work, and play, and the global cloud computing market is growing at a rapid pace. Experts estimate that in 2018, more than half of all global enterprises will have adopted cloud services, unlocking even more possibilities for consumers.

People across the world have widely benefited from advances in cloud computing. New and efficient ways of sharing, collaborating, and storing data has made it easy for people to get their job done no matter where they are—whether it's editing a document from an airplane or making notes on a spreadsheet from the kitchen. They are no longer tethered to their desk on a 9-to-5 schedule. Instead, innovative ideas can easily come in from around the globe, around the clock. We're turning to our devices to do things we never thought possible even a decade ago: Logging on to social networks, grocery shopping, watching movies, managing bills, getting prescriptions.

Big Companies, Big Limitations

Nearly all of that cloud computing power is thanks to three companies: Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. As the possibilities of the cloud grew, only these powerhouses had the capital and prowess to scale up their businesses and build the massive data centers that we rely on for computing power today.
However, those giant centralized data centers don't come without downsides. Since it's nearly impossible to compete with the size and scope of Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, those companies effectively control the prices charged for cloud infrastructure.

Furthermore, the big three companies have scaled their business up, not out. Amazon Web Services, for instance, separates its entire global infrastructure into just 18 geographic regions. When data has to travel so far to be processed, inefficiencies and latency are inevitable. Also, they form massive single points of failure. A power outage in Virginia could prevent users in Chicago from accessing their banking apps for hours.

The One Cloud to Rule Them All

It's clear that it's time for a new model. Luckily, one exists. Overclock Labs, a San Francisco-based startup, has sprung onto the scene with its Akash Network. The innovative new network gives companies across the globe a more affordable, accessible, and efficient way to use the power of the cloud.

Overclock isn't interested in building a massive data farm to compete with the likes of Google or Microsoft. The company is interested in spreading the computing power that already exists to a wider audience for a more affordable price. The Akash Network combines underutilized servers in global companies' on-prem and collocated data centers into one virtual cloud. In addition to eliminating waste, this approach is also vastly more affordable, making the network far more accessible than its oligarchic competitors.

Rather than having to rely on a massive server farm, Akash's Network is decentralized—spread across thousands of data centers. With less distance to cover, network latency is much lower. Plus, when natural failures such as power outages do occur, the network works to correct the problem by redeploying workloads to unaffected providers within seconds. A doctor miles away from an outage won't have to worry about not being able to access the cloud data storage system for critical patient records. Instead, workloads can be immediately redistributed to other nearby servers.

The Akash Network will also lead to far greater cloud convenience. This is especially useful in areas like machine learning, which is becoming a key tenet of our online lives. Companies like Yelp want to give users recommendations based on what they've eaten and enjoyed before, and banking apps want to track customer spending patterns to prevent fraud. To gather this type of information, a company must process a large information dump through the cloud. They must then analyze that data and come up with algorithms to best serve their customers. The cloud is a significant part of that process, but a brief one, so businesses often simply rent out space through a cloud provider to run these occasional data sets. The big providers charge an arm and a leg for this type of rental, though. Based on testing with early customers, Overclock estimates they could slash machine learning processing costs by about two-thirds.

Another exciting prospect of the Akash Network is in the application development field. Performance tests are a critical part of any app launch, but incredible amounts of money are wasted when developers have to rent out server space from the giants for those tests. By deploying to the Akash Network instead, developers could save two-thirds of that rent money and put more of their funding towards enhancing their product.

Those savings can also lead to greater convenience. Costs are a huge barrier to entry for people who have innovative ideas about certain data sets or app development but lack access to the funds needed to launch a new product. With the Akash Network, innovative ideas can come from anywhere. And for a fraction of the previous costs, those ideas can actually come to life.

The Cloud of Tomorrow

Amazon, Google, and Microsoft did what they had to do in order to bring the world the cloud computing power that we know today. However, it is new approaches like the Akash Network that will lead us into the cloud computing potential of tomorrow.

Overclock's approach of scaling across data centers, as opposed to scaling up the size of data centers, is especially important as the cloud becomes too invaluable for one or two monopolistic companies to control. Sharing collective knowledge and fostering an integrated system is crucial as cloud innovation continues. Only on the Akash Network's democratized, distributed, and affordable platform can technology trailblazers house all the possibilities that the cloud has to offer. It's cloud history in action.


The preceding communication has been paid for by Overclock Labs. This communication is for informational purposes only and does not constitute an offer or solicitation to sell shares or securities in Overclock Labs or any related or associated company. None of the information presented herein is intended to form the basis for any investment decision, and no specific recommendations are intended. This communication does not constitute investment advice or solicitation for investment. Futurism expressly disclaims any and all responsibility for any direct or consequential loss or damage of any kind whatsoever arising directly or indirectly from: (i) reliance on any information contained herein, (ii) any error, omission or inaccuracy in any such information or (iii) any action resulting from such information.

The post How a New Provider Is Democratizing the Cloud appeared first on Futurism.

Estonia To Offer Free Genetic Testing, And Other Nations May Follow

Posted: 02 Apr 2018 07:46 PM PDT

For residents of Estonia, genomic tests may soon become as commonplace as blood pressure. The country has launched the first stage of a national state-sponsored genetic testing and information service, which will seek to help residents minimize their risk of illness based on their DNA. If the experiment goes well, it’s possible that other countries with nationalized healthcare systems will follow suit.

The initiative, which launched on March 20, will start by providing 100,000 of its 1.3 million residents with information on their genetic risk for certain diseases. Genetic information from the project will first be delivered to a family doctor, so that patients will receive counseling about what their results actually mean and how they can better adapt their lifestyle to avoid illness. According to a press release from the University of Tartu’s Institute of Genomics, which is hosting the new service, the country plans to eventually offer free genetic testing to all of its residents.

Estonia isn’t the only nation to offer free or low-cost genetic testing to most of its residents — the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom also offers them, but often only to help doctors diagnose diseases, not to help patients prevent them (and patients in the NHS still have to pay a lab processing fee).

It’s not surprising that Estonia is among the first to adopt modern trends; the small nation seems to always be on the cutting edge. The country has had a biobank program since the year 2000, established with the goals of accelerating research and making healthcare more personalized. It was the first nation to ever hold elections via the Internet, the first to offer “e-residency” for anyone in the world, and among the first to propose a national cryptocurrency. Adding genetics to its state-sponsored healthcare program, it could just offer a model for a better way to use genetics for good health.

In many places, getting genetic information alongside health advice is much more difficult. In the United States, genetic testing is usually available through primary care physicians, but according to the U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH), insurance companies don’t have good systems in place to evaluate whether genetic tests will be covered. That means that patients may not know whether or not they can afford genetic testing until they actually get it, even if it’s recommended by their doctors.

Instead, patients might turn to the cheaper, and arguably easier, method of at-home genetic testing — no driving to an appointment, no standing on a scale; you just spit in a cup, mail it off, and get results, all for a flat fee. Yet these tests don’t include the expertise of a genetic counselor, who can help a person understand how particular mutations can affect their risk of developing a disease. There are also concerns that companies like 23andMe are using genetic data for research in ways that consumers don’t understand, and even concerns that some home-testing kits could yield results that are false or misleading.

Compare that to the Estonian system. Though some experts have cautioned that free genetic advice could cause unnecessary alarm, having results delivered through a doctor leaves patients much less prone to misinformation and unnecessary freak-outs than if they tried to interpret those results themselves.

Additionally, thanks to the 1999 Estonian Human Genes Research Act, all genetic data belongs to the donor that submitted it; Estonians can choose what studies to participate in, and will soon be able to check an easy-to-use online portal to see which research studies have actually used their data.

Genetic testing is more popular than ever, and it makes sense that people want to decode their DNA to make their lives better, not just to learn about their lineage. Other countries, from Iceland to the United Arab Emirates, have plans to sequence the DNA of large segments of the population with the goal of making citizens’ lives better. These plans likely won’t be perfect at first. But other nations looking to implement their own systems might build off those, and citizens will be the ones to benefit.

The post Estonia To Offer Free Genetic Testing, And Other Nations May Follow appeared first on Futurism.

A Journal Retracted A Controversial Paper About CRISPR. The Damage Might Already Be Done.

Posted: 02 Apr 2018 02:53 PM PDT

A scientific journal just retracted a controversial study that claimed the gene editing tool CRISPR causes a number of unintended mutations, but it may be too late to undo the damage the paper caused.

Let’s walk it back a second. In May 2017, well-respected journal Nature Methods published a peer-reviewed study from Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC). The study claimed that the gene-editing technology CRISPR caused more than a thousand unintended genetic mutations in mice  way more than any other study noted.

If that were true, it would mean that CRISPR’s potential to treat conditions in humans, from congenital blindness to cancer, would have disappeared. And the millions poured into researching CRISPR would have been wasted.

The reaction was swift and brutal for those who still had faith that CRISPR could fulfill its promise. The stocks of the three biggest gene-editing companies — CRISPR Therapeutics, Editas Medicine, and Intellia Therapeutics — all took major hits.

Except the study wasn’t actually all that legitimate.

Shortly after Nature Methods published the paper, other CRISPR researchers began pointing out its flaws, calling upon the journal to retract the study. Nature Methods responded with an Editorial Note on June 14 highlighting these criticisms. Then, on July 25, it published an Editorial Expression of Concern saying it was investigating the authors’ interpretation that gene editing causes mutations.

Now, more than 10 months later, the publication has officially retracted the paper. On March 30, Nature Methods published an editorial noting the retraction and the primary reason behind it: “There was insufficient data to support the claim of unexpected off-target effects due to CRISPR.” There could be a few different reasons for that, as one researcher previously noted on Twitter:


The experts that had opposed the paper’s original findings were vindicated; the journal also published five expert critiques of the study.

So the misinformation was corrected (though, strangely, several of the study’s original authors did not agree to the retraction, as the notice points out). The system of scientific publishing still works, and errors were rapidly remedied.

All good, right? No harm done?

Perhaps not. There are some bells you just can’t un-ring, especially when questionable studies confirm people’s fears about a particular advance. The purported link between vaccines and autism persists, no matter that the paper that started it all was retracted, and no matter how many times researchers debunk it.

Gene editing in humans was already controversial before the Nature Methods study. Skeptics warned of a future filled with “designer babies” and increased income inequality. And that was all assuming that the technology actually worked. If they were looking for “proof” that CRISPR was dangerous, they now had a scientific study to bolster their claim.

Even with the retraction, that “proof” that gene editing causes mutations is already out in the ether. It’ll stick in some people minds, no doubt.

Some scientists, including Harvard geneticist George Church, weren’t worried about the dip in stock prices. “This seems like a great example of rapidly self-correcting science… I was never worried.  Some investors look for opportunities to sell high then buy back low and then watch the rebound — based more on herd psychology than lab science,” Church told publishing watchdog Retraction Watch

But scientists don’t just need to agree that CRISPR is safe and effective in humans. They also have to convince the public that it is, and that’s much harder to do when respected journals present flawed conclusions about gene editing as fact.

The post A Journal Retracted A Controversial Paper About CRISPR. The Damage Might Already Be Done. appeared first on Futurism.

With the Most Reused Parts Ever, SpaceX’s Mission Successfully Sent Its Cargo to the ISS

Posted: 02 Apr 2018 01:48 PM PDT

Unlike the hit song played nonstop on the radio or your mother questioning you about when you’re going to give her grandchildren, rocket launches are one thing that never gets old. That’s lucky, because SpaceX has done two in the span of just four days. Today, the company again launched its Falcon 9 rocket, this time with 2,630 kilograms (5800 pounds) of deliveries to the International Space Station, from the base in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The theme for this launch: reusable. One of the Falcon boosters first flew on the CRS-12 mission in August 2017. And this particular Dragon module flew in April 2016, on the CRS-8 mission. It’s the first time two reused (or, as SpaceX calls it, “flight-proven”) components have been combined in a single mission.

This marks SpaceX’s 14th successful flight for Dragon, and 15th flight overall (CRS-7, in 2015, failed before reaching orbit). It’s the end of the line for this particular first stage — SpaceX did not attempt to recover it, though the engineers did gather information about it to improve future missions.

Today’s launch was perfectly choreographed, no surprises. It’s a testament to how efficiently SpaceX now operates with missions like these. They’ve really got it down to a science. Things can still happen, of course, but nothing abnormal did today.

Screencap of the livestream of April 2, 2018 SpaceX Falcon 9 launch. Image Credit: Alexandra Ossola

The Dragon is en route to deliver food, gear, and other supplies to the ISS, according to Space.com. It also contains materials for 50 science experiments conducted there, one fifth of the total experiments on board (more info about research on board the ISS can be found here). According to the Kennedy Space Center website and Space.com, those include:

  • An Earth observatory that will study thunderstorms and how they affect Earth’s atmosphere and climate. 
  • An investigation about how to best make products from metal powders in low gravity in order to improve manufacturing techniques. 
  • Experiments on how to best give plants the proper nutrients as part of continued studies to grow food in space.
  • Studies that analyze how fruit flies and wasps interact in microgravity
  • A study that assesses how space affects bone marrow, blood production, and wound healing

It’s not necessarily as exciting as, say, launching a cherry red sports car into the ether. But it’s still pretty dope.

If everything continues to go according to plan, the Dragon will get within docking range of the ISS around 7 AM ET on Wednesday, April 4, at which point “ISS crew members will use the station's 57.7-foot (17.6- meter) robotic arm to reach out and capture the Dragon spacecraft and attach it to the orbiting laboratory,” notes a SpaceX press release. And you thought those claw machine games were stressful.

Dragon will be back again. After a month-long stint at the ISS, it’s slated to return to Earth, where, if its descent goes well, it will plop right into the Pacific near Baja California.

The post With the Most Reused Parts Ever, SpaceX’s Mission Successfully Sent Its Cargo to the ISS appeared first on Futurism.

Exclusive: The Truth Behind the Bitcoin “Cult” Trying to Buy a Church in Brooklyn

Posted: 02 Apr 2018 01:26 PM PDT

Word has it that a cryptocurrency “cult” is trying to buy a church in Brooklyn. Here’s what we know.

Last week, these fliers started popping up around Williamsburg, Brooklyn:

The Facebook page for the protest, run by a Judy Gunderson, linked to an actual Facebook page:

And the “cult” that Ms. Gunderson was linking to was, yes, The First Church of Crypto:

People on Twitter, of course, went nuts (look for yourself).

There was a (very excited) Reddit thread on it:

And some people started a Telegram group to talk about it:

Yes, there was even an Overheard In New York post about it:

Before this goes any further, and any reporters sink their teeth into it, let’s take a glimpse at the source code of the First Church of Crypto site:


Yeah. April Fool’s, dummies. That was us.

With good reason.

But before we get there! A brief making-of:

  1. Yes, we actually hung flyers last week around Williamsburg.
  2. We spun up the “Church” site. Which, true story, at one point included a rewritten version of the Serenity Prayer (“Satoshi, grant me the wisdom…“).
  3. We took out a bunch of targeted Facebook ads.
  4. The entire thing took a few hours.
  5. And over the weekend, a bunch of people not only bought the idea hook, line, and sinker, but to our surprise, propagated it and actually wanted it to happen.

Let’s linger on that last point for a moment:

A bunch of crypto bulls thought it’d be a good idea to spin up a church in praise of cryptocurrency to replace a real church in Brooklyn.

Out of the hundreds of people who bought this reality sight-unseen, there was just one, dumb, random Pepe on Twitter who had our number. That’s it.

And that, right there, might explain much of the cultural problem around cryptocurrency:

The fervor around crypto, perpetrated by its loudest, most absurd, unilateral boosters is comically, blindingly obtuse to its own dumbassery.

The ideas behind decentralized currencies and blockchain are fascinating, and hold tremendous amounts of potential, blah blah whatever. Look: If you’re reading this, you already know how important and great blockchain could be. And if you’re a cogent, thinking, sentient human being who hasn’t caught the crypto vapors past the point of common sense, you also know it could be even greater if the, uh, culture and literacy around it weren’t such an absolute, utter shitshow (to say nothing of the bad actors, charlatans, and snake-oil slingers exploiting this uncharted territory).

It’s really too bad that there’s not a single must-read publication for breaking news, gossip, commentary, and analysis about cryptocurrency and its culture — its highs and lows, the most brilliant iterations and the most idiotic pratfalls, the big-time titans, the low-grade conmen, the shitcoins, the Lambos, the fortunes, the face-falls — that isn’t just a mash note, or a dumping ground for press releases, or yet another site for hot takes and explainers where someone tries to craft a shitty blockchain metaphor around a deck of cards for the umpteenth time. A site where no token is sacred, no moon hangs too high, and no bag is too rekt.

Which is why we’re launching one. Hodl on to your bags, coins, and asses:

Blocknik, a new site about cryptocurrency from Futurism Media, is coming. Summer 2018.

Sign up here to be first in the door.

*Oh, and if you know anyone: We’re putting a premium on talent, and looking for funny, sharp, brilliant writers who can rise above the current Rainman-esque standard of dialogue about crypto, and who would like to do it for what’s gonna be the most fun, hysterical gig in the space. It’ll also pay well, and in fiat currencies. If you’re interested — or know anyone who is — give us a shout.

The post Exclusive: The Truth Behind the Bitcoin “Cult” Trying to Buy a Church in Brooklyn appeared first on Futurism.

The Chinese Space Station Has Crashed in the Pacific. Why Was It So Hard to Track?

Posted: 02 Apr 2018 10:55 AM PDT

If a massive space station falls out of the atmosphere into the Pacific Ocean, with no one there to witness it, does it make a sound?

That’s no hypothetical question. We’re asking about Tiangong-1, the Chinese space station that finally “de-orbited” from space and into the Pacific around 8 PM Eastern time on April 1.

Let’s be honest — “de-orbited” is a polite way of saying “free-fall.” Scientists could neither alter nor even really track Tiangong-1’s descent. That could be a problem in a future — an atmosphere more packed with spacecraft presents a (slightly) higher risk for humans on the ground.

We’ve anticipated Tiangong-1’s homecoming since 2016, when abnormalities in the space station’s orbit suggested that the Chinese space agency had lost control of it. It took a few months for authorities to admit that the craft was out of their reach. Normally, a space agency will retire a satellite by purposely guiding it into the atmosphere, at an angle and speed such that it burns up completely or re-enters Earth’s atmosphere far from human populations.

That makes Tiangong-1’s spinning, erratic descent less than ideal.

Scientists weren’t exactly sure when and where the craft would land until the moment it did so. Indeed, the space station’s case highlights the fact that scientists still don’t have the necessary technology or research to wrangle the significant number of variables that factor into tracking and modeling such situations.

Around noon Eastern time on April 1, eight hours before the craft actually crashed, the European Space Agency (ESA) had reached the limit of what it could forecast. And there still a pretty big window for when and where the station would re-enter.

"With our current understanding of the dynamics of the upper atmosphere and Europe's limited sensors, we are not able to make very precise predictions," said Holger Krag, head of ESA's Space Debris Office, in an agency blog about Tiangong-1.

Note: we do not want to overstate the odds of being hit by falling spacecraft. Space junk falls out of the atmosphere all the time, and only one person has ever been hit by it. For the Tiangong-1, the odds that the falling space station would have hit any single human on Earth were still 1 in 1 trillion, lower than your yearly odds of being struck by lightning.

But that may change in the coming years. The growing space industry has promised to put a number of new spacecraft into orbit around Earth in the next decade, including thousands of new satellites. As we increase the number of objects in space, the overall probability of something falling out of the sky into a populated area will increase. At the moment, nobody has a way to zap space junk (or incoming meteors, for that matter) that might pose a threat, and it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll get one anytime soon.

Instead, as ESA’s Krag implies, research could help a lot. If we could better understand how the upper atmosphere behaves, we could better model where a falling object would land, and potentially warn people in the area if needed.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem likely. The sort of basic research that would improve scientists’ understanding of the atmosphere is chronically under-funded, and in the U.S., happens in agencies to which the White House doesn’t allocate many resources.

Basic research into the upper atmosphere isn’t nearly as sexy as as falling space junk, but it could one day save a lot of people some logistical — and potentially physical — headaches.

The post The Chinese Space Station Has Crashed in the Pacific. Why Was It So Hard to Track? appeared first on Futurism.

Tesla Model X in Autopilot Killed a Driver. Officials Aren’t Pleased With How Tesla Handled It.

Posted: 02 Apr 2018 10:27 AM PDT

Updated 3PM ET

Tesla is taking PR very seriously after one of its vehicles in autonomous mode killed a passenger recently.

The crash occurred at 9:27 AM on Highway 101 near Mountain View, California. Walter Huang was in the driver’s seat of the Model X, which was in autonomous mode. The car hit a concrete highway divider, marked with black and yellow chevrons, at full force. Huang didn’t take any action. The SUV crumpled like a tin can, and Huang didn’t make it.

Other information has been hard to come by, due to the severity of the damage. So far we don’t know if his death was a result of negligence, a fatal nap, or simply being distracted by the fireworks of warning lights, and sounds. But one thing is clear: the crash proves that audio and visual cues on the dashboard could after all be insufficient to prevent a crash.

Huang wasn’t the first to die in a Tesla with Autopilot active. In 2016, Joshua Brown crashed his Model S into a truck, marking the first fatal collision while Autopilot was engaged.

The timing for this particular crash isn’t exactly ideal (from Tesla’s perspective). Uber is already doing damage control after its self-driving car killed a pedestrian in Arizona on March 19, four days before Huang’s fatal collision.

Interestingly, officials aren’t too pleased about Tesla’s PR offensive. On Sunday, a spokesperson for the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) told the Washington Post:

At this time the NTSB needs the assistance of Tesla to decode the data the vehicle recorded. In each of our investigations involving a Tesla vehicle, Tesla has been extremely cooperative on assisting with the vehicle data. However, the NTSB is unhappy with the release of investigative information by Tesla.

Presumably, investigators aren’t happy because they’d like to get as much information as they can, then release a report.

But Tesla might have jumped the gun. Not complying with the NTSB’s investigation processes and deadlines might end up having their technological advancements (and security improvements) screech to a halt.

After the Uber car’s crash, the company was banned from further testing in Arizona (though other companies were allowed to continue). Many people feared that the crash would fray the public’s trust in autonomous vehicles, and that largely has not come to pass, at least not yet.

But if the crashes continue, that could change. The market for autonomous cars could dry up before the technology becomes reliable enough to make them widespread.

Tesla’s Autopilot is Level 2 autonomy, while Uber’s self-driving car is a Level 4. So the technology isn’t even really the same. Still, a turn in the tide of public opinion could sweep both up with it.

Autonomous vehicles aren’t the best at sharing the unpredictable road with imprecise humans. Yes, once fully autonomous vehicles roll out all over the country and make up 100 percent of the vehicles on the road, American roads will inevitably become safer.

But we’re not there yet. If crashes like these keep happening, and the public loses trust, we might never be.

Update: Tesla CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter to respond to comments from NTSB and reiterate Tesla’s priorities:

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