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What Became of the Parachute That Delivered Curiosity to Mars?

April 4, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow Remember the "seven minutes of terror"? Those tense, breathtaking moments, back in August, between the descent of the spacecraft carrying the Mars Curiosity rover into the Martian atmosphere and the vehicle's (ultimately successful) landing on Mars? NASA remembers. So it periodically checks up on one of the tools that allowed ...

The Doll That Helped the Soviets Beat the US to Space

March 28, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow On March 25, 1961, a group of peasants in Izhevsk, a village near the Ural Mountains in the center of the Soviet Union, watched a man fall from the sky. He wore a bright-orange jumpsuit attached to a blooming parachute. His arms shook. His legs flailed. When he succumbed, finally, ...

Robots Haven't Had Much Luck Walking On Sand -- Until Now

March 22, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the natural world should be positively humbled by the current state of robotics. We have flying robots that mimic birds. We have leaping robots that mimic fleas. We have robots that mimic cheetahs and horses and snakes, making themselves at home ...

The Engines That Propelled Us Into Space, Recovered From the Ocean Floor

March 20, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow On July 16, 1969, a rocket in Cape Canaveral, Florida launched three humans into space, destination moon. They were hurtled away from Earth with the help of NASA's Saturn V rocket -- and with the help of, at the rocket's base, five Rocketdyne F-1 engines. This was a lot of ...

Curiosity's Hit-and-Run Leads to Another Martian Discovery

March 20, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow Back in January, the Mars Curiosity rover did what it was built to do: It plowed over some rock. On this particular day, however, one of the rocks the rover roved over broke apart -- revealing, in pictures beamed back to Earth, a shiny-white interior that stands in sharp relief ...

A Brief History of Applause, the 'Big Data' of the Ancient World

March 15, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow And then, suddenly, just when the colors and outlines settle at last to their various duties -- smiling, frivolous duties -- some knob is touched and a torrent of sounds comes to life: voices speaking all together, a walnut cracked, the click of a nutcracker carelessly passed, thirty human hearts ...

What Is 3D Printing? And Will It Change the World?

March 4, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow 3D printing, futuristic name notwithstanding, is a pretty simple phenomenon: the conversion of a digital file into a physical product. With detailed instructions and the right materials, in theory and -- more and more often -- in practice, you can manufacture objects from a little machine on your desk. So ...

SpaceX's Dragon Capsule Encountered a Problem in Orbit

March 1, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow This morning, just after 10:00 am East Coast time, SpaceX's Dragon capsule, carried on the company's Falcon 9 rocket, lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Minutes after a seemingly successful launch, though, SpaceX reported a problem with Dragon. No further details were immediately provided, though ...

A Medical Lab in Your Smartphone

March 1, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow The digital age has made what was was once obscure visible. In ways we never could before, we can quantify the world -- make it knowable to us, comprehensible to us -- by gathering data and identifying patterns and generally converting experience into information. One of the last things to ...

Imagine an Aircraft Carrier Made Out of ... Robots

February 28, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow Imagine that there's another oil spill along the lines of BP-in-the-Gulf. Imagine that our relief work following the disaster could be waged not just with human effort, but with technological ability -- with the help of, specifically, robots. Even more specifically: robotic boats. Soon, you won't have to imagine it. ...