Space Station Sunday: New Faces In Space

Good evening, space fans!  Today the crew of Expedition 42/43 set off from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazahkstan, bound for the ISS.  The launch, carried out at 21:01 GMT (16:01 EST), was a success.

A fine day for some rocketry (there wasn't too much snow!)
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According to, the spacecraft will travel for 6 hours to reach the ISS.  Aboard are NASA astronaut Terry Virts, Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, and Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, who will all spend the next 169 days circling the earth.

The arrival of Cristoforetti will make it the second time in ISS history that two women (the other being Russia's Yelena Serova) have been aboard for long-duration mission.  As reported by ABC News, Cristoforetti has previously served as a captain and fighter pilot in the Italian Air Force.  Regarding her new mission, she is focused on only the matters at hand, saying, "Space is what I do for work, and that's what I think about it: It's my work."

She may be focused on work, but she's inadvertantly making flight suits part of the hot new Italian fall fashion.
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As for the others in this line of work, Cristoferetti is in distinguished company.  According to wikipedia, her crewmate Anton Shkaplerov is a colonel in the Russian air force.  He has served as a senior pilot instructor and Instructor of General Parachute Training, completing over 300 jumps.  He has also served as the Russian Space Agency's Director of Operations at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, and has previously worked aboard the ISS as a flight engineer during Expedition 29/30.

Not only are his skydiving credentials impressive, he's also good at sky-lurking, having conducted a spacewalk during his last ISS mission.
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Rounding out the new crew is NASA astronaut Terry Virts, who hails from Maryland.  A colonel in the United States Air Force, Virts is a distinguished experimental test pilot with over 3,000 hours spent in more than 40 different types of aircraft.  His piloting expertise isn't limited to earth, as he was also the pilot of the Space Shuttle during STS-130 (which notably helped deliver the much-beloved, multi-windowed Cupola module of the ISS.)  Prior to this mission, Virts had been serving as CAPCOM in Houston, communicating with the ISS from the ground.

The unflappable Colonel Virts shakes off some final training in a vestibular chair, designed to practice for the effects of the mission.
(Image courtesy @AstroTerry.)

The new crew will chart their mission progress through their respective social media outlets, including @AstroSamantha (Cristoferetti), @AntonAstrey (Skhaplerov), and @AstroTerry (Virts.)

Meanwhile, up in orbit, business continued as usual.  According to, Commander Barry "Butch" Wilmore spent time working on an experiment that analyzed plant root growth in micro-gravity, as well as replacing hardware on the Combustion Integrated Rack (where all the cool set-things-on-fire-in-space experiments occur.)

Astronauts Yelena Serova and Alexander Samokutyaev kept busy with installing new gas detection hardware, cleaning vents, and venting gas from an onboard air conditioner.  They also worked with a chemistry experiment that will be used educationally with Russian schoolchildren.  Other routine maintenance and scientific tasks were tended to on schedule.

Speaking of schedule, the new crew are expected to arrive at the ISS at around 10pm EST this evening, and you can watch it live on  Hatch opening coverage begins at 11pm.  We'll have more details from the mission next Sunday, when we'll see how the crew has adjusted to their new floating this space!

If you are reading this prior to 10pm EST on 11.23.14, these three people are currently hurtling through space.
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Nothing But Net, Now ON The Net: New ShotTracker App Assesses & Shares Your B-Ball Skills

Think you've got game, but have no way to scientifically quantify it?  Now, you too can assess your skills like the pros with a new wristband that catches all your basketball glory (or goof-ups.)

The ShotTracker system, according to, is comprised of three elements:  one wrist-mounted sensor, one net-mounted sensor, and a mobile app that allows the sensors to share information via Bluetooth and concretely calculate whether you scored a shot or fell short.

Shot stats ASAP.  Let the future aid your freethrows.
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The system includes a wristband and a compression sleeve for wearing the diminutive wrist sensor at your preferred level of comfort.  For $150, it will ship in early December, well in time for any Xmas-party shootouts.  The durable devices are waterproof and weatherproof, and if you feel like waiting for version 2.0 in mid-2015, it will be also able to calculate your exact location on the court.

ShotTracker includes a sharing program where you can compare dunks and drops with other users, and also a list of workouts so you can bring your game up to shareable snuff.  Coaches can also add their own workout plans, to perfect players even outside of practice.

Whether you're trying to make the team or just trying to tell if your old skills are still on point, the ShotTracker has a little something for every kind of hoop dreamer.  As the ShotTracker website rightly explains, "You can't improve what you don't measure."

It's like having these guys in your smartphone!
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Roving Robot Security Guards: Safety Or Just More Surveillance?

Surveillance robots are a fact of modern society.  Whether they be drones in the sky, surreptitious cameras discreetly hidden in public, or even the wiles in the wires of your own computer turned against you, they are out there.  Now, Silicon Valley has upped the robot game with new five-foot multi-sensory patrol droids.

Every day they risk their microchips and processors, just to keep you safe.
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These "Knightscope" robots, according to the Daily Mail, are intended to use their arrays of microphones, sensors, and cameras to spot and report intruders.  They don't have trigger fingers (or even weapons) like humans do, so they may be thwarted in a fight, but they will record you severely in the process (possibly even using their LIDAR laser ranging to make a 3D map.)  Thermal imaging and even an odor sensor complete the observational package.  That's right, the robot could incriminate you just by your human-stench alone.

Truly a service droid, the Knightscopes operate and charge autonomously thanks to a combination of of laser scanning, wheel encoders, inertial measurements, and GPS.  Eventually, their creators hope to send them out to patrol various neighborhoods or businesses, where they can operate indoors or out.  

Yes, it is very much like an R2 unit.  C-3PO not included.
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A button on the top of the robot's head allows for humans to interact with a live person (not inside the robot) in case of emergency.  This is a feature perhaps intended to endear the robots to humans, which seems to be part of their creators' mission, as they ask, "Imagine a friend that can see, hear, feel and smell that would tirelessly watch over your corporate campus or neighborhood, keep your loved ones safe and put a smile on everyone passing by..."

So we're supposed to "smile" at our new robot "friends."  With all those cameras and sensors, they'll surely know about it and get mad if we don't.  So, which gang is going to start knitting robot blindfolds?

Don't start trouble in the wrong neighborhood of Silicon Valley.
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Compete On The Street: New "Street Pong" Enables Gamer Showdowns At Crosswalks

If you live in a city that is too polite to cross the roads against a traffic light, what are you supposed to do while you wait in that interminable nether-space that is too short for a phone call or a smartphone jaunt online?  One German town has the answer:  stoplight Pong.

Except it's vaguely soccer themed, because Germany.
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According to, the town of Hildesheim has made waiting for the lights to change a matter of competitive gaming, at least by 1970s arcade standards.  With small touchscreens pitting foes from both sides of the street in fierce Pong battle, one may elude the ennui of daily life for a few precious minutes, locked in slidey, soccer-ball-rebounding victory or defeat.

A red and green hourglass timer indicates the available moments left until the light changes and you must return to your regularly-scheduled existence.

But at least you don't have to feed a paycheck's worth of quarters into this thing.
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Creator Sandro Engel was enthusiastic about the project, stating, "You play with people you haven't seen before, which is also cool."

The Street Pong experience will remain in place in Hildesheim for four weeks to gauge interest, and possibly longer if it proves popular.  Requests from cities in France and Norway have already implied that this is a fun idea.

Just hope they don't install "Street Fighter II."  Then the traffic would be on the sidewalks, instead of in the streets.

Let's hope the serious gamers don't take this too far.  A ragequit could lead to a real-life pedestrian fatality.
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Grounding Big Brother: Amnesty International Releases Anti-Government-Spyware Detection Software

Are you a closet revolutionary who is constantly aware of the deterioration of society and informs themself on ways it can be fixed?  Are you a casual bystander who once googled a song by a band that prided themselves on questioning authority?  Are you just paranoid as hell that the Man is out to get you?  Now, you can stop governmental cyber-peeping for sure, thanks to new technology released by Amnesty International.

As reported by the BBC, it is no secret that governments use "sophisticated spying tools that could grab images from webcams or listen via microphones to monitor people." Amnesty International knows how wrong that is, and has released the Detekt software to combat Big Brother's unsavory advances. Detekt scans your computer for government-grade spyware that might be missed (or intentionally looked over) by other more mainstream virus or malware detectors.

They're not this overt, but they are this unpleasant.
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Created through a collaboration between Amnesty International, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Privacy International and Digitale Gesellschaft, the free software is designed to operate on Windows (the platform which most spied-on people are apparently using.) Its availability should be helpful in putting a damper on the $5 billion international government spyware market.

That's your tax money, getting spent to indiscriminately spy.  Kill the idea that this could ever be acceptable.
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"People think the uses of spyware by governments are isolated cases. They are not," said Claudio Guarnieri, the German creator of Detekt. "Their discovery is isolated...Spyware is becoming the final solution for surveillance operations to overcome encryption.

"The real problem is nobody really asked the public whether that's acceptable and some countries are legitimizing their use without considering the consequences and inherent issues."

One of those inherent issues being that average civilians shouldn't be covertly spied on by their government.  Better fire up the Detekt, we probably just got put on a list.

There is nothing noble about blindly swinging a cyber bat at peoples' computers, hoping a pinata of prosecutable info will explode.  Even if it did, that candy is probably supposed to be helping the people.
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This Drone Is Not Trying To Kill You

Every year, 800,000 people in the European Union suffer a heart attack, but the survival rate remains only about 8%.  Now, thanks to an innovative "ambulance" drone created by a Belgian engineering student, reaching people in a time of emergency can be more effective than ever.

According to, grad student Alec Momont developed the drone to reach the scene of an accident in considerably less time than the standard urban emergency services.  With most post-cardiac-arrest brain death occurring within 4-6 minutes, the ambulance drone can save lives by reaching anywhere in a 12-kilometer zone in one minute (as opposed to an actual ambulance's 10+ minute arrival time.)

This speed, coupled with onboard defibrillator equipment, could theoretically raise the survival rate from 8% to 80%.

The Ambulance Drone floats like a butterfly, shocks like an electric eel.
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The drone uses GPS from an emergency caller's phone to arrive at their position.  Onboard cameras, speakers and microphones enable emergency service providers to coach the on-site rescuer in aid techniques until professional lifesavers can arrive.

Momont wants the drones to eventually contain a "flying medical toolbox" with gear including insulin needles and oxygen masks, to provide for other types of emergencies.  Now, instead of drones stereotypically raining down "death from above", a more optimistic option can take flight.

This drone is considerably less helpful to your health.
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Pay Your Dues As You Snooze: New Alarm Clock App Makes Charity Donations Every Time You Hit "Snooze"

Do you hate leaving the warm embrace of your bed in the morning?  Do you hit the snooze button enough to prolong your beauty sleep by a matter of hours?  Now, put your laziness to work, with a new app that donates money to charity every time you choose to snooze.

"I will give you $100 to shut up and let me sleep until it's dark out again."
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iCukoo, according to the Daily Mail, is a new app that functions as an alarm clock and donation device.  Just select your charity of choice, the usual duration of your snooze-nap, and the amount you're willing to donate rather than get up and be a productive human being.

The app currently only donates to charities in the UK, but the list is a nicely diverse one.  Parkinson's UK, National Literacy Trust, Starlight (a support group for seriously ill children), Prostate Cancer UK and Maggie's (a cancer charity) can all benefit from your extended sweet dreams.

iCukoo is currently available on iOS and is in development for Android devices, so soon all types of smartphone users can enjoy their snooze as a donation accrues.

Just don't do to your smartphone what you did to your last obnoxious alarm clock.
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