Space Station Sunday: Extravehicular Excellence

Good morning space fans!  It's shaping up to be an exciting week on the ISS, with astronauts Reid Wiseman and Alexander Gerst preparing to conduct an EVA (Extravehicular Activity, a.k.a. spacewalk) on Tuesday.  They have already donned and inspected their spacesuits in a pre-excursion examination, which is important due to the fact that micro-gravity can increase astronauts' height by up to 3 inches (so it's necessary to check that no one got too big for their space britches.)

According to, the purpose of the spacewalk will be to move a pump unit out to external stowage, and to install the Mobile Transporter Relay Assemblya backup power source for the ISS's Mobile Transporter (which moves the exterior machinery of the Mobile Servicing System - including the Canadarm 2 - into proper worksite locations.)  NASA has released a wonderfully-detailed, point-by-point video simulation of what exactly will transpire on the spacewalk.

On this EVA, Astronaut Gerst will become the third German ever to spacewalk.

Astronaut Wiseman was recently featured on NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams, elucidating his thoughts on why his job is the best in (and over) the world.  An enthusiastic former Naval pilot, he and new ISS crewmate Barry "Butch" Wilson showed their support for their fellow sailors during a Navy/Air Force football game.

Ships, starships, whatever.

In other news, this week the ISS confirmed the name change on their official Twitter handle to @Space_Station.  Check it out for videos, images, and commentary to keep you updated on everything orbital and awesome.  Short astronaut-shot space and ISS experiment videos can also be accessed on Vine via #SpaceVine.

We wish Astronauts Reid and Gerst the best of luck on their upcoming EVA.  See you next this space!

Alexander Gerst enjoys Casual Friday last week on the ISS, as this week his spacewalking outfit will be much more cumbersome.

iRideNYC: A Big App For The Big Apple

6,000 miles of roads.  12,750 miles of sidewalks.  6,000 shared bikes, and countless more independent ones.  1.7 billion subway rides a year.  And cabs...well, cabs EVERYWHERE.  Transportation availability in New York City is no joke, and now thanks to a new app, it will be no mystery.

As reported by, the open-sourced app iRideNYC aims to decode every aspect of travelling in NYC, with realtime information updates from the NYC Department of Transportation aiding the actual (not just scheduled) needs of everyone, from tourist to townie.

Cordell Schachter, chief technology officer at NYCDOT, explained, “It recreates the experience of a local app, but you always have up-to-the minute information."

Issues like construction or train maintenance interference would be factored into your results, as well as smaller-scale options like CitiBike locations and availability. iRideNYC will even suggest interesting nearby sights, and the feasibility of walking to them (which, in NYC, is an often an even better adventure than using mechanized transport.)

Based off of a mobile development platform that the NYCDOT used to document damage during the brutal aftermath of 2012's Hurricane Sandy, the app updates every 30 seconds. Think you can outbike any bus in town? Now you can know for sure...and also catch some cool sightseeing along the way!

Find your place amidst the millions right here.

"Hurry the hell up, I'm about to beat my record for racing the express train."

Avast! Modern Pirates May Be Thwarted By Small Submersible Robots

Even in modern times, sea pirates are still a threat.  But instead of having to combat them in tall ships with cannons blazing, we can now counteract would-be buccaneers thanks to small, submersible robots.  MIT has perfected just such a craft, that operates covertly and inexpensively to thwart would-be smugglers.

According to, the oval-shaped robots created by the MIT team were originally designed to check for cracks in the water coolers of nuclear reactors, but have the capability to examine the undersides of ships of all sizes.  Each robot has a flat belly which is ideal for crawling along to suss out false hulls or hollow propeller shafts that could be used to hide contraband.

Onboard acceleromators and gyroscopes measure the robot's motion, which is propelled by water ejected through six pumps in the robot's body.  An onboard communications antenna relays intel.  The robot's lithium battery currently allows for 40 minutes of activity, moving at half a meter to a meter per second while attached to a surface, although an updated version is set to allow for 100 minutes with wireless recharging and expanded propulsion capability.

Best of all, they're small enough to be unobtrusive, and created easily enough to allow for fleets of them to be deployed with no financial worry.  Designer Sampriti Bhattacharyya explained, "It's very expensive for port security to use traditional robots for every small boat coming into the port. If this is cheap enough, if I can get this out for $600, say, why not just have 20 of them doing collaborative inspection? And if it breaks, it's not a big deal. It's very easy to make."

These barnacle-bots may be just the thing to help port security search for hidden "treasure."

Fortunately, traditional pirate justice is of no use against the robots, as they are specifically built for being keelhauled.

This (Text) Message Will Self-Destruct (Your Hard Drive's Data)

Security of your digital information now means security of the majority of your life.  Though it's possible to use a service that will release your valuable documents in the event of your untimely demise, what if you just need a complete destruction of data?

Look no further than the Autothysis128t.  According to, the 128-gigabyte hard drive is specially created for cautious compilers' control.  It's encrypted with a password, but for an unbeatable extra level of security, an onboard cell radio is standing by to eradicate your info with a mere text message.  

The Autothysis128t can be programmed to automatically go scorched-earth on your saved files in several ways, such as if it's unplugged from your computer, or if too many passwords are attempted to crack it.  But the real killswitch is the text-based execution order (textecution?) that you personally choose and fire off should the situation require it.

Thus, in event of theft or loss, the device will murder your data beyond all known recovery techniques as soon as you hit "send."  For $1600, it's an expensive security measure, but can you put a price on perfect privacy?

For all of your most sensitive materials.

Take My Breath Away...To Charge My Phone

If you think charging devices thanks to the power of footsteps is a good plan to use all that otherwise-wasted energy, how about harnessing electricity from your breathing?

As reported by, this could become yet another helping hand (well, lung) in the fight for sustainable energy.  The harnessing device is a notion called the Aire Mask, and if it makes the leap from design to developed gadget, you will be able to charge your phone while looking like Darth Vader.

The Aire Mask would theoretically use small turbines to generate electricity with every exhale.  A USB port would then deliver it to the device of your choice.  Creator Joao Paulo Lammoglia has received a Red Dot outline grant to further this energy source, which he claims could be used when walking, running, or just chilling.

Is having a constant, mindlessly renewable power source worth looking like a robot?  If you jones on your phone, quite possibly.  Or maybe it'll become trendy - look how useful and cool you just became!  Just be sure to take it off for a minute when your new admirers attempt a kiss.

Good for powering small devices, helping the environment, and sexually attracting Bane.

"Aw helllll yeah."

Here Comes The Sunflower: New Device To Provide Solar Power, Heat, & Clean Water

This could be a breakthrough that gets through three major modern human needs at once.  A new invention called the Sunflower could be planted in remote areas to harvest solar power, generate heat, and create drinking water, all in one shiny package.

As reported by, Airlight Energy of Switzerland has crafted an ingenious three-in-one solution to many of the remote world's requirements.  Standing at 10 meters high, the Sunflower is relatively unobtrusive, and can fit neatly into one shipping crate to help out humans anywhere.

Featuring a water-cooled solar panel designed by IBM, the petal-like array reflects light back onto itself, concentrating the light energy two thousand fold.  The water-cooling elements keep the photovoltaic chips at optimum operating temperature, then the sun-heated water can power a desalination station.  In coastal areas, this could use seawater (which is evaporated through a membrane three times for purity), while in other areas it could serve to purify water from lakes, rivers, or rain.  An astonishing 2,500 liters of water a day could possibly be made palatable.

The mirrors themselves are not the traditional heavy-glass variety, but rather are fabricated from, "the same material potato chip and chocolate wrapping is made of," Airlight's Ilaria Besozzi says. The mirrors are in a low-vacuum concave shape that could release to disseminate sunlight and preserve the photovoltaic chips, were the chips to reach a critical melting temperature (in event of water cooling failure.)

While power storage issues are being assessed for the Sunflower, prototypes are expected to enter experimental field tests in 2016, before hitting the market in 2017. The projected output of the Sunflower is slated to provide 12 kilowatts of electricity and 20 kilowatts of heat from 10 hours of sunlight exposure.

Whether its helping far-flung tribesmen or supporting survivalists in style, the Sunflower could light up (and heat, and hydrate) lots of lives.

Radiant!  (Image courtesy

Easy As A Walk In The Park: Footstep-Powered "Kinetic Energy" Charging Stations To Debut

Step right up and harness yourself some energy.  That's what's happening with a new kinetic energy project which aims to install public footstep-powered cellphone charging stations as a stride towards the future.

As reported by, the premise is simple:  accrued footsteps from passersby press into the pavement, triggering small underground turbines with their pressure, forcing out fluid that in turn helps generate electricity.  The result is manifested in a station called "EnGo" - a combination solar/kinetic-powered charging station that can juice up to 14 phones at a time.

The EnGo stations, created by the Volta company, will be appearing in 100 American cities over the next several months, with one already operational in St. Louis.  Volta CEO Peter Mirovic is proud to be able to generate energy harvested from what would otherwise be what he calls a "waste of footsteps." Volta also aims to use this technology to power streetlights kinetically.

Dancing in the streets would be an appropriate and useful reaction.

For express charging, they should create a version powered by "Dance Dance Revolution."