William Shatner is going to space, aged 90

Boldly going where no 90-year-old has gone before. Image Credit: Twitter / William Shatner

The legendary Star Trek actor is set to become the oldest person ever to venture into space next month.According to reports, Captain Kirk himself – William Shatner – will be one of the passengers aboard the next civilian flight of Jeff Bezos’ New Shepard spacecraft when it launches in October.

Like the previous flight in July of which Bezos himself was a part, the launch will see Shatner and his fellow passengers reach the edge of space on a trip that will last only around 15 minutes.

If he does go, the Star Trek veteran will become the oldest person in history to venture into space.

There are rumors that a documentary will be filmed of the event, however Discovery allegedly rejected the concept and Shatner’s team is now looking for an alternative channel to pick up the project.

While neither Bezos or Shatner have officially confirmed the flight, Shatner had previously mentioned it during a San Diego ComicCon panel earlier this year.

“There’s a possibility that I’m going to go up for a brief moment and come back down,” he said.

The current record holder for oldest person in space is 82-year-old aviation pioneer Wally Funk who joined Bezos during Blue Origin’s previous flight in July.

If Shatner’s flight does go ahead, Funk’s record will have been broken within a matter of months.

Green Bank, West Virginia, population 143, the quietest town in America: no cell phones, Wi-Fi, television or radio

Green Bank, in Pocahontas County in West Virginia, the United States, is possibly one of the quietest residential places on earth. There is no cell phone reception here, no Wi-Fi, not even radio or television. But Green Bank is not technologically backward. On the contrary, it’s home to the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope on earth – the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT). The GBT is the reason why this town is electromagnetically silent.

The telescope is the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope, surpassing the Effelsberg 100-m Radio Telescope in Germany. The Green Bank site was part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) until September 30, 2016. Since October 1, 2016, the telescope has been operated by the independent Green Bank Observatory. The telescope’s name honors the late Senator Robert C. Byrd who represented West Virginia and who pushed the funding of the telescope through Congress.

Radio telescopes work by detecting electromagnetic waves that come from distant galaxies. These signals are so faint that the slightest emission of radio waves from electronic gadgets can interfere with the readings of the radio telescopes. For this reason, all cell phones, Wi-Fi, radio and other communication devices are outlawed here. There are no cell phone towers for miles around, no music plays on the radio or soap operas on the television. Cable television is the only TV allowed.

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The boundaries of the device-free zone extend far beyond Green Bank, covering an area roughly equal to 13,000–square-mile. This region is called the National Radio Quiet Zone, and is located around the sparsely populated countryside that straddles the borders of West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. Almost all types of radio transmissions and certain electronic devices are banned here so that the powerful Green Bank Radio Telescopes can work without disturbance. Green Bank happens to be the closest community to the Green Bank Telescope.

The tech-free life in Green Bank may seem impossible for those who can’t live without their cell phones, but for the 140-odd residents of the town, life is a bliss. Kids aren’t glued to the glowing screens of their mobile devices. They actually talk to each other instead of texting. Older residents roll down their car windows to greet each other and leave their front doors unlocked. If they must speak to someone out of town, there are pay phones.

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The current telescope, completed in 2000, was built following the collapse of the previous Green Bank telescope, a 90.44 m paraboloid erected in 1962. The previous telescope collapsed on 15 November 1988 due to the sudden loss of a gusset plate in the box girder assembly, which was a key component for the structural integrity of the telescope.

Living under the shadow of the giant telescope, some of the residents are not even aware of the technological advances elsewhere.

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“We didn’t realize the rest of the world was getting connected and staying connected constantly, via phones and computers and all that,” said radio host Caleb Diller, who grew up in Pocahontas County. “So we were kinda back in time a little bit. We hadn’t progressed to that.”

Over the last few years, many people have taken up residence in Green Bank. These people claim to suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity, or EHS—a disease not recognized by the scientific community. It’s said that people suffering from EHS get symptoms like dizziness, nausea, rashes, irregular heartbeat, weakness, and chest pains from electromagnetic radiations.

“Life isn’t perfect here,” said Diane Schou, one of the first “electrosensitive” immigrants who came to Green Bank with her husband in 2007. “There’s no grocery store, no restaurants, no hospital nearby. But here, at least, I’m healthy. I can do things. I’m not in bed with a headache all the time.”  As of 2013, an estimated 36 people have moved to Green Bank to escape the effects of electromagnetic hypersensitivity.

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The previous telescope

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The GBT is fully steerable, and 85% of the entire celestial sphere is accessible. The structure weighs 8500 tons and stands 450 feet above ground. The surface area of the GBT is a 100 by 110 meter active surface with 2,209 actuators (a small motor used to adjust the position) for the 2,004 surface panels. The panels are made from aluminium to a surface accuracy of better than 0.003 inches (76 µm) RMS. The actuators adjust the panel positions to correct for distortions due to gravity which change as the telescope moves. Without this so-called “active surface”, observations at frequencies above 4 GHz would not be as efficient.


Saturn’s Moon Resembles the ‘Death Star’


A new image from NASA’s Cassini probe is raising eyebrows among sci fi fans for its eerie resemblance to the infamous Death Star from the Star Wars films.

The unsettling celestial body, dubbed ‘Tethys,’ is one of Saturn’s icy moons and measures about 660 miles across.

With its enormous crater positioned in just the right spot when photographed by the spacecraft, the moon looks remarkably similar to the monstrous weapon at the center of the epic space opera.

While it is almost certainly not a fabricated space ship designed to destroy planets and wreak havoc across the universe, who knows what creatures could lurk in the deep deep depths of the moon?



Blue Origin New Shepard Space Capsule will come down on Land

New Shepard is a vertical-takeoff, vertical-landing (VTVL), crew-rated suborbital launch vehicle that is being developed by Blue Origin as a commercial system for suborbital space tourism. Blue Origin is owned and led by Amazon founder and businessman Jeff Bezos.

The name New Shepard makes reference to the first American astronaut in space, Alan Shepard, one of the original NASA Mercury Seven astronauts, who ascended to space on a suborbital trajectory similar to that planned for New Shepard.

Prototype engine and vehicle flights began in 2006, while full-scale engine development started in the early 2010s and was complete by 2015. Uncrewed flight testing of the complete New Shepard vehicle (propulsion module and space capsule) began in 2015.

The New Shepard Crew Capsule is a pressurized crew capsule that can carry six people, and supports a “full-envelope” launch escape system that can separate the capsule from the booster rocket anywhere during the ascent. Interior volume of the capsule is 15 cubic meters (530 cu ft). The Crew Capsule Escape Solid Rocket Motor (CCE-SRM) is sourced from Aerojet Rocketdyne. After separation two or three parachutes deploy. Just before landing, retro rockets fire.

Mars: Nasa’s Perseverance rover’s first 100 days in pictures

Mars landscape acquired by Nasa's Perseverance rover, using its left Mastcam-Z camera, on 27 March 2021

Nasa’s Perseverance rover is celebrating 100 Martian days (sols) since landing on Mars, where it is hunting for signs of past microbial life, and seeking to investigate the planet’s geology and past climate.

Since touching down on 18 February, the robot has captured some amazing images from around its landing site, Jezero Crater, a 49km (30 mile) wide impact depression just north of the Red Planet’s equator.

A small helicopter, Ingenuity, has also returned aerial images, having made history with the first powered, controlled flights on another planet.

Here is a selection of pictures sent back from the mission so far.

Self portrait of Nasa’s Perseverance Mars rover with the Ingenuity helicopter, on 6 April 2021
image captionOn 6 April, Perseverance used the Watson (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) camera to take this selfie next to the Ingenuity helicopter. This photo is made up of 62 individual images which were stitched together once they were sent back to Earth.
Nasa's Ingenuity helicopter can be seen with all four of its legs deployed below the Perseverance rover, on 30 March 2021
image captionDays earlier, Ingenuity had been deployed from underneath the rover.
Nasa’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter is seen here in a close-up taken by Mastcam-Z, on 5 April 2021
image captionThe 1.8kg (4lb) helicopter is regarded as a technology demonstration for the potential of aerial mobility in the thin Martian atmosphere.
Nasa's Ingenuity Mars helicopter on its first flight, on 19 April 2021
image captionOn 19 April, Ingenuity made history with the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. The chopper, which is visible near the centre of this image, rose to about 3m (10ft) above ground and hovered for several seconds, before touching back down.
An aerial image captured by Nasa's Ingenuity Mars helicopter during its second successful flight test on 22 April 2021
image captionIngenuity captured its first colour aerial image while on its second flight. The drone hovered about 5m (16ft) above the ground, tilted and moved laterally 2m (6ft), before returning to the spot it took off from. Perseverance’s tracks and Ingenuity’s shadow are visible on the Martian surface below.
Rover viewed on Mars
image captionIngenuity photographed Perseverance while on its third flight. At the time, the mini-helicopter was about 85m (278ft) from the rover and flying laterally at an altitude of 5m (16ft). One of Ingenuity’s feet is also visible at the edge of the image, just below the rover.
Nasa’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter airborne on its fifth flight, on 7 May 2021
image captionOn 7 May, Ingenuity reached a height of 10m (33ft), before flying 129m (423ft) to a new landing spot.
An image of part of the rover and its tracks on the ground, taken during Perseverance's first drive on 4 March 2021
image captionTwo months earlier, Perseverance went for its first drive since it landed in Jezero Crater. The one-tonne rover is carrying an advanced payload of instruments to gather information about Mars’ geology, atmosphere and environmental conditions.
A rock photographed by Nasa's Mars Perseverance rover's right Mastcam-Z camera, on 28 March 2021
image captionPerseverance is equipped with a laser that is designed to help it collect data on the planet’s geology. While investigating this 15cm (6in) rock, the instrument left the faint row of dots that is visible near its centre.
Rocks photographed by Nasa's Mars Perseverance rover's right Mastcam-Z camera, on 13 May 2021
image captionThe rover is also equipped with a variety of different cameras. This image was taken by the “right eye” of Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z, one of a pair of cameras that provide a stereo view similar to what human eyes would see.
Mars landscape photographed by Nasa's Perseverance rover's left Mastcam-Z camera, on 22 March 2021
image captionThis image was taken with the left Mastcam-Z camera and was selected by public vote to be featured as “Image of the Week” for Week 6 of the rover’s mission.
Santa Cruz hill photographed by Nasa’s Perseverance Mars rover's Mastcam-Z imager, on 29 April 2021
image captionThis image shows Santa Cruz, a hill about 1.5 miles (2.5km) away from the rover. The entire scene is inside Mars’ Jezero Crater; the crater’s rim can be seen on the horizon line beyond the hill.

The Perseverance rover has initial funding to operate for one Mars year, roughly two Earth years.


Tom Cruise: Filming in space and four of his other memorable stunts

Tom Cruise is hoping to blast into the Hollywood record books by shooting the first action movie in space.

Nasa is working with Cruise to film aboard the International Space Station.

There are no details of the film, but Deadline – which first reported the story – said it would not be a new instalment of Mission: Impossible.

The report also said Cruise, 57, is also working with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which will transport two US astronauts to the ISS for Nasa later this month.

Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine wrote on Twitter: “Nasa is excited to work with Tom Cruise on a film aboard the Space Station!”

Musk replied to say the project “should be a lot of fun!”

Cruise played an astronaut in 2013 film Oblivion, when he safeguarded Earth’s natural resources from alien invaders.

He also narrated the 2002 Imax documentary Space Station 3D. It’s not known when the star will blast off to the ISS for real.

Risky business: 4 daredevil stunts from Cruise’s career

By Ian Youngs, entertainment reporter

As well as being one of Hollywood’s most popular action heroes, Cruise is known as a daredevil who does many of his own stunts.

In an interview about his new Top Gun sequel, co-star Miles Teller says: “I think when Tom hears that something’s impossible or can’t be done, that’s when he gets to work.”

That sounds not unlike his Mission: Impossible character Ethan Hunt, who has been seen in many of the most daring scenes.

1. Leaping off a roof (and breaking an ankle)

In 2017, he broke his ankle while jumping from one rooftop to another (attached to a cable) for Mission: Impossible – Fallout.

Despite instantly knowing he was injured, he carried on by hauling himself onto the roof and running off.

“I knew it was broken,” he later told The Graham Norton Show. “I just said, ‘Ugh,’ and I ran past the camera. We got the shot, it’s in the movie.”

His co-star Simon Pegg joked: “Everyone said, when you got up and ran out of shot, ‘Oh, that’s so him. To complete the shot with your foot hanging off – that’s so him.'”

2. Climbing a skyscraper

In 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Hunt is seen scaling the Burj Khalifa in Dubai – the world’s tallest building – from the outside.

Although Cruise trained for four months and was wearing a harness – which was edited out – he said he struggled with crosswinds as he tried to swing in through a window.

“It took a while to work out how not to come slamming into the building head first,” he said.

3. Hanging off a plane during take-off

In Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Cruise hangs from the side of a plane by his fingertips as it takes off. It was really him, and it was a real plane.

He performed the stunt four times over two days, again wearing a harness, but the crew had to scour the runway for the tiniest items that could have been thrown up and hit him.

“While we are going down the runway, we’re worried about bird strikes, any kind of particle that the propellers could pick up, any kind of stone,” Cruise told USA Today.

“I remember I got hit by a stone that was so tiny, you cannot believe. I thought it broke my rib. Lucky it went to my vest and not my hands or my face, it would have penetrated and gone right through.”

4. Falling off a cliff

One of his other famous stunts appears in the opening scene of Mission: Impossible 2, where Hunt climbs – and then almost falls off – a vertigo-inducing cliff, apparently with no ropes.

Cucumber-cool Cruise was actually attached to a thin safety wire, which was later erased – but that did little to calm director John Woo’s nerves.

“I was really mad that he wanted to do it, but I tried to stop him and I couldn’t,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “I was so scared I was sweating. I couldn’t even watch the monitor when we shot it.”


China rocket debris ‘disintegrates over Indian Ocean’ – Chinese media

The rocket was launched to carry a Chinese space station section into orbit

Debris from a Chinese rocket that had been hurtling back towards Earth has disintegrated over the Indian Ocean, China says.

The bulk of the rocket was destroyed during the re-entry, but parts landed at a location 72.47° East and 2.65° North, Chinese state-run media reported.

The point lies west of the Maldives.

US and European tracking sites had been monitoring the uncontrolled fall of the Long March-5b vehicle.

Chinese state media said parts of the rocket re-entered the atmosphere at 10:24 Beijing time (02:24 GMT) on Sunday.

US Space Command said in a statement that it could “confirm the Chinese Long March-5b re-entered over the Arabian Peninsula”. It was “unknown if the debris impacted land or water,” the agency said.

Ahead of the rocket’s re-entry there were fears that debris could come down in an inhabited area. US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said China had been negligent in letting the rocket fall out of orbit.

However, space experts had predicted that the chances of anyone actually being hit by a piece of space junk were very small, not least because so much of the Earth’s surface is covered by ocean, and huge land areas are uninhabited.

The main segment from the Long March-5b vehicle was used to launch the first module of China’s new space station last month.

At 18 tonnes it is one of the largest items in decades to have an undirected dive into the atmosphere.

The US said last week it was watching the path of the object – but had no plans to shoot it down.

Various space debris modelling experts had pointed to late Saturday or early Sunday (GMT) as the likely moment of re-entry.

The experts predicted that most of the vehicle would burn up during its final plunge through the atmosphere, although there was always the possibility that metals with high melting points, and other resistant materials, could survive to the Earth’s surface.

When a similar core stage returned to Earth a year ago, piping assumed to be from the rocket was identified on the ground in Ivory Coast, Africa.

China has bridled at the suggestion that it has been negligent in allowing the uncontrolled return of so large an object.

Commentary in the country’s media had described Western reports about the potential hazards involved as “hype” and predicted the debris would fall somewhere in international waters.

Very rare space pic

The moon passed between Nasa’s Deep Space Climate Observatory and the Earth allowing this rare pic

Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR; formerly known as Triana, unofficially known as GoreSat is a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) space weather, space climate, and Earth observation satellite. It was launched by SpaceX on a Falcon 9 v1.1 launch vehicle on 11 February 2015, from Cape Canaveral. This is NOAA’s first operational deep space satellite and became its primary system of warning Earth in the event of solar magnetic storms.

On 6 July 2015, DSCOVR returned its first publicly released view of the entire sunlit side of Earth from 1,475,207 km (916,651 mi) away, taken by the EPIC instrument. The moon is roughly 250,000 miles from earth. EPIC provides a daily series of Earth images, enabling the first-time study of daily variations over the entire globe. The images, available 12 to 36 hours after they are made, have been posted to a dedicated web page since September 2015.

The Moon transiting Earth, 16 July 2015. The far side of the Moon faces the camera.