Plus: The World’s Quietest Room, the Sweet Dreams App and a Stair-Climbing Robot.
Discovery’s Final Flight
The space shuttle Discovery departed from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for its final flight this week, marking the end of the space shuttle program as the iconic vehicle made its way to Virginia, where it will be retired and placed on display in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
“Before the departure from Kennedy, invited guests, members of the media and NASA officials were joined at the runway by members of Discovery’s first and last astronaut crews for an emotional send-off,” NASA said in an announcement of the final flight. “Designated NASA 905, the aircraft carrying Discovery to Virginia is the same one that first delivered the spacecraft to Kennedy on Nov. 9, 1983. The aircraft is one of two modified 747 jets the agency used to ferry orbiters during the Space Shuttle Program.”
The Discovery flew 39 missions, more than any other spacecraft in the fleet, over the course of its 26-year career. It spent 365 days in space, orbited Earth 5,830 times and traveled 148 million miles. It was also involved in some of the most memorable moments in space exploration, being the first shuttle to rendezvous and last shuttle to dock with the Russian space station Mir, as well as having the Hubble Space Telescope deployed from its payload bay. The ship has docked with the International Space Station 13 times and delivered more than 31,000 pounds of hardware.
“The space shuttles’ 30-year history literally changed the world. Their greatest accomplishment and purpose, now complete, was the launch and construction of the ISS – our science laboratory in space and our foothold to the rest of the solar system,” NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said in an official statement. “Like all great accomplishments, these achievements came at a cost. When we lost the Challenger and Columbia flights and their brave crews, we re-dedicated ourselves to an even more meaningful and exciting future.”
Fixed atop a Boeing 747, the Discovery did a last low flyby of Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, drawing thousands of onlookers. On Thursday it was delivered to its final resting place in the Smithsonian.
The Quietest Place on Earth (Will Make You Go Crazy)
Everybody needs a little peace and quiet once in a while, but spending time in the world’s quietest room could cost you your sanity.
The “anechoic chamber” at Orfield Laboratories in Minneapolis, Minnesota holds the Guinness World Record for the quietest place on Earth. It is 99.99 percent sound absorbent thanks to 3.3-foot-thick fiberglass acoustic wedges and double walls of insulated steel and concrete, according to the Daily Mail. Being inside it can also cause people to hallucinate. The company’s founder, Steven Orfield, challenges visitors to sit in the room for as long as they can, although no one has been able to withstand the extreme silence for more than 45 minutes so far.
“The fact that mere absence of noise causes people to psychologically fall apart shows the degree to which we, as sensory beings, rely on the everyday ruckus constantly emanating around us,” SmartPlanet explains. “For instance, Orfield points out that audio cues within any environment help to orient people to their surroundings. But when there’s nothing but utter silence, the mind struggles to make sense of what’s happening or where it is.”
The chamber is typically used by manufacturers to test how loud their products are and to determine sound quality. Companies such as Whirlpool and Harley-Davidson have used the room to help develop quieter products.
However, human subjects do occasionally wind up inside. NASA has sent astronauts into the anechoic chamber to find ways to better adapt to conditions in outer space, maximizing the sensory deprivation by immersing them in a water-filled tank and measuring how long it takes before hallucinations set in.
Bad Dreams? There’s an App for That
For those who regularly suffer from bad dreams, getting a proper rest can be quite a challenge. Luckily, smartphones may be able to help, as a new mobile application is being used to manipulate the unconscious mind and provide good dreams while you sleep.
In collaboration with app developer Yuza, British psychologist Richard Wiseman has created Dream:ON, a free iPhone app that plays a “soundscape” to induce the experience of being in a particular environment during the stage of sleep when dreams occur. It offers 20 soundscapes (with themes like “Wild West,” “Space Shuttle” and “A Trip to Tokyo”). A user selects the one he or she wants to hear, chooses a wake-up time and places the phone face-down on the bed so the app can monitor body movements throughout the night using a microphone.
“During the last 20 minutes of sleep, the app plays the soundscape if the dreamer is in REM sleep, a state when body movements are suppressed and dreams most likely occur,” Reuters reports. “The app activates the alarm when the user is coming out of REM sleep because there is only a ten-second window when a dream will be remembered, according to Wiseman.”
The process is intended to evoke pleasant scenarios for the dreamer. Users are being asked to record their final dream in a database to provide data for researchers who are studying the dream manipulation system.
“Getting a good night’s sleep and having pleasant dreams boosts people’s productivity, and is essential for their psychological and physical well-being,” Wiseman said in an announcement of the project. “Despite this, we know very little about how to influence dreams – this experiment aims to change that.”
The Inescapable Stair-Climbing Robot
If you thought you could escape the cheetah-bot by running up a flight of stairs, guess again. In the latest step in empowering our future mechanical overlords, the military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has created a stair-climbing robot.
DARPA released a video showcasing the robot’s abilities to promote an upcoming robotics challenge in which engineers must create a machine that can successfully carry out a set of tasks on a disaster simulation course. The winning team will receive $2 million.
“DARPA’s high-steppin’ robot in the video isn’t complete. A torso, arms and a head will be added so entrants can climb that ladder and seal that pipe leak. The course is a seriously difficult challenge and most likely it’ll be a few years before a robot raises its arms – or arachnoid appendages – in victory,” science and tech blog Singularity Hub notes. “But one thing is clear, DARPA is serious about making that happen as soon as possible.”
Have a great weekend, folks.