Daniel Oberhaus
Daniel Oberhaus
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RECENT ARTICLES
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A solar-powered rocket might be our ticket to interstellar space

A solar-powered rocket might be our ticket to interstellar space

If Jason Benkoski is right, the path to interstellar space begins in a shipping container tucked behind a laboratory high bay in Maryland. The setup looks like something out of a low-budget sci-fi film: one wall of the container is lined with thousands of LEDs, an inscrutable metal trellis runs down the center, and a thick black curtain partially obscures the apparatus. This is the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory solar simulator, a tool that can shine with the intensity of 20 Suns. On Thursday afternoon, Benkoski mounted a small black-and-white tile onto the trellis and...

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Daniel Oberhaus
2d ago
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A Solar-Powered Rocket Might Be Our Ticket to Interstellar Space

A Solar-Powered Rocket Might Be Our Ticket to Interstellar Space

is right, the path to interstellar space begins in a shipping container tucked behind a laboratory high bay in Maryland. The set up looks like something out of a low-budget sci-fi film: One wall of the container is lined with thousands of LEDs, an inscrutable metal trellis runs down the center, and a thick black curtain partially obscures the apparatus. This is the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory solar simulator, a tool that can shine with the intensity of 20 suns. On Thursday afternoon, Benkoski mounted a small black and white tile onto the trellis and pulled a dark...

wired.com
Daniel Oberhaus
4d ago
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The Plan to Turn Scrapped Rockets Into Space Stations

The Plan to Turn Scrapped Rockets Into Space Stations

a dead Soviet satellite and the abandoned upper stage of a Chinese rocket . If the objects had crashed, the impact would have blown them to bits and created thousands of new pieces of dangerous space debris. Only a few days prior, the European Space Agency had published its , which highlighted abandoned rocket bodies as one of the biggest threats to spacecraft. The best way to mitigate this risk is for launch providers to deorbit their rockets after they’ve delivered their payload. But if you ask Jeffrey Manber, that’s a waste of a perfectly good giant metal tube.Manber is the CEO of...

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Daniel Oberhaus
Nov 11
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The Batteries of the Future Are Weightless and Invisible

The Batteries of the Future Are Weightless and Invisible

a lot of promises during last September. Soon, he said, the company would have a car that runs on batteries with to boost their performance and to lower their price. Its battery pack will be integrated into the chassis so that it provides mechanical support in addition to energy, a design that Musk claimed will reduce the car’s weight by 10 percent and improve its mileage by even more. He hailed Tesla’s structural battery as a “revolution” in engineering—but for some battery researchers, Musk’s future looked a lot like the past.“He’s essentially doing something that we did 10 years ago,”...

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Daniel Oberhaus
Nov 6
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How Humanity Spent Its First 20 Years in Orbit Aboard the ISS

How Humanity Spent Its First 20 Years in Orbit Aboard the ISS

was hired by NASA in 1985, the agency had just announced plans for a space station called Freedom, and the young chemical engineer had been tapped to help solve one of its biggest technological challenges. NASA engineers had plenty of experience keeping astronauts alive in space for a few days or weeks at a time, but the new space station was meant to be permanently occupied. That meant designing life-support systems that would provide crews with breathable air and drinkable water for years on end. It was a daunting problem, and it was up to Gatens and her colleagues to solve it. Over the...

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Daniel Oberhaus
Oct 30
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What Comes After the International Space Station?

What Comes After the International Space Station?

two decades, the International Space Station has been . It’s hosted hundreds of astronauts from 18 countries. It’s served as the platform for groundbreaking science experiments that have fundamentally changed our understanding of , , and the . It’s been a proving ground for futuristic technologies like and , and it's fostered the birth of a . The ISS is . But all good things must come to an end.The ISS will mark 20 years of continuous human occupation on Saturday, but it’s unlikely to last another 20 years. Funding for the space station is scheduled to dry up this decade, although exactly...

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Daniel Oberhaus
Oct 27
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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Is About to Touch an Asteroid

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Is About to Touch an Asteroid

years, a small spacecraft called OSIRIS-REx has been , patiently biding its time by studying the rock’s surface. Scientists believe that this asteroid, Bennu, is a piece of a much larger one that formed just a few million years after Earth. It’s a perfectly preserved cosmic time capsule that could reveal the secrets of the ancient history of our solar system. Tomorrow, will make a daring plunge to Bennu’s surface and use a robotic arm to vacuum up some of its space dust, which it’ll bring back to Earth. The encounter will last for just a few seconds, but it is a technological feat that has...

wired.com
Daniel Oberhaus
Oct 19
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How to Build a Spacecraft to Save the World

How to Build a Spacecraft to Save the World

of saving the planet from a killer asteroid is a white cube the size of a washing machine that’s currently in pieces in a clean room in Maryland. When I arrived last week at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, a sprawling R&D facility where most researchers are working on government projects they can’t talk about, the spacecraft was missing two of its side panels, its ion drive was being cleaned, and its primary camera was in a refrigerator down the hall. Ordinarily, the sterile high bay would be a hive of activity with technicians in white clean suits doting on the...

wired.com
Daniel Oberhaus
Oct 15
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A Common Plant Virus Is an Unlikely Ally in the War on Cancer

A Common Plant Virus Is an Unlikely Ally in the War on Cancer

a lot of time with dying dogs. A veterinary radiation specialist at Dartmouth College, Hoopes has spent his decades-long career treating canine cancers with the latest experimental therapies as a pathway for developing human treatments. Recently, many of Hoopes’ furry patients have come to him with a relatively common oral cancer that will almost certainly kill them within a few months if left untreated. Even if the cancer goes into remission after radiation treatment, there’s a very high chance it will soon reemerge. For Hoopes, it’s a grim prognosis that’s all too familiar. But these pups...

wired.com
Daniel Oberhaus
Oct 5
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Are Radioactive Diamond Batteries a Cure for Nuclear Waste?

Are Radioactive Diamond Batteries a Cure for Nuclear Waste?

of 2018, a hobby drone dropped a small package near the lip of Stromboli, a volcano off the coast of Sicily that has been erupting almost constantly for the past century. As one of the most active volcanoes on the planet, Stromboli is a source of fascination for geologists, but . So a team of researchers from the University of Bristol built a robot volcanologist and used a drone to ferry it to the top of the volcano, where it could passively monitor its every quake and quiver until it was inevitably destroyed by an eruption. The robot was a softball-sized sensor pod powered by microdoses of...

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Daniel Oberhaus
Aug 31
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Rocket Lab Could Beat NASA Back to Venus in the Search for ET

Rocket Lab Could Beat NASA Back to Venus in the Search for ET

an international team of astronomers , a simple molecule associated with living organisms, in the atmosphere of Venus. While it is not definitive proof of extraterrestrial life, it’s hard to explain without invoking extraterrestrial microbes floating in the acid clouds of Earth’s neighbor. The only way to know for certain is to send a spacecraft there to check it out, and the planetary science community is awash in calls for a mission to unravel the mystery. When it comes to the search for extraterrestrial life in our solar system, it seems that Venus is .Everything you need to know about...

wired.com
Daniel Oberhaus
Sep 18
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Gravity, Gizmos, and a Grand Theory of Interstellar Travel

Gravity, Gizmos, and a Grand Theory of Interstellar Travel

warm afternoon in July, and Hal Fearn was sitting in his camouflage jeep in the parking lot of a mostly empty IHOP in Southern California. Fearn, a physicist at California State University, Fullerton, bided his time by singing along to the a cappella covers pumping through his stereo. He hadn’t loitered long before he spotted a silver minivan easing into the lot. Behind the wheel was Jim Woodward, large gold-framed glasses and a surgical mask adorning his gaunt face. Woodward, a physics professor emeritus at Fullerton, slid his van beside the jeep and rolled down his window to pass a box to...

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Daniel Oberhaus
Sep 3
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A Helicopter Ride Over Mars? NASA's About to Give It a Shot

A Helicopter Ride Over Mars? NASA's About to Give It a Shot

NASA plans to launch its fourth Mars rover, Perseverance, on a six-month journey to the Red Planet. Perseverance will boot up a mission to collect samples of Martian dirt that , so that they can be returned to Earth by another mission later this decade. It will also carry a payload unlike anything that’s ever been boosted into space: a small autonomous helicopter called Ingenuity. Sometime next spring, probably in April, Ingenuity will spin up its rotor blades and become the first spacecraft to go airborne on Mars.“I see it as kind of a Wright brothers moment on another planet,” says Bob...

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Daniel Oberhaus
Jul 27
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China’s First Mars Rover Launch Could Make History

China’s First Mars Rover Launch Could Make History

20 years, the only sign of activity on Mars was a succession of NASA-built rovers slowly rolling across the barren desert landscape. Today, only one of these rovers—Curiosity—is . But in just a few months it will have some new wheeled visitors. One of them is Curiosity’s descendant. It’s called Perseverance, and NASA is sending it on . It will be the largest and that has ever landed on the surface of another planet.The other newcomer will be Tianwen-1, an orbiter-lander-rover combo built by China. The rover is dwarfed by Perseverance, but it still qualifies as one of the most complex...

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Daniel Oberhaus
Jul 22
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How NASA Built a Self-Driving Car for Its Next Mars Mission

How NASA Built a Self-Driving Car for Its Next Mars Mission

NASA is expected to launch its latest Mars rover, Perseverance, on a first-of-its-kind mission to the Red Planet. Its job is to collect and store geological samples so they can eventually be returned to Earth. Perseverance will spend its days poking the Jezero Crater, an ancient Martian river delta, and the samples it collects . But first it has to find them. For that, it needs some damn good computers—at least by Martian standards.How a chaotic skunkworks race in the desert launched what's poised to be a runaway global industry.Perseverance is significantly more autonomous than any of...

wired.com
Daniel Oberhaus
Jul 21
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The UAE’s First Mars Mission Is a Robo-Meteorologist

The UAE’s First Mars Mission Is a Robo-Meteorologist

Al-Amiri knows what it’s like to build a spacecraft, but she’s never launched one to Mars—or during a global pandemic. As the deputy project manager for the United Arab Emirates’ first interplanetary mission—and the country’s minister of state for advanced sciences—the 33-year-old engineer has spent the past few years bouncing between Dubai and Boulder, Colorado, where a team of Emirati scientists have been busy building a robotic satellite meteorologist called Hope. These days, Al-Amiri is quarantining near the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan, where Hope is expected to depart on a...

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Daniel Oberhaus
Jul 6
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Will We Recognize Life on Mars When We See It?

Will We Recognize Life on Mars When We See It?

the first to think he’d discovered life on Mars, but he was among the last. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the American astronomer published a series of books that observable features on the surface of the Red Planet were the handiwork of an intelligent species on the verge of extinction. The objects of Lowell’s fascination—and the wider astronomy community’s scorn—were the so-called “Martian canals,” which he believed were used to route water from the planet’s ice caps.Everything you need to know about SETI, the Drake equation, ’Oumuamua, and hot tubs.NASA has been robotically...

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Daniel Oberhaus
Jul 9
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Nuclear ‘Power Balls’ May Make Meltdowns a Thing of the Past

Nuclear ‘Power Balls’ May Make Meltdowns a Thing of the Past

behind all nuclear power plants is the same: Convert the heat created by nuclear fission into electricity. There are several ways to do this, but in each case it involves a delicate balancing act between safety and efficiency. A nuclear reactor works best when the core is really hot, but if it gets too hot it will cause a meltdown and the environment will get poisoned and people may die and it will take billions of dollars to clean up the mess.The last time this happened was less than a decade ago, when a massive earthquake followed by a series of tsunamis caused a . But a coming online in...

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Daniel Oberhaus
Jun 30
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NASA’s New Moon-Bound Space Suits Will Get a Boost From AI

NASA’s New Moon-Bound Space Suits Will Get a Boost From AI

ago, NASA unveiled its that will be worn by astronauts when they return to the moon in 2024 as part of the agency’s . The Extravehicular Mobility Unit—or xEMU—is NASA’s first major upgrade to its space suit in nearly 40 years and is designed to make life easier for astronauts who will spend a lot of time . It will allow them to bend and stretch in ways they couldn’t before, easily don and doff the suit, swap out components for a better fit, and go months without making a repair.But the biggest improvements weren’t on display at the suit’s unveiling last fall. Instead, they’re hidden away in...

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Daniel Oberhaus
Jun 29
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The Rocket Motor of the Future Breathes Air Like a Jet Engine

The Rocket Motor of the Future Breathes Air Like a Jet Engine

airfield about a two-hour drive north of Los Angeles that sits on the edge of a vast expanse of desert and attracts aerospace mavericks like moths to a flame. The Mojave Air & Space Port is home to companies like Scaled Composites, the first to send a private astronaut to space, and Masten Space Systems, which is in the business of building lunar landers. It’s the proving ground for America’s most audacious space projects, and when Aaron Davis and Scott Stegman arrived at the hallowed tarmac last July, they knew they were in the right place. The two men arrived at the airfield before dawn...

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Daniel Oberhaus
Jun 26
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Why NASA Designed a New $23 Million Space Toilet

Why NASA Designed a New $23 Million Space Toilet

Station is one of the most advanced laboratories ever made. It’s home to the , “,” a , and . And later this year, it will also have the distinction of hosting the most advanced bathroom ever made. Known as the Universal Waste Management System, this high-tech porta potty was under development for six years and cost more than to build. It is scheduled to be delivered to the space station in a Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo capsule in September.Unlike the two bespoke versions currently on the space station, NASA’s new space toilet is designed to work with a variety of future crewed spacecraft....

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Daniel Oberhaus
Jun 22
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On the Moon, Astronaut Pee Will Be a Hot Commodity

On the Moon, Astronaut Pee Will Be a Hot Commodity

Donald Trump directed NASA to , the agency and its partners have been hard at work trying to make it happen. Late last month, NASA awarded contracts to three companies to develop a crewed , but getting to the moon is just the start. The agency also plans to build a before the end of the decade and use it as a .If astronauts are going to spend weeks at a time on the moon, they’re going to have to figure out how to live off the land—er, regolith. It’s too expensive to ship everything from Earth, which means they’ll have to get creative with the limited resources on the lunar surface. Moon...

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Daniel Oberhaus
May 22
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Coming Soon: A Nuclear Reactor—With a 3D-Printed Core

Coming Soon: A Nuclear Reactor—With a 3D-Printed Core

to accelerate the future of nuclear energy—so he’s turned to its past. Over the last year and a half, Terrani and a team of physicists, engineers, and computer scientists at Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee have designed and built the components for a gas-cooled nuclear reactor. It’s a type of reactor that’s almost as old as the nuclear age itself, but Oak Ridge’s newest atom splitter has a distinctive 21st Century twist. When it comes online in 2023, it will be the first nuclear reactor in the world with a 3D-printed core. “What we’re doing is trying to figure out a faster way to build...

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Daniel Oberhaus
May 15
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A Secret Space Plane is Carrying a Solar Experiment to Orbit

A Secret Space Plane is Carrying a Solar Experiment to Orbit

US Air Force is expected to launch its , X-37B, for a long-duration mission in low Earth orbit. The robotic orbiter looks like a smaller version of the space shuttle and has spent nearly eight of the past 10 years in space conducting classified experiments for the military. Almost nothing is known about what X-37B does up there, but ahead of its sixth launch the about its cargo.In addition to its usual suite of secret military tech, the X-37B will also host a few unclassified experiments during its upcoming sojourn in space. NASA is sending up two experiments to study the effects of...

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Daniel Oberhaus
May 14
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NASA's EmDrive Leader Has a New Interstellar Project

NASA's EmDrive Leader Has a New Interstellar Project

isn’t big enough for Harold White—but it’s a start. The 54-year-old physicist has devoted his career to researching advanced propulsion concepts that he hopes may carry humans to the outer solar system and eventually into the . Conventional rocket engines are too slow to cover these vast distances on human timescales, so White has focused on more exotic solutions like and quantum vacuum thrusters that get a boost from space-time itself.White’s research pedigree may sound like it was cribbed from a mad scientist in a pulp sci-fi novel, but most of his work was done as the leader of NASA’s...

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Daniel Oberhaus
May 8
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