Elon Musk wants to rename SpaceX Starship digs to Starbase, Texas – CNET

Elon Musk tweeted this scenic view of Starship SN5 prototype in mid-air in August 2020.

Elon Musk/SpaceX

If Elon Musk gets his way, we may get a starbase on Earth. Starbase, Texas, that is. 

On Tuesday, the SpaceX founder tweeted, "Creating the city of Starbase, Texas" in an apparent reference to renaming the home of SpaceX's development facility in Boca Chica Village along the Gulf of Mexico. He followed it up with the poetic missive "From thence to Mars, And hence the Stars."

Boca Chica Village is an unincorporated community in Cameron County already famous for launches of prototype Starships, SpaceX's next-generation spacecraft. If Musk's name change idea pans out, we may get to say, "SpaceX launches Starship from Starbase."

But Musk can't just float a name and make it official. There's some bureaucracy involved with turning an incorporated area into a city in Texas.

Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. issued a short statement on Tuesday in response to the SpaceX speculation. Trevino said Cameron County was officially approached by SpaceX about turning Boca Chica Village into the city of Starbase, Texas.

"If SpaceX and Elon Musk would like to pursue down this path, they must abide by all state incorporation statutes. Cameron County will process any appropriate petitions in conformity with applicable law," Trevino said.

Musk and his company have big ideas for the Texas location with plans that reach beyond spacecraft development and launches. The company has hinted it may build a resort at the site. There could be an extra lure to the concept of vacationing at a Starbase, even if it's stuck on Earth. 

SpaceX didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Elon Musk wants to rename SpaceX Starship digs to Starbase, Texas – CNET

Elon Musk tweeted this scenic view of Starship SN5 prototype in mid-air in August 2020.

Elon Musk/SpaceX

If Elon Musk gets his way, we may get a starbase on Earth. Starbase, Texas, that is. 

On Tuesday, the SpaceX founder tweeted, "Creating the city of Starbase, Texas" in an apparent reference to renaming the home of SpaceX's development facility in Boca Chica Village along the Gulf of Mexico. He followed it up with the poetic missive "From thence to Mars, And hence the Stars."

Boca Chica Village is an unincorporated community in Cameron County already famous for launches of prototype Starships, SpaceX's next-generation spacecraft. If Musk's name change idea pans out, we may get to say, "SpaceX launches Starship from Starbase."

But Musk can't just float a name and make it official. There's some bureaucracy involved with turning an incorporated area into a city in Texas.

Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. issued a short statement on Tuesday in response to the SpaceX speculation. Trevino said Cameron County was officially approached by SpaceX about turning Boca Chica Village into the city of Starbase, Texas.

"If SpaceX and Elon Musk would like to pursue down this path, they must abide by all state incorporation statutes. Cameron County will process any appropriate petitions in conformity with applicable law," Trevino said.

Musk and his company have big ideas for the Texas location with plans that reach beyond spacecraft development and launches. The company has hinted it may build a resort at the site. There could be an extra lure to the concept of vacationing at a Starbase, even if it's stuck on Earth. 

SpaceX didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Scientists discovered a wild space hurricane above the North Pole – CNET

This illustration visualizes the form of the space hurricane observed in 2014 satellite data.

Qing-He Zhang/Shandong University

Somebody call up the SyFy channel, we're going to need a whole series of Spacenado movies now. 

This week, a team of researchers unveiled the results of a study that highlights the first-ever observation of a space hurricane in our planet's upper atmosphere. Unlike the infamous cyclones that wreak havoc closer to Earth's surface, the space hurricane was made up of swirling plasma and "rained" electrons.

"Until now, it was uncertain that space plasma hurricanes even existed, so to prove this with such a striking observation is incredible," University of Reading space scientist Mike Lockwood said in a statement Monday. Lockwood is co-author of a paper on the phenomenon published in the journal Nature Communications in late February.

Scientists discovered the event after reanalyzing data collected by satellites in August 2014. Researchers at Shandong University in China led the team that made the discovery. The data showed a 620-mile-wide (1,000-kilometer) plasma mass swirling above the North Pole. It had spiral arms and lasted for nearly eight hours.

Plasma is a hot area of study. NASA, which has investigated plasma space tornadoes, describes space plasma as "charged particles, like electrons and ions." These particles shoot through space and can cause issues for satellites and astronauts. The space agency was also behind a 2019 paper on "plasma tsunamis" on the sun.    

Lockwood pointed to an "unusually large and rapid transfer of solar wind energy and charged particles into the Earth's upper atmosphere" as what fed the space hurricane. The existence of at least one known space hurricane under these circumstances suggests they might be common in the atmospheres of other planets. 

Understanding Earth's very own space hurricane could help scientists gain a deeper understanding of space weather and how it can impact systems we rely on, like GPS. As a bonus, it just sounds cool to say "space hurricane."   

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Scientists build robot that ‘hears’ through the ear of a dead locust – CNET

The Ear-Bot listens through the ear of a dead locust. 

Tel Aviv University

Beetles wearing camera backpacks and moths driving tiny cars are the results of real insect experiments. A team of researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel has taken a different path and created a bio-hybrid robot that "hears" through the ear of a dead locust, a type of grasshopper.

The robot receives electrical signals through the ear. It's programmed to respond to sounds, so one clap triggers the robot to move forward. Two claps sends it backward. 

The movements may be pretty basic, but the science behind the robot, called Ear-Bot, is pretty wild. While the donor locust was dead, the researchers needed to keep the ear alive, so they developed an ear-on-a-chip device that supplies oxygen and feeds the ear, making it a sort of zombie organ.

The locust ear is kept alive with oxygen and food.

Tel Aviv University

The team published a study on the robot this year in the journal Sensors.  

"Our task was to replace the robot's electronic microphone with a dead insect's ear, use the ear's ability to detect the electrical signals from the environment, in this case vibrations in the air, and, using a special chip, convert the insect input to that of the robot," study co-author Ben Maoz in a Tel Aviv University statement on Tuesday.

Integrating biological systems with robots has some potential advantages over going full robotic, particularly when it comes to energy consumption. "They are miniature, and therefore also extremely economical and efficient," Maoz said.

The researchers hope Ear-Bot is just the beginning, and that it could lead to advancements in integrating other biological systems -- like noses that can sniff out drugs or explosives -- into robots. "Nature is much more advanced than we are," Maoz said, "so we should use it."

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Mr. Potato Head brand drops ‘mister’ for brand name makeover – CNET

mrpotatohead

The Hasbro toy Mr. Potato Head is known for its interchangeable plastic parts.

Hasbro

After decades as Mr. Potato Head, it seems the plastic-spud toy brand will embrace a new, more inclusive identity with its packaging. Toy company Hasbro will drop the "mister" part of the logo, with the change set to appear on boxes this year, according to an AP report on Thursday.  

While the main brand name will be slightly different, the Mr. Potato Head and Mrs. Potato Head characters will remain. "I yam proud to confirm that Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head aren't going anywhere and will remain Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head," Hasbro tweeted on Thursday.

AP said Hasbro described the move as a "modern makeover." Official Hasbro social media channels shared an article about the rebranding effort, but didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The Mr. Potato Head toy first rose to popularity in the 1950s as a set of plastic face parts that could be stuck onto a real potato. Eventually, it became an entire plastic potato and current versions of the toy typically come with a mustache, a hat and other accessories. 

The current Mr. Potato Head comes with mustache and other accessories.

Hasbro

"Kids want to be able to represent their own experiences. The way the brand currently exists -- with the 'Mr.' and 'Mrs.' -- is limiting when it comes to both gender identity and family structure," Kimberly Boyd, a Hasbro senior vice president, told Fast Company.

The brand name could be seen as fitting into a broader corporate philosophy for Hasbro.

"We have the privilege of being a part of childhood, fandom, and intergenerational play and entertainment globally," Hasbro said in a statement on inclusion and diversity released in July 2020. "With that privilege comes a responsibility to foster inclusion and to help teach the next generation that everyone is equal, and everyone is worthy."

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Netflix for monkeys? Scientists stream on-demand video of worms and art to primates – CNET

monkeyzoo

A white-faced saki monkey has a snack at the Korkeasaari Zoo in Finland.

Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Zoo life is very different from the wild life, and animals are in danger of getting bored in captivity.

Scientists are exploring a new way to enrich the lives of white-faced saki monkeys at the Korkeasaari Zoo in Helsinki, Finland. The team, led by researchers from Finland's Aalto University, built a plywood and acrylic box with a monitor that played videos. 

The monkeys could choose to use the device to access a rotating selection of videos of worms, sea creatures, other zoo animals, abstract art or forest scenes. The system was equipped with sensors and a camera to capture data on how the monkeys used it. The animals triggered the videos by stepping into the box.

The element of animal choice and control was one focus of the study published this week in the journal Animals.   

"We learned that the monkeys do pay attention to the screen; they watch it and touch it," said co-author Vilma Kankaanpaa. The researchers also learned the monkeys could recognize objects on the screen when the animals attempted to eat the digital worms they were watching.   

Since there is no monkey version of television Nielsen ratings, the researchers monitored the viewing action to see how the animals reacted. "They spent most of their time watching slithering worms or underwater scenes but these were also the videos accessible at the middle of the study, when they were accustomed to using the device, but it was still fairly new," said Aalto University in a statement on Tuesday.

There may have been a positive impact on the monkey's wellbeing during the study based on a notable reduction in scratching behavior that can indicate stress. "While a causal link between specific activities and animals' stress levels cannot be made, one thing is sure: different types of stimuli gives them new things to do, which is important for their wellbeing," said Aalto University.

This study is one more entry in a growing field of research into technology's potential impact on animals. Scientists have shown SpongeBob SquarePants to dolphins and orangutans have been making use of tablets for years. 

MTV may be past its prime, but we could be entering a new era for MonkeyTV.

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NASA, Boeing push back launch date for Starliner do-over mission to the ISS – CNET

The Boeing Starliner crew module is getting prepped for the next orbital flight test in 2021.

Boeing

SpaceX and its Crew Dragon spacecraft have been a bright spot in NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which returned astronaut launches to US soil in 2020. Boeing, the other Commercial Crew provider, still has some work ahead before it carries a NASA crew to the International Space Station. 

This week, NASA announced a new target date of no earlier than April 2 to launch the second uncrewed test flight of Boeing's Starliner. NASA had been aiming for late March. The mission is called Orbital Flight Test-2, or OFT-2.

Developing spacecraft is challenging, and hurdles and delays are a normal part of the process. "Teams are adjusting the launch date to allow more time for spacecraft and hardware processing," NASA said in a statement Wednesday.

The first major CST-100 Starliner flight test in late 2019 didn't go as planned. The spacecraft failed to reach the ISS, but it did return to Earth safely. An investigation turned up software defects and a communications link problem. Boeing vowed to conduct a second orbital flight test to prove the spacecraft's safety before it carries humans on board.

Boeing has been working to address the problems from the first flight test. "Teams conducted a full software review and several series of tests to verify Starliner's software meets design specifications," said NASA in a statement. Boeing will also conduct a full simulation of the test flight prior to launch.

If OFT-2 is successful, then NASA and Boeing will look to launch an actual crew to the ISS later in 2021. That would put both SpaceX and Boeing in business as providers of ISS flights. That's the ultimate goal of a NASA program that is meant to end the US reliance on Russian spacecraft to ferry astronauts to the space station.

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NASA Perseverance rover reveals glorious first images of Mars surface – CNET

NASA's Perseverance rover sent back its first look at the Mars surface, on Feb. 18, 2021.

NASA
This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

NASA's Perseverance rover survived its seven minutes of terror and touched down in one piece on the surface of Mars on Thursday. To celebrate, the rover beamed back some first looks at its surroundings.

The initial low-resolution images came from an engineering camera used for navigation and spotting hazards. The rover's main high-quality cameras will eventually send back some luscious landscape photos. The first views were a sign of success and a strong initial indication of the rover's health.

The first image showed a rocky and dusty place with the rover's shadow stretching over the ground. "Hello, world. My first look at my forever home," the Perseverance team tweeted.

NASA shared a second image showing the view behind the rover with a tweet saying, "Welcome to Jezero Crater." The crater was once home to a lake and will allow the rover to look for signs of ancient microbial life on the currently inhospitable planet.

NASA shared a second image from Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, with this look behind the Perseverance rover.

NASA

The second image bears a resemblance to the first, showing a rocky view stretching out as far as the rover's eyes can see. 

On Friday, NASA shared an intriguing new view of one of the rover's wheels. The wheel is fun, but what's even more interesting are the rocks on the ground, which appear to be full of small holes or pits.

This view from Mars shows a Perseverance rover wheel and some intriguing rocks on the ground nearby.

NASA

 "I love rocks. Look at these right next to my wheel. Are they volcanic or sedimentary? What story do they tell? Can't wait to find out," the Perseverance team tweeted.  

We can expect more and higher-resolution images from the red planet as Perseverance settles in and gets to work exploring its new home.

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Wild NASA image shows Perseverance rover just before Mars touchdown – CNET

Welcome to Mars, Perseverance rover. This stunning view was captured during the landing process as the rover was lowered to the surface.

NASA
This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

We have a new iconic space exploration image, and it's every bit as powerful as the finest Apollo images of the moon. NASA's Perseverance rover successfully landed on the surface of Mars on Thursday, and it had a suite of cameras in place to view the action.

The rover initially sent back some low-resolution surface shots, but NASA has started to release some real stunners, including a wild downward view of the rover being lowered to Mars using the dramatic "sky crane" maneuver.

"The moment that my team dreamed of for years, now a reality," the Perseverance team tweeted as it shared the image. "Dare mighty things."

The image gives a full look at the rover with the dusty and rocky Mars surface below. "This shot from a camera on my 'jetpack' captures me in midair, just before my wheels touched down," NASA said in a follow-up tweet.

The HiRise camera team for NASA's Mar Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) also delivered an incredible shot of the rover descending to the surface. MRO was 435 miles (700 kilometers) away from Perseverance at the time, but still got a view of the rover's descent stage and parachute.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped this faraway image of the Perseverance rover's descent to Mars. The inset image shows a closer look.

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

The MRO image is remarkable for the degree of difficulty it took to capture it. "The extreme distance and high speeds of the two spacecraft were challenging conditions that required precise timing and for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to both pitch upward and roll hard to the left so that Perseverance was viewable by HiRise at just the right moment," the HiRise team said in a statement on Friday.

The rover is busy sending back data from the red planet. The entry, descent and landing, or EDL, process was captured by cameras and microphones, which should eventually give us an unprecedented look at the infamous "seven minutes of terror" that it takes to land on Mars. 

NASA expects to release more from the landing by Monday and will hopefully have audio to share, assuming the systems worked as planned. Until then, this first, awe-inspiring EDL photo could become the newest entry in the space imagery hall of fame, right alongside the Pale Blue Dot and the Pillars of Creation.

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ESA recruiting astronauts with physical disabilities for parastronaut project – CNET

ESA released an infographic outlining the goals and requirements of its parastronaut feasibility project.

ESA

The European Space Agency wants to make space accessible for more people as it begins recruiting for a new astronaut class in 2021.

In what it calls a first for human spaceflight worldwide, ESA said in a statement it is looking for "individual(s) who are psychologically, cognitively, technically and professionally qualified to be an astronaut, but have a physical disability that would normally prevent them from being selected due to the requirements imposed by the use of current space hardware."

ESA is pledging to invest in hardware adaptations as part of its parastronaut feasibility project. The agency hopes this push will encourage people with functional limitations to also apply for other ESA and space jobs.

The feasibility project has a narrow scope at the moment. Applicants must meet all the standard qualifications for an ESA astronaut, but the project opens recruiting up to persons with certain lower limb or leg issues as well as people of short stature under 4.3 feet (1.3 meters) tall.

Calls for new astronauts are rare for ESA. The last time it opened recruiting was back in 2008. Through a 2021-22 selection process, ESA intends to add four to six new astronauts to its ranks. The European Astronaut Corps currently has seven active members

The application process starts on March 31 for nationals of ESA member states and associated member states. Potential candidates can find out more through ESA's astronaut selection site.

 "There are many unknowns ahead of us," ESA said. "The only promise we can make today is one of a serious, dedicated and honest attempt to clear the path to space for an astronaut with disability."

Now playing: Watch this: NASA astronaut Jessica Meir talks about her new Artemis...

11:07

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