At 1.17 Earth masses and in the habitable zone, scientists says it’s orbiting the nearest star to our sun
Image source: Universal Pictures
April 11, 2020 is the 50th anniversary of the launch of NASA’s Apollo 13 lunar mission, and this year is also the 25th anniversary of the 1995 film version, directed by Ron Howard. It is this theatrical version of events that is the definitive story of Apollo now for many people, an outcome that was predicted at the time of the movie’s filming by Apollo 15 astronaut Dave Scott, who served as a consultant on the film.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to go to the moon for a long time,” Howard recalled Scott telling him. Speaking for the bonus features on the Collector’s Edition DVD, Howard told the story of Scott’s prediction that future moon voyagers would look back at the film as documentation of the Apollo era.
“Everybody involved is going to be dead and all you’re going to have is some of this archival footage and you’ve seen how incomplete that is,” Howard said, speaking for Scott. “But you know what they’re going to be able to do? They’re going to be able to look at this movie, Apollo 13, and say ‘That’s how they went to the moon.’”
The film scored nine Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture, with Tom Hanks as Commander Jim Lovell, Kevin Bacon as Backup Lunar Module Pilot Jack Swigert, the late Bill Paxton as Command Module Pilot Fred Haise, Gary Sinise as grounded Prime Lunar Module Pilot Ken Mattingly and Ed Harris as Flight Director Gene Kranz. It won two Academy Awards, for Best Sound and for Film Editing and grossed 174 million 1995 dollars at the box office.
Hollywood isn’t known for its keen study of the outside world, but a book proposal by astronaut Lovell caught the attention of people who brought the story to director Howard. “The more I kept learning about the actual mission,” he said, “the more I realized just how dramatic the truth, in this particular instance, is.”
He soon recruited A-lister Hanks to play Lovell. “There’s something about the story of getting back home, which is one of the seven great stories of literature: How do you get back home? And that’s what this is,” Hanks said.
As a longtime space geek, Hanks was already predisposed to favoring the film. “I’ve always wanted to play an astronaut. I’ve always wanted to shoot a vast section of a movie completely encapsulated by nothing but metal, glass and switches, and I finally had a chance to do that,” he said. “This is real dream-come-true stuff here.”
1995 marked the dawn of computer-generated animation, and Apollo 13 uses the early technology to good effect to create some flight scenes. Fortunately, the production crew recognized the shortcomings of CGI and limited its use. For the dramatic splashdown scene near the end of the film, they employed a scale model of the command module on real parachutes, dropped from a helicopter to provide the necessary realism.
But the real challenge was replicating the zero-gravity environment inside the spacecraft during the flight. To gain some insight into this, the cast and crew arranged for a flight in NASA’s zero-g simulating KC-135 cargo aircraft. The experience motivated Howard to investigate actually building sets inside the plane and shooting the movie inside it during zero-g flights.
“If we really would have had to try to create the weightlessness with wires (on the actors), I sort of shudder to think what the movie would have really looked like,” Howard said.
Instead, the cast flew 612 25-second cycles in the Vomit Comet, totally 3 hours and 54 minutes of weightlessness. “The KC135 was used for most shots where you see our whole bodies,” explained Bacon. “Then we did a lot of the closeups on the ground, and they cut amazingly well. I can’t even remember if this is a KC135 shot or this is a ground shot.”
“Nobody wanted to let this story down,” Howard stated. “Not the actors, not the crew members, no one. I didn’t have to make any motivational speeches on this one. People were coming to work every day ready to give a hundred and fifty percent.”
“I had an acute sense of anxiety that I would be the one who became violently ill and totally incapacitated and a failure to the group,” said Paxton.
Further, with expert advice available, the actors could be confident that they weren’t doing anything grossly unrealistic. “I’m really impressed with the authenticity of how we’re doing this,” observed Apollo 15 commander Dave Scott. “They are interested in getting this accurate and precise, down to not only the word, but the inflection of the word, and the meaning behind the word.”
“With Dave Scott from Apollo 15 here every day,” said Hanks, “we don’t have to do that thing that can happen in films where the director says, ‘Flick some switches.’”
“Working on the film was kind of like cramming for your final exam or something,” said Ed Harris. “You’ve got all this information in your head, you’re really focused on it, you’re doing your homework the night before about the scene you’re going to do the next day.”
Nevertheless, the film’s defining characteristic turned out not to be the heroism of the astronauts, but that of the engineers on the ground who fought to find a way to save the astronauts. Apollo 13 made stars of engineers and brought the phrase “Failure is not an option,” into popular culture.
“One of the first things that we did once we committed to making the movie was go to Houston, see mission control,” said Howard. “And I realized just how intense it was. How personally they took it. And I began to try to find ways to tell their story too.”
“Once the rocket leaves the launch pad, the flight director, he’s God,” Harris noted. “He’s got more power than the President of the United States at that point. He calls the shots.”
Howard put the same attention to detail that went into shooting authentic weightless scenes into recreating NASA’s mission control in Houston. “Ron is an absolute fanatic about every little detail being correct,” said Apollo 13 flight dynamics officer Jerry Bostic, who consulted on Apollo 13 and worked on the set daily. “I spend 14 hours a day here and I leave and I go look for the elevator,” he laughed. “Because the real control center in Houston was up on the third floor, and I forget because this thing is so real.
“You have a great story and you have all this incredible technology and you have something that was very important historically,” observed Bacon. “This moment was, in so many ways, NASA’s finest hour.”
For engineers, the film Apollo 13 might have been their finest hour too.
Dan Carney is a Design News senior editor, covering automotive technology, engineering and design, especially emerging electric vehicle and autonomous technologies.
COVID-19: Fanshawe team studies possible way to stop virus's spread in body – London Free Press (Blogs)
Fanshawe College researchers in London are studying a process that could lead to an effective treatment for COVID-19.
“When a virus enters the body, its ability to produce devastating effects is due to its capacity to make copies of itself while evading the body’s immune system,” said Abdulla Mahboob, manager of Fanshawe’s Centre for Applied Research and Innovation in Biotechnology (CARIB) labs, where the study is underway.
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The college team is testing a custom inhibitor they hope will block virus proteins from binding together to help the virus’s genetic material get past cell defences, he said. “If we stop the proteins from binding together, we can expose the virus to the cell’s immunity, which in turn will stop the spread of the virus itself in the patient.”
Scientists are testing the inhibitor using mammalian cells containing the specific proteins targeted in the study, with promising results, the college said.
If effective, the inhibitors would then be tested on the virus in lab-grown cells and work would begin to turn it into a viable treatment for the respiratory disease.
It’s the latest in a number of studies by college scientists, including one looking at the potential benefits of cannabis extract in treating blood clots and inflammation in life-threatening COVID-19 cases.
Take 2 for SpaceX's first astronaut launch with more storms – CTV News
CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. —
SpaceX pressed ahead with its second attempt to launch astronauts for NASA — a historic first for a private company — but more stormy weather threatened more delays.
Elon Musk’s company came within 17 minutes Wednesday of launching a pair of NASA astronauts for the first time in nearly a decade from the U.S., before the threat of lightning forced a delay.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said managers were debating whether to bump the next launch attempt from Saturday to Sunday to take advantage of a slightly improved forecast at Kennedy Space Center.
At an outdoor news conference Friday, Bridenstine stressed the need for safety for astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken — no matter how many times it takes to launch them in a SpaceX Dragon capsule atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station.
“We cannot forget this is a test flight. This — is — a — test — flight,” he repeated. “We will go when everything is as safe as we can possibly make it.”
Forecasters put the odds of acceptable weather conditions Saturday at 50-50, with the outlook improving to 60% favourable on Sunday. Rain and clouds were the main concerns for both days.
While NASA urged spectators to stay home because of the pandemic, prime viewing spots at area parks and beaches were packed Wednesday. A weekend launch could draw even bigger crowds. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex reopened Thursday, after a 2 1/2-month shutdown, and within a few hours, all 4,000 tickets were snapped up for Saturday’s launch attempt.
President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence were expected to return for the Saturday attempt. The number of employees, journalists and guests inside remained extremely limited because of the pandemic.
Whether an attempt is made Saturday or Sunday, “There will be no pressure. We will launch when we’re ready,” Bridenstine said.
The last time astronauts launched to orbit from the U.S. was in 2011 when Atlantis closed out the 30-year space shuttle program. Hurley was on that mission as well.
NASA hired SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 to get the ball rolling again — kicking off a commercial revolution for getting people to low-Earth orbit, according to officials. In the meantime, NASA has spent billions of dollars to buy seats on Russian Soyuz capsules for U.S. astronauts, in order to keep the space station staffed.
Boeing’s first astronaut flight, on the company’s Starliner capsule, is not expected until next year.
Bridenstine offered high praise for Musk on Friday and all his personal touches: spiffy spacesuits, Tesla rides to the launch pad, a colour-co-ordinated rocket and capsule — and more.
Musk has brought “vision and inspiration” to the American space program, Bridenstine said. While there’s occasionally a little tension between NASA and SpaceX, “he gives me a commitment and he delivers on that commitment. That has happened every single time.”
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Proxima b, a confirmed — potentially habitable — Earth-sized planet, is a mere 4.2 light years away – The Post – Ontario
A team of scientists from the University of Geneva has confirmed the existence of an Earth-sized planet orbiting the star closest to the sun. The planet, called Proxima b, is 1.17 times the mass of Earth and is located in the habitable zone of Promixa Centauri, 4.2 light years away.
Because Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf, much smaller and cooler than the sun, its habitable zone or Goldilocks zone — neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to exist — is very close to the star. Proxima b orbits about 20 times closer to its star than Earth does to the sun, and a year on the planet is just over 11 Earth days long.
Red dwarf stars emit huge quantities of X-rays, and the scientists estimate the planet gets 400 times as much radiation as Earth. But Christophe Lovis, a researcher in the astronomy department of the university, was optimistic that this might not rule out the possibility of life, or at least habitability.
“Is there an atmosphere that protects the planet from these deadly rays?” he asks. “And if this atmosphere exists, does it contain the chemical elements that promote the development of life — oxygen, for example? How long have these favourable conditions existed?”
Proxima b could have a moon-sized neighbour.
Such questions will, he hopes, be answered in the next few years by the next generation of spectrometers, which will tease out data from the light of the star and its planet. The recent confirmation of Proxima b came from data from a spectrograph called ESPRESSO (Echelle Spectrograph for Rocky Exoplanet and Stable Spectroscopic Observations) mounted on the Very Large Telescope (yep, that’s its name) in Chile.
Proxima b was first detected by an earlier instrument called HARPS, or High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher. “We were already very happy with the performance of HARPS, which has been responsible for discovering hundreds of exoplanets over the last 17 years”, says lead researcher Francesco Pepe. “We’re really pleased that ESPRESSO can produce even better measurements.”
In addition, data from ESPRESSO included a second signal that could indicate yet another planet orbiting even closer to the star. “If the signal was planetary in origin, this potential other planet accompanying Proxima b would have a mass less than one third of the mass of the Earth. It would then be the smallest planet ever measured using the radial velocity method,” says Pepe. Proxima b could have a moon-sized neighbour.
Despite the relative nearness of Proxima Centauri as the sun’s closest stellar neighbour, we will have to rely on spectrographic data for the foreseeable future. Our fastest interplanetary probes, the Voyagers and New Horizons, would take tens of thousands of years to reach Proxima Centauri, even if they were headed in that direction. A plan called Breakthrough Starshot imagines a tiny probe travelling at 20 per cent of light speed, and making the journey in 20 years, but it’s still very much on the drawing board.
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