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'If we can make a space station fly, we can save the planet': An astronaut's view on protecting the Earth – CNN

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(CNN)French astronaut Thomas Pesquet spent six months aboard the International Space Station last year, and his view of the Earth was as alarming as it was breathtaking.

Long periods with his feet off solid ground gave him a unique and privileged perspective on our planet. His Instagram account is bursting with beautiful images of “the blue ball we call home.” But the beauty is tainted. Pesquet says that even from space the effects of climate change are visible.
He says that since his previous visit to space, in 2016, the consequences of human activity have become even more apparent, with glaciers visibly retreating, and a rise in extreme weather events.
Environmental concern motivated him to become a UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Goodwill Ambassador. As an astronaut on board the ISS he supported the FAO’s research into agricultural innovation and methods of food production. Limited resources in space provide an opportunity to model human behavior on a planet with dwindling resources, and Pesquet wants to highlight the parallels between life on a spacecraft and life on Earth.
CNN spoke to Pesquet at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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CNN: What does the Earth look like from “out there?”
Pesquet: When you look at the Earth from the space station, it’s absolutely magical. You’re not that far away, so you still have a relatively close-up view. But you can see the curvature and you see the atmosphere. It glows in blue. It is absolutely breathtaking the first time you see it. It’s the most beautiful scenery you could possibly imagine.
When you’re on the Earth, you feel that everything is so vast, everything is endless. You have a hard time understanding how limited we are. Then, when you take a step back and you see the Earth in its entirety, you suddenly understand that we live in an oasis in the cosmos. All around us is nothing, no life, blackness, emptiness, absolutely nothing — apart from this blue ball with everything we need to sustain human life, and life in general, which is absolutely fragile.
It makes you want to cherish the Earth and protect it, the more you see it from space.
CNN: What are the real effects of climate change that are visible from space?
Pesquet: You can see a lot of the consequences of human activities from space. Some of them are from climate change, and some of it is just plain old pollution, e.g. river pollution, air pollution.
The most visual visible effect is glaciers retreating year after year and mission after mission.
But what you can see as well is extreme weather phenomena. They’re getting stronger and stronger year after year. My first mission was 2016-2017, and my second mission was five years later in 2021. I could see a net increase in the frequency and the strength of extreme weather phenomena like hurricanes, like wildfires.
CNN: What contribution can an astronaut make?
Pesquet: There’s a ton that you can do from space to help out on the planet. First of all, as a space agency, we have satellites that can observe the Earth and measure variables such as the heights of waves, the temperature of the sea, ice on the polar caps retreating.
But we can also go a little bit deeper. We have experiments that are geared towards protecting the planet — for example, experiments on fluids. Fluids in orbit behave differently, so our research is trying to understand the motion of the magma and lava inside the planet, and the movement of waves in the ocean. This can help us predict some of the extreme weather events that affect our environment.
Crucially, we have to manage our limited resources onboard the space station. We have limited atmosphere, limited water, limited food. And so the way we deal with everything on board the space station gives us techniques that we can apply on Earth because the situation is parallel. I think the people on Earth can learn a great deal about how space technology deals with water, how we recycle water, how we recycle air oxygen.
CNN: Does it take its toll on family life when you’re away in space for several months?
Pesquet: It’s not easy for us being up there, and it’s not easy for the people we leave behind. The toughest thing is being deprived of your loved ones, and also being constantly worried that if something happens to them, you cannot help them. I think it’s the nightmare of all the astronauts, that something happens to their families on Earth while they’re away.
I believe there’s an element of selfishness in me going to space because it’s a fantastic magical experience. But I also firmly believe that there’s a hugely positive impact on society in general because of what we do; because of the research, because of the international cooperation. So I think we have to do it even if there’s a price to pay. It’s not easy, but I think it’s a good thing to do.
CNN: As a climate advocate, do you think about the environmental cost of space travel?
Pesquet: As an astronaut, you witness the fragility of planet Earth, while simultaneously thinking, “wait a minute, what is my impact on all this? I’m going to space in a rocket, how does that impact the environment?”
Yes, space travel produces some CO2, and it is not entirely environmentally friendly. But I think you have to take into account the positives with the negatives. There are so few rocket launches that compared to aviation, cars or other industries, our impact is negligible. We need activity in space to get satellite research done. This benefits the planet a lot. So space travel is a necessary evil.
CNN: Since you have returned from the ISS, what are your hopes for the future protection of our planet?
Pesquet: If we set ourselves on the right path, there’s nothing we cannot do. We built this unbelievable facility in space for good reasons. We’re using it every day, in peaceful cooperation between countries that were not always friends. So if we can transfer that model to the way we deal with the environment on Earth, I think we’ll get there.
We’re creative enough, we have the technology and we have the will. So I’m optimistic for the future. If we can make a space station fly, then we can save the planet.

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Toward customizable timber, grown in a lab – EurekAlert

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image: In an effort to provide an environmentally friendly and low-waste alternative, researchers at MIT have pioneered a tunable technique to generate wood-like plant material in a lab.
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Credit: Image courtesy of Luis Fernando Velásquez-García, Ashley Beckwith, et al

Each year, the world loses about 10 million hectares of forest — an area about the size of Iceland — because of deforestation. At that rate, some scientists predict the world’s forests could disappear in 100 to 200 years.

In an effort to provide an environmentally friendly and low-waste alternative, researchers at MIT have pioneered a tunable technique to generate wood-like plant material in a lab, which could enable someone to “grow” a wooden product like a table without needing to cut down trees, process lumber, etc.

These researchers have now demonstrated that, by adjusting certain chemicals used during the growth process, they can precisely control the physical and mechanical properties of the resulting plant material, such as its stiffness and density.

They also show that, using 3D bioprinting techniques, they can grow plant material in shapes, sizes, and forms that are not found in nature and that can’t be easily produced using traditional agricultural methods.

“The idea is that you can grow these plant materials in exactly the shape that you need, so you don’t need to do any subtractive manufacturing after the fact, which reduces the amount of energy and waste. There is a lot of potential to expand this and grow three-dimensional structures,” says lead author Ashley Beckwith, a recent PhD graduate.

Though still in its early days, this research demonstrates that lab-grown plant materials can be tuned to have specific characteristics, which could someday enable researchers to grow wood products with the exact features needed for a particular application, like high strength to support the walls of a house or certain thermal properties to more efficiently heat a room, explains senior author Luis Fernando Velásquez-García, a principal scientist in MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories.

Joining Beckwith and Velásquez-García on the paper is Jeffrey Borenstein, a biomedical engineer and group leader at the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory. The research is published today in Materials Today.

Planting cells

To begin the process of growing plant material in the lab, the researchers first isolate cells from the leaves of young Zinnia elegans plants. The cells are cultured in liquid medium for two days, then transferred to a gel-based medium, which contains nutrients and two different hormones.

Adjusting the hormone levels at this stage in the process enables researchers to tune the physical and mechanical properties of the plant cells that grow in that nutrient-rich broth.

“In the human body, you have hormones that determine how your cells develop and how certain traits emerge. In the same way, by changing the hormone concentrations in the nutrient broth, the plant cells respond differently. Just by manipulating these tiny chemical quantities, we can elicit pretty dramatic changes in terms of the physical outcomes,” Beckwith says.

In a way, these growing plant cells behave almost like stem cells — researchers can give them cues to tell them what to become, Velásquez-García adds.

They use a 3D printer to extrude the cell culture gel solution into a specific structure in a petri dish, and let it incubate in the dark for three months. Even with this incubation period, the researchers’ process is about two orders of magnitude faster than the time it takes for a tree to grow to maturity, Velásquez-García says.

Following incubation, the resulting cell-based material is dehydrated, and then the researchers evaluate its properties.

Wood-like characteristics

They found that lower hormone levels yielded plant materials with more rounded, open cells that have lower density, while higher hormone levels led to the growth of plant materials with smaller, denser cell structures. Higher hormone levels also yielded plant material that was stiffer; the researchers were able to grow plant material with a storage modulus (stiffness) similar to that of some natural woods.

Another goal of this work is to study what is known as lignification in these lab-grown plant materials. Lignin is a polymer that is deposited in the cell walls of plants which makes them rigid and woody. They found that higher hormone levels in the growth medium causes more lignification, which would lead to plant material with more wood-like properties.

The researchers also demonstrated that, using a 3D bioprinting process, the plant material can be grown in a custom shape and size. Rather than using a mold, the process involves the use of a customizable computer-aided design file that is fed to a 3D bioprinter, which deposits the cell gel culture into a specific shape. For instance, they were able to grow plant material in the shape of a tiny evergreen tree.

Research of this kind is relatively new, Borenstein says.

“This work demonstrates the power that a technology at the interface between engineering and biology can bring to bear on an environmental challenge, leveraging advances originally developed for health care applications,” he adds.

The researchers also show that the cell cultures can survive and continue to grow for months after printing, and that using a thicker gel to produce thicker plant material structures does not impact the survival rate of the lab-grown cells.

“Amenable to customization”

“I think the real opportunity here is to be optimal with what you use and how you use it. If you want to create an object that is going to serve some purpose, there are mechanical expectations to consider. This process is really amenable to customization,” Velásquez-García says.

Now that they have demonstrated the effective tunability of this technique, the researchers want to continue experimenting so they can better understand and control cellular development. They also want to explore how other chemical and genetic factors can direct the growth of the cells.

They hope to evaluate how their method could be transferred to a new species. Zinnia plants don’t produce wood, but if this method were used to make a commercially important tree species, like pine, the process would need to be tailored to that species, Velásquez-García says.  

Ultimately, he is hopeful this work can help to motivate other groups to dive into this area of research to help reduce deforestation.

“Trees and forests are an amazing tool for helping us manage climate change, so being as strategic as we can with these resources will be a societal necessity going forward,” Beckwith adds.

This research is funded, in part, by the Draper Scholars Program.

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Written by Adam Zewe, MIT News Office

Additional background

Paper: “Physical, mechanical, and microstructural characterization of novel, 3D-printable, tunable, lab-grown plant materials generated from Zinnia elegans cell cultures”

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1369702122000451


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Crumbling comet could create meteor shower May 30 – Northern Daily News

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Article content

A crumbling comet could create a meteor shower on May 30.

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The ‘tau Herculids’ meteor display might be one of the most dramatic observed in over two decades, according to Space.com.

Meteor showers occur when dust or particles from asteroids or comets enter Earth’s atmosphere at a very high speed, the U.K. Sun explained.

This one is expected to be the product of a comet named 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann, also known as SW3.

SW3 was first discovered in 1930 but did not reappear again until the 1970s, Republic World reported.

In 1995, astronomers noticed that the comet’s nucleus split into four smaller chunks, according to CNET.

It has continued to disintegrate more in the ensuing years.

The display is expected to be very visible in the Northern Hemisphere as it is occurring on a Moon-less night.

A consensus of experts predicts that the shower will be visible starting from 1 a.m. EST on May 31.

It is suggested viewers will want to be outside at least an hour before this so your eyes have a chance to adjust to the dark.

“The southwestern USA and Mexico are favored locations as the radiant, the area of the sky where these meteors come from, will be located highest in a dark sky,” Robert Lunsford wrote for AMS.

“The outburst may be seen from southeastern Canada and the remainder of the (eastern) USA, but at a lower altitude.”

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Boeing capsule lands back on Earth after space shakedown – Phys.org

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Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft lands at White Sands Missile Range’s Space Harbor, Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in New Mexico. Credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP

Boeing’s crew taxi returned to Earth from the International Space Station on Wednesday, completing a repeat test flight before NASA astronauts climb aboard.

It was a quick trip back: The Starliner capsule parachuted into the New Mexico desert just four hours after leaving the orbiting lab, with airbags attached to cushion the landing. Only a mannequin was buckled in.

Aside from thruster failures and cooling system snags, Starliner appeared to clinch its high-stakes shakedown cruise, 2 1/2 years after its botched first try. Flight controllers in Houston applauded and cheered the bull’s-eye touchdown.

“It’s great to have this incredible test flight behind us,” said Steve Stich, director of NASA’s commercial crew program. He described the demo as “extremely successful,” with all objectives met.

Added Boeing’s Mark Nappi, a : “On a scale of one to 10, I think I’d give it a 15.”

Based on these early results, NASA astronauts will strap in next for a trip to the , perhaps by year’s end. The has long wanted two competing U.S. companies ferrying astronauts, for added insurance as it drastically reduced its reliance on Russia for rides to and from the space station.

Boeing capsule lands back on Earth after space shakedown
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft lands at White Sands Missile Range’s Space Harbor, Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in New Mexico. Credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is already the established leader, launching astronauts since 2020 and even tourists. Its crew capsules splash down off the Florida coast, Boeing’s Starliner returns to the Army’s expansive and desolate White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

Boeing scrapped its first attempt to reach the space station in 2019, after software errors left the capsule in the wrong orbit and nearly doomed it. The company fixed the flaws and tried again last summer, but corroded valves halted the countdown. Following more repairs, Starliner finally lifted off from Cape Canaveral last Thursday and docked to the space station Friday.

Station astronauts tested Starliner’s communication and computer systems during its five days at the space station. They also unloaded hundreds of pounds (kilograms) of groceries and other supplies that flew up in the Boeing capsule, then filled it with empty air tanks and other discarded gear.

  • Boeing capsule lands back on Earth after space shakedown
    In this infrared image from video made available by NASA, the Boeing Starliner capsule uses parachutes as it descends to land at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. Credit: NASA via AP
  • Boeing capsule lands back on Earth after space shakedown
    In this image from video made available by NASA, the Boeing Starliner capsule, upper center, leaves the International Space Station on Wedndesday, May 25, 2022. At bottom foreground is a SpaceX Dragon capsule, still docked to the station. Credit: NASA via AP

A folded U.S. flag sent up by Boeing stayed behind, to be retrieved by the first Starliner crew.

“We’re a little sad to see her go,” station astronaut Bob Hines radioed as the capsule flew away.

Along for the ride was Starliner’s test dummy—Rosie the Rocketeer, a takeoff on World War II’s Rosie the Riveter.

The repairs and do-over cost Boeing nearly $600 million.


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Boeing docks crew capsule to space station in test do-over


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