Archive for August, 2006

Smart Cart to the Rescue

Friday, August 25th, 2006

Of all the cool robot contraptions I’ve seen and blogged about lately, I haven’t come across one that sound like something I can actually use in my every day life. Until now, that is. That’s in part because I have a secret phobia: runaway shopping cart. When we go shopping on weekends, I fear a runway shopping (or one hastily abandoned, rather than being put away) cart will "ding" the car, or that ours will slip out of control.

But now that some University of Florida Students have invented a kind of Smart Cart, I may finally be able to shop for groceries without fear.

Smart Cart

It looks almost like any other shopping cart, except sensors let it follow the shopper around the supermarket and slow down when needed so items can be placed in it. And it never crashes into anyone’s heels.

"The immediate thing that jumped to my mind was all those times as a kid when my sister would accidentally hit me with a cart," said its inventor, Gregory Garcia. "It seems like the public would really want this, since everybody shops."

Sounds like a good idea to me. So I gotta respectfully disagree that the Smart Cart is a sign that we’ve become irredeemably lazy. (If you ask me, the advent of the Segway and the self-flushing toilet long since heralded that human reality.) It just means I no longer have to fear runaway shopping carts.

All I need now is map of the grocery store and I’m all set.

Webinar on Satellite Communications

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

Here’s a plug: SES AMERICOM is presenting a Webinar next Tuesday called "Satcom Talk" — a discussion of how businesses are using a mix of both land-based and space-based communications.  As new and innovative technologies continue to evolve and converge with established approaches, enhanced business solutions are developing in:  

  • Corporate Communications and Intranets
  • Training and Distance Learning
  • File Transfers and Information Delivery
  • Inventory Management
  • News Media and Financial Market Updates
  • Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery

Tuesday, 29 August 2006 @ 11:30 a.m. EDT (15:30 GMT). Click here for more details and how to register.

Cosmonauts to Commemorate Shepard’s Moon Golf with a Drive from the ISS

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

According to the AP, Russian flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin will drive a golf ball back to mother earth from atop the International Space Station on Thanksgiving Day 2006 in a publicity stunt to promote Canadian golf club manufacturer, Element 21 Golf Co.

Element 21 asked the Cosmonaut to pull the stunt to publisize its new line of golf clubs and to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the time astronaut Alan Shepard hit golf balls on the moon during the Apollo 14 mission. The stunt, which cost the company an undisclosed amount of money, was originally planned for a June spacewalk, but was pushed back so other tasks could be accomplished.

Oh, and don’t worry about being knocked out by dimpled piece of plastic. The golf ball will most likely return to the earth’s atmosphere in three days, burning up upon reentry.

Satellite-based Bar Game Provider Offers New Game

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

Even the best rocket scientists need a beer from time to time, so that’s why we were heartened to find out one of our favorite bar game vendor and satellite-based, interactive game provider, Buzztime, has announced a new product, Crazy Golf.

For those that haven’t gotten to use Buzztime products in the past, the company’s most popular games (by far) are trivia-based, spicing up the standard pub quiz by automating the process and pitting you against fellow booze-hounds around the country and the world via satellite. Those that are really into the trivia can form a team, keep the name, and log on to the company’s player’s forum and trash talk that team in Tucson that kept on demanding Lord of the Rings questions to their heart’s content.

Pique your interest? Use Buzztime’s website to find a bar near you that has the service. For those of you who are already Buzztime junkies, you might want to consider subscribing via Dish Network, it only costs $3.99/month and it’ll definitely save you on your bar tab. As for your dating opportunities? Well, it’s probably not going to help — but that’s why you took up bar trivia, right?

Rocketplane Kistler and SpaceX to Test in S. Australia

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006


Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports that RocketPlane Kistler and SpaceX are trying to gain the right to test rockets at the Australian Defense Department site in Woomera, South Australia. Attracted by the size (about as large as England) and remoteness of the location, the Kistler and SpaceX hope to use the site to do test launches of the rockets NASA International Space Station.

Military history buffs will remember the Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA) as the largest land-based testing range in the world and the site of much of Australia and the U.K.’s nuclear (and otherwise) missile testing throughout the cold war. The WPA, which is still in use today for weapons testing, was also the location of many of European Launcher Development Organization (ELDO)‘s EUROPA rocket launches (one waiting to be launched is seen above) and NASA’s Island Lagoon Deep Space Tracking Station throughout the 1960s.

In addition to being a site with a great history, Woomera seems to have some good site-seeing opportunities and be just as beautiful as much of the rest of the Outback.

World’s Fourth Space Tourist Forced to Scrub Mission, First Woman May Go Instead

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

Daisuke Enomoto (a.k.a. Dice-K), a former executive at LiveDoor, Japan’s leading internet service provider and web portal, had to cancel his plans to fly with two Russian cosmonauts in a on Expedition 14 to the International Space Station, which was set to lift off on Sept. 14, 2006.

Russian Federal Space Agency Spokesmen Igor Panarin said that Enomoto "was deemed not ready to fly for exclusively medical reasons," but also hinted that the he might be able to join a later mission in the future. Had Enomoto gone on the flight, he would have been the world’s third space tourist and the first, self-funded tourist from Japan and Asia. According to Wikipedia, television journalist Toyohiro Akiyama who flew on Soyuz TM-11 in 1990 was the first Japanese or Asian space tourist, although, because the Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) funded the trip, he is more prevelantly regarded as the world’s first space business traveller.

Enomoto’s most likely replacement would be Iranian-born U.S. businesswoman Anousheh Ansari, President, Founder, and CEO of telecom technologies inc. If she makes this flight, Ansari would be the first female space tourist; if she does not, a third Russian cosmonaut will most likely take the open seat.

Oops!: Astronaut Reveals Name of New NASA Spacecraft

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006


The name of the new vehicle that NASA hopes will take astronauts back to the moon was supposed to be hush-hush until next week.

But apparently U.S. astronaut Jeff Williams, floating 220 miles above Earth at the international space station, didn’t get the memo.

Williams, through no fault of his own, let it slip Tuesday that the new vehicle’s name is Orion.

"We’ve been calling it the crew exploration vehicle for several years, but today it has a name — Orion," Williams said, taping a message in advance for the space agency that was transmitted accidentally over space-to-ground radio.

NASA planned to reveal the new name Aug. 31, when the space agency also announces which contractor will build the vehicle. Competing for the award are Lockheed Martin and a team made up of Northrop Grumman and Boeing.

You just can’t keep a secret these days. 

Construction to Resume on Space Station

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

"For more than three years, the International Space Station has floated half-built above the Earth. Maintained by a skeleton crew, the station — an assemblage of modules and girders — has not come close to its stated goal of becoming a world-class research outpost," the New York Times reports.

But the long break in building out the International Space Station— a result of the grounding of the space shuttle fleet following the Columbia disaster— is about to come to an end:

Since the project began in late 1998 with the joining of two American and Russian modules, the United States and 15 other nations have slowly put together a structure that weighs more than 400,000 pounds, with a habitable volume of almost 15,000 cubic feet. When completed, it is to weigh almost a million pounds and have a cabin volume of more than 33,000 cubic feet, larger than a typical five-bedroom house.

Getting to that goal will require some of the most difficult shuttle missions ever mounted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, starting with the Atlantis’s launching from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla [next Sunday]. The shuttle and its crew of six will haul a 30,000-pound, 45-foot truss segment to the station, delicately remove it from the cargo bay and install it during three spacewalks by two teams of astronauts….

NASA has allotted about 15 flights to complete the project before the shuttles are retired in 2010. The next four missions will carry other massive truss segments to extend the station’s central girder to more than 350 feet. The girder will eventually support four huge sets of solar-power arrays, batteries and heat-dispensing radiators.

The additional truss segments, which will increase the mass of the station by 40 tons, will also include 10-foot-wide rotary joints shaped like wagon wheels that will allow the solar arrays to track the sun for optimum power as the station moves in orbit. The Atlantis is delivering the second array, joining one put on the station in 2000.

You can learn more about the International Space Station here

Mugunghwa ho ga uhjea balsa hesamnida (Koreasat Launched)

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

Sea Launch launched the Koreasat 5 satellite last night from a converted oil platform in the Pacific Ocean, 1500 miles south of Hawaii. Named after the Korean national flower, Mugunghwa, the satellite will be replacing Koreasat 2. Incidently, the number 4 was skipped when naming this satelite (4 is a very unlucky number in Korea; its pronunciation is similar to the pronunciation of the Chinese character for Death). The satellite itself has a very interesting payload.



Intelsat Building for Sale

Monday, August 21st, 2006

Steve Pearlstein had an interesting column in Friday’s Washington Post regarding the changing fortunes of Intelsat and its famous headquarters in Washington, D.C.:

Time was when Intelsat was something of a metaphor for business in Washington, a government-backed enterprise that put the city at the center of the global satellite industry. Its futuristic office building on Connecticut Avenue was meant to symbolize Intelsat’s technological prowess and financial reliability.

Today, Intelsat is still something of a metaphor, but for a very different business environment. Its official headquarters is in Bermuda, its building is for sale, some operations are moving to Atlanta, and its debt is rated as junk. Intelsat’s prospects are now tied up as much with financial engineering as with the other kind.

All this is the result of transactions by private equity firms that took Intelsat from a government enterprise to a private company and merged it with Comsat, PanAmSat and parts of Loral, among others. But in the process, they have also loaded Intelsat with more than $11 billion in debt and drained much of the company’s equity value.

More information on Intelsat’s financial woes can be found here and here. Yet regardless of Intelsat’s financial outlook, the future in Washington won’t quite be the same if the Intelsat building — long a Connecticut Avenue landmark and a must-see for futurists touring the nation’s capital– gets renamed.

Unless, of course, you purchase it in our honor and rename it, say, the Sebadoh Building. (This might be the company with the listing.)

More photos: Check out this arial photo as well as this "blast from the past" photo of John Andrews with a model of the proposed building back in 1980.