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Just trying to recall the rules for Gridthruster, the imaginatively named spaceship build-n-shoot game we came up with at middle school.  I'm a bit horrified that I can remember the detail so clearly.  We used to play this with graph paper and blu-tacked pieces. 

How the hell did I remember this? )

Damn, this makes me want a tablet and a coding kit.  Board games with the faff taken out are just what tablets are good at.  Faff?  Faff was moving a thirty-piece megaship and not missing any bits...

With computers, of course, you could sort the initial random scatter, introduce drift, make it realtime and introduce rudimentary physics.  And add a third dimension.  Make it a bit more buildy and a bit less Scrapheap Challenge IN SPAAACE.  And then you're damn close to the deep-alpha voxel game Blockade Runner.  :)

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Have a drool over the VSS Enterprise, Virgin Galactic's first SpaceShipTwo. The mothership, Eve, was unveiled some time back; now it's Enterprise's turn. Yes, Enterprise. Don't worry, that tear of pure nerdy joy? I'm wiping away one just the same.
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Gliese 581 is a red dwarf about 20.3 light-years away, and it's got the best candidate yet for an exoplanet with life.  Gliese 581 d is small and it's in the habitable zone - "the first serious water world candidate" say the discoverers

So: a possible life-supporting world only 20.3 LY away.  Come on, that's an absolute no-brainer.  Start speccing a probe right this minute.  There's the possibility we might not be dead by the time it reports back (if it's quick enough) and our kids can have something awesome to look forward to. 

And in the meantime if we find a better, closer candidate, the mission can be pointed that way any time before launch.

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SpaceX have finished putting together their Falcon 9 heavy lifter rocket.  Pics of the biggest new-year rocket here.  Falcon 9 and the booster-wrapped Falcon 9 Heavy are the rockets that are contracted to resupply the ISS (under NASA's COTS programme), so here's hoping the demo launch in a few months goes OK.
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Dyson spheres are cool.  They're hypothetical future-scifi-engineering gone mad: a shell around a star to capture and use all it's energy. 

Theoretically, they'd still radiate a little bit: they'd be big, cool blackbody emitters - leaking a little warmth out into space.  A chap at FermiLab took the IRAS infra-red sky survey and analysed it for just such things (tip: BadAstronomy).  He found just seventeen good candidates.  Assuming their starting criteria are good, that's pretty rare.  Still, every one of those could be a matrioskha brain crammed full of nested computronium, so don't lose heart.

The approach: that life = weird spectral characteristics = detectable, is groovy.  I'm pinning my hopes on getting some visual spectra for extrasolar planets, though.  When we find one with an atmospheric composition that's outside the adiabatic steady state (as Earth is, and Mars is not), then we've got something.
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Wow: look at the first pictures of planets orbiting regular stars.

Blurgh: Man-flu. Say no more.

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Space Bears!It's a week for teh awesome in space.  First the Boston Globe's Big Picture - the series that brought us those awesome shots of the LHC - does the same deal on the Sun.  There are some really jaw-dropping images in there, full-on boiling atomic awe. 

Then we get some sexy probing, with Cassini taking a close flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus (not Enchilada).  How close?  25 kilometres close.  The main aim of the flyby was to scoop up some of the water-ice plumes - which they did - but while they were at it they got some very nice photos of Enceladus's icy surface.  That's a ball with liquid water inside, with a water-ice crust.  Well, we've got to find somewhere to put the polar bears, right?

Space bears!  That would be so cool. 

But even without the space bears, liquid water and a liminal zone just reeks of the potential for life as we know it.  I don't think Cassini can sniff for biomarkers but if it finds anything sexy, more probes will doubtless be forthcoming.

Finally, the folks at SpaceX took their successful Falcon 1 flight and put it to some Crystal Method.  It's beautifully done, and feels like watching some new Rez release or maybe Spaceflight Hero.  Dont tell me you haven't wanted to blast off in time with music!

If I was a dotcom bazillionaire, this is how I'd spend my money, on blue-sky super-cool space stuff.  Elon Musk, you have the best toys.  Well, you and Branson.
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Ooh!  Richard and Burt have unveiled White Knight Two, the carrier for their upcoming spaceplane.  Like White Knight, it's a twin-fuselage jobbie that carries the spacecraft slung between the two bodies.  Once it reaches suitable height, it drops the spacecraft which fires up its rocket and scoots off to the edge of space.  The White Knights are conventionally-fueled aircraft; the spacecraft use a hybrid rubber/nitrous rocket; only the encased-rubber part of the rocket is non-reusable.

SpaceShipOne was designed to win the X-Prize, and it did.  SpaceShipTwo will do billionaire joyrides and those long-lusted-after suborbital super-fast transcontinental flights, and should keep Bond villains and futurologists happy for a while.  SpaceShipThree is the truly exciting end of the arc: it is intended to achieve orbit.  Three is the money shot.

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Basically I'll just be repeating the hyperbolic enthusiasm so just go to the link.  It's the moon transiting the earth as seen from the Deep Impact comet probe.  The real thing, not a sim.  More detail than the heartbreaking awe/melancholy mashup from the Mars Orbiter.  Go see!
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The Japanese are making a start on space-based solar power, working towards a 1GW prototype station in twenty years or so.  I am fat with grins at this news.

Space-based solar power (SBSP) and nuclear fusion are both Big Future Tech approaches to making a metric fuckton of clean electricity.  The difference is this: fusion requires fundamental physics advances (notably, now that a fusing plasma can be created, research needs to be done into how to keep it fusing away happily - the analogue of flame physics for combustion).  SBSP is just engineering.

A wise person will observe that the greatest of engineering projects can be solved by hurling enough cash, resources and manpower at it.  SBSP is amenable to an Energy Manhattan Project in a way that fusion is currently not.  There are obstacles, sure, but surmountable ones.

A cautious person might ask just why exactly we're giving anyone an Orbital Deth Lazor.  Good news: we're not.  The power density is actually far too low to bake the flesh from your crispy human bones, and under normal operation there'd be a stack of cutouts to kill the beam if it wandered off track.  Keeping the beam - a microwave laser in most plans - on track is just optics and computing power, and the Japanese can do those in their sleep.  Most of the objections you're thinking of right now have already been talked out by a boffin think-tank last year (web 2.0 saves the world?).
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Coolest space news evar.  The shiny chunks of white stuff that Phoenix exposed a few days ago have sublimated away.  That makes them ice, not salt or white rocks.  How exciting is this?  The Phoenix official Twitter said "W00t! Best day ever!"  That's how exciting.
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This haunting image was taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (details).  Every single one of us, you and me, all our friends, family and foes, they're all down there on that little blue ball. 
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...even works in the vacuum of space

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So, is anyone convinced that the Americans' reason to shoot down a lame spy satellite - to save us from its nasty toxic hydrazine fuel - is anything other than the skimpiest cover story ever?  I mean, it's just a volatile.  If it landed on a school the toxic effects would still be secondary to the impact damage, and that's trivial. 

No, this shot is about protecting Secret Squirrel technology and equally about proving that they're just as badass in space as the satellite-killing Chinese.  Nobody loves a good cold war like the military, eh?  You get all the funding of a real war, and you don't have to get shot.

It'll be hilarious if they miss. 
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Commercial spaceflight is doing everything right.  First it gets massive investment from Beardy Branson - a flyboy with a pot of cash and business acumen, which is more credible than the pots of cash from Doom co-authors and the like.  Then Beardy goes and calls his spaceflight company Virgin Galactic, which you can just imagine seeing in a 2000AD parody poster from the early 90s.  And then the first ship - the production, passenger-carrying sub-orbital Spaceship Two - is named VSS Enterprise

You'll get little vital-signs monitors and cameras in your suits.  You can trade in Frequent Flyer miles for a ticket (2 million for the hop, taken up by Alan Watts, a brit engineer who must do quite a bit of flying).  Tickets will be given as prizes for the general public.  Branson himself is breathless about the whole venture.  Burt Rutan's machines are deliciously unorthodox and they work (the White Knight has trumped the Vulcan in my heart, and the shuttlecock configuration of the spacecraft is brilliant).  There's nose art. 

This isn't a nerdgasm, it's geekkake

I predict rock videos in space by 2010.  Probably Radiohead or 50-cent.

[personal profile] ravenbait said a while ago that NASA's photos of the Earth from space made a change to people - that they saw the whole Earth for the first time, and they got that "its rather small, and rather fragile, and the only one we've got" awe.  And that that seemed to be fading.  I've been vaguely hoping that Google Earth would have a similar effect, but it doesn't because we're too used to marvels on screen.  It would be nice to hope that once enough people have taken the trip on the Enterprise that they'd seed a return to that whole-Earth vibe.  We could certainly do with it.
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Go Spaceguard, go!  Asteroid 2007 TU 24 is on its way.  On January 29th it will pass the Earth just over half a million kilometres away - a little outside the Moon's orbit.  It's the closest expected pass by a space rock until 2027 (suck on that, Mayans!), but you'll need a telescope to see it.  Of course as the name suggests, it was only spotted last year so more rocks are out there.  Here's NASA's press release, the JPL small-body database (NEO orbit simulator, yay!) and for yuks, the ill-educated superstitious foaming at the mouth from the tinfoil hat brigade at Above Top Secret

This is why science is cool.  So we can calmly say "that's neat" instead of running into the outback with our kids, raving about how a rock the size of a skyscraper will cause the Ring of Fire to set off and bring down the Great Tribulation, without even recognising the irony and futility in moving from one random location to another. 


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