Lightsail Lives, Solar Impulse Takes Off, and Google Announces All Sorts Of Things | Vol. 2 / No. 31

The Planetary Society's Lightsail-1; Photo: The Planetary Society
The Planetary Society’s Lightsail-1; Photo: The Planetary Society

Lightsail Lives!

Earlier this week everyone started biting their fingernails as a software glitch aboard the Planetary Society’s Lightsail-1 solar sail test craft, successfully launched on May 20, caused the citizen-science satellite to stop responding to commands. The glitch meant that, when a certain .csv file on board reached 32mb, it could crash the OS. They had tried to reboot it at least eighteen times, but in the end were left hoping that interaction with charged particles in the atmosphere would cause it to reboot itself. And lucky us: today we received word that it did, in fact, do just that! Bill Nye, “Science Guy” and CEO of the Planetary Society, explained in a press release that they have a software patch ready to go, and will upload it and deploy the sail as soon as they’re confident that the little craft is in the right orbit. Check out the Planetary Society for more on the story as it develops.

Solar Impulse 2 begins its long haul; Photo: © Solar Impulse | Pizzolante
Solar Impulse 2 begins its long haul; Photo: © Solar Impulse | Pizzolante

Six Days

The Solar Impulse 2 has taken off on the most challenging leg of its round-the-world trip: a six-day, day-and-night nonstop flight from Nanjing to Hawaii. For the pilot, Andre Borschberg, it sounds like it’s going to be a hell of a trip. He’ll be stuck in the same seat for the whole thing — though apparently it leans back so he can get twenty minutes of sleep at a stretch. According to an article over at the Guardian, the plane will store up as much power as it can during the days, and discharge it gradually overnight, such that by sunrise its batteries should be down to 5-10% capacity. That’s not a lot of margin for error, so every pound counts. According to his twitter feed, he’ll have 2.5 kilograms (5 1/2 pounds) of food and 3.5 litres (roughly 7 1/2 US pints) of water per day aboard the ultra-lightweight aircraft, which will also be holding onto a parachute and inflatable life-raft in case 5% is enough of a margin for error. It’s going to be incredibly mentally taxing, even for Borschberg, who flew a previous version of the craft for over twenty-four hours back in 2010. As Gizmodo puts it, “If Borschberg exits the craft later this week with his sanity, we’ll know he’s more machine than man.” Check out the Guardian, Gizmodo, and the Solar Impulse website for more on the story.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, the captain’s chair/bed also does triple duty as a toilet.

Photo: Flickr user Robert Scoble, CC BY 2.0
Photo: Flickr user Robert Scoble, CC BY 2.0

Google I/O

The annual “Google I/O” took place this week, and thankfully a lot of tech journalists went and sat through the whole thing so you and I didn’t have to. TechCrunch has an “Everything You Need to Know From Today’s Google I/O Keynote” post that covers the highs and lows in 25 slides, Android Central boils it down to “The 10 Most Important Things,” and if you like your info in podcast format, might I recommend Wired podcast Gadget Lab’s coverage of the event. The more interesting point from my perspective is that Android M is coming, and it’s bringing a lot of small but positive changes with it, like asking for app permissions one at a time as they’re required, not all at once when you install. A big deal was made about Android Pay, HBO Go coming to Android, and coming USB-C support and fingerprint recognition, but even I saw those coming from a mile off. Less expected was the announcement of Project Vault, which puts a host of encryption and security tools into the form factor of a microSD card, and will hopefully lead to more secure digital communications when it’s done. Check out the links above, as well as these two from TechCrunch and CNet on Project Vault for more.

InSight, Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin
InSight, Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin


This week, Gizmodo posted a series of photos of a mission I’d forgotten about: NASA’s InSight mission to Mars. Originally named GEMS, the Geophysical Monitoring Station, it was renamed InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) in 2012. It’s a stationary lander, and its host of instruments — including a seismometer, a five-meter-deep surface heat transfer probe, a doppler-shift radio measuring instrument to track planetary “wobble,” and a pair of sophisticated cameras — is designed to learn all about what’s going on under the surface of the red planet. It’s set to launch and land in March and September of next year, too, so while we’re still busy fawning over the latest and greatest data that will be gathered this year about Ceres and Pluto — which will probably go on for years, if we’re being honest — InSight will be quietly bringing us more data about our little red neighbour. For more, check out Gizmodo and the InSight mission’s website at NASA.

Best of the Rest

There were a lot of little stories this week, too:

And before you go, check out this link to a crazy-cool black hole visualizer. You can even choose where you want to look as you orbit, face forward, or stare into the unending abyss — your choice!

That’s all for today. Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter, and have a great week.