Failure to Launch
This morning’s scheduled resupply mission to the International Space Station has ended in a hail of debris over the Atlantic Ocean. Roughly two and a half minutes into the flight of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, according to Elon Musk, “there was an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank.” While there was some online speculation that the US Air Force triggered the auto-destruct after this initial event, in the NASA press conference this afternoon SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell indicated that that she had not heard that that was the case. Either way, this marks the first major failure for SpaceX’s Falcon 9, and the latest in a string of problems in getting supplies to the ISS, after the destruction of the Russian Progress capsule in April and the destruction of the Orbital Sciences resupply mission last fall. There is a Progress launch scheduled for July 3 which should hopefully make up for any shortfalls in terms of supplies, but the lesson seems to be that, as William Gerstenmaier said in this afternoon’s NASA press conference, spaceflight “is not easy, and it is not routine.”
New Horizons Update
NASA’s New Horizon’s probe is now just under 19 million km from Pluto, and is closing the gap at a phenomenal speed. According to the countdown timer on the New Horizons blog, we’ve still got nearly sixteen days until closest approach, and we’re already getting better pictures of the dwarf planet than we’ve ever had before. Surface features are already beginning to appear on both Pluto and its “moon” Charon (though given how similar they are in size, to the point that the two of them spin around a shared center of gravity, perhaps moon isn’t the right term). Check out the video below to watch them in action. You can also check out this article over at the Washington Post to see why we’re so excited. And foc ourse check out the New Horizons blog for up-to-date information as the mission continues.
The Verge is reporting this week that UK-based Malloy Aeronautics have opened a branch in Maryland in the US after signing a deal with the US Department of Defense to develop their hoverbike technology for military applications. Bear in mind, now, that this isn’t the same hoverbike we saw on the internet a few years back, the Aerofex Aero-X, meaning there are at least two companies with working hoverbike prototypes. Fans of Star Wars, then, you have your answer: sooner or later, you will get your speeder bike — even if it uses propellers and not whatever a “repulsorlift” is.
In related news, if two or four rotors isn’t enough, how does eighteen sound? Check out the Volocopter, a two-seater personal aircraft designed to make commuting a breeze (at least until everyone gets one).
Bigger Than “Network”
According to Variety, a new analysis by FBR Capital Markets suggests that by next year Netflix will have a share of the 24-hour viewership as big or bigger than any of the major traditional networks, ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC. While they point out that the study isn’t exactly comparative — it doesn’t take into account online viewership for the networks, for example — the fact that the upstart streaming company has captured such a large share of the US viewership is remarkable. It’s hard not to notice, after watching made-for-Netflix series like Daredevil, Orange Is The New Black, House of Cards, and the new series by the Wachowskis, Sense8, that Netflix is on the rise. Check out the details at Variety.
Another major streaming service, Hulu, just announced a deal with Showtime this week. Under the terms of the deal, Hulu will offer Showtime’s original programming commercial free for an additional monthly fee. At an additional $8.99 — bringing the Hulu-Showtime combination to $16.98 — it’s making the HBO-only “HBO Now” offering ($15.99 for just HBO content) look pretty expensive by comparison.
Supreme Court News
Last but certainly not least, while by this point I’m sure you’ve heard, I’d be remiss in not including this week’s wonderful news out of the US Supreme Court. As of Friday, Gay Marriage (or, as I think many of us will soon come to call it, “marriage”) has become the law of the land in all fifty states. The thirteen states which had legislative bans in place have had those overturned on the grounds that they are unconstitutional. You can read the full majority opinion here. And if I may editorialize for just a moment: hell yeah, it’s about time America.
In related news, the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”) has also failed, and you can read that majority opinion here.
Best of the Rest
Here are a few things I didn’t get to this week:
- Lexus made a hoverboard (though we don’t really know if it can hold someone up)
- The US military is now taking care of roadside bombs with lasers, and
- The 2015 Locus award winners have been announced, adding yet more science fiction to the list of books I have to read.