There’s tons of news this week, including the FDA approval of GM salmon, three stories about SpaceX, and the first Bitcoin debit card in America. Read on!
This week, the US FDA at long last approved a genetically modified fish for human consumption. The AquAdvantage Salmon™ was designed by a little-known company calling itself AquaBounty, a subsidiary of Intrexon (which also invests in other GM products), and was submitted for FDA approval in 1995. It was deemed safe (after extensive testing) in 2010, and they’ve spent the last five years jumping through more regulatory hurdles and addressing any potential weaknesses in the studies that showed its safety. The GM salmon has genes from other fish — most notably a gene that allows it to respond to a naturally-occurring growth hormone better, meaning they get to full adult weight about 25% faster (meaning 25% less feed). The company boasts about its inland, self-contained, and sustainable fish farming methods, noting also that the fish is grown without antibiotics. Of course the anti-GMO crazies are all over it, but when you look at their arguments, like William Saletan does over at Slate, you realize they don’t hold water. This is a huge step forward for the fish-farming industry and for sustainable consumption, even if it’s only a tiny fraction of fish eaten in the US (so far).
Three pieces of SpaceX news hit the internet this week, all good for the company that’s been a little on the rocks since the explosion of its last rocket at the end of June. In the first place, SpaceNews is reporting that United Launch Alliance (ULA) — a Boeing/Lockheed-Martin rocketry company basically set up to compete for contracts with SpaceX when NASA decided to start outsourcing the launching of rockets as well as the production of their parts — has decided not to compete for a block-buy contract for the US military. This is interesting because it leaves SpaceX as the “last man standing” as it were, with the only bid in place for the contract. ULA decided it could not compete for the contract after the Pentagon denied the company a waiver to allow it to use Russian-made RD-180 engines as a part of its bid. The move followed a ban on purchasing the engines passed by Congress earlier this year, and the contract is set to be awarded in March. The second piece of news is that SpaceX has received its first “order” for a crewed flight to the International Space Station, one of four guaranteed under the CCtCap contracts won by SpaceX and Boeing. It’s still unclear which company will be assigned to fly the first commercial crew mission, but the timeframe is for late 2017, so we’ll see how it develops. Finally, the good folks over at reddit’s r/SpaceX community are abuzz over the arrival of the first stage of a Falcon 9 at Cape Canaveral ahead of the company’s Return To Flight (RTF) mission for Orbcomm. CEO of Orbcomm Marc Eisenberg has tweeted that the RTF date should be known next week (though whether we’ll know is another story). For now, we’re estimating a date in December.
Have you ever wondered “hey, how can I spend my bitcoins more easily?” well, wonder no more, because Coinbase has teamed up with Shift (who are teamed up with Visa… it’s an interesting chain) to bring its customers a debit card that withdraws from their Coinbase Bitcoin account. It’s an interesting idea: technically you’re still spending in dollars, but (for now at least) Coinbase isn’t charging a fee to customers for the format shifting (though Shift will be charging retailers, as is the case with all Visa debit transactions). So to you, it’ll look just like you’re buying things in Bitcoin. The hope seems to be that retailers will start to see paying with Bitcoin as normal, and perhaps see how many of their customers want to pay with Bitcoin. At which point, they might set up the infrastructure to accept Bitcoin without Visa fees. It’s a workaround that’s trying to eliminate itself, but in the meantime it’ll make money for everyone involved. Check out the Coinbase Blog and Wired for more.
UK Ditching Coal (by 2025)
As you may have noticed in my recent post on offshore wind, the UK is making serious investments in alternative and renewable energy sources. Now Engadget is reporting that the country has formally announced its plans to shutter all of its coal power plants by the year 2025. Coal currently accounts for 28% of its energy supply, so they’re going to have to continue to make substantial investments in the next ten years, or else find themselves short of electricity. That said, with a maximum potential offshore wind harvest of 2 Terrawatts (a rather larger sum than it’s current 60 Gigawatt peak usage), it’s certainly possible for them to make the shift, and more to do with economics than physics. The move comes as the country is also working to replace nearly its entire nuclear generation capacity with next-generation plants by 2023.
In case you missed it, we had another full week here at This Week In Tomorrow:
- On Monday I asked whether the Flat Earthers were serious
- On Tuesday I talked about the new Paris Attack “truthers”
- On Wednesday I talked about war for profit and the broken window fallacy
- On Thursday I talked about the not-terribly-paradoxical “obesity paradox,” and
- On Friday, Lindsey tackled the disturbingly underreported case of ex-police office and accused rapist Daniel Holtzclaw
If you missed any of them, be sure to check them out!
Best of the Rest
And because there are only so many hours in the day, here’s your weekly linkspam:
- Britain’s going to wage cyber-war on ISIS
- Ridley Scott spilled the beans over the first scene of the coming sequel to Blade Runner
- Some people have designed a handy torch that can burn through your deadbolt fast
- John Malkovitch has made a movie nobody will see for a hundred years
- Creationism is (ever so slowly) losing out in America
- Tesla has issued a voluntary recall for 90,000 cars because of a seatbelt issue
- ITER’s start date has been pushed back to 2025 at the earliest
- We’ve imaged planets forming for the first time ever, and
- Facebook has now made it easier to ignore your ex
And finally, here’s David Bowie’s latest, called “★” (pronounced “blackstar”), because he’s finally risen to the level of performance art.