Thursday, December 9, 2010

SpaceX's Big Step

The Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, much more widely known by its abbreviated moniker SpaceX, reached a major milestone on December 8th: it launched, orbited, and recovered its unmanned Dragon capsule in its first full test flight. More details can be found in THIS linked article at the DISCOVERY magazine website.

This is significant as its the first private company to achieve this feat--successfully recovering an orbital spacecraft. This paves the way for it to make unmanned cargo runs to the Space Station and for the Dragon design to maybe eventually carry astronauts to Earth orbit as well. Here's hoping for their continued success in the future!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I For One Welcome Our New Arsenic-Loving Microbial Overlords

The big news going around scientific circles is the GFAJ-1 strain of bacteria discovered at Mono Lake in California. It was artificially manipulated into accepting arsenic as a substitute for phosphorus. A much more detailed write-up on the development can be found IN THIS DISCOVERY MAGAZINE BLOG.

While the discovery is not as world-shaking as some sources have hyped it, it is still huge. This strain of bacteria is doing something no other lifeform has ever been seen doing: using am element besides phosphorus for its driving energy. It hints at just how life can evolve and adapt to extreme conditions beyond anything we previously thought possible. As many others have pointed out, this indicates that extraterrestrial life, if ever found, could take radically different forms than we've previously assumed (outside of science fiction, of course.)

Anyway, I'll be following developments of this story with interest; its easily the biggest discovery at the frontiers of biology since the extremophiles found at volcanic vents at the ocean floor.