How Cutting-Edge Technology & Science Are Powering The Future TPM Idealab

By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- A private rocket is poised to blast off on a supply run to the International Space Station.

The unmanned Falcon rocket is owned by the SpaceX company. The Dragon capsule on board is filled with more than a ton of space station supplies and experiments.

Good weather is forecast for the 10:10 a.m. liftoff Friday from Cape Canaveral, Fla. It's a one-second launch window.

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BEIJING (AP) -- China will send three astronauts to its orbiting space station this summer in a mission that's part of preparations to establish an even larger permanent presence above Earth.

The Shenzhou 10 spacecraft will take flight sometime between June and August, the country's manned space program said in its statement Thursday. The craft will deliver its crew to the Tiangong 1, where the trio will spend two weeks conducting tests of the station's docking system and its systems for supporting life and carrying out scientific work.

Two Chinese spacecraft, one of them manned, have docked already with Tiangong 1 since it was launched in September 2011. China has been extremely cautious and methodical in its manned missions, while hoping to avoid accidents and loss of life that could tarnish one of the nation's most successful and prestigious scientific and engineering undertakings.

The station is to be replaced in around 2020 with a permanent space station that will weigh about 60 tons, slightly smaller than NASA's Skylab of the 1970s and about one-sixth the size of the 16-nation International Space Station. China was barred from participating in the International Space Station, largely on objections from the United States over political differences and the Chinese program's close military links.

China's ambitious space goals also include plans for sending a rover to the moon, possibly followed by a manned lunar mission. China's manned space program launched its first astronaut, Yang Liwei, into space in 2003, becoming the third nation after Russia and the U.S. to achieve that feat. The upcoming mission would be China's fifth manned space flight.

China would also be the third country after the United States and Russia to send independently maintained space stations into orbit.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- The International Space Station is about to get another commercial shipment.

The California company known as SpaceX is set to launch its unmanned Falcon rocket on Friday morning, hoisting a Dragon capsule containing more than a ton of food, tools, computer hardware and science experiments.

There won't be any ice cream, though, for the six-man station crew. The freezers going up are filled with mouse stem cells, protein crystals and other research items. On the previous Dragon delivery in October, chocolate-vanilla swirl was tucked inside.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said snacks straight from the orchard of an employee's father are on board -- and not just apples.

"It's a little bit healthier, I think, than the one that NASA sent last time," she told reporters on the eve of the flight.

Forecasters put the odds of good weather at 80 percent. Launch time is 10:10 a.m.

This will be the third space station visit for SpaceX, or more formally Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the creation of Elon Musk of PayPal and Tesla electric carmaker fame.

NASA is paying the company to supply the orbiting lab; the contract is worth $1.6 billion for 12 delivery runs.

If launched Friday, the Dragon should arrive at the space station on Saturday morning. Astronauts will use the station's robot arm to grab the Dragon and attach it to the orbiting complex.

A variety of plant life is going up, including 640 seeds of mouse-ear cress, a small flowering weed used in research. Other experiments involve paint; high school students want to see how it will adhere and dry in space.

Russia, Europe and Japan also provide delivery services to the space station, but none of those cargo craft can return goods like the SpaceX Dragon. This latest Dragon will spend more than three weeks at the space station before departing and parachuting into the Pacific with a full load of medical specimens, fish, plants and old equipment.

NASA's shuttles used to be the main haulers up and down, but retired two years ago.

Orbital Sciences Corp., a cargo-flying competitor, hopes to launch its first orbital test flight from Wallops Island, Va., in April, followed by an actual demo mission to the space station in early summer.

SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, Calif., is working to modify its Dragon capsules to transport astronauts to the station in another few years. A handful of U.S. companies are vying for the job.

Until then, NASA is buying seats for its astronauts on Russian Soyuz rockets to get to the station.

As is his custom, Musk will monitor the launch from SpaceX Mission Control in California.

The company said it's resolved the problem that caused one of the nine first-stage engines to shut down prematurely shortly after liftoff last October. A private Orbcomm satellite that was also on the rocket ended up in a lower-than-desired orbit and burned up upon re-entry.

A flaw in the engine jacket was to blame, Shotwell said, declining to provide further details.

The main payload, the Dragon capsule, had no trouble reaching the space station; it was even a little early.

Shotwell stressed that the rocket is built to withstand an engine loss, "and though you never necessarily want to see it happen, it's nice that we've demonstrated the vehicle as it was designed."

NASA space station program manager Mike Suffredini said he's satisfied with the engineering analysis by SpaceX.

This Falcon is not carrying a commercial satellite.

By ALICIA CHANG, AP Science Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- There's a new spin on supermassive black holes: They're incredibly fast, astronomers say.

It's long been suspected that gigantic black holes lurking in the heart of galaxies rotate faster and grow larger as they feast on gas, dust, stars and matter. But there hasn't been a reliable measurement of the spin rate of a black hole until now.

While black holes are difficult to detect, the region around them gives off telltale X-rays. Using NASA's newly launched NuStar telescope and the European Space Agency's workhorse XMM-Newton, an international team observed high-energy X-rays released by a supermassive black hole in the middle of a nearby galaxy.

They calculated its spin at close to the speed of light -- 670 million mph.

This is the first "unambiguous measurement of the spin rate" of a supermassive black hole, University of Maryland astronomer Christopher Reynolds, who had no role in the research, wrote in an accompanying editorial.

Behemoth black holes -- with masses millions to billions times that of the sun -- are thought to reside in every galactic center. They're extremely dense and possess such powerful gravitational tug that not even light can escape.

Scientists are able to pinpoint these monstrous objects from the streams of X-rays emitted during a feeding frenzy. Knowing how fast -- or slow -- supermassive black holes swirl can help shed light on their growth.

For several days last summer, the two telescopes simultaneously tracked an immense black hole in a spiral galaxy called NGC 1365. The galaxy was chosen because it was 60 million light years away -- relatively close by astronomical standards.

Results were published in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

So how fast is the black hole at the center of our Milky Way spinning?

It's tough to know because our galaxy's supermassive black hole isn't as active as the observed one, said lead researcher Guido Risaliti of Italy's Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory.

Aside from occasional flares, hardly any radiation flows from our black hole, making it difficult to calculate its spin, Risaliti said.

Maryland's Reynolds said it's clear that some supermassive black holes rotate very rapidly and there's a need for more powerful X-ray space telescopes.

"We are learning about some of the most exotic and powerful objects in the universe," he said in an email. "This is cool science."

Google on Wednesday gave the world an extensive look at what using their hi-tech computerized glasses, known as Project Glass, would actually feel like.

A new video shown below highlights numerous activities from a first-person perspective, while simultaneously being able to take a picture or video, send a text message, hold a Google Hangout or check your calendar. Perhaps most interesting, however, is the ability to follow travel directions in real time.

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The Chinese government is directly aiding thousands of computer attacks against western companies and defence groups by top-level hackers based in Shanghai, according to a new study which warns that they have stolen vast amounts of data from their targets.

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A massive meteor that exploded over central Russia on Friday and left nearly 1,000 people injured was recorded by scores of amateur videographers.

The clips -- recorded from the dashboards of vehicles, backyards and inside buildings -- show an otherworldly beam of light streaking across the sky, with some even capturing the unnerving sound of the blast.

TPM compiled some of the most striking videos out there:

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Golly.

Turns out nothing ignites the Internet quite like a rapid-fire online spat between Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk and The New York Times, the Grey Lady of establishment journalism.

Like many such controversies, common ground turns out to be easier to find than you might think: It's a fact that electric-car range falls in colder temperatures.

The details, however, show claims in the Times article are contradicted by the data logs of the Tesla Model S in question--raising disturbing questions about the accuracy of a widely-read article in one of the nation's premier newspapers.

Let's recap.

Winter trip falls short

It all started with a piece in last Sunday's Times with the ominous title Stalled Out on Tesla's Electric Highway. It was written by John Broder, who reports on energy and the environment for the paper.

He described his attempt to drive a Tesla Model S all-electric luxury sport sedan from Washington, D.C., to Boston, using the new SuperCharger network of DC fast-charging stations now being rolled out by Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA].

Spoiler alert: He didn't make it.

He didn't much enjoy the drive either.

Read the article for details, and don't miss the snazzy map graphic that accompanies it.

Ironically, the article was proposed to the Times by Musk himself because he'd liked its earlier long-distance Model S drive report, Charging Ahead on an Electric Highway, which covered a 531-mile journey from Lake Tahoe to Los Angeles last September.

Musk tweets back (of course)

Musk wasn't nearly so fond of Broder's article.

Monday he fired out three tweets (1, 2, and 3) calling the article "fake," saying Broder didn't fully recharge the battery pack and that he took a "long detour" he hadn't written about.

'Revenge of the Electric Car' premiere: Elon Musk arrives in a Tesla Roadster

Musk promised a blog post from Tesla Motors, with further details from the car's data log, would be "coming soon." Data logging, he noted, has to be approved by customers, but it's always turned on for journalists.

Tesla also plans, Musk said on Monday, to invite other journalists to replicate the trip.

Media piled on

Later Monday, Musk tweeted a more conciliatory message, saying he was "not against [The New York Times] in general" and that the paper was "usually fair," linking to its September piece on the California drive.

By the end of Monday, Musk had appeared on CNBC calling the article "unreasonable," and New York magazine had noted the drop in Tesla Motors stock price.

Even The Atlantic--that bastion of the liberal East Coast chattering-class media elite--criticized Musk's critiques of the article, saying they weren't helping Tesla.

Author responds

Then, Tuesday afternoon, Broder published a lengthy post on the Times Wheels blog in which he responded to Musk's tweeted claims.

2012 Tesla Model S

He noted that the car's dash display had said "Charging Complete" at a pack capacity of 90 percent, and that he wasn't told he should also switch to "Max Range" setting and wait another half-hour or so to add the last 10 percent of capacity--which shortens battery life.

To maximize battery life, the Tesla limits recharging to 80 or 90 percent of total pack capacity (reducing range) unless the driver specifically directs it to do otherwise. The "Max Range" setting provides the highest possible range for road trips and/or cold temperatures.

Broder claims his "long detour" was a brief stop in Manhattan that added just 2 miles to total distance.

The real crux of the problem came from an overnight cold soak at a hotel stop in Groton, Connecticut, where he awoke to 10-degree temperatures.

Broder parked the Model S with 90 miles remaining, and awoke to find it showing 25 miles--which fell to 19 miles after he conditioned the battery for 30 minutes at the direction of a Tesla employee.

Things degenerated from there.

Not plugged in overnight

"Virtually everyone says that I should have plugged in the car overnight in Connecticut, particularly given the cold temperature," Broder writes in his followup.

Plugging in the car overnight, even on 110-Volt power, lets the Tesla Model S use grid power to warm its battery pack, keeping it at a temperature that maximizes range.

He then defends his decision not to do so by noting that he was supposed to be testing the SuperCharger network--and that the car showed sufficient range to return to the nearest SuperCharger location.

2012 Tesla Model S

"This evaluation was intended to demonstrate [the Model S's] practicality as a 'normal use,' no-compromise car, as Tesla markets it," he continues.

And he sneers at the idea that Model S buyers will all be "electric-car acolytes who will plug in at every Walmart stop," if Tesla expects to be a "mass-market automaker."

We find that line of reasoning a little disingenuous with the Tesla Model S on sale less than a year. 

Electric cars are still an almost unknown quantity among mass-market buyers--who generally don't look at luxury sport sedans whose prices start at $59,900 and can reach $100,000 anyhow.

Data logs, graphs, maps, and annotations

Late last night, the Tesla Motors post, A Most Peculiar Test Drive, finally appeared with Musk's name as author--scooped merely minutes beforehand by the Wired Autopia blog.

2012 Tesla Model S

It told the story with some remarkably different details.

Musk dives in by saying Broder's article "does not factually represent Tesla technology, which is designed and tested to operate well in both hot and cold climates."

And, he notes, "About half of all Tesla Roadster and Model S customers drive in temperatures well below freezing in winter."

'Never had a chance'?

The data logs for Broder's car show, Musk writes, "that our Model S never had a chance with John Broder."

Then Tesla dives into nine separate points where it says the data logs contradict Broder's published claims, among them:

  • Cruise control was never set at 54 mph, as claimed; the majority of the trip was done at 65 to 81 mph
  • When Broder claims to have turned down the cabin temperature, the logs show he turned it up to 74 degrees F
  • Broder's time at the SuperCharger station was 47 minutes, not 58 minutes as claimed; those 11 extra minutes could have delivered enough range for the rest of his journey
  • Broder was directed by Tesla to charge the car fully at that point, but he left with the battery at just 72 percent capacity

The post includes five data-log graphs, an annotated version of the original New York Times infographic, an annotated route map, and a map showing all chargers en route.

Disturbing discrepancies

The post also suggests at several points that Broder's motives were less than unbiased: "When the Model S valiantly refused to die, he eventually plugged it in. On the later legs, it is clear Broder was determined not to be foiled again."

The discrepancies raised in Tesla's post, if accurate, are deeply disturbing.

Speed log from Tesla Model S trip conducted by John Broder, The New York Times [from Tesla Motors]

They appear to indicate that Broder's article was not factual on numerous points. That means that either his reporting and note-taking were sloppy, at best, or that he omitted or concealed relevant facts that would add important context to his claims.

We expect--and eagerly await--a rebuttal from Broder, The New York Times, or both.

Whether the newspaper will consider the discrepancies serious enough to warrant an internal inquiry remains to be seen.

[UPDATE: As of 9:45 am Thursday, it appears that The New York Times is preparing a response to the Tesla post. What form that will take--whether it's merely an update to Broder's Tuesday blog post, or something more substantial--remains to be seen.]

"Please note, no one from Tesla - including Elon - will be providing additional comment on this topic moving forward, as we feel the blog speaks for itself," wrote Tesla communications manager Shanna Hendriks in a note to journalists.

"At this time, this post is the company's final statement on the issue."

Winter weather tough on range

To be fair, electric-car range does suffer greatly in cold temperatures.

2012 Tesla Model S

Broder's article underscores that point, whether or not it was accurate in the details.

We'd argue that Tesla Motors should perhaps have thought through the implications of doing a DC-to-Boston trip during the coldest months of the year.

It's not that a Model S with the largest 85-kilowatt-hour battery pack can't make it--but it will have to recharge more frequently when temperatures are colder.

Broder says Musk told him in a phone call that "the East Coast charging stations should be 140 miles apart, not 200 miles" to account for "traffic and temperature extremes in this part of the country." Musk confirmed that Monday in another tweet.

Reduced winter range is a useful piece of knowledge that every buyer of a plug-in car should know, just as hybrid buyers have learned that their gas mileage falls in the winter because their cars run less frequently on battery power.

Tips to extend winter range in electric cars will become common, but the facts of physics dictate that plug-in electric cars will perform better in temperate California cities than in icy Alaska.

Luckily, California is projected to buy more plug-in cars than the next five states combined.

'Dismal' state of electric cars?

Suspicion of Broder's motives has been quite evident in discussions among electric-car advocates, based on his only other published Times piece that addressed electric cars.

2012 Tesla Model S

The March 2012 news analysis was titled, The Electric Car, Unplugged, and included such claims as this: "The state of the electric car is dismal, the victim of hyped expectations, technological flops, high costs and a hostile political climate."

In our view, Broder is right that plug-in electric cars were severely overhyped--and that a portion of the political spectrum used them as a tool to attack its opposition.

But for a reporter who covers energy and the environment, the piece last year betrays a rather serious lack of awareness of how the auto industry works, the many technological approaches that it will take to meet increasingly stiff emissions requirements, and how new auto technologies roll out to consumers over many years.

Tesla Motors apparently did not know of Broder's prior piece.

"We did not think to read his past articles and were unaware of his outright disdain for electric cars," Musk wrote on the Tesla Motors site.

"We were played for a fool and as a result, let down the cause of electric vehicles. For that, I am deeply sorry."

Sales will grow, slowly

Plug-in electric cars will remain a small but growing portion of total production (nearing 100 million vehicles a year globally) for the next decade.

But sales will increase--in the U.S., last year they tripled the previous year's level--and consumers will gradually come to understand where electric cars are most appropriate (daily errands, predictable commutes, short-distance trips) and where they're not (driving across the country).

Tesla won't grow to the size of Toyota or General Motors or Volkswagen any time soon, but it doesn't need to.

2012 Nissan Leaf winter test

And within two decades, consumers will understand that driving electric cars is a better experience than exploding air mixed with refined dead dinosaurs in increasingly complex engines.

But that all takes time.

The future has arrived

And coverage like Broder's trip report actually helps that process, even if some advocates perceive it in the short run as overly critical or biased.

After all, just 15 years ago in 1998, with the EV1 launching in California, the notion of an all-electric five-passenger luxury sport sedan that could even attempt a DC-to-Boston trip using a network of DC quick-charging stations would have been science fiction.

In other words, bits of the future are starting to reveal themselves despite hiccups along the way.

Now can't we all just get along?

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This story originally appeared at Green Car Reports

GreenCarReports is the source for news on the leaner, more efficient cars of tomorrow-and today. The site reports on what's coming in the auto industry's future, demonstrates how cars are moving beyond fossil fuels, and explains how the green movement matters to car shoppers today.

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Twitter has begun conducting online surveys of visitors to its homepage, Twitter.com, in order to get a sense of how they use the website and whether or not they'll be returning any time soon.

The 5-minute survey includes 10 questions in total, such as "How did you come to Twitter today?" "Do you have an account on Twitter?" and "How likely are you to visit Twitter again?"

Twitter confirmed to TPM that the survey is being conducted by a division with its company, Twitter Research, but declined to elaborate on when the surveying began, how many visitors to the Twitter homepage are being surveyed, and what triggers the survey prompt to appear for certain users in the first place.

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The U.S. Justice Department's landmark 2012 antitrust lawsuit against major publishing companies over alleged e-books price collusion has been narrowed to target only Apple, after the last publishing company that was still contesting the charges, Macmillan, agreed to settle on Friday.

The Justice Dept. in April 2012 originally accused Apple and five publishing companies --  Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster-- of banding together to set the price of e-books sold through Apple's iBookstore and other online stores (namely Amazon) higher than Amazon's preferred previously established e-book price of $9.99, in violation of federal antitrust law.

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