February 22nd, 2013
03:11 PM ET

Astronauts chat in Google+ Hangout

NASA hosted its first Google+ Hangout with astronauts on the International Space Station, allowing Earthly onlookers to ask questions by video.

Astronauts Kevin Ford, Chris Hadfield and Tom Marshburn answered questions, such as how they prepare for medical emergencies.

The answer is that they have on-board medical kits with everything from aspirin to an IV to a defibrillator. But if there were a real problem with one of the crew members, the Soyuz shuttle would act as an ambulance, they said.

The clip above shows the part of the video chat about dealing with medical problems. NASA also posted the full conversation, lasting more than an hour, on YouTube:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8LI5JiWEfs&feature=youtu.be%5D

Read about this in Spanish on CNN Mexico

More from Light Years: Peter Gabriel hears his song from space

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Science Seat: Meet a climate change scientist
Chris Field studies climate change at the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology.
February 22nd, 2013
07:00 AM ET

Science Seat: Meet a climate change scientist

By Zaina Adamu, CNN

Editor's note: The Science Seat is a feature in which CNN Light Years sits down with movers and shakers from many different areas of scientific exploration. This is the third installment.

Thousands of families were left devastated when Superstorm Sandy destroyed their homes in October. When it comes to these extreme climate events, according to Chris Field, founding director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology, the worst is yet to come.

Field is also a professor of biology and environmental earth system science at Stanford University and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change delegation that won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He holds a doctorate from Stanford University.

CNN Light Years spoke with Field before he headed to Boston for the recent American Association for the Advancement of Science conference. Here is a transcript, edited for brevity and clarity:


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What's special about nanotechnology
Rizia Bardhan studies nanotechnology at Vanderbilt University.
January 25th, 2013
05:37 PM ET

What's special about nanotechnology

By Matthew Rehbein, CNN

At 29, Rizia Bardhan is already making her mark on one of the scientific community’s most exciting and fastest-growing disciplines: nanotechnology. Researchers in this field are innovating on scales that seem impossibly small: One nanometer is just a fraction of the width of a human hair.

Last year Forbes listed Bardhan among its notable “30 Under 30 in Science & Innovation” for her work in nanotechnology. Bardhan accepted an assistant professor position at Vanderbilt University last August.

Bardhan spoke with CNN about her research in nanotechnology and about the tremendous advancements that are possible with it in the fields of medicine and energy. Here is an edited transcript:


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Mars rover landing engineer looks back
January 11th, 2013
10:02 AM ET

Mars rover landing engineer looks back

We recently had the pleasure of chatting with Miguel San Martin, chief engineer for Guidance, Navigation, and Control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he has worked on four Mars spacecraft. On Twitter he's @MigOnMars.

In case you're just tuning in: On August 6 (it was still August 5 on the West Coast), the Mars rover Curiosity landed on Mars amid enormous celebration among space enthusiasts. The one-ton rover put its wheels on Mars through a complicated process known as "seven minutes of terror." A supersonic parachute and a sky crane had to be utilized in order to safely get Curiosity there. The mission cost $2.5 billion.

San Martin, who worked on Curiosity's landing system, spoke in November at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta at a special Holy Innocents' Episcopal School event called "Pushing Boundaries." We caught up with him before he gave an inspiring talk to students, parents and faculty about his career. Here is an edited transcript:


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Use your phone to explore space
Use the NASA app to search for the newest images from the agency.
October 26th, 2012
12:01 AM ET

Use your phone to explore space

Did you know you could use your mobile device to keep up with what's going on in our universe? These apps will help you get the latest from NASA, identify that bright light in your sky, and land a space shuttle!

SkyView (iOS, $1.99)

SkyView uses an augmented reality engine to show you what's up in your sky. Hold up your device and explore what's around you. You can search for planets, stars, constellations and satellites, and tap an object for more information. Want to know when the International Space Station will be flying overhead, if that bright star in your sky is Jupiter, or when the moon will rise? This app's for you.

Mission Clock (iOS, $4.99)

Want to keep track of the latest launches and missions? Mission Clock contains a wealth of information on both upcoming missions and current ones: launch dates and locations, elapsed mission time, major goals and more. Set alerts to remind yourself of upcoming events, or to keep track of changes for upcoming launches.

F-Sim Shuttle Simulator (iOS and Android, $3.99)

Ever wanted to fly a space shuttle? The real thing may be retired, but you can still try your hand at re-entry and landing with the F-Sim Shuttle Simulator. You've got a ton of options for setting the difficulty of the flight, the landing site, night or day, weather...the list goes on.

And finally...

NASA (iOS and Android, free)

NASA has actually released a few mobile apps, but the core NASA app opens up a wealth of information about the space agency and its missions, not to mention beautiful imagery, Third Rock Radio, and video. Use it to watch NASA TV on the road, check out the latest tweets from NASA accounts, and find out more about the many space agency centers around the country.

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Overheard: What are those shiny objects on Mars?
October 23rd, 2012
10:58 AM ET

Overheard: What are those shiny objects on Mars?

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

Last week, NASA scientists announced that the Mars rover Curiosity had found something unexpected: small bright objects. These one-millimeter flecks didn't appear to originate from the rover, but rather from Mars itself. They could be part of the soil forming process, or they could be minerals cut in particular ways that make them look shiny in sunlight.

More than 550 people commented on this story. Most people had fun guessing what the shiny objects might be.


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Overheard: Tax dollars in space - worth it?
Should we pay to explore other planets? Readers have mixed views.
October 22nd, 2012
11:27 AM ET

Overheard: Tax dollars in space - worth it?

Comments on CNN Light Years consistently flood in about how the money spent on the space program isn't worth it. We often see the word "waste" in connection to the tax dollars that go toward exploring the rest of the universe beyond our planet.

So, we ran a story this weekend about what innovations space exploration has delivered. Examples included digital image processing used in medical scanning, GPS and state-of-the-art tires.

As expected, readers expressed a variety of opinions upon reading this story. Some were sympathetic with the viewpoint of the middle-class mother interviewed for the article, who cringes when she thinks about tax dollars going to NASA, and wishes she had more funding for her daughter's college tuition.


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Why are we biased against women in science?
October 1st, 2012
01:40 PM ET

Why are we biased against women in science?

Editor's note: Meg Urry is the Israel Munson professor of physics and astronomy and chairwoman of the department of physics at Yale University, where she is the director of the Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics.

(CNN) - In 2001, I became the first tenured female faculty member ever in Yale's physics department. Throughout my 30 years as a physicist, being the only woman in the room has been the norm. Women fill more than half of the jobs in the U.S. economy but constitute fewer than 12% of working physicists and engineers. For me and for others in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), the dearth of women is not news.

What was big news last week was a study, from colleagues in other departments at Yale, explaining why this deficiency of women persists.

Evidence shows that established scientists at top research universities - those choosing and training the next generation of STEM experts - unconsciously rate budding female scientists lower than men with identical credentials. They judge women less capable, less worthy of hiring and less deserving of mentoring. And they propose starting salaries that are on average 14% higher for men than for women.


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Neil Armstrong, through the eyes of his colleagues
September 12th, 2012
09:48 AM ET

Neil Armstrong, through the eyes of his colleagues

His family, in the statement they released upon his death, called Neil Armstrong a "reluctant hero." The fame bestowed upon him as the first human to walk on another world, by all accounts, weighed upon him. Throughout his life, Armstrong shied away from stardom and limelight.

But the men who worked beside him during those heady glory years of the moon race saw and knew a man none of us did. "A lot of guys could have done that," Walt Cunningham, who flew on Apollo 7, said of being the first human to walk on the moon. But Cunningham added emphatically, "Nobody in our group, nobody else could have handled the fame and glory that came his way."

The Apollo astronauts I spoke with all said of Armstrong that it was never about him. It was always about the team.


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JPL director: Visiting Mars a ‘question of national will’
August 31st, 2012
04:15 PM ET

JPL director: Visiting Mars a ‘question of national will’

August has been a busy month for Charles Elachi, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The rover Curiosity successfully landed on Mars on August 6, flawlessly executing the improbable acrobatics of touching down on the Red Planet intact. President Obama congratulated Elachi and colleagues on the achievement and complimented them on the coolness of “Mohawk Guy” on August 13. Curiosity also completed its test drive and passed many initial inspections.

This week, Elachi visited Atlanta’s Georgia Institute of Technology, where he signed an agreement with the school that will involve exchanging faculty, inviting students to JPL, and other collaborations.

Elachi sat down with CNN's Elizabeth Landau and Sophia Dengo for a chat about the future of space exploration. Here’s an edited transcript:

CNN: Curiosity’s on Mars now. What’s next?

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Director Charles Elachi: Clearly Curiosity showed the excitement of the public about doing these kind of things.

That’s one step in a long-term Mars exploration and planetary exploration program, which first would lead to bringing samples back. In a sense we are building the capability step by step.

If you go back 15 years, the first time we landed a rover on Mars it was called Sojourner. And it was about (the size of) a shoe box. So, just in this period, we moved from a shoebox to building a car-sized, one-ton rover landing on Mars, and being effectively a chemistry lab on wheels.

And the objective is to do detailed analyses of rocks on Mars to see if there are any organic materials, the ultimate thing we want to see is: Was Mars ever habitable? Did life evolve on Mars? Why it did or why it did not, and how does that compare to Earth?

In a sense you are doing an experiment of comparing those two planets which formed roughly at the same time… but they ended up going in different ways, and the question is: Why did that happen?

CNN: If Curiosity found life, what would happen?

Elachi: Clearly, that’s not the fundamental objective. We’re doing step by step, looking at the chemistry first. If you recall, (the previous rovers) Spirit and Opportunity’s focus was on geology, which led us to believe – the science community – to conclude that Mars actually had oceans many billions of years ago.

If there were oceans, could life have evolved? Curiosity is looking at the chemistry to see: Did we have the right ingredients?

Now, if we find life, even if we’re not expecting it, even if it’s dead life, that would be a huge kind of event. As of today, we know about life only on this planet. Conceptually we think it exists because of the size of the universe, but we don’t have any proof. That would be the discovery of the century, if we see anything like that.

CNN: Would the public know immediately?

Elachi: Oh sure. Our data is made available almost immediately to everybody. And that’s part of the excitement, is the engagement of the public in what we are doing. So, as you know, on the landing, night of the landing, just on the NASA landing, there were 14 million households watching that landing, even though it was 1:30 in the morning on the East Coast. That’s only on the NASA website. I’m going to guess at least 50 to 60 million people in the U.S. were watching that landing, and the excitement which went with it.

Just the e-mails I got within a few minutes from people even that I don’t know. Almost every e-mail had the word “inspirational” or “uplifting the spirit of what we are doing.” One person said he completely forgot about his debts about the day-to-day problems by watching something really inspirational.

Clearly, there is a lot of public engagement and public interest. The way we do that is to have the public feel like they are part of the exploration, they are with us day in and day out. And we’re doing this on behalf of the general public. That’s why our data, whatever we find out, is made available very quickly.

CNN: What are other targets for finding life?

Elachi: Key targets are the where we know water exists. If you have liquid water, that means the temperature is right – it’s between 0 degrees and 100 degrees centigrade. So the question is: If there are organic materials, could life evolve?

Of the places which have that characteristic, Europa is one of them. We believe there is an ocean below the surface, that there is a layer of ice similar to what you have in the Arctic, but maybe a little bit thicker than it. A key question is: How thick is that ice on the surface and is there life in the ocean below?

We are looking at a mission that probably could go early next decade to actually completely map Europa (a moon of Jupiter). Do a sounding of the ice (analyzing echoes), see how thick it is, and then possibly in the future put a lander which could drill down or melt its way down in the ocean.

Enceladus (a moon of Saturn) is another exciting target because also we believe there are oceans below the surface because we see geysers like at Yellowstone except much bigger. Some people believe Titan (a moon of Saturn) might have an ocean also below the surface.

We think by exploring (these targets), we might be able to put a story about how life evolved in our solar system, and what are the environments that are amenable to life.

Also there is interest in a place like Venus, because Venus is similar to Earth size-wise and in distance to the sun, but it went in a completely different direction. The question is: Why did that happen? Is that because of a runaway greenhouse gas effect which happened which warmed the planet?

I think (exploring these places) would shed light about the past and potentially the future of our own planet. There is a direct connection to our day-to-day life here.

CNN: Do you think a person will visit Mars in your lifetime?

Elachi: I don’t know in my lifetime, maybe in your lifetime, you look younger than me. Yeah, I would say there is possibility in the next 20 or 30 years. There is a possibility of doing it. I think engineering-wise, we know how to do it to some level. We still need a lot of development and a few inventions to do that.

So at the end it would become a question of national will if we want to keep our exploration, expand our vision and expand our exploration in the next 20 to 30 years.

CNN: Tell us about InSight, which is launching in 2016

Elachi: The purpose of the InSight mission is to put a fixed lander, not a rover, which have a very sensitive seismometer. So the idea is to detect quakes on Mars. The reason that’s interesting is not only the quakes themselves, but the quakes because they propagate through the side of the planet, it will allow us to get a picture of the internal structure: the core, crust, and be able to compare it to Earth. Most of our information about the Earth’s internal structure comes from earthquakes, by seeing how earthquakes propagate and so on.

It will be sitting there for two years actually listening (for seismic waves). An internal probe (a drill) will go down five feet and will measure the heat flow, heat coming from the inside of Mars (to the surface).

CNN: Do you think there is life elsewhere?

Elachi: There is no reason why not. You have literally billions of stars, probably billions of planets, there’s going to be a fair number of them which have similar environments and the laws of chemistry and physics and biology are the same.

It would be amazing if we don’t find it, but as scientists we have to prove it, but we have to actually observe it to prove it. And then it would be interesting to see: did it evolve like our life?

CNN: Are you afraid that the United States is going to lose its place in the space race?

Elachi: It’s always a challenge. I say, it’s extremely hard to be No. 1 and to stay No. 1, because then you have to keep running faster than anybody else. It’s easy to be No. 3 and No. 2. But if you are No. 1, you have to really make a strong investment in education, in technology, in being bold in your vision, to stay at No. 1. So, I sure hope that the leadership of our country and the general population see the values that science and technology have brought to our lives.

That’s what made us economically so powerful, because we are by far the best technologically, and space exploration was a trigger in making that happen.

I remember when we did the Apollo landing, that’s what triggered a lot of people to be inspired. So hopefully the mission like this Mars mission or future planetary exploration and astrophysics will inspire young people about wanting to do these kinds of daring things.

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