April 16, 2013

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Passes Key Flight Test – The Daily Orbit

The smartwatch race gets a new contender.

Flagging wars on the North Pole.

Should companies be allowed to patent DNA?

And getting galactic on today’s Daily Orbit!

Hello and welcome to the Daily Orbit. I’m Emerald Robinson.

Virgin is getting seriously close to putting the Galactic in Virgin Galactic. The company happily announced that its SpaceShipTwo achieved a spectacular “Cold Flow” flight over the Mojave Desert. The spaceship was carried underneath the WhiteKnightTwo carrier plane, which rose to an altitude of about 50,000 feet before releasing SpaceShipTwo. The “Cold Flow” procedure is when oxidizer flows through the propulsion system and out the nozzle at the rear of the vehicle. They say this is evidence that the rocket system is ready for the first powered flight test on April 22. Virgin Galactic has sold 500 tickets for the inaugural flight of WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo. Among the passengers will be Ashton Kutcher. He can be my White Knight

And then there were four. Looks like Microsoft will be joining the smartwatch race. Rumors have already been flying concerning Apple, Google, and Samsung and their ambitions for the next generation of watches a la smartphones. Though Microsoft remains mum, The Wall Street Journal reported that the company began working on potential designs earlier this year and is already ordering components for the rumored device. Analysts say that Microsoft joining the game is future proof that “wearable computing” is the next wave in technology. Microsoft is like “nu-uh! We ain’t getting left behind!”

And speaking of left behind, Russia wanted to make sure it was not left behind—claiming the energy riches of the Arctic by planting a flag at the North Pole in 2007. But a move by environmentalists, backed by Greenpeace, is saying hold up Russia—the Arctic should be a “global sanctuary” that is “free from exploitation.” The group planted their own flag—a “Flag for the Future” and buried a time capsule in the seabed that contained the signatures of nearly three million people who oppose exploitation of the Arctic, that could result as melting sea ice opens up the possibility for additional oil and gas drilling. The group of young activists made a week long trek across the frozen ocean, fighting winds and freezing temperatures to hold their ceremony at the North Pole. They said “this is a collective responsibility. It’s up to all of us, and especially the youth, to change the way that humanity treats this amazing planet we love and rely on so completely.” Kudos for your determination!

And certain medical companies are determined to keep their rights to the genetic discoveries they’ve made. The US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this week in a case that could determine whether or not human DNA can be patented. Patents have already been given for 1/5 of the human genome to companies and universities, but the ACLU and the Public Patent Foundation are challenging that…specifically in the case of a pair of genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer. The ACLU is arguing that since DNA is natural, it cannot be patented, whereas the opposition says these genes have been isolated and are therefore a product of human ingenuity—and able to be patented under the US Patent Act. Other oppositions of genome patenting say that it might thwart scientific research and it may harm patients. One critic said “How is it possible that my doctor cannot look at my DNA without being concerned about patent infringement? Can I just patent my DNA myself so there won’t be a problem?

[ baby crying ] “Go to sleep, go to sleep…” [ baby stops crying ] Ha! Here’s further proof that music is good medicine. New research says that premature babies benefit from music, whether played or sung. They found it slows the infants’ heartbeats, calms breathing, improves sucking behaviors, aids sleep and promotes states of alertness. Parents saw the benefit too as the enhanced bonding decreased the stress associated with premature infant care. [ Emerald asleep ] Huh? Guess it doesn’t just work on babies.

Well, that does it for the Daily Orbit! Twinkle twinkle little star.

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