Saving the ISS by hacking a toothbrush

 

We absolutely love these stories of hacker ingenuity saving peoples lives. In this case, it was aboard the ISS, and the item being hacked was a toothbrush.

The story is as follows. Some equipment failed, as space junk tends to do, and the astronauts found themselves needing to do some repairs. Upon inspection, they couldn’t remove some modules due to an accumulation of “space dust” around some bolts.  This was especially troubling as the unit in question was something that was supposed to route power from some of the solar arrays to the ISS. Even more troubling is that another unit failed while they were assessing the situation.

Realizing they had to act fast so as not to lose too much power to function, they cobbled together some tools to allow them to clean out the access ports and remove the units for repair. A task that sounds like an easy solution here on earth proved to be life threatening in space. Eventually though, their makeshift tools came to the rescue and they were able to repair and restore power.

CalTech’s manipulator-arm equipped robot

[Justin] wrote in to tell us about the rover which his CalTech team has entered in NASA’s Exploration Robo-Ops Competition. Their time to shine is later this week, but you can see some of the test footage after the break.

The operator pictured above is using a controller which is a scale model of the manipulator arm, with two cameras giving feedback. One of those monitors shows a feed from the arm itself, providing a view of the gripper. The other feed is a wide shot of the working area from the body of the robot. The arm has six degrees of freedom actuated by servo motors. The controller is a replica of the arm laser cut from acrylic. At each joint there’s a potentiometer whose value is used to establish the position of the frame.

At first we thought that this would be more fatiguing and less convenient than using a gaming controller. But as we look at the dexterity of the arm it becomes obvious that joysticks and buttons would just make things more difficult.

Continue reading “CalTech’s manipulator-arm equipped robot”

SpaceX finally launches, [Scotty] makes it to space.

We’ve been eagerly anticipating the first launch of our new space era. Like it or not, NASA isn’t going up anymore, so someone else has to. When we posted that the launch event was going to be broadcasted live (which ultimately failed), there was a lot of debate in our comments on the subject of private vs government entities doing the space traveling. There was also a lot of childish bickering.

Just to clarify, Hackaday’s official stance is, “Go to space”. We do not care if it is the government, [Elon Musk], The russian space program, a hackerspace in a home made rocket, or an evil billionaire. We just want space research to continue. Sure, there are drawbacks to some of these, most notably that the evil billionaire would most likely be doing this to kill us all, but at least the research would be funded.

You can watch a short clip of the launch, and while you do so, remember that on board that ship are the ashes of actor [James Doohan] also known as [Scotty]. That’s pretty awesome.

Spend your weekend contributing to the exploration of space

Earlier today we posted a link to a tournament NASA is holding. NASA is trying to crowdsource the organization of terabytes of data collected from missions all over the solar system. A few Hackaday readers wrote in (thanks [grbgout] and all the others) to tell us there is an International Space Apps Challenge going on this weekend to crowdsourse solutions to the problems of space flight.

The challenge is the product of a partnership between NASA, the National Science Foundation, the UK  and Japanese Space Agencies and a host of other organizations like GitHub, Yahoo Developer Network, and even a few hackerspaces. The idea behind the challenge is simple: spend a weekend solving software, hardware, and science challenges to improve the state of space sciences.

There are a lot of interesting projects like programming an interface to a NASA mission simulator, figure out how to print 3D objects in space, and even develop the hardware and software for an underwater ROV.

Aside from the fancy software and hardware challenges, there are also some very interesting data visualization problems, like clearly explaining the fact that space is mostly empty. If you can figure out how to tell people they aren’t the center of the Universe, take a shot at it – there’s probably a Nobel in Literature in it for you.

Right now there are dozens of locations on all seven continents and in Low Earth Orbit (McMurdo Station in Antartica and the ISS) that will have people contributing to these projects. Of course you’re free to work out of the home and help scientists, engineers, and researchers reach to the stars.

You’re invited to sift through 100 Terabytes of data for NASA

Most people we know had at least one phase where they dreamt of working for NASA. That dream may have faded for many of us, but it could suddenly be a real possibility again with a tournament NASA is holding. The goal is to sift through all of the data that they have collected; roughly 100 terabytes of pictures, telemetry data, top secret pictures of martian yeti, and models. All of this information was gathered over different missions, on different instruments, in different formats. It is a mess. Take this data and make it easily accessible to both scientists, and non-scientists. They want their information to be useful and compelling to the world.

The grand prize for your fantastic final result is $10,000 and the title of “Space Coder of the Galaxy 2012″.  I know I’d settle for a week at space camp.

Note: I just noticed the following bit:

And one talented high school winner will receive a special VIP invitation from NASA

I’m not sure if that means this is for high schoolers only, but I’m pretty sure it means a lot of them won’t identify with that space camp link above.

Hackaday Links: January 10, 2012

They can put a man on the moon, but they can’t put a man in LEO

Yeah, we’re enraged by that headline. Anyway, NASA put up a whole bunch of projects and made them open source. From the looks of it, there’s plenty of cool stuff: genetic algorithm libs, toolkits for astrodynamics simulations (on the Goddard site), and this cool thing.

Nyan all the disks!

[brainsmoke], a hacker over at revspace, made an assembler version of nyan cat that can be placed on the bootloader of any disk. Just a reminder that you shouldn’t mount everything out there. We learned that lesson the week we discovered a penicillin allergy.

It’ll replace the Buffy poster.

[Anthony Clay] has been working on a set of EE posters that he’s putting up as a Kickstarter. They’re Ohm’s Law, resistor calculator, capacitance, and inductance posters that would look great above any workbench. He’s looking for ideas for other posters, so drop him a line and vote for the 7400 logic poster. All of them.

Ooooohhhh MIDI sampler

A while ago, we saw this neat MIDI Arduino shield. The Kickstarter reached its funding goal (there’s still time left!), but now [Keith] writes in to tell us that the AvecSynth library is platform independent. You could use this to record and play back MIDI messages. MIDI tape delay, anyone?

Open mind, not mouth.

With the success of the Stanford AI class last year, it looks like MIT is really getting their head into the game. Think of it this way: it’s MIT opencourseware that can lead to credentials. Now the only question is, ‘how do you prank a virtual campus?’

Hackers age 14-18 can compete to put their project into space

If you’re between the ages of 14 and 18, or have a child who is, here’s a chance to put a project into space. NASA is partnering with YouTube, Lenovo, and a few other entities for a contest that challenges participants to dream up low-gravity experiments. You can enter as an individual or in teams of up to three people, and may put forth up to three experiment ideas for judging. Getting in on the first round is as easy as recording and uploading a video. You’ll need to state a scientific question or principle you want to test, a hypothesis of what can be learned, and a method for testing it.

As with most of the projects we encounter, the seminal idea is always the toughest part. And since the folks here at Hackaday are too old to enter, we thought we’d propose throwing around some ideas in the comments to get the ball rolling (the contest FAQ says it’s okay to get help from others so we’re not ruining it for everyone). We’ll go first.

It looks like experiments can be Biology or Physics related, and can’t use hazardous chemicals, weapons, or anything sharp. We’d love to see some tests that measure how well electronic sensors work in the microgravity. For instance, can you use a gyroscope sensor reliably in micro-gravity? What about an electronic compass; does it always point toward earth? What about robotic propulsion? We’d love to see a minature ROV swimming through the air like a water-bourne vessel would on earth.

Your turn. Leave a comment to let us know what you’d do if you could enter. Oh, and we’ve also embedded the contest promo video after the break.

Continue reading “Hackers age 14-18 can compete to put their project into space”