The U.S. Air Force's mysterious X-37B space plane is nearing a major milestone — one year of travel in Earth orbit, performing duties in support of long-term space objectives. The unmanned X-37B spacecraft — flying a mission known as Orbital Test Vehicle 3 (OTV-3) — launched into space atop an Atlas 5 rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Dec. 11, 2012. What payloads the space plane is toting and the overall mission goals on its confidential cruise are classified. That OTV-1 mission lasted nearly 225 days in orbit, gliding back to Earth on autopilot over the Pacific Ocean and touching down at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
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A NASA probe has captured an amazing video of the huge and mysterious six-sided vortex spinning around Saturn's north pole. Scientists created the new video of Saturn's vortex from 128 images snapped by NASA's Cassini spacecraft in December 2012. "The hexagon is just a current of air, and weather features out there that share similarities to this are notoriously turbulent and unstable," Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said in a statement. The hexagonal vortex was discovered by NASA's Voyager mission in the early 1980s, and Cassini has gotten some good looks at the feature since August 2009, when sunlight began flooding Saturn's northern hemisphere at the start of the planet's northern spring.
LONDON — For decades, the space race was seen as being mostly about national pride. The first man in space, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, was proclaimed by the Kremlin as Citizen of the World and hailed as a sign of communist leadership. Watching NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon made Americans grin in triumph and forced Soviet leaders to grit their teeth. On Nov. 5, India’s national space agency, the Indian Space Research Organization, launched a spacecraft dubbed Mangalyaan to Mars.
Slippery clay that looks like scaly black dragon skin is the crucial clue needed to explain the 2011 Japan earthquake's surprising impact, according to three studies published today (Dec. 5) in the journal Science. "It seems that frictional resistance at this location is getting close to zero, and we never really thought it could go so low," said Patrick Fulton, a geophysicist at the University of California, Santa Cruz and lead author of one of the studies. "This is definitely providing new ideas and challenging our understanding of earthquakes and fault ruptures." The clay, which resists slipping just slightly better than a banana peel, lines the shallow part of the massive plate boundary fault offshore of Japan, where the seafloor jumped eastward by a staggering 165 feet (50 meters) on March 11, 2011.
It seems there's almost nothing computers can't simulate these days: Now, a new computer program simulates human birth using 3D virtual reality. It could help doctors and midwives prepare for unusual or dangerous births, according to the researchers in England who developed it. The simulator shows you what's happening inside," said Rudy Lapeer, a computer scientist at the University of East Anglia, leader of the research that was presented Nov. 22 at a conference on E-Health and Bioengineering in Romania. Hospitals have used models to simulate the birthing process since the 1800s, Lapeer told LiveScience.
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