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The life outside Earth has always been a mystery to many. Let alone the other planets in our universe, the ones closer to us were always intriguing. After the moon, Mars has been the most sought out planet to explore. Finally, after decades of research and scientific breakthroughs, NASA unviels its 5-phase mission to take humans to the neighbouring planet.

The Great Space-Plan To Mars

About a month ago, President Trump issued a mandate for NASA, that they must get people to Mars by the year 2033. NASA came up with a detailed plan, that suggested the different phases involved in helping the humans reach the red planet.

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Phase 0 is currently underway, which comprises of conducting tests at the International Space Station (ISS) and developing partnerships with private space companies.

Phase 1 will begin in 2018 and will span across 7 years, and will include the testing and launch of six SLS rockets. To aid this phase, a new space station called Deep Space Gateway(DSG) is going to be set up near the moon, in order to help astronauts en route to mars. The objective of the SLS rockets, is to deliver the components from the earth to the DSG.

In the year 2027, NASA will launch the Deep Space Transport (DST) tube toward the lunar station, as a part of the Phase 2. In the next couple of years, the astronauts will inhabit the tube for nearly 400 days.

By 2030, the DST will be restocked with supplies and NASA will send the mars crew to the DST via SLS rocket.

The last and the final phase will be the trip to mars itself.

A Journey Of A Lifetime And Its Downside

Mental health will be a big concern for the astronauts doing the biggest journey of their lives. They will be stuck within the space tube for many years together. This journey isn’t for the weak hearted, as even the ones with immense determination are bound to falter. With absolute darkness surrounding the tube, their eyes can’t catch a break from it, but only stare into it. The very thought of it might hurt our brains and would turn into a gloomy situation. But, the astronauts are aware of it and know the consequences of their career.

That being said, it is for them to decide how to live their lives in space for such a long time, which requires the utmost motivation to do so.

 

Space Exploration

The US Space Force is set to conduct its inaugural military simulation in space, marking a significant milestone in their operations

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The world may soon witness the potential inauguration of the inaugural military maneuver in the Earth’s orbit as the US Space Force fulfills its purpose by employing military force in space.

The Space Force, which has faced ridicule for adopting the Star Trek logo as its emblem, possessing its own equine companion, and its debatable theme melody, has recently intensified its operations in the realm of space. In addition to dispatching an astronaut to the International Space Station, the organization intends to carry out a Tactically Responsive Space (TacRS) mission, codenamed VICTUS HAZE.

The test will involve two firms, Rocket Lab National Security and True Anomaly, demonstrating a realistic response to a potential attack in a space domain awareness demonstration conducted in orbit. According to Ars Technia, the practice may include one satellite exhibiting unusual behavior or deliberately moving closer to the other. The second satellite would subsequently react to protect its own satellite or dissuade the adversary satellite from launching an attack.

Despite the seemingly fictional nature of these events, the United States is concerned about potential confrontations in outer space, as China is carrying out numerous enigmatic experiments in the region of space close to Earth.

The quantity and intricacy of hostile dangers in space are continuously expanding. “In order to promptly address these threats, it is imperative that we provide the United States’ most cutting-edge TacRS capabilities,” stated Lt. Col. MacKenzie Birchenough, the Materiel Leader for Space Safari, upon announcing the demonstration scheduled for August 2023. “VICTUS HAZE will enhance our capacity to evaluate potential dangers and maintain our unrestricted ability to navigate in space.”

“We acknowledge the substantial potential to utilize the advancements in the commercial space industry to counter China, which is currently seen as America’s primary threat,” stated Col. Bryon McClain, the program executive officer for Space Domain Awareness and Combat Power at Space Systems Command, specifically mentioning China.

The United States possesses the most pioneering space industry globally. VICTUS HAZE aims to showcase our capacity to effectively address reckless conduct in space while operating in situations that closely resemble real-world scenarios.

The project is anticipated to have a total cost of approximately $92 million, with True Anomaly securing approximately $30 million of internal private finance for it. True Anomaly is currently in the process of conducting more demonstrations prior to VICTUS HAZE. If all progresses as planned, the US Space Force is expected to execute its inaugural military exercise in orbit by 2025.

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Artificial Intelligence

The Holodeck from Star Trek has been replicated as a virtual training environment for advanced robots of the future

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Many Star Trek enthusiasts have pondered the possibilities of encountering a new species, swiftly teleporting out of an uncomfortable social situation, or zooming through space at warp speed (just be cautious not to exceed warp 10!). Many of the impressive technological advancements portrayed in the franchise are still confined to the realm of fiction. However, certain innovations inspired by Star Trek have indeed materialized in the real world. Thanks to a group of brilliant minds at the University of Pennsylvania, we can now proudly include a holodeck on that remarkable list.

Let me clarify something as we share your disappointment. We’re not referring to a futuristic world where humans can engage with characters in a holographic environment. That kind of technology is still a long way off. A team at Penn Engineering and their collaborators created the Holodeck system, which has the remarkable ability to create a wide variety of 3D environments. All you need to do is inquire.

“Language can be utilized to exert control,” stated Yue Yang, one of the co-creators. You have the ability to effortlessly describe any environments you desire and train the AI agents that inhabit them.

The holodeck system portrayed in Star Trek series such as The Next Generation and Voyager is a highly adaptable virtual environment capable of transforming simple verbal commands into fully simulated worlds. These types of environments, although smaller in scale, have significant applications in training robots.

Developing a virtual world can be quite time-consuming. “Creating these environments requires manual effort, with artists dedicating a significant amount of time to building just one,” Yang explained. To effectively train a robot to navigate real life, it is crucial to expose it to a diverse range of environments for testing purposes. Generative AI, which has gained significant popularity in recent months, appeared to be the obvious solution.

“AI systems such as ChatGPT undergo extensive training on an enormous amount of textual data, while image generators like Midjourney and DALLE are trained using a vast collection of images,” explained Chris Callison-Burch, an Associate Professor specializing in Computer and Information Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Holodeck utilizes a sophisticated language model known as a large language model (LLM). This powerful system, similar to the ones used in chatbots like ChatGPT, engages in a conversation with the user to determine the specific parameters of the desired environment. The system utilizes a vast digital library known as the Objaverse, which contains countless preexisting objects. It can effortlessly choose appropriate furnishings from this collection. Additionally, a layout design module ensures that the spatial arrangement of these objects is logical and coherent within the room.

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Practically speaking, if you inquire about the apartment of a cat owner, Holodeck will make sure that the final room is equipped with all the necessary furniture, including a cat tree.

The team conducted a comparison between Holodeck and a previous tool called ProcTHOR. They created 120 scenes and administered a blinded test to students, asking them to indicate their preferences. Holodeck clearly outperformed its competitor in every aspect. The system demonstrated its versatility by successfully generating a wide range of unique spaces, including science labs and wine cellars.

According to co-creator Assistant Professor Mark Yatskar, the ultimate test of Holodeck is its ability to assist robots in safely navigating unfamiliar environments.

Virtual training typically focuses on residential environments, but there are countless unfamiliar worlds that a robot may encounter and must learn to navigate. Utilizing Holodeck instead of the previous tool had a significant positive impact. For instance, a robot that underwent pre-training on 100 virtual music rooms created by Holodeck demonstrated a 30 percent success rate in locating a piano, compared to just 6 percent after training with ProcTHOR.

This holodeck has the potential to make a significant impact in the field of robotics, although it may not be suitable for running a Dixon Hill holonovel.

The study is scheduled to be presented at the 2024 IEEE/CVF Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition Conference. An unpublished paper that has not undergone peer review can be accessed through arXiv.

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Space Exploration

NASA is now investigating a peculiar rock found on Mars

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NASA has examined a peculiar rock on Mars called “Bunsen Peak,” which was named after the peak in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

Upon capturing the image of the rock, it quickly captured the interest of NASA scientists.

“This rock caught the attention of NASA due to its impressive height compared to the surrounding terrain and the intriguing surface texture on its left face,” NASA stated after its discovery.

“One notable aspect of the rock captured in the image was the nearly perpendicular surface directly facing the rover.” The science team finds a vertical face intriguing for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it offers a unique opportunity to examine any chemical or physical layering within the rock through a cross-sectional view. Additionally, a vertical face tends to have less dust accumulation, which is advantageous for our scientific instruments!

On March 11, Perseverance successfully obtained a sample of a rock measuring 1.7 meters by 1 meter (5.6 feet wide and 3.3 feet high) using its drilling tool. The rock was found to be composed of 75 percent carbonate grains held together with a high concentration of silica, as determined by spectrometers.

NASA's Perseverance Mars rover collecting a sample from "Bunsen Peak"

So what makes this rock so fascinating to NASA? Discovering signs of ancient microbial life is a key objective of Perseverance’s mission, and rocks such as this one offer the greatest potential for uncovering these clues.

“This is the exact rock we were hoping to discover during our exploration of Jezero Crater,” stated Ken Farley, the project scientist for Perseverance at Caltech in Pasadena, California. “The majority of minerals in the rock we just collected were formed through water processes. On Earth, minerals deposited by water have a remarkable ability to capture and safeguard ancient organic material and biosignatures.” The rock can provide valuable insights into the climate conditions on Mars during its formation.

Based on preliminary findings, additional investigation is required to confirm whether the rock is associated with a prehistoric body of water.

“We’re currently investigating the margin and collecting data, but the preliminary findings seem to align with our hypothesis that the rocks in this area were created near the edges of a prehistoric lake,” stated Briony Horgan, a scientist from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, who specializes in physical chemistry. “The science team is also exploring alternative explanations for the origin of the Margin Unit, as there are additional methods for the formation of carbonate and silica.” Regardless of the rock’s formation, it’s truly thrilling to obtain a sample.

Perseverance is diligently gathering samples in the Jezero Crater and is now making its way towards an intriguing region called “Bright Angel,” which is believed to house ancient rocks. If everything goes according to plan, the samples will be brought back to Earth by a sample collection mission scheduled for 2028.

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