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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Silicon Valley's first moon launch and it happened Friday at NASA Ames

You could call it Silicon Valley's first moon launch and it happened Friday at NASA Ames. The space agency took a major step toward putting a person on the moon again.

The moon made a rare daytime appearance for the dedication ceremony of the Lunar Science Institute at Ames Research Center.
It's been more than 30 years since the last manned moon mission

Long before the next manned mission to the moon, Earth-bound scientists at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View will send a spacecraft to the lunar surface to study its thick layer of dust and find out what kicks it up.

The $80 million craft is being built and managed by the Ames center and will fly to the moon three years from now, launched aboard a single rocket together with a second spacecraft from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory that will examine lunar gravity from orbit.

Still another craft, also managed by the Ames center, is scheduled to be launched to the moon in October and crash into a lunar crater near the moon's South Pole. Its instruments will hunt for signs of water that might be used by astronauts living inside a future outpost, NASA officials said Friday as they dedicated the center's new Lunar Science Institute.

The missions are all designed to pave the way for future landings by human crews and all bear elaborate names and acronyms for their goals: The dust-hunter on the moon's surface is called LADEE, for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer; its orbiting companion's name is GRAIL, for Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory; and the one being readied for launch this fall is LCROSS, for Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite.

The missions were described Friday as NASA officials dedicated the Ames center's new Lunar Science Institute, where scientists will link to other researchers around the country studying every aspect of the moon's geology, history and chemistry.

David Morrison, a veteran Ames astronomer and the institute's interim director, said that four or five teams of researchers at other institutions will win four-year grants of $1 million to $2 million each, and as many as 50 scientists could be involved in lunar studies for the institute by the end of this year.

The scientists will study basic lunar science, Morrison said, but new teams will also investigate what kinds of research in fields like biology, astronomy and even earth sciences might eventually be conducted from manned outposts on the moon.

The $80 million LADEE spacecraft will take four months to reach the moon and then spend three months on the surface analyzing the fine-grained dust that coats the soil.

The dust proved bothersome to the astronauts of the Apollo program and could make things difficult for future long-term missions. It is also influenced by the "solar wind" of electrically charged particles that constantly blow from the sun at more than a million mph, and the spacecraft will measure the effects of those particles on the dust.

"These measurements will provide scientific insight into the lunar environment, and give our explorers a clearer understanding of what they'll be up against as they set up the first outpost and begin the process of settling the solar system," S. Pete Worden, director of the Ames center, said in a statement.

All the new lunar missions, and many more, are in line with President Bush's proclaimed "vision for space exploration" four years ago when he called for returning astronauts to the moon by 2020, building a manned outpost there, and sending "human missions to Mars and to worlds beyond" in the more distant future.

Alex Dragulescu : Both traditional and new media for internet

Most people want to avoid spam and viruses, which is exactly why MIT Media Lab's grad student Alex Dragulescu spins the net's detritus into art.

E-mail security company MessageLabs commissioned Dragulescu to visualize the threats the company finds in the 3 million messages it scans daily. Dragulescu used algorithms to find recurring patterns in the source code of viruses and Trojans and then fed the results into a visualization algorithm.

The only manipulation involved was color-coding, setting the virtual position of the camera, and some lighting effects. The project lives somewhere between pure art and information visualization, Dargulescu says.

Left: Alex Dragulescu visits Varnish Fine Art in San Francisco for an exhibit of his large-format prints of visualized malware code.
More about Alex Dragulescu

Alex Dragulescu is a Romanian visual artist whose practice embraces both traditional and new media. His projects are experiments and explorations of algorithms, computational models, simulations and information visualizations that involve data derived from databases, spam emails, blogs and video game assets.
His work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions worldwide in Madrid, Venice, Florence, Rome, Seoul, Sao Paolo, St Petersburg, La Habana, Arad, Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki and the Biennial of Young Artists, Bucharest. In 2005, his software agent Blogbot, won the IBM New Media Award at the Stuttgart Festival for Expanded Media in Germany.

He has a BS in Cinema and Photography from Ithaca College and a Masters of Fine Arts in Visual Arts from University of California at San Diego.
In September 2007, Dragulescu left the Experimental Game Lab + Center for Research in Computing and the Arts at UC San Diego and is now a researcher in the Social Media Group at the MIT Media Lab.

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