SciTech Briefs

Tourist spacecraft announced

Virgin Galactic, founded by Sir Richard Branson, has announced its tourist spacecraft called “SpaceShipTwo.”

The spacecraft, which is not yet complete, will ferry paying clients to travel to outer-space and back, providing an intergalactic flight experience for anyone, not just astronauts.

The company, which already has a list of future clients, found during testing that the experience is safe for most people, including the elderly and heart patients.

The first commercial flights are expected to launch in 2009 or 2010, depending upon the safety improvements added to the spacecraft.

Source: The New York Times

Ancient skull unearthed in China

After two years of digging, Chinese archaeologists have discovered a human skull fossil dating back 100,000 years at an excavation site in Xuchang.

The skull was found in 16 pieces and contains a fossilized membrane on the inside, which will allow scientists to examine the nerves of this human ancestor from the Paleolithic age.

In addition to the skull, over 30,000 fossils of animals were found, along with ancient artifacts made of stone and bone.

Source: Reuters

U.S. spy satellite falls toward Earth

A U.S. spy satellite is falling out of orbit towards Earth, and government officials report that it will hit an unknown location in February or March.

The satellite, which can no longer be controlled, may contain hazardous materials that could cause significant damage to the
location that it strikes.

Government officials refused to comment about whether the satellite can be shot down with a missile, due to the sensitive nature of the matter.

Source: Associated Press

Scientists synthesize bacterial DNA

Scientists have created a complete genetic structure for a type of bacteria called Mycoplasma genitalium by synthesizing pre-made samples of DNA.

The organism, while not living, is the most complete set of DNA synthesized by scientists to date.

These scientists hope to eventually manipulate the DNA of such organisms in order to develop others with new functions; for example, creating new forms of fuel.

Scientists plan to insert this newly made genome into a living organism to ascertain whether the organism will take over and become a living synthesized bacteria.

Source: Associated Press

Shipping pollutes air

Earlier believed to emit the least amount of toxins, the shipping industry may actually be releasing double the carbon of the aviation industry.

A recent report by International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (Intertanko) reveals that ships expel about 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases annually.

A study at the University of Delaware suggests that as a result of the pollution they generate, ships are accountable for approximately 60,000 deaths a year.

Source: CNN