Old Nasa Computers, Tapes Found In Dead Man's Basement

Two huge, Apollo-era NASA computers and more than 300 data-recording tapes were found in the Pittsburgh basement of a dead engineer in late 2015, according to media reports.

In November 2015, a scrap dealer was invited to clean out the basement of the recently deceased IBM engineer, who did some work for NASA at the height of the Space Race, Ars Technica reported. The dealer found about 325 magnetic data tapes and the two giant computers, both of which were marked "NASA Property." 

The scrap dealer contacted NASA to inform the agency of the find, and NASA's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) performed an investigation. Ars Technica obtained the OIG's report via a Freedom of Information Act request.

"Please tell NASA these items were not stolen," the engineer's heir told the scrap dealer, according to the OIG report. "They belonged to IBM Allegheny Center, Pittsburgh, PA 15212. During the 1968-1972 time frame, IBM was getting rid of the items, so [the engineer] asked if he could have them and was told he could have them."

The relevant names have been redacted in the OIG report.

NASA officials told the deceased engineer's family that the agency did not need the computers back. After further investigation, an agency archivist determined that 93 of the tapes contained data from Pioneer 10 or Pioneer 11, flyby missions to Jupiter and Saturn that launched in the early 1970s.

A few of the other tapes recorded data from the Pioneer 8, Pioneer 9, Helios 1 and Intelsat IV missions, but most of the recordings — about 215 of them — could not be identified. The archivist recommended that all the tapes — which were moldy and in generally poor condition — be destroyed, because they didn't contain anything of historical significance.

You can read the NASA OIG report here and the full story at Ars Technica here

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on Space.com.

Asteroid Just Barely Misses Earth

An asteroid the size of a tour bus zipped by Earth today (June 27) in a flyby so close that the space rock was nearer to the planet than some satellites.

The space rock, called asteroid 2011 MD, reached its closest point to Earth just after 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT), when it crept within 7,500 miles (12,000 km) of Earth before whipping away again like a slingshot. The asteroid was flying over the southern Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Antarctica, at the time of its closest approach.

The asteroid was discovered just last week on June 22, but there was never any risk of it impacting Earth, NASA scientists said. Astronomers with the LINEAR near-Earth object survey in Socorro, N.M., made the find.

The space rock is on the small side, with latest size estimates ranging from 16 to 66 feet (5 to 20 meters) wide.

That means asteroid 2011 MD would likely be too small to survive the fiery plunge through Earth's atmosphere, let alone reach the surface, NASA scientists said. Asteroids this size can be expected to buzz Earth with close shaves about once every six years, they added.

A photo of asteroid 2011 MD snapped by astronomer Peter Birtwhistle of the Great Shefford Observatory in the United Kingdom on June 23 revealed the space rock as little more than a dim, moving point of light.

The asteroid's close brush with Earth sent it off on a new trajectory through the solar system. The space rock flew well below geosynchronous satellites, which orbit 22,236 miles (35,786 km) above Earth, but well above the 220-mile (354-km) altitude of the International Space Station.

There was little chance the asteroid would hit a satellite because of the vastness of space and the relatively small number of satellites, experts said.

Hard-to-spot asteroid

Don Yeomans, of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena Calif., told SPACE.com that astronomers hoped to take radar observations 2011 MD during the asteroid's flyby. However, hopes were low for any detailed images because of the space rock's small size, Yeomans added.

Only seasoned skywatchers with medium-sized telescopes were expected to see the asteroid at all, NASA officials said.

When the asteroid was first discovered, the early reports suggested that it would make its closest approach to Earth on about 9:30 a.m. EDT (1330 GMT), more than three hours earlier than the actual event. But that report was based on just two days of observations, Yeomans said.

"The new improved orbit has 4 days of observations rather than two, and the current Earth close approach time is now 1:00 pm EDT on Monday," Yeomans said in an e-mail. "This time should be good to a few minutes."

Earth's asteroid close shaves

Asteroid 2011 MD is the second space rock to zip extremely close by Earth this year. The other object, called asteroid 2011 CQ1, passed within 3,400 miles (5,471 kilometers) of Earth on Feb. 4, making it the closest known flyby of an asteroid to date.

NASA scientists and other astronomers search for near-Earth space rocks like 2011 MD as part of a program to identify potentially hazardous asteroids that could threaten the planet.

This article was provided by SPACE.com, a sister site to LiveScience. Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcomand on Facebook.

Stephen Hawking Says He Knows What Happened Before The Big Bang

At the time of the Big Bang, all the matter in the universe was smooshed into an incredibly hot, infinitely dense speck of matter.

But what happened before that? It turns out, famed physicist Stephen Hawking has an answer, which he gave in an interview with his almost-as-famous fellow scientist, Neil deGrasse Tyson. Hawking discusses these ideas and others on the series finale of Tyson's "StarTalk" TV show, which airs this Sunday (March 4) at 11 p.m. ET on the National Geographic Channel.

Hawking's answer to the question "What was there before there was anything?" relies on a theory known as the "no-boundary proposal."

"The boundary condition of the universe … is that it has no boundary," Hawking told Tyson, according to Popular Science. [The Big Bang to Civilization: 10 Amazing Origin Events]

To understand the theory better, grab your universal remote (that is, your remote that controls the universe), and hit Rewind. As scientists know now, the universe is constantly expanding. As you move backward in time, then, the universe contracts. Rewind far enough (about 13.8 billion years), and the entire universe shrinks to the size of a single atom, Hawking said.

This subatomic ball of everything is known as the singularity (not to be confused with the technological singularity during which artificial intelligence will overtake humans). Inside this extremely small, massively dense speck of heat and energy, the laws of physics and time as we know them cease to function. Put another way, time as we understand it literally did not exist before the universe started to expand. Rather, the arrow of time shrinks infinitely as the universe becomes smaller and smaller, never reaching a clear starting point.

According to TechTimes, Hawking says during the show that before the Big Bang, time was bent — "It was always reaching closer to nothing but didn't become nothing," according to the article. Essentially, "there was never a Big Bang that produced something from nothing. It just seemed that way from mankind's point of perspective."

In in a lecture on the no-boundary proposal, Hawking wrote: "Events before the Big Bang are simply not defined, because there's no way one could measure what happened at them. Since events before the Big Bang have no observational consequences, one may as well cut them out of the theory, and say that time began at the Big Bang."

This isn't the first time Hawking has discussed this theory. He previously delivered lectures on the topic and starred in a free documentary about it, available on YouTube. Tune into StarTalk on Sunday to hear Tyson and Hawking delve deeper on the subject, as well whether Isaac Newton would be more excited to learn about black holes or Tinder.

Originally published on Live Science.

'feeling' Beyond The Limitations Of A Space Suit (video)

Kai Staats, documentary filmmaker and member of the MarsCrew134 team, contributed this article to Space.com's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

A space suit is a barrier between the astronaut and the environment in which he or she works. The lack of a full multi-sensory experience is a critical issue in extreme conditions, as astronauts are unable to rely upon their natural sensory system, to fully understand and interact with their environment, or to respond to dangerous situations.

Simple tasks people take for granted — tying a knot, or using a screw driver, pliers or electronic instrument, for example — can be arduous, time consuming or impossible within the confines of a space suit. MarsCrew134 crew engineer Sue Ann Seah studies the current limitations of how astronauts interact with their environment.

If you're a topical expert — researcher, business leader, author or innovator — and would like to contribute an op-ed piece, <a href=mailto:expertvoices@techmedianetwork.com>email us here</a>.
If you’re a topical expert — researcher, business leader, author or innovator — and would like to contribute an op-ed piece, email us here.

"An astronauts' glove is about four to five millimeters thick and is made up of many layers," said Sue Ann. "Added to the fact that they are pressurized — therefore reducing dexterity of the wrist, palm and fingers — this can have a severe impact on using your hands for performing just about any task. Imagine how frustrating it would be to type on your laptop if you were wearing two or three layers of ski gloves. Since you have difficulty feeling the different keys, you start to rely on other senses such as your sight. But if your sight was partially occluded because of your helmet, you start to make a lot of mistakes. Restoring a touch feedback through the gloves will help reduce this."

At the Mars Desert Research Station, Sue Ann recorded and observed extra-vehicular activities performed by the crew members, such as collecting biological and geological samples, using various scientific tools and instruments, and using a camera. She also tested some prototype glove designs to help establish future designs of extra-vehicular activity (EVA) gloves.

"In the future," said Sue Ann, "the spacesuit will allow astronauts to discern various surface textures, the temperature of objects, and even the smell of their surroundings. We can then really feel what it's like to be on Mars."

To learn more about MarsCrew134, visit www.marscrew134.org.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on Space.com.