Majority against end of shuttle program
UTICA, N.Y., April 27 (UPI) -- Two-thirds of U.S. adults disapprove of ending the space shuttle program, citing the loss of the "everyday impact" of the science and technology, a poll shows.
Sixty-four percent disapprove of the end of the space shuttle program, while 26 approve and 10 percent are unsure, the poll by IBOPE Inteligencia found.
When asked about space exploration's role in advancing "science and technology that impacts everyday life on Earth," 83 percent said it was important.
Just 12 percent said it was not important.
When asked what the next biggest step in space exploration would be, respondents reported no clear consensus in the poll.
Opinion was evenly split between building a more powerful telescope that can detect and photograph Earth-like worlds around other stars, building a colony on the moon, sending humans to Mars, building space vehicles to orbit Earth or sending a sample-gathering probe to Titan or Europa.
The survey was conducted online with 1,879 U.S. adults and had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points, IBOPE reported.
Saturn moon called planet 'building block'
PASADENA, Calif., April 27 (UPI) -- A NASA space probe has shown that Phoebe, one of Saturn's moons, has more planet-like qualities than previously thought, U.S. scientists say.
Data from NASA's Cassini mission and a computer model of the moon's chemistry, geophysics and geology show Phoebe is a so-called planetesimal, or remnant planetary building block, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration reported Thursday.
"Unlike primitive bodies such as comets, Phoebe appears to have actively evolved for a time before it stalled out," Julie Castillo-Rogez, a planetary scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said.
"Objects like Phoebe are thought to have condensed very quickly. Hence, they represent building blocks of planets. They give scientists clues about what conditions were like around the time of the birth of planets and their moons."
The Cassini images suggest Phoebe originated in the Kuiper Belt, the region of ancient, icy, rocky bodies beyond Neptune's orbit.
Astronomers estimate Phoebe formed within the first 3 million years of the beginning of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago and may have been porous but appears to have collapsed on itself as it warmed.
Phoebe was spherical and hot early in its history, researchers said, and has denser rock-rich material near its center.
Phoebe likely was captured by Saturn's gravity when it got too close to the giant planet, they said.
"By combining Cassini data with modeling techniques previously applied to other solar system bodies, we've been able to go back in time and clarify why it is so different from the rest of the Saturn system," said Jonathan Lunine, a Cassini team member at Cornell University.
Communication towers said killing birds
LOS ANGELES, April 27 (UPI) -- Communication towers in North America are responsible for the deaths of nearly 7 million migrating birds as they fly south, researchers say.
The 84,000 communication towers that dot North America, some rising as high as 2,000 feet, are proving deadly to birds migrating from Canada and the United States to Central and South America, a study in the journal PLoS ONE reported.
And the taller the tower the greater the threat, the study found; the approximately 1,000 towers above 900 feet account for only 1.6 percent of the total number of towers but killed 70 percent of the birds, about 4.5 million a year, the researchers said.
"This is a tragedy that does not have to be," lead author Travis Longcore at the University of Southern California said.
The majority of the birds are not killed by running into the towers but rather in collisions with the dozens of cables, known as guy wires, that prop up the thin, freestanding structures, Longcore said.
During bad weather birds are pushed down by cloud cover and fly at lower altitudes, deprived of navigation cues such as stars, leaving only the blinking or static red lights found on most towers, he said.
The lights often confuse the birds, he said, causing them to circle the towers.
"In the presence of the solid red lights, the birds are unable to get out of their spell," Longcore said. "They circle the tower and run into the big cables holding it up."
Longcore suggests businesses share towers to reduce their number and build more freestanding towers to reduce the need for guy wires.
"One of the things this country has been great about is saying we care about not losing species on our watch," he said. "With these towers, we are killing birds in an unnatural way. This is senseless."
Britain to test spaceplane engine
CULHAM, England, April 27 (UPI) -- British researchers say they've begun tests on a new engine technology meant to lift a spaceplane into orbit from a conventional runway takeoff.
The Sabre engine, which breathes air like a jet at lower speeds but switches to an oxygen-fueled rocket mode at high altitudes, is the centerpiece of a proposed orbital vehicle dubbed the Skylon, would operate like an airliner, taking off and landing at a conventional airport runway.
Engineers at Reaction Engines Limited say they believe the test will prove the readiness of Sabre's key elements.
The company hopes to attract investors to raise the $400 million needed to take the project into the final design phase.
"We intend to go to the Farnborough International Air Show in July with a clear message," REL Managing Director Alan Bond told the BBC.
"The message is that Britain has the next step beyond the jet engine; that we can reduce the world to four hours -- the maximum time it would take to go anywhere," he said.
"And that it also gives us aircraft that can go into space, replacing all the expendable rockets we use today."
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COLLEGE PARK, Md., June 19 (UPI) --University of Maryland scientists say they've developed an environmentally friendly battery that uses wood as its backbone.