TWIE 90: Want to Code for NASA?

This Week in Engineering - NASA's open-source initiative; liquid silver printed circuit boards; space junk code of conduct; smart underpants; infra-red frisking; and harpooning comets.

blog comments powered by Disqus
Recent Video
Transcript For This Video

NASA's open-source initiative
NASA has launched a new website to increase development and use of open-source software, allowing the public to both view and improve source code. The initiative should give NASA, already recognized for achievements in 2009's Open Government Directive, even more transparency. If interested, visit And you know I will. At my high school reunion this year, I'm telling people, "I worked for NASA." Even if I just replaced some tabs with spaces.

Liquid silver printed circuit boards
Professor Jennifer Lewis and student S. Brett Walker from the University of Illinois have developed a printable liquid ink from a solution of silver in ammonia. When the ink dries, the liquid evaporates, leaving behind a metal conductive surface. The ink can print out of very small nozzles (100 nm), will stick to a variety of materials, and will print at a lower temperature than most particle-based inks in use today. Printing a precious metal into circuits? I love it, because someday, an East-coast rapper will sport one as bling. DJ PCB in da house!!!

Space junk code of conduct
There are currently over ten thousand pieces of space debris orbiting the Earth, and the international community is trying to prevent the problem from worsening. Although the Obama administration passed on Europe's first proposed "International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities", Secretary of State Clinton has said they will support space junk treaties, provided they don't hinder national security space operations. I say, let's attack the space junk problem with an emotional PSA campaign! It'll be great...

Smart underpants
The military, working with Foster-Miller and Malden Mills Industries, have created low-cost undergarments equipped with gel-free sensors to monitor respiration, heart rate, posture and temperature, while still being comfortable enough that soldiers will "wear and forget". The technology could identify casualties during combat, or provide data in training. I'm usually not worried that our thinking machines will grow sentient and overthrow their cruel masters, but putting computers in the sweatiest of our underpants... Maybe we shouldn't give them a reason.

Infra-red frisking
The New York City Police Department has been working with the Defense Department to develop infrared technology capable of detecting concealed firearms at a distance. The tool reportedly operates by detecting where a person's normal emission of infrared energy is blocked by an object like a gun. No, officer! I don't have a gun -- I'm just nursing a hernia with a novelty icepack shaped like a Glock.

Harpooning comets
In an effort to study asteroids and comets, scientists at NASA's Goddard Spcace Flight Center in Maryland are designing a comet harpoon, capable of collecting samples. The harpoon will fire a sample cartrigde into a comet and then shut, so the material can be extracted and taken back to a lab on Earth. Okay. I would now like to formally nominate "NASA comet harpooneer" as the most interesting job in the world. Rocket science, with tattoos! Gyar!!!