NASA parachutes asteroid rock samples to Earth, and other tech news you need to know Published on "Forum Agenda", October 2023

Published in: Forum Agenda, 9. October 2023

  • This monthly round-up brings you the latest stories from the world of technology.
  • Top technology stories: NASA parachutes asteroid rock samples to Earth; Biotech vaccine developers win Nobel Prize; Archaeologists use ground-penetrating radar to map ancient ruins.

1. NASA lands asteroid samples on Earth

At the end of a six-year space mission to intercept an asteroid, NASA has landed a capsule containing rock samples in the Utah desert.

The capsule was carried on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx space probe, which collected the samples from the surface of an asteroid known as Bennu on 20 October 2020. The samples travelled 1.9 billion kilometres back to Earth after leaving the asteroid’s surface in May 2021.

The samples will be studied by 200 scientists in 60 laboratories around the world. They will look for evidence to help us understand the origins of the solar system and how matter from asteroids may have contributed to the formation of life on Earth.

“Today marks an extraordinary milestone not just for the OSIRIS-REx team but for science as a whole,” NASA said after the capsule landed. “While this may feel like the end of an incredible chapter, it’s truly just the beginning of another. We now have the unprecedented opportunity to analyze these samples and delve deeper into the secrets of our solar system.”

2. Biotech vaccine pioneers win Nobel Prize

The 2023 Nobel Prize for Medicine has been awarded to two biotechnology scientists.

Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman pioneered mRNA technology that later facilitated the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines – but their early work failed to win recognition.

Kariko and Weissman developed nucleoside base modifications in 2005. These prevent the immune system attacking lab-made mRNA, a major obstacle in therapeutic use of the technology.

“We couldn’t get people to notice RNA as something interesting,” Weissman said. “Pretty much everybody gave up on it.”

All of that changed when COVID-19 swept around the world in 2020. Around 13.5 billion doses of the vaccine have now been administered, protecting seven in every ten people around the world, according to Our World in Data.

The Nobel Prize awarding committee credited the scientists for giving global healthcare institutions the technology to effectively tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, saying: “The laureates contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times.”

3. In brief: Other tech stories to know

A company operating broadcast satellites has been hit with the first space debris fine issued by the US Federal Communications Commission. The $150,000 fine against operator DISH related to its failure to move its EchoStar-7 satellite to a safe orbit when it was decommissioned.

An Israeli start-up has conducted a test flight of a drone that it says could operate as an air ambulance. Cando is developing a drone taxi service to operate in Jerusalem, Euronews reports. Cando recently flew its vertical take-off and landing aircraft to the city’s Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital, where a car park was converted into a temporary helipad.

Archaeologists in Italy are mapping the buried ruins of ancient civilizations using the latest ground-penetrating radar. Wired reports that the history hunters have found evidence of a 1,200-year-old church beneath Siena’s 800-year-old cathedral.

A popular Japanese animation series has inspired the development of a $3 million robot. The 4.5-metre-tall ARCHAX can be used as an upright robot – piloted by a human – or in a horizontal vehicle mode. The robot – created by Tokyo-based Tsubame Industries – will be launched at the Japan Mobility Show this month, Reuters reports.

4. More on technology on Agenda

Electric vehicle sales are accelerating as a result of improving technology and falling costs. One in every ten passenger vehicles sold in 2022 was all-electric, according to data analysis by the International Energy Agency. Find out which countries lead the world in electric vehicle sales.

Hydrogen is frequently cited as the green fuel of the future. One way of creating it is by breaking down seawater into its component parts. But there are a lot of questions about the scalability of this technology. This article digs into the data to see if the claims stack up.

If we struggle to create hydrogen from seawater, a better option might be to drink it. Of course, we’ll need to take the salt out first. Desalination has been around for decades, but this new solar-powered technology could make the process cheaper than delivering regular tap water to homes.

About Sebastian Buckup