"Detections of massive extrasolar moons are shown feasible with the Kepler space telescope. Kepler's findings of about 50 exoplanets in the stellar habitable zone naturally make us wonder about the habitability of their hypothetical moons. Illumination from the planet, eclipses, tidal heating, and tidal locking distinguish remote characterization of exomoons from that of exoplanets. We show how evaluation of an exomoon's habitability is possible based on the parameters accessible by current and near-future technology." More
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"A new robotic space technology spinoff derived from NASA's Robonaut 2 project someday may help astronauts stay healthier in space and aid paraplegics in walking here on Earth. Robonaut 2, the first humanoid robot in space, currently is working with astronauts aboard the International Space Station. NASA and The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) of Pensacola, Fla., with the help of engineers from Oceaneering Space Systems of Houston, have jointly developed a robotic exoskeleton called X1. The 57-pound device is a robot that a human could wear over his or her body either to assist or inhibit movement in leg joints. In the inhibit mode, the robotic device would be used as an in-space exercise machine to supply resistance against leg movement. The same technology could be used in reverse on the ground, potentially helping some individuals walk for the first time." More
"General Motors and NASA are jointly developing a robotic glove that auto workers and astronauts can wear to help do their respective jobs better while potentially reducing the risk of repetitive stress injuries. The Human Grasp Assist device, known internally in both organizations as the K-glove or Robo-Glove, resulted from GM and NASA's Robonaut 2 (R2) project, which launched the first human-like robot into space in 2011. R2 is a permanent resident of the International Space Station."
"The Alpha Centauri AB system is an attractive one for radial velocity observations to detect potential exoplanets. The high metallicity of both Alpha Centauri A and B suggest that they could have possessed circumstellar discs capable of forming planets. As the closest star system to the Sun, with well over a century of accurate astrometric measurements (and Alpha Centauri B exhibiting low chromospheric activity) high precision surveys of Alpha Centauri B's potential exoplanetary system are possible with relatively cheap instrumentation."
Keith's note: According to io9: "In [DARPA's] $2.8 billion budget for 2013, unveiled on Monday, they've allotted $7 million for a project titled "Avatar." The project's ultimate goal, not surprisingly, sounds a lot like the plot of the same-named (but much more expensive) flick. According the agency, "the Avatar program will develop interfaces and algorithms to enable a soldier to effectively partner with a semi-autonomous bi-pedal machine and allow it to act as the soldier's surrogate." These robots should be smart and agile enough to do the dirty work of war, Darpa notes. That includes the "room clearing, sentry control [and] combat casualty recovery." And all at the bidding of their human partner."
Imagine if the same technology could be used such that astronauts coudl inhabit spacecraft that could also walk across a planetary surface. There are many places where the terrain could not be accessed by use of rovers.
"Today's dismounted warfighter can be saddled with more than 100 pounds of gear, resulting in physical strain, fatigue and degraded performance. Reducing the load on dismounted warfighters has become a major point of emphasis for defense research and development, because the increasing weight of individual equipment has a negative impact on warfighter readiness. The Army has identified physical overburden as one of its top five science and technology challenges. To help alleviate physical weight on troops, DARPA is developing a highly mobile, semi-autonomous legged robot, the Legged Squad Support System (LS3), to integrate with a squad of Marines or Soldiers."
"This is the culmination of my last year's work. I control the robot's arms through the Kinect and Wii remotes. I control the robot's navigation through the Kinect and treadmill. I control the robot's head through the head mounted display (HMD). I also see through the robot's eyes with the HMD. After doing this exercise, it became apparent that the next feature to add is hearing and speaking through the robot. Luckily both the NAO and my HMD have microphones and speakers so this shouldn't be too difficult." More information.
This about this: In addition to recreating the basic technology depicted in the film "Avatar", this also shos how straightforward it is to create telepresence. One would hope NASA is looking at simple, commercially available and easily adaptable interfaces such as these whereby Robonuat can be controlled - from the ISS and from Earth.
Think for a moment: Remember all of the things in "Avatar", "Star Trek", and other SciFi films that were controlled by people waving their hands over sexy looking devices, wandering around holodecks, or using remotely controlled bodies. When Kinect was first released, Microsoft was against anyone hacking it. A similar thing happened when LEGO Mindstorms was released and hobbyists began to fiddle with the software. As was the case with LEGO, Microsoft has done a complete 180 and has overtly embraced the notion that people can take technology and do things that its originators never imagined. How could Kinect hacks change the way that NASA does things? What would it be like to use Kinect as a whole body interface with 360 degrees of movement while living in microgravity aboard the ISS? Could NASA control Robonaut this way?
PETMAN is an anthropomorphic robot developed by Boston Dynamics for testing special clothing used by the US Army. PETMAN balances itself as it walks, squats and does simple calisthenics. PETMAN simulates human physiology by controlling temperature, humidity and sweating inside the clothing to provide realistic test conditions. PETMAN development is lead by Boston Dynamics, working in partnership with Measurement Technologies Northwest, Oak Ridge National Lab and MRIGlobal. The work is being done for the US Army PD-CCAT-TI.
"Imagine living a life in which you are completely aware of the world around you but you're prevented from engaging in it because you are completely paralyzed. Even speaking is impossible. For an estimated 50,000 Americans, this is a harsh reality. It's called locked-in syndrome, a condition in which people with normal cognitive brain activity suffer severe paralysis, often from injuries or an illness such as Lou Gehrig's disease."
Think about this: this is clearly one of the major steps in the path toward creading the human/machine interface used inthe film "Avatar" wherein a paraplegic person was able to remotely control an "avatar" body. The same technology could aid astronauts n the operation of various robotic vehicles in remote and hazardous locations.
"Remember the hit movie Avatar, where the human brain alone could control a lifelike hybrid body, seeing what it sees and feeling what it feels? Scientists at Duke University are one step closer to making that concept a reality, with important applications for medicine. They have developed a system through which a monkey can control a virtual arm with its brain and also feel sensations from the appendage. The ultimate goal is to build a robotic body suit controlled entirely by brain activity, which will provide tactile feedback to the wearer, says Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, study co-author and neuroscientist at Duke University. This could potentially enable quadriplegic individuals and people with locked-in syndrome to move, walk and feel textures with robotic hands and feet."
Think about this: The same technology could allow intimate interactions with robotic systems in remote locations in space and on other worlds. It could also allow exoskeletons to operate with humans inside on worlds with higher gravity levels.
"AVATAR created a world which audiences can discover again and again and now, through this incredible partnership with Disney, we'll be able to bring Pandora to life like never before. With two new AVATAR films currently in development, we'll have even more locations, characters and stories to explore," said James Cameron. "I'm chomping at the bit to start work with Disney's legendary Imagineers to bring our AVATAR universe to life. Our goal is to go beyond current boundaries of technical innovation and experiential storytelling, and give park goers the chance to see, hear, and touch the world of AVATAR with an unprecedented sense of reality."
Think about this: NASA and Disney have had multiple collaborations in the past. One of the most recent was with the film "Wall-e". James Cameron is a former NASA Advisory Council member and made an astrobiology-themed theatrial release in 2005 "Aliens of the Deep" (with Disney) which featured young NASA astrobiologists diving in submersibles. In the 1980s EPCOT and NASA KSC worked together on a variety of closed life support system concepts. Perhaps NASA could become a partner in this Avatar theme park effort effort and provide astrobiology advisors to this new venture so as to allow visitors to understand what it would take to find Pandora (a habitable moon circling a gas giant planet that circles another star), travel to it, and then explore the alien ecosystem that thrives on such a world. By coincidence the DARPA 100 Year Starship Conference is being held in Orlando in 2 weeks. Alas, NASA PAO is downplaying NASA's participation in this conference.
Tor/Forge Books and NASA Jointly Announce Publishing Collaboration
In an effort to educate and encourage math and science education Tor/Forge Books, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, and NASA have embarked on a collaboration to publish a series of science based, commercial fiction books, referred to as "NASA inspired Works of Fiction" around concepts pertinent to the current and future work of NASA. NASA will allow existing and new Tor/Forge authors to team up with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's (GSFC) Subject Matter Experts (SME) to create scientifically accurate and entertaining novels in a distinctly unique way.
Tor/Forge and NASA hope that pairing scientists and engineers with the imprints' award-winning roster of writers will raise awareness and inspire the study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), in line with the President's Technology Agenda. They also hope to contribute towards the goal of attracting and retaining students in the above fields, thereby strengthening NASA and the nation's future workforce in a compelling manner. More
Editor's note: In the film "Avatar" the line between organic and electronic is often blurred. Hybrid "avatars" containing both human and Na'vi DNA are created - but with blank minds. Humans enter a chamber that integrates with both their nervous system and that of the avatar so as to allow the human to teleoperate the avatar's body as if it were their own. Clearly, such an integration between biology and technology needs to be seamless and intimate. A new technology is now emerging that would lend itself to such cybernetic/biological applications. As described below, ultra-thin patches with embedded electronics have been developed that can be easily applied to your skin so as to allow integration with electronic systems. In the near term, such an interface could find application in space by allowing astronauts to be better monitored in terms of their health and also allow them to remotely operate robots.
Pro-football-player-turned-multi-mission-astronaut (an all-around Superman), Leland D. Melvin will meet and talk with museum-mentored high school students in a computer-generated, 3-D environment created by students on the Miami Science Museum's virtual world island in Second Life on Saturday, May 21st at 10 a.m. Using avatars that they have created, youth will interact with Mr. Melvin's avatar, who will talk about his passion for science, lend insight into his career path, and answer students' questions.
"Work has stopped on an alternative version of the instrument, with a pair of zoom-lens cameras, which would have provided additional capabilities for improved three-dimensional video. The installed Mastcam on the Mars Science Laboratory mission's Curiosity rover uses two fixed-focal-length cameras: a telephoto for one eye and wider angle for the other. Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, built the Mastcam and was funded by NASA last year to see whether a zoom version could be developed in time for testing on Curiosity." More.
The X PRIZE Foundation today announced the appointment of James Cameron to its Board of Trustees. Cameron joins a world-class Board of Trustees that includes a growing list of entrepreneurs, scientists and engineers such as Dean Kamen, inventor, CEO, DEKA; Dr. J. Craig Venter, CEO, Synthetic Genomics; Elon Musk, CEO, Tesla and CEO, SpaceX; Ray Kurzweil, futurist and author; Anousheh Ansari, first female private space explorer; Larry Page, CEO & co-founder, Google; and Arianna Huffington, President and Editor in Chief, Huffington Post Media Group. The Board actively participates by advising on where large incentive competitions (X PRIZEs and X CHALLENGEs) can drive radical breakthroughs to help address humanity's grand challenges.
"Add diagnosing soft-tissue injuries to online banking, e-mail, video games and thousands of other applications available for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. The Food and Drug Administration ushered in the era of mobile diagnostic radiology Friday, approving software for viewing images and making medical diagnoses from MRIs and CT, PET and SPECT scans on several of Apple Inc.'s popular hand-held devices. The FDA reviewed image quality and checked studies with radiologists under variable lighting conditions and determined that the Apple devices running Mobile MIM software offered clear enough images for diagnostic interpretation." More at the Los Angleles Times
Image: MIM Software
Brad Goodspeed: "Here's an animation I did to make you feel small. While watching the video of the lunar eclipse I posted the other day I was looking at the curvature of the earth's shadow on the moon. It made me think about how large the earth might look if an exact copy of it was up there instead of the moon. Soon curiosity got the better of me, and I was animating!"
Well, Brad got a little carried away. The view you eventually get is one that the Na'vi living on Pandora might appreciate. Watch in HD if at all possible and crank up the volume. BradBlogSpeed.com via io9.com
NSF Science Nation wth Miles O'Brien: Your avatar may be just a virtual identity, but it can also affect how you are in the real world. "In this world of new media, people spend a lot of time interacting with digital versions of one another." --Jeremy Bailenson
If you spend a lot of time online, you may even have an electronic alter ego--an avatar. An avatar is a movable image that people design to represent themselves in virtual reality environments or in cyberspace.
"For some reason, I always pick really short people," says Stanford undergraduate student and avid video gamer Oliver Castaneda.
'Avatar' Director and NASA Focus on Earth Science Exploration in PSA Campaign
"James Cameron, director of "Avatar," the most successful film ever released, is featured in a series of new NASA public service announcements that describe the many contributions of the agency's Earth science program to environmental awareness and exploration of our home planet. "When NASA ventures into space, it remembers to keep a steady eye on home," Cameron said. "Its fleet of Earth-orbiting satellites constantly reveals our whole planet: its remotest places, its mysteries and the powerful influence of humans."
Keith's note: One of the participants in this evening's reception in Washington, DC after the NEO conference was a NASA field center director. Given that he recently had some foot surgery and is not supposed to travel, he used an avatar instead. The center director? Why ARC's Pete Worden, of course. His avatar of choice was an "Anybot" droid. I have seen this little wonder in action in NASA CTO Chris Kemp's office at NASA ARC and will be reporting on it in the near future. This droid is currently on loan by the manufacturer to NASA for evaluation.
This droid is very cool. You can see what is going on and talk to people and they can talk to you. It is totally web browser controlled and has navigation software and obstacle avoidance hardware (and LIDAR) on board. You can inhabit not only your avatar but also other ones in remote locations - just like Cylons downloading into new bodies. Actually it is more like "Serge" the butler droid in the new prequel series "Caprica". Do not be surprised if you see one roaming around NASA HQ in the near future.
"James Cameron got plenty of experience creating an alien world in Avatar. Now the 3D pioneer is looking to test his might with the real deal, Mars, though still in three dimensions. Cameron met with NASA administrator Charles Bolden to pitch the idea of including a 3D camera on the space agency's next generation rover, Curiosity, set to launch toward the red planet next year. "He actually was really open to the idea," Cameron told the Pasadena Star News. "Our first meeting went very well." Beyond the scientific value the detailed images could possess, Cameron may also use the footage in a documentary on Mars in the future."
Avatar Director Helps NASA With Mars Cameras, Information Week
"NASA is getting help from Hollywood director James Cameron to build 3D cameras for the next Mars rover, Curiosity. The space agency abandoned plans to build cameras with the capability for the rover in 2007 due to budgetary concerns. That prompted the director " known for blockbuster films Avatar and Titanic-- to step in and personally petitioned the agency to build the cameras, according to NASA. The agency this month said it has delivered the last two of four science cameras -- called Mastcams -- for the rover without 3D capability."
James Cameron lobbies NASA to include 3-D "eyes" on the next-generation Mars rover, Whittier Daily News
"If the next generation rover is able to take high-resolution color movies in 3-D on Mars, it will be thanks to the reigning king of 3-D cinema himself, "Avatar" director James Cameron. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory scaled back its plans in 2007 to mount such a camera atop the rover Curiosity, set to launch in 2011, after that next flagship mission to Mars came in consistently over budget and behind schedule. But Cameron lobbied hard for inclusion of a 3-D camera for the mission, taking his concerns directly to NASA administrator Charles Bolden in a one-on-one meeting in January."
Cameron's Camera, Air & Space
"The camera is looking down at the Mars rover," recalls Mike Ravine, who was in the meeting. "You can see the sample arm off to one side, and we pan up and see Mars in front of us. We're rolling slowly along the surface. We pan back slowly so we see Mars going by, then look back at the tracks of the rover going off to the horizon behind us--in 3-D." As Cameron talked, Ravine looked around at the faces of the gathered NASA officials, "and everybody in the room was nodding, clearly thinking, "Oh, yeah."
"The message of James Cameron's Avatar, which comes out on DVD and Blu-ray April 22 in conjunction with Earth Day, is unapologetically green. "All life on Earth is connected," the director told me, when I interviewed him for my book, The Futurist: The Life and Films of James Cameron. "We have taken from nature without giving back, and the time to pay the piper is coming."
Pave New Worlds, Are We Alone podcast, SETI Institute
"The extra-solar planet count is more than 400 and rising. Before long we may find an Earth-like planet around another star. If we do, and can visit, what next? Stake out our claim on an alien world or tread lightly and preserve it? We'll look at what our record on Earth says about our planet stewardship. Also, whether a massive technological fix can get us out of our climate mess. Plus, what we can learn about extreme climate from our neighbors in the solar system, Venus and Mars."
- Ken Caldeira - Climate scientist from the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University
- Keith Cowing - Biologist, and editor of NASAwatch.com (podcast segment)
- Kathryn Denning - Anthropologist at York University in Canada
- Gary Davis - Director of the Joint Astronomy Center in Hilo, Hawaii
- David Grinspoon - Curator of the Denver Museum of Science and Nature
Keith's note: James Cameron's "Avatar" has continued to break box office records, has won the Golden Globe Awards for "best picture" and "best director", and is now headed for the Oscars. There is clearly something that the public enjoys about "Avatar". At a time when NASA needs to re-exert its relevance to decision makers and the public, you'd think that there would be some effort to tap this interest in a movie about the wonders of extrasolar planets, astrobiology, and what may lay out there as we explore space - rendered in unparalleled detail and believability. So, how did NASA capitalize on this phenomenon? Answer: It didn't.
All I could find online at NASA.gov is this short summary of an article that was written by someone at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and this link to an interview with someone from MIT that aired on CNN. That's it.
Keith's update: This appeared at NASA.gov late in the day on Monday.
"NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, right, and award-winning writer-director James Cameron, meet at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010. Cameron, who is a former member of the NASA Advisory Council, has had a life-long interest in space and science. The two talked about public outreach and education among other subjects."
"I had been working closely with NASA and we were going to do a... joint mission. I was going to go up and work on the International Space Station with our 3-D cameras," Cameron explained. Unfortunately, the timing did not work out. On multiple levels. "I was pushing for something in the 30 day range and they were pushing for something in the 10 to 15 day range. We got partway down the road on that and, it was interesting, we were testing our 3-D cameras at the Titanic wreck site and September 11 happened. I wasn't prepared at that exact moment in my life, with a family, to go live in Russia for 12 months, which is what it was going to take to do all the training. so I held off," he explained, adding "just before we were about to ramp up on it again, then [Space Shuttle] Columbia went down."
Charlie Bolden did make reference to the movie (without using its name) in his 5 January 2010 speech to the AAS (page 3): "But what of the discoveries we cannot predict as this New Year begins? Thus far, more than 400 extra-solar planets have been discovered orbiting other stars. Last month, a super-Earth was discovered that might be an all-water world. When will someone in this audience discover a Pandora? A real Pandora like the one in James Cameron's fabulous new movie? And will such a discovery open a positive Pandora's box - forever changing the way citizens of Earth view ourselves, and our place in the cosmos? Only time - and the best science - will tell."
Other than Bolden and his speech writers, you have to wonder who at NASA is paying attention to what is going on in society - and who is supposed to be thinking about making sure that the NASA is relevant and responsive to what is happening outside the agency. People from all walks of life flock to see a movie about space exploration - a movie directed by a former member of the NASA Advisory Council - and NASA for the most part is either oblivious - or ambivalent to this immense public interest. Yet the same people at NASA get upset when the public doesn't support the agency or show interest in what it does. Go figure.
It is not as if NASA does not know how to do cross promotional activities - they recently did one for Planet 51 and before that for "Toy Story" character "Buzz Lightyear". Apart from the upcoming Hubble IMAX 3D (the trailer is shown in IMAX theaters before "Avatar") in limited release in IMAX theaters, it would seem that NASA picks movies to promote that are aimed at young children.
What is inexplicable to me is how NASA cannot see this film as an opportunity to promote research it is already funding - research that seems to pop up almost every day (if you know where to find it that is). One example is this paper Planetesimal Accretion in Binary Systems: Could Planets Form Around Alpha Centauri B? which is directly relevant to "Avatar" (Pandora orbits Alpha Centauri A) that appeared today on lanl.arXiv.org which states that "This work was supported ... NASA with grant NNX07AP14G ... "
A recent poll claims to show that "50% of Americans now say the United States should cut back on space exploration given the current state of the economy". Yet Americans are flocking in droves to see this movie - about space exploration. In an overly simplistic comparison, it would seem to me that people are voting with their discretionary funds ($500 million) to experience space exploration that they do not think NASA is - or should be - doing with their non-discretionary tax dollars.
If NASA took the time to understand this situation they might just learn what it is they should be doing such that the public will start to support NASA the way that they support Avatar. Oh well. The President and his family saw "Avatar". He is expected to personally announce what he wants NASA to be doing in a speech on/around 7/8 February. Will his new "vision" for NASA pull people in to participate as has Avatar or leave them outside without a ticket?
"President Barack Obama plans to deliver his annual State of the Union address on January 27 and will present his budget plan on February 1."
"The previous NAC counted among its members James Cameron. While Cameron happens to be a rather skilled engineer in his own right, he is, foremost, an artist - and a communicator. When he spoke at NAC meetings - and other NASA events - he often sought to infuse his advice with input from the real world outside of NASA. Much of what he had to say would not be expected to come out of the mouth of a professional committee member."
Engage the x drive: Ten ways to traverse deep space, New Scientist
"Apart from the mundane problems of budgets and political will, the major roadblock is that our dominant space-flight technology - chemically fuelled rockets - just isn't up to the distances involved. We can send robot probes to the outer planets, but they take years to get there. And as for visiting other stars, forget it. As an example of why, the Apollo 10 moon probe is currently listed as the fastest manned vehicle in history, having reached a maximum speed of 39,895 kilometres per hour. At this speed, it would take 120,000 years to cover the 4 light years to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system."
"It's the year 2154 and humankind has reached out to the stars in director James Cameron's new science-fiction epic Avatar. The movie takes us to an exotic jungle moon called Pandora where humans are the aliens and a clash is brewing with the natives."
Keith's note: I just saw "Avatar" in IMAX 3D. It is simply stunning, utterly convincing, and profoundly immersive. You must see it. This is not a "movie". It is something much more - a paradigm shifter to be certain.
Avatar's Moon Pandora Could Be Real, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
"In the new blockbuster Avatar, humans visit the habitable - and inhabited - alien moon called Pandora. Life-bearing moons like Pandora or the Star Wars forest moon of Endor are a staple of science fiction. With NASA's Kepler mission showing the potential to detect Earth-sized objects, habitable moons may soon become science fact."
Characterizing Habitable Exo-Moons, astro-ph
"We discuss the possibility of screening the atmosphere of exomoons for habitability. We concentrate on Earth-like satellites of extrasolar giant planets (EGP) which orbit in the Habitable Zone of their host stars."
"Now that the super-animated almost-real movie Avatar is about to roll out (in theaters 12/18/09), here come the advertisers with spectacular new types of techno-toys to accompany the flick. For instance, if you hold a tricky Coke Zero can up to your webcam, it sprouts a controllable helicopter. Click the frame above to see a video of that. Hey, this looks like fun. This augmented reality (AR) juju will, be plastered on 140 million bottle-shaped cans, some 30 million fridge packs, as well as bags, bottles, popcorn bags and fountain drink cups. You'll also be able to pick up a card at McDonald's that you hold in front of your webcam, and when you go to an Avatar-branded website, out pops an animation that looks like a real mechanical toy. There will be playable games associated with these controllable 3D animations, offered as bonuses with Big Macs and Happy Meals at the Micky-D fast feeder."
Keith's note: The education and public outreach potential for NASA and all of its stuff is blatantly apparent to me. Imagine putting these things out such that anyone with a computer and a webcam can have NASA stuff jump out and do its thing with all that cool goodness. For all intents and purposes, this "juju" is printed. It is that simple. Imagine having a 3D ISS to play with ... or every spacecraft NASA is designing, new extrasolar planets ... For that matter, imagine the potential for design reviews where components can be sent out for examination - printed using 3d hololithography ... astronaut CAT scans and doppler ultrasound readings from orbit - or Mars.
Avatar Director James Cameron was on the NASA Advisory Council for a while ...
Keith's note: "Avatar", a film by former NASA Advisory Committee member James Cameron, will debut across the planet on 18 December. Widely hailed as "ground breaking" the film may well push the boundaries of what can be portrayed on the big screen. The film centers around humans mining precious materials on a world in the Alpha Centauri star system - and the inevitable conflict that arises with the local (sentient) inhabitants. The film delves into a wide range of issues that intersect with what NASA's Astrobiology Institute and Exobiology Programs have looked into in one way or another.
Unparalleled simulations of an extrasolar planet with a whole new ecology - but it would seem that NASA is not really interested in this film.
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