NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson to smash US cumulative space record

Peggy Whitson, a NASA astronaut currently onboard the International Space Station, is set to break the United States record for cumulative days in space within weeks. However, her record will now be far harder to beat after the space agency decided to extend her stay on the ISS by three months.

Whitson had been scheduled to return to Earth as part of Expedition 51, which would have seen her arrive back on the Blue Marble in June, having broken the cumulative space record on 24th April. However, the extended stay will now see her return as part of Expedition 52, with a scheduled return in September.

“This is great news,” Whitson said, speaking from the ISS. “I love being up here. Living and working aboard the space station is where I feel like I make the greatest contribution, so I am constantly trying to squeeze every drop out of my time here. Having three more months to squeeze is just what I would wish for.”

The United States record for cumulative days in space is currently held by Jeff Williams, who has racked up a total of 534 days over four space flights. When Whitson completes her current mission she will have totalled over 600 days.

However, she will still have some way to go to break the overall record, which is held by Roscosmos cosmonaut Gennady Padalka with a total of 879 days in space over 5 missions. But with this being only Whitson’s third time in space, it is always possible that NASA could send her back to the ISS in the future, particularly as she is considered one of the most senior astronauts currently active within the agency.

“Peggy’s skill and experience makes her an incredible asset aboard the space station,” said Kirk Shireman, NASA’s International Space Station Program Manager, in comments about the decision to continue her stay aboard the ISS. “By extending the stay of one of NASA’s most veteran astronauts, our research, our technology development, our commercial and our international partner communities will all benefit.”

Images courtesy of NASA Johnson

Whitson first went into space on Expedition 5 back in 2002, having been selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in 1996 following a stint as a project scientist for the Shuttle-Mir programme.

Since then she has become one of the most successful female astronauts of all time, and in 2008 was made the first female commander of the ISS, before going on to become the first woman to command it twice.

She is also no stranger to record-breaking. She has already spent more cumulative days in space than any other woman, and has completed the most spacewalks of any female, beating Sunita Williams’ record on her second mission.

Valve’s ‘Knuckles’ controller brings individual finger control to VR

With a prototype first revealed at the company’s Steam Dev Days conference last October, Valve’s new ‘Knuckles’ controller is now being shipped to developers as a prototype, while a blog post unveils a few more of the specs.

What’s important about the new controller is that it on only utilises an ‘open hand’ design that will mean you don’t have to spend your entire time gripping the controller like a weapon, but  it also features basic tracking for individual fingers.

The device is similar to the current HTC Vive motion controller, positioning in 3D space via Steam’s Lighthouse tracking system, but looks to build to the next stage of what can be done with motion control in VR. Specifically, Valve is looking to bring a much greater presence of your virtual hand into the market.

Moreover, they’re looking to make that virtual hand feel far more natural. With the controller able to grip onto your hand – think somewhat similar to securing your Wiimotes to your wrist – you’ll be able to operate in the virtual space with an open hand. While it may seem a small thing, it brings a whole new realism to any kind of grabbing or catching motion.

In addition, the ability of the Knuckles to track the movement of individual fingers could prove a real game-changer to virtual reality experiences.  Using a number of capacitive sensors to detect the state of your hands when your finger is on a button, or particular part of a controller, the controller will, according to the dev post, “return a curl value between zero and one, where zero indicates that the finger is pointing straight out and one indicates that the finger is fully curled around the controller”.

In essence, this means that the controller will be able to sense fine gradations of movement in each of your fingers, rather than relying on a binary “open” or “closed” status. Beyond lending a more organic feel to the use of your virtual hand, this will also allow users to make use of a range of hand gestures currently unavailable with VR controllers. A screenshot from a new version of SteamVR Home displays the possibilities with a Knuckles user’s avatar throwing up devil horns.

Images courtesy of Valve

It’s worth noting that this isn’t a perfect tracking system. While farther along than, for example, the Oculus Touch controllers, which allow you to slightly open your fingers while tracking the three non-index fingers together via an analog trigger, the Knuckles aren’t exactly ‘full’ finger tracking. Ideally, controllers will reach the point of knowing where your fingers are at all times with pinpoint precision. Until then however, the Knuckles are no small step forward.

The current Knuckles controller dev kit reportedly has a battery life of three hours and requires an hour of USB Micro charging to fill up (if accurate, these numbers put it roughly in the same realm as Vive controllers in regards to battery). We’ll have to wait on confirmation of this and other details,

Elon Musk speaks to LA's mayor about his Boring Company

Elon Musk said this week that he has held “promising conversations” with L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, regarding the potential of bringing his recently formed Boring Company to the city. One of the ideas reportedly under consideration would see an express line to LAX airport from LA’s Union Station being built.

Source: Tech Crunch

Atari is back with a new console

Last week, Atari began teasing a new product called the Ataribox. Now, in an exclusive interview with GamesBeat Atari CEO Fred Chesnais has confirmed that the pioneering video game company is working on a new game console. “We’re back in the hardware business,” said Chesnais.

Source: Venture Beat

Nasa find 10 planets that could potentially host life

Nasa has added a further 219 candidates to the list of planets beyond our solar system, 10 of which may be about the same size and temperature as Earth, and may host life. Scientists found the candidates in a final batch of Nasa’s Kepler Space Telescope observations of 200,000 sample stars in the constellation Cygnus.

Source: The Guardian

Tesla Model S told driver to put his hands on the wheel before fatal crash

Federal regulators said on Monday, the driver of a Tesla Model S, who was killed in a collision while the car was in autopilot mode, did not have his hands on the steering wheel for a prolonged period of time despite being repeatedly warned by the vehicle that having his hands on the wheel was necessary.

Source: Ars Technica

Uber founder Travis Kalanick resigns

Having last week said that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence, Uber boss Travis Kalanick resigned as chief executive of the company this week after pressure from shareholders. His resignation comes after a review of practices at the firm and scandals including complaints of sexual harassment.

Source: BBC

Facebook defends against injunction to remove Oculus Rift from sale

Facebook and Oculus want a federal judge to let them continue selling Rifts despite a jury deciding Oculus stole another company’s computer code. Lawyers for Facebook said halting the sale of Oculus Rifts “would serve no one but ZeniMax, who would use it only as leverage to try to extract money from Oculus”.

Source: Bloomberg