Organs Made in Outer Space

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Custom made 3D printed organs in space may sound like science fiction, but it’s real and up at the International Space Station they are experimenting with how to print organs better than before. Printing organs is still a relatively new technology and we have good technology to print organs on Earth already. One problem with printing organic material is gravity, so a bunch of astronauts are flying over our heads right now trying to find out if printing organs in space can avoid problems of Earth-based organ printing.

The micro-gravity environment of the ISS was ideal for testing the Bio Fabrication Facility, which was launched into orbit in 2019 and is due for an upgrade in 2021. Developed by US companies Techshot and NScrypt, it is designed to print human cells into organ-shaped tissues. Initially Morgan was using it to test prints of cardiac-like tissue of increasing thicknesses. Ultimately, however, the team behind the technology hopes to refine the equipment so they can print entire human organs in space, which can be used in transplants.

Printing human organs is not quite as science fiction as it sounds. A number of bio-technology companies are working on different approaches, which aim to use a patient’s own cells make new tissue. In most cases they re-programme the cells by following a Nobel Prize-winning process developed a decade ago to turn them into stem cells, which are then theoretically capable of developing into any part of the human anatomy. Given the right nutrients and encouragement, these can then be induced into the cell type of choice. By suspending stem cells in a hydrogel that can be built into a scaffold to stop the growing structure collapsing in on itself, the desired cell type can then be printed layer by layer into living, functioning tissue. 

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How Satellite Alerts Save Forests

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Information is key to success, and that’s especially true when it comes to fighting deforestation. Organizations and governments trying to protect our forests need to know where the illegal activity is happening, when, and who the perpetrators are. A team of researchers wondered if providing alerts from satellites could help organizations preventing deforestations. The short answer is yes.

Those findings come from new research into the effect of GLAD, the Global Land Analysis and Discovery system, available on the free and interactive interface Global Forest Watch. Launched in 2016, GLAD provides frequent, high-resolution alerts when it detects a drop in forest cover. Governments and others interested in halting deforestation can subscribe to the alerts on Global Forest Watch and then intervene to limit forest loss.

Moffette and her co-authors set out to understand whether these kinds of automated alerts could achieve their goal of reducing forest loss, which has global climate implications. Land-use changes like deforestation account for 6 percent to 17 percent of global carbon emissions. And avoiding deforestation is several times more effective at reducing carbon emissions than regrowing forests.

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A Team Cools the Planet by Sending Heat to Outer Space

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Aaswath Raman, a material scientist at UCLA, has looked into the past to solve today’s problems. He has led a team that’s created an impressive device that uses radiative cooling to help cool anything by sending heat into outer space. This sounds like it’s right out of science fiction, but it is very real and is based on sound science that’s been ignored for decades. A basic example of radiative cooling is how temperatures drop on buildings overnight due to the lack of sunlight, in this case the heat just goes into the atmosphere. Using Raman’s new device the heat can get transferred into outer space because the material used reflects a very particular wavelength which won’t get trapped in the atmosphere.

In a few years the Stanford group had its first prototype. Placed outside in the hot California sun, it felt cold to the touch. It was a giddy, counterintuitive sensation, even to Raman.

Yet even after he convinced himself that daytime radiative cooling was possible, it wasn’t until a trip to visit his grandmother in Mumbai that Raman started to see how it could also be useful.

A growing number of homes in Mumbai had air conditioners in their windows, something he rarely saw during childhood visits. That’s an unqualified victory for people’s health, Raman said; exposure to extreme heat can lead to a range of illnesses, from respiratory illness to psychological distress.

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Lunar Library Launched

A couple weeks ago a rocket blasted into space to deliver a satellite into orbit, this sort of thing is now routine. However, this rocket carried a unique payload destined for the lunar surface: a library. The Arch Mission Foundation is piggy backing a special disc on Spaxe IL’s lunar mission. The disc holds all sorts of information that may outlast humanity so future civilizations can get a glimpse into the past. If all goes well it will land on the surface of the Moon on April 11th.

In addition to the English version of the Wikipedia (approximately 7.5M printed pages), the Library contains more than 25,000 books and other resources, including collections from Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive, and the Long Now Foundation Rosetta and PanLex datasets, which provide a linguistic key to 5000 languages with 1.5 billion cross-language translations. The Library also holds a long-duration duplicate of SpaceIL’s Israeli Time Capsule, and several other private archives and special collections.

“Our goal is to provide a backup of human civilization,” said Nova Spivack, co-founder of the Arch Mission Foundation. “Instead of trying to create a generic representation of humanity, our approach is to send crowdsourced resources like the Wikipedia, and many other datasets.”

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A Space Race Approach to Fighting Climate Change

Here’s a neat idea: save the planet using the research and development practices used during the space race. The state-lead push for advanced science led to really fun things like cellphones and laser eye surgery. Imagine what we as a species could create if we had the same push into sustainability like we did during the race to the moon.

If markets left to themselves will continue to merely pump out “innovations” along certain pathways, then it is up to the state to play a more direct role in starting a “greentech” revolution. Mariana Mazzucato, in her book The Entrepreneurial State, argues that major advances in tech from the internet to nanotechnology to pharmaceuticals were born either directly from government research or because governments made the risky investments necessary for the private sector to act.

The good news is that not all money is the same, and those behind Mission Innovation and the Breakthrough Energy Coalition seem to have read Mazzucato. They explicitly reference “patient capital” which can reduce the risk of uncertain technological investments. There is no question this is a major step in the right direction.

Governments certainly need to price carbon, but they should also act as entrepreneurs and market-creators to kickstart innovation for the green growth of the future. If we are underspending on this by orders of magnitude, then doubling is not nearly enough.

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