Science Sunday 07-16-17

Deep Space Testing

On July 10th, NASA sealed the James Webb Telescope into a chamber designed to see how well the telescope will work in the environment of outer space.

The telescope is a successor to the famed Hubble Space Telescope, and is expected to pick up the much fainter infrared light of galaxies shining from near the edge of the visible universe, some 13.4 billion light years away.

Testing is expected to last 100 days, with the first 40 days devoted to conditioning the spacecraft to the extremely cold conditions needed for it to operate properly.

Named after NASA’s second administrator James Webb, the telescope is extremely complicated in form and deployment.  It will be positioned at Lagrange Point 2, about 1 million miles away from Earth’s unilluminated side.  The scope will have a primary mirror greater than 20 feet across, and will permanently face away from the Sun, protected by a football field sized sunshield that reduces the temperature around the mirror to minus 370 degrees Fahreinheit.

The mission will launch in October of 2018, from French Guiana, aboard an Arianne 5 rocket.  It will take about 10 days from launch to become fully operational.


Banana Nana Fo Fana

From Time Magazine:

Genetically engineered bananas, packed with micronutrients, are to undergo their first human trial in the United States to test their ability to battle rampant vitamin A deficiency — a large cause of infant death and blindness throughout low-income communities around the world.

“The consequences of vitamin A deficiency are dire with 650,000 to 700,000 children worldwide dying … each year and at least another 300,000 going blind,” the project leader, Professor James Dale from Australia’s Queensland University of Technology, told AFP.

The six-week trial backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation expects to have results by the end of the year and plans to have the bananas growing in Uganda by 2020.


CAR-T Therapy Shows High Cure Rate for Leukemia

CAR-T stands for chimeric antigen receptor T cell therapy, a gene editing technique that promises to cure certain cancers on an individual by individual basis.

The FDA has just given tentative approval for a version of this therapy that promises to knock out B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).  Clinical trials showed a complete remission (or cure) rate of 83%.

The treatment is called CTL019, and is being manufactured by Novartis.


Exploring Inner Space

The above video is a Ted Talk by Robert “Bob” Ballard, deep sea explorer extraordinaire.  Professor Ballard is best known for finding sunken ships like the Titanic, the Bismarck, and the Yorktown.

But Mr. Ballard is a polymath of the unexplored world of Earth’s oceans and seas, known not only for finding lost ships like those listed above, but also for exploring the Mid-Ocean Ridge, which altogether comprise an essentially uninterrupted span of underwater mountains over 40,000 miles long.

Along this mid-ocean ridge and its accompanying “rift” valley, hydrothermal vents spawn an amazing diversity of life, including bacteria that can change chemicals into the energy needed by the creatures hosting them (chemosynthesis).

In Mr. Ballard’s Ted Talk, he “complains” that the yearly budget for NASA would pay NOAA’s budget for 1600 years.  A compelling speaker, Mr. Ballard makes the case that humanity should as much explore the inner space of our oceans and seas as we do the outer space we seek to understand.