Science Scanner: Swiss Launch Attack on Space Junk

Posted February 15th, 2012 at 11:33 pm (UTC-4)
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The Swiss are taking aim at space junk – the thousands of man-made objects launched into space over the years which have accumulated into a virtual junkyard filled with now-useless debris, like spent rocket stages and old satellites.

NASA's concept of Space Debris surrounding Earth (Photo: NASA)

NASA's is tracking the space debris surrounding Earth (Photo: NASA)

NASA keeps a close eye on about 16,000 of these objects and scientists have expressed concern about the potential hazards they pose for spacecraft.

However, not a lot has really been done to address the problem.

But now the Swiss are coming to the rescue.  The Swiss Space Center at EPFL announced today that it’s launching  CleanSpace One, which will develop and build the first part of a group of satellites specifically designed to clean up space debris.

“It has become essential to be aware of the existence of this debris and the risks that are run by its proliferation,” says Claude Nicollier, astronaut and EPFL professor.

Project members estimate that the design and construction of CleanSpace One, as well as its maiden space voyage, will cost about 10 million Swiss francs.

They’re hopeful their first space clean-up job will take place within five years.

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Cellphone users shown to be selfish

Talking on the cell phone may reduce the desire to connect with others, say UMD researchers (Photo: John Consoli/UMD)

Talking on the cell phone may reduce the desire to connect with others, say UMD researchers (Photo: John Consoli/UMD)

A new University of Maryland study links cellphone use to selfish behavior.

Researchers focused on test subjects who were mostly in their early 20s. They found that, after using their cellphones for a relatively short period of time,  the group was less likely to volunteer for a community service activity, which was different from the control group.

The study also found that those who used their cell phones were not as determined to solve word problems, even when a monetary donation to charity was used as a motivating factor.

The researchers also noted that the cellphone users decreased focus on others even when the test subjects were only asked to draw a picture of their cellphones and think about how they used them.

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New test provides early insight into risk of developing dementia, having a stroke

(Photo: Sean Hagen via Creative Commons/Flickr)

Tests such as gauging walking speed can be used to determine whether or not a person develops dementia. (Photo: Sean Hagen via Creative Commons/Flickr)

Doctors may soon be able to tell if a middle-aged patient will develop dementia or suffer a stroke with simple tests such as gauging walking speed and measuring hand grip strength.

That’s according to new research released today by the American Academy of Neurology.

“These are basic office tests which can provide insight into risk of dementia and stroke and can be easily performed by a neurologist or general practitioner,” said Erica Camargo, with Boston Medical Center.

Tests for walking speed, hand grip and cognitive function were given to more than 2,400 men and women with an average age of 62.

The researchers also performed brain scans on their subjects.

During a follow-up period of up to 11 years, the researchers found that of all the people tested, 34 had developed dementia and 70 people suffered a stroke.

The study revealed that middle aged people with a slower walking speed were 1.5 times more likely to develop dementia as compared to those who had a faster walking speed.

In people over the age of 65, those with a stronger hand grip had a 42 percent lower risk of having a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) as compared to those who had weaker hand grip strength.

However, the study found that this was not the necessarily the case for people who were under 65 years old.

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Mid-life choices could determine whether you have a long and happy life

(Photo: Sigfrid Lundberg via Creative Commons/Flickr)

(Photo: Sigfrid Lundberg via Creative Commons/Flickr)

And finally, one of the oldest and most frequent questions humans ponder is “How do we live a long and happy life?”

Harvard University has researched the answer to that question for 74 years and they’ve found where you are in mid-life could impact how long and how well you live into old age.

They’ve learned that what you’re doing and experiencing at age 50 has more of an impact on your health and happiness when you’re 70, than what happened to you in earlier times of your life.

One finding shows that the better vacations you take when you’re still young, which provides a measure of your ability to play, can better indicate your happiness later in life than, believe it or not, your income.

Also important to later-life happiness, according to the study, is a healthy and stable marriage.  The researchers say this underscores how important it is to have mature coping skills to be ready for the troubles and adversities that may come later in life.

“We used to think that if you had relatives who lived to a ripe old age, that was the best predictor of a long life,” said Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study. “It turns out that the lifestyle choices people make in midlife are a more important predictor of how long you live.”

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Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

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