Software pioneer and ENIAC programmer Jean Bartik dies at 86


The New York Times has published an obituary for Jean Jennings Bartik, “one of the first computer programmers and a pioneering forerunner in a technology that came to be known as software.” She died on March 23 at a nursing home in Poughkeepsie, NY, at age 86. She was the last surviving member of the group of women who programmed the Eniac, or Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, regarded as the first all-electronic digital computer. (via Jim Roberts)

Photo, via Wikipedia: “Two women operating the ENIAC’s main control panel while the machine was still located at the Moore School. ‘U.S. Army Photo’ from the archives of the ARL Technical Library. Left: Betty Jennings (Mrs. Bartik) Right: Frances Bilas (Mrs. Spence)

Flying wing to wing with a spaceship: Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo + SpaceShipTwo at Virgin America’s new SFO Terminal

This morning I got up early, packed my bag and headed to the San Francisco International airport (SFO) to attend the opening of Virgin America’s new Terminal 2 (T2). I was expecting Sir Richard Branson to be there, and I had been told to keep an eye out for some appearance from some element of Virgin’s Galactic’s program, but I had no idea what I was in for.

I pretty quickly found out I was in for this:

Shortly before boarding the plane, one of Virgin’s PR people announced that we would be making a 20 minute flight over San Francisco, rendezvousing with White Knight 2 and Spaceship 2 inflight, then landing in parallel with the spacecraft.

[Video Link]

After that, I was just in shock. I did what I could to keep myself collected, which was not an easy task. This was just totally unexpected and amazing. At times, the spaceship was only a couple hundred feet away from us.

Continue reading “Flying wing to wing with a spaceship: Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo + SpaceShipTwo at Virgin America’s new SFO Terminal”

International Space Station Expedition 27: Soyuz launch (big photo gallery)

The Russian Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft, named after the first cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, carrying the International Space Station (ISS) crew of U.S. astronaut Ronald Garan, Russian cosmonauts Alexandr Samokutyaev and Andrey Borisenko, blasts off at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 5, 2011. Three others are already in orbit on the ISS. More photos from the launch follow. (REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov)

Continue reading “International Space Station Expedition 27: Soyuz launch (big photo gallery)”

NASA Mars Science Laboratory + Curiosity Rover: first look (photo gallery)


[photo, above: MSL’s descent stage, which files the rover down to Mars’ surface using eight rockets, and lowers it on a tether for landing. The orange spheres are propellant tanks.]

This week, Boing Boing was invited to visit NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the first and only opportunity for media to enter the Pasadena, CA clean room where NASA’s next Mars rover, Curiosity, and other components of the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft have been built for launch in late 2011 from Florida.

Shipment from the clean room to Florida will begin next month. Curiosity rover recently completed tests under simulated space and Mars-surface environmental conditions in another building and is back in the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for other tests. Spacecraft assembly and testing specialists showed Boing Boing the rover and the other spacecraft components, including the descent stage “sky crane.”

Photographer Joseph Linaschke visited on behalf of Boing Boing (he donned a bunny suit for the occasion) and shot this series of photos. More below.

Captions for Boing Boing by Ashwin Vasavada, a scientist with the NASA JPL MSL program.

[photo, above: MSL’s 4.5-meter aeroshell that encapsulates the rover and descent stage during cruise to Mars and its entry into Mars’ upper atmosphere. The upper cage will hold the parachute.]

Continue reading “NASA Mars Science Laboratory + Curiosity Rover: first look (photo gallery)”

Southwest’s “peeled plane” incident, and the true cost of cheap airline maintenance

RTR2KQSU.jpg TODAY I LEARNED: “metal fatigue” isn’t what happens when you listen to your favorite Slayer album one too many times. (

Related: Two PBS Frontline documentaries, “Flying Cheap,” and “Flying Cheaper.

(Photo: Southwest mechanics work on a Boeing 737 inside a hanger at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. REUTERS/Rick Scuteri)

Yemen conflict: “Can you hear me now? Good!” (photo)


Supporters of Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh stand on pillars during a rally to show their support, in Sanaa April 1, 2011. Embattled Saleh told a huge rally of supporters on Friday that he would sacrifice everything for his country, suggesting he has no plans to step down yet. (REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

Space image of the day: swirling palette of star-forming clouds

Here’s a beautiful new image just released today from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Explorer, or WISE: the busy star-forming complex called Rho Ophiuch, which is one of the closest star-forming complexes to Earth. More about the image:

The amazing variety of different colors seen in this image represent different wavelengths of infrared light. The bright white nebula in the center of the image is glowing due to heating from nearby stars, resulting in what is called an emission nebula. The same is true for most of the multi-hued gas prevalent throughout the entire image, including the bluish bow-shaped feature near the bottom right. The bright red area in the bottom right is light from the star in the center – Sigma Scorpii – that is reflected off of the dust surrounding it, creating what is called a reflection nebula. And the much darker areas scattered throughout the image are pockets of cool dense gas that block out the background light, resulting in absorption (or ‘dark’) nebulae. WISE’s longer wavelength detectors can typically see through dark nebulae, but these are exceptionally opaque.

Continue reading “Space image of the day: swirling palette of star-forming clouds”

“Mute: the silence of dogs in cars,” a photo series by Martin Usborne


Photographer Martin Usborne has a wonderful project titled Mute: the silence of dogs in cars. Most of the images were taken at night. Above, a piece from the series titled “Peggy.”

Usborne writes:

I was once left in a car at a young age.

I don’t know when or where or for how long, possibly at the age of four, perhaps outside Tesco’s, probably for fifteen minutes only. The details don’t matter. The point is that I wondered if anyone would come back. It seems trivial now but in a child’s mind it is possible to be alone forever.

Around the same age I began to feel a deep affinity with animals – in particular their plight at the hands of humans. I remember watching TV and seeing footage of a dog being put in a plastic bag and being kicked. What appalled me most was that the dog could not speak back. Its muteness terrified me.

Read the rest of his story here, with more photos. You can purchase prints here. (thanks, Andrea James!)

Japan (Photo): Inside an evacuation center near Fukushima

A girl from a displaced family holds her stuffed animals at an evacuation center in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, northern Japan, March 31, 2011. This shelter is located about 70 km (44 miles) from the earthquake and tsunami-crippled nuclear reactor. (REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

Japan nuclear crisis: IAEA, Greenpeace report high contamination outside evacuation zone


Consequences of the nuclear crisis in Japan continue to expand. The March 11 quake and tsunami left 28,000 people dead or missing, and triggered a series of increasingly grave problems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Separately, both the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Greenpeace have measured radioactivity levels outside the exclusion zone that exceed the limits established by the government of Japan.

From the IAEA’s update, which includes details on the data readings and locations:

The highest values were found in a relatively small area in the Northwest from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. First assessment indicates that one of the IAEA operational criteria for evacuation is exceeded in Iitate village. We advised the counterpart to carefully access the situation. They indicated that they are already assessing.

These findings may add to pressure for the government of Japan to widen the exclusion zone beyond 20 kilometers (12 miles) around the Fukushima power plant.

In related news, earlier today smoke was seen rising from electrical equipment in the turbine building at the No.1 reactor of the Fukushima Daini nuclear plant.

PHOTO—CLICK FOR LARGE: A medical staff screens a boy for signs of radioactivity contamination at an evacuation center in Fukushima, northern Japan, on March 30, 2011. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

UPDATE: a clarification for BB, from Dave Walsh at Greenpeace:

Our measurements were comparable to that of the Japanese authorities – where we differed was on the action that should be taken. Our criticism is that the 20km evacuation zone is too arbitrary, and doesn’t take into account pockets of high radioactivity elsewhere. The high levels of radioactivity in places like Iitate are high enough that anyone spending time there would get the maximum allowable annual dose in just few days. So, although our measurements are in line with the authorities, we’re advocating evacuation of places that they are not.