I know we’re all wondering about what the Next Big Space Thing is going to be, especially since everybody seems to have spontaneously realized that in the forty years since we landed on the moon, the only space missions that haven’t been kind of boring have been the ones that were tragic.

The trendy answer seems to be “We’re going to Mars!” This despite the fact that NASA is about to retire the space shuttle fleet and the closest that we’ve gotten to training people for the mission is isolating a bunch of dudes in a box for a fraction of the time it would take to complete a trip to the planet, and this without the common courtesy to invite Pauly Shore and Steven Baldwin.

Don’t get me wrong – landing on the red planet is a nice idea. It’s noble and ambitious and would be super awesome to see. But seriously, no one gets to even bring up a manned mission to Mars until we can keep the shitter on the International Space Station working for more than a year at a stretch. End of story.

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The first images from the European Union’s fancy new Herschel Space Observatory have arrived, and ahead of schedule no less.

Scientists working with the project have made the announcement with caveats attached, reminding the public that the Herschel and it’s Photoconductor Array Camera and Spectrometer are new tools, and will take some adjusting before they’re properly tuned. Of course, this makes the Observatory’s first glimpses of the Whirlpool Galaxy (that’s M51, if you’re feeling nasty) all the more impressive for being essentially rough drafts. They’ve also provided side by side comparisons of the new Herschel images and images of the same galaxy taken by NASA’a Spitzer space telescope, along with the following statement:

The obvious advantage of the larger size of the telescope is clearly reflected in the much higher resolution of the image: Herschel reveals structures that cannot be discerned in the Spitzer image.

Herschel has certainly earned it’s bragging rights here, having accomplished the difficult task of making what was once a state of the art photograph of the unsurpassed glory of deep space and the majesty of the universe look like a total piece of crap. But it’s hard not to see the statement as a sort of kicking a space agency when it’s down. Pieces are actively falling off the Hubble like my grandmother’s Oldsmobile. This week brought a reminder that the remaining fleet of space shuttles is held together mostly by duct tape, spit and happy thoughts. And American astronauts are faced with the prospect of calling up Russia every time they need a ride to the ISS anytime in the nest five years. With all this taken into consideration, it’s not as if NASA needed another reminder of it’s inadeqacies. But hey, there it is.

This week’s big winner is University of Colorado professor Chris Greene, whose theories that a Rydberg molecule could be formed were finally proven correct this week. The extremely weak molecular bond, in which a Rydberg atom, with just one electron in its outermost orbit, bonds for a matter of microseconds with a normal atom, forming a Rydberg molecule. The trick to forming the bond is getting conditions cold enough for the Rydberg atom to interact with it’s standard partner – University of Stuttgart researchers who successfully formed the molecule only did so at a temperature of negative 273 degrees Celsius.

Greene is joined on the podium by cow farmers everywhere, for whom the decoding of the cow genome earlier this week means that mucking about with the fundamental makeup of the animals they make their living on just got that much easier. An unlocked genome means that farmers can produce new strains and breeds of cow which will be optimized to produce more and better quality milk and meat. Future generations of gene tinkered bovines could even go to the slaughterhouse with smiles on their eager to be murdered faces. And wouldn’t that be nice?

Speaking of people with smiles on their faces, anti-depressant manufacturers are looking pretty giddy lately, and it’s not because they’ve been dipping into their own stash. Rather, the recent news that a ban on teenage anti-depressant use has not affected suicide rates among teens in the United Kingdom calls into question the perceived link between depression medication and teenagers taking their own lives. That’s right – teenagers killing themselves is actually good news for pharmaceutical companies. Try and act surprised.

Medication isn’t the only treatment for depression, though. For some people suffering from depression, a couple of hours in front of the TV can relieve the feelings of loneliness and isolation, imbuing viewers with a sense of belonging that may be missing in their lives.

‘Clean coal’ supporters also won big this week as Energy Secretary Steven Chu threw the backing of the United States behind the industry, which depends on technologies like carbon capture and gasification to provide energy from coal that doesn’t wreak havoc on the environment. The good news – these technologies may even exist and be effective. The bad news – well, they also may not, but we’re going to use them anyhow.

Cause for optimism remains, though. For evidence that things aren’t always as bad as we think, look no further than the Great Barrier Reef, one of the most astonishing natural wonders of the planet. After spending years teetering on the broink of devastation, the reef has either started one of the most amazing comebacks on record or dodged a bullet, depending on who you ask. Either way, chalk one up in the win column.

That’s not to say optimism is always warranted, as thinkers of happy thoughts are also inaugurating our losers section this week. The reason? Well, it turns out that people possessed of the rosiest outlook for the environmental future of the planet are also those who have the least notion of what’s going on. Of course, the study was performed using 15 year old subjects, so take it for what it’s worth, but remember – these are the people who will be making decisions that impact all life on earth in the coming decades, and if this study has proven one thing, it’s that not knowing how things work makes them happy.

On the other hand, unrestrained pessimists don’t look to be faring any better. News that people who think they will lose their memory as they age tend to experience far worse memory loss than individuals who don’t buy into senior moment stereotypes has Grumpy Gusses the world over settling angrily into the losers column this week. Doesn’t that just figure?

In other unsurprising news, ugly kids are among this weeks losers. A University of Miami study released this week linked physical attractiveness and good grooming in high school with not only higher grades, but also long term financial success. While this may be less than newsworthy, it does support the notion that every film strip you ever watched in elementary school was exactly right about everything, and if that doesn’t terrify you, you’re a stronger person than me.

Among this weeks other losers are Vietnam veterans, because they certainly haven’t had to put up with enough crap already. A study due out in the May issue of The British Journal of Urology International found that prostate cancer patients who had been exposed to Agent Orange  had a 50 percent higher risk of the cancer recurring than others, and that their instances of recurrence were significantly more aggressive than those of other patients.

And closing out our losers is NASA. The agency is staring down a deadline to make a decision on whether to rehab or retire the current space shuttle fleet, but doesn’t have a top executive in place to make the call. Every day that the decision gets put off is a bad one for NASA, whose astronauts are already faced with the bleak prospect of hitching rides to space alongside Russian cosmonauts. With Ruso-American relations remaining icy, that’s a bad fix at best. But keeping the current shuttle fleet in operation while the next generation of ships gets ready to go up, up and away may simply be too dangerous for the agency to face.