Cosmic seaplanes and self-growing bricks could help us explore other worlds

Feb 4, 2023, 11:26 AM
A graphic image of a plane-like spacecraft...
The TitanAir concept would fly across the lakes of Saturn's moon Titan. (James Vaughan)
(James Vaughan)

(CNN) — In the golden age of space exploration we live in, cosmic revelations seem to occur more frequently than ever before.

This week, astronomers discovered a rarity: two stars that could one day collide and produce showers of gold.

The possibility of finding celestial wonders such as this one, however, took years of innovation and good old-fashioned elbow grease.

It raises the question of what will be possible in the coming decades. What are the emerging technologies that could provide new ways of studying the universe?

Fortunately for us, innovators are hard at work transforming futuristic science fiction ideas into scientific reality that may one day unlock the final frontier.

Across the universe

The NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts program is known for receiving cutting-edge proposals that could shape the agency’s future missions.

A seaplane-like aircraft that could fly on Saturn’s moon Titan and self-growing bricks to make Martian habitats are among the new concepts recently funded by NASA.

There are also several projects in the works that could sharpen our view of the cosmos, including a massive fluid space telescope, a virtual telescope made of thousands of satellites, and a space observatory dedicated to searching for Earth 2.0.

This year’s Phase I award winners — each granted $175,000 — will spend the next nine months working to prove how feasible their concepts could be.

	A fluid space telescope (right) and a separate instrumentation spacecraft (left) could provide an unprecedented look at the cosmos. (NASA) this article only


The isolated Galapagos Islands are chock-full of species that have long intrigued scientists and inspired Charles Darwin’s famed theory of evolution more than 150 years ago.

It’s a place that’s home to at least 15 different species of finch — all descended from a bird that landed on the archipelago about 2 million years ago. Over time, each individual species has adapted unique beak features to thrive on the islands.

Dolph Schluter, a professor of zoology at the University of British Columbia in Canada, began studying the finches in the late 1970s. His work has shed light on the ecological mechanisms that drive the creation of new species.

This week, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded Schluter the Crafoord Prize — sometimes seen as a precursor to the Nobel Prize — for his work.

Back to the future

The dodo is a pop culture poster child of animals driven to extinction by humans.

The unusual flightless birds enjoyed a predator-free existence on the island of Mauritius until sailors began hunting them in the 1600s. Within a few decades, the dodos were gone.

Now, scientists want to use advances in genetics to bring the dodo — or a hybrid version of it — back to life.

a constructed skeleton model of a dodo.

Researchers want to use ancient DNA to bring back the dodo. (Ranjith Jayasena)

Members of the research team, some of whom also want to resurrect the woolly mammoth and Tasmanian tiger, believe their techniques could provide new avenues for bird conservation.

But some experts question the decision to invest in efforts to revive long-gone creatures when many other highly vulnerable species are in danger of disappearing.

Defying gravity

Artemis II, the first crewed lunar mission of NASA’s Orion spacecraft, is aiming to launch in 2024 on a 10-day journey around the moon. This year, we’ll learn which four people will make that historic trip — the first to circle the moon in 50 years.

But the selection process for the astronaut candidates has remained secretive — apart from the revelation that the announcement identifying the three Americans and one Canadian who will comprise the crew will take place this spring.

CNN’s Space and Defense Correspondent Kristin Fisher spoke with current and former NASA officials and astronauts to learn more about how the crew will be chosen — and the names of the eight men and women generating the most buzz at the space agency.

But the deciding factors behind who goes to the moon could come down to incredibly small and picky details.


Archaeologists gained new insights into how ancient Egyptians mummified their dead by peering inside a subterranean embalming workshop.

ancient Egyptian pottery aligned on ruins

Scientists analyzed vessels from the embalming workshop to glean info from their contents. (M. Abdelghaffar/Saqqara Saite Tombs Project)

Few examples of these workshops remain, and this one, used during the seventh and sixth century BC, was found in 2016. Researchers analyzed the residue inside 31 vessels from the site to learn the secrets of the substances they once contained.

Surprisingly, some of the ingredients came from distant locations, like the forests of Southeast Asia or tropical parts of Africa.

Meanwhile, a different team of archaeologists uncovered a nearly 5,000-year-old tavern in Iraq, complete with an open-air dining area, oven, fridge — and even the remnants of ancient food.

Take note

Check out these new findings:

— Evidence found in a UK cemetery has shown that the Vikings brought horses and dogs with them when they crossed the North Sea to reach Britain more than 1,000 years ago.

— A geologic feature on the surface of Mars closely resembles a bear’s face in a new photo taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

— Giant elephants roamed across what’s now northern Europe 125,000 years ago — and their bones reveal that Neanderthals hunted them as prey.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved. 

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories


The Prince of Wales met members of the Polish military during a visit to the 3rd Brigade Territoria...
Max Foster and Lauren Said-Moorhouse

Prince William makes surprise visit to troops near Ukrainian-Polish border

Britain's Prince William made a rare, unannounced trip to Poland on Wednesday, meeting British and Polish troops stationed near the Ukrainian-Polish border and praising their "cooperation in support of the people of Ukraine and their freedom."
1 day ago
Two adult victims are injured in a shooting at Denver high school on Wednesday. (KCNC via CNN)...
Eric Levenson and Andi Babineau

Search underway for student who shot 2 staff members at Denver high school, officials say

A male student shot and wounded two faculty members at a Denver high school on Wednesday and then fled the scene, spurring a citywide search for his whereabouts, according to city officials.
1 day ago
Global Pharma Healthcare recalled Artificial Tears Lubricant Eye Drops, distributed by EzriCare and...
Janelle Chavez

Two additional deaths linked to bacteria in recalled eye drops, CDC says

A rare strain of bacteria found in recalled eye drops has been linked to dozens of infections, as well as cases of vision loss and surgical removal of eyes.
1 day ago
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is investigating the death of Stephen Smith, a 19-year-...
Randi Kaye and Christina Maxouris

Stephen Smith’s case now being investigated as a homicide

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is investigating the death of Stephen Smith, a 19-year-old nursing student whose body was found in the middle of a South Carolina road in 2015, as a homicide.
2 days ago
President Joe Biden will award the 2021 National Humanities Medals and the National Medal of Arts a...
Maegan Vazquez and Nikki Carvajal

Bruce Springsteen, Gladys Knight among group honored at the White House

Songstress Gladys Knight, actress Mindy Kaling and designer Vera Wang were among a group of creatives, writers, advocates and scholars honored at the White House on Tuesday with the 2021 National Humanities Medals and the National Medal of Arts.
2 days ago
The cast of 'John Wick: Chapter 4' wore blue ribbons to honor late actor Lance Reddick. (Jon Kopalo...
Sandra Gonzalez

Keanu Reeves honors Lance Reddick at ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ premiere

Keanu Reeves had his late co-star Lance Reddick on his mind and on his jacket lapel at Monday night's premiere of "John Wick: Chapter 4."
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Close up of an offset printing machine during production...
Les Olson IT

Top 7 Reasons to Add a Production Printer to Your Business

Learn about the different digital production printers and how they can help your company save time and money.
vintage photo of lighting showroom featuring chandeliers, lamps, wall lights and mirrors...
Lighting Design

History of Lighting Design | Over 25 Years of Providing Utah With the Latest Trends and Styles

Read about the history of Lighting Design, a family-owned and operated business that paved the way for the lighting industry in Utah.
Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Cosmic seaplanes and self-growing bricks could help us explore other worlds