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Published: Nov. 6, 2002 at 7:45 AM
United Press International

Balloons have been used as low-cost observational vehicles for years and now they may have a role to play in space exploration. Alexey Pankine, a fellow at the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts, has outlined how balloons outfitted with a novel steering device and robot probes could be the future of planetary exploration. The study on Directed Aerial Robot Explorers or DARE is based on the concept balloons can float in planetary atmospheres for days. The challenge to overcome in using balloons is the inability to control their paths in strong atmospheric winds. Global Aerospace Corp. came up with a solution -- a device called a StratoSail -- which is a wing that hangs on a long tether below the balloon and allows the user to steer.


A new electronic nose really knows -- when it comes to pneumonia. Developed by Dr. C. William Hanson and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, the electronic nose is so sensitive it can identify specific types of bacteria -- strep or staph -- "by making a fingerprint of the odor." Cyranose is made by Cyrano Sciences Inc. of Pasadena, Calif. Hanson says testing on patients with ventilator acquired pneumonia found Cyranose was able to correctly identify the diagnosis -- which otherwise had been made through X-rays or sputum cultures. Hanson says such traditional diagnostics can take hours or days, during which the patient's condition could worsen. Cyranose uses 32 carbon-black sensors imbedded in a polymer grid. As the odor passes over these sensors it produces unique patterns that are displayed in two-dimensional maps or dot patterns on a computer screen. The computer then uses pattern recognition algorithms to identify the odor and pinpoint the bacteria.


University of California physicist Gregory Benford is making plans to push a spacecraft into Earth's orbit with energy beamed from the ground. The joint UCI-Microwave Sciences Inc. mission is scheduled for next spring with the launch of a satellite from a Russian submarine off the coast of St. Petersburg. The satellite -- the Cosmos Sail - was developed by Benford and his brother and will be the first solar-sail craft to orbit Earth. It is made of lightweight layers of aluminized mylar, which will allow it to be propelled from low orbit to high orbit and then into interplanetary space by ground-based microwave energy, similar to the way wind pushes a sailboat. The electromagnetic waves burn significantly less engine fuel -- the most prohibitive expense of interplanetary voyaging.


Biological motors used for intracellular transport in nature have inspired researchers to create a new class of micro-devices to control magnetic flux quanta in superconductors. Scientists at the University of Michigan and RIKEN, a research institute in Japan, say this could lead to the development of a new generation of medical diagnostic tools. As integrated circuits become smaller it becomes difficult to create "guiding channels" to move electrons around the circuit components. The challenge is to control the motion of magnetic field lines within the superconducting material so it does not produce noise that degrades device performance. Biological motors use sawtooth-shaped spatially asymmetric structures, so the researchers propose using time-asymmetric forces to achieve a sawtooth pattern. By repeatedly pushing slowly in one direction and fast in the opposite direction, they can force magnetic flux quanta to move from one point to another inside materials.


(EDITORS: For more information about DARE, contact Alexey Pankine, 626-345-1200 or For CYRANOSE, Olivia Fermano, 215-349-5653 or, for COSMOS SAIL, Tom Vasich, 949- 824-6455 or, and for MICRODEVICE, Judy Steeh, 734-647-3099 or

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