This summer, spaceflight company SpaceX, contracted by NASA to replace the retired space shuttle, will dock its Dragon spacecraft at the International Space Station. SpaceX
We at PopSci love to find the biggest, coolest, most interesting science and technology innovations. This year promises much to love, including an artificial heart that looks and beats just like a real one, and 3-D entertainment without the goofy glasses–plus, judging by the State of the Union, our president seems bullish on science and tech. So, what else will make 2011 awesome?
2011 has already been a great year in science: An engineer designed his own life-saving heart implant, we’ve already had the required cold fusion claim, Japanese scientists are planning to resurrect the woolly mammoth, we could have a universal flu vaccine, and many more. But there’s lots more to look forward to, including advances in space and aviation, medicine, environmental tech, and consumer tech and entertainment, and we’ve collected 43 of the probable advances about which we’re most excited.
Click to launch our guide to the upcoming year in science.
Space and Aviation: Space Shuttle Makes Its Final Flight. For Real. Maybe
Endeavour is expected to make its 25th flight in February, but NASA wants to squeeze in one more mission – tentatively scheduled for June 28.
Space and Aviation: Messenger Orbits Mercury, Snaps Photo
In March, after a six-year journey, the Messenger spacecraft will begin taking images of Mercury’s entire surface. The goal: a high-resolution map that will help scientists understand what makes Mercury the solar system’s densest planet.
Space and Aviation: NASA Boosts Private Spaceflight
Funding to fuel the private sector’s development of efficient transportation to and from space most likely jumps to $200 million, from last year’s $50 million. Companies receiving funding in the past include Blue Origin and Boeing.
Space and Aviation: Dark Energy Gets A Closer Look
A 570-megapixel camera, installed on the Victor M. Blanco telescope in Chile, will capture light from more than 300 million distant galaxies. Within those images could be signs of dark energy, the mysterious force that may be what is causing the universe to expand at an increasing rate.
Space and Aviation: Neptune Completes The Solar Circuit
Neptune was discovered in 1846. This year, astronomers observe as the farthest planet from the sun (sorry, Pluto) completes its first full solar orbit since then, a journey of some 17 billion miles.
Space and Aviation: Juno Begins Search For Oxygen On Jupiter
The solar-powered spacecraft launches in August and will reach its final destination, Jupiter’s orbit, in 2016. Juno will measure the thermal radiation emanating from deep inside Jupiter’s atmosphere and determine just how much oxygen is present
Space and Aviation: Private Trucks Take Flight
This summer, spaceflight company SpaceX, contracted by NASA to replace the retired space shuttle, will dock its Dragon spacecraft at the International Space Station
Space and Aviation: Moon Structure Revealed
Launching in September, the GRAIL mission’s twin spacecraft will fly in tandem lunar orbits for three months, measuring the gravitational field of the moon to help determine its inner structure and better understand its origins, as well as those of Earth and other terrestrial planets
Space and Aviation: Spaceport America is Built
By the end of the year, the world’s first commercial spaceport, near Upham, New Mexico, will complete construction of its Terminal Hangar Facility. The main tenant will be Virgin Galactic (pictured here).
Space and Aviation: Virgin Galactic Flies In Space
The suborbital “spaceline” will spend most of the year testing SpaceShipTwo with test crews going into suborbit
Space and Aviation: Mars Science Laboratory Blasts Off
Stronger than Spirit and Opportunity, which have been roaming Mars since 2004, the MSL rover is designed to travel farther across the Red Planet. It will look for conditions that might support life using a high-resolution camera and a laser that identifies rock chemistry
Space and Aviation: Terrafugia’s Flying Cars On Sale At Last
The Terrafugia Transition will finally let you do exactly what PopSci has been promising for decades: land on the tarmac, fold up your wings, and drive into your garage at home. It will cost between $200,000 and $250,000
Science: Scientists Catalog Global Biodiversity
Following the success of the Census of Marine Life, the National Science Foundation ramps up a decade-long survey of species diversity, from the types of microbes that live in the guts of bees to how fungi interact with trees.
Science: Trend Watch: the Hunt for Neutrinos Expands
Physicists study the properties of neutrinos to gain insight into the nature of matter. This year, scientists at the Daya Bay Neutrino Experiment will begin analyzing neutrinos released from a nuclear reactor to determine how the particles transform between three different types: electron, muon and tau. The scientists’ goal is to understand why the universe is made primarily of matter and not antimatter. By spring, the IceCube telescope in Antarctica will be at full strength and looking for neutrinos spun out from violent cosmic events like supernovae. Meanwhile, the National Science Board will influence the fate of the proposed Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory. If the lab is built, those scientists will also try to tease out why antimatter is so rare in our universe.
Science: Computer Challenges Humanity at Trivia
Alex Trebek hosts IBM supercomputer Watson on Jeopardy next month. The key to Watson’s success will not be just its vast stores of trivia but also its ability to quickly parse the clues.
Science: Evolutionary Biologists Reveal The Plant Tree of Life
In March, scientists release the most concise analysis of the evolution of plant genes, allowing researchers to study processes like seed production.
Science: Scientists Hope To Make Rare Mares Mothers
Researchers at the National Zoological Park will attempt to produce the first Przewalski’s horse foals conceived by artificial insemination. With only 1,600 of the horses on the planet, every foal counts.
Science: Scientists Vote On The Kilo
Late this year, attendees of the General Conference on Weights and Measures will vote on a plan to fix the magnitude of the kilogram—currently defined by an actual chunk of platinum-iridium alloy held in a vault near Paris—by precisely defining the value of the Planck constant.
Science: Oil Cleanup X-Prize Winners Announced
Last August, the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X Challenge asked inventors to devise a method for removing oil from the ocean’s surface. The first-prize winner will take home $1 million.
Science: New Supercomputer Will Become World’s Fastest
When researchers at IBM power up Blue Waters late this year, it will be four times as fast as today’s most powerful supercomputer, the Tianhe-1a system at China’s National Supercomputing Center. Blue Waters will perform 10 quadrillion calculations per second.
Medicine: China Bans Smoking Indoors
This year, China will enact a ban on advertising for tobacco products and smoking inside public buildings. More than one quarter of China’s population—some 300 million adults—smoke, and tobacco kills one million Chinese people every year.
Medicine: Novartis Speeds Vaccine Production
The pharmaceutical giant Novartis says it has developed a method for growing influenza vaccines in cell cultures, rather than the chicken eggs that are normally used. This method could be used to produce vaccine against pandemic flu as soon as this year.
Medicine: Health Reform Brings Free Preventive Care
Those whose health insurance renews this month will see changes in coverage, as the 2010 Affordable Care Act requires all new plans to cover the cost of flu shots, some cancer screenings, and blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol tests.
Medicine: California Protects Stem-Cell Research
As the U.S. government considers another ban on the federal funding of embryonic-stem-cell research, placing $200 million in funded studies on the line, California steps up: it will spend $243 million on stem-cell research, up $23 million from last year
Medicine: Patients Receive New Artificial Heart
This fall, the French firm Carmat will begin human trials of the first prosthetic heart made from synthetic and animal tissues that beats with the fluidity of a human heart and pumps blood with the same rhythm.
Medicine: HIV-Vaccine Trial Results Are In
By the end of the year, Mymetics will publish the results of a Phase 1 clinical trial of its vaccine against the human immunodeficiency virus. An earlier animal study showed that the vaccine, which triggers antibodies in both blood and mucus membranes, provided 100 percent protection.
Medicine: Trend Watch: New Vaccines Debut In Developing Countries
Many people’s immune systems will get a much-needed boost this year. Because developing nations often cannot afford vaccines that we take for granted, pneumonia and diarrhea kill one million children in those countries every year. To combat pneumococcal bacteria, the biggest killer of children under five, an international group of governments, nonprofit organizations and vaccine manufacturers known as the GAVI Alliance will introduce a vaccine in 19 countries by this summer, with the goal of reaching more than 40 countries by 2015. GAVI also plans to bring a rotavirus vaccine, which helps prevent diarrhea, to Africa this year. In addition, more than 30 million Africans will receive a new vaccine called MenAfriVac that fights off meningitis. It costs 40 cents a dose and is expected to prevent 123,000 deaths in the next decade.
Environment: EPA Limits CO2 Emissions
The Environmental Protection Agency enacts the first set of federal regulations and permits to control greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants, oil refineries and cars. Model-year 2012 passenger cars must put out an average of no more than 263 grams of carbon per mile.
Environment: LEDs Hit Home Depot
Retailers will start selling EnergyStarrated LED bulbs that glow just like conventional 60-watt incandescents. The bulbs will cost between $30 and $60, compared with less than $10 for many compact fluorescents. But the LED bulb will last five times as long, so they will still turn on in 2057.
Environment: Mining of Rare-Earth Minerals Restarts In The U.S
Amid fears that China will someday stop exporting rare-earth minerals, the mining firm Molycorp will reopen the Mountain Pass, California, mine it had shut down in 2002. Its chief product will be bastnasite ore, a source of neodymium for magnets inside devices such as earbuds.
Environment: Jets Switch To Biofuel
Planes filled with biofuels, which have a smaller carbon footprint than conventional jet fuel, will be lining up for takeoff. Specifications and official approval of these biofuels by the standards organization ASTM International could take effect by midyear.
Environment: Population Tops Seven Billion
The Earth will support twice as many people as it did 40 years ago. Four babies are born every second in developing nations; in the rest of the world, birth rates are in decline. Birth rates are currently highest in Niger and lowest in Monaco.
Environment: Wind Power, Losing Energy
Nationwide wind-power efforts will slow to the lowest level in four years, as federal grants for new projects expire this year. But there is still some good news: The 845-megawatt Caithness Shepherds Flat wind project, the largest wind farm in the world, will break ground in Oregon.
Environment: Solar Goes Big
The first major solar-power projects on public lands start converting sunlight to electricity this year. California’s Chevron Lucerne Valley installation will comprise 40,500 photovoltaic panels. Some 140 miles south in the Imperial Valley, Tesera Solar aims to produce 709 megawatts with its SunCatcher concentrated-solar dishes.
Technology and Entertainment: Film Release: Sanctum
A 3-D thriller produced by James Cameron, Sanctum follows a team of divers trapped in an underwater cave in the South Pacific. To shoot in the caverns, crews outfitted the $1-million camera with a waterproof case. It’s out next month.
Technology and Entertainment: Film Release: Green Hornet
Part of a surge of superhero flicks, the Green Hornet swoops into theaters on January 14. Other masked, caped or otherwise superpowered releases include Thor (May), X-Men: First Class (June), Green Lantern (June) and Captain America (July).
Technology and Entertainment: LTE Networks Cover The U.S.
Verizon and AT&T; will launch competitors to Sprint’s 4G WiMAX network with their own, based on the LTE standard. Verizon will unveil six LTE-enabled devices at the Consumer Electronics Show this month, while AT&T; will provide 75 million customers with LTE service by the end of the year.
Technology and Entertainment: Android Tablets Challenge iPad Dominance
The Motorola Stingray, out soon, is the latest in a small but growing field of Android tablets to compete with the iPad. Android took a bite out of both Apple and BlackBerry last year, emerging as the top operating system among new smartphone buyers.
Technology and Entertainment: Trend Watch: 3-D Entertainment In Your Living Room
This year we’ll see not only the next generation of 3-D TVs, but also a series of 3-D videogames to play on them,including Sony’s Killzone 3 and MotorStorm Apocalypse. Most of them will require “active” 3-D glasses, which need a power source to operate. A newer trend is the retooled passive-3-D system, which swaps the powered glasses for lightweight ones that don’t require sequentially turning each of the lenses on or off. The electronics company Vizio says it should have a passive-3-D TV on the market soon. And in March, Nintendo eschews glasses altogether when it releases the Nintendo 3DS, the first glasses-free handheld 3-D game system
Technology and Entertainment: Game Release: Rage
Doom and Quake creator John Carmack brings postapocalyptic first-person shooter Rage to gamers in September will be available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC
Technology and Entertainment: Game Release: Brink
Splash Damage’s “genre breaker” introduces the Smooth Movement across Random Terrain (SMART) system and an innovative integration of single and multiplayer gameplay combining online and virtual teammates. It will be available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC this spring.
Technology and Entertainment: Ford Enters The Electric Car Market
Drafting behind the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, the all-electric 2012 Ford Focus Electric hits the streets this year—and keeps going for 100 miles on a charge. It will come with a special 240-volt plug for home-garage charging and a 120-volt one that fits into a standard outlet when you’re on the go.
Technology and Entertainment: TV Finally Loses The Remote
3-D gesture recognition moves from computers to your TV. New set-top boxes made by Softkinetic enable viewers to interact with their TV with just a wave of their hand. A 3-D video camera captures the user’s movements, and the box translates those movements into commands the TV understands