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Expensive and redundant—the majestic Delta IV rocket still soars

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ULA/Jeff Spotts

After Saturday night's successful delivery of an Air Force communications satellite to orbit, the medium variant of the Delta IV rocket has now launched 26 times. All of the Delta IV medium launches, which primarily have served the US armed forces, have ended in mission success.

Other US-based rockets have launched more, but no modern rocket with all-American components, from the engines and solid-rocket motors to the upper stage, can boast of such a record of success as the Delta IV Medium. And yet now the rocket's parent company, United Launch Alliance, desperately wants to retire the booster. Why?

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Manzabar
2 hours ago
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NASA has essentially stopped tweeting about the #JourneyToMars

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Enlarge / Really, guys, we're going. (credit: NASA)

NASA has an extraordinarily popular Twitter account. With 22.4 million followers, it ranks among the top 60 accounts on all of Twitter. It is the only US government agency to come remotely close to the top 100, which mostly consists of celebrities. It is, therefore, a bastion of science, space, and reason in a sea of reality TV, late night television, and sports stars.

During the last several years, one of the NASA Twitter feed's most common hashtags has been #JourneyToMars, representative of the agency's stated goal of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s. The "Journey to Mars" had been a frequent talking point for Administrator Charles Bolden and other agency leaders. They talked about the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft as key components of this mission.

But on the day Donald Trump became president and Bolden left his post as administrator, NASA has essentially stopped tweeting about the Journey to Mars. In the half-dozen months prior to President Trump's inauguration, the @NASA account used the #JourneyToMars hashtag, on average, about six times a month. However, NASA's main account has used it on Twitter just once since the new POTUS took office.

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Manzabar
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DRM in HTML5 takes its next step toward standardization

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Enlarge (credit: Floyd Wilde)

Encrypted Media Extensions (EME), a mechanism by which HTML5 video providers can discover and enable DRM providers offered by a browser, has taken the next step on its contentious road to standardization. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the standards body that oversees most Web-related specifications, has moved the EME specification to the Proposed Recommendation stage.

The next and final stage is for the W3C's Advisory Committee to review the proposal. If it passes review, the proposal will be blessed as a full W3C Recommendation.

Ever since W3C decided to start working on a DRM proposal, there have been complaints from those who oppose DRM on principle. The work has continued regardless, with W3C director and HTML inventor Tim Berners-Lee arguing that—given that DRM is already extant and, at least for video, unlikely to disappear any time soon—it's better for DRM-protected content to be a part of the Web ecosystem than to be separate from it.

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Manzabar
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Nationwide fiber? Proposed law could add broadband to road projects

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Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | tiero)

Years in the making, a proposal to mandate the installation of fiber conduits during federally funded highway projects might be gaining some new momentum.

If the US adopts a "dig once" policy, construction workers would install conduits just about any time they build new roads and sidewalks or upgrade existing ones. These conduits are plastic pipes that can house fiber cables. The conduits might be empty when installed, but their presence makes it a lot cheaper and easier to install fiber later, after the road construction is finished.

The idea is an old one. US Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) has been proposing dig once legislation since 2009, and it has widespread support from broadband-focused consumer advocacy groups. It has never made it all the way through Congress, but it has bipartisan backing from lawmakers who often disagree on the most controversial broadband policy questions, such as net neutrality and municipal broadband. It even got a boost from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who has frequently clashed with Democrats and consumer advocacy groups over broadband—her "Internet Freedom Act" would wipe out the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules, and she supports state laws that restrict growth of municipal broadband.

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Manzabar
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Highlights doesn’t kid around when it comes to science and tech

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Tony Shaff, 44 Pages

AUSTIN, Texas—If you ever attended a pediatric dentist or loved reading between the ages of two and 12, chances are good you've come across Highlights. The legacy kids' magazine turned 70 in the summer of 2016, and throughout the decades it has been a cultural constant. Everyone knows about hidden picture searches or the long-running Goofus and Gallant comic, but poetry from Lewis Carroll, Emily Dickinson, and Langston Hughes has also graced its pages (and unpublished submissions from the likes of Walter Cronkite sit in the archives). The Highlights brand has become such a part of the American fabric that it has been referenced in pop culture across decades, in everywhere from Beavis and Butthead to The Colbert Report, Mad Men, The SimpsonsBlackish, and Arrested Development.

If you haven't recently flipped through the magazine, Highlights will likely surprise you after all these years. A new documentary called 44 Pages (which is the magazine's constant size, since there's no advertising) chronicles Highlights' history, process, and philosophy in the run-up to its 70th anniversary edition in June 2016. At South by Southwest, the film showed that Highlights is a more complex publication than your younger-self ever recognized. Now, as it has done throughout its history, Highlights quietly packs real, grown-up science and tech into each issue as seamlessly as it hides a hammer within the bark of some illustrated tree.

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NASA contemplating “Hubble-esque” spacewalks to fix physics experiment

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Enlarge / A view of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on the station. (credit: NASA)

Launched to the International Space Station in 2011 on the penultimate flight of the Space Shuttle, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer has quietly been collecting data during the last six years, observing more than 100 billion cosmic ray events. Although it has yet to produce any major scientific findings, physicists believe the steady accumulation of data will eventually yield insights about dark matter and other cosmic mysteries.

But for that to happen, the instrument has to continue to take data. In recent months, scientists monitoring the $2 billion AMS instrument have noticed an increase in the "degradation" of one of several pumps that operate its thermal cooling system. The AMS has redundant systems, however, and could switch to a different pump if needed.

Nevertheless, there appears to be an overall concern that if this degradation is not an isolated incident, it could begin to affect other cooling pumps within the AMS thermal system. (Despite several requests for information in recent weeks from Ars, NASA officials have remained cagey about the overall threat this problem presents to the instrument. The scope of repairs they're contemplating suggests that the problem could eventually become serious, however.)

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