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NASA Wants To Make Tractor Beams a Reality

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the check-with-wil-wheaton dept.

NASA 91

intellitech sends this quote from a NASA news release: "Tractor beams — the ability to trap and move objects using light — are the stuff of science fiction, but a team of NASA scientists has won funding to study the concept for remotely capturing planetary or atmospheric particles and delivering them to a robotic rover or orbiting spacecraft for analysis." Reader Bob the Super Hamste adds, "The article along with the BBC's coverage discuss briefly three methods of how this can be done with lasers. The first method called 'optical tweezers,' in which a molecule is trapped where two beams cross (PDF). However, it requires an atmosphere to work. The second method using solenoid beams has already worked in the laboratory (PDF). The third method using Bessel beams has yet to be experimentally proven."

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Call up Harrison Ford (2)

RPGillespie (2478442) | more than 2 years ago | (#37912546)

He has more experience working with them than anyone else.

Re:Call up Harrison Ford (1)

johnthorensen (539527) | more than 2 years ago | (#37912766)

Even if you could get him on the phone, he'll never get past the tractor beam. Unless Obi-Wan is nearby, in which case - leave it to him.

Re:Call up Harrison Ford (1)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 2 years ago | (#37913886)

Tractor beams are easy. You just weld a bunch of tractors together into beams, and use 'em like tweezers.

Re:Call up Harrison Ford (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37971918)

He has more experience working with them than anyone else.

Hmm.. Ever seen Star Trek?

using light? (0)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 2 years ago | (#37912580)

I don't remember any show defining a tractor beam as light..

Re:using light? (1)

spidercoz (947220) | more than 2 years ago | (#37912622)

What part of the word "beam" do you misunderstand? They're not talking about steel girders here.

Re:using light? (3, Informative)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | more than 2 years ago | (#37912674)

Any sort of EM radiation can be beamed; the term is not exclusive to visible light.

Ever heard of a radio?

Re:using light? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37912854)

The summary never said "visible light." Radio is light.

Re:using light? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37913546)

No it isn't, nigger.

Re:using light? (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 2 years ago | (#37913920)

Any sort of EM radiation can be beamed; the term is not exclusive to visible light.

Right, and any sort of EM radiation is light. The term is not exclusive to visible light (which is why when talking in a scientific context one says "visible light" to distinguish).

Re:using light? (1)

Bucky24 (1943328) | more than 2 years ago | (#37914166)

Hmm are you sure you don't have that backwards? IE, all light is EM radation?

Re:using light? (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 2 years ago | (#37914224)

*my head asplode*

Re:using light? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37914926)

The news of your head situation will be reported on the radio. Which, incidentally, will not be transmitted by light.

Re:using light? (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 2 years ago | (#37915640)

Of course not. *pat pat*

Re:using light? (1)

uninformedLuddite (1334899) | more than 2 years ago | (#37929662)

unless he's watching it

Re:using light? (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 2 years ago | (#37917182)

Any sort of EM radiation can be beamed; the term is not exclusive to visible light.

Not just EM radiation. Sound can be beamed ; particle radiation can be beamed (alpha, beta ; gamma is light). Anything that has a direction to it can be beamed.

Re:using light? (1)

flibbidyfloo (451053) | more than 2 years ago | (#37913556)

The most generic relevant definition could indicate anything that can be "emitted". I suppose for a traditional tractor beam it would have to be something you could emit in a straight line, so radio waves may not be ideal, but I'm not a scientist.

Re:using light? (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#37912658)

This is NASA, doing it with light, instead of Hollywood doing it with (insert witty insulting implication here _____ )

Re:using light? (2)

johnthorensen (539527) | more than 2 years ago | (#37912852)

fricken laser beams?

Re:using light? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37913338)

With sharks on their emitters

Re:using light? (1)

Pseudonym Authority (1591027) | more than 2 years ago | (#37913050)

I don't know.... Still seems and wildly outside of their area of expertise, but it isn't as if NASA has anything better to do without the budget for actual space with rockets and people. Very neat though, if only applicable for molecules.

Is anyone else disappointed that it is the BBC that has to cover this rather than an American source? I'm not saying that they aren't great reporters, just that it is disappointing that there is so little interest in America.

Re:using light? (2)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | more than 2 years ago | (#37913288)

Is anyone else disappointed that it is the BBC that has to cover this rather than an American source? I'm not saying that they aren't great reporters, just that it is disappointing that there is so little interest in America.

MSNBC [msn.com] , Forbes [forbes.com] , and Wired [wired.com] have it and, er, that's it. On the one hand it is disappointing to see such a lack of interest, however on the other hand I fear that more mainstream sources would pay more attention to the cost while conveniently overlooking the benefits or feasibility, so maybe the less they say about it the better. This is the kind of thing that congressional Republicans get up in arms about because it sounds nice and vague, something pie-in-the-sky that they can spin as "more government waste" rather than an invaluable contribution to human development.

Re:using light? (2)

houghi (78078) | more than 2 years ago | (#37913880)

Just tell the Republicans it is to fight communism, uh, drugs, children, terrorism, or whatever their current war is against and they will be happy to put in a gazillion dollars.

Re:using light? (2)

Bucky24 (1943328) | more than 2 years ago | (#37914172)

Just tell the Republicans it is to fight communism, uh, drugs, children, terrorism, or whatever their current war is against

All of the above. Communist child terrorists smuggling drugs over the border. Oh and they're illegal immigrants too.

Re:using light? (1)

justforgetme (1814588) | more than 2 years ago | (#37916900)

Republicans don't like children?
why aren't they extinct?

Re:using light? (1)

Synerg1y (2169962) | more than 2 years ago | (#37915146)

Well I'm still waiting for that space shuttle from them...

Re:using light? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37912992)

They didn't, it was a wave (or beam).

This is just another case of light being used improperly to refer to anything to do with EM waves for "simplicity".

Re:using light? (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 2 years ago | (#37913982)

This is just another case of light being used improperly to refer to anything to do with EM waves for "simplicity".

Actually it's another case of "light" being used correctly to refer to anything to do with EM waves, underestimating the "simplicity" of the audience.

Which is a fair point for people who are only used to the colloquial usage of "light" which is equivalent to the scientific "visible light", but not for tossers who want to turn around and say that it's incorrect in a scientific context.

Re:using light? (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#37913562)

Can you name a show in which the tractor beam was not depicted as a ray of light?

Re:using light? (2)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 2 years ago | (#37913938)

Can you provide a reference that the visible light was depicted as the effective mechanism, rather than as a side effect?

Re:using light? (2)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 2 years ago | (#37914012)

Can you provide a reference that the visible light was depicted as the effective mechanism, rather than as a side effect?

First filter criterion: Does the show depict laser beams as visible from any direction in space?

Re:using light? (1)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 2 years ago | (#37914034)

0th filter criterion: does the show claim that the beams in question are lasers?

Re:using light? (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 2 years ago | (#37914154)

Naw, I wouldn't make that a filter criterion at all, because even if they weren't explicitly stated to be lasers, one could hypothetically deduce this from other clues. So while it would make a good point of discussion, it doesn't serve as a good filter.

The point of the 1st Filter was that if they show things that are supposed to be lasers, but are visible from any angle in space, then there's no point in further investigation. Because in that universe/the writers' heads, a "laser" is the thing what makes a glowy line in space. So either the answer is "No the tractor beam doesn't use lasers because even the thing they call lasers aren't lasers", or if you accept the in-universe definition then the answer is "If the tractor beam makes a glowy line in space then its a laser because that's what a laser is."

Which either way is a banal and trivial answer and not worth thinking about further. Thus, a good filter. :)

Re:using light? (1)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 2 years ago | (#37916664)

Nope, they aren't lasers, and that's why your entire perception is wrongheaded. It's your head that's telling you lasers. The writers, in fact, told you differently -- they said "tractor beam", which is, as we know, not a laser. They said "Phaser", which is also not a laser. In *fact*, if you'll recall, there have been episodes where the *opponent* used "LASERs". much to the amusement of the trek crew... but thanks for playing! :o)

Re:using light? (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 2 years ago | (#37919474)

LOL. It's your head that's telling you that we're suddenly only talking about Star Trek even though it's not been mentioned specifically at any point in the sequence of comments leading up to this point and the original thread establishing the context of "any show". It's also your head that's telling you that I'm only talking about "lasers that are tractor beams".

I'm talking about any show and I'm talking about lasers in said show. Whether or not the tractor beams in said shows are also lasers is the thing we're talking about trying to establish. This is why I specifically discussed lasers on their own, separate from the question of what the tractor beams are.

My point is: depending on their depiction of lasers in the show, figuring out if their version of tractor beams uses lasers or not is a moot point.

So, way to not understand and thus completely fail to address the point due to catastrophic context failure.

P.S. "they said 'tractor beam', which is, as we know, not a laser" is begging the question.

Re:using light? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37914714)

As a later poster mentions, I never saw a "tractor beam" in Star Wars, no in the old Star Trek series...seemed to be invisible. The first I remember seeing such a beam was in the Gil Gerard Buck Rogers television series.

Re:using light? (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#37914210)

I think it's fair to assume the opposite unless the show makes a direct claim to the contrary.

Re:using light? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37914282)

Can you name a show in which the tractor beam was not depicted as a ray of light?

Try Starwars Episode IV when they get pulled into the Deathstar. Please note the date and time of this comment, future edits of this film may indeed include visible light.

Re:using light? (1)

vux984 (928602) | more than 2 years ago | (#37914326)

Star Wars, 1977

It was referred to as a "tractor beam", yet it was not visible light.

Now, I'm not sure what the point of naming "Star Wars" in anything that is even slightly related to science though.

NASA has something to do! (2)

spidercoz (947220) | more than 2 years ago | (#37912594)

Cue Congressional interference in 5...4...3...

Re:NASA has something to do! (3, Funny)

washort (6555) | more than 2 years ago | (#37913154)

we'll just have to wait to see if it's constructive or destructive interference.

Re:NASA has something to do! (1)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | more than 2 years ago | (#37913386)

Do you really need to wait to know what kind of interference it would be..?

Re:NASA has something to do! (1)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 2 years ago | (#37913954)

Just observe the slit. Hey, it works for porn...

Re:NASA has something to do! (2)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#37913460)

we'll just have to wait to see if it's constructive or destructive interference.

Wait, what?!? Congress is likely to have Constructive interference?

Considering the majority party of the House and how they appear to loathe actual science (aside any which may create a few jobs in the ol' home district around election season) I don't see anything positive coming from them. If this GOP had a president elected in 1960, not only would there never have been a Moon landing, they'd probably be pushing a Flat Earth agenda for school text books. I voted GOP for years, but do not recognize the people in that party, they sure aren't, for the most part, Republicans - they're nuts.

Perhaps NASA could just have a Space vehicle create a massive eletrical charge, polar opposite of the object it wishes to attract - like static electricity and ballon, which sticks to a wall.

Re:NASA has something to do! (3, Insightful)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 2 years ago | (#37913964)

Constructive interference, as defined in the congressional realm, is when congress interferes with construction projects.

methods with lasers, or... (2)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 2 years ago | (#37912668)

remotely capturing planetary or atmospheric particles and delivering them to a robotic rover or orbiting spacecraft for analysis

Um... just brainstorming here ... Jar, lid w/spring, tether, done.

Re:methods with lasers, or... (1)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | more than 2 years ago | (#37913510)

Yes, yes, the Russian pencil to the American's gas filled zero-gravity ball-point pen. Except that in this case possession of a so-called "tractor" beam has far broader applications in the microscopic world (possibly evolving to the macro world), in orbit and on Terra firma. Being able to move this tech beyond lab experiments to production ready technology would be a huge boon to material science for instance.

Re:methods with lasers, or... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37913868)

I remember reading somewhere that the pencil vs zero-G pen is actually not that great of an example. The problem with the pencil is that both the tip (if it breaks, as pencils are prone to do, especially russian ones) and the shavings aren't really things you want floating around your spaceship cabin. Not only are they eye hazards, but the graphite tip is also conductive to some extent, which could potentially cause all sorts of fun issues if it floated its way into the electronics of a 60's era spaceship.

The story is really a better illustration of how the Russians were willing to take risks to save money while the Americans were more into leaving nothing to chance.

Re:methods with lasers, or... (1)

uglyduckling (103926) | more than 2 years ago | (#37914434)

Surely the metal tip of a ballpoint pen (gas propelled or otherwise) is also conductive? But point taken about the limitations of using pencils, although I would think that having a stock of short pencils with soft leads that wouldn't shatter could solve those problems quite easily.

Re:methods with lasers, or... (1)

jackbird (721605) | more than 2 years ago | (#37914674)

It's a lot harder to break the tip off a pen than a pencil, and one doesn't typically produce much dust from the tip material of a ballpoint in the course of normal use/maintenance.

Re:methods with lasers, or... (1)

electron sponge (1758814) | more than 2 years ago | (#37914800)

Surely the metal tip of a ballpoint pen (gas propelled or otherwise) is also conductive? But point taken about the limitations of using pencils, although I would think that having a stock of short pencils with soft leads that wouldn't shatter could solve those problems quite easily.

The space pen's tip is retractable, which makes it much less likely to penetrate anything. I'm not sure the Capitalist pen v. Communist pencil debate really matters much, since neither recording system has caused any issues.

However, although I enjoy simple solutions to complex problems as much as the next nerd, an elegant, slightly-less-simple solution that provides more functionality is preferable in my estimation. The pen wins.

On topic, I eagerly await the sorcery that will bring about a tractor beam. Perhaps they should reverse the polarity of the tachyon field?

Re:methods with lasers, or... (1)

Aryden (1872756) | more than 2 years ago | (#37915328)

bounce a graviton laser beam off the main deflector dish... VOLTAIRE [youtube.com]

Re:methods with lasers, or... (1)

electron sponge (1758814) | more than 2 years ago | (#37915682)

Oh that's a classic

Re:methods with lasers, or... (1)

Aryden (1872756) | more than 2 years ago | (#37916068)

Voltaire is awesome. Epicly funny songs.

Re:methods with lasers, or... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37914914)

It was actually grease pencils that they used. ...and the American space pen was developed entirely by a private citizen with no government funding who only sold a few pens to NASA for normal low prices. He then went around selling them to everyone who wanted the same pen used by astronauts. I doubt he made a fortune, but I don't think he ended up losing much money.

It's really more of a story of how a free market enables people to produce superior solutions.

Re:methods with lasers, or... (1)

kannibal_klown (531544) | more than 2 years ago | (#37919598)

I remember reading somewhere that the pencil vs zero-G pen is actually not that great of an example. The problem with the pencil is that both the tip (if it breaks, as pencils are prone to do, especially russian ones) and the shavings aren't really things you want floating around your spaceship cabin. Not only are they eye hazards, but the graphite tip is also conductive to some extent, which could potentially cause all sorts of fun issues if it floated its way into the electronics of a 60's era spaceship.

The story is really a better illustration of how the Russians were willing to take risks to save money while the Americans were more into leaving nothing to chance.

Once again, NASA had nothing to do with the "space pen"

Fisher, a civilian company, decided on their own to design it. When they did, they came to NASA who decided to buy a bunch.

Also, the Soviets didn't use graphite pencils and paper. They used Grease pencils on plastic slates.

You are correct though, the many hazards of a wood + graphite pencil made it an impractical tool in space.

Re:methods with lasers, or... (1)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | more than 2 years ago | (#37921126)

US and Russia used pencils, but the tips broke off, floated around and got into everything ... so they stopped, neither used space pens, it was developed by an independent US company and NASA never even used them ... , they both just use a normal ballpoints they work fine in zero gravity

Moving atoms and single molecules around with lasers is done in labs already, the problems is that they have not worked outside labs, and only work on small numbers of atoms, and do not apply very large forces, so what exactly do they want to use this for ...?

Re:methods with lasers, or... (1)

dkf (304284) | more than 2 years ago | (#37913932)

Um... just brainstorming here ... Jar, lid w/spring, tether, done.

You've still got to get the stuff into the jar in the first place. That's where a tractor beam would be very helpful, as the lack of gravity (well, it's there but you're in freefall) makes some things much more difficult. Being able to reel stuff in without having to get anything physical out to it in the first place would be useful. (Better yet would be if it could bring larger items in without damaging them, but even small robust stuff would be Pretty Neat.)

Pft, no research required... (0)

johnthorensen (539527) | more than 2 years ago | (#37912740)

Just call R2-D2, he'll make the precise location appear on the monitor.

Read it (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37912772)

I read this on reddit.com this morning.

Re:Read it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37912920)

I bet you'd like a cookie then, wouldn't ya?

Re:Read it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37912970)

It's Reddit...everyone has to be equal. So cookies for everyone or not at all.

How long before... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37912774)

someone hacks a wireless router and uses the antennae to produce a tractor beam? The "threat" of strangers reaching through the internet and tractor-beam molesting children will stop the funding pretty quickly.

Don't... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37912856)

...cross the beams.

If it can burn, it can move too! (1)

MindPrison (864299) | more than 2 years ago | (#37912906)

Simple logic!

Don't Cross the Streams (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 2 years ago | (#37912946)

The first method called 'optical tweezers,' in which a molecule is trapped where two beams cross

Hey, everyone knows to never do this.

Pardon my ignorance? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37913384)

But why?

Re:Pardon my ignorance? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37913596)

But why?

http://goo.gl/fPIf3 [goo.gl]

Who Doesn't? (3, Funny)

Gilmoure (18428) | more than 2 years ago | (#37913124)

I mean, would finally be a way to get hot burritos out of the microwave safely.

That's no moon. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37913158)

Reverse funding!

NASA Wants To Make Tractor Beams a Reality (1)

cadeon (977561) | more than 2 years ago | (#37913684)

Who Wouldn't?

Of course they do! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37913692)

Of course NASA wants tractor beams! They also want antigravity devices and warp drives. Who wouldn't?

Will not scale (1)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#37913824)

A few molecules won't be enough of a sample, and this thing won't scale much further.

Why not? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37915504)

I should start modding posts down simply because they don't explain themselves. Not everybody's a bloody particle physicist, so please elaborate.

Documentary (5, Informative)

mevets (322601) | more than 2 years ago | (#37914432)

There was a documentary on this in the 1980s where scientists were using beams to trap ghosts. Seemed to work pretty well then, I don't know why this has taken so long.

Re:Documentary (3, Informative)

pipedwho (1174327) | more than 2 years ago | (#37915574)

There was a documentary on this in the 1980s where scientists were using beams to trap ghosts. Seemed to work pretty well then, I don't know why this has taken so long.

Too risky.

Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light. Total protonic reversal. That's bad.

Re:Documentary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37920366)

Well, just use one beam then, that way you can't cross them.

Re:Documentary (1)

KeensMustard (655606) | more than 2 years ago | (#37915648)

Maybe we should give those guys a call

Re:Documentary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37916460)

Wait.... who you gonna call?

Re:Documentary (1)

kannibal_klown (531544) | more than 2 years ago | (#37919632)

Maybe we should give those guys a call

Too late.

Another documentary I saw showed the last surviving guy was mistaken for a zombie and shot by a kid with a shotgun. His one regret was "Garfield"

Money (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37914518)

And people say that NASA wastes money.

might want (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37915320)

to crack antigravity and electromagnetism inside and out first. We already have the nuts and bolts of a tractor beam to some degree:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2VlWonYfN3A
It's just that we need more power, scale and guidance. We will have tractor beams. There's no question of that. It's one of the more exotic technologies you can bet we will have. Some day you will see a craft hover above you and attract a smaller object into itself, if you haven't already!

Coloumb Force Electrostatic Tug (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37915526)

Coloumb Force electrostatic tug using the plasmasphere is the only likely solution for large objects at GEO where the debye length of the plasmasphere actually allows this method. Since this method is no touch, it actually has a snowballs chance in hell of working. (http://homepage.mac.com/hanspeterschaub/blog/newspage.html)

At all other orbits or with small objects, no solution currently exists.

Kessler is an idiot if he thinks physical electrostatic tethers will work for debris removal considering we can't get them to work in the first place. If you don't know who Kessler is look him up.

Why not.... (1)

ogdenk (712300) | more than 2 years ago | (#37915870)

Why not focus on funding the construction and launching of a spacecraft worth slapping a tractor beam ON first.

Re:Why not.... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37917128)

Wait till 2063, then we'll have warp drive making it not ridiculous to build those space crafts.

Bad Assumptions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37917920)

Tractor beams — the ability to trap and move objects using light

Uh, calling bullshit here. The concept of a Tractor beam is the idea that you're using some kind of directional gravity field, magnetic field, or other directed force to draw two objects together. It has never been about using "light beams", and in fact most visualizations of such a "beam" shows them as invisible, not light-spectrum.

Now, there is some research into "optical tweezers" which have been dubbed "tractor beams" but that is just a kludge to try and simulate the effect. It's not "a pair of tractor beams" it's always A (as in, singular) Tractor Beam.

This is as retarded as calling a vertically mounted fan an "anti-gravity device". It's not, although the net effects are similar. Same here.

No Lasers in the vacuum. The Sharks .. (1)

MonsterMasher (518641) | more than 2 years ago | (#37918328)

No Lasers in Vacuum, it kills the sharks!

future use? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37919448)

I wonder if some day this could be used to pull asteroids or meteors away from a collision course with earth.

When the dream dies... (1)

dylsexia (1921540) | more than 2 years ago | (#37923210)

If you no longer believe in this technology, then you obviously suck.... because you're now an ex tractor fan.

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