Science and Technology News

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

21st Space Wing: Best in space

by Michael Golembesky
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer


4/30/2014 - PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The 21st Space Wing recently received the 2013 General Thomas S. Moorman, Jr. Award for Air Force Space Command's Best Operational Wing.

The award was one of four awards won by the wing in recent months.

"This award is a testament to our entire incredible team -- active duty, Reserve, Guard, civilian and contractor -- all working tirelessly day in and day out to achieve excellence," said Col. John Shaw, 21st Space Wing commander. "I am proud of this well-deserved recognition, and even prouder of all of you."

In the award notification to the 21st Space Wing, Gen. William Shelton, Air Force Space Command commander, praised the wing's "superb professionalism and dedication to AFSPC's highest standard of excellence," noting that the many contributions the wing makes to the nation's defense reflect positively on the entire command.

"This award signifies the dedication and hard work of the men and women of the 21st Space Wing across all mission areas," said Lt. Col. Robert Hutt, 21st Operations Support Squadron commander. "We have a lot of good folks doing a lot of great work. This allows everyone to be recognized and shows AFSPC and 14th Air Force commanders that we are accomplishing many outstanding things."

Hutt's unit was responsible for compiling the award nomination packages for consideration, taking input from all of the groups and focusing on significant accomplishments across the entire wing.

"The Airmen and civilians of the 21st Space Wing are doing these types of things every day, 24/7, 365. We have a (United States Strategic Command) mission every day, an AFSPC mission every day, along with all of our mission partners that we support every day," said Hutt.

Oftentimes it can be forgotten that the 21st Space Wing extends far beyond Peterson, with the mission and people scattered around the globe, performing specific tasks in a unified force of excellence.

"The 21st Space Wing is unique because we have so many different sites, so many different missions," said Hutt. "We do many things for many different folks."

Awards recently received by the 21st Space Wing and its units:
· General Thomas S. Moorman, Jr. Award for Air Force Space Command's Best Operational Wing
· General Robert T. Herres Award for Best Space Wing
· Chief Master Sgt. Robert G.V. Pecqueur Award for Best Space Control Squadron went to the 4th Space Control Squadron at Holloman AFB, N.M.
· Chief Master Sgt. Edward W. Weaver Award for Best Operations Support Squadron went to the 21st Operations Support Squadron

DARPA Sows Seeds of Technological Surprise, Director Says



By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 30, 2014 – Many of the advances that contribute to national security resulted from early investment in developing new technologies, the director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency told Congress yesterday.

Dr. Arati Prabhakar represented the Defense Department at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing called to address concern that the national investment in research and development had shrunk since 2001, along with the education pipeline for young scientists and engineers.

The directors of the Office of Science and Technology Policy of the Executive Office of the President, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the Energy Department also testified at the hearing.

“DARPA is part of Defense Department science and technology investments,” Prabhakar said. “We're also part of this much larger national ecosystem for R&D. But within those communities, we have one very specific role: to make the pivotal early investments that change what's possible so we can take big steps forward in our national security capabilities.”

DARPA’s output is technology, but the organization counts its mission complete only when the technologies change outcomes, she added.

“Every time a stealth fighter evades an air defense system, every time a soldier on the ground is able to place himself precisely with GPS and get the data he needs, every time a radar on an aircraft carrier allows us to see a threat to a carrier strike group before it sees us -- that's when we count our mission complete,” Prabhakar said.

In every case, DARPA made a pivotal early investment that showed the technologies were possible, and what followed from that, Prabhakar said, was equally important.

“That was the investment, often by our partners in other parts of the Defense Department and the military services -- their science and technology investments, their development investments or their acquisition programs,” the director said. “Of course,” she added, “many in industry were involved deeply in those efforts, and ultimately to make those technologies into real capabilities for our warfighters.”

Along the way, as DARPA focused on its mission of investments for national security, the organization’s scientists and engineers planted some of the seeds that formed the technology base that the U.S. commercial sector has built layer on layer above the foundation, Prabhakar said.

“Every time you pick up your cell phone and do something as mundane and miraculous as check a social networking site, you're living on top of a set of technologies that trace back to that early work we did,” she added. “Public investment laid that foundation. Billions of dollars of private investment and enormous entrepreneurship is what built those industries and ended up changing how we live and work with these technologies.”

DARPA’s mission of creating breakthrough technologies for national security is unchanged across more than five decades, she told the panel, but the world in which DARPA invests and pursues its mission continues to change, and so do the things DARPA does that reflect the national security and technology context in which the organization must operate today.

“In one arena, we see information at massive scale affecting every aspect of national security,” the director said. “So if you look in our portfolio today, you will find game-changing investments in cyber and in big-data programs.” One example is work DARPA is doing to tackle the networks that drive human trafficking around the world, she added.

In another arena, Prabhakar said, DARPA is looking at what's happening with the cost and complexity of military systems today.

“We recognize that [such systems] are becoming too costly and too inflexible to be effective for the next generation of threats we will face around the world,” Prabhakar explained, “so at DARPA we are investing in programs that are fundamentally rethinking complex military systems.”

DARPA is investing in technology its experts believe will lead to powerful new approaches for radar, communications, weapons and navigation, she said.

“And in a range of research areas, we can see the new seeds of technological surprise,” Prabhakar said. “One example is where biology is intersecting with engineering today, and in areas like that, we are making investments that will lead to new technologies like synthetic biology and neurotechnology.”

Another expert who testified before the committee, National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis S. Collins, mentioned a breakthrough neuroscience project that Stanford University is working on with funding from NIH and DARPA and the National Science Foundation.

“Traditionally, researchers have studied the postmortem brain by cutting a specimen into slim slices. While all that slicing generates neat, two-dimensional images, it also makes it impossible to reconstruct the connections of the brain's tens of billions of neurons,” Collins said. “What if we could study the details of the wiring and the location of specific proteins in transparent 3-D?

“Using a chemical cocktail,” he continued, “researchers at Stanford University -- supported by NIH, NSF and DARPA -- have figured out a way to do just that. They've dubbed their technique ‘Clarity,’ and in an extraordinary technical feat, the team made possible a 3-D tour of an intact mouse brain illuminated by a green dye that marks the neurons.”

Clarity is now being applied to human brains, he added, and undoubtedly will advance the BRAIN Initiative, a research effort unveiled by President Barack Obama and Collins in April 2013. In his State of the Union message last year, the president addressed research and development and its value to the nation.

“If we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the best ideas,” Obama said. “Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy -- every dollar. Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s. They’re developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs, devising new material to make batteries 10 times more powerful.

“Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation,” Obama added. “Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the space race.”

During her testimony yesterday, Prabhakar also discussed the nature of the world today and its relation to research and development.

“In many ways we are living in very challenging times,” she said. “Technology is getting more and more complex, [and] it's moving at a very rapid pace. Other nations are jockeying for position in global affairs, and many of them … are making their own aggressive moves to build their own science and technology capabilities.”

Meanwhile, here at home, she added, many are dealing with constrained resources, and many agencies are dealing with the corrosive effects of sequestration.

“But when I step back and look at what we have done over many decades in this country, I would observe that we have had a long and very successful commitment to investing in R&D as a nation,” the director told the panel. “And when we make that investment in R&D, we are investing in two things that are deeply American.”

One is the kind of creativity sparked by the open society that is the hallmark of the United States, she said, and in this case the nation is investing in the creativity of its scientists and engineers.

“The second thing is this drive to create a better future,” Prabhakar added. “And in a sense, this is the most productive kind of restlessness you could possibly imagine.”

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Military Research Continues Fight Against Malaria



By Army Dr. (Col.) Robert M. Paris
Walter Reed Army Institute of Research

SILVER SPRING, Md., April 24, 2014 – World Malaria Day 2014 will be observed tomorrow around the world with activities that highlight advances in the field of malaria research.

Malaria has been with us for most of recorded history. Chinese writing on malaria goes back to 2700 B.C., and Eber’s papyrus describes it in 1550 B.C. Despite many progress in diseases prevention and treatment over the last several decades, malaria continues to threaten the lives of millions of children and adults and hamper economic development.

For the U.S. military, as far back as 1775, George Washington had to expend his very limited monetary resources to purchase quinine for the treatment of malaria in the Continental Army. During the Civil War, 50 percent of Caucasian troops and a staggering 80 percent of African-American troops contracted malaria each year.

Conflicts within the last century continue to highlight the threat of malaria to our troops with World War II, Vietnam, and even recently in Afghanistan. Malaria can have a significant operational impact: in 2003 a military peacekeeping operation in Liberia failed due to 80 cases of malaria in 220 Marines within the first few weeks of the mission.

The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research has been engaged in the battle against malaria since its establishment. Assigned to the newly opened Army Medical School in 1893, Maj. Walter Reed was instrumental in defining the concept of mosquitoes and disease transmission. In Reed’s case, it was the disease yellow fever, but this idea allowed William C. Gorgas to abate the transmission of yellow fever and malaria in the construction of the Panama Canal.

The first synthetic antimalarial, Atabrine, was developed through the coordinated activities of the Allied medical forces, and this set the stage for WRAIR’s later involvement in antimalarial drug development. The Experimental Therapeutics branch of WRAIR remains the only sustained drug development program in the Department of Defense, and this group has the distinct honor of initiating or being involved in virtually every antimalarial drug available for fighting malaria since World War II.

The Malaria Vaccine branch of WRAIR in collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline developed what is currently the world’s leading malaria vaccine, RTS,S, the first candidate malaria vaccine to demonstrate that protection is possible. The entomology branch of WRAIR has worked quietly and diligently on personal protective measures to prevent not only malaria, but other insect-borne diseases as well.

Despite these successful research efforts there is much to be done. Conservative estimates suggest that over 3.3 billion people remain at risk for malaria worldwide, with more than 200 million cases every year and with over 650,000 deaths [of which over 85 percent are children]. Resistance threatens the use of all current drugs used to treat malaria --the parasite will likely continue to find ways to defeat any new drugs discovered for malaria treatment.

While vaccines show promise, it will likely be years before we have a licensed vaccine that can protect both the military and public health. As new pesticides to control mosquitoes often suffer from the same resistance problems seen in drugs to control the parasite, we need to continue working on the next generation of personal protective measures. And, like most tropical diseases, malaria is a disease that is tied to poverty and social disruption, which will continue to remain a pervasive problem globally.

As this World Malaria Day is celebrated, we have many reasons to be proud. Military medicine has made significant advances in malaria prevention, control, diagnosis, and treatment, and over the last 100 years the U.S. military has been a global leader in this fight. However, this is a fight that must be sustained.

On this World Malaria Day 2014, we are reminded of the long road ahead of us, and remain steadfast in our resolve to overcome this global health threat.

(Editor’s Note: Paris is the director of the U.S. Military Malaria Research Program at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research at Silver Spring, Md.)


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

DARPA Officials Show Hagel Technologies Under Development



American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 23, 2014 – Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program personnel demonstrated five technologies under development to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in the secretary's conference room yesterday.

DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar provided the secretary with a demonstration of the agency's latest prosthetics technology.

The wounded warrior demonstrating the device was Fred Downs Jr., an old friend of Hagel's who lost an arm in a landmine explosion while fighting in Vietnam. Hagel hugged him and shook his mechanical hand, with Downs joking, "I don't want to hurt you."

"He and I worked together many years ago," said Hagel, who earned two Purple Hearts during his service as an enlisted soldier in Vietnam. "How you doing, Fred? How's your family?"

Downs demonstrated how he controls movements of the arm, which appeared to be partly covered in translucent white plastic, with two accelerometers strapped to his feet. Through a combination of foot movements, he's able to control the elbow, wrist and fingers in a variety of movements, including the “thumbs-up” sign he gave Hagel.

It took only a few hours to learn to control the arm, Downs said.

"It's the first time in 45 years, since Vietnam, I'm able to use my left hand, which was a very emotional time," he said.

Dr. Justin Sanchez, a medical doctor and program manager at DARPA who works with prosthetics and brain-related technology, told Hagel that DARPA's arm is designed to mimic the shape, size and weight of a human arm. It's modular too, so it can replace a lost hand, lower arm or a complete arm.

Hagel said such technology would have a major impact on the lives of injured troops.

"This is transformational," he said. "We've never seen anything like this before."

Next, Sanchez showed Hagel a video of a patient whose brain had been implanted with a sensor at the University of Pittsburgh, allowing her to control an arm with her thoughts.

Matt Johannes, an engineer from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, showed Hagel a shiny black hand and arm that responds to brain impulses. The next step is to put sensors in the fingers that can send sensations back to the brain.

"If you don't have line of sight on something you're trying to grab onto, you can use that sensory information to assist with that task," Johannes said.

The tactile feedback system should be operational within a few months, he said.

"People said it would be 50 years before we saw this technology in humans," Sanchez said. "We did it in a few years."

Next, officials gave Hagel an overview of the DARPA Robotic Challenge, a competition to develop a robot for rescue and disaster response that was inspired by the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear incident in Japan.

Virginia Tech University's entrant in the contest, the hulking 6-foot-2-inch Atlas robot developed by Boston Dynamics, stood in the background as Hagel was shown a video of robots walking over uneven ground and carrying things.

Brad Tousley, head of DARPA's Tactical Technology Office, explained to Hagel that Hollywood creates unrealistic expectations of robotic capability. In fact, he said, building human-like robots capable of autonomously doing things such as climbing ladders, opening doors and carrying things requires major feats of engineering and computer science.

Journalists were escorted out before the remaining three technologies could be demonstrated because of classified concerns. A defense official speaking on background told reporters that Hagel was brought up to date on the progress of three other DARPA programs:

-- Plan X, a foundational cyberwarfare program to develop platforms for the Defense Department to plan for, conduct and assess cyberwarfare in a manner similar to kinetic warfare;

-- Persistent close air support, a system to, among other things, link up joint tactical air controllers with close air support aircraft using commercially available tablets; and

-- A long-range anti-ship missile, planned to reduce dependence on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, network links and GPS navigation in electronic warfare environments. Autonomous guidance algorithms should allow the LRASM to use less-precise target cueing data to pinpoint specific targets in the contested domain, the official said. The program also focuses on innovative terminal survivability approaches and precision lethality in the face of advanced countermeasures.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Space Command leader calls for innovation amid budget cuts

by John Parker
72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs


4/21/2014 - TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Innovation and cost-saving ideas will help ensure the Air Force keeps its warfighting readiness despite significant, ongoing budget cuts, the commander of Air Force Space Command recently told a Tinker audience.

General William L. Shelton spoke April 15 in Bldg. 4029 to about 90 members of the 38th Cyberspace Engineering Installation Group.

"If there ever was a time for innovation, this is it," General Shelton said. "That's the only way we're going to get through these next few years of declining budgets. We have to think our way through this.

"There's that famous old saying - we've run out of money and now we have to think. That's where we're at."

The native Oklahoman praised the more than 650-member group's cutting-edge work around the globe. He ticked off a list of major achievements for 38th CEIG in the past year. They included 17 quarterly and four annual awards at the wing level.

Wing members also managed and implemented 216 communications modernization projects at 85 bases, said General Shelton, who is based at Air Force Space Command, Peterson AFB, Colo.

"That's just an amazing list of accomplishments, and I hope you're all proud of that," General Shelton said. "I hope you see it the same way I do for the effect that it's having across the Air Force - not just inside the cyber family, but literally every Airman across the Air Force is affected by what you do. It's just tremendous work."

The 38th CEIG is described as the Air Force's premier engineering and installation group - "the backbone of the cyberspace domain." Airmen and civilian members engineer and install cyberspace infrastructure for communications and offensive and defensive air, space and cyberspace operations.

The general said he's never seen anything like the cuts facing the military through Congress' sequestration law. The 2011 law led to deep, across-the-board cuts when Congress failed to reach agreement on more targeted spending cuts.

"In almost a 38-year career, I've never seen anything that's this serious in terms of what we're throwing at our leadership, what we're throwing at our people and what we're expecting people to do with fewer resources," General Shelton said.

In budget planning, General Shelton described how Air Force leaders wrestle with directives imposed by Congress and the secretary of defense, all the while meeting the branch's mission to fight and win wars ranging from insurgencies to near-peer conflicts.

He told group members that the budget realities are "our time." It's a challenge to be embraced, the general said.

"Whatever you can do to come up with solutions that really do save us money, and provide additional capability across the Air Force, we're all for it," General Shelton said. "I'll be the greatest champion for those solutions, because we need them."

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Officials Provide Tips for Heartbleed Security Vulnerability




By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 19, 2014 – The Defense Department has dealt effectively with the Heartbleed computer vulnerability, but individuals must do their parts as well, DOD’s deputy chief information officer for cybersecurity said.

Richard A. Hale spoke about Heartbleed during an interview with American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel.

Heartbleed is a vulnerability in the software used to scramble the interactions between a Web server and people using that server. People who do online banking or e-commerce are vulnerable to having passwords and logins stolen.

“The software is used in many Web servers on the Internet, but not all servers,” Hale said. “Some are vulnerable to this flaw.”

Heartbleed undermines the encryption process on secure websites, email, instant messaging and likely a variety of other programs and applications, officials said, potentially putting users’ sensitive personal data -- such as usernames, passwords and credit card information -- at risk of being intercepted by hackers. Hackers who intercept that information, they added, could then use it to access users’ personal accounts.

Cybersecurity specialists learned of Heartbleed on April 7. “The people who wrote this software immediately fixed the flaw,” he said.

New software is available to fix systems. “The flaw is starting to go away, but this is a massive undertaking,” Hale said. “It is a widely used software used on thousands of websites and thousands of different network products.

“The government is doing the same thing,” he continued. “It’s looking at all of its websites and ensuring that they are either not vulnerable or the vulnerability is fixed as quickly as possible.”

Heartbleed has no effect on DOD classified networks, and minimal effect on DOD unclassified sites, he said. “We have an aggressive process to find this vulnerability and eliminate it immediately,” Hale said. “Really, what the department did immediately was block the exploitation of this vulnerability at the boundary between the department’s network and the Internet.”

Common access cards and the PIN numbers associated with them are not affected by Heartbleed, he said, but service members and their families still need to take action.

“You should go to your bank’s website … and check whether the bank software has been fixed or whether it is vulnerable,” he said. “If it is fixed, then I recommend changing your password. It is best to assume that your password might have been compromised and change it.”

The Department of Homeland Security, through the National Protection and Programs Directorate, is leading a whole-of-government response to the threat posed by the Heartbleed security vulnerability by issuing guidance to the public and key stakeholders.

Officials recommend that people refrain from logging into a website and changing their password until they’ve confirmed that a patch is in place on the site to protect users from the Heartbleed vulnerability. If the Heartbleed patch is not yet in place, they explained, changing the password would be useless and could give an attacker the new password.

In addition, officials recommend starting with the sites that contain the most sensitive personal information, such as banking and credit card sites and email and social media accounts. It’s a good idea, they added, not to re-use passwords.

Over the next few weeks, officials said, people should closely monitor their accounts for suspicious activity -- purchases they didn’t make or messages they didn’t send or post. They also should be aware that websites requiring the user to enter personal information such as credit card or bank account numbers should be secure -- the URL, or Web address, should begin with https, officials added.

Phishing attacks via email could seek to exploit concerns about Heartbleed, officials warned. The attacker would send an email purporting to be from the user’s email provider, bank or another frequently used website and providing a link for the user to click on to change the password. To be safe, officials recommend, go directly to the websites to change passwords, and type the link yourself, rather than clicking on links embedded in emails.

The DHS website, http://www.dhs/gov, has up-to-date information on Internet security threats to include Heartbleed.