Science + Technology

Is outer space a man's domain? You might think so in Germany, where the country's 11 astronauts have all been men. They also dominate mission control at the German Space Operations Center, although Katja Leuoth is helping to change that.

Five years ago, Leuoth became the center's first female flight director. Recently, a second woman was hired, she says. They and 10 male colleagues run the European portion of the International Space Station 24/7 from the compound in the small Bavarian town of Oberpfaffenhofen.

Pot-infused edibles are big sellers in states that have legalized marijuana. The problem is, it's been tough to measure and regulate the potency of these ganja-laced gummy bears, lollies and brownies.

In a major concession to critics and animal welfare groups, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment Inc. says it will stop breeding captive killer whales.

SeaWorld's treatment of its killer whales, or orcas, was put in the spotlight three years ago by Blackfish, a documentary that examined the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed by an orca named Tilikum. Since then, in a steady campaign on social media, critics have demanded SeaWorld end its orca breeding program.

It's in the news everywhere, with near-apocalyptic hubris: Google's DeepMind machine beat the world champion of the game Go with a score of 4-1.

At Southwest Baltimore Charter School, preparing lunch takes a few extra steps.

"We don't use the water from the building for cooking, not at all," say cafeteria worker LaShawn Thompson, shaking her head.

Her colleague, Christine Fraction, points to a large water bottle sitting on the counter of a stainless steel sink.

"We having greens or something like that, we having vegetables, we'll just turn it over into the pan and then put it on the stove," she says.

Faced with her own forgetfulness, former NPR correspondent and author Barbara Bradley Hagerty tried to do something about it. She's written about her efforts in her book on midlife, called Life Reimagined. To her surprise, she discovered that an older dog can learn new tricks.

A confession: I loathe standardized tests, and one of the perks of reaching midlife is that I thought I'd never have to take another.

Science and health care journalism lost Peggy Girshman on Monday, one of the profession's fiercest advocates and gentlest souls. She was 61.

Girshman was a leader at many news and professional organizations, including NPR, NBC News, the National Association of Science Writers and Kaiser Health News, which she co-founded.

Over the years, she won four local Emmys and a national one, along with other major awards given out for the best work in our field. The awards were well-deserved and came as no surprise to those of us who knew her. She was one of the absolute best.

The poet John Berryman once wrote, "My mother told me as a boy (repeatingly) 'Ever to confess you're bored means you have no inner resources.' I conclude now I have no inner resources, because I am heavy bored."

We've all been there: bored in class, bored at work, bored in stand still traffic. But why do we find boredom so unbearable? And, if we hate boredom so much, why do we still take boring jobs? This week on Hidden Brain, we try to answer these questions and more – hopefully, without boring you.

Bored at Work

Eighty million years ago, tyrannosaurs were the top predators in Asia and North America.

And scientists say a newly discovered dinosaur from Uzbekistan helps to explain their rise.

In a paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers said they have found a specimen from a 20 million-year gap in fossil records — between the small-bodied "marginal hunters" and the "apex predators" the tyrannosaurid group would become. This group includes Tyrannosaurus rex, Albertosaurus and Tarbosaurus.

When you really need help, Siri might not always be there for you. And if you told the Google App or S Voice from Samsung that you were just sexually assaulted or beaten by your partner, they don't have much to offer, a study finds.

Yesterday, NASA announced that astronaut Scott Kelly will retire from the space agency as of April 1st. Kelly holds the U.S. record for the most time spent in space.

For nearly a full year, he zoomed along at 17,500 miles per hour — orbiting 230 miles above earth — on the International Space Station. And for those million or so of us who follow him on Twitter, Cmdr. Kelly's year in space gave us a mind-expanding view of planet Earth.

Kelly posted spectacular photos — awesome, in the true sense of the word. He called them, earth-art.

Recently returned from a groundbreaking 340-day space mission, astronaut Scott Kelly announced Friday he will retire from NASA on April 1, but still continue to participate in research related to his space travel.

Nevada's home solar business is in turmoil as the state's Public Utilities Commission starts to phase out incentives for homeowners who install rooftop solar panels. Some of the largest solar companies have stopped seeking new business in the state and laid off hundreds of workers.

Five years after an earthquake and tsunami caused a series of meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan, there are signs of progress. Many workers cleaning up the ruined plant no longer need to suit up in full respirators. Some nearby villages that were evacuated are open to residents.

But there are still plenty of problems.

Plastic makes great food packaging. It's waterproof and flexible. And best of all, it's impervious to all known bacteria — until now. Researchers have found a bacterium in the debris fields around a recycling plant in Japan that can feed off a common type of plastic used in clothing, plastic bottles and food packaging.

A curious crowd lingered around Amal Graafstra as he carefully unpacked a pair of gloves, a small sterile blanket and a huge needle. A long line of people were waiting to get tiny computer chips implanted into their hands.

Graafstra had set up shop in a booth in the middle of an exhibit hall at the Austin Convention Center in Texas' capital, where he gathered last month with several hundred others who call themselves "body hackers" — people who push the boundaries of implantable technology to improve the human body.

Medicare is going to test new ways to reimburse doctors for medications, in hopes they'll choose less expensive drugs.

The plan would alter Medicare Part B, which pays for medicines administered in doctors offices or outpatient hospital clinics — to eliminate incentives for doctors to use the most expensive drugs.

SeaWorld says the health of one of its best-known killer whales is deteriorating. Tilikum is the orca that killed SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010 — her death and SeaWorld's treatment of its killer whales were at the center of the documentary Blackfish.

Pittsburgh was named as one of the most livable cities in the United States by the Intelligence Unit of The Economist magazine. That title makes many residents proud, but who exactly is the city "livable" for?

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In the ocean near Hawaii, more than 2 1/2 miles underwater, scientists have discovered a small, delicate-looking and ghostlike little octopod — possibly a new species.

The animal was discovered by Deep Discoverer, a remotely operated vehicle, or ROV — picture a small, unmanned submarine equipped with cameras and a robotic arm — that was working to collect geological samples.

Think of it as a galactic baby photo: a red blotch representing what a galaxy looked like just 400 million years after the Big Bang. NASA says the "surprisingly bright infant galaxy" known as GN-z11 is the farthest galaxy ever seen from Earth, at 13.4 billion years in the past.

Carlo Rovelli's Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, originally published as a series of essays in an Italian newspaper, was just released in book form in the U.S. on March 1. I read the book by the noted physicist in a single sitting with pleasure and mounting excitement.

It is a very clear book and it is likely to provoke in readers, as it provoked in me, a desire to learn more about space, time, quantum reality, the nature of the gravity, our universe and, finally, about ourselves.

A few miles outside Glacier National Park in northwest Montana is land known as the Badger-Two Medicine, the ancestral home of the Blackfeet tribe.

But it's also the site of 18 oil and gas development leases, and an energy company is heading to federal court March 10 to fight for the right to drill there after decades of delay.

Blackfeet tribal historian John Murray doesn't want the drilling to begin.

The legal dispute over whether Apple should be forced to help the FBI hack into the iPhone used by one of the terrorists in San Bernardino is making headlines in the U.S.

But it's just one skirmish in a broader global conflict: American tech companies are feeling similar pressure from law enforcement agencies around the world, and they say the lack of international legal standards is creating a crisis.

When a whooping crane stands up, you notice. At 5 feet in height, it's America's tallest bird. Its wingspan is more than 7 feet, its body snowy white, its wingtips jet black.

By the 1940s, the birds had nearly gone extinct. Biologists have worked hard to bring them back, by breeding whoopers in captivity and releasing them in the wild. There are now several small wild populations in the U.S.

Here's an exercise in deductive logic, with implications for our food supply.

Fact: Insects such as bees and butterflies are helpful, and sometimes essential, for producing much of our food, including a majority of our fruits, vegetables and nuts.

"I have taken a lot of pictures because I've been up here for a long time," NASA astronaut Scott Kelly said during a recent press conference from the International Space Station. "I've definitely taken some good ones and some memorable ones."

When he returns to Earth on Tuesday evening, Kelly will have spent 340 days aboard the ISS. While that's not quite a year, it's still a record for an American astronaut, and one of the longest-lasting spaceflights ever.

Social media and dating apps are putting unprecedented pressures on America's teen girls, author Nancy Jo Sales says. Her new book, American Girls, opens with a story about one 13-year-old who received an Instagram request for "noodz" [nude photos] from a boy she didn't know very well.

A major global assessment of pollinators is raising concerns about the future of the planet's food supply.

A U.N.-sponsored report drawing on about 3,000 scientific papers concludes that about 40 percent of invertebrate pollinator species (such as bees and butterflies) are facing extinction. Vertebrate pollinators (such as bats and birds) are somewhat better off by comparison — 16 percent are threatened with extinction, "with a trend towards more extinctions," the researchers say.