Heroes

A trip to Mars will require people to use these 8 bizarre inventions.

Scientists are working on some really cool technology to get us to Mars.

Sure, visiting other countries is great. Trying new cuisines, seeing the sites, good times all around.

But what about traveling to a place far beyond our own lonely planet? You know what I'm talking about: Mars.


But surely we are still hundreds, if not thousands of years away from actually being able to live on the Red Planet?

Before you jump to any conclusions, check out these eight groundbreaking astronomic advances that could mean life on Mars might not be too far away.

1. First of all, you need a way to get there. Let me show you an ion thruster that goes 90,000 mph.

GIF from "Spaceballs."

NASA's Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) is a powerful new ion thruster, which is the fastest, most fuel-efficient propulsion engine ever built.

The thruster is lightweight, which means more room on spaceships for storing equipment. In addition, it can propel a spacecraft at speeds of up to 90,000 mph, which means getting to Mars (or beyond) a heck of a lot faster.

Oh yeah, it's also capable of running for five and a half years nonstop. We're getting into "Star Trek" territory here!

2. Of course, if your ship gets jacked up, you're out of luck. So bring along this crazy "Terminator"-style material that can repair itself when damaged.

GIF from "Terminator Genisys."

In addition to developing newer, more mobile, and highly efficient spacesuits last year, NASA-funded research has also led to the creation of a "Terminator"-style self-healing material.

NASA combined two layers of polymer with a reactive liquid called thiol-ene-trialkylborane, which solidifies upon contact with the air to form a sort of next-level Silly Putty.

This technology could be used to defend astronauts (and their ships) from hurtling debris, but it has practical applications back here on Earth as well — it could be used for everything from bulletproof armor to exhaust pipes on cars.

3. Fuel — you need a lot of it. So this company wants to create a space elevator to save on consumption.

GIF from "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory."

The Canadian tech company Thoth Technology was recently awarded a U.S. patent to begin developing a 12.4-mile-high, inflatable “space elevator" to transport astronauts and materials much closer to orbit to launch and refuel ships. If completed, the elevator would save roughly 30% of the rocket fuel that is usually burned up exiting our atmosphere — not to mention provide one heck of a view.

4. We can now grow lettuce in space, which could be a step toward farming on Mars.

GIF from "Parks and Recreation."

Say goodbye to astronaut ice cream and powdered orange juice because NASA scientists have now successfully grown the first fresh greens in zero gravity.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station used tightly packed pouches of soil, seeds, and slow-release fertilizer called “plant pillows" to grow nearly four dozen red romaine lettuce heads over 33 days.

Three astronauts on the space station shared the snack on Aug. 10, and NASA's Scott Kelly said, "It tastes like arugula." Add some croutons and you're good to go.


5. Farming with artificial intelligence is a real thing.

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Speaking of space farming, I give you AstroGro. Presented at this year's NASA-sponsored International Space Apps Challenge, AstroGro is essentially a self-contained pot for growing plants both in and outside of a spaceship.

Here's how it works: A network of sensors monitor and optimize plant growth within the pot by mimicking Earth's environment in unearthly conditions — recycling water, replenishing air, and automatically adjusting to gravitational differences. This means fresh, organic produce that can be grown using far less water than in traditional methods here on Earth.

The best part? The AstroGro could be built from existing 3D printers onboard the ISS.

6. Another culinary advance: We can possibly create food out of urine. (Let me explain.)

"Man vs. Wild" star Bear Grylls has long extolled the replenishing power of one's own urine in survival situations, and it appears that NASA feels the same way.

Mark Blenner, an assistant professor at Clemson University, and his team are attempting to prove that too. They were just awarded a $200,000 yearly grant by NASA to engineer a strain of yeast capable of growing from human waste products. (Yep, food made from urine. Mmmmmm.)

The yeast would not only produce much-needed food for lengthy missions, but it could also be used to generate omega-3 fatty acids and even polyester plastics capable of being used as a resource for 3D printing. Talk about whizardry, amiright?

7. Of course, you'll need somewhere to live. That's where these pre-packaged living quarters come into play.

The Paragon Space Development Corporation is in the early stages of building an “environmental control and life support system" that could provide astronauts with ready-made, breathable living quarters on planets that are currently uninhabitable.

"If the will and the means are provided, we will see humans begin to explore and even colonize other planets in our lifetime," Grant Anderson, Paragon CEO and president, said in July. Sounds crazy, I know, but you have to credit the guy for being ambitious.

8. And finally, you're going to need some booze to toast once you get there. Grab some space-aged whiskey.

GIF from "Breaking Bad."

Because what good is traveling to Mars if we can't have a drink or 10 to celebrate our incredible accomplishments?

That's not the only reason Suntory — Japan's oldest and most highly awarded distillery — recently said it would send six samples of its whiskies to the International Space Station. The goal here, according to a Suntory spokesperson, is to learn what effect zero-gravity will have on the aging process of whiskey.

Previous research seems to imply that whiskey aged in environments with little change in temperature or convection tends to have a distinctly smoother taste than those aged the traditional way. So the next time you find yourself raising a glass of the good stuff with your family and friends, maybe take a moment to thank the scientists who made it go down so easy.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Ronny Tertnes' "liquid sculptures" are otherworldly.

Human beings have sculpted artwork out of all kinds of materials throughout history, from clay to concrete to bronze. Some sculpt with water in the form of ice, but what if you could create sculptures with small drops of liquid?

Norwegian artist Ronny Tertnes does just that. His "liquid sculptures" look like something from another planet or another dimension, while at the same time are entirely recognizable as water droplets.

I mean, check this out:


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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

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