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Crew members 'return to Earth' after yearlong mock Mars mission in Hawaii

Six people returned to Earth after a year on Mars ... kind of. 

>> Watch the video from Newsy

The six crew members of the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation program, or HI-SEAS, spent the past year living in total isolation on the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. 

The crew members lived inside a 1,200-square-foot dome and donned simulated space suits anytime they left the dome for outside research. Their communication with the mission support team was designed with a 20-minute delay to simulate the delay that would come with actually being on Mars. 

The primary goal of the yearlong mission was to study the behavioral effects of being disconnected from Earth. 

>> Read more trending stories

The HI-SEAS crew's architect said, "The UH research going on up here is just super vital when it comes to picking crews, figuring out how people are going to actually work on different kinds of missions."

This is the fourth and longest HI-SEAS mission. The next two missions are scheduled for 2017 and 2018, and each one will be eight months long.  

African forest elephants will need 90 years to recover from poaching

It will take an estimated 90 years for a species of elephants to recover from the devastation poachers caused over the course of just over a decade.

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Poachers helped reduce Africa's forest elephant population by roughly 65 percent between 2002 and 2013.

That same species has one of the slowest reproduction rates of any mammal. A female forest elephant has a baby once every five to six years, and she doesn't start reproducing until she's over 20 years old.

Researchers in a new study say the forest elephants' slow birth rate and poachers killing them for their tusks are two reasons why it will take just under a century for the species to reach the same population level it had in 2002.

Poachers have caused so much damage already that if all the killings stopped immediately, it'd still take about 40 years for forest elephants to recover.

The species isn't quite an endangered population yet, but it is considered vulnerable.

Forest elephants also have an important role in their ecosystem; many tree species rely on the animals to spread their seeds.

This new study comes just days before one of the world's largest conservation events begins. This year, a motion is up for a vote that would call on governments to close ivory markets within their borders.

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Who is Valery Spiridonov? 5 things to know about Russian volunteer for first human head transplant

An Italian neuroscientist is making headlines after announcing plans to next year perform the world’s first head transplant on a Russian man who has volunteered for the controversial operation.

Valery Spiridonov, 31, has agreed to allow Dr. Sergio Canavero, Chinese surgeon Dr. Xiaoping Ren and a team of about 80 other doctors to decapitate him and place his head on a donor body. Though Ren has reportedly performed the surgery, successfully, on a mouse and a monkey, it would be a first for the human race.

>> Read more trending stories

Much has been written about Canavero, who first announced his plans last year. But who is Spiridonov? Here are five things to know about the man willing to go under the knife.

>>READ MORE: How would a head transplant be done?

  • Spiridonov works from his home in Vladimir, about 120 miles east of Moscow, running an educational software business, according to a story in the September issue of the Atlantic.

  • Spiridonov is terminally ill. He is bound to a wheelchair by Werdnig-Hoffmann disease, a genetic disorder that causes muscles to waste away and motor neurons to die. The illness has limited his movements to feeding himself, typing and steering his wheelchair with a joystick.

  • Spiridonov has already beaten the odds. Doctors have told him that he should have died of the disease years ago, according to the Atlantic’s profile.

  • Spiridonov has come up with a novel way to help fund the surgery, estimated to cost between $10 million and $100 million. He has begun selling hats, T-shirts, mugs and iPhone covers, all with an image of his head on a new body, online as a way to raise funds for the experiment.

  • Spiridonov is not the only person who has volunteered to be the first potentially-successful head transplant patient. Nearly a dozen others, including a man whose body is full of tumors, have approached the doctors asking to go first, the Atlantic reported.

  • To learn more about the controversial and groundbreaking surgery planned to save Spiridonov’s life, read the Atlantic’s profile

    Soft robots could make human interactions with robots safer

    Soft things are cute. Soft things are also fun to touch. And that's part of the reason why you should care about this recently developed soft octopus robot.

    >> Read more trending stories

    According to a study in the journal Nature, soft robots could even make human interactions with robots safer than with more conventional "rigid" robots.

    The autonomous robot is "the first self-contained robot made exclusively of soft, flexible parts."

    It's powered by gas. Harvard University explains it this way: "A reaction inside the bot transforms a small amount of liquid fuel (hydrogen peroxide) into a large amount of gas, which flows into the octobot’s arms and inflates them like a balloon."

    The octopus was also the inspiration for another soft robot introduced this year. That wiggly robot was modeled after the flexible, color-changing skin of the animals.

    And the flexible technology of both of these bots could mean big advances in health care. The soft, untethered technology of the most recent octobot could come in handy during surgeries.

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    ‘Modern-day dinosaur' found in Florida waters

    A Florida fisherman got a humongous surprise recently when the 700-pound fish he’d hooked turned out to be a critically endangered prehistoric monster.

    While filming an episode for extreme fishing show "BlacktipH Fishing," producer Joshua Jorgensen hooked a 17-foot sawfish, not realizing at first what he was getting himself into.

    >> Read more trending stories

    As the fish whipped its massive tail and serrated saw, the fisherman came to understand that he was going to have to hold on and enjoy the ride.

    "I’m hooked up to an absolute monster," Jorgensen said, wondering if the fish was a giant ray. "He’s dragging this boat literally wherever he wants to drag it."

    As soon as he realized what was on his line, Jorgensen looked into the camera and said he needed to call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission because he’d hooked a sawfish.

    "I’ve never seen one of these in my life and it’s a very endangered species," he said.

    "How do we handle it?" Jorgensen asked an FWC agent on the phone.

    He was told not to pull the fish out of the water but to try and get an accurate measurement before cutting the line.

    "Research is underway to learn more about these elusive creatures, but one thing is for certain: They are dangerous," FWC said on its Facebook page. "If you catch a sawfish, be sure to keep it in the water at all times, cut the line as close to the hood as safely possible and report the encounter to (the FWC sawfish hotline) 947-255-7403 or"

    The FWC also took a moment to point out that while the species is prehistoric, "sawfish are obviously not a type of dinosaur, nor are they sharks. They are actually a type of ray."

    17-foot modern-day dinosaur found in Florida waters!What do you do when your “big catch” turns out to be a 17-foot...Posted by MyFWC on Friday, August 26, 2016

    Students learn chemistry via beer-testing lab

    A college professor is using beer to inspire chemistry students.

    University of Southern Maine professor Lucille Benedict told the Portland Press Herald it can be challenging to keep students engaged in chemistry, so she started using beer as a testing medium.

    Benedict oversees the school's new Quality Assurance/Quality Control and Research Laboratory.

    >> Read more trending stories

    In a partnership with the Maine Brewers Guild, the lab will provide testing and training for breweries and brewmasters.

    Students say the beer-testing lab allows them to use science to solve real-world problems. Students will focus on how a flawed brewing process can contaminate or ruin beer.

    Classes for brewers begin in the fall. 

    Brewers can also send samples to the lab for testing. The lab charges $25 for basic testing.

    New Earth-like planet found orbiting nearby star

    A new planet has been discovered that may be Earth-like, and it's really, really close. If we're ever going to look for life outside our solar system, this is probably where we'll start. Here's what scientists say about it.

    >> Watch the video from Newsy

    The planet might have liquid water, which is crucial to life as we know it. It's in the habitable zone, that sweet spot where it's neither too hot nor too cold to have water on its surface.

    The planet orbits the closest-known star to ours, Proxima Centauri, which is about 4.25 light years away. It's in the southern sky, but it's too dim to see with the naked eye.

    Four light years is nothing in space terms, but it's still too far to travel to any time soon. Our most pie-in-the-sky technology would still take decades to carry a probe there.

    If we do ever travel there, it should feel somewhat familiar. The planet is about the same size as Earth, meaning gravity would be close to what we're used to. But its days and nights would be strange. It circles its sun every 11 days.

    >> Read more trending stories

    It's tempting to get excited about an Earth-like planet that couldn't be any closer, but there are some big unknowns. It's not clear yet whether the planet has an atmosphere or a magnetic field. Without those, the odds of finding life are pretty much zero.

    Luckily, we don't have to wait too long to learn more. NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is set to launch in 2018, and it will be able to look for an atmosphere. And Stephen Hawking is supporting a plan to send a probe to nearby Alpha Centauri.

    NASA's Curiosity rover shows 360-degree images of Mars

    NASA has released a 360-degree panoramic photo of Mars.

    The rover, which was sent by NASA to explore the planet and determine if life once existed on its surface, captured the latest images on Aug. 5.

    >> Read more trending stories

    The Huffington Post reported that the 360-degree video, posted to YouTube, shows the planet's features, including geographic formations like mesas, buttes, called the Murray Buttes, and a mountain dubbed Mount Sharp.

    NASA said in a post on its website that a goal of the exploration is to learn if Mars had life in the form of microbes billions of years ago, based on its freshwater lake conditions and, if so, how it "evolved into harsher, arid conditions much less suited to supporting life."

    NASA said the mission is also "monitoring the modern environment of Mars."

    See NASA's 360-degree video below:

    NASA hopes to sell International Space Station

    Live-in office space for sale: six beds, two baths, over 32,000 cubic feet. Beautiful sunrises every 90 minutes, convenient 23-minute plummet to Earth. Don't open the windows.

    NASA's operation of the International Space Station is scheduled to end in 2024. Now, officials say instead of letting it fall out of orbit, they're looking to pass the outpost on to someone with the resources to keep it running.

    >> Read more trending stories

    "Ultimately, our desire is to hand the space station over to either a commercial entity or some other commercial capability so that research can continue in low-Earth orbit," NASA's Bill Hill said.

    Companies like SpaceX and Boeing already run the commercial missions to resupply the station, and they'll start carrying crew in 2017. They seem well-positioned to take advantage, even if it's not clear yet what the private companies would do with their own orbiting lab.

    In the meantime, other space firms are invested enough to want to improve the existing station. NanoRacks wants to add a private airlock to the ISS to launch its tiny satellites called cubesats.

    That's the kind of science NASA wants to see. It's said it before: The ISS presents unique research opportunities that could help pave the way for more commercial activity in orbit around Earth.

    Extremely rare 2,500-pound T. rex skull arrives at Seattle museum

    An extremely rare 2,500-pound Tyrannosaurus rex skull discovered by Seattle paleontologists arrived at the Burke Museum Thursday.

    >> Read more trending stories

    Burke paleontologists found the fossil remains of the 66.3-million-year-old dinosaur -- including the 4-foot-long, 2,500-pound skull, as well as lower jaw bones, vertebrae, ribs and teeth -- in the Hell Creek Formation in northern Montana.

    The area is world-famous for its fossil dinosaur sites.

    A team of more than 45 people helped excavate the T. rex over a month this summer. They first found large fossilized vertebrae that indicated that they belonged to a carnivorous dinosaur.

    Before they could excavate the fossils, the team first needed to remove about 20 tons of rock from the hillside, so they could create a ledge at the level of the fossils. The difficult task took a team of eight to 10 people nearly two weeks of continuous digging with jackhammers, axes and shovels.

    Once the ledge was in place, they switched to smaller hand tools and uncovered more bones. The skull was found several feet away.

    "The combination of the skull features, the size of the bones, and the honeycomb-like appearance of the bones tell us this is a T. rex," said Burke Museum Adjunct Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology and University of Washington associate biology professor Dr. Greg Wilson.  "This was a very exciting moment for us."

    So far, about 20 percent of a full skeleton has been excavated and scientists say there's likely more to discover.

    The T. rex is the first major specimen in Washington.

    The skull is one of only 15 reasonably complete T. rex skulls ever discovered.

    The massive skull, which is encased in plaster for protection, was moved with a forklift from a flatbed truck to the Burke Museum loading dock.

    The public can see the plaster-covered T. rex skull, along with other T. rex fossils and paleontology field tools, in a lobby display at the Burke Museum -- the Washington State Museum of Natural History and Culture -- beginning Saturday, August 20, through Sunday, October 2, 2016. 

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