N.A.S.A. Researching 'Tractor Beams'

A $100,000 award has been given to a N.A.S.A. agency to examine three laser-based approaches to do what, until now, has only been the stuff of science fiction. 

What's the Latest Development?

Tractor beams have always been the stuff of science fiction, particularly Star Trek. But now a team of N.A.S.A. scientists says we have the technology to make tractor beams useful during space missions. The typical method of using lasers to pull objects has required trapping the object in the focus of two beams, but this process requires an atmosphere to function properly. Solenoid and Bessel beams, however, are specially shaped lasers that could be used to pull objects toward them without an atmosphere. 

What's the Big Idea?

While the lasers' pulling power would be small, it could, in some cases, outperform current methods of collecting samples used during space missions. Dr. Paul Stysley of N.A.S.A.'s Goddard Space Flight Center says, "An optical-trapping system could grab desired molecules from the upper atmosphere on an orbiting spacecraft or trap them from the ground or lower atmosphere from a lander." Lasers' ability to remotely and continually gather particles over a long period of time would enhance science's goals and reduce mission risk, he says. 

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