jet propulsion labs

We assume that the fine folks at NASA spend all day working on warp drives and teleporters and such, because we are woefully ill-informed adult-sized children. But still, we figure they’re occupied with important science stuff way above our pay grade. Like engineer Lonnie Johnson: He spent his days working in NASA’s jet propulsion lab in Pasadena as part of the team that built Voyager, Galileo, and the Mars Observer spacecraft. He helped test the stealth bomber and developed new systems for nuclear reactors. It’s like he was always destined for genius level work: When he was a teenager, he designed his own robot sidekick.

But then you go ahead and check his Wikipedia page. It barely mentions NASA, instead choosing to focus on other, much more important accomplishments, like a really, really effective toy squirt gun.

Johnson’s major contribution to society came in 1982 while he was screwing around at home working on something silly and trivial, like a new type of heat pump. Heat pumps normally use Freon gas, but Johnson was trying to make one that worked off of water alone. When he switched on the pump, water fired out and slammed into the shower curtain with way more force than he had expected, and the idea of heat transfer suddenly seemed a whole lot less interesting than shooting some poor son of a bitch right in the face with it.

5 Awesome Things Invented by the Last People You’d Expect 

Did you happen to catch the asteroid that is buzzing by us right now? If you have a telescope and a clear sky to the east, there’s still time to see asteroid 2004 BL86. The 1,100-foot-diameter body got as close as 745,000 miles from Earth yesterday, about 3.1 times farther than the distance from us to the moon.

Unless you have equipment like NASA’s 230-foot-wide Deep Space Network antenna, though, you won’t be able to see this little surprise tagging along with BL86. Yesterday, scientists using the antenna in Goldstone, Calif. took radar images of the asteroid and found that it is travelling with a little moon just 230 feet in diameter.

Researchers at the Jet Propulsion Lab say such asteroid duos aren’t an anomaly in our solar system: A survey of asteroids near Earth that are 655 feet across or larger found that some 16 percent have one or two moons orbiting them.

Keep reading