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NASA Working To Create Tractor Beams

GREENBELT, Md., Oct. 31 (UPI) — Tractor beams, a staple of science fiction, may someday become a technology for collecting extraterrestrial particle samples, U.S. space agency scientists say.

The NASA Office of the Chief Technologist has awarded a $100,000 to a research team at the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., to study three experimental methods of gathering particles and transporting them via laser light to an instrument, in the manner of a vacuum cleaner using suction to collect and transport dirt to a canister or bag, a NASA release said Monday.

“Though a mainstay in science fiction, and Star Trek in particular, laser-based trapping isn’t fanciful or beyond current technological know-how,” lead researcher Paul Stysley said.

The team will investigate three different laser-based approaches for transporting particles, as well as single molecules, viruses, ribonucleic acid and fully functioning cells.

“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,” Stysley said.

The team will study different methods before selecting one as a candidate for a possible next level of development.

“We’re at the starting gate on this,” researcher Barry Coyle said. “This is a new application that no one has claimed yet.”

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