Three readings worth your time this week.

NASA launched a mission this week that sounds really cool. The spacecraft will make a seven year round trip to an asteroid and “return a substantial amount” of it’s material to Earth. Of course, that’s no trival process but the story of the collection device that will be used is fascinating and a build that would be right at home at any Maker Faire. (about 4 minutes)

In a short piece on their UK site, Wired reviews some ongoing research that asks if virtual reality can make people more emphathetic. The answer, of course, is that it’s far too early to arrive at any conclusions. But this part is certainly good to remember: “Anything that has to power to influence our behavior for the better also has the power to influence it for the worse.” (about 4 minutes)

On his blog, Nicholas Carr, one of the more intelligent critics of the internet and it’s impact on society, posted the introduction from his new book in which he reviews some of the early promise of the web as an “engine of liberation”. Instead, he concludes that it’s more The World Wide Cage. Even if his ideas lean more to the negative side than I like, Carr’s writing always is worth reading. (about 11 minutes)

Two audio tracks for your commute.

A recent segment of the Freaknomics podcast (hosted by the co-author of the book with the same title) is about why The Future (Probably) Isn’t as Scary as You Think. The program is a discussion with the author of a book called The Inevitable and he really is optimistic about what he sees not too far ahead. (34:58)

In case you missed it this week (which would only happen by staying completely off the web), Thursday was the 50th anniversary of the debut of Star Trek. Among the flood of memorial material posted, one of the better retrospectives was a segment from On The Media that was actually first recorded ten years ago. In it, one of the show’s hosts explores the concept of Trek through the “infinitely powerful engine behind it all: the fan”. (15:00)

One video to watch when you have a few minutes.

When it comes to conspiracy theories, the idea that the government has been hiding evidence of space aliens for 60 years is at the top of the dumb list. In a short video essay, Bill Nye offers some facts and rationality to explain why the government is not hiding extraterrestrials from us. He is, however, optimistic enough to believe we will eventually find alien life, although probably not like in the movies. (6:18)