Understanding the “spy balloon”

by Thomas Mundy-

It has been several weeks since the spy balloon from the People’s Republic of China was shot down by a United States jetfighter and lots of controversy has been stirred since the beginning. 

What started out as an apparent weather balloon gone astray from The People’s Republic of China has thrown the public into a frenzy, when United States officials announced that there were instruments on the aircraft that were capable of sending intelligence back over to the controllers. Scientists like Ella Atkins, department head of aerospace and ocean engineering at Virginia Tech, said that this reaction seems a little overboard.

“People are overreacting to the data that could possibly have been collected by this one spy balloon,” Atkins said. “The reality is, we have satellites in low earth orbit from countries all over the world.” 

American Flag and the Virginia Flag on the Virginia Tech Campus in Blacksburg, Virginia. (Thomas Mundy) February 16, 2023.

Airspace is more strict than what could be expected. A country owns the air above its country. This ownership leads all the way up to where the breathable atmosphere reaches non-breathable atmosphere according to Jamie McGrath, a retired Navy Captain involved in the Rice Center for Leader Development at Virginia Tech and the Corp of Cadets. 

“Primarily the airspace that we are talking about are spaces that air-breathing equipment can operate in, so think of airplanes,” McGrath said. “The airspace above a country is sovereign territory just like the land and then that sovereignty stretches out 12 nautical miles from the coastline.”

Engineering Students at Virginia Tech sanding their next project. (Thomas Mundy) February 16, 2023. Blacksburg, Va.

With this balloon, along with any other aircraft flying, it is required to gain permission from the country to fly over top of the territory according to McGrath. This is where the problems began for the balloon. Above the country, there are a plethora of flying objects moving through the atmosphere. Much of the things in the atmosphere are non-recognizable, like the bugs and birds that fly around. Then there is the man-made equipment sent out in the atmosphere, and if this equipment is not monitored, it can become hazardous to others in the same airspace according to Atkins. 

Currently, there have been multiple sightings of other alleged spy balloons. The major thought that Captain McGrath wants to get across is that, even though this seems to have turned into a foreign policy breach and national security issue, there are objects in the sky and in orbit around the Earth that are capable of this very incident, the only difference is that this balloon might have been able to stay in one spot longer than a passing satellite. 

“There are capabilities that fly over our nation and other nations, that I would say, are probably equal to, if not superior to, what could be hanging from a balloon,” McGrath said. “It might be able to loiter in a single location for a longer period of time, so instead of collecting information every time it passes overhead, it was potentially able to collect a larger volume of information while it was in one place.”

SCI/TECH: 3D Printing reshaping our reality

By: Melissa Vergara & Tatyanna Walker–

Scientific technology is blasting off this year with 3D printing. 3D printing is a form of creating a three-dimensional object layer-by-layer using a computer-created design.  Most people think it is made for small toys or minor mechanical items. What if 3D printing has advanced so much that it is going to outer space?

Nasa is now allowing 3D printing in space to help with printing parts while in orbit.  Also, Relativity Space, a spacecraft modeling company is redefining how space rockets are made. This raises the question of how much will it cost? What NASA and Relativity Space are doing to advance technologies? And if this new technological development is some kind of race in space between the United States with other countries? 

On this episode of the Newsfeed podcast, reporters Melissa Vergara and Tatyanna Walker will try to channel our inner astronaut.

SCI/TECH: What’s next for civilian space travel?

by Kamryn Buza and Kalley Sullivan

Astronauts of Inspiration4 flying aboard SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft land in the Atlantic Ocean. COURTESY OF SPACEX/INSPIRATION4

Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched its first civilian flight on the Inspiration 4. A big question that remains is what does this mean for the future of tourist travel in space and what are the implications of it for Earth. 

The Inspiration 4 mission cost just under $200 million dollars with 5 more SpaceX tourist flights already planned for the upcoming months and years. Other companies such as Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are also working on plans to take civilians to space. 

John Harris from The Guardian leaves us with the question, is space now a playground for the rich? 

SCI/TECH: LG discontinues smartphone business

The Korean company, LG, announced recently that they are officially quitting the smartphone business after 12 years. This decision came after years of struggling in the competition against popular brands such as Apple and Samsung. The company has also suffered billions of dollars in losses from its smartphones globally.

Even though they were claimed to be the third-largest smartphone maker in 2013, LG suffered tremendous losses with their products that were too gimmicky and not functional enough to compete with bigger brands. Despite this, they tried to make smartphones with new innovations and features such as a curved smartphone screen and a rollable tablet phone that was supposed to be released this year.

SCI/TECH: Apple iOS Obsolescence Theory

by Jillian Smith and Emily Carter–

Photo on Foter.com

Planned Obsolescence is the theory that companies intentionally design products that they know will become obsolete after a short period of time. The theory states that this strategy is used to cause consumers to continue to buy new products and devices as older ones slow down or eventually stop working at all. Because Apple has recently released a new software update, iOS14, many people have already begun to speculate how this update will impact older devices.

In this science/technology podcast, Emily and Jillian discuss the ways that Apple has addressed these claims and made efforts to debunk this theory, as well as personal experiences that they have had with Apple products and their own opinions on the theory.

SCI/TECH: New Apple updates, what to expect

Photo on Foter.com

by Madison Storm, Kai Young–

Apple released their latest software update recently and users are already enjoying the new features. iOS 14 was rumored for several months before it’s actual release date which was re-scheduled multiple times due to COVID-19 related issues. This update is said to give users to ability to customize their device more than ever before. However, correction updates have already started being released to fix issues many are experiencing.

We also discussed new technology Apple users can be expecting to be released later this year including the rumored iPhone 12, a new watch, and iPads. Apple has also been working on Bluetooth connection devices and at home devices similar to the Amazon echo. It’s unclear the effect COVID-19 will have on the release of these new products. Check out this weeks podcast to hear more.

SCI/TECH: What scientists are doing to understand COVID-19

by Skyler Adkins, Christine O’Donnell–

Photo by EpicTop10.com on Foter.com / CC BY


As a result of the global pandemic, scientists and doctors are working diligently to try and find a cure for COVID-19. There are clinical trials taking place to allow doctors to study participants between the ages 18 and 55 and they are paid in order to incentivize people to help.

Major League Baseball is doing their part by participating in the largest nationwide COVID-19 study on antibodies. Out of the 30 MLB teams, 27 of them are involved in this study. The 10,000 participants range from players to stadium ushers who have all agreed to take blood tests in order to help doctors understand the infection rate and spread patterns of this novel coronavirus.

Scientists are also looking at HIV medications as a possible cure for the virus. An antiviral HIV medication known as Kaletra has emerged on the black market. According to doctors in China, this drug has showed promising signs to be a possible treatment for coronavirus.


SCI/TECH: COVID-19, tracking apps, and privacy


by Drew Jones and Celia Holubar–

Person using mobile phone | Free for commercial image create… | Flickr
Source: Rawpixel Ltd. Via Flickr.com

The COVID-19 pandemic has required all hands on deck. A large group of technologists and executives have called on top technology companies in an open letter to help in the fight against COVID-19. A part of the letter singled out top companies such as Apple and Google to use their extensive knowledge to create a contact tracing app for the United States, similar to ones that have been used in other countries. 

The idea may have stemmed from a Home Quarantine app created in Poland. The app sends a random alert to your mobile phone and you have 20 minutes to respond with a selfie in your designated quarantine location or the police will pay you a visit and fines will be given. With this, it brings many ethical issues in terms of privacy and security on the internet and it begs the question; How much should we compromise our privacy for the fight against COVID-19?

In this podcast, we discuss the issues of privacy vs. security and some other crazy ways the government could know who is COVID-19 positive without their consent.


SCI/TECH: A Mummy’s Voice Revived

Photo by Leeds Museums and Galleries on Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Photo by Leeds Museums and Galleries on Foter.com / CC BY-NC

By Will Pearson, Lilly Savin–

Over the 3,000 years ago, there was an Egyptian Priest by the name of Nesyamun, who used to chant and sing the religious liturgy. Since his death in 1069 B.C., he has been silent in his mummified coffin until now.

British Scientists have figured out a way to resurrect the priest’s voice. The scientist did a CT scan of the mummy’s vocal tract, which they would send that to a 3-D printer. It printed out the vocal tract, and it got hooked up to a voice box. The voice box played a sound that sounded in between the words “bad” and “bed.”

The next step in the process is to change the format into a computer model that will match the scan of the vocal tract and turn to a digital simulation of a moving jaw and tongue. It is a groundbreaking experiment that could now bring a voice to this piece of history.

SCI/TECH: Drone Delivery

Photo on Foter.com

by Skyler Adkins, Dan Demski and Aisha Sheppard —

Amazon has taken over the delivery industry with special features like 2-day shipping, food deliveries, and, now, drones. Prime Air was launched in December of 2016 with delivery time of approximately 13 minutes. Amazon understands that with this innovative idea comes defects and complaints, so Amazon is constantly testing new technology and fixing bugs in the drones. One of the major defects in the drones used for Prime Air is the GSP. Some drones have crashed into houses or landed in abandoned fields.

Another secured delivery system that Amazon has created is Amazon Hubs. These P.O. boxes are established outside business such as convenience stores and create a safe space for consumers’ packages. Theft on and off campus has been unacceptable, especially with Amazon packages being left on doorsteps or outside dorm rooms. These Amazon Hubs keep consumers secure of their package safety.