Science & Health
0 Comments

SpaceX Set for Launch of First All-Civilian Crew Bound for Orbit

The latest in a recent line of billionaire space enthusiasts prepared for liftoff Wednesday along with three other private citizens aboard a SpaceX rocket ship, aiming to become the first all-civilian crew launched into Earth’s orbit.The quartet of amateur space travelers, led by Jared Isaacman, the American founder and chief executive of e-commerce firm Shift4 Payments, were due for blastoff as early as 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT) from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.The flight, with no professional astronauts accompanying SpaceX’s paying customers, is expected to last about three days from liftoff to splashdown in the Atlantic.”Everything is go for launch,” SpaceX principal integration engineer John Insprucker declared about 3½ hours before launch time in a SpaceX webcast of pre-liftoff activities.Trip from hangarA short time earlier, Isaacman, 38, and his crewmates — Sian Proctor, 51, Hayley Arceneaux, 29, and Chris Sembroski, 42 — strolled out of a SpaceX hangar waiving to cheering crowds of family, friends and well-wishers.From there, they were driven in two automobiles across the space center complex to a support building, where they donned the black-and-white spacesuits they will wear for liftoff.They then headed to the launch pad to board a gleaming white SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Resilience, perched atop one of the company’s reusable Falcon 9 rockets and fitted with a special observation dome in place of the usual docking hatch.This marks the debut flight of SpaceX owner Elon Musk’s new orbital tourism business, and a leap ahead of competitors likewise offering rides on rocket ships to customers willing to pay a small fortune for the exhilaration — and bragging rights — of spaceflight.Isaacman has paid an undisclosed sum to fellow billionaire Musk to send himself and his three crewmates aloft. Time magazine has put the ticket price for all four seats at $200 million.The mission, called Inspiration4, was conceived by Isaacman mainly to raise awareness and support for one of his favorite causes, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a leading pediatric cancer center in Memphis, Tennessee.The Inspiration4 crew of Chris Sembroski, Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman and Hayley Arceneaux are seen in a picture obtained by Reuters, Sept. 15, 2021.Inspiration4 is aiming for an orbital altitude of 575 kilometers (360 miles) above Earth, higher than the International Space Station or Hubble Space Telescope. At that height, the Crew Dragon will circle the globe once every 90 minutes at a speed of 27,360 kilometers per hour (17,000 mph), or roughly 22 times the speed of sound.Rival companies Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin inaugurated their own private-astronaut services this summer, with their respective founding executives, billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, each going along for the ride.Those suborbital flights, lasting a matter of minutes, were short hops compared with Inspiration4’s spaceflight profile.SpaceX experienceSpaceX already ranks as the most well-established player in the burgeoning constellation of commercial rocket ventures, having launched numerous cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA. Two of its Dragon capsules are already docked there.The Inspiration4 crew will have no part to play in flying the spacecraft, which will be operated by ground-based flight teams and onboard guidance systems, even though two crew members are licensed pilots.Isaacman, who is rated to fly commercial and military jets, has assumed the role of mission “commander,” while Proctor, a geoscientist and former NASA astronaut candidate, has been designated as the mission “pilot.”Rounding out the crew are “chief medical officer” Arceneaux, a bone cancer survivor-turned St. Jude physician assistant, and mission “specialist” Sembroski, a U.S. Air Force veteran and aerospace data engineer.The four crewmates have spent five months in rigorous preparations, including altitude fitness, centrifuge (G-force), microgravity and simulator training, emergency drills, classroom work and medical exams.Inspiration4 officials have said the mission is more than a joyride. Once in orbit, the crew will perform a series of medical experiments with “potential applications for human health on Earth and during future spaceflights,” the group said in media materials. Biomedical data and biological samples, including ultrasound scans, will also be collected from crew members before, during and after the flight.”The crew of Inspiration4 is eager to use our mission to help make a better future for those who will launch in the years and decades to come,” Isaacman said in a statement.
 

0
Science & Health
0 Comments

California Grove of Giant Sequoias Threatened by Wildfire

One of California’s most famous groves of giant sequoias is threatened by a small but intense wildfire burning in Sequoia National Park, officials said Wednesday. The roughly 7,000-acre KNP fire complex is burning about a mile away from the Giant Forest, home to the largest tree on earth by volume, dubbed General Sherman, said Rebecca Paterson, a public information officer for the National Park Service in Three Rivers, near where the fire is burning. About 115 employees have been evacuated from the park, along with residents of the eastern part of the town, Paterson said. The park was closed Tuesday as the fire began to threaten the Giant Forest, one of about 30 such groves and most visited, she said. FILE – A tourist stands next to the General Sherman giant sequoia at Sequoia National Park in California, March 9, 2014.The fires making up the complex grew significantly on Tuesday with zero containment, the federal InciWeb fire information system said Wednesday. The complex, made of two blazes that are burning near each other, was started by lightning strikes on September 10. It is burning in steep canyons, fueled by dry timber and chaparral. Dry conditions and winds of up to 40 kilometers per hour (25 mph) may help the fire expand in coming days, the InciWeb system said. Air quality in the area is poor, and parts of Three Rivers where people have not been ordered to leave have been warned to be ready to evacuate, Paterson said. The National Park Service has been conducting prescribed burns in the area, which officials hope will ameliorate the impact on the giant sequoias if the complex does reach them, she said. Sequoias depend on fire as part of their life cycle, but some massive, intense fires fueled by climate change may do more damage than in the past. “Even if fire does reach the Giant Forest, that does not mean it will be devastating once it gets there,” Paterson said. Three Rivers is near the Ash Mountain Main Entrance to Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park, about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, according to the town’s website. It is home to about 2,400 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 
 

0
Science & Health
0 Comments

 Iceland Home to World’s Largest Plant to Remove Carbon from Air

Iceland is now the home of the world’s largest direct air capture and storage plant of carbon dioxide. The plant aims to remove 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide – one of the main contributors to global warming – from the air each year, as VOA’s Mariama Diallo reports.Producer: Rob Raffaele.

1
Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology
0 Comments

UN Rights Chief Calls for Moratorium on Artificial Intelligence Systems

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, is calling for a moratorium on the sale and use of artificial intelligence systems, which she says pose a serious risk to human rights. The High Commissioner’s report, which will be submitted to the U.N. human rights council, provides an analysis of how advances in digital technologies are affecting people’s human rights.   The report argues that artificial intelligence, or AI, can be a force for good, but also can be overly intrusive and have negative, even catastrophic, effects on people’s right to privacy and other human rights. Peggy Hicks, director of thematic engagement at the U.N. Human Rights Office, says AI systems can be faulty and have embedded biases. These, she says, can lead to discrimination that might jeopardize job prospects or welfare and social security benefits.   She says there are numerous cases of people being treated unjustly because of the faulty use of AI in law enforcement, national security, and criminal justice and border management areas. “We see AI being used for profiling and suspect identification,” she said. “Biometric technology, such as facial recognition and emotional recognition, are being used, including remotely in real time to identify people — with documented cases of erroneous identification and disproportionate impact on certain groups, often minorities.”   The report notes biometric technologies increasingly are being used by governments, international organizations, and technology companies to identify people in real time and from a distance. This potentially allows unlimited tracking of individuals. Hicks says the High Commissioner specifically recommends a moratorium on the use of remote biometric recognition technology in public spaces given the serious threats to public freedoms associated with such surveillance. “Without immediate and far-reaching shifts and how we address AI deployment and development, the existing harms will multiply at scale and with speed,” she said. “And the worst part of it is, we will not even know the extent of the problem because there is so little transparency around artificial intelligence and its use.”   U.N. rights chief Bachelet says there needs to be much greater transparency by companies and states in how they are developing and using AI. She says the power of AI to serve people is undeniable, but so is its ability to invade their privacy and violate human rights on an enormous scale and with virtually no visibility. 
 

0
Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business
0 Comments

Olympic Gymnast Maroney Says FBI Betrayed Her after She Reported Sexual Abuse

Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney on Wednesday told U.S. lawmakers she feels betrayed by FBI agents, after they failed to seriously investigate former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, despite her telling them he had sexually abused her. Maroney is one of four athletes, along with Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols, who testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee as it probes the FBI’s mishandling of the investigation. Maroney recalled how in 2015 she spent three hours on the phone telling the FBI the details of her story that her own mother had not even heard, including accounts of sexual abuse she endured during the Olympic Games in London. It was not until July of this year, however, that she said the United States Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney testifies during a Senate Judiciary hearing about the Inspector General’s report on the Larry Nassar investigation on Capitol Hill, Sept. 15, 2021.”Not only did the FBI not report my abuse, but when they eventually documented my report 17 months later, they made entirely false claims about what I said,” Maroney said, with anger in her voice. Wednesday’s hearing comes after the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz in July issued a report which blasted the FBI for United States Olympic gymnast Simone Biles testifies during a Senate Judiciary hearing on Capitol Hill, Sept. 15, 2021.Olympian Biles blasted USA Gymnastics and the FBI in blunt, tearful testimony on Wednesday for standing by while Nassar abused her and hundreds of other athletes. “We have been failed and we deserve answers,” Biles told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It really feels like the FBI turned a blind eye to us,” she said. Maroney, meanwhile, called on the Justice Department to explain its decision not to prosecute the FBI agents. Nassar, who had been the main doctor for Olympic gymnasts, was sentenced in federal court in 2017 to 60 years in prison on charges of possessing child sex abuse material. The following year, he was also sentenced up to 175 years and up to 125 years, respectively, in two separate Michigan courts for molesting female gymnasts under his care. Prosecutors have estimated he sexually assaulted hundreds of women. 
 

0
Science & Health
0 Comments

African Leaders Discuss Ways to Minimize Impact of Climate Change 

High-level African officials met virtually this week to discuss the challenges Africa faces in trying to manage a growing population amid climate change. The conference was aimed at identifying ways African governments can manage these pressures to minimize or avoid conflict.Africa generates about 3% percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the lowest of any continent. But it’s more vulnerable than any other region in the world, since Africans depend so heavily on their natural environment for food, water and medicine.Speaking at a virtual conference Tuesday on climate, conflict and demographics in Africa, Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said African governments need to keep the climate in mind as they try to boost their economies.“Our first obligation for us and for African countries must always be to ensure the well-being of our people through access to development services, including electricity, health care, education, safe jobs and a safe environment, including access to clean cooking fuels. We must prioritize solutions that align the development and climate agenda, and that is absolutely important,” said Osinbajo.The Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, based in Brussels, says that in 2019, Africa recorded 56 extreme weather events compared to 45 in the previous year.The extreme weather patterns affected the lives of 16.6 million people in 29 countries. At least 13 million of them were from five countries: Kenya, Mozambique, Somalia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.West Africa had fewer weather-related catastrophes but is feeling the effects of global warming just the same.Ghana environment minister Kwaku Afriyie explains how climate change has impacted agricultural lands in the country.”The harsh and deteriorating climate conditions in northern Ghana undoubtedly energized region-growing food insecurity and seasonal north-to-south migration. And besides, increasing of floods and protracted drought lead to displacement of people.  Statistics show that over the last few years, there has been a new internal displacement which has occurred in Ghana due to climate-induced disasters and even beyond our borders,” he said.The U.N. special representative to the African Union, Hannah Tetteh, said the continent needs to improve cross-border information-sharing and cooperation to handle climate-related crises.“The challenge has not been that we haven’t developed yet these structures. The challenge has been we have not utilized them yet effectively, and that goes to issues of national sovereignty and the unwillingness of member states to have others, as it were, take an active interest and maybe recommend the things that need to be done in order to respond to a particular crisis. And if we recognize we are all in this together, then that certainly has to change,” she said. As for specific suggestions, Osinbajo suggested governments encourage greater use of natural gas and plant more trees to maintain forests that can soak up carbon dioxide and prevent it from warming the atmosphere.

0
Science & Health
0 Comments

EU Pledges 200 Million Doses of COVID-19 Vaccines to Low-Income Nations

The European Union is pledging to donate 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to low-income countries by mid-2022. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made the pledge Wednesday in Strasbourg, France during her annual State of the European Union speech before the European Parliament. Von der Leyen said the 200 million doses the EU plans to contribute is in addition to an earlier promise of 250 million doses, which she described as “an investment in solidarity, and it is an investment in global health.” Von der Leyen said “the scale of injustice and the level of urgency is obvious” with less than 1% of all global doses of COVID-19 vaccines administered in low- and middle-income countries.  “Let’s do everything possible so that it does not turn into a pandemic of the non-vaccinated,” she told the EU lawmakers. US Army requirementMeanwhile, U.S. Army officials issued a mandatory vaccination order for all uniformed personnel.  Officials said Tuesday that the Army expects all active-duty soldiers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by December 15, while imposing a deadline of June 30, 2022 for all Reserve and National Guard soldiers.The statement said soldiers who refuses the vaccine will “be first counseled by their chain of command and medical providers,” but warns that if they continue to refuse and have not been exempted from the vaccine, they will be suspended from their duties or even dismissed from the service.   Alaska situation
In the United States, the largest hospital in the remote northwest state of Alaska announced Tuesday that it has begun rationing care due to a raging outbreak of new COVID-19 infections. Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, the state’s largest city, said Tuesday it is now operating under a policy of “crisis standard of care,” meaning the hospital is unable to provide an equal quality of medical care to all patients. The hospital said in a statement that an overflow of COVID-19 patients in its emergency room has left other patients waiting in their cars for hours before they are seen by a doctor for urgent care.   Providence Alaska Medical Center joins a growing number of hospitals across the U.S. who have been forced to ration or even deny medical care to their communities as COVID-19 patients fill their halls beyond capacity. Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

0
Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business
0 Comments

Norm Macdonald, Former ‘Saturday Night Live’ Comic, Dies

Comedian Norm Macdonald, a former “Saturday Night Live” writer and performer who was “Weekend Update” host when former U.S. President Bill Clinton and O.J. Simpson provided comic fodder during the 1990s, has died. Macdonald, who was 61, died Tuesday after having cancer for nine years but kept it private, according to Brillstein Entertainment Partners, his management firm in Los Angeles. He never reached the same television heights after being fired from “SNL” in 1998 but was an indefatigable stand-up comic and popular talk show guest whose death provoked an outpouring from fellow comedians. “Norm was in a comedy genre of his own,” tweeted Sarah Silverman. “No one like him on this planet. Please do yourself a favor and watch his stuff.” Macdonald, the son of two schoolteachers, was raised in Quebec City, Canada. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered his condolences, calling Macdonald “a comedic genius and a great Canadian.” FILE – Colin Quinn, from left, Chevy Chase and Norm Macdonald appear onstage at The 2012 Comedy Awards in New York, April 28, 2012.Macdonald was a stand-up comic and briefly a writer for the sitcom “Roseanne” when he was picked to join the cast of “SNL” in 1993. He became known for his esoteric impressions, including actor Burt Reynolds, who gave comedian Will Ferrell’s Alex Trebek character grief on “Celebrity Jeopardy.” He also impersonated former U.S. Senator Bob Dole, television and radio host Larry King, and comedian and talk show host David Letterman. His deadpan style and skills as a writer made him the choice to host “Weekend Update.” Simpson was a favorite target. Macdonald opened the fake newscast the week of the former football star’s acquittal on murder charges by saying, “Well, it’s finally official. Murder is legal in the state of California.” “SNL” executive producer Lorne Michaels, speaking for the show, called Macdonald “one of the most impactful comedic voices of his or any other generation.” “There are so many things that we’ll miss about Norm — from his unflinching integrity to his generosity to his consistent ability to surprise,” he said. “But most of all, he was just plain funny. No one was funny like Norm.” Macdonald was fired in the middle of the season in 1998 by NBC Entertainment executive Don Ohlmeyer, a friend of Simpson’s who reportedly didn’t appreciate Macdonald making Simpson the near-constant butt of jokes. “I was never bitter,” Macdonald said in the oral history “Live From New York,” released in 2002. “I always understood that Ohlmeyer could fire me because he was the guy who owned the cameras. So, that didn’t bother me. I was always happy that ‘SNL’ gave me a chance.” He said in the same book, “I just like doing jokes I like, and if the audience doesn’t like them, they’re wrong, not me.” Ohlmeyer said that was his problem. “When ‘Saturday Night Live’ is really good, they do care what the audience thinks,” he said. “And when ‘Saturday Night Live’ is not really good, they’re kind of doing it for themselves and their pals.” FILE – Host Norm Macdonald removes a pancake from a spoof “swag bag” at the 2016 Canadian Screen Awards in Toronto, Ontario, March 13, 2016.Macdonald announced his firing on Letterman’s show. During a commercial break, Letterman asked him, “This is like some Andy Kaufman thing with fake wrestling, right?” Macdonald recalled. But it wasn’t. Letterman was a fan who made Macdonald one of the guests in the CBS “Late Show” host’s final run of shows. In 2016, Letterman told The Washington Post that the show would have had Macdonald on every week “if we could.”  “He is funny in a way that some people inhale and exhale,” Letterman told the Post. “With others, you can tell the comedy, the humor is considered. With Norm, he exudes it … There may be people as funny as Norm, but I don’t know anybody who is funnier.” The Post’s story was headlined, “Will Somebody Please Give Norm Macdonald Another Show?” As if to answer, Netflix two years later aired 10 episodes of an interview series, “Norm Macdonald Has a Show.” Guests included Letterman, Michaels, actress Jane Fonda and Judge Judy Sheindlin. He had limited success in other TV ventures. He created and starred in the ABC sitcom “The Norm Show,” later shortened to “Norm,” playing a former professional hockey player kicked out of the league for gambling and tax evasion and forced into community service as a social worker. A Comedy Central show, “Sports Show with Norm Macdonald,” lasted only a handful of episodes, but he kept busy in comedy clubs. “In my mind, I’m just a stand-up,” he told The New York Times in 2018. “But other people don’t think that. They think, ‘Oh, the guy from ‘SNL’ is doing stand-up now.'” In a 2011 comedy special, Macdonald said it was wrong to say you “lost your battle” with cancer when you died. “I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure that if you die, the cancer also dies at exactly the same time,” he said. “That, to me, is not a loss. That’s a draw.” Comedian Jim Carrey tweeted that Macdonald was “an honest and courageous comedy genius.” Actor and comedian Seth Rogen said when he started acting, he essentially ripped off Macdonald’s delivery.  “No one could make you break like Norm Macdonald,” comedian Jon Stewart said on Twitter. “Hilarious and unique.” 
 

0