Science & Health

NASA’s New Moon Rocket Blasts Off

NASA’s new Artemis moon rocket blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on its debut flight with three test dummies aboard early Wednesday.

The launch brings the United States a big step closer to putting astronauts back on the lunar surface for the first time since the end of the Apollo program 50 years ago.

The moonshot follows nearly three months of vexing fuel leaks that kept the rocket bouncing between its hangar and the launch pad.

If all goes well with the three-week flight, the rocket will propel an empty crew capsule into a wide orbit around the moon.

The capsule will return to Earth with a splashdown in the Pacific in December.  

NASA hopes to send four astronauts around the moon on the next flight, in 2024, and land humans there as early as 2025.

Some information for this report was provided by the Associated Press.

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Soccer Fans Begin to Converge in Qatar for 2022 World Cup

Qatar is preparing to welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors to the 2022 World Cup and many local businesses are eager to receive them. For many tourists, it’s a chance to see this part of the world for the first time.  VOA News reporter Celia Mendoza has the story from Doha, Qatar. Camera: Celia Mendoza, Nelson Biñoles

Science & Health

In ‘Zero-COVID’ China, 1 Case Locks Down Peking University

Chinese authorities locked down a major university in Beijing on Wednesday after finding one COVID-19 case as they stick to a “zero-COVID” approach despite growing public discontent.

Peking University students and faculty were not allowed to leave the grounds unless necessary and classes on the main campus — where the case was found — were moved online through Friday, a university notice said. Still, some people could be seen entering and leaving the main campus Wednesday in the Chinese capital’s Haidian district.

Beijing reported more than 350 new cases in the latest 24-hour period, a small fraction of its 21-million population but enough to trigger localized lockdowns and quarantines under China’s “zero-COVID” strategy. Nationwide, China reported about 20,000 cases, up from about 8,000 a week ago.

Authorities are steering away from citywide lockdowns to try to minimize the impact on freedom of movement and a sagging economy. They want to avoid a repeat of the Shanghai lockdown earlier this year that paralyzed shipping and prompted neighborhood protests. Revised national guidelines issued last week called on local governments to follow a targeted and scientific approach that avoids unnecessary measures.

Peking University has more than 40,000 students on multiple campuses, most in Beijing. It was unclear how many were affected by the lockdown. The 124-year-old institution is one of China’s top universities and was a center of student protest in earlier decades. Its graduates include leading intellectuals, writers, politicians and businesspeople.

Lockdowns elsewhere have sparked scattered protests. Earlier this week, videos posted online showed crowds pulling down barriers in the southern city of Guangzhou in a densely built area that is home to migrant workers in the clothing industry.

Guangzhou, an industrial export hub near Hong Kong, reported more than 6,000 new cases in what is the nation’s largest ongoing outbreak. The pandemic led the Badminton World Federation to move next month’s HSBC World Tour Finals from Guangzhou to Bangkok, the federation announced this week.

Other cities with major outbreaks include Chongqing in the southwest, Zhengzhou in Henan province and Hohhot, the capital of the Inner Mongolia region in the north.

In Zhengzhou late last month, workers fled their dormitories at a sprawling iPhone factory, some climbing over fences to get out. Apple subsequently warned that customers would face delays in deliveries of iPhone14 Pro models.

Chinese officials and state media have stressed that the government is fine-tuning but not abandoning what it calls a “dynamic” zero-COVID policy, after rumors of an easing sparked a stock market rally earlier this month.

Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology

EXPLAINER: Nasa’s New Mega Moon Rocket, Orion Crew Capsule

NASA is kicking off its new moon program with a test flight of a brand-new rocket and capsule.

Liftoff was slated for early Wednesday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The test flight aims to send an empty crew capsule into a far-flung lunar orbit, 50 years after NASA’s famed Apollo moonshots.

The project is years late and billions over budget. The price tag for the test flight: more than $4 billion.

A rundown of the new rocket and capsule, part of NASA’s Artemis program, named after Apollo’s mythological twin sister:

Rocket power

At 322 feet (98 meters), the new rocket is shorter and slimmer than the Saturn V rockets that hurled 24 Apollo astronauts to the moon a half-century ago. But it’s mightier, packing 8.8 million pounds (4 million kilograms) of thrust. It’s called the Space Launch System rocket, SLS for short, although a less clunky name is under discussion. Unlike the streamlined Saturn V, the new rocket has a pair of side boosters refashioned from NASA’s space shuttles. The boosters peel away after two minutes, just like the shuttle boosters. The core stage keeps firing before crashing into the Pacific. Less than two hours after liftoff, an upper stage sends the capsule, Orion, racing toward the moon.


NASA’s high-tech, automated Orion capsule is named after the constellation, among the night sky’s brightest. At 11 feet (3 meters) tall, it’s roomier than Apollo’s capsule, seating four astronauts instead of three. For the test flight, a full-size dummy in an orange flight suit occupies the commander’s seat, rigged with vibration and acceleration sensors. Two other mannequins made of material simulating human tissue — heads and female torsos, but no limbs — measure cosmic radiation, one of the biggest risks of spaceflight. Unlike the rocket, Orion has launched before, making two laps around Earth in 2014. For the test flight, the European Space Agency’s service module was attached for propulsion and solar power via four wings.

Flight plan

Orion’s flight is set to last 25 days from its Florida liftoff to Pacific splashdown, about the same as astronaut trips. It takes nearly a week to reach the moon. After whipping closely around the moon, the capsule enters a distant orbit with a far point of close to 40,000 miles (64,000 kilometers). That would put Orion about 270,000 miles (435,000) from Earth, farther than Apollo. The big test comes at mission’s end, as Orion hits the atmosphere at 25,000 mph (40,000 kph) on its way to a splashdown in the Pacific. The heat shield uses the same material as the Apollo capsules to withstand reentry temperatures of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,750 degrees Celsius). But the advanced design anticipates the faster, hotter returns by future Mars crews.


Besides three test dummies, the test flight includes a slew of stowaways for deep space research. Ten shoebox-size satellites pop off once Orion is hurtling toward the moon. NASA expects some to fail, given the low-cost, high-risk nature of these mini satellites. In a back-to-the-future salute, Orion carries a few slivers of moon rocks collected by Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in 1969, and a bolt from one of their rocket engines, salvaged from the sea a decade ago.

Apollo vs. Artemis

More than 50 years later, Apollo still stands as NASA’s greatest achievement. Using 1960s technology, NASA took just eight years to go from launching its first astronaut, Alan Shepard, and landing Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon. By contrast, Artemis already has dragged on for more than a decade, despite building on the short-lived moon exploration program Constellation. Twelve Apollo astronauts walked on the moon from 1969 through 1972, staying no longer than three days at a time. For Artemis, NASA will draw from a diverse astronaut pool and is extending the time crews spend on the moon to at least a week. The goal is to create a long-term lunar presence that will grease the skids for sending people to Mars.

What’s next

There’s a lot more to be done before astronauts step on the moon again. A second test flight will send four astronauts around the moon and back, perhaps as early as 2024. A year or so later, NASA aims to send another four up, with two of them touching down at the lunar south pole. Orion doesn’t come with its own lunar lander like the Apollo spacecraft did, so NASA has hired Elon Musk’s SpaceX to provide its Starship spacecraft for the first Artemis moon landing. Two other private companies are developing moonwalking suits. The sci-fi-looking Starship would link up with Orion at the moon and take a pair of astronauts to the surface and back to the capsule for the ride home. So far, Starship has only soared six miles (10 kilometers).

Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology

FBI Says It has ‘National Security Concerns’ About TikTok

FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday that the bureau has “national security concerns” about popular short-form video hosting app TikTok as the Chinese-owned company seeks U.S. government approval to continue operating in the country.

Speaking during a U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee hearing on “worldwide threats to the homeland,” Wray said the FBI’s concerns about TikTok include “the possibility that the Chinese government could use it to control data collection on millions of users.”

There is also concern, Wray said in response to a question, that the Chinese government could “control the recommendation algorithm, which could be used for influence operations … or to control software on millions of devices, which gives the opportunity to potentially technically compromise personal devices.”

In written testimony, Wray called the foreign intelligence and economic threat from China “the greatest long-term threat to our nation’s ideas, innovation, and economic security.”

But he declined to answer in an open session a lawmaker’s question about whether the Chinese government has been leveraging TikTok to collect data about U.S. citizens.

Concerns about ties to Chinese government

TikTok’s ties to the Chinese government have been a flashpoint among U.S. lawmakers and officials for years. The app grew in popularity in recent years after its parent company, ByteDance, a China-based company with suspected ties to the Chinese government, bought and later absorbed, which allowed users to create and share lip-sync videos.

Citing national security concerns, then-President Donald Trump issued an executive order in 2020 that would effectively ban TikTok in the United States. But the social platform sued to block Trump’s executive order.

Last year President Joe Biden revoked the Trump directive, asking the Treasury Department to examine security concerns associated with the app.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an interagency body headed by the Treasury Department that reviews the national security implications of foreign investments in U.S. companies, has been examining TikTok’s proposal to continue to remain active in the U.S. market and the risks associated with it.

Noting that the FBI’s foreign investment unit is part of the CFIUS review process, Wray said that “our input would be taken into account in any agreements that might be made to address the issue.”

U.S. lawmakers question how data used

Although TikTok has denied having ties to China’s ruling Communist Party, U.S. lawmakers have long expressed concern about the Chinese government’s ability to access U.S. user data collected by the app.

Questioning Wray during Tuesday’s hearing, Republican Representative Diana Harshbarger cited a recent Forbes article that reported ByteDance “planned to use the TikTok app to track the physical location of specific American citizens.”

TikTok later dismissed the allegation raised in the article, saying in a statement it “does not collect precise GPS location information from U.S. users.”

In a June letter, TikTok sought to reassure U.S. lawmakers about its data security, writing that it now stores “100% of US user data, by default, in the Oracle cloud environment.”

‘Spinach’ vs. ‘opium’ versions

Last week, the U.S. TV news magazine “60 Minutes” reported that TikTok has two versions — a limited, educational “spinach version” for Chinese consumers, and an addictive “opium version” for the rest of the world.

While the version used in the West “has kids hooked for hours at a time,” in China, children under 14 years can use TikTok for only 40 minutes per day and view only videos about science experiments, museum exhibits, patriotic videos and educational videos, according to “60 Minutes.”

Wray said the online “threat to our youth is something we’re always concerned about.” The FBI is just as concerned about the way the Chinese government uses its laws as “an aggressive weapon against companies, both U.S. companies and Chinese companies,” he said.

“Under Chinese law, Chinese companies are required to essentially — and I’m going to shorthand here — basically do what the Chinese government wants them to do, in terms of sharing information or serving as a tool of the Chinese government,” Wray said. “And so, that’s plenty of reason by itself to be concerned.”

Beijing has denied similar allegations in the past.

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Beyoncé Leads Grammy Nominations with 9, Ties Record

Beyoncé has propelled herself into the highest Grammy echelon: The singer claimed a leading nine nominations Tuesday, making her tied — with her husband, Jay-Z — as the most nominated music act in the history of the awards show. 

Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul” reeled in record and song of the year nominations, while “Renaissance,” which ventured into the world of dancehall music, netted an album of the year nod. With Jay-Z also earning five nods this year, each spouse now holds the record for the most-ever Grammy nominations at 88 apiece. 

Kendrick Lamar came away with the second-most nominations, with eight. Adele and Brandi Carlile both received seven nods. Harry Styles, Mary J. Blige, Future, DJ Khaled, The-Dream and mastering engineer Randy Merrill each picked up six. 

Nearly half of this year’s leading nominees are women and more than half are people of color, according to the recording academy. The ceremony will be held February 5 in Los Angeles. 

“This makes me feel very proud, but it makes me conscious of the fact that we have to maintain the work we have done,” said Harvey Mason jr., the Recording Academy’s CEO. He said there have been strides in the peer-driven voting system and increased membership, but he still believes more progress can be made. 

“We have almost 13,000 voters now.” Mason said. … “I’m pleased to think they spent the time listening to the music and evaluating. I think you see by the type of nominations that they are not only going for just popular music or music that has a lot of streams. It’s just music of high quality.” 

The academy added a special song for social change and five new categories including songwriter of the year, which Harvey says will further help diversify the 65th edition of the annual awards. 

The non-classical songwriter category will recognize one individual who was the “most prolific” non-performing and non-producing songwriter for a body of new work during an eligibility year. It will take a different approach than song of the year, which awards the songwriters who wrote the lyrics or melodies to one song. 

Harvey said implementing the songwriter category is a significant step forward for the music industry. Last year, a rule update allowed that any songwriter, producer, engineer or featured artist on a work nominated for album of the year could ultimately earn a nomination. 

“The academy and voters are placing a high importance on the craft of songwriting,” Harvey said of the new category, in which nominees include The-Dream, Amy Allen, Nija Charles, Tobias Jesso Jr. and Laura Veltz. 

Harvey said it’s his priority to earn the trust from the music community including The Weeknd and Drake, who are still unwilling to submit any of their music. Drake declined to submit his album “Honestly Nevermind” for the awards, but the Canadian rapper still received four nominations, including album of the year for his co-writing efforts on Beyoncé’s “Renaissance.” 

Beyoncé, the most decorated woman in Grammy history with 28 wins, could break the late Hungarian-British conductor Georg Solti’s record for most awards won if she wins four awards. Solti, who has 31 Grammys, has held on to the record since 1997. 

For the first time in Beyoncé’s lauded career, she was nominated in the dance category. Her seventh studio project is up for best dance-electronic music album and “Break My Soul” is nominated for best dance-electronic recording. Other nominations include best R&B song for “Cuff It,” R&B performance for “Virgo’s Groove,” traditional R&B performance for “Plastic Off the Sofa” and song written for visual media for “Be Alive,” the Oscar-nominated song from the “King Richard” soundtrack. 

Other album of the year nominees include: Adele’s “30,” ABBA’s “Voyage,” Bad Bunny’s “Un Verano Sin Ti,” Mary J. Blige’s “Good Morning Gorgeous” (Deluxe), Carlile’s “In These Silent Days,” Coldplay’s “Music of the Spheres,” Lamar’s “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers,” Lizzo’s “Special” and Styles’ “Harry’s House.” Bad Bunny made history, with his album becoming the first sung entirely in Spanish to compete in the category. 

Tracks competing with “Break My Soul” for record of the year include Styles’ “As It Was,” Doja Cat’s “Woman,” Adele’s “Easy On Me,” ABBA’s “Don’t Shut Me Down,” Blige’s “Good Morning Gorgeous,” Steve Lacy’s “Bad Habit,” Lamar’s “The Heart Part 5,” Lizzo’s “About Damn Time” and Carlile’s “You and Me On the Rock” featuring Lucius. 

Three of Jay-Z’s nominations came through DJ Khaled’s “God Did,” a song featuring Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, John Legend and Fridayy. The track is up for best rap performance and rap song along with song of the year, which also has Jay-Z nominated for his writing efforts on Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul.” The rapper also received a nod for album of the year for his work on his wife’s “Renaissance” album. 

Young Thug and Gunna both received nominations despite being currently locked up in a racketeering criminal case. The rappers are up for best rap song and rap performance through Gunna’s “pushin P,” featuring Thug and Future. 

Christina Aguilera’s comeback to Latin music with her self-titled album earned her two nominations for best Latin pop album and immersive audio album. Among the 10 nominees for best new artist are Muni Long, Latto and Eurovision winner Maneskin. 

Science & Health

Haiti Fears Spike in Cholera Cases as Fuel Blockade Lifts

Cholera cases are overwhelming Haiti, and experts warn the situation could worsen now that the country is bustling following the end of a paralyzing fuel blockade that lasted two months.

Dr. Jeanty Fils, a spokesman for Haiti’s Ministry of Health, told The Associated Press that people are back on the streets and likely spreading cholera as the government struggles to find life-saving equipment, including IV supplies, amid an ongoing discussion on whether to request cholera vaccines.

“We need more resources,” he said. “Cholera cases continue to climb in Haiti.”

At least 161 people have died and more than 7,600 are hospitalized, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and Haiti’s government, although officials believe the numbers are much higher as a result of underreporting. Cholera is caused by a bacteria found in contaminated food or water that leads to vomiting and diarrhea. If not treated in time, it can cause fatal dehydration.

The worsening situation led the United Nations to announce Tuesday that it, along with Haiti’s government and other partners, was seeking $146 million to help fight cholera. At least half a million people in Haiti are at risk of contracting the disease, according to PAHO and the World Health Organization.

“The surge in cases in recent weeks and the rapid spread of cholera in the country is worrying,” said Ulrika Richardson, U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator.

Fils noted that cholera cases were likely contained during the fuel blockade as gas stations were closed and many in the country of more than 11 million people remained at home.

“Now people are going to move around more,” he said. “It could start spreading.”

Stephanie Mayronne, medical operations manager for Doctors Without Borders, agreed.

She said if people sickened with cholera start traveling to areas with poor sanitation and a lack of drinking water, the number of cases will likely rise.

“It’s a match that can light a fire,” she said.

The number of patients seeking help at Doctors Without Borders hospitals in the capital of Port-au-Prince has spiked in recent weeks, with more than 6,500 admitted so far. Beds filled up so quickly that the aid group was forced to open a fifth center two weeks ago, said Alexandre Marcou, Haiti’s field communication manager.

Inside that new center, mothers hovered over their children on a recent morning. One rearranged the tangle of intravenous cables surrounding her baby while another pumped the little cheeks of her young daughter to force her mouth open and give her an oral supplement. Nearby, adult patients sat in silence in plastic chairs with large white buckets between their legs, holding their head to one side with their arm. Some ate rice and red beans out of small containers that nurses later collected.

Marcou noted that people can survive cholera if treated in time, but the recent lack of fuel and ongoing violence between gangs that has worsened since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse has prevented Haitians from reaching hospitals and medical clinics.

“There’s a huge security crisis. And we are tremendously lacking resources,” said Ralph Ternier, chief medical officer in Haiti for the nonprofit Partners in Health. “The epidemic is spreading so quickly that vaccines are really the tool that we need.”

PAHO told the AP that it is supporting Haiti’s government in preparing a request for vaccines as well as to plan and implement vaccination campaigns. But it wasn’t clear if and when that might happen.

In October, the World Health Organization announced a worldwide cholera vaccine shortage that has forced it to suspend the usual double-dose strategy “at a time of unprecedented rise in cholera outbreaks worldwide.” At least 29 countries have reported cholera cases this year, compared with fewer than 20 on average for the past five years, the agency said.

Mayronne said cholera vaccines can be a useful tool but noted that a single dose can lower one’s risk by only 40%.

“In and of itself, a vaccine is not a be-all and end-all,” she said.

Amid the lack of vaccines in Haiti, crushing poverty made worse by a spiraling economic crisis and double-digit inflation is contributing to the spread of cholera because many are unable to access or afford potable water or food that isn’t contaminated.

Lovena Shelove, 30, lost her 2-year-old son to cholera despite a kind neighbor who brought drinking water to try to revive the toddler after severe bouts of vomiting and diarrhea.

“I don’t have anything in the house,” she said in a soft voice. “I could not afford anything to provide for the kids.”

Her other child, a 7-month-old daughter, is still hospitalized.

Cholera is easily transmitted, especially in crowded and unhygienic conditions. Sanitation further worsened during the fuel blockade because companies that supplied drinking water were forced to suspend operations.

Haiti’s first outbreak occurred in 2010 after U.N. peacekeepers introduced the bacteria into the country’s largest river by sewage runoff from their base. Nearly 10,000 people died, and thousands of others were sickened.

The number of cases eventually dwindled, and the World Health Organization was preparing to declare Haiti cholera-free until the government announced in early October that at least three people had died — the first deaths reported in three years.

Patrick Joseph, 40, was among the thousands recently hospitalized after he became severely dehydrated.

“I don’t know where I got cholera from,” he said, although he suspects it’s from the water he buys from a seller who claims it’s treated. “I feared that I would die if I did not go to the doctor.”

It’s a feeling familiar to street vendor Lucna Francois, who had been relying on well water because the fuel blockade prevented her from accessing potable water. The 24-year-old got so sick on a recent evening that she called a relative to take her to the hospital.

“I am dying,” she recalled telling them. “I was very, very weak.”

Fils, with Haiti’s health ministry, said another big challenge the government faces is that many people don’t believe cholera exists and are not taking measures to avoid becoming sick.

“Prevention, it’s a must,” he said. “It’s not just a matter of drinking (clean) water.”