China’s increasingly ambitious space program completed a 23-day mission on Wednesday that culminated in the return of about 2kg of rocks from the Moon. During the final phase of the mission, a singed spacecraft carrying the lunar cargo landed in Mongolia and was recovered by Chinese teams.
This Chang’e 5 mission represents a significant success for China and its space program, becoming only the third nation—after the United States with its crewed Apollo program and the Soviet Union with a robotic program in the 1970s—to return samples from the Moon.
During a post-landing news conference, Chinese officials said they would emulate the United States and Soviet Union in sharing the samples with international partners, including the United Nations. However, sharing material with the United States seems unlikely due to the Wolf Amendment, a law passed by Congress in 2011 that prohibits direct cooperation with China.
“The Chinese government is ready to share samples, including data, with all like-minded institutions from other countries,” said Wu Yanhua, vice administrator of the China National Space Administration. However, he then called the Wolf Amendment adopted by Congress “unfortunate” and indicated direct cooperation with NASA would probably not occur.
Some US space officials, including former NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, have called for the Wolf Amendment to be rescinded and said the space agency should be allowed to work with China on current and future problems. The US Congress, however, has continued to block this due to concerns about the potential theft of US technology that might arise from such partnerships. It is not clear whether the Biden administration will review these rules.
Now that this mission is complete, China intends to continue expanding its lunar program. Next up, in a few years, the Chang’e 6 mission will seek to return 2kg of rocks from the Moon’s South Pole and investigate the prevalence of water ice in the region. Future missions will include landers, bases, and more opportunities for scientific research.
During the news conference, Wu said the country would eventually send humans—called taikonauts in China—to the Moon but did not set a date for this mission. The country still must develop several technologies to make this happen. However, he said, when China does go to the Moon, it will be to conduct research and benefit humanity, not as part of some “space race” like the United States and Soviet Union undertook in the 1960s.
NASA is also interested in returning to the Moon with humans during the 2020s. Whether China’s increasing interest in Earth’s companion spurs Congress or the Biden administration to more fully fund NASA’s Artemis program ambitions, however, will not be clear until the next couple of budget cycles are complete.
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Eat This, Not That!
Despite the fact that COVID-19 cases seem to be on the decline in most parts of the country, health experts are concerned that this trend will quickly reverse with the introduction of the new, more contagious variants of the virus. Therefore, preventing the spread of the virus is still just as important than ever. Over the course of the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Chief Medical Advisor to President Joe Biden, has warned that some places are riskier than others when it comes to potential transmission. Read on to find out four you should avoid—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had Coronavirus. 1 Avoid Any Indoor Function Since the start of the pandemic, it has been concluded that several superspreader events—situations in which many people were infected at once—have one thing in common: where they take place. “The overwhelming majority of super spreader events are those that occur indoor as opposed to outdoor,” Dr. Fauci stated during an interview with the Association of Performing Arts Professionals. He pointed out that the only “responsible” way to host any type of event, ranging from a theater performance to a wedding or other type of celebration, is outdoors “Outdoors are much, much safer than indoors,” he said. “I mean, if you’re out there with the natural breezes that blow respiratory particles away, it’s so much safer.” 2 Avoid Indoor Restaurants Since the start of the pandemic, Dr. Fauci has repeatedly warned about indoor congregate settings—especially those involving food and alcohol. Bars, nightclubs, and indoor dinding situations are some of the riskiest, according to Fauci. “When you have restaurants indoors in a situation where you have a high degree of infection in the community [and] you’re not wearing masks, that’s a problem,” Dr. Fauci told MSNBC All In host Chris Hayes in September. 3 Avoid Bars and Nightclubs “Bars are a really important place of spreading of infection, there’s no doubt about that,” said Dr. Fauci. “Avoid.” “If you were to create a petri dish and say, How can we spread this the most? It would be cruise ships, jails and prisons, factories, and it would be bars,” Dr. Ogechika Alozie, an infectious disease specialist in El Paso, Texas, told Kaiser Health News. RELATED: If You Feel This, You May Have Already Had COVID, Says Dr. Fauci 4 Avoid Gyms Dr. Fauci is a huge proponent of exercise, being an avid jogger himself. However, he warns against shared, indoor workout spaces during the pandemic, due to their ability to spread the virus. According to a September CDC report, 7.8% of people who tested positive had been to the gym in the past two weeks, compared to 6.3% of those who tested negative. So how can working out indoors lead to an infection. Fauci explains that exercise involves breathing more heavily and releasing respiratory droplets into the air. This, paired with the fact that gym equipment can be easily contaminated, makes using a shared space all the riskier. 5 How to Get Through This Pandemic Healthy So follow Fauci’s fundamentals and help end this surge, no matter where you live—wear a face mask, social distance, avoid large crowds, don’t go indoors with people you’re not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, get vaccinated when it becomes available to you, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don’t visit any of these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.
Elon Musk Is Now Setting His Eyes On This Business – NDTV Profit
Elon Musk became the world’s richest person this month by upending the global auto industry and disrupting aerospace heavyweights with reusable rockets. Now he’s setting his sights on another business dominated by entrenched incumbents: telecommunications.
Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. has launched more than 1,000 satellites for its Starlink internet service and is signing up early customers in the U.S., U.K. and Canada. SpaceX has told investors that Starlink is angling for a piece of a $1 trillion market made up of in-flight internet, maritime services, demand in China and India — and rural customers such as Brian Rendel.
Rendel became a Starlink tester in November after struggling for years with sluggish internet speeds at his 160-acre farm overlooking Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. After he paid about $500 for the equipment, FedEx arrived with a flat dish and antenna. For $99 a month, Rendel is now getting speeds of 100 megabytes per second for downloads and 15 to 20 for uploads — far faster, he says, than his previous internet provider.
“This is a game changer,” said Rendel, a mental health counselor, who can now easily watch movies and hold meetings with clients over Zoom. “It makes me feel like I’m part of civilization again.”
For months, SpaceX has been launching Starlink satellites on its Falcon 9 rockets in batches of 60 at a time, and the 17th Starlink launch was on Jan. 20. There are now roughly 960 functioning satellites in orbit, heralding an age of mega-constellations that have prompted worries about visual pollution for astronomers.
But the Starlink array in low-Earth orbit, closer to the planet than traditional satellites, is enough to enable SpaceX to roll out service along a wide swath of North America and the U.K. As SpaceX sends up more satellites, the coverage area will grow, expanding the potential customer base — and revenue stream — beyond the initial stages of today.
SpaceX didn’t respond to a request for comment.
“The big deal is that people are happy with the service and the economics of Starlink versus other alternatives,” said Luigi Peluso, managing director with Alvarez & Marsal, who follows the aerospace and defense industries. “SpaceX has demonstrated the viability of their solution.”
Last year, SpaceX Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell said that Starlink is a business that SpaceX– one of the most richly valued venture-backed companies in the U.S. — is likely to spin out and take public. That dangles the possibility of another Musk enterprise offering shares after last year’s sensational stock-market gains by Tesla Inc.
Starlink will face plenty of competition. While fiber optic cable is widely considered too expensive to lay down in remote regions and many rural locations, cellular connectivity is expected to make big advances with 5G and then 6G. Meanwhile, a number of innovative attempts to extend cellular to unserved areas are being developed by other well-heeled companies such as Facebook Inc.
“There will always be early Starlink adopters who think that anything from Elon Musk is cool,” said John Byrne, a telecom analyst at GlobalData. “But it’s hard to see the satellite trajectory keeping pace with the improvements coming with cellular.”
SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, California, is primarily known for launching rockets for global satellite operators, the U.S. military, and NASA. Last year, SpaceX made history by becoming the first private company to fly astronauts to the International Space Station.
Starlink marks SpaceX’s first foray into a truly consumer-facing product. Maintaining strong service while growing the customer base is something SpaceX has never tried before.
“Like any network, Starlink is going to enjoy rave reviews while it is underutilized,” said industry analyst Jim Patterson. “However, it will be challenged with the same congestion issues as their peers as they grow their base.”
Then again, SpaceX says the service will improve as it builds out more infrastructure.
“As we launch more satellites, install more ground stations and improve our networking software, data speed, latency and uptime will all improve dramatically,” Kate Tice, a senior engineer at SpaceX, said in a livestream of a Starlink mission in November.
Starlink is gearing up for a big 2021, hiring software engineers, customer support managers, a director of sales, and a country launch manager.
The fan fervor that made Tesla cars such a hit with consumers and retail investors extends to Starlink. Facebook groups, Reddit threads and Twitter are filled with reports from early customers sharing images of their download speeds. You Tube has videos of people “unboxing” their Starlink dish and going through the initial set-up.
Ross Youngblood lives in Oregon and works remotely as an engineer for a tech company in San Jose. He owns a Tesla Model X and follows All Things Musk pretty closely. He got Starlink before Thanksgiving.
“I just plugged it all in and it started to work,” said Youngblood. “It’s going to be very disruptive, and I don’t think enough people are paying attention.”
Many other customers are waiting in the wings. In December, the Federal Communications Commission awarded SpaceX $885.5 million in subsidies as part of a wider effort to bring broadband to over 10 million Americans in rural areas. SpaceX will focus on 35 states, including Alabama, Idaho, Montana and Washington.
“We can’t continue to throw money at aging infrastructure,” said Russ Elliot, director of the Washington State Broadband Office. “With Starlink, you can be anywhere. The cost to build in deep rural or costly areas is now less of an issue with this technology as an option.”
Early in the coronavirus pandemic, Elliot connected SpaceX with members of the Hoh Tribe in far western Washington. The Native American community had struggled for years to bring high-speed internet to their remote reservation, which spans about 1,000 acres and has 23 homes. Kids struggled to access remote learning, and internet connections were so slow that downloading homework could take all day.
“SpaceX came up and just catapulted us into the 21st century,” said Melvinjohn Ashue, a member of the Hoh Tribe, in a short video produced by the Washington State Department of Commerce.
In a phone interview, Ashue said that the first thing he did once he connected to Starlink was download a long movie: Jurassic Park. Now most of the reservation’s households have Starlink, making it possible for families to access not just online schooling but tele-health appointments and online meetings.
“Internet access is a utility. It’s no longer a luxury,” said Maria Lopez, the tribal vice chairwoman. Lopez said that Starlink was easy to hook up. The scariest part was climbing up a ladder to set up the dish on her roof.
“Every now and then it will glitch,” she said. “But it quickly reboots itself.”
–With assistance from Sanjit Das.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
Canada is on the hunt for coronavirus variants — but may not be able to keep up with outbreaks – CBC.ca
This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.
Canada is on the hunt for highly contagious strains of the coronavirus, but experts say they could already be spreading across the country and we may not be able to keep up with surveillance as more outbreaks occur.
Only five per cent of virus samples in Canada are tested for coronavirus variants, including those first identified in South Africa, Brazil and the U.K. — with the latter estimated to be at least 56 per cent more transmissible than the main coronavirus and potentially more deadly as well.
There have been at least 34 cases of variants confirmed in Canada in recent weeks, but several have no known link to travel and have prompted concerns the variants could be already driving outbreaks undetected.
“To ensure that virus variants that can spread more easily do not take hold, there is even greater urgency to suppress COVID-19 activity in Canada,” Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Wednesday.
First variant outbreak in Canada a ‘wake-up call’
Canada’s first outbreak due to a coronavirus variant was identified this week at the Roberta Place long-term care home in Barrie, Ont., where at least 81 staff and almost all 130 residents have been infected with COVID-19 since the outbreak was declared on Jan. 8, including 27 who have died.
Local public health officials suspected the outbreak was caused by the variant first identified in the U.K., also known as B117, and sent samples to public health laboratories for further testing earlier this week.
Six preliminary samples have since tested positive for a variant, but it will take days to determine whether the outbreak was caused by B117 or a different strain.
“Barrie has become ground zero for what is likely a [coronavirus] variant of concern, which has spread rapidly throughout Roberta Place and we are concerned that it will spread into our community and into other long-term and retirement homes,” said Dr. Charles Gardner, Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s medical officer of health.
“This is a race against time and we need to use the COVID-19 vaccine as our most effective means to protect these residents. We have to do what we can to prevent other outbreaks.”
Local public health officials said Friday night they were accelerating the vaccine rollout in light of the outbreak and will begin vaccinating residents and staff at the long-term care home this weekend.
Prof. Robyn Lee, a genomic epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said the situation at Roberta Place should be “another wake-up call that we really need to be doing something to stop transmission in the community and to test people to make sure that this doesn’t come into long-term care facilities.”
Lee is awaiting the full results from the Public Health Ontario laboratory to see which variant specifically was spreading at Roberta Place, but says it’s likely we’ll see more outbreaks across Canada in the near future.
“These variants appear to be more transmissible, which means we’re going to see more cases — especially if they do kind of kick off,” she said.
Lee says Canada needs to “very seriously crack down” with public health measures and speed up vaccination rollouts across the country in response to the threat posed by variants.
“What we’re seeing in Roberta Place is what happens when these get in and how aggressive they can be,” said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and an associate professor at McMaster University.
“The whole concern about this variant is it getting into care facilities and places with vulnerable people — and it did exactly that.”
Chagla said the Roberta Place outbreak has also raised concerns that variants could be the driving factor behind other recent COVID-19 outbreaks in Canada with unusually high numbers of cases in a short period of time.
“There certainly is a worry that some of those were actually related to coronavirus variants,” he said.
“There’s probably a bigger burden out there.”
‘Detective work’ identifying variants is slow
Testing for the variants is done through a time-consuming process called genomic sequencing, which requires highly specialized staff and equipment and takes days to return results — precious time when variants could spread more widely.
“We need to increase our surveillance of the virus in Canada,” said Art Poon, an associate professor in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine at Western University in London, Ont.
“We need the resources to do more sequencing so that we have better capability of tracking the spread of not only variants of concern, but other variants that may be arising in Canada.”
Catalina Lopez-Correa, executive director of the Canadian COVID Genomics Network (CanCOGen), which was formed in April 2020 to track variants and co-ordinate viral genome sequencing across Canada, said that while the number of samples tested in Canada is low, the testing efforts are focused on very specific samples.
“It’s not about the numbers, it’s about the strategy,” she said. “It’s about prioritizing the right samples and co-ordinating efforts.”
Lopez-Correa said CanCOGen’s strategy for testing for variants in Canada includes targeting fast-spreading outbreaks; geographic regions with an unusually high growth in cases; younger patients with very severe disease; reinfections; and those infected after being vaccinated.
There are currently eight labs across Canada testing virus samples for the variants, including the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg and seven other provincial labs.
“Some people are calling us genomic detectives and that’s exactly what we are,” said Lopez-Correa. “It’s detective work trying to figure out where those variants are and how to trace them.”
But although scientists are working around the clock to test the samples, they can only move as fast as the results will allow — meaning scaling up surveillance in the face of faster spreading variants isn’t easy.
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“If you have a contained outbreak in a specific geographical region, you don’t need to sequence everybody that’s infected in that outbreak, because most of them will have the same variant of the virus,” Lopez-Correa said. “But, of course, it’s a challenge to increase the amount of samples we’re doing.”
CanCOGen was created with initial federal funding of $40 million, half of which was allocated specifically for sequencing the virus, but Lopez-Correa said Canada could divert more money to staff and resources to test for the variants faster.
Lee said even with increased funding there is only a certain amount of surveillance Canada can reasonably do, given that the labs work on samples for all kinds of different viruses across the country.
“Ideally, we would be sequencing more, and I know there are efforts to do this, but there are some limitations,” she said, including the time it takes to collect samples, transport them to specific labs, sequence them and analyze the results.
“That involves a lot of different people and a lot of different resources. So, while it would be great to keep scaling up, there are going to be limits on what can be done.”
Canada ‘way behind’ on sharing data on variants
The World Health Organization called on countries around the world to increase their capacity to test for variants earlier this month, but also underscored the need to share the data internationally.
Poon said Canada is “way behind” in sharing data on variants around the world, partly because our public health system is understaffed and doesn’t currently have the resources to keep up with genomic surveillance.
“We are conservative about data sharing … I think that concerns about privacy have overridden calls to share data with other countries,” he said.
“Since this is a global pandemic, getting a clear picture of what’s going on requires open sharing of data between countries. But that’s not something that’s been happening with Canada.”
Lopez-Correa said Canada could improve its capacity to share data across the country and internationally. She said data is first shared domestically before being sent overseas.
“We could do better, but we’re submitting the data,” she said. “If you look at regions like Africa, Latin America, they’re not generating that data. They don’t have the capacity.”
Without effective international sharing of data, Canada could continue to see new variants arise in the future that are only identified after they’ve spread around the world.
WATCH | Vaccinations a race against coronavirus variants:
In the meantime, Lee said, the emergence of variants in Canada further underscores the need to vaccinate those most at risk of severe illness and death as soon as possible.
“Vaccination is going to play a critical role in this. We need to get everyone vaccinated who is in those long-term care facilities and all of the staff as well as their primary caregivers,” she said.
“I think that has to be the No. 1 priority at the moment.”
To read the entire Second Opinion newsletter every Saturday morning, subscribe by clicking here.
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