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Eyeing Moon, NASA hosts first public astronaut graduation ceremony – Space Daily

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NASA on Friday celebrated its latest class of graduating astronauts at a public ceremony in Houston, honoring a diverse and gender-balanced group now qualified for spaceflight missions including America’s return to the Moon and eventual journey to Mars.

After completing more than two years of basic training, the six women and seven men were chosen from a record-breaking 18,000 applicants and represent a wide variety of backgrounds and specialties, from pilots to scientists, engineers and doctors.

The group included two candidates from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), which has participated in a joint training program with the United States since 1983.

“They are the best of the best: They are highly qualified and very diverse, and they represent all of America,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

The class included five people of color, including the first Iranian-American astronaut, Jasmin Moghbeli, who flew helicopter combat missions in Afghanistan and holds an engineering degree from MIT, and geologist Jessica Watkins, who joins only a handful of black women to complete the program.

The group, known as the “Turtles,” wore blue flight jumpsuits and took turns approaching the podium to receive their silver astronaut pins, as their fellow classmates paid tribute to their character in the first-ever public graduation ceremony.

The tradition of handing out pins dates back to the Mercury 7 astronauts who were selected in 1959, with participants receiving their gold pins once they complete their first spaceflights.

After being selected in 2017, the class completed training in spacewalking at NASA’s underwater Neutral Buoyancy Lab, robotics, the systems of the International Space Station and piloting the T-38 training jet, plus Russian language lessons.

They are the first to graduate since NASA announced the Artemis program to return to the Moon by 2024, this time on its south pole, as the United States plans to place the next man and first woman on lunar soil and set up an orbital space station.

Part of the group’s training therefore included studying the building blocks of that program, which are still being developed: the Space Launch System rocket, the Orion crew capsule and the gateway space station.

But NASA has already said that the crew of the first return Moon mission, Artemis 3, will be selected from previous graduates.

– Elite group –

Astronauts play an active role in the development of spacecraft, and the current group will eventually join the ranks of the approximately 500 people in history who have ventured into space.

The 11 US astronauts bring the total number of NASA’s corps up to 48.

Their diversity stands in contrast to the early years of space exploration, long dominated by white men (including all 12 people who have walked on the Moon), until Sally Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983 and Guion Bluford the first black astronaut the same year.

It also includes Indian-American Raja Chari, an Air Force colonel and aeronautical engineer; Frank Rubio, a medical doctor and Blackhawk pilot; and Jonny Kim, a decorated Navy SEAL and emergency physician, who holds both a doctorate in medicine from Harvard and a mathematics degree.

“When I heard about possibly being a NASA astronaut I thought that was a platform like no other where I could leave a huge impact on the next generation and also contribute to our nation’s space exploration,” Kim told AFP.

Watkins praised what she called NASA’s emphasis on diversity.

“I think cultural and social change can be slow, even when it’s trending in the right direction,” she said.

The CSA’s newest astronauts are Joshua Kutryk, a Royal Canadian Air Force lieutenant colonel, and Jennifer Sidey-Gibbons who holds a doctorate in engineering from the University of Cambridge where she was working as an assistant professor in combustion in the Department of Engineering.

Asked about the difficulties she faced in her career, Moghbeli said some had questioned her choices when she decided to join the military after graduating from MIT.

“In a post-September 11 world, did my parents think I was crazy? Yes, I’m pretty sure they did,” she said, but added that her family then gave her their full support.

“It’s because of that that I’m here today, and I think everyone feels similarly, but — that being said — there will always be people out there that doubt.

“When I was a sixth grader and said I was going to become an astronaut, do you think everyone was like, ‘Yep, she’s going to become an astronaut’? Probably not.”

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SPACE TRAVEL
NASA needs new way to handle accident investigations, report says

Washington (UPI) Jan 8, 2020


NASA needs new ways to investigate accidents that occur during human spaceflight when private companies like SpaceX and Boeing are launching astronauts, an agency watchdog said.
That recommendation was among those put forth in the federal Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel’s annual report for 2019, released Tuesday.
“As NASA approaches the resumption of launching humans on U.S. spacecraft, it is very important that the language in the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 requiring a Presidential … read more


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Lambton County installing glass barriers in council chambers – Chatham This Week

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Glass barriers will be installed between the desks of Lambton County councillors in the council chambers in Wyoming ahead of January when the council is expected to begin meeting again in person.

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Glass barriers will be installed between the desks of Lambton County councillors in the council chambers in Wyoming ahead of January, when in-person meetings are expected to resume.

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The barriers are expected to cost $12,000 but will free county councillors from having to wear face masks during the meetings.

“It maybe is a little bit of overkill” but “we want to make sure all of council is comfortable and feeling secure,” said Warwick Township Mayor Jackie Rombouts, chairperson of the county council committee reviewing a staff report that recently outlined steps being taken for the resumption of in-person meetings.

The report noted the barriers are required under regulations, given the layout of the council chambers where members sit close together.

Plympton-Wyoming Mayor Lonny Napper and Warwick Township Mayor Jackie Rombouts are shown during a meeting of Lambton County council held before the start of the pandemic.
Plympton-Wyoming Mayor Lonny Napper and Warwick Township Mayor Jackie Rombouts are shown during a meeting of Lambton County council held before the start of the pandemic. Photo by Paul Morden /Paul Morden/The Observer

“If people are going to be in close proximity to each other without a mask, current regulations would require that impermeable partition,” said Stephane Thiffeault, the county’s general manager of corporate services.

County council and its committees have been meeting online since the pandemic began but decided in September to plan for a return to in-person meetings in January, subject to changes in public-health guidelines.

Lambton Shores Mayor Bill Weber noted everyone attending in-person meetings will be vaccinated.

When “you can fill a stadium with people cheering on a team, it seems silly that 17 of us need to have partitions between us,” he said.

County council voted recently to require that councillors show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination, or a recent test, to attend in-person meetings when they resume. Councillors can also continuing attending meetings “virtually.”

Article content

County councillors will also be required to “self-screen” for COVID-19 symptoms before attending meetings and use hand sanitizer on the way into council chambers. They will be required to wear a mask and maintain social distances when not seated at their desk.

A limited number of county staff will attend the meetings while others will participate virtually, the report said.

Limited space will be available in the gallery for the public, who will be required to sign in. A total of 38 members of the public can be accommodated in the gallery, allowing for social distancing, the report said.

Members of the public will also be able to watch from a committee room overlooking the chambers, and the meetings will continue to broadcast online for the public.

pmorden@postmedia.com

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Signs of first planet found outside our galaxy – Yahoo News Canada

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The finding comes from observation of an X-ray binary – a neutron star or black hole pulling in gas from a companion star

Astronomers have found hints of what could be the first planet ever to be discovered outside our galaxy.

Nearly 5,000 “exoplanets” – worlds orbiting stars beyond our Sun – have been found so far, but all of these have been located within the Milky Way galaxy.

The possible planet signal discovered by Nasa’s Chandra X-Ray Telescope is in the Messier 51 galaxy.

This is located some 28 million light-years away from the Milky Way.

This new result is based on transits, where the passage of a planet in front of a star blocks some of the star’s light and yields a characteristic dip in brightness that can be detected by telescopes.

This general technique has already been used to find thousands of exoplanets.

Dr Rosanne Di Stefano and colleagues searched for dips in the brightness of X-rays received from a type of object known as an X-ray bright binary.

These objects typically contain a neutron star or black hole pulling in gas from a closely orbiting companion star. The material near the neutron star or black hole becomes superheated and glows at X-ray wavelengths.

Because the region producing bright X-rays is small, a planet passing in front of it could block most or all of the X-rays, making the transit easier to spot.

The team members used this technique to detect the exoplanet candidate in a binary system called M51-ULS-1.

“The method we developed and employed is the only presently implementable method to discover planetary systems in other galaxies,” Dr Di Stefano, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, US, told BBC News.

“It is a unique method, uniquely well-suited to finding planets around X-ray binaries at any distance from which we can measure a light curve.”

Future planet-hunting

This binary contains a black hole or neutron star orbiting a companion star with a mass about 20 times that of the Sun. A neutron star is the collapsed core of what had once been a massive star.

The transit lasted about three hours, during which the X-ray emission decreased to zero. Based on this and other information, the astronomers estimate that the candidate planet would be around the size of Saturn, and orbit the neutron star or black hole at about twice the distance Saturn lies from the Sun.

Dr Di Stefano said the techniques that have been so successful for finding exoplanets in the Milky Way break down when observing other galaxies. This is partly because the great distances involved reduce the amount of light which reaches the telescope and also mean that many objects are crowded into a small space (as viewed from Earth), making it difficult to resolve individual stars.

With X-rays, she said, “there may be only several dozen sources spread out over the entire galaxy, so we can resolve them. In addition, a subset of these are so bright in X-rays that we can measure their light curves.

“Finally, the huge emission of X-rays comes from a small region that can be substantially or (as in our case) totally blocked by a passing planet.”

Messier 51Messier 51

Messier 51 is also called the Whirlpool Galaxy because of its distinctive spiral shape

The researchers freely admit that more data is needed to verify their interpretation.

One challenge is that the planet candidate’s large orbit means it would not cross in front of its binary partner again for about 70 years, quashing any attempts to make a follow-up observation in the near-term.

One other possible explanation that the astronomers considered is that the dimming has been caused by a cloud of gas and dust passing in front of the X-ray source.

However, they think this is unlikely, because the characteristics of the event do not match up with the properties of a gas cloud.

“We know we are making an exciting and bold claim so we expect that other astronomers will look at it very carefully,” said co-author Julia Berndtsson of Princeton University, New Jersey.

“We think we have a strong argument, and this process is how science works.”

Dr Di Stefano said that the new generation of optical and infrared telescopes would not be able to compensate for the problems of crowding and dimness, so observations at X-ray wavelengths would likely remain the primary method for detecting planets in other galaxies.

However, she said a method known as microlensing might also hold promise for identifying extra-galactic planets.

The study has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Astronomy.

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World strives to limit damage as greenhouse gas levels hit record

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Greenhouse gas concentrations hit a record last year and the world is “way off track” on capping rising temperatures, the United Nations said on Monday, showing the task facing climate talks in Glasgow aimed at averting dangerous levels of warming.

A report by the U.N. World Meteorological Organization (WMO) showed carbon dioxide levels surged to 413.2 parts per million in 2020, rising more than the average rate over the last decade despite a temporary dip in emissions during COVID-19 lockdowns.

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said the current rate of increase in heat-trapping gases would result in temperature rises “far in excess” of the 2015 Paris Agreement target of 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average this century.

“We are way off track,” he said. “We need to revisit our industrial, energy and transport systems and whole way of life,” he added, calling for a “dramatic increase” in commitments at the COP26 conference beginning on Sunday.

The Scottish city of Glasgow was putting on the final touches before hosting the climate talks, which may be the world’s last best chance to cap global warming at the 1.5-2 degrees Celsius upper limit set out in the Paris Agreement.

“It is going to be very, very tough this summit,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said during a news conference with children.

“I am very worried because it might go wrong and we might not get the agreements that we need and it is touch and go, it is very, very difficult, but I think it can be done,” he said.

The German government announced Chancellor Angela Merkel will travel to Glasgow to take part.

STAKES ARE HUGE

The stakes for the planet are huge – among them the impact on economic livelihoods the world over and the future stability of the global financial system.

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince said on Saturday that the world’s top oil exporter aims to reach “net zero” emissions of greenhouse gases, mostly produced by burning fossil fuels, by 2060 – 10 years later than the United States. He also said it would double the emissions cuts it plans to achieve by 2030.

An official plan unveiled in Ottawa showed developed nations were confident they can reach their goal of handing over $100 billion a year to poorer countries to tackle climate change by 2023, three years late.

The plan on how to reach the goal, prepared by Canada and Germany, said developed countries still needed to do more and complained private finance had not lived up to expectations.

A Reuters poll of economists found that hitting the Paris goal of net-zero carbon emissions will require investments in a green transition worth 2%-3% of world output each year until 2050, far less than the economic cost of inaction.

By contrast governments since January 2020 have spent a total of $10.8 trillion – or 10.2% of global output – in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘WE DON’T HAVE TIME’

A “business-as-usual” trajectory leading to temperature rises of 1.6C, 2.4C and 4.4C by 2030, 2050 and 2100 respectively would result in 2.4% lost output by 2030, 10% by 2050 and 18% by 2100, according to the median replies to the survey.

Australia’s cabinet was expected to formally adopt a target for net zero emissions by 2050 when it meets on Monday to review a deal reached between parties in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s coalition government, official sources told Reuters.

The ruling coalition has been divided over how to tackle climate change, with the government maintaining that harder targets would damage the A$2-trillion ($1.5-trillion) economy.

In London, climate activists restarted their campaign of blockading major roads by disrupting traffic in the city’s financial district, while in Madrid a few dozen people staged a sit-in protest, briefly blocking the Gran Via shopping street.

“Greenhouse gas emissions are provoking climate catastrophes all over the planet. We don’t have time. It’s already late and if we don’t join the action against what’s happening, we won’t have time to save what is still left,” said Alberto, 27, a sociologist who took part in the protest.

 

(Additional reporting by William James and Kylie MacLellan in London, Zuzanna Szymanska in Berlin, David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Marco Trujillo in Madrid; Writing by Michael Shields, Editing by William Maclean)

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