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Jim Bridenstine is leaving NASA. How should we assess his 30-month tenure? – Ars Technica



Enlarge / NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine testifies before a US Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation committee on September 30, 2020.
Nicholas Kamm-Pool/Getty Images

The first thing to know about James Frederick Bridenstine, who has served as NASA’s administrator for a little more than 30 months, is that he was not staying on as the space agency’s leader regardless of the presidential election results.

Not that he wants out of the job. Bridenstine has relished the challenge of leading NASA through troubling times and overcoming initial concerns about his partisanship to lead NASA—all of NASA—through the turbulent years of the Trump administration. Nor is it because he has failed. Bridenstine has largely succeeded in pushing the agency forward and will leave it better than he found it.

But the reality is that a Democratic president was never going to keep Bridenstine, who has a political rather than a technical background, on as administrator. And he knew this. He said as much this week, telling Aviation Week that a new president would probably want someone else, someone fully trusted. After all, he had previously introduced legislation to remove Earth science from NASA’s mission statement, and he criticized same-sex marriages. Bridenstine will resign his position on January 20.

However, he would not have come back for a second Trump administration, either. During his tenure as NASA administrator, which began in April of 2018, Bridenstine embraced climate science and supported Earth science missions. Moreover, the president’s advisers wanted Bridenstine to bash his predecessors more, to contrast the “success” of the Trump space program with the “failure” of President Obama’s. But Bridenstine more or less held the line, crediting his predecessors for creating and funding the commercial crew program that led to SpaceX’s dramatic crewed flight in May.

“He has been a NASA administrator, not a Trump representative at NASA,” said John Logsdon, a historian who has known all of the agency’s administrators since its inception in 1958.

Multiple sources have confirmed that Bridenstine would have stepped down or been moved aside had Trump been reelected. He had legitimate family reasons for doing so—the 45-year-old has a young and growing family and a desire to spend more time with them in Oklahoma. But there were also clear signals that a second Trump administration would have turned the apolitical NASA into a more political agency.

For example, within the coming months, the agency planned to hold an elaborate ceremony to formally rename the NASA Headquarters after “Hidden Figure” Mary Jackson. The event was to feature Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter. Along these lines, NASA would get a new leader as well—not so much a NASA administrator, but a Trump representative at the space agency.

Assessing his tenure

In an interview, Logsdon said he rated Bridenstine’s term at NASA a success. “I think he’s exceeded anyone’s expectations in the position,” the historian and expert in presidential space politics said.

Logsdon cited two primary successes. One, he said, is that Bridenstine stabilized the agency’s programs. In particular, with the Artemis Program, Bridenstine has built bipartisan support for a plan to send humans back to the Moon and eventually on to Mars. He has also engendered support within much of the industry for this idea and began to bring international partners on board with important commitments.

Bridenstine also did this while managing perceptions that Artemis was a “political” program, with a convenient target date of 2024 for landing humans on the Moon—what would have been the final year of a second Trump term. Logsdon said he believes it is reasonable to expect that Artemis will continue in some form under President-elect Joe Biden’s administration, although the first Moon landing is unlikely before the second half of the 2020s.

Logsdon also credited Bridenstine with recognizing the changing times in space—commercial companies, led by SpaceX, are contributing more private money and ideas to exploration—and embraced them. “He’s led the transition from old NASA to new NASA, in particular with the emphasis on public-private partnerships, and the engagement of the US private sector, more strongly than any of his predecessors.”

Bridenstine has not been perfect, of course. Areas outside of human exploration within the agency have at times felt largely ignored by Bridenstine. Some in the astronaut office, too, have felt politicized by their appearances at the White House and other events for the benefit of the Trump administration. Bridenstine also had help: a supportive vice president in Mike Pence and a National Space Council led by Scott Pace. But Bridenstine was the public face of NASA, leading the charge.

Public excitement

There can be little doubt that Bridenstine and his team have sought to improve NASA and put it on a sustainable course.

“He came into the conversation having just rolled out the American Space Renaissance Act, which was a huge collection of thoughts on space policy,” said Anthony Colangelo, founder of the Main Engine Cutoff Podcast. “It generally sounded like a collation of all the ideas that space enthusiasts had been discussing and debating and circling around for the past few years. To see those forward-looking policy ideas thrown into the Congressional mix really got people excited.”

Bridenstine’s genuine enthusiasm for space also helped win over space fans and observers like Colangelo. Bridenstine would talk about these topics with the same passion as fans. He drank Mountain Dew at congressional hearings. “He sounded like he could have been right alongside us talking and arguing about space issues on Twitter or Reddit or NASASpaceflight forums or on your favorite podcast,” Colangelo said.

Among people who already care about space, this enthusiasm was infectious. The real question is whether this desire for exploration beyond low-Earth orbit can be extended beyond the space community. The best test of this is whether Congress ultimately funds the Artemis Program. NASA sought more than $3 billion for a Human Landing System in the fiscal year 2021 budget, but it now looks like Congress will provide $600 million to $1 billion. Although this is considerably less, it might still be seen as a baseline commitment to funding the lunar program, albeit on a slower timeline.

Ultimately, Jim Bridenstine’s legacy will probably depend on whether such funding proves transitory or ultimately does in fact lead to the first woman and the next man landing on the Moon in NASA spacesuits.

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COVID-19: Alberta researcher recognized with innovation award for salt mask – Global News



Salt that crystallizes with sharp edges is the killer ingredient in the development of a reusable mask because any COVID-19 droplets that land on it would be quickly destroyed, says a researcher who is being recognized for her innovation.

Ilaria Rubino, a recent PhD graduate from the department of chemical and materials engineering at the University of Alberta, said a mostly salt and water solution that coats the first or middle layer of the mask would dissolve droplets before they can penetrate the face covering.

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As the liquid from the droplets evaporates, the salt crystals grow back as spiky weapons, damaging the bacteria or virus within five minutes, Rubino said.

“We know that after the pathogens are collected in the mask, they can survive. Our goal was to develop a technology that is able to inactivate the pathogens upon contact so that we can make the mask as effective as possible.”

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Rubino, who collaborated with a researcher at Georgia State University in Atlanta to advance the project she started five years ago, was recognized Tuesday with an innovation award from Mitacs. The Canadian not-for-profit organization receives funding from the federal government, most provinces and Yukon to honour researchers from academic institutions.

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The reusable, non-washable mask is made of a type of polypropylene, a plastic used in surgical masks, and could be safely worn and handled multiple times without being decontaminated, Rubino said.

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The idea is to replace surgical masks often worn by health-care workers who must dispose of them in a few hours, she said, adding the technology could potentially be used for N-95 respirators.

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The salt-coated mask is expected to be available commercially next year after regulatory approval. It could also be used to stop the spread of other infectious illnesses, such as influenza, Rubino said.

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Dr. Catherine Clase, an epidemiologist and associate professor of medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, said the “exciting” technology would have multiple benefits.

Clase, who is a member of the Centre of Excellence in Protective Equipment and Materials in the engineering department at McMaster, said there wasn’t much research in personal protective equipment when Rubino began her work.

“It’s going to decrease the footprint for making and distributing and then disposing of every mask,” she said, adding that the mask could also address any supply issues.

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The Public Health Agency of Canada recently recommended homemade masks consist of at least three layers, with a middle, removable layer constructed from a non-woven, washable polypropylene fabric to improve filtration.

Conor Ruzycki, an aerosol scientist in the University of Alberta’s mechanical engineering department, said Rubino’s innovation adds to more recent research on masks as COVID-19 cases rise and shortages of face coverings in the health-care system could again become a problem.

Ruzycki, who works in a lab to evaluate infiltration efficiencies of different materials for masks and respirators, is also a member of a physician-led Alberta group Masks4Canada, which is calling for stricter pandemic measures, including a provincewide policy on mandatory masks.


© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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China Kickstarts A New Era In The Space Race –



China Kickstarts A New Era In The Space Race |


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China Space Race

In what could mark the beginning of another era of the “space race“, China has officially launched an unmanned spacecraft to the moon with plans of bringing back lunar rocks. It marks the first attempt by any nation to retrieve rocks from the moon since the 1970s. On Monday, Reuters confirmed the launch:

China’s probe, the Chang’e-5, sets off with the goal of China learning more about the moon’s origin and formation. If China succeeds, it will be only the third country to have retrieved samples from the moon – behind the U.S. and Soviet Union, according to CNN.

The goal of the mission to collect 4.5 pounds of samples in a previously untouched area called Oceanus Procellarum, or “Ocean of Storms”. The U.S. Apollo missions had previously landed 12 astronauts and brought back a total of 842 pounds of rocks and soil. The Soviet Union’s Luna missions had brought 6 ounces of samples in the 70s.

Both countries visited different areas of the moon than the Chinese aspire to visit.  

Source: CNN

James Head, a planetary scientist at Brown University, said: “The Apollo-Luna sample zone of the moon, while critical to our understanding, was undertaken in an area that comprises far less than half the lunar surface.”

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Once it’s on the moon, the probe will deploy two vehicles and a lander will drill into the ground. Samples of the moon’s surface will then lift off to another module in orbit. Eventually, they will make their way back to Earth in a return capsule. 

China has visited the moon with probes in 2013 and 2019. The country says it has plans to establish a “robotic base station” on the moon within the next decade. It plans on doing so using its Chang’e 6, Chang’e 7 and Chang’e 8 missions. 

The country has also publicly said it has aspirations of getting samples from Mars before 2030. 


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Many Canadians gaining weight during COVID-19: poll – BarrieToday



OTTAWA — A new poll suggests many Canadians are gaining weight because they’re eating more and exercising less during COVID-19 pandemic. 

Nearly one-third of respondents in the survey conducted by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies said they have put on weight since March, compared to 15 per cent who said they lost weight over that time.

As well, about one-third of respondents said they’re exercising less, while 16 per cent said they’re working out more since the first wave of the pandemic landed in Canada in the spring.

Jack Jedwab, president of the Association for Canadian Studies, suggested that one reason may be a rush for comfort food to deal with pandemic-related anxieties.

Respondents in the survey who said they were “very afraid” of COVID-19 were more likely to report gaining weight, eating more and exercising less. 

“The more anxiety you have, the more likely it is that you know you’re eating more,” Jedwab said.

“People who are least anxious about COVID (are) the ones that are not eating more than usual and are not gaining weight.”

The online survey of 1,516 Canadians was conducted Oct. 29-31 and cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.

Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an associate professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa, said there are plausible reasons to connect weight gain or loss with the pandemic, but he hadn’t seen any studies to convince him that’s the case. 

Some people are “not reliant on restaurants constantly” and “cooking more frequently in their homes,” which Freedhoff said may be leading to weight loss or better dietary choices. Others are eating more, he said, relying on comfort food “because they’re anxious as a consequence of the pandemic, or the tragedies that have gone on in their lives.”

Jedwab said the country needs to also be mindful of mental health issues that can affect the physical health of Canadians. 

“With the winter coming, it’ll be even more challenging, in some parts of the country, to maintain a healthy lifestyle in terms of walking, in terms of doing basic things that will help us address our anxieties,” he said, pointing to lack of access for some to gyms subject to local lockdowns.

Some of those exercise classes have gone online. Gabriel Shaw, a kinesiologist from Victoria, B.C. said he has offered virtual classes to give his clients an chance to be physically active.

Shaw said the classes don’t provide people with a sense of community like in-person classes, which he said is important for some people to exercise consistently. 

“The best bet for people is to find a way they can enjoy it. That might be going out for a social distance walk or hike or run or bike with a friend,” Shaw said. “That might be finding a Zoom thing that you can get on like dancing or even other activities where you have friends.”

Shaw said people should also try learn a new skill like dancing, yoga, rock climbing, or take up running to keep things fresh and enjoyable, which is key to exercising long and well. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2020

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press

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