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Mars mission inspires growing fan base back in China – Toronto Star



Mars mission inspires growing fan base back in China – Toronto Star

BEIJING – Cui Tingting dyed her hair Mars red for the arrival of China’s spacecraft at the planet known in Chinese as the Fire Star.

“This is a great era for space, and the future of mankind lies in the exploration of outer space,” said Cui, director of the China Mars Society, the local chapter of a global advocacy network. She hosted an online party Wednesday night to wait for the announcement that the Tianwen-1 spacecraft, launched last July, had reached Mars orbit.

Video from participants across China showed a replica of Tianwen-1’s robot rover in the home of one society member. One wore a homemade space suit; another controlled his robot dog.

“Earth is our mother planet … but for me, Mars is the same,” Cui said.

China is falling in love with space, inspired by the ruling Communist Party’s increasingly ambitious plans over the past two decades to launch humans into orbit and explore the moon and Mars.

Tourists flock to tropical Hainan island to watch rockets blast off. Others visit mock Mars colonies in desert sites with white domes, airlocks and spacesuits. The number of space-themed TV shows, books and fan clubs is growing.

The most popular space-themed account on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo microblog service, “Our Space,” has 1.25 million followers.

The expanding space program coincides with President Xi Jinping’s campaign to promote an image of China returning to its former glory as a world leader.

“It’s a symbol of power for China,” said Chen Qiufan, a science fiction author in Guangdong whose books include “Waste Tide.”

Xi’s government is trying to nurture public enthusiasm with a five-year Scientific Literacy Action Plan. It includes a promise of support for developing Chinese science fiction.

In November, the city government of Beijing announced plans to build a science fiction industry cluster area to attract talent and create “influential original science fiction works.”

“You have to leverage the power of films, movies and science fiction to broadcast propaganda and this idea: we need to go there,” said Chen, comparing it to the Renaissance.

That love affair also is catching on in Japan, India and other countries that are sending probes across the solar system, joining a club of explorers long dominated by Washington and Moscow.

The race to explore Mars is so crowded that Tianwen-1 isn’t even the only spacecraft to arrive at the planet this week.

On Tuesday, Amal, a spacecraft launched by the United Arab Emirates, swung into orbit.

In the Emirates’ biggest city, Dubai, the government projected images of Mars’ two moons into the sky. Dubai’s Burj Khalifa skyscraper glowed red at night. Billboards depicting Amal, Arabic for hope, tower over Dubai’s highways.

In India, one of the country’s biggest film stars, Akshay Kumar, led a 2019 blockbuster, “Mission Mangal,” inspired by the country’s first mission to Mars.

A new collection of short stories written in a half dozen languages called “The Best of World SF” captures this global wonder, said the book’s editor, Lavie Tidhar.

In American and British sci-fi, Mars often plays the pristine utopia to Earth’s decrepit dystopia, but not so elsewhere, said Tidhar, who was raised on a kibbutz, a collectivist commune in Israel. In his novels “Martian Sands” and “Central Station,” a reborn Soviet Union, China, and Israel flourish on the bleak landscape of Mars.

“It’s boring, it’s hot, it’s cramped. A bit like growing up in a kibbutz -– except you can never leave,“ he said.

China’s first science fiction book, “City of Cats” in 1933, was set on Mars.



The genre died out during the ultra-radical 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, when the U.S.-Soviet space race inspired film studios to release “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Solaris.”

China re-embraced imaginary other worlds with the explosive success of “The Three-Body Problem” by Liu Cixin, first published as a magazine serial from 2006 to 2010. In 2015, Liu became the first Chinese author to receive the Hugo Award, science fiction’s highest honour.

A Hollywood-style blockbuster, “The Wandering Earth,” based on a novella by Liu, grossed more than $700 million worldwide in 2019.

China became the third nation to launch an astronaut into orbit on its own in 2003, four decades after the former Soviet Union and the United States.

Its first temporary orbiting laboratory was launched in 2011 and a second in 2016. Plans call for a permanent space station after 2022.

Space officials had expressed hope for a crewed lunar mission as early as this year but said that depended on budget and technology. They have pushed back that target to at least 2024.

Science fiction writers already are imaging Chinese colonies on Mars.

Hao Jingfang’s novel “Vagabonds,” published last year, is set between a poverty-free but austere Martian society and a poor, crowded, polluted Earth. Hao became the first female Chinese author to receive the Hugo Award in 2016.

Luo Lingzuo’s 2019 “Land Without Borders” imagines Chinese scientists genetically altering potatoes to grow in amber Martian soil. Physicist Liu Yang’s “Orphans of the Red Planet,” about high school students on Mars battling hostile aliens, is being turned into a TV series.

“We need to go to space,” said Chen, the science fiction author in Guangdong. “Then we have the power equivalent to what the United States has, and then we can become the giant.”

Cui, of the Mars Society, already is planning another party in May when Tianwen-1’s robot lander is due to touch down.


Associated Press researchers Caroline Chen in Beijing and Chen Si in Shanghai and writers Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Krutika Pathi in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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New species of crested dinosaur identified in Mexico



A team of palaeontologists in Mexico have identified a new species of dinosaur after finding its 72 million-year-old fossilized remains almost a decade ago, Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) said on Thursday.

The new species, named Tlatolophus galorum, was identified as a crested dinosaur after 80% of its skull was recovered, allowing experts to compare it to other dinosaurs of that type, INAH said.

The investigation, which also included specialists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, began in 2013 with the discovery of an articulated tail in the north-central Mexican state of Coahuila, where other discoveries have been made.

“Once we recovered the tail, we continued digging below where it was located. The surprise was that we began to find bones such as the femur, the scapula and other elements,” said Alejandro Ramírez, a scientist involved in the discovery.

Later, the scientists were able to collect, clean and analyze other bone fragments from the front part of the dinosaur’s body.

The palaeontologists had in their possession the crest of the dinosaur, which was 1.32 meters long, as well as other parts of the skull: lower and upper jaws, palate and even a part known as the neurocranium, where the brain was housed, INAH said.

The Mexican anthropology body also explained the meaning of the name – Tlatolophus galorum – for the new species of dinosaur.

Tlatolophus is a mixture of two words, putting together a term from the indigenous Mexican language of Nahuatl that means “word” with the Greek term meaning “crest”. Galorum refers to the people linked to the research, INAH said.


(Reporting by Abraham Gonzalez; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

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Alberta family searches for answers in teen's sudden death after COVID exposure, negative tests –



Alberta family searches for answers in teen's sudden death after COVID exposure, negative tests –

A southern Alberta mother and father are grappling with the sudden, unexplained death of their 17-year-old daughter, and with few answers, they’re left wondering if she could be the province’s youngest victim of COVID-19.

Sarah Strate — a healthy, active Grade 12 student at Magrath High School who loved singing, dancing and being outdoors — died on Monday, less than a week after being notified she’d been exposed to COVID-19.

While two tests came back negative, her parents say other signs point to the coronavirus, and they’re waiting for more answers. 

“It was so fast. It’s all still such a shock,” said Sarah’s mother, Kristine Strate. “She never even coughed. She had a sore throat and her ears were sore for a while, and [she had] swollen neck glands.”

Kristine said Sarah developed mild symptoms shortly after her older sister — who later tested positive for COVID-19 —  visited from Lethbridge, one of Alberta’s current hot spots for the virus.

The family went into isolation at their home in Magrath on Tuesday, April 20. They were swabbed the next day and the results were negative.

‘Everything went south, super-fast’

By Friday night, Sarah had developed fever and chills. On Saturday, she started vomiting and Kristine, a public health nurse, tried to keep her hydrated.

“She woke up feeling a bit more off on Monday morning,” Kristine said. “And everything went south, super-fast.”

Sarah had grown very weak and her parents decided to call 911 when she appeared to become delirious.

“She had her blanket on and I was talking to her and, in an instant, she was unresponsive,” said Kristine, who immediately started performing CPR on her daughter.

When paramedics arrived 20 minutes later, they were able to restore a heartbeat and rushed Sarah to hospital in Lethbridge, where she died.

“I thought there was hope once we got her heart rate back. I really did,” recalled Sarah’s father, Ron.

“He was praying for a miracle, and sometimes miracles don’t come,” said Kristine.

Strate’s parents say her health deteriorated quickly after being exposed to COVID-19. She died at Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge on Monday. (Ron Strate)

Searching for answers

At the hospital, the family was told Sarah’s lungs were severely infected and that she may have ended up with blood clots in both her heart and lungs, a condition that can be a complication of COVID-19.

But a second test at the hospital came back negative for COVID-19.

“There really is no other answer,” Ron said. “When a healthy 17-year-old girl, who was sitting up in her bed and was able to talk, and within 10 minutes is unconscious on our floor — there was no reason [for it].”

The province currently has no record of any Albertans under the age of 20 who have died of COVID-19.

According to the Strate family, the medical examiner is running additional blood and tissue tests, in an effort to uncover the cause of Sarah’s death.

‘Unusual but not impossible’

University of Alberta infectious disease specialist Dr. Lynora Saxinger, who was not involved in Sarah’s treatment, says it is conceivable that further testing could uncover evidence of a COVID-19 infection, despite two negative test results.

However, she hasn’t seen a similar case in Alberta.

“It would be unusual but not impossible because no test is perfect. We have had cases where an initial test is negative and then if you keep on thinking it’s COVID and you re-test, you then can find COVID,” she said.

According to Saxinger, the rate of false negatives is believed to be very low. But it can happen if there are problems with the testing or specimen collection.

She says people are more likely to test positive after symptoms develop. 

“The best sensitivity of the test is around day four or five of having symptoms,” she said. “So you can miss things if you test very, very early. And with new development of symptoms, it’s always a good time to re-test because then the likelihood of getting a positive test is a little higher. But again, no test is perfect.” 

Sarah deteriorated so quickly — dying five days after she first developed symptoms — she didn’t live long enough to make it to her follow-up COVID-19 test. Instead, it was done at the hospital.

‘An amazing kid’

The Strate family now faces an agonizing wait for answers — one that will likely take months — about what caused Sarah’s death.

But Ron, who teaches at the school where Sarah attended Grade 12, wants his daughter to be remembered for the life she lived, not her death.

Strate, pictured here at three years old, had plans to become a massage therapist. She attended Grade 12 at Magrath High School and was an active, healthy teenager who was involved in sports, music and the school’s suicide prevention group. (Ron Strate)

Sarah was one of five children. Ron says she was strong, active and vibrant and had plans to become a massage therapist after graduating from high school.

She played several sports and loved to sing and dance as part of a show choir. She was a leader in the school’s suicide prevention group and would stand up for other students who were facing bullying.

“She’s one of the leaders in our Hope Squad … which goes out and helps kids to not be scared,” he father said.

“She’s an amazing kid.”

Sarah would often spend hours helping struggling classmates, and her parents hope her kindness is not forgotten.

“She’d done so many good things. Honestly, I’ve got so many messages from parents saying, ‘You have no idea how much your daughter helped our kid,'” said Ron.

“This 17-year-old girl probably lived more of a life in 17 years than most adults will live in their whole lives. She was so special. I love her so much.”

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China launches key module of space station planned for 2022



NASA Updates Coverage of International Space Station Cargo Ship Docking – Net Newsledger

BEIJING (Reuters) -China launched an unmanned module on Thursday containing what will become living quarters for three crew on a permanent space station that it plans to complete by the end of 2022, state media reported.

The module, named “Tianhe”, or “Harmony of the Heavens”, was launched on the Long March 5B, China’s largest carrier rocket, at 11:23 a.m. (0323 GMT) from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre on the southern island of Hainan.

Tianhe is one of three main components of what would be China’s first self-developed space station, rivalling the only other station in service – the International Space Station (ISS).

The ISS is backed by the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada. China was barred from participating by the United States.

“(Tianhe) is an important pilot project in the building of a powerful nation in both technology and in space,” state media quoted President Xi Jinping as saying in a congratulatory speech.

Tianhe forms the main living quarters for three crew members in the Chinese space station, which will have a life span of at least 10 years.

The Tianhe launch was the first of 11 missions needed to complete the space station, which will orbit Earth at an altitude of 340 to 450 km (211-280 miles).

In the later missions, China will launch the two other core modules, four manned spacecraft and four cargo spacecraft.

Work on the space station programme began a decade ago with the launch of a space lab Tiangong-1 in 2011, and later, Tiangong-2 in 2016.

Both helped China test the programme’s space rendezvous and docking capabilities.

China aims to become a major space power by 2030. It has ramped up its space programme with visits to the moon, the launch of an uncrewed probe to Mars and the construction of its own space station.

In contrast, the fate of the ageing ISS – in orbit for more than two decades – remains uncertain.

The project is set to expire in 2024, barring funding from its partners. Russia said this month that it would quit the project from 2025.

Russia is deepening ties with China in space as tensions with Washington rise.

Moscow has slammed the U.S.-led Artemis moon exploration programme and instead chosen to join Beijing in setting up a lunar research outpost in the coming years.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo and Liangping Gao; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Simon Cameron-Moore and Lincoln Feast.)

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