SpaceX, NASA give ‘go’ for astronaut launch, 3rd for Dragon

This undated photo made available by SpaceX in April 2021 shows the crew for its third astronaut launch to the ISS during a training session in Hawthorne, Califprnia. (SpaceX via AP)
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Updated 16 April 2021
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SpaceX, NASA give ‘go’ for astronaut launch, 3rd for Dragon

  • SpaceX has been shipping cargo to the space station since 2012, using the same kind of rocket and similar capsules, and recycling those parts as well

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: SpaceX is gearing up for its third astronaut launch in under a year, after getting the green light from NASA a week ahead of next Thursday’s planned flight.
Managers from NASA and Elon Musk’s space company Thursday cleared the Falcon rocket and Dragon capsule for a dawn liftoff with a crew of four to the International Space Station. They will spend six months at the orbiting lab, replacing another SpaceX crew that’s close to coming home.
This will be the first crew flight using a recycled Falcon and Dragon. Both were designed for reuse.
The rocket was used to launch the current station crew last November from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The capsule, dubbed Endeavour, also will be making a repeat performance; it carried two test pilots to the space station on SpaceX’s first crew flight last spring.
SpaceX refurbished both and added safety upgrades. Most of the capsule is already “flight proven,” company officials noted, except for some new valves, thermal protection covers and parachutes.
Kathy Lueders, head of NASA’s human exploration office, said it was “moving” to be on the verge of flying three SpaceX crew flights in 11 months.
“Looking back, it’s really, really amazing what both the SpaceX and NASA teams have accomplished,” she said.
SpaceX said it must resolve one issue before conducting a test firing at the launch pad this weekend. It appears the company has been loading more liquid oxygen into its first-stage boosters than anticipated, and engineers want to make “extra certain” that poses no safety risks, said Bill Gerstenmaier, a new SpaceX vice president who used to work for NASA.
Three of the astronauts are back for their second space station mission: NASA’s Shane Kimbrough, France’s Thomas Pesquet and Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide. NASA astronaut Megan McArthur was part of the final Hubble Space Telescope repair team in 2009.
For nearly a decade, the only route to the space station for astronauts was on Russian rockets. NASA turned to private companies for taxi service after the space shuttles retired in 2011. SpaceX has been shipping cargo to the space station since 2012, using the same kind of rocket and similar capsules, and recycling those parts as well.


‘HELP’ written in palm fronds lands rescue for Pacific castaways

Updated 12 April 2024
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‘HELP’ written in palm fronds lands rescue for Pacific castaways

  • The trio became stranded on Pikelot Atoll, a tiny island in the remote Western Pacific, after their motor-powered skiff malfunctioned
  • A US Navy aircraft saw the "help" sign and a ship came later to rescue the stranded trio, all experienced mariners in their 40s

LOS ANGELES: Sometimes all you have to do is ask for “HELP“: That’s what three men stranded on a deserted Pacific island learned earlier this week, writing the message in palm fronds which were spotted by US rescuers.

The trio, all experienced mariners in their 40s, became stranded on a lonely island after setting off from Micronesia’s Polowat Atoll on March 31 in their motor-powered skiff which subsequently experienced damage.
They were reported missing last Saturday by a woman who told the US Coast Guard her three uncles never returned from Pikelot Atoll, a tiny island in the remote Western Pacific.
“In a remarkable testament to their will to be found, the mariners spelled out ‘HELP’ on the beach using palm leaves, a crucial factor in their discovery,” said search and rescue mission coordinator Lt. Chelsea Garcia.
She reported that the trio was discovered Sunday on Pikelot Atoll by a US Navy aircraft.
“This act of ingenuity was pivotal in guiding rescue efforts directly to their location,” she said.
The aircraft crew dropped survival packages, and rescuers one day later dropped a radio which the mariners used to communicate that they were in good health, had access to food and water, and that the motor on their 20-foot (six-meter) skiff was no longer working.
On Tuesday morning a ship rescued the trio and their equipment, returning them to Polowat Atoll, the Coast Guard said.
In August 2020, three Micronesian sailors also stranded on Pikelot were rescued after Australian and US warplanes spotted a giant “SOS” they had scrawled on the beach.
 


Dining hall with Trojan War decorations uncovered in ancient Roman city of Pompeii

Updated 12 April 2024
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Dining hall with Trojan War decorations uncovered in ancient Roman city of Pompeii

  • One fresco depicts Paris and Helen, whose love affair caused the Trojan War, according to classical accounts
  • Pompeii and the surrounding countryside was submerged by volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius exploded in AD 79

ROME: A black-walled dining hall with 2,000-year-old paintings inspired by the Trojan War has been discovered during excavations at the Roman city of Pompeii, authorities said on Thursday.
The size of the room — about 15 meters long and 6 meters wide — the quality of the frescoes and mosaics from the time of Emperor Augustus, and the choice of characters suggest it was used for banquets, Pompeii Archaeological Park said.

A fresco of a mythological character inspired by the Trojan War is seen in this handout picture taken in the ancient archeological site of Pompeii and released on April 11, 2024. (Parco Archeoligico di Pompei/Handout via REUTERS)

“The walls were painted black to prevent the smoke from the oil lamps being seen on the walls,” Gabriel Zuchtriegel, head of the park, said.
“People would meet to dine after sunset, and the flickering light of the lamps had the effect of making the images appear animated, especially after a few glasses of good Campanian wine.”
Pompeii and the surrounding countryside was submerged by volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius exploded in AD 79, killing thousands of Romans who had no idea they were living beneath one of Europe’s biggest volcanoes.
The site has seen a burst of archaeological activity aimed at halting years of decay and neglect, largely thanks to a 105-million-euro ($112 million) European Union-funded project.

A fresco of a mythological character inspired by the Trojan War is seen in this handout picture taken in the ancient archeological site of Pompeii and released on April 11, 2024. (Parco Archeoligico di Pompei/Handout via REUTERS)

The dominant theme of the newly discovered paintings is heroism and fate.
One fresco depicts Paris and Helen, whose love affair caused the Trojan War, according to classical accounts. Another one shows doomed prophetess Cassandra and the Greco-Roman god Apollo.
According to Greek mythology, Cassandra predicted the Trojan War after receiving the gift of foresight from Apollo, but no-one believed her. This was because of a curse Apollo put upon her for refusing to give herself to him.


Bosnian Formula One fan brings speed dreams to the mountains

Updated 10 April 2024
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Bosnian Formula One fan brings speed dreams to the mountains

  • The 36-year-old mechanic bought the car from another racing superfan in the capital Sarajevo last year
  • Since purchasing the vehicle, he has been methodically making tweaks to its exterior, while nursing hopes of one day replacing its engine

KLJUC, Bosnia and Herzegovina: Far from the glitzy racetracks where legendary drivers made their mark in the world of Formula One, Himzo Beganovic has turned his dreams of speed into reality along the dirt roads of northwestern Bosnia.
“I always wanted to own a Formula One car, to have it in front of the house, to be able to go for a spin,” Beganovic told AFP, as he tuned up a replica “Ferrari red” race car outside his home near the Bosnian town of Kljuc.
The 36-year-old mechanic bought the car from another racing superfan in the capital Sarajevo last year.
The replica, which took two years to build, remains a ramshackle mock-up, crafted with sheet metal — a far cry from the advanced carbon fiber used in the multimillion-dollar cars of Formula One teams.
Despite Beganovic’s limited means, he still hopes to make his car more efficient, bit by bit.
Since purchasing the vehicle, he has been methodically making tweaks to its exterior, while nursing hopes of one day replacing its engine.
Along with a more powerful motor, Beganovic hopes to install an automatic gearbox and better tires.
“When you drive Formula One, you feel like you are flying. It is not like a car,” he said.
“It is the only one in Bosnia-Herzegovina. There are no others.”
A self-professed lover of “fast driving” and taking “dangerous turns,” Beganovic has been turning heads along Bosnia’s mountain roads where he reaches speeds of up to 200 kilometers per hour (124 miles per hour).
Other times he simply parks the car in a popular area and lets people check it out.
“I sometimes put it on a trailer to take it to other places in the country. People come, photograph it, and ask questions,” he said.
“The feeling is indescribable.”
For Beganovic, there was no question of what color the car would be.
As a longtime fan of seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, the Ferrari-red paint pays tribute to the driver who won five titles with the famous Italian team.
Since the legendary German champion’s skiing accident in 2013 in the French Alps, Beganovic said he has yet to find another driver that interests him as much.
With Schumacher in mind, he hopes to put an Audi V-8 engine into his car soon.
“When a German engine and Bosnian ingenuity combine, you get an Italian car,” laughed one of Beganovic’s neighbors.


Istanbul airport provides anxious travelers with paw-sitive experience by hiring 5 therapy dogs

Updated 10 April 2024
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Istanbul airport provides anxious travelers with paw-sitive experience by hiring 5 therapy dogs

  • Meet Istanbul Airport’s therapy dogs — always ready to offer support with snuggles, belly rubs and sloppy kisses

ISTANBUL: Five new hires are selflessly roaming the halls of one of the world’s busiest transportation hubs, hoping to provide a paw-sitively stress-free travel experience for anxious passengers.
Meet Istanbul Airport’s therapy dogs — always ready to offer support with snuggles, belly rubs and sloppy kisses.
The Associated Press caught up with Kuki and Alita, two of the dogs taking part in the pet-friendly airport’s new pilot project aimed at easing stress and anxiety among travelers.
All four-legged members of the program are certified therapy dogs, professionally trained and conditioned to comfort humans.
The “Therapy Dog Team” has been on duty since late February following months of preparation and intensive training, learning desensitization to distracting stimuli, like sounds and people.
“We have to ensure that they are safe and they are 100 percent adapted to all environments,” said Kadir Demirtas, Istanbul Airport’s customer experience manager.
Kuki, a Lagotto Romagnolo, an Italian retriever breed, is team captain. He works hard to please but likes his breaks and sometimes plays hooky.
That’s OK, however.
The team’s veterinarian said each dog’s temperament dictates their hours on the job each day.
“They walk around the airport led by their handlers who are also responsible for their care,” said Volkan Arslan.
The dogs, who are airport employees with official badges and uniforms, have a set schedule and work during peak travel hours, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Alita, a border collie, is Kuki’s teammate. Her intense gaze and dedication to her handler are striking, as is her ability to soothe and calm nerves.
“We are always surrounded by people who are constantly petting her,” said Volkan Gul, Alita’s dedicated handler, adding that she helps them relax.
Airport officials said they already have plans to expand the pilot project following initial positive feedback from travelers.


Muslim-majority Chechnya bans dance music that is either too fast or too slow

Updated 09 April 2024
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Muslim-majority Chechnya bans dance music that is either too fast or too slow

  • Music not conforming to a tempo of 80 to 116 BPM cannot be played publicly
  • Move is part of plan to quash Western influence in the region, preserve cultural identity

LONDON: Muslim-majority Chechnya has imposed a ban on dance music deemed either too fast or too slow in an attempt to quash Western influences.

The ban, announced earlier this week, applies to all musical, vocal, and choreographic works not conforming to a tempo of 80 to 116 beats per minute, authorities said.

Although it remains unclear how the law will be enforced, the move effectively prohibits most Western and international music from public performance due to its faster pace, including genres like trance, techno, samba, and waltz.

The ban reportedly followed a meeting between the republic’s Culture Minister Musa Dadayev and local and regional artists.

According to a report by the Moscow Times, Dadayev said that the decision aims to align Chechen music with the region’s cultural identity and preserve the heritage of its people.

“Borrowing musical culture from other peoples is inadmissible,” Dadayev reportedly said.

Artists have until June 1 to adjust music that does not meet the criteria, or it will not be permitted for public performance.

Ironically, The Telegraph noted that the new law also unintentionally bans the Russian national anthem, typically played at 76 BPM, as well as “Victory Day,” a popular Russian military song at 126 BPM.

Since assuming power in 2007, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has restricted civil liberties in the conservative, Muslim-majority region in the name of tradition and cultural norms.

Located in the North Caucasus, the semi-autonomous region has drawn attention in recent years for its severe persecution of minority communities, involving forced disappearances, imprisonment, torture, and extrajudicial killings of civilians based on perceived sexual orientation.