China set to send 3 astronauts on longest crewed mission yet

Astronauts Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu arrive for a meeting ahead of the launch of the Long March-2F Y13 rocket, carrying the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft and them in China’s second crewed mission to build its own space station. (Reuters)
Updated 14 October 2021

China set to send 3 astronauts on longest crewed mission yet

  • The Shenzhou-13 spaceship is expected to be launched into space on a Long March-2F rocket early Saturday morning
  • The first crew who served a 90-day mission aboard the main Tianhe core module of the space station returned in mid-September

BEIJING: China is preparing to send three astronauts to live on its space station for six months — a new milestone for a program that has advanced rapidly in recent years.
It will be China’s longest crewed space mission and set a record for the most time spent in space by Chinese astronauts. The Shenzhou-13 spaceship is expected to be launched into space on a Long March-2F rocket early Saturday morning from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on the edge of the Gobi Desert in northwestern China.
The first crew who served a 90-day mission aboard the main Tianhe core module of the space station returned in mid-September.
The new crew has two veterans of space travel. Pilot Zhai Zhigang, 55, performed China’s first spacewalk. Wang Yaping, 41, and the only woman on the mission, carried out experiments and led a science class in real-time while traveling on one of China’s earlier experimental space stations. Ye Guangfu, 41, will be traveling into space for the first time.
The three later spoke to reporters through a glass barrier at the Jiuquan base, with Zhai saying the length of the mission would be a challenge, but one he was confident they were prepared to meet.
“After almost two years of training (together), our crew members now know each other well and have a tacit understanding. I believe that with the power and wisdom of our team, (we) will definitely resolve all difficulties,” Zhai said.
Russian cosmonaut Valery Polyakov, who lived on Russia’s old Mir space station in 1994 and 1995, holds the record for the longest stay in space at more than 14 months.
The mission is expected to continue the work of the initial crew, who conducted two spacewalks, deployed a 10-meter (33-foot) mechanical arm, and held a video call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
China Manned Space Agency Deputy Director Lin Xiqiang said the rocket was fueled and ready to fly. “All systems conducting the Shenzhou-13 mission have undergone a comprehensive rehearsal. The flight crew is in good condition and our pre-launch preparations are in order,” Lin said at a Thursday briefing.
The crew’s scheduled activities include up to three spacewalks to install equipment in preparation for expanding the station, verifying living conditions in the module and conducting experiments in space medicine and other areas, Lin said.
China’s military, which runs the space program, has released few details but says it will send multiple crews to the station over the next two years to make it fully functional. Shenzhou-13 will be the fifth mission, including trips without crews to deliver supplies.
When completed with the addition of two more modules — named Mengtian and Wentian — the station will weigh about 66 tons, a fraction of the size of the International Space Station, which launched its first module in 1998 and will weigh around 450 tons when completed. Lin said the two additional modules would be sent before the end of next year during the stay of the yet-to-be-named Shenzhou-14 crew.
China was excluded from the International Space Station largely due to US objections over the Chinese program’s secretive nature and close military ties. It made plans to build its own space stations in the early 1990s and had two experimental modules before starting on the permanent station.
US law requires congressional approval for contact between the American and Chinese space programs, but China is cooperating with space experts from countries including France, Sweden, Russia and Italy.
Lin said China was expanding such cooperation, with Ye Guangfu having undergone training with the European Space Agency in 2016, and European astronauts participating in China’s sea survival training in 2017.
“We welcome astronauts from other countries entering our space station and conducting international cooperation,” Lin said. “We believe that after the station enters the operation and utilization phase, more foreign astronauts will visit our station.”
Commenting on his time with the ESA, Ye called it an unforgettable experience that “made me realize that the exploration of the vast space and the construction of a home in space are a shared mission and pursuit for astronauts.”
“I look forward to the day when international colleagues can travel in space together (with us), and I welcome them to visit China’s space station,” Ye said.
China has launched seven crewed missions with a total of 14 astronauts aboard since 2003, when it became only the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to put a person in space on its own. Two Chinese astronauts have flown twice.
Along with its crewed missions, China has expanded its work on lunar and Mars exploration, including placing a rover on the little-explored far side of the Moon and returning lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s.
China this year also landed its Tianwen-1 space probe on Mars, whose accompanying Zhurong rover has been exploring for evidence of life on the red planet.
Other programs call for collecting soil from an asteroid and bring back additional lunar samples. China has also expressed an aspiration to land people on the moon and possibly build a scientific base there, although no timeline has been proposed for such projects. A highly secretive space plane is also reportedly under development.


Ukraine’s new daily coronavirus cases, deaths hit record

Updated 26 sec ago

Ukraine’s new daily coronavirus cases, deaths hit record

  • There were also 546 new deaths, surpassing the Oct. 19 record of 538
  • Ministry data showed 22,415 new cases over the past 24 hours
KYIV: Ukraine registered a record daily high of new coronavirus infections and related deaths, the health ministry said on Thursday.
Ministry data showed 22,415 new cases over the past 24 hours, exceeding the previous high of 20,341 on April 3.
There were also 546 new deaths, surpassing the Oct. 19 record of 538.

India administers its billionth COVID-19 jab

Updated 43 min 51 sec ago

India administers its billionth COVID-19 jab

  • Around three-quarters of adults in the country of 1.3 billion people has had one shot

NEW DELHI: India administered its billionth Covid-19 vaccine dose on Thursday, according to the health ministry, half a year after a devastating surge in cases brought the health system close to collapse.
According to the government, around three-quarters of adults in the country of 1.3 billion people has had one shot and around 30 percent are fully vaccinated.


Democracy languishes 30 years after Cambodia peace deal

Updated 21 October 2021

Democracy languishes 30 years after Cambodia peace deal

  • Hun Sen has amassed vast fortunes for his family, while almost 30 percent of Cambodians live barely above the poverty line, says Australian FM Gareth Evans, one of the architects of the peace deal

PHNOM PENH: Three decades after a landmark agreement ended years of bloody violence in Cambodia, its strongman ruler has crushed all opposition and is eyeing dynastic succession, shattering hopes for a democratic future.
The Paris Peace Agreements, signed on October 23, 1991, brought an end to nearly two decades of savage slaughter that began with the Khmer Rouge’s ascent to power in 1975.
The genocidal regime wiped out up to two million Cambodians through murder, starvation and overwork, before a Vietnamese invasion toppled the communist Khmer Rouge but triggered a civil war.
The Paris accords paved the way for Cambodia’s first democratic election in 1993 and effectively brought the Cold War in Asia to an end.
Aid from the West flowed and Cambodia became the poster child for post-conflict transition to democracy.
But the gains were short-lived and Premier Hun Sen, now in his fourth decade in power, has led a sustained crackdown on dissent.
“We did a great job on bringing peace, but blew it on democracy and human rights,” said former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans, one of the architects of the peace deal.

Evans said it was a mistake to agree to Hun Sen’s demands for a power-sharing arrangement after the 1993 election.
“Hun Sen has amassed vast fortunes for his family... while almost 30 percent of Cambodians live barely above the poverty line,” he said.
Rights groups say the veteran strongman maintains his iron grip on the country through a mix of violence, politically motivated prosecutions and corruption.
Exiled opposition figurehead Sam Rainsy said the international community lacked the will in 1993 to stand up to Hun Sen, who had been installed as ruler by the Vietnamese in 1985.
“The West had a tendency to wait and see and look for imagined gradual improvements in governance. That clearly did not work,” he told AFP.
“Cambodian politicians also have to accept some blame. Too many found it easier to accept a quiet but lucrative life in government than to say what they really thought.”
Human Rights Watch said that under Hun Sen, “even the patina of democracy and basic rights” has collapsed in recent years.
In 2017, the Supreme Court dissolved the main opposition, the Cambodia National Rescue Party.
And since the 2018 election — in which Hun Sen’s party won every seat in parliament — the authorities have arrested scores of former opposition members and rights campaigners.
Around 150 opposition figures and activists are facing a mass trial for treason and incitement charges, while the main opposition leader Kem Sokha is facing a separate treason trial.
Covid-19 has seen more curbs, with over 700 people arrested according to the UN rights body, which has warned that most may not have had a fair trial.
The spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party insisted it was the “will of the people” to have one party in parliament.
“We have peace, we have political stability, it reflects that we correctly implement the principles of democracy, and there is no abuse of human rights either,” Sok Eysan told AFP.

There has been some international censure — the European Union withdrew preferential trade rates last year over rights abuses — but the pressure shows little sign of translating into change.
“The reality is Cambodia has become a wholly-owned subsidiary of China, like Laos next door, and that means Hun Sen has been able to comfortably thumb his nose at any potential economic or political pressure from elsewhere,” Evans said.
Speculation has simmered that the 69-year-old Hun Sen is grooming his eldest son Hun Manet — a four-star general educated in Britain and the United States — to take over the leadership one day.
But in March, the veteran ruler said he would no longer set a date for his retirement, and activists have little hope that a change in leadership will bring a new direction.
“In Cambodia, we don’t have real democracy,” Batt Raksmey told AFP.
Her campaigner husband was jailed in May for allegedly inciting unrest after he raised environmental concerns about a lake on the edge of Phnom Penh.
“People have no freedom to speak their opinion,” she said. “When they speak out and criticize the government, they are arrested.”


China says moon rocks offer new clues to volcanic activity

Updated 21 October 2021

China says moon rocks offer new clues to volcanic activity

  • China in December brought back the first rocks from the moon since missions by the US and former Soviet Union in the 1970s

BEIJING: Moon rocks brought back to Earth by a Chinese robotic spacecraft last year have provided new insights into ancient lunar volcanic activity, a researcher said Tuesday.
Li Xianhua said an analysis of the samples revealed new information about the moon’s chemical composition and the way heat affected its development.
Li said the samples indicate volcanic activity was still occurring on the moon as recently as 2 billion years ago, compared to previous estimates that such activity halted between 2.8 billion and 3 billion years ago.
“Volcanic activities are a very important thing on the moon. They show the vitality inside the moon, and represent the recycling of energy and matter inside the moon,” Li told reporters.
China in December brought back the first rocks from the moon since missions by the US and former Soviet Union in the 1970s.
On Saturday, China launched a new three-person crew to its space station, a new milestone in a space program that has advanced rapidly in recent years.
China became only the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to put a person in space on its own in 2003 and now ranks among the leading space powers.
Alongside its crewed program, it has expanded its work on robotic exploration, retrieving the lunar samples and landing a rover on the little-explored far side of the moon. It has also placed the Tianwen-1 space probe on Mars, whose accompanying Zhurong rover has been exploring for evidence of life on the red planet.
China also plans to collect soil from an asteroid and bring back additional lunar samples. The country also hopes to land people on the moon and possibly build a scientific base there. A highly secretive space plane is also reportedly under development.
The military-run Chinese space program has also drawn controversy. China’s Foreign Ministry on Monday brushed-off a report that China had tested a hypersonic missile two months ago. A ministry spokesperson said it had merely tested whether a new spacecraft could be reused.


Melbourne readies to exit world’s longest COVID-19 lockdown

Updated 21 October 2021

Melbourne readies to exit world’s longest COVID-19 lockdown

  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday confirmed the state had reached that target, with more restrictions set to ease as inoculations hit 80% and 90%

SYDNEY: Millions in Melbourne are readying to come out of the world's longest COVID-19 lockdown later on Thursday even as cases hover near record levels, with pubs, restaurants and cafes rushing to restock supplies before opening their doors.
Since early August, residents in Australia's second-largest city have been in lockdown — their sixth during the pandemic — to quell an outbreak fuelled by the highly infectious Delta strain.
Officials had promised to lift lockdowns once double-dose vaccinations for people aged above 16 exceeded 70% in Victoria state, of which Melbourne is the capital.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday confirmed the state had reached that target, with more restrictions set to ease as inoculations hit 80% and 90%.
"The longest road has been journeyed in Victoria and that long road really starts to open up tonight," Morrison told Seven News on Thursday.
From 11:59 p.m. (1359 GMT) Thursday, pubs and cafes can have 20 fully vaccinated patrons indoors and 50 outdoors, while hairdressers can allow entry for five customers. Masks will still be mandatory both indoors and outdoors.
By then, the city of five million would have spent a cumulative 262 days, or nearly nine months, under stay-home orders since March 2020 — the world's longest, exceeding a 234-day lockdown in Buenos Aires, according to Australian media.
Pubs have begun to take more beer ahead of the reopening with Carlton & United Breweries, owned by Japan's Asahi Group Holdings, saying it had moved an extra 50,000 kegs to venues across the city on Thursday.
As businesses prepare to welcome customers, daily infections rose to 2,232 in Victoria on Thursday, the second highest daily count in any Australian jurisdiction during the pandemic.

VACCINATION SURGE
After largely stamping out infections in 2020, Australia has ditched its COVID-zero approach and is aiming to live with virus amid higher vaccinations after being rocked by a third wave of infections in the country's southeast since mid-June.
Despite the Delta wave, Australia has recorded only about 152,000 cases and 1,590 deaths, far lower than many comparable countries.
Cases in New South Wales, home to Sydney, rose for the third straight day on Thursday to 372 from 283 a day earlier.
Virus-free Queensland state is on alert after reporting its first new local case in two weeks — an unvaccinated Uber driver who spent 10 days in the community while potentially infectious.
Sydney and Canberra, the national capital, exited lockdowns last week after speeding through their vaccination targets. Other states are COVID-free or have very few cases.
With restrictions beginning to ease, Qantas Airways said it would ramp up daily flights between Sydney and Melbourne, one of the world's busiest domestic routes before the pandemic, to about 15 from the first week of November from just one now.