Russian crew return to Earth after filming first movie in space

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Cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy, Russian actress Yulia Peresild and film director Klim Shipenko rest in chairs after landing in a remote area outside Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Oct. 17, 2021. (Roscosmos via Reuters)
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Cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, center, actress Yulia Peresild, left, and film director Klim Shipenko walking to board the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft prior to its launch on Oct. 5, 2021. (Russian Space Agency Roscosmos via AFP)
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Updated 17 October 2021

Russian crew return to Earth after filming first movie in space

  • The filmmakers blasted off from the Russia-leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in ex-Soviet Kazakhstan earlier this month

MOSCOW: A Russian actress and a film director returned to Earth Sunday after spending 12 days on the International Space Station (ISS) shooting scenes for the first movie in orbit.
Yulia Peresild and Klim Shipenko landed as scheduled on Kazakhstan’s steppe at 0436 GMT, according to footage broadcast live by the Russian space agency.
They were ferried back to terra firma by cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky, who had been on the space station for the past six months.
“The descent vehicle of the crewed spacecraft Soyuz MS-18 is standing upright and is secure. The crew are feeling good!” Russian space agency Roscosmos tweeted.
The filmmakers had blasted off from the Russia-leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in ex-Soviet Kazakhstan earlier this month, traveling to the ISS with veteran cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov to film scenes for “The Challenge.”
If the project stays on track, the Russian crew will beat a Hollywood project announced last year by “Mission Impossible” star Tom Cruise together with NASA and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
The movie’s plot, which has been mostly kept under wraps along with its budget, centers around a surgeon who is dispatched to the ISS to save a cosmonaut.
Shkaplerov, 49, along with the two Russian cosmonauts who were already aboard the ISS are said to have cameo roles in the film.
The mission was not without small hitches.
As the film crew docked at the ISS earlier this month, Shkaplerov had to switch to manual control.
And when Russian flight controllers on Friday conducted a test on the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft the ship’s thruster fired unexpectedly and destabilized the ISS for 30 minutes, a NASA spokesman told the Russian news agency TASS.
But the spokesman confirmed their departure would go ahead as scheduled.
Their landing, which was documented by a film crew, will also feature in the movie, Konstantin Ernst, the head of the Kremlin-friendly Channel One TV network and a co-producer of “The Challenge,” said.
The mission will add to a long list of firsts for Russia’s space industry.
The Soviets launched the first satellite Sputnik, and sent into orbit the first animal, a dog named Laika, the first man, Yuri Gagarin and the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova.
But compared with the Soviet era, modern Russia has struggled to innovate and its space industry is fighting to secure state funding with the Kremlin prioritising military spending.
Its space agency is still reliant on Soviet-designed technology and has faced a number of setbacks, including corruption scandals and botched launches.
Russia is also falling behind in the global space race, facing tough competition from the United States and China, with Beijing showing growing ambitions in the industry.
Russia’s Roscosmos was also dealt a blow after SpaceX last year successfully delivered astronauts to the ISS, ending Moscow’s monopoly for journeys to the orbital station.
In a bid to spruce up its image and diversify its revenue, Russia’s space program revealed this year that it will be reviving its tourism plan to ferry fee-paying adventurers to the ISS.
After a decade-long pause, Russia will send two Japanese tourists — including billionaire Yusaku Maezawa — to the ISS in December, capping a year that has been a milestone for amateur space travel.


FIFA boss Infantino living in Doha before World Cup

Updated 20 January 2022

FIFA boss Infantino living in Doha before World Cup

  • Swiss newspaper Blick revealed that Infantino was living in Doha, where he rents a house
  • Two of his four daughters attend school in the build-up to the World Cup

PARIS: FIFA president Gianni Infantino has moved to Doha on a temporary basis to oversee the build-up to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar later this year, world football governing body confirmed on Thursday.
“As communicated in October 2021, the FIFA President informed the FIFA Council that he would divide his presence between Zurich, Doha and across the world, in order to deliver his presidential duties and be closer to the FIFA World Cup,” FIFA said in a statement.
“As he did during the FIFA Arab Cup, he will work alongside other FIFA staff in our office in Doha, when required, until the conclusion of the tournament. For the avoidance of doubt, Mr.Infantino has residency, and remains liable to pay taxes, in Switzerland.”
Swiss newspaper Blick revealed that Infantino was living in Doha, where he rents a house and two of his four daughters attend school in the build-up to the World Cup which takes place in Qatar from November 21 to December 18.
Meanwhile, Infantino’s predecessor Sepp Blatter said it was “incomprehensible” that the 51-year-old should be based elsewhere than FIFA’s headquarters which have been in Zurich since 1932.
“The place of the president of Fifa is where the headquarters are and it’s in Zurich,” Blatter told French radio on Thursday.
“I cannot say that it is outrageous. But I can say that it is incomprehensible that he has gone to live there with his family. It leaves a bitter taste,” said Blatter.
“It’s an abandonment of responsibility, because he must stay where Fifa has its headquarters, especially at a time when we have internal problems.”
Blatter, 85, was FIFA president between 1998 and 2015 when he was forced to stand down and banned from football for eight years, reduced later to six, over ethics breaches.


Finland’s PM says young female government has been target of hate speech

Updated 20 January 2022

Finland’s PM says young female government has been target of hate speech

  • Marin said she doesn't allow the hate speech to affect her decisions but she is concerned about social media becoming more hurtful
  • "I am who I am, a 36-year-old mother and a young person who has friends and a social life," she said

HELSINKI: Prime Minister Sanna Marin of Finland says she and her fellow young female ministers have been targeted with extensive hate speech for their gender and appearance while in office.
“We can see that when you are young and female the hate speech that we are facing is often sexualized,” Marin told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday, a little more than two years into her term as Finland’s state leader.
Marin, 36, became the world’s youngest serving government leader in December 2019 when she was sworn in as prime minister, and originally all five party leaders in her center-left coalition government were female.
Marin, who has more than 540,000 followers on Instagram around the world, said she doesn’t allow the hate speech to affect her decisions but she is concerned about social media becoming more hurtful.
“I worry about so many others and this is why we want to make sure that we are not tolerating this kind of behavior.”
Marin made national and international headlines in December when she decided not to cut her night out short after finding out she had been exposed to COVID-19 the day before. Four days later Marin apologized saying she should have acted differently.
Finland’s young prime minister clubbing during a pandemic became the topic of memes around the world, some of which were humorous and others insulting.
Some opponents have attacked her for appearing on the covers of some of the world’s largest fashion magazines and for being often spotted out with popsingers and social media influencers in Helsinki.
“I am who I am, a 36-year-old mother and a young person who has friends and a social life,” she said.
Marin, who enjoys cleaning her own premises and going for 20-km (12-mile) runs outdoors, said she wants to bring a human side to high-level political leadership and show other young adults that young people can lead too.
In December, the minister in charge of Finland’s COVID response, Krista Kiuru, announced she is expecting a baby due in March, making her the fifth minister in Marin’s government to have a child and take parental leave while in office.
“Globally the image of a leader is still very masculine..., and there are few decision-makers from a younger generation,” Marin said, stressing she wanted to change that.
A report by the NATO Strategic Communications Center last February found that female Finnish politicians are subject to gendered abuse on Twitter, much of which came from clusters of right-wing accounts and did not seem highly coordinated.


Colombian author García Márquez had secret Mexican daughter

Updated 18 January 2022

Colombian author García Márquez had secret Mexican daughter

  • Márquez died in Mexico City in 2014, where thousands of his readers lined up to see his casket in a concert hall

BOGOTA, Colombia: For decades renowned Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez kept the public from knowing about an intimate aspect of his life: He had a daughter with a Mexican writer, with whom he had an extramarital affair in the early 1990s.
The closely guarded secret was published by Colombian newspaper El Universal on Sunday and confirmed to the Associated Press by two relatives of the Nobel Prize-winning author, who is famous for novels like One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera.
Márquez died in Mexico City in 2014, where thousands of his readers lined up to see his casket in a concert hall. He was married for more than five decades to Mercedes Barcha and the couple had two children named Rodrigo and Gonzalo. They lived in Mexico City for much of their lives.
El Universal said that in the early 1990s Márquez had a daughter with Susana Cato, a writer and journalist who worked with Márquez on two movie scripts and who also interviewed him for a 1996 magazine story. Cato and Marquez named their daughter Indira: She is now in her early 30s and uses her mother’s surname.
Shani García Márquez, one of the writer’s nieces, told the AP that she had known for years about her cousin Indira, but had not mentioned her to the media because her parents always asked her to be discrete about her uncle’s personal life.
Gabriel Eligio Torres García, who is also a nephew of the Colombian writer, said he has been in touch with Indira Cato through social media, though he has never met her in person.
“My cousins Rodrigo and Gonzalo told me about her casually during a reunion,” he said.
Other members of García Márquez’s family, cited by El Universal, said they had not spoken about the writer’s daughter previously out of “respect” for Mercedes Barcha who died in August 2020. Torres García said that Indira Cato’s mother, Susana, had also been discrete about her daughter’s lineage, to keep her away from the media spotlight.
Indira Cato is now a documentary producer in Mexico City. She won several awards for a 2014 documentary on migrants passing through Mexico.
García Márquez’ family said they didn’t want to share her contact information because they were not authorized to do so, and the AP could not contact Indira Cato independently.
“She leads a very artistic lifestyle, like many people in this family,” said Shani García. “It makes us very happy that she has shined on her own.”

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Dog rescued from collapsed house 6 days after landslide

Updated 15 January 2022

Dog rescued from collapsed house 6 days after landslide

  • A person emerged from the house Thursday carrying her alert black Labrador named Sammy
  • The Seattle Fire Department said firefighters had responded to reports of a dog possibly trapped inside the wreckage of the house

SEATTLE: A dog that was trapped for six days inside a house that collapsed last week in a landslide has been rescued, officials said.
“My baby. My baby,” home owner Didi Fritts said when a person emerged from the house Thursday carrying her alert black Labrador named Sammy, KING-TV reported.
The Seattle Fire Department said on Twitter Thursday that firefighters had responded to reports of a dog possibly trapped inside the wreckage of the house.
Veterinarians at the scene examined the dog, who seemed alert and wagged her tail after seeing Fritts, video from the TV station showed. The fire department described Sammy’s condition as stable.
The landslide on Jan. 7 caused the house to slide off its foundation, leaving James Fritts trapped inside, while his wife Didi crawled to safety.
Their other dog Lilly died in the collapse, The Seattle Times reported. Family members said they had returned daily to their house, hoping to hear the missing dog.
Rescue workers heard the dog when they arrived, David Cuerpo, a spokesperson for the Seattle Fire Department, told the newspaper.
They used chainsaws to cut through the home’s walls and flooring to get to the dog, working cautiously amid worries that the unstable home could suffer another collapse.
Rescue workers proceeded cautiously on Thursday, worried the house might suffer another collapse.


Afghan tradition allows girls to access the freedom of boys

Updated 14 January 2022

Afghan tradition allows girls to access the freedom of boys

  • Under the practice, a girl dresses, behaves and is treated as a boy, with all the freedoms and obligations that entails
  • Once a bacha posh reaches puberty, she is expected to revert to traditional girls’ gender roles

KABUL, Afghanistan: In a Kabul neighborhood, a gaggle of boys kick a yellow ball around a dusty playground, their boisterous cries echoing off the surrounding apartment buildings.
Dressed in sweaters and jeans or the traditional Afghan male clothing of baggy pants and long shirt, none stand out as they jostle to score a goal. But unbeknown to them, one is different from the others.
At not quite 8 years old, Sanam is a bacha posh: a girl living as a boy. One day a few months ago, the girl with rosy cheeks and an impish smile had her dark hair cut short, donned boys’ clothes and took on a boy’s name, Omid. The move opened up a boy’s world: playing soccer and cricket with boys, wrestling with the neighborhood butcher’s son, working to help the family make ends meet.
In Afghanistan’s heavily patriarchal, male-dominated society, where women and girls are usually relegated to the home, bacha posh, Dari for “dressed as a boy,” is the one tradition allowing girls access to the freer male world.
Under the practice, a girl dresses, behaves and is treated as a boy, with all the freedoms and obligations that entails. The child can play sports, attend a madrassa, or religious school, and, sometimes crucially for the family, work. But there is a time limit: Once a bacha posh reaches puberty, she is expected to revert to traditional girls’ gender roles. The transition is not always easy.
It is unclear how the practice is viewed by Afghanistan’s new rulers, the Taliban, who seized power in mid-August and have made no public statements on the issue.
Their rule so far has been less draconian than the last time they were in power in the 1990s, but women’s freedoms have still been severely curtailed. Thousands of women have been barred from working, and girls beyond primary school age have not been able to return to public schools in most places.
With a crackdown on women’s rights, the bacha posh tradition could become even more attractive for some families. And as the practice is temporary, with the children eventually reverting to female roles, the Taliban might not deal with the issue at all, said Thomas Barfield, a professor of anthropology at Boston University who has written several books on Afghanistan.
“Because it’s inside the family and because it’s not a permanent status, the Taliban may stay out (of it),” Barfield said.
It is unclear where the practice originated or how old it is, and it is impossible to know how widespread it might be. A somewhat similar tradition exists in Albania, another deeply patriarchal society, although it is limited to adults. Under Albania’s “sworn virgin” tradition, a woman would take an oath of celibacy and declare herself a man, after which she could inherit property, work and sit on a village council — all of which would have been out of bounds for a woman.
In Afghanistan, the bacha posh tradition is “one of the most under-investigated” topics in terms of gender issues, said Barfield, who spent about two years in the 1970s living with an Afghan nomad family that included a bacha posh. “Precisely because the girls revert back to the female role, they marry, it kind of disappears.”
Girls chosen as bacha posh usually are the more boisterous, self-assured daughters. “The role fits so well that sometimes even outside the family, people are not aware that it exists,” he said.
“It’s almost so invisible that it’s one of the few gender issues that doesn’t show up as a political or social question,” Barfield noted.
The reasons parents might want a bacha posh vary. With sons traditionally valued more than daughters, the practice usually occurs in families without a boy. Some consider it a status symbol, and some believe it will bring good luck for the next child to be born a boy.
But for others, like Sanam’s family, the choice was one of necessity. Last year, with Afghanistan’s economy collapsing, construction work dried up. Sanam’s father, already suffering from a back injury, lost his job as a plumber. He turned to selling coronavirus masks on the streets, making the equivalent of $1-$2 per day. But he needed a helper.
The family has four daughters and one son, but their 11-year-old boy doesn’t have full use of his hands following an injury. So the parents said they decided to make Sanam a bacha posh.
“We had to do this because of poverty,” said Sanam’s mother, Fahima. “We don’t have a son to work for us, and her father doesn’t have anyone to help him. So I will consider her my son until she becomes a teenager.”
Still, Fahima refers to Sanam as “my daughter.” In their native Dari language, the pronouns are not an issue since one pronoun is used for “he” and “she.”
Sanam says she prefers living as a boy.
“It’s better to be a boy ... I wear (Afghan male clothes), jeans and jackets, and go with my father and work,” she said. She likes playing in the park with her brother’s friends and playing cricket and soccer.
Once she grows up, Sanam said, she wants to be either a doctor, a commander or a soldier, or work with her father. And she’ll go back to being a girl.
“When I grow up, I will let my hair grow and will wear girl’s clothes,” she said.
The transition isn’t always easy.
“When I put on girls’ clothes, I thought I was in prison,” said Najieh, who grew up as a bacha posh, although she would attend school as a girl. One of seven sisters, her boy’s name was Assadollah.
Now 34, married and with four children of her own, she weeps for the freedom of the male world she has lost.
“In Afghanistan, boys are more valuable,” she said. “There is no oppression for them, and no limits. But being a girl is different. She gets forced to get married at a young age.”
Young women can’t leave the house or allow strangers to see their face, Najieh said. And after the Taliban takeover, she lost her job as a schoolteacher because she had been teaching boys.
“Being a man is better than being a woman,” she said, wiping tears from her eye. “It is very hard for me. ... If I were a man, I could be a teacher in a school.”
“I wish I could be a man, not a woman. To stop this suffering.”