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Renewables overtake hydrocarbons in UK electricity generation: study

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 13:48

Renewable sources generated more of Britain's electricity than fossil fuels for the first time last quarter, according to analysis by specialist website "Carbon Brief" published Monday. "In the third quarter of 2019, the UK's windfarms, solar panels, biomass and hydro plants generated more electricity than the combined output from power stations fired by coal, oil and gas," said the website. "During the three months of July, August and September, renewables generated an estimated total of 29.5 terawatt hours (TWh), compared with just 29.1TWh from fossil fuels," it added.

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Air pollution linked to 'missed' miscarriages in China: study

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 11:56

Exposure to airborne pollutants increases the risk of "missed" miscarriages in which a fetus dies without a pregnant woman experiencing any noticeable symptoms, researchers said Monday. Previous studies have shown a correlation between air pollution and pregnancy complications, but the new research -- published in Nature Sustainability journal by a team of researchers from Chinese universities -- sheds light on a little-studied impact of pollution. The study found that exposure to higher concentrations of airborne particulate matter, as well as sulfur dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide, was associated with a higher risk of missed miscarriage in the first trimester of pregnancy.

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Study proposes greater emphasis on dangers of alcohol in overdose prevention campaigns

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 11:09

A new American study suggests that ingesting large quantities of alcohol often leads to the intake of other psychotropic substances such as cannabis and opioids, also pointing out that mixing alcohol with drugs amplifies the risks of severe accidents and death. Since the start of the opioid crisis sweeping across the United States, a large part of national harm-reduction campaigns have been focusing on medication and other illicit drugs that are part of the opiates category (fentanyl, morphine, heroin, etc). According to University of Michigan Addiction Center researchers, there is one drug -- one that is perfectly legal and extremely popular -- that should occupy more space at the heart of prevention policy.

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Allen Institute kicks brain wave recording into overdrive with Neuropixels probe

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 11:00

Seattle's Allen Institute for Brain Science is sharing 70 trillion bytes' worth of data documenting electrical activity in mouse brains, collected by a new type of silicon probe that can monitor hundreds of neurons simultaneously. The Neuropixels system, developed by an international collaboration that includes the Allen Institute, could be adapted to record brain activity in human patients as well, said Josh Siegle, a senior scientist at the institute who works with the probes. "The application I'm most interested in is decoding the communication patterns of the brain, and really understanding how information is transmitted between regions," Siegle told GeekWire.… Read More

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Climate change group recommends banning all frequent flyer reward programs to cut carbon emissions by targeting jet-setters

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 07:20

The Committee on Climate Change says that just 15% of the entire British population take 70% of all flights from the country.

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Study: China's Military Domination over Asia is Not Guaranteed

Sun, 10/13/2019 - 11:00

A study published several years ago by Michael Beckley, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Tufts University, was published in the academic journal International Security. In the article, Beckley argues that China’s neighbors could thwart Chinese military aggression through anti-access/area denial strategies with only minimal U.S. assistance.

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Who Would Firebomb a Homeless Encampment?

Sat, 10/12/2019 - 10:22

LOS ANGELES -- The incendiary device came shooting toward the homeless encampment without words or warning. Arthur Garza, 29, heard a pop against his tent, then saw the object, which he described as a "mortar" or "firecracker," bounce into the street and explode."It was like shooting stars everywhere," Garza said.In a matter of minutes, flames were climbing the incline of dirt and brush under the interchange of the 2 and 134 freeways in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles. Stray embers jumped eight lanes of highway to ignite land in the adjoining city of Glendale.Garza and others in the encampment acted quickly, setting their water supply on the flames and raking brush to halt the fire's spread. They were aware and worried, Garza said, that the homeless might be blamed. Ultimately, some 300 firefighters and multiple water-dropping helicopters were deployed to hold back the blaze. A hundred homes were evacuated, though no structures were lost. Forty-five acres burned.Encampments like Garza's have become firm fixtures of LA's landscape as the homelessness crisis gets steadily worse. Now, with fire season underway, city officials are growing anxious about the uptick in blazes that start in makeshift communities. The city is technically barred from removing homeless people from public areas. But last month, the LA City Council passed a safety measure that allows for the arrest of homeless people who refuse to leave high-risk fire zones.The case of Eagle Rock, however, shows that the threat can also come from outside the camps.A Shocking ArrestSix days after the attack on Aug. 25, Daniel Michael Nogueira and Bryan Antonio Araujo-Cabrera, both 25 and of Los Angeles, were arrested on suspicion of sparking the fire. Nogueira was booked on a felony count, while Araujo-Cabrera was booked on a misdemeanor.It was a shock to the middle-class community of Eagle Rock. Nogueira is the son of Michael Nogueira, the president of the Eagle Rock Chamber of Commerce and a big booster of the local farmers' market and Concerts in the Park series. The elder Nogueira is known around town as "Sir Michael," the name of his party-rental business, and his family home, surrounded by a white-picket fence, has been well known for its elaborate decorations each Halloween and for hosting rollicking gatherings on boxing match nights.Announcing the arrests in a sternly worded release, the Los Angeles Fire Department said investigators used "burn patterns, witness statements and surveillance videos" to identify its suspects. The department "determined the fire was an intentional act" and said the homeless were the targets. No motive was mentioned.The job of the LAFD's arson investigators is even more challenging in a climate-changing California: the threat of devastating fires has essentially gone year-round. The unit was founded as the Arson Squad in 1918, and a century later, is known as the Arson/Counter-Terrorism Section, an evolution that officials said has become necessary to confronting threats in a world beset with climate change and terrorism. In the fall and early winter, the danger becomes more potent. The dry Santa Ana winds scream across the basins, and the sun seems to burn meaner, capable of igniting dried-out growth at the slightest provocation.In this case, firefighters stayed at the burn zone for two days to make sure it was completely extinguished. "We remember the Oakland Hills fire, which killed 25 people," said Brian Humphrey, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department, referring to the 1991 Bay Area firestorm that started after embers from a fire put down a day before reignited in heavy winds.The day after his arrest, the younger Nogueira posted $1 million bail. Araujo-Cabrera was released on Sept. 14. The Los Angeles District Attorney's Office has not formally charged either with any crimes. A spokesman for that office said the DA is requesting further evidence. The Nogueira family declined to comment.One of the arson investigators, LAFD Capt. Tim Halloran, said he could not discuss details about the incident, citing the ongoing inquiry, but made it clear that the department will keep pursuing charges."Obviously it's our desire to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice," Halloran said.A Citywide CrisisThere have been several notable homeless-related fires over the past few years. In December 2017, a cooking fire at a homeless encampment in a ravine off the 405 sparked the Skirball Fire, burning 422 acres and six Bel Air homes.This summer, homeless-encampment-related fires also sprung up in Pacoima, where an abandoned house taken over by squatters burned for a second time; in South Los Angeles, where an encampment in an alley burned, badly damaging a house; and in the Sepulveda Basin, where about 100 people were living, some for many years.The uptick, generally, is undeniable. Humphrey, of the LAFD, said, "In the number of fires related to homeless encampments, in which the homeless are present -- whether they are the cause is not certain -- the answer is yes, we are seeing an increasing trend."But in three fires in September alone, all of which left unhoused people dead or seriously injured -- in Van Nuys, Glendale, and in South LA -- arson is suspected. In late August, an unhoused musician in downtown LA's Skid Row was targeted in an arson attack and died days later. And the Los Angeles Police Department is currently investigating a case, in Echo Park, in which an explosive device was thrown at a homeless encampment on Oct. 6.The Rev. Andy Bales, one of the most respected homeless advocates in Skid Row, and chief of the Union Rescue Mission, said the rise in attacks on homeless Angelenos is inexcusable, but sees it as a raw reflection of the dissatisfaction with official efforts to alleviate the crisis. Every night, despite billions of taxpayer dollars poured onto the problem, nearly 59,000 people sleep on the streets of Los Angeles County. The countywide homeless count rose 12% over the past year."Unfortunately, some folks that have twisted thinking are getting so angry about the situation," Bales said. "This has become absolutely a growing concern, fanatical vigilantism."Bales said he supervises a Facebook page related to homelessness concerns, "and more and more people are calling for others to arm themselves, saying things like, 'Round them all up like cattle, and ship them either to Mexico or the desert.'""I can't tell you how many posts I have to delete," he said.Makeshift habitations are everywhere -- set up under or near freeways, in ravines or canyons and creek beds, and on public land away from view. Eventually, some encampments are pushed onto the sidewalks, where a cat-and-mouse ritual ensues with sanitation workers.One of the persistent myths about the homeless is that they are largely from out of town, a sort of foreign invasion. Yet, the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count finds that roughly two-thirds of unsheltered adults have lived in LA County 10 years or more.And the difference between those on the street and those in permanent dwellings can be a matter of degrees. For example, as it happens, the younger Nogueira was arrested for attacking an encampment that houses a former neighbor. Arthur Garza's last home address was three houses down from the place where the Nogueiras live now, on Eagle Rock's tony Hill Drive.Back Under the FreewayGarza is back in the place he currently calls home, under beams holding up sheets of vinyl tarp, strung up along tents and umbrellas. The freeway traffic overhead creates an unending droning noise.Living on the streets, homeless people in LA often fall victim to sexual assault, mental illness or drug addiction. Garza has faced multiple arrests since becoming homeless, county jail records show. Some were related to narcotics, he said. "I basically never had any police contact until I started living on the street."He was kicked out of his last formal address by relatives in 2014, he said, in what he described as a dispute over an inheritance. (Repeated attempts to contact Garza's relatives at his old Hill Drive address were unsuccessful.) He has been living on the streets ever since.These days, Garza works part-time for a small upholstery tools manufacturer, just a few doors away from where he sleeps. Jerry Preusser, the shop owner, spoke effusively about his employee's work ethic, and he said that he's tried to offer Garza a room in his home."I've helped him a lot and he's done a lot to change," Preusser said. But habits, he added, are hard to break, and the cycle of homelessness itself becomes an anchor: "You don't imagine your life out of that."Although they once lived on the same block, Garza said he and Nogueira didn't know each other growing up. But he's long been aware of the Nogueira family. When he heard that Daniel Nogueira was arrested, Garza recalled saying, "That's Sir Michael's son."Garza said his conditions overall have not changed. Drivers routinely throw trash at him or honk aggressively. LA sanitation sweepers come by, threatening to haul off his property if he doesn't move it. Garza carts his stuff to other locations, and then back. He zips around Eagle Rock on an electric longboard, and keeps two guinea pigs as pets."I'm not complaining about being homeless," Garza said. "The winters are cold, the summers are hot, constant noise. That's why we were back up there, because it's quieter," he said, pointing to a cluster of trees and bushes set against the side of the freeway.Now a fence blocks his path. "Right here," he said, "everything echoes."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company

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Airline Food Waste Is a Problem. Can Banana Leaves Be Part of the Solution?

Sat, 10/12/2019 - 10:17

From disposable headphones and plastic cutlery to food scraps and toilet waste, the average airline passenger leaves behind over 3 pounds of garbage, according to one estimate. To get travelers and airlines thinking -- and talking -- about that rather large pile of trash, a British design firm has refashioned the economy meal tray, replacing plastic with renewable materials such as coffee grounds, banana leaves and coconut wood.Jo Rowan is the associate strategy director of the firm, PriestmanGoode, which has spent more than two decades applying design thinking to the air travel experience, including airport lounges and cabin seating.Now, she said, the firm is turning its attention to the less "glamorous" side of things."Onboard waste is a big issue," she said. "Knowing that you have 4 billion passengers per year, it all adds up very quickly."The redesigned items are featured in an exhibit, "Get Onboard: Reduce.Reuse.Rethink," that opened last month at the Design Museum in London.By far the biggest environmental issue with air travel -- and the reason 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg opted to sail to New York from Europe in August, rather than fly -- is the associated carbon emissions, which are growing at a faster rate than predicted in previous, already dire projections.But as air travel becomes increasingly accessible, and as more people take to the skies, airlines have been making public pledges to curb their environmental footprints, including the plastic forks and leftovers their passengers leave behind.How much trash are we talking about?Because there is no central authority tracking statistics about the amount of waste produced on flights, accurate and recent figures are hard to come by. But the International Air Transport Association, a trade group representing about 300 airlines, conducted a small study at Heathrow Airport in London and estimated that airlines generated about 6.7 million tons of cabin waste last year.As low-cost airlines proliferate, and as the tourism industry continues to court middle-class customers, that number could double in the next decade."It's a relatively limited sample at this stage," Chris Goater, a spokesman for the trade association, said.Pere Fullana i Palmer, director of the UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change, a research group based in Barcelona, Spain, has taken an even deeper dive into the issue of airline trash."You cannot improve a system if you don't know it," he said.Fullana i Palmer's research group teamed up with Iberia Airlines, Gate Gourmet, Ferrovial and Ecoembes to analyze approximately 8,400 pounds of garbage on 145 flights into Madrid. The group found that 33% was food waste, 28% was cardboard and paper waste, and about 12% was plastic.How can this be fixed?As consumers become increasingly conscious of the outsize environmental impact of air travel, airlines are under growing pressure to take action.Alaska Airlines, Ryanair and British Airways have made public declarations to reduce waste, and Air France said it would eliminate 210 million single-use plastic items like cups and stirring sticks by the end of this year.On one Qantas flight in May, which the company called "the first-ever commercial flight to produce no landfill waste," the airline removed individually packaged servings of milk and Vegemite, and served meals in containers made from sugar cane, with utensils made of crop starch.A month later, on a flight from Chicago to Los Angeles, United Airlines served meals using "fully recyclable or compostable serviceware."But replicating such innovations on a meaningful scale will be tricky. Regular flights are not equipped with the necessary facilities or systems for attendants to manage recycled goods, according to Megan Epler Wood, the author of "Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet" and the director of Harvard's International Sustainable Tourism Initiative. (On a recent trip, Wood said, she saw a flight attendant separating recyclables with her bare hands.)The solution, she said, would require collaboration among airlines, local authorities and airports, which are ultimately responsible for handling and hauling trash.IATA, the airline trade association, said the rules governing international catering waste -- which involve a complex set of international and country-specific regulations meant to prevent the spread of disease -- should be reconsidered to increase recycling rates.While all cabin waste is subject to the regulations of the country in which the plane lands, some European countries, as well as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, have imposed additional measures to protect agriculture. This means that even untouched food and drink, which, according to IATA estimates, makes up about 20% of total airline waste, ends up in landfills or is incinerated.The regulations governing single-use plastic, which will be banned in the European Union by 2021, also present challenges, according to the trade association."We've developed a lot of guidance to airlines to deal with the issue of cabin waste," Michael Gill, IATA's director of aviation environment, said. "But airlines cannot solve the issue on their own.""Its vital regulators understand the full impacts," he continued, "including increased energy and water use, as well as CO₂ emissions that result from heavier materials carried on board."Fullana i Palmer agreed that legislation permitting more materials to be recycled or turned into biogas was needed but said that change was possible."I am optimistic because there is a big push for saving our planet," he said. "The tsunami is so strong that all sectors will have to adapt."The airline meal, reimaginedIn designing the onboard items, PriestmanGoode was conscious of heft because the more weight on an aircraft, the higher the fuel emissions. The tray is made of coffee grounds and husks (also a coffee byproduct). The dishes are made of pressed wheat bran, and a single spork made of coconut palm wood, a waste product that farmers would otherwise burn, replaces plastic cutlery."If you picked it up, you wouldn't know it wasn't plastic," Rowan said. "Part of what we were trying to do was actually look at how we could make this a desirable product, as well as being sustainable."The team also played with lids of dishes, which are typically made of transparent plastic, to signify what's inside: a pressed banana leaf for salads and side dishes, an edible waffle cone for dessert.The goal, Rowan said, is "getting people to think about the way that they travel and also getting airlines and the service providers to think about what they offer."Rowan said airlines and suppliers had shown interest in the products, which, for now, are available only at the museum through February."We're moving this on to the next level of development," she said, to "get some of these things to fly."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company

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New evidence shows how asteroid dust cloud may have sparked new life on Earth 470m years ago

Sat, 10/12/2019 - 07:45

Isotope found in seabed sediment points to clash of solar bodies near Mars, study suggests. Astronomers have discovered intriguing evidence that an asteroid break-up blanketed Earth with dust millions of years ago. The event dramatically cooled the planet and triggered an ice age that was followed by major increases in numbers of new animal species. The work, led by Birger Schmitz of Lund University in Sweden, was recently published in Science Advances and provides new insight into the impact of interplanetary events on our planet’s evolution. “We know about the 10km asteroid that crashed on Earth 67 million years ago and killed off the dinosaurs, but this event was very different,” Schmitz told the Observer. “It occurred about 470 million years ago when an asteroid 3,000 times bigger than the dinosaurs-killer was destroyed during a collision with another asteroid beyond the orbit of Mars. It filled the solar system with dust and caused a major dimming of sunlight falling on Earth.” Reduced radiation caused Earth to cool significantly, setting off a succession of ice ages. Water froze, ice caps spread and sea levels dropped, creating isolated shallow seas that were ideal for generating new species. Cold water also holds more dissolved oxygen, which would also have boosted speciation. Scientists already knew ice ages appeared at this time and that life went through a spectacular increase in biodiversity, particularly in the sea. The first coral reefs began to grow then, and strange tentacled predators called nautiloids appeared. This is known as the great Ordovician biodiversification event, or Gobe. Scientists have argued over the cause of Gobe, but now Schmitz, after studying dust particles in seabed sediments laid down at this time, says it was triggered by clouds of asteroid dust. “The sediments laid down at this time are rich in the isotope helium-3 – which they could only have picked up travelling through space,” he said. “It is a crucial clue.” Other scientists have backed his idea. “It isn’t necessarily the answer to every question we have about Gobe, but it certainly ties together a lot of observations,” Rebecca Freeman, of the University of Kentucky, Lexington, told the journal Science recently. However, Schmitz’s research has also caused interest for another reason. As the world warms dangerously, some scientists have proposed spreading a veil of dust that would sit in space above the Earth and reflect sunlight away from our overheating planet. The idea is controversial because it could have many unpleasant side-effects, say critics. Now evidence shows such an experiment occurred naturally 470 million years ago. The result was a major change in our meteorology and the evolution of life here. “It is certainly worth bearing in my mind in coming years,” added Schmitz.

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NASA confirms Boeing’s latest timetable for Starliner space taxi’s final tests

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 21:44

NASA confirmed today that Boeing is scheduled to conduct the next high-profile test of its CST-100 Starliner space capsule in a little more than three weeks. The target data for Starliner's pad abort test is set for Nov. 4 at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, NASA said. That's in line with the plan that Boeing executive John Mulholland laid out earlier this week at a New Mexico space symposium. If next month's test is successful, Boeing would target Dec. 17 for the launch of an uncrewed Starliner to the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station… Read More

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Stratolaunch air-launch venture says it’s been transferred to new owners by Paul Allen’s Vulcan

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 13:00

Stratolaunch, the company that was founded by the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen in 2011 to build a flying launch pad for rockets, says it's under new ownership. The transition serves as the latest sign that Jody Allen — Paul Allen's sister, who took control of his Vulcan Inc. holding company as the trustee and executor of his estate — is paring back and refocusing his many enterprises. Earlier this week, word spread that Vulcan was trimming a significant number of jobs. Stratolaunch reported the ownership handover today on Twitter and its website, without saying who the new owner is.… Read More

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Being overweight before age 40 could increase your risk of cancer finds new study

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 11:10

New European research has found that being overweight before the age of 40 could increase the risk of various cancers in both men and women. The researchers looked at data collected from the participants' health examinations, which included information on their height and weight, and linked it to data taken from national cancer registries. On average, the participants were followed for about 18 years, during which time 27,881 individuals were diagnosed with cancer, of which 9,761 (35 percent) were obesity-related.

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Greta Thunberg's fans are upset she didn't win the Nobel Prize, but a peace expert says she should have never been a contender

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 09:44

Greta Thunberg was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize after leading strikes that push leaders to address climate change. Here's why she didn't win.

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Women may be under-diagnosed for Alzheimer’s, while men over-diagnosed, new study suggests

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 07:19

Women often perform better on verbal tests. So when they're used to diagnose cognitive declines that precede Alzheimer's, women may be under-diagnosed

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Museum explores spooky science behind 'Frankenstein', 'The Mummy'

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 01:23

What is the spookiest thing about "Frankenstein," "The Mummy" and "Dracula"? Or the fact that these classic horror films were all rooted in real-life scientific experiments and discoveries? The "Natural History of Horror" -- opening Thursday, as Halloween looms -- displays the cloth wrappings used to mummify Boris Karloff in the 1932 classic movie alongside real ancient Egyptian corpse bindings from the museum's archeology collection.

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'Koala AIDS' research reveals genome evolution in action

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 01:18

Wild koalas sickened by a deadly retrovirus are fighting the disease at the genetic level, scientists said Thursday, a rare evolutionary process unfolding before our eyes. It is linked to Koala Immune Deficiency Syndrome (KIDS), which is similar to but less potent than AIDS in humans, and makes the animals susceptible to fatal cancers and secondary infections like chlamydia that renders them infertile. Retroviruses work by inserting their genome into a host genome, but unlike HIV, KoRV-A also enters the animal's germ cells that produce sperm and eggs, meaning it gets passed down through generations.

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Artificial meat is now made in space, coming to a supermarket near you

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 01:02

Creating meat from cells is no longer the realm of science fiction: a Russian cosmonaut did it aboard the International Space Station, and it is just a matter of time before these products arrive in supermarkets. Tests carried out in space in September led to the production of beef, rabbit and fish tissue using a 3D printer. This new technology "could make long-term travel possible and renew space exploration," to Mars for example, said Didier Toubia, the head of the Israeli startup Aleph Farms, which provided cells for the tests.

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NASA launches satellite to explore where air meets space

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 22:58

NASA launched a satellite on Thursday night to explore the mysterious, dynamic region where air meets space. Five seconds after the satellite's release, the attached Pegasus rocket ignited, sending Icon on its way. It's in constant flux as space weather bombards it from above and Earth weather from below, sometimes disrupting radio communications.

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NASA’s chief and SpaceX’s Elon Musk mend fences – and give ‘best guess’ for Crew Dragon’s big flight

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 21:52

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine visited SpaceX's headquarters in California today, for what was seen as an opportunity to smooth over differences and update expectations for SpaceX's first-ever crewed spaceflight. Over the past few years, the first flight of SpaceX's Crew Dragon to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts aboard has been repeatedly rescheduled, leading to moments of frustration for Bridenstine. But after meeting with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and others at the company's facilities in Hawthorne, Calif., the NASA chief suggested the goal was in sight. "If everything goes according to plan, it will be in the first quarter… Read More

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