(Reuters) - The third time appeared to be the charm for Elon Musk's Starship rocket - until it wasn't. The latest heavy-duty launch vehicle prototype from SpaceX soared flawlessly into the sky in a high-altitude test blast-off on Wednesday from Boca Chica, Texas, then flew itself back to Earth to achieve the first upright landing for a Starship model. But the triumph was short-lived. Listing slightly to one side as an automated fire-suppression system trained a stream of water on flames still burning at the base of the rocket, the spacecraft blew itself to pieces about eight minutes after touc...
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Venus, often called Earth’s “evil twin” planet, formed closer to the Sun and has since evolved quite differently from our own planet. It has a “runaway” greenhouse effect (meaning heat is completely trapped), a thick carbon-dioxide-rich atmosphere, no magnetic field and a surface hot enough to melt lead.
Several uncrewed scientific missions will study how and why that happened in the next decade. But now some scientists want to send a crewed mission there as well for a flyby. Is that a good idea?
With a slightly smaller diameter than Earth, Venus orbits closer to the Sun. This means that any water on the surface would have evaporated shortly after its formation, starting its greenhouse effect. Early and sustained volcanic eruptions created lava plains and increased the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – starting the runaway greenhouse effect, which increased the temperature from just a little higher than Earth’s to its current high value of 475°C.
While the Venus year is shorter than ours (225 days), its rotation is very slow (243 days) and “retrograde” – the other way round to Earth. The slow rotation is related to a lack of magnetic field, resulting in a continuing loss of atmosphere. Venus’ atmosphere “super-rotates” faster than the planet itself. Images from many missions show V-shaped patterns of clouds, composed of sulphuric acid droplets.
Despite the harsh conditions, some scientists have speculated that Venus’ clouds might at some altitudes harbor habitable conditions. Recent measurements apparently showing phosphine – a potential sign of life as it is continuously produced by microbes on Earth – in Venus’ clouds have been strongly debated. Clearly, we need more measurements and exploration to work out where it comes from.
What we know about Venus so far has been gathered from several past probes. In 1970-82, for example, the Soviet Venera 7-14 probes were able to land on Venus’ harsh surface, survive for up to two hours and send back images and data. But there are remaining questions about how Venus evolved so differently from Earth, which are also relevant for understanding which planets orbiting other stars may harbor life.
The next decade promises to be a bonanza for Venus scientists. In 2021, Nasa selected two missions, Veritas and DaVinci+, due for launch in 2028-30. The European Space Agency selected EnVision for launch in the early 2030s. These are complementary, uncrewed missions which will give us deeper understanding of Venus’ environment and evolution.
Craters on Venus seen by Venus Nasa’s Magellan probe.NASA/JPL
Veritas will map Venus’ surface to determine the geological history, rock composition and the importance of early water. DaVinci+ includes an orbiter and a small probe that will descend through the atmosphere and measure its composition, study the planet’s formation and evolution and determine whether it ever had an ocean. EnVision will study the planet’s surface, subsurface and atmospheric trace gases. It will use radar to map the surface with better resolution than ever before.
Do we need crewed flybys?
The idea of a crewed flyby of Venus was suggested in the late 1960s, and involved using an Apollo capsule to fly people around the planet. But this idea ended when Apollo finished. Now, the Artemis project to fly around the Moon, and other ideas of crewed missions, have led to the idea being floated again, most recently in journal papers and at a recent meeting of the International Astronautical Federation, an advocacy organization, in September 2022.
The idea would be to fly a crewed spacecraft around Venus and return to Earth. This would allow scientists to test deep-space techniques such as how to operate a crewed mission with significant time delays when communicating with Earth. It could therefore prepare us for a more complex, crewed mission to Mars. However, the crew wouldn’t do any landing or actual atmosphere investigation at Venus – the conditions are way too harsh.
The researchers who back this idea argue that you could also use Venus’ gravity to alter the spacecraft’s course for Mars, which could save time and energy compared with going directly from Earth to Mars. That’s because the latter option would require the orbits of the two planets to be aligned, meaning you’d have to wait for the right moment both on the way there and back. However, as a crewed mission to Mars would be highly complex, going directly from Earth to Mars would keep designs simpler.
Sending humans to a planet that may harbor living organisms also won’t make it easier to find them. It is risky – we may end up contaminating the atmosphere before we discover any life. The best way to look for biochemical signs of life is with uncrewed probes. There would also be significant thermal challenges and higher radiation from solar flares due to closer proximity to the Sun.
And, unfortunately, with a flyby mission like this, only a few hours of data would be possible on the inbound and outbound trajectories. It would be a highly expensive venture, which would no doubt produce some amazing imagery and useful additional data. However, this would add little to the detailed and much longer bespoke studies currently planned. I, therefore, believe the likelihood of a crewed mission to Venus is very unlikely.
There have also been conceptual, more far-fetched studies – including sending crewed airships to hover in Venus’ atmosphere, rather than just flying by. This is a nice idea, which may achieve more science than a flyby, but it remains a distant and unrealistic concept for now.
For the moment, we only carry out crewed exploration in low-Earth orbit. The Artemis project, however, aims to fly people around the Moon and build a station, called Gateway, in lunar orbit. This is being designed to do science, enable crewed landings on the Moon and crucially to test deep space techniques such as refueling and operating in a remote environment that could in the long run help get us to Mars without doing training at Venus.
During an appearance on MSNBC's "The Katie Phang Show," former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade laughed off a report that one of Donald Trump's high-priced lawyers is trying to rein him in from attacking the Department of Justice in an effort to get them to back off.
Late Friday, the Washington Post reported that Trump's lawyers are battling each other over legal strategy, with some wanting to present a more "aggressive " defense while attorney Christopher Kise, who scored a $3 million retainer to defend Trump against possible Espionage Act and obstruction charges wants to dial things down.
According to the Post, "Kise was brought aboard, he finds himself in a battle, trying to persuade Trump to go along with his legal strategy and fighting with some other advisers who have counseled a more aggressive posture. The dispute has raged for at least a week, Trump advisers say, with the former president listening as various lawyers make their best arguments."
Asked about Kise's efforts by MSNBC host Phang, McQuade smirked before wishing him good luck.
"Some Trump lawyers are saying to turn down the temperature the DOJ," the MSNBC host prompted. "What do you make of this recorded divide in terms of what is supposed to be a single front legal team?"
"I say, Katie, to those lawyers who joined in good faith and think they're going to change Donald Trump: bless you and good luck, here we go again," she replied. "Donald Trump has one mode and it is all offense all the time."
"Anyone who thinks he is going to change, you know, it's like the woman who marries the man and says 'I'm going to change him.' No. People are who they are," she explained. "At this point in life, shame on him for not knowing who Donald Trump is."
Watch below or at the link.
MSNBC 10 01 2022 The Katie Phang Show youtu.be
I don't know what it's like in your neck of the woods, but here in our small town on the edge of the Poconos, fall is finally here. It's nippy in the mornings and doesn't get above 60 on some days, and only rarely brushes against 70. The sun is a little lower in the sky every day; people are wearing their quilted Carhartts and fleece Patagonias, and lined boots can't be far away.
This article first appeared in Salon.
Everyone is still going maskless inside and out. It's been this way all summer. You go into the Turkey Hill quick-stop, or the Key Food, or even to one of the small shops on Main Street, and nobody is wearing a mask. I did see one at an art opening last week for "Andy in Nature," an exhibit of photographs of Andy Warhol by Christopher Makos and ethereal flowers by Paul Solberg. There were probably 200 people packed into the soaring space atop Forest Hall, built in 1904 to house the Yale University Forestry School summer program. (The American conservation movement was born in this town, incidentally.) The mask at the opening wasn't worn by yours truly; I've been as accepting as everyone else of the fiction that the COVID pandemic is over.
It only seems that way. The average weekly case count here in Pennsylvania is about 2,500; that number has hovered between 2,500 and 3,500 daily since early in the summer. On Thursday, the number of new cases nationally was 100,524, with a weekly average of 50,000, down from a high of about 126,000 at midsummer. While the case count has gone down since spring, the national death count has stayed more or less steady, at about 400 a day.
You have to Google to find those numbers, because deaths from COVID have gone the same way news about Hurricane Ian will go when all the hoopla is over and shots of splintered homes and flipped-over cars and pleasure boats perched on people's front porches have left our TV screens.
COVID numbers are as hard to find as people wearing masks in the supermarket, even though health care experts say the current statistics are likely a "massive underestimate," according to U.S. News, "as many relied on at-home tests that aren't reported to health departments."
Even if the death count stays around 400 a day — and it's likely to get much higher, given a likely new surge — more than 145,000 Americans will die from COVID this year.
The White House and the Centers for Disease Control are on the case, however. They predicted in the spring that as many as 100 million American citizens could become infected with COVID over the fall and winter. That is nearly one-third of our population, folks, a whole lot of people by anyone's count. David Dowdy, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, was interviewed for that U.S. News report and said the 100 million new infections predicted by the CDC are possible because hundreds of thousands of cases are never reported to local health departments, meaning the CDC never gets the full picture.
"I don't think it's unreasonable to think that we've had about 100 million infections the past three months, so why couldn't that happen again in winter?" Dowdy said. If the death count stays at 400 a day — and it's likely to get much higher given the predictions of a new surge in infections — more than 145,000 of our fellow citizens will die from COVID this year. That's well below the 2021 total of 415,000, but it's still a lot higher than the number of deaths from influenza every year.
So is COVID turning into just another form of the flu? You get a booster shot every fall and go about your life as usual? Not really, especially when you consider the effects of what has become known, for want of a better term, as "long COVID." The stats on this mysterious chronic form of the disease are eye-popping. According to information gathered by the Census Bureau gleaned by adding new questions about COVID to its Household Pulse Survey, about 16 million Americans suffer from long COVID today, with as many as 4 million out of the workforce due to the long-term disease.
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A study by the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank backed up the findings of the Census Bureau. It found that 21 percent of people who have contracted COVID still suffer from symptoms three months later, which the Minneapolis Fed defined as long COVID. About 70 percent of Americans have come down with the disease. Taking 21 percent of that figure yields a total of 34 million people of working-age who have or have had long COVID. The Fed survey found that 50 percent of people with long COVID eventually beat the disease, yielding a figure of 17 million, unnervingly close to the Census Bureau estimate of 16 million.
What does all this mean? Well, the Census Bureau survey estimated that lost wages from long COVID could be as high as $230 million. If you look at that very dry statistic more closely, you find that hundreds of thousands of mothers and fathers are out of work, suffering from what the New York Times recently described as "a constellation of debilitating fatigue, shortness of breath, neurologic symptoms and more that can occur even after mild infection … [and] racing hearts and brain fog so devastating that they were unable to work." Those mothers and fathers are probably passing the disease along to their kids, and at the least aren't there for them in the same way they were when they were healthy. The effects of the disease creep through the population in all kinds of ways and end up affecting us all, young and old.
Many long COVID patients seeking help at a recovery clinic in Boston, according to the Times, "were white and just over 70 percent were female." But the disproportionate number of white female patients in the Boston clinic may be an anomaly caused by the economic status of those who got it together to present themselves for follow-up care. A study done in Los Angeles found that many of the patients who were infected with COVID and hospitalized "in the first pandemic wave, were disproportionately Black and Hispanic men…[and] Black and Hispanic patients had lingering symptoms such as fatigue and shortness of breath at similar rates as their white peers."
Although long COVID doesn't appear to discriminate, the Times reported that "at every turn, Covid-19 has revealed the fault lines in our health care system and society. It should come as little surprise that the care delivered in the wake of this virus threatens to further entrench pre-existing disparities." That means people who can't afford medical care, or those who can't access it because they live in rural communities distant from clinics and hospitals, are not receiving adequate care to treat the symptoms of long COVID. They fall between the cracks in the health care system and end up as one of the 4 million people out of work due to the long-term effects of the disease.
Data suggests that the U.K. is heading into "the beginning of the next wave," and the CDC expects a steep increase in the U.S. during the fall and winter.
It gets worse: CNN reported this week that British data confirms the CDC estimates of a steep increase in COVID over the fall and winter. The study found that the U.K. could be heading toward a fall wave of new infections, "and experts say the United States may not be far behind." The Zoe Health Study, by following COVID since the earliest days of the pandemic in 2020, "has accurately captured the start of each wave, and its numbers run about one to two weeks ahead of official government statistics," according to CNN. About 500,000 people in Britain use an app on their phones to report their daily symptoms and the results of home COVID tests. "After seeing a downward trend for the past few weeks, the Zoe study saw a 30% increase in reported Covid-19 cases within the past week," CNN reported. "Our current data is definitely showing this is the beginning of the next wave," Dr. Tim Spector told the network. He is a professor of genetic epidemiology at Kings College London.
On the home front, "We are seeing the increase in many respiratory viruses right now in the U.S., so it's not a stretch to think that a new COVID wave (or ripple) will be coming soon," Nathan Grubaugh, who studies the epidemiology of microbial diseases at the Yale School of Public Health, said in an email to CNN.
We got our boosters earlier in the week, and researching this piece has made me think again about following the crowd and going about life as usual when it comes to COVID. Starting this weekend, when we grab our jackets and scarves to walk up the street to our local deli or stop by Lowe's to pick up some mums and potting soil, I think we'll be grabbing our KN-95 face masks too.
Who wants to be a silent statistic, either in the hospital or the grave?