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China’s Tianwen-1 blasted off around midday Thursday from Hainan Island in the country’s south, while NASA’s Perseverance rover is scheduled to launch on July 30. Both probes are expected to reach Mars in February 2021.

Perseverance aims to answer questions about the potential for life on Mars, including seeking signs of habitable conditions in the planet’s ancient past and looking for evidence of microbial life. The rover has a drill which can be used to collect core samples from rocks and set them aside to potentially be collected and examined by a later mission.

If successful, Perseverance will be the seventh probe NASA has landed on Mars, and the fourth rover. Curiosity, which landed on the red planet in 2012, is still sending back data about the Martian surface.
Tianwen-1, whose name means “Quest for Heavenly Truth,” is China’s first mission to Mars. The probe will orbit the planet before landing a rover on the surface, with the hope that it can gather important information about the Martian soil, geological structure, environment, atmosphere, and search for signs of water.
In a paper last week, the scientific team behind Tianwen-1 said the probe is “going to orbit, land and release a rover all on the very first try, and coordinate observations with an orbiter. No planetary missions have ever been implemented in this way.”

By contrast, NASA sent multiple orbiters to Mars before ever attempting a landing. Pulling off the landing is a far more difficult task.

“If successful, it would signify a major technical breakthrough,” the Chinese team wrote in the journal Nature.

Space race

In their paper, the Tianwen-1 scientists noted the chance for international collaboration to “advance our knowledge of Mars to an unprecedented level.” It’s not only their own probe and NASA’s that are arriving at the planet next year, but also the United Arab Emirates’ Hope Probe, which blasted off on Sunday. The Hope Probe is the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission.
Scientists working for NASA and China’s space agency have enjoyed a collegiate relationship in the past. They’ve collaborated on the International Space Station, and congratulated each other on successful missions, such as China’s landing of a probe on the far side of the Moon, the first country to ever do so.
But for all the insistence of those involved to the contrary, the space race is inescapably political. NASA’s early missions, particularly its historic landing of humans on the Moon in 1969, were fueled by the Cold War rivalry between Washington and the Soviet Union.

Beijing, for its part, is well aware of the potential prestige it could gain by outstripping the US in space. If Tianwen-1 is successful, it has plans to eventually send a manned mission to Mars.

Under President Xi Jinping, China has invested billions of dollars in building up its space program, even as it asserted its influence back on Earth more aggressively and pursued the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
Space has been singled out by the Chinese government in its 13th Five Year Plan as a research priority, especially deep space explorations and in-orbit space craft. As well as the Mars mission, Beijing is also planning to launch a permanent space station by 2022, and is looking at sending a manned probe to the Moon possibly in the 2030s.
This program is building on the findings from China’s recent missions to the Moon, particularly the Yutu rovers, the first of which had to abandon its mission half way into the three-month timescale due to a breakdown. Yutu-2, which landed on the far-side of the Moon last year, has been a huge success.
“Our overall goal is that, by around 2030, China will be among the major space powers of the world,” Wu Yanhua, deputy chief of the National Space Administration, said in 2016.
A rendering of NASA's Perseverance rover on Mars. The probe is due to arrive at the red planet in February 2021.

Mission to Mars

China came late to the space race. And while it has made incredible strides in recent decades, outpacing NASA — at least in terms of bragging rights, if not scientifically — would require something spectacular, like landing a human on Mars.

But there is a reason that since 1972, all space exploration has been carried out by robots. Not only are they cheaper, they’re also far longer-lasting and more durable: No country wants to be the first to have an astronaut die on another planet.
Landing robotic probes on Mars is hard enough, given the planet’s atmospheric conditions. Getting a human there safely might be next to impossible.
But this hasn’t stopped politicians speculating about a manned mission to the red planet. Early in his term, US President Donald Trump authorized NASA to “lead an innovative space exploration program to send American astronauts back to the moon, and eventually Mars.”
Trump also created Space Force, a new branch of the armed services. At an unveiling of the organization’s flag earlier this year, the US leader said that “space is going to be the future. Both in terms of defense and offense and so many other things.”

“Already, from what I’m hearing and based on reports, we are now the leader in space,” he added.

Nor is Washington about to let China overtake it. Last year, when CNN quoted Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor at the US Naval War College, saying the “odds of the next voice transmission from the moon being in Mandarin are high,” Trump-appointed NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine retorted, “Hmmm, our astronauts speak English.”

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A Member Of Sage Has Claimed The “Trivial” 10pm Curfew Will Have Little Impact On Slowing Coronavirus Infections

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Professor John Edmunds warned that “we haven’t learned from our mistake” when it comes to bringing in restrictions (Image: Channel 4)

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Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Sage advisory group, has said the impact on the 10pm curfew will be trivial as he warned current measures do not go “anywhere near far enough”.

Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme in a personal capacity, the leading epidemiologist said: “I think it’s welcome that we’ve done something. I think working from home if you can is certainly a good idea.”

But, commenting on plans requiring all pubs and restaurants to close earlier from Thursday, he said that “nobody goes to a restaurant after 10pm anyway”.

“I think that’s fairly trivial […] it’ll have very small impact on the epidemic,” he added. 

“Overall, I don’t think that those measures have gone anywhere near far enough. In fact, I don’t even think the measures in Scotland have gone far enough.”

Meanwhile, The Times suggests that other scientific advisers have also warned that the 10pm curfew will have little effect.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) reportedly did not model the effect of a 10pm curfew, and the behavioural science sub-group was also not consulted on the change.

Key members of the committee are said to have told the government there is no evidence that the curfew would be effective.

Prof Edmunds continued: “If you think about the measures we put in place back in March […] We think of the lockdown as a measure but actually it really was a combination of many, many different measures […] A huge raft of measures, actually single measures, all came in at once. 

“And they reduced the reproduction number from about somewhere in the region about 2.7 to about 0.7. So, each one of those individual measures if you break it up is going to have quite a small effect actually on the overall reproduction number…

“In order to stop the epidemic from going any further we have to put a large range of measures in place, a very large range of measures in place.”

The Sage member was also critical of the speed at which the government brought in new measures, claiming  future restrictions will likely “be too late again” to stop cases rising.

“We’ll have the worst of both worlds. Because then, to slow the epidemic and bring it back down again… will mean putting the brakes on the epidemic for a very long time.

“And I think that is what we had to do in March, because we didn’t react quick enough in March. And so I think that I think we haven’t learned from our mistake back then and we’re unfortunately, about to repeat it.”

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Coronavirus: Health chief hails Africa’s fight against Covid-19

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  • Coronavirus pandemic

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image captionMost African states urged people to wear masks from the beginning of the outbreak

The head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control has praised African states for managing to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Africa has seen about 1.4 million cases, and 34,000 deaths since March.

These figures are far lower than those in Europe, Asia or the Americas, with reported cases continuing to decline.

Early interventions played a crucial role in curbing the virus’ spread, John Nkengasong told the BBC’s Newsday programme.

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He described as “false” suggestions that cases and deaths in Africa were significantly under-reported.

“We may not have been picking up all the cases, just like in other parts of the world… but we are not seeing people around the continent falling dead on the streets or mass burials going on,” Dr Nkengasong said.

All African states introduced a series of measures to tackle the virus as soon as the first cases were reported in March. Many, including South Africa, introduced nationwide lockdowns, but others such as Ethiopia opted for less strict measures.

Dr Nkengasong, however, attributed the low number to a “joint continental effort”, which focused on “scaling up testing and following up contact tracing and very importantly masking”, or the wearing of face masks.

“In many countries, including Ethiopia where I live, if you go to the streets of Addis Ababa you will see there is almost 100% masking,” he added.

What other reasons did he give?

Africa’s relatively young population also contributed to the low number of cases, Dr Nkengasong said.

Furthermore, the emphasis on community-driven initiatives, and experience in contact-tracing from fighting diseases like Ebola, had helped countries to tackle the virus, he said.

“This virus is in the community, and without a strong community response and strong community engagement there is no chance we can fight it,” Dr Nkengasong added.

Warning over second wave

Analysis by Anne Soy, BBC News, Nairobi

The drop in the number of Covid-19 cases on the continent is mainly driven by South Africa, which accounts for nearly half of Africa’s cases but also a big proportion of tests.

As of Tuesday, South Africa had conducted more than four million tests. In comparison, the entire continent of more than 50 countries crossed the 10 million tests mark a month ago.

image copyrightReuters
image captionVery few hospitals in South Africa were overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients

By international standards, this is a relatively low number, and it is blamed on global shortages of testing equipment and a lack of manufacturing in Africa. It continues to undermine the Africa “success” story.

While there may be cases that have gone undetected, experts such as Dr Nkengasong say there is no indication of a large number of unexplained deaths in most countries.

But there are warnings there could be second wave of infections as more and more countries relax restrictions.

media captionThe coronavirus diagnostics kit made in South Africa

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Israel is winning on the world stage, but losing the plot at home

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“Let us pause for a moment to appreciate this remarkable day. Let us rise above any political divide. Let us put all cynicism aside. Let us feel on this day the pulse of history,” he said last Tuesday. “For long after the pandemic is gone, the peace we make today will endure.”

The normalization deals were the latest feathers in the cap of a leader who’s been on a diplomatic winning streak lately. From the outside, Israel projects the image of a small but mighty country punching far above its weight on the global stage, an innovative “start-up nation” whose thousands of tech firms attract billions in foreign investment each year.

At home it’s a different story, however. The second wave of coronavirus infections in Israel long ago eclipsed the first, forcing the country into a second general lockdown that has shuttered schools, restaurants, entertainment venues and more. And while the coronavirus may be the most pressing challenge facing Netanyahu right now, it’s far from the only one. The 70-year-old leader is being attacked from both left and the right, not only for his handling of the public health crisis, but also for mismanagement of the economy, his response to his criminal trials, and more.

“We have a dysfunctional government, good at producing ceremonies in the White House, bad at running a country,” said opposition leader Yair Lapid. “This is the worst failure Netanyahu ever experienced and we are experiencing it with him … or because of him.”

At home, weekly protests have swelled outside the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, where thousands of people have come out and called on Israel’s longest-serving leader to resign. The angry crowd, undeterred by a steady barrage of attacks from Netanyahu’s political allies, hold signs that read “Crime Minister” and “Bibi Go Home.” This past weekend, in the first protest since Israel reimposed a general lockdown, eleven protesters were arrested, police said.

Unemployment remains near 19%, according to the Israel Unemployment Service, and an already fragile economy will suffer another blow during the current lockdown. (The Central Bureau of Statistics, which uses a different set of criteria for determining unemployment, says the current rate is between 10.4% and 11.8%.)

Restaurant owners, frustrated as they face a closure that threatens their livelihoods, smashed plates on the floor in protest. Some are more defiant, saying they plan to keep their businesses open.

“No one is caring for us, we have to​ care for ourselves,” restaurateur Yoni Salomon told Israel’s Kann News. “We won’t let anyone take our most basic rights — there is no sense in this closure and I’ll deal with the fine.”

It’s not just restaurateurs defying government lockdown orders. Israeli police handed out almost seven thousand fines​ for violating the restrictions over the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, according to police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

Exemplary leadership from the top has also been noticeably lacking. Despite Netanyahu stressing the importance of wearing masks and social distancing, some of his ministers have been photographed without face coverings during cabinet meetings, and two of Netanyahu’s aides have ​been accused of violating quarantine regulations ​within the last week.

The lockdown restrictions themselves are a study in bureaucratic legalese, often adjusted and tweaked at the last second so as not to anger Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition partners, or any other group with its own interests and goals that the Prime Minister decides he cannot afford to offend.

The current Israeli government is the largest in the country’s 72-year history, a so-called unity government bringing together — at least in theory — the two main political parties: Netanyahu’s Likud party and alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party. The bloated political Frankenstein, with 34 ministers and 8 deputy ministers, was fabricated with bits and pieces broken off from existing ministries to create additional jobs for politicians to fill, such as the position of alternate Prime Minister and the Ministry of Higher Education and Water Resources.

And yet despite the government’s size, it remains almost exclusively a one-man show. Netanyahu didn’t even notify his Foreign Minister or Defense Minister​– who happens to be Benny Gantz — about the agreement with the United Arab Emirates until it was announced publicly, claiming he was concerned they would leak the news.

This government, specifically designed to handle the coronavirus crisis, was officially sworn in on May 17. ​On that day, Israel recorded just 11 new cases of Covid-19, according to Ministry of Health data. There were 44 patients on ventilators and 3,403 active cases across the country, out of a total of 16,617 cases.

READ: Full text of the Abraham Accords and agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates/Bahrain

At the time, critics quipped that the government could put a government minister next to each patient on a ventilator.

Four months later, Israel’s unity government has abjectly failed in its self-declared primary mission. As of Wednesday morning, there were 54,322 active cases in Israel out of a total of 200,041 cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

The Ministry of Health recorded 6,861 new cases Tuesday, with 171 patients on ventilators. Across the country’s beleaguered hospital system, 634 patients were in serious condition.

“Israelis are extremely pessimistic as a result of the corona crisis, and the perceived mismanagement of the economic and health aspects of the crisis,” said Yohanan Plesner, President of the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI). A former politician, Plesner said he’s never seen anything like the problems within this current government.

A recent survey from the IDI showed that Israelis overwhelmingly support the normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates, but that hasn’t translated into a sense of trust in government or confidence about the future of the country. Approximately two-thirds of Israelis believe the national mood is either moderately pessimistic or very pessimistic, according to the survey results, conducted by the Midgam Institute and prepared by the Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research. ​

“Supposedly, this should have been a national unity government that is steering us out of the crisis, creating the necessary reforms to prepare us for the post-corona era; instead it’s a government that is in total paralysis,” Plesner said.

And yet Netanyahu displayed his brash brand of confidence last Thursday, when he tried to assure Israeli citizens that they’re in good hands. “The main thing I am telling you is that health and the economy are in our hands. This is the time for responsibility — personal responsibility and mutual guarantee. We will defeat the coronavirus but only together will we do so,” Netanyahu said.

Israel is going into a second nationwide lockdown over Covid-19

Netanyahu boasted about making peace with two Arab nations in 29 days, from August 13th to September 11th. During that same time period, approximately 62,000 thousand Israelis were diagnosed with Covid-19, while 446 citizens died of the disease. But when Netanyahu was asked last week who should shoulder the blame for the failure to contain the virus, he responded, “There are no failures, only achievements.”

The comment marked a strikingly different tone from that of President Reuven Rivlin just a few days later, when Israel’s head of state offered a forthright apology to the nation for the failure of the country’s leadership to lead.

“I know that we have not done enough as a leadership to be worthy of your attention. You trusted us and we let you down,” said Rivlin. “You, the citizens of Israel, deserve a safety net that the country gives you. Decision-makers, government ministries, policy implementers must work for you and only for you — to save lives, to reduce infection, to rescue the economy. I understand the feeling that none of these were done satisfactorily.”

If Israel’s public health policy is under fire, its economic policy-making is even more sclerotic. The last national budget was passed in 2018, and Netanyahu and Gantz were unable to reach agreement on a new one last month, so they decided instead to simply postpone for a few months in the interests of keeping their government afloat. The head of the budget division in the Ministry of Finance quit his job, joining his counterpart at the Ministry of Health’s public health division, who walked out a few months earlier. Both wrote fiery resignation letters critical of the country’s leadership or lack thereof.

And yet from the lofty position of Israel’s Prime Minister, ​none of the above counts as the number one problem. Netanyahu’s biggest issue is the fact he has been charged with bribery and fraud and breach of trust. He continues to maintain his innocence, attacking the attorney general, investigators, and the judicial system, accusing them of an attempted coup driven by the left-wing and the media.

His trial begins in earnest in January, when a panel of judges will begin hearing from witnesses. It is hard to imagine a White House ceremony big enough to draw attention away from those criminal proceedings.​​​

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