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NASA delays giving green light to historic SpaceX astronaut launch | Science & Tech News

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NASA has delayed giving the green light to SpaceX’s historic mission to fly astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), with less than a week to go before its scheduled launch date.

Next Wednesday’s mission will be the first human spaceflight to launch from American soil since 2011, when NASA‘s space shuttle fleet was retired.

Since then, its astronauts have only be able to fly to the ISS from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, using expensive Russian Soyuz rockets costing up to $86m (£70m) per seat.

HAWTHORNE, CA - AUGUST 13: (L-R) NASA Astronauts Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley, Mike Hopkins and Victor Glover, and Director of Crew Mission Management Benji Reed talk to reporters in front of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, under construction in a clean room, during a media tour of SpaceX headquarters and rocket factory on August 13, 2018 in Hawthorne, California. SpaceX plans to use the spaceship Crew Dragon, a passenger version of the robotic Dragon cargo ship, to carry NASA astronauts to the Internat
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NASA Astronauts Bob Behnken (L) and Doug Hurley (L2) are on the mission

As part of NASA’s commercial crew programme, two US-based companies – Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Boeing – are going to return this human spaceflight capability to American soil with far cheaper seat costs.

It will cost $55m (£45m) for SpaceX and $70m (£57m) for Boeing.

However, NASA’s flight readiness review – which was set to deliver the final go-ahead for the SpaceX launch – did not conclude as expected on Thursday.

The agency instead announced discussions were still ongoing, although the details were not disclosed.

For now the launch is still scheduled to proceed next Wednesday, 27 May, at approximately 8.30pm UK time, with a virtual press conference in Florida set to be held on Friday at 7.15pm UK time.

Two NASA astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, are due to fly to the ISS in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, launched on top of one of the private spaceflight company’s specially instrumented Falcon 9 rockets.

US President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House he was thinking about flying to Florida to watch the launch, joking: “I’d like to put you all on the rocket and get rid of you for a while.”



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SpaceX blows up rocket to test astronaut escape system

The astronauts will be accelerated to approximately 17,000mph (27,000kmph) – 22 times the speed of sound – and put on an intercept course with the ISS.

After about 24 hours in orbit, the Crew Dragon will rendezvous and dock with the space station.

Although the spacecraft is designed to do this autonomously, the astronauts onboard both the Dragon and the ISS will be ready to take manual control if necessary.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida at 12:29 p.m. EST on Dec. 5, 2019, for the company’s 19th Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-19) mission to the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA
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SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket has completed resupply missions to the ISS

Mr Behnken is an experienced astronaut, having been selected by NASA in 2000 after a career as a flight test engineer with the US Air Force.

He has two space shuttle flights under his belt and six spacewalks.

Mr Hurley was also selected as an astronaut in 2000 after a career as a fighter pilot and test pilot in the Marine Corps, and has completed two spaceflights – including the final space shuttle mission in July 2011.

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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: British-Iranian woman could be granted clemency soon, says husband | UK News

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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband says her release “feels quite close” as he waits to find out if she is among 3,000 prisoners granted clemency.

The British-Iranian mother was jailed in 2016 on spying charges, which she has always denied.

She was temporarily released from Tehran’s notorious Evin prison in March as 85,000 inmates in Iran were allowed out as part of attempts to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

She has been wearing an ankle tag and had to remain within 300m (984ft) of her parent’s Tehran home as she waited for a clemency decision.

But her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, told Sky News he was “hopeful” she was among 3,000 prisoners Iran’s supreme leader has announced will be granted clemency.

“It feels like we’re quite close,” he said.

“It feels like things could still go wrong. We’ve had a number of times where we’ve been down to the prosecutor’s office and been told to come back in a week’s time so that might be happening again.”

More from Nazanin Zaghari-ratcliffe

He said he believed his wife’s fate was the subject of disagreement among senior officials in Iran.

“There’s clearly been a battle happening between different parts of the Iranian regime about what to do with her,” he said.

“It feels like more parts of the Iranian regime are keen for her to come home, but there still is some stubbornness. So it feels like we’re close, but part of me still holds back just in case.”

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Alleged mass murderer arrested after 10 months in hospital recovering from burns | World News

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A man suspected of killing 36 people in an arson attack in July last year has finally been arrested, after spending 10 months in hospital recovering from his own injuries.

Police in Japan had issued an arrest warrant for Shinji Aoba at the time of the fire but had been unable to question him after he suffered serious, self-inflicted burns.

Aoba is alleged to have set fire to Kyoto Animation studios because he believed he had been ripped off by the company. Most of those who died were young artists. More than 70 people were in the building at the time.

Residents place flowers for victims of the fire
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Residents place flowers for victims of the fire

Kyoto Animation is well known in Japan and abroad for its series and movies, including “Violet Evergarden”, which has been on Netflix.

Investigators said that on 18 July 2019, Aoba entered the studios and shouted die as he doused the building in fuel before setting it alight. After the attack he told officers that he was angry because the studio had plagiarised his novel.

The 41-year-old suffered third degree burns that destroyed the innermost layer of his skin. A decision was made to treat the victims first as Aoba only had a 1% chance of survival.

There was also a lack of human skin available as organ donation is rare in Japan so the victims were given priority to receive donor skin first.

Aoba was not expected to survive as so much of his body was burned, but in early September doctors announced his burns were no longer life-threatening and he would undergo skin graft surgery in Osaka.

In a first for Japan for such extensive burns, surgeons used mostly artificial skin and only small patches of his own skin in the reconstructive surgery.

Police had to wait two months before Aoba was well enough to be questioned.

One dead and several injured after a suspected arson attack in Kyoto, Japan
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Most of the dead were young animation artists

Although officials have yet to confirm it, Public broadcaster NHK said that police arrested Aoba at a Kyoto hospital on Wednesday, where he confessed to the crimes, and that he was transferred to police headquarters for further questioning.

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Coronavirus: Inside Brazil’s slums where COVID-19 is at risk of spreading like wildfire | World News

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Brazil is now only second behind the United States as the worst affected country for coronavirus cases.

That is despite the central government and its president, Jair Bolsonaro, continuing to play down the spread and effect of the disease.

The worst hit city in Brazil is Sao Paulo and its enormous favelas are the chief breeding grounds for COVID-19, which has been claiming the lives of around 1,000 people a day across the country – although those official figures are hotly disputed as being too low.

The 'Cartel' gang in Tiradentes favela have placed it on lockdown
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The ‘Cartel’ gang in Tiradentes favela have placed it on lockdown

In truth, if the figures are not much worse than that already, then they are likely to become so very soon.

These slums are home to millions. Millions who live with poverty, disease and crime at the best of times – but these are the worst of times.

We were taken inside the Tiradentes favela by a motorbike gang. They provided security. We could not move without them – it is far too dangerous for outsiders.

They call themselves the “Cartel” gang, working the streets of the east zone of Sao Paulo, which has the worst infection rates in the city.

The Cartel is modelled on the images of the original Hell’s Angels, but they are not a crime gang.

In the absence of effective state aid here, they are the ones delivering food and teaching people how to keep clean, wash hands and stay alive.

Here, the word “angels” to characterise this gang has a completely different meaning. For these communities, they actually are angels.

Rubia Oliveria with members of the Cartel group who are delivering aid to those in the Tiradentes favela
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Rubia Oliveria with members of the Cartel group who are delivering aid to those in the Tiradentes favela

They work with community leaders who tell them where they need to go to help.

Vanderlei Rodrigues, the gang’s leader, standing next to co-founder Rubia Oliveira, said: “At the moment COVID is in the back of these families’ minds, they will only believe it when someone in their immediate family dies from it.

“It is difficult for them to understand it, we hear this a lot.

“We try to fight by giving them information, fighting fake news, taking out the politics and appealing to the rational part of people.”

In Brasilandia favela community groups are trying to raise money for food boxes for those who have lost their jobs
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Community groups are trying to raise money for food boxes for those who have lost their jobs

The fake news and the politics he is referring to is the continuing scorn the national government, and in particular the president, pours on the danger of COVID-19.

While they are in denial, the people in favelas – who are experiencing death and being made unemployed daily – are living in fear.

Whole communities are closing their streets to outsiders, with only actual residents allowed in.

The living conditions are utterly miserable, but it is all they have and they are determined to protect it.

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro is seen in a neighborhood Sudoeste, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brasilia, Brazil, April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Adriano Machado
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Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has previously called coronavirus ‘a little flu’

We travelled from the east of the city to the north, which has the highest mortality rates from the virus.

In the Brasilandia favela, we met community groups who raise money to hand out food boxes to people who have lost their jobs.

They are also handing the food out to try to stop people going out to find work and endangering themselves and their families – something they have to do just to eat.

Their charismatic leader Claudio Rodrigues Melo and his team closely control social distancing, making sure the recipients stay on the other side of a busy road until they are called forward for their food box.

Claudio Rodrigues Melo and his team in Brasilandia are handing out food boxes to those who have lost their jobs
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Claudio Rodrigues Melo and his team in Brasilandia are handing out food boxes to those who have lost their jobs

Claudio said there are three big problems for the communities and why they are in so much danger.

“There are no [health] services, people are poor and they live so close together that social distancing is impossible,” he said.

After a long period of national denial and a fear of stigma, the poorest now realise they are the most likely to die from this pandemic, and in the slums they are trying to teach each other how to survive.

Many live in fear.

Ruth Leite is terrified of being ostracised after she was in hospital with suspected COVID-19
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Ruth Leite is terrified of being ostracised after she was in hospital with suspected COVID-19

Refusing to open the metal gate to her shack, Ruth Leite, is self isolating. She has already been ill in hospital, tested and discharged.

Fourteen days later she still has a cough and has not received her test results. She assumes she is still in danger.

Ruth moved from her previous street where 22 neighbours died of COVID-19. She is terrified of the disease and terrified of being totally ostracised by society.

“I’m afraid, I was in the queue [to get food] and as soon as I said I’d had COVID everyone moved away from me – I was left alone,” she said through the bars.

“I’m staying here locked in my house because I’m so afraid that I don’t even show my face here. I just move between my garage and my house,” she said, coughing continuously.

The Brasilandia favels is very tightly packed together
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The Brasilandia favela is very tightly packed together

All the favelas have community leaders who are at the forefront of trying to teach people of the dangers of the virus and the need to isolate and distance wherever possible.

Marta Sampaio took us through her community called Nova Uniao, a relatively new favela, and everywhere you look people are building new shacks as well as brick homes, but in a very piecemeal way.

It is rough. There is raw sewage in the streets and the new builds cling precariously to muddy hills facing an utterly polluted river.

It is frankly awful and it is clear that in these densely populated semi-illegal settlements there is no protection from the disease and it will spread like wildfire.

Marta Sampaio holds Jair Bolsonaro responsible for the continuing spread of coronavirus in Brazil
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Marta Sampaio holds Jair Bolsonaro responsible for the continuing spread of coronavirus in Brazil

Marta said: “It’s only natural, you see the conditions they are living in, there is no sewage system, there’s no infrastructure, these are the challenges we face.

“But the situation here is critical, people here don’t even have the means to build a home.”

Marta holds President Bolsanaro responsible for the continuing virus spread.

She said: “He doesn’t believe it’s a virus that is killing people. He’s giving speeches saying ‘it’s a little flu’, but we as Brazilians know that this is not a joke.”

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Across the country people blame the president for his confusing messages and denials.

Even the United States, a close ally, has closed its borders to Brazilians.

But the confusion continues and the numbers of people dying continues to rise.

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