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Rocketman (and woman): Elon and Gwynne, the pair who made SpaceX - Bangkok Post
WASHINGTON: Space Exploration Technologies Corp. -- commonly known as SpaceX -- is slated to send two astronauts into space on Wednesday. Despite not yet being 20 years old, the company has already developed a creation myth: on Sept 28, 2008, its first rocket…
WASHINGTON: Space Exploration Technologies Corp. -- commonly known as SpaceX -- is slated to send two astronauts into space on Wednesday. Despite not yet being 20 years old, the company has already developed a creation myth: on Sept 28, 2008, its first rocket Falcon 1 launched for the fourth time. "I messed up the first three launches, the first three launches failed. Fortunately the fourth launch -- that was the last money that we had -- the fourth launch worked, or that would have been it for SpaceX. But fate liked us that day," said Elon Musk, the company's founder and chief engineer, in 2017. "We started with just a few people, who didn't really know how to make rockets. The reason I ended up being the chief engineer... was not because I wanted to, it's because I couldn't hire anyone. Nobody good would join," he added. Born in South Africa, Musk immigrated to Canada at age 17, then to the US, where he amassed his fortune in Silicon Valley with the startup PayPal. SpaceX's aim, when it was incorporated on March 14, 2002, was to make low-cost rockets to travel one day to Mars -- and beyond. The 11th employee hired that year turned out to be someone good: Gwynne Shotwell, who was in charge of business development, soon established herself as Musk's right-hand woman. In the space industry, the two are given the rock star privilege of only being referred to by their first names. "Elon has the vision, but you need someone who can execute on the plan, and that's Gwynne," said Scott Hubbard, a professor at Stanford University and former director of NASA's Ames Research Center. Hubbard met Musk in 2001, when the thirty-year-old entrepreneur was making his first forays into the space industry. The 56-year-old Shotwell, who became SpaceX president and chief operating officer in 2008, is a self-described nerd. She graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in mechanical engineering and was elected in February to the National Academy of Engineering. When Elon talks about colonizing Mars, it's Gwynne who makes commercial presentations and secures contracts. "I have no creative bones in my body at all," Shotwell told a NASA historian in 2013. "I'm an analyst, but I love that." Reusable rockets The team started to gain credibility in 2006. SpaceX had only 80 employees (compared to 8,000 now) and had yet to achieve orbit. But NASA awarded them a contract to develop a vehicle to refuel the International Space Station (ISS). "The crowd went crazy," Shotwell recalled. SpaceX succeeded in 2012: its Dragon capsule docked at the ISS, the first private company to do so. Then, in 2015, after multiple crashes and failures (spectacles often webcast live), SpaceX landed the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket, the successor of Falcon 1, safely back on Earth. The era of non-disposable rockets had begun. "Falcon 9 is simpler and lower-cost," said Glenn Lightsey, an engineering professor at Georgia Tech. The rockets were built completely under one roof, in Hawthorne in the Los Angeles area -- breaking with the long supply chain models of giants such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The SpaceX formula proved seductive to clients: in the past three years, the company has launched more rockets than Arianespace. In 2018, SpaceX launched more rockets than Russia. For an operator, launching a satellite on a Falcon 9 costs half as much as on an Ariane 5, according to Phil Smith, an analyst at Bryce Tech. Having conquered the private launch market, SpaceX has claimed a bigger piece of the pie for public and military launches. Still funded by NASA, SpaceX is set this week to become the first private company to launch astronauts into space. Despite a few years' delay, its Crew Dragon is ready before Boeing's Starliner. Musk also wants to build NASA's next moon lander. Industry giants have criticized the company for "arrogance," but "the real reason was that it threatened their way of doing business and their livelihoods," Lori Garver, NASA's former deputy administrator, told AFP. It's now Shotwell who lectures her competitors: "You have to learn those hard lessons," she said in a NASA briefing at the start of the month, recalling the multitude of problems that plagued SpaceX's start. "I think sometimes the aerospace industry shied away from failure in the development phase."
Apple, Google launch contact tracing platform - Bangkok Post
PARIS: US tech giants Apple and Google said on Wednesday they were offering health authorities around the world their platform for coronavirus contact tracing, a key tool in trying to tame the pandemic.
PARIS: US tech giants Apple and Google said on Wednesday they were offering health authorities around the world their platform for coronavirus contact tracing, a key tool in trying to tame the pandemic. "The work public health officials are doing around the world humbles us all," the two companies said in a statement. "Google and Apple are clear that this is not a panacea but we do believe Exposure Notifications can make a contribution to the broader work of contact tracing," they said. Under the notifications system, someone exposed to a person who tests positive for COVID-19 will receive an alert on their phone. "Public health authorities will take the lead with this technology, and we will continue to support and advocate for it." They said they would release software updates for health authorities to use to deploy their own apps, developed by their own technical staff. In Europe, most countries are leaning toward use of the Apple-Google platform but France and Britain have opted to develop their own systems, currently being tested. The two US firms said 22 countries had so far asked to use their platform and they expect more to come on board in the coming weeks. Amid concerns about the security and use of the personal data such tracing apps will generate, Google and Apple laid down several conditions for the use of their technology. The first is that any app based on it must be voluntary, not gather geolocation data and not be used for commercial purposes. In addition, only one app per country is allowed so that there is no competition involved while it will be up to the individual user to declare if they have been infected with the virus or not. When the crisis has disappeared, the system must be taken down.
NASA, SpaceX target historic spaceflight despite pandemic - Bangkok Post
WASHINGTON - NASA and SpaceX said Friday they were pressing ahead with plans to launch astronauts to space from US soil for the first time in nearly a decade later on this month, despite the coronavirus pandemic.
WASHINGTON - NASA and SpaceX said Friday they were pressing ahead with plans to launch astronauts to space from US soil for the first time in nearly a decade later on this month, despite the coronavirus pandemic. Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, both veterans of the Space Shuttle program that was shuttered in 2011, will blast off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on May 27. Should the mission succeed, the US will have achieved its goal of no longer having to buy seats on Russian Soyuz rockets to give its astronauts rides to the International Space Station (ISS). It is also an important stage in NASA's new economic model: the space agency has spent billions on contracts with both SpaceX and Boeing to develop spaceships that will each have to make six round trips to the ISS. The model is supposed to save taxpayers from financial black holes of past programs, as well as some still to come -- notably the giant Space Launch System rocket that is supposed to take NASA back to the Moon but is plagued by cost overrun and scheduling delays. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine told reporters that the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule will be only the fifth class of US spacecraft to take humans into orbit, after the storied Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle programs. "If you look globally, this will be the ninth time in history when we put humans on a brand new spacecraft," said Bridenstine. "We're going to do it here in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. I'm going to tell you this is a high priority mission for the United States of America," he added. Behnken and Hurley, who have been training for the "Demo-2" mission for years, will dock with the International Space Station (ISS) and remain there for between one to four months, depending on when the next mission takes place, said NASA's Steve Stich. Crew Dragon is able to remain in orbit for around four months (119 days). Hurley, who was the pilot on the last Space Shuttle mission, admitted it was "disappointing" that the launch won't be a public affair, with crowds discouraged from gathering at Cape Canaveral to witness the spectacle. "We won't have the luxury of our family and friends being there at Kennedy to watch the launch but it's obviously, the right thing to do in the current environment," he said. - Win for SpaceX - The mission is a major milestone for SpaceX, the company founded by Elon Musk, who also leads and founded Tesla. His firm, which was started in 2002, has now overtaken aerospace behemoth Boeing, which failed in the uncrewed demonstration mission of its Starliner spacecraft last year and will have to start over. SpaceX, which has received billions of dollars from NASA since the late 2000s, has been supplying cargo to the ISS since 2012, and has established itself as the leader in the private space sector thanks to its reusable rocket, the Falcon 9. "I'll feel a little relief when they're in orbit, I'll feel more relief when they get to the station and then obviously, I will start sleeping again when they're back safely on the planet Earth," said Gwynne Shotwell, the company's chief operating officer. The pandemic has, naturally, impacted the program, but Shotwell said all precautions were being taken to protect the astronauts. "We are ensuring that only essential personnel are near them. They're wearing masks and gloves. We're cleaning the training facility twice daily. "I think we're really doing a great job to ensure that we are not impacting the safety or the health of the astronauts' lives." Half of SpaceX's engineers have been teleworking, and on the day of the launch, NASA personnel in the mission control room will be spaced six feet (two meters) apart. Takeoff is scheduled for 4:42 pm (2042 GMT) on May 27, with space station docking scheduled about 19 hours later, on May 28.
Mysterious blood clots are Covid-19's latest lethal surprise - Bangkok Post
WASHINGTON: After he had spent nearly three weeks in an intensive care unit being treated for Covid-19, Broadway and TV actor Nick Cordero's doctors were forced to amputate his right leg.
WASHINGTON: After he had spent nearly three weeks in an intensive care unit being treated for Covid-19, Broadway and TV actor Nick Cordero's doctors were forced to amputate his right leg. The 41-year-old's blood flow had been impeded by a clot: yet another dangerous complication of the disease that has been bubbling up in frontline reports from China, Europe and the United States. To be sure, so-called "thrombotic events" occur for a variety of reasons among intensive care patients, but the rates among Covid-19 patients are far higher than would be otherwise expected. "I have had 40-year-olds in my ICU who have clots in their fingers that look like they'll lose the finger, but there's no other reason to lose the finger than the virus," Shari Brosnahan, a critical care doctor at NYU Langone told AFP. One of these patients is suffering from a lack of blood flow to both feet and both hands, and she predicts an amputation may be necessary, or the blood vessels may get so damaged that an extremity could drop off by itself. Blood clots aren't just dangerous for our limbs, but can make their way to the lungs, heart or brain, where they may cause lethal pulmonary embolisms, heart attacks, and strokes. A recent paper from the Netherlands in the journal Thrombosis Research found that 31 percent of 184 patients suffered thrombotic complications, a figure that the researchers called "remarkably high" -- even if extreme consequences like amputation are rare. - Why is it happening? - Behnood Bikdeli, a doctor at New York–Presbyterian Hospital, assembled an international consortium of experts to study the issue. Their findings were published in the Journal of The American College of Cardiology. The experts found the risks were so great that Covid-19 patients "may need to receive blood thinners, preventively, prophylactically," even before imaging tests are ordered, said Bikdeli. What exactly is causing it? The reasons aren't fully understood, but he offered several possible explanations. People with severe forms of Covid-19 often have underlying medical conditions like heart or lung disease -- which are themselves linked to higher rates of clotting. Next, being in intensive care makes a person likelier to develop a clot because they are staying still for so long. That's why for example people are encouraged to stretch and move around on long haul flights. It's also now clear the COVID-19 illness is associated with an abnormal immune reaction called "cytokine storm" -- and some research has indicated this too is linked to higher rates of clotting. There could also be something about the virus itself that is causing coagulation, which has some precedent in other viral illnesses. A paper in the journal The Lancet last week showed that the virus can infect the inner cell layer of organs and of blood vessels, called the endothelium. This, in theory, could interfere with the clotting process. - Microclots - According to Brosnahan, while thinners like Heparin are effective in some patients, they don't work for all patients because the clots are at times too small. "There are too many microclots," she said. "We're not sure exactly where they are." Autopsies have in fact shown some people's lungs filled with hundreds of microclots. The arrival of a new mystery however helps solve a slightly older one. Cecilia Mirant-Borde, an intensive care doctor at a military veterans hospital in Manhattan, told AFP that lungs filled with microclots helped explain why ventilators work poorly for patients with low blood oxygen. Earlier in the pandemic doctors were treating these patients according to protocols developed for acute respiratory distress syndrome, sometimes known as "wet lung." But in some cases, "it's not because the lungs are occupied with water" -- rather, it's that the microclotting is blocking circulation and blood is leaving the lungs with less oxygen than it should. It has just been a little under five months since the virus emerged in Wuhan, China, and researchers are learning more about its impact every day. "While we react surprised, we shouldn't be as surprised as we were. Viruses tend to do weird things," said Brosnahan. While the dizzying array of complications may seem daunting, "it's possible there'll be one or a couple of unifying mechanisms that describe how this damage happens," she said. "It's possible it's all the same thing, and that there'll be the same solution."