Month: May 2020

SpaceX Astronauts Welcomed Aboard International Space Station

The crew of the International Space Station welcomed U.S. astronauts Douglas Hurley and Bob Behnken after their privately built SpaceX capsule docked Sunday.  
NASA astronaut Christopher Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner shook hands with their new station-mates as they climbed aboard.
“Welcome to Bob and Doug. I will tell you, the whole world saw this mission and we are so, so proud of everything you have done for our country and, in fact, to inspire the world,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said back on Earth as his personal welcome.
“We sure appreciate that, sir,” Hurley said. “It’s obviously been our honor to be just a small part of this. We have to give credit to SpaceX, the commercial crew program, and, of course, NASA. It’s great to get the United States back in the crewed launch business. And we’re just really glad to be onboard this magnificent complex.”Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline.Download File Embed” />Copy Download AudioWATCH: NASA, SpaceX Make History With Successful ISS Docking by VOA’s Arash Arabasadi.Hurley said he “couldn’t be happier” about the performance of the Crew Dragon space capsule, which brought them to the space station less than a day after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
“The Dragon was a slick vehicle, and we had good airflow, so we had an excellent, excellent evening,” Hurley said.
The Crew Dragon was flown into orbit aboard a SpaceX rocket – a commercially built spacecraft. It is the first time astronauts or cosmonauts have flown into space aboard a ship not built by a government agency.  
SpaceX owner Elon Musk said he was “quite overcome with emotion” when he saw his dream come true with a perfect liftoff Saturday.
“It’s been 18 years working towards this goal,” he said. “This is hopefully the first step on a journey towards civilization on Mars.”
Hurley and Behnken will participate in a number of scientific experiments during what is expected to be a three-month stay on the space station.   

Online Divisions: Twitter, Facebook Diverge on Trump’s Words

President Donald Trump posted identical messages on Twitter and Facebook this week. But while the two social platforms have very similar policies on voter misinformation and glorifying violence, they dealt with Trump’s posts very differently, proof that Silicon Valley is far from a united front when it comes to political decisionsTwitter placed a warning label on two Trump tweets that called mail-in ballots “fraudulent” and predicted problems with the November elections. It demoted and placed a stronger warning on a third tweet about Minneapolis protests that read, in part, that “when the looting starts the shooting starts.”Facebook left the posts alone.“Facebook doesn’t want to alienate certain communities,” said Dipayan Ghosh, co-director of the digital platforms and democracy project at Harvard’s Kennedy School. “It doesn’t want to tick off a whole swatch of people who really believe the president and appreciate his tweets.”Twitter, on the other hand has a history of taking stronger stances, he added, including a complete ban on political advertisements that the company announced last November.That’s partly because Facebook, a much larger company with a broader audience, caught in the crosshairs of regulators over its size and power, has more to lose. And partly because the companies’ CEOs don’t always see eye to eye on their role in society.“Our position is that we should enable as much expression as possible unless it will cause imminent risk of specific harms or dangers spelled out in clear policies,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a post on his social network Friday.FILE – Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks on the second day of the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Feb. 15, 2020.Referring to the president’s comments about the Minneapolis protests, Zuckerberg said that he had “a visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric.” But Facebook decided, he said, to keep the president’s comment’s on the site because “we read it as a warning about state action, and we think people need to know if the government is planning to deploy force.”More broadly, Zuckerberg has often said Facebook does not seek to be “the arbiter of truth.”Still, Facebook has long used fact checks on its site, done by third-party news organizations such as The Associated Press, and it constantly uses algorithms to decide what to show its 2.5 billion users. And it is setting up an oversight board to decide whether to remove controversial posts.FILE – Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey leaves after his talk with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, June 7, 2019.Meanwhile, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted that Twitter will “continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally.” But he added: “This does not make us an ‘arbiter of truth.’”This is not the first time that a social media company clashed with the president. And with six months to go before the election, it won’t be the last.“It sure looks like, in the face of pressure to follow the White House’s preferred speech policies, Facebook chose appeasement and Twitter chose to fight,” said Daphne Keller, a fellow at Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society. “Why the difference? … Maybe Facebook thinks it has more to lose by alienating Republicans.”Trump and fellow conservatives have been claiming for years that Silicon Valley tech companies are biased against them. But there is no evidence for this — and while the executives and most employees of Twitter, Facebook and Google may lean liberal, the companies have stressed they have no business interest in favoring on political party over the other.The trouble began in 2016, two years after Facebook launched a section called “trending,” using human editors to curate popular news stories. Facebook was accused of bias against conservatives based on the words of an anonymous former contractor who said the company downplayed conservative issues in that feature and promoted liberal causes.Zuckerberg met with prominent right-wing leaders at the time in an attempt at damage control. In 2018, it shut down the “trending” section but by then the narrative of conservative bias had spread far and wide. Congressional hearings about conservative bias followed, with the leaders of Google, Twitter and Facebook defending their companies and explaining that it would not be in their interest to alienate half of their U.S. users.While critics have accused both Zuckerberg and Dorsey of cozying up with one side of the political alley or the other, Zuckerberg appears more intent on remaining in the mushy middle — even when that’s proving increasingly difficult.“Facebook doesn’t want to alienate anybody,’’ said Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Civic Media. “Twitter seems more comfortable saying: ‘Look, as a private platform we reserve the right to do whatever want to do.’ … They’re right. This is not a First Amendment issue’’ involving government censorship.Zuckerman said that tech companies’ approach to handling misinformation and incitement to violence has had to change. “Both Zuckerberg and Dorsey are from the generation of internet entrepreneurs that had a very strong freedom of speech bias… you should be able to say whatever you want, and no should block it,’’ Zuckerman said.But that hands off approach no longer appears sustainable.Perhaps even more than Trump’s provocative tweets the coronavirus pandemic is forcing tech firms to rethink what goes unchallenged on their platforms. Zuckerman noted, for example, that both Facebook and Google have been vigilant about barring the conspiracy theory video “Plandemic,” which makes false claims about COVID-19 and therefore poses a potential threat to public health.“It’s really a no-win scenario’’’ for social media companies, said Patrick Hedger, research fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Conservatives will complain if they block or correct Trump statements. Liberals will cry foul if they don’t.Hedger also noted that “the unmoderated world does exist,’’ pointing to, which has become a haven for extremist views. “The unmoderated internet is not a pretty place,’’ he said. 

Asia Today: India Reports over 8,000 New Virus Cases 

India reported more than 8,000 new cases of the coronavirus in a single day, another record high that topped the deadliest week in the country.Confirmed infections have risen to 182,143, with 5,164 fatalities, including 193 in the last 24 hours, the Health Ministry said Sunday.Overall, more than 60% of the virus fatalities have been reported from only two states — Maharashtra, the financial hub, and Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The new cases are largely concentrated in six Indian states, including the capital New Delhi.Public health experts have criticized the Modi government’s handling of the outbreak. A joint statement by the Indian Public Health Association, Indian Association of Preventive and Social Medicine and Indian Association of Epidemiologists, which was sent to Modi’s office on May 25, said it was “unrealistic” to eliminate the virus at a time when “community transmission is already well-established.”India has denied of any community transmission even though new cases have continued to mount significantly.The health experts said that the infections were rising exponentially despite the “draconian lockdown,” which began March 25.The restrictions have slowly been relaxed, with the government announcing Saturday a phased “Unlock 1” plan from June onwards that allows more economic activities. The restrictions in so-called containment zones — areas that have been isolated due to the outbreaks — will remain through June 30.Modi, who addressed the nation through his monthly radio program on Sunday, said India was faring better than other countries.India has a fatality rate of 2.8%.There are concerns that the virus may be spreading through India’s villages as millions of jobless migrant workers return home from cities during the lockdown. Experts warn that the pandemic is yet to peak in India.In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region: German engineer tests positive in China: A German engineer who flew to China on a special charter flight Saturday has tested positive for the coronavirus. The Tianjin city government said in a social media post that the 34-year-old man from Blaustein, Germany, had a body temperature of 36.3 Celsius (97.3 Fahrenheit) and no COVID-19 symptoms. It did not give his name. He has been transferred to a hospital where he will be kept for medical observation. About 200 people arrived on the chartered Lufthansa A340 from Frankfurt. A second flight is scheduled to depart on Wednesday for Shanghai. China has banned most foreigners from entering the country to try to prevent the introduction of new infections, but agreed to allow the two German flights to bring back business people as it tries to revive economic growth after the coronavirus shutdowns.27 new cases in South Korea: South Korea on Sunday reported 27 new cases of the coronavirus, including 21 from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where officials are scrambling to stem transmissions linked to clubgoers and warehouse workers. The figures announced by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on brought national totals to 11,468 cases and 270 deaths. Twelve of the new cases were international arrivals. South Korea was reporting about 500 new cases each day in early March but seemed to stabilize the outbreak with aggressive tracking and tracing, which allowed authorities to ease social distancing guidelines. A rise in infections in the greater capital area has caused alarm as millions of children have begun returning to school. KCDC said more than 100 infections were linked to workers or visitors at a warehouse of local e-commerce giant Coupang, which has seen orders spike during the epidemic.China reports two new cases: China reported two new cases of COVID-19, bringing its total to 83,001. Both cases were imported ones in Shandong province south of Beijing, bringing the number of cases from abroad to 1,740. China has cut international flights drastically to try to keep new cases out, though it allowed a chartered Lufthansa A340 with employees of Volkswagen and other German companies operating in China to arrive Saturday from Frankfurt. It was the first of two such flights from Germany aimed at restarting the economy. No new domestic cases have been reported for a week, since an outbreak that infected 42 people was tamped down in Jilin province in the northeast. The country’s official death toll stands at 4,634.Restrictions easing in Australia: COVID-19 restrictions are easing in most of Australia, but authorities say they’ll be watching carefully to ensure the country’s success in containing the pandemic remains on track. Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth said the lifting of restrictions is a balancing act between socioeconomic benefits and the public health risk. “We’re taking a deliberately safe and cautious approach,” Coatsworth said. “Most importantly we’re taking the time to gather the data over the coming weeks to determine whether it’s safe to move to the next round of lifting restrictions.” Coronavirus cases remain low in Australia by international standards, with 7,180 infections and 103 deaths. The more flexible restrictions, which differ across the states, will mean more movement in public places, including pubs, cafes, and restaurants. But authorities have renewed their call for safe hygiene and social distancing measures to remain. 

FEMA Predicts Above-Average Year for Hurricanes Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

U.S. officials are predicting an “enhanced” Atlantic hurricane season that may create new challenges for Americans already struggling with the coronavirus pandemic.Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials briefed President Donald Trump on Thursday, outlining preparations for the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.The season, which officially begins Monday, has already seen two named tropical storms, Arthur and Bertha.“The big concern this year is the Atlantic Ocean. We’re expecting an above-average year,” said Neil Jacobs, acting director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “This is above average; this does not necessarily mean they’ll make landfall.”“So you think we could have a slightly enhanced hurricane season. That’s just what we want,” Trump said. “Let’s see. Hopefully, that won’t be the case, but we’ll see.”The president and FEMA officials were quick to say that they are prepared for the abnormally active season but did acknowledge the difficulties presented by COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.“There will be unique challenges in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic,” Vice President Mike Pence said. “When people are displaced by tropical storms or hurricanes, they often know and are used to congregating at a local school or a local gymnasium. There’ll be different challenges now.”FEMA released the COVID-19 Pandemic Operational Guidance for the 2020 season to help emergency managers at every level devise new strategies to evacuate, shelter and care for people, while protecting against the spread of the coronavirus, administrator Peter Gaynor said.“We’re in a really great place when it comes to funding, personnel and supplies,” Gaynor added. FEMA was recently allocated $40 billion as part of recent coronavirus emergency legislation, bringing the agency’s disaster relief fund total to $80 billion.A typical Atlantic hurricane season, which officially starts June 1 and ends November 30, produces 12 named storms, six of which become hurricanes, with three on average becoming major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5 storms). This year, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting between 13 and 19 named storms, six to 10 hurricanes, and three to six major hurricanes.There is a 60 percent chance of an above-normal season. The high probability of a season with above-average activity is because of the combination of several climate factors, including warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures and reduced vertical wind shear. The absence of an El Nino pattern to suppress hurricane activity and weakened tropical Atlantic trade winds is also expected to allow a more active season, NOAA officials said in a statement.Tropical Storm Arthur formed off the coast of Florida on May 16, becoming the first named storm of 2020, continuing a six-year-long trend that a named storm forms before the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season.

US Astronauts Blast Into Space Aboard SpaceX Rocket

Two American astronauts lifted off into space Saturday afternoon, for the first time on a private rocket, nearly a decade after the last launch of astronauts from American territory.Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken lifted off at 3:22 p.m. EDT, right on schedule, from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a rocket designed and built by a private company.The California-based SpaceX Aerospace Co. is owned by billionaire Elon Musk.“Let’s light this candle,” Hurley said before liftoff.The first launch attempt scheduled for last Wednesday was postponed because of stormy weather in the vicinity of the Kennedy Space Center in the southeastern state of Florida.Meet NASA Astronauts Taking America Back to Space from US Soil A SpaceX rocket will carry a Dragon capsule with astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space StationAstronauts were last launched into space from the U.S. in 2011, when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, retired its space shuttle fleet, forcing the U.S. to rely on partnerships with Russia’s space agency to carry U.S. astronauts to the orbiting International Space Station.Hurley and Behnken are to orbit the Earth inside the newly designed Crew Dragon capsule for about 19 hours before trying to dock at the space station.Launch Marks New Era in US Space Travel – But With a Twist Space X is the first of several private companies in the new ‘space race’ to regularly launch passengers commercially into Earth orbitU.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence flew to Florida for the launch, the second time this week. They were joined by more than 3 million viewers online, according to NASA’s count, and more spectators in person who lined beaches and roads nearby.

US Astronauts Set to Blast Into Space Aboard SpaceX Rocket

The U.S. is set to resume launching astronauts into space Saturday, for the first time on a private rocket, nearly a decade after the last launch of astronauts from American territory.Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will blast into orbit from the Kennedy Space Center on the SpaceX rocket, the first by a private company, if all goes as planned.The California-based SpaceX Aerospace Company is owned by billionaire Elon Musk.The first launch attempt scheduled for last Wednesday was postponed because of stormy weather in the vicinity of the Kennedy Space Center in the southeastern state of Florida.Meet NASA Astronauts Taking America Back to Space from US Soil A SpaceX rocket will carry a Dragon capsule with astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space StationAstronauts were last launched into space from the U.S. in 2011, when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, retired its space shuttle fleet, forcing the U.S. to rely on partnerships with Russia’s space agency to carry U.S. astronauts to the orbiting International Space Station.If the launch of the 24-story-tall SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is successful, Hurley and Behnken will orbit the Earth inside the newly designed Crew Dragon capsule for about 19 hours before trying to dock at the space station.Launch Marks New Era in US Space Travel – But With a Twist Space X is the first of several private companies in the new ‘space race’ to regularly launch passengers commercially into Earth orbitSaturday’s National Weather Service forecast at the Kennedy Space Center launch complex calls for showers and thunderstorms.

‘No Decision’ on Next Launch Attempt for SpaceX-NASA Mission

A final decision on a launch attempt for SpaceX’s milestone mission to the International Space Station on Saturday afternoon will take place after assessing the weather that morning, NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said Friday.Fears of a lightning strike postponed the initial takeoff attempt Wednesday of what would have been the first crewed rocket launch from U.S. soil in almost a decade, and the first time a commercial company had achieved the feat.”No decision on weather right now for Saturday’s test flight of @ SpaceX’s #CrewDragon spacecraft. Will reassess in the morning,” tweeted Bridenstine.Earlier in the day, NASA said the chances of a Saturday launch at 3:22 p.m. EDT (1922 GMT) were 50 percent. A chance of afternoon and evening thunderstorms was in the forecast for the area.Next chance: SundayThe next window, which is determined by the relative positions of the launch site to the space station, would be Sunday at 3:00 pm EDT (1900 GMT). Storms were again in the forecast.NASA astronauts Robert Behnken, 49, and Douglas Hurley, 53, former military test pilots who joined the space agency in 2000, are to blast off from historic Launch Pad 39A on a two-stage SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.The same launch pad was used by Neil Armstrong and his Apollo 11 crewmates on their historic journey to the moon, as NASA seeks to revive excitement around human space exploration ahead of a planned return to Earth’s natural satellite and then Mars.The mission comes despite shutdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with the crew in quarantine for more than two weeks. NASA has urged crowds to stay away from Cocoa Beach, the traditional viewing spot, but that did not deter many space fans on Wednesday.President Donald Trump, who flew in for the previous launch attempt, is expected to attend again.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline.Download File Embed” />Copy Download AudioTriumph for SpaceXNASA has had to pay Russia for use of its Soyuz rockets to take its astronauts to space since the space shuttle program ended in 2011 and the decision was taken to shift focus to commercial partners for missions in low Earth orbit.The mission is a defining moment for SpaceX, the company founded by Elon Musk in 2002 with a goal of tearing up the rules to produce a lower-cost alternative to human spaceflight.By 2012, it had become the first private company to dock a cargo capsule at the ISS, resupplying the station regularly ever since.Two years later, NASA ordered the next step: to transport its astronauts there by adapting the Dragon capsule.$3 billion-plusThe U.S. space agency paid more than $3 billion for SpaceX to design, build, test and operate its reusable capsule for six future space round trips.The project has experienced delays, explosions and parachute problems — but even so, SpaceX has beaten its competitor,  aerospace giant Boeing, to the punch.Crew Dragon is scheduled to dock with the ISS about 19 hours after liftoff, for a duration that is yet to be finalized, but is likely to last to early August.Wednesday’s scheduled flight was scrubbed 17 minutes before blastoff because of high levels of atmospheric electricity that could have triggered a lightning strike on the rocket. 

WHO Tells Tobacco Industry to Stop Marketing Deadly Nicotine Products to Children

The World Health Organization accuses the tobacco industry of devious tactics to get children and young people hooked on their deadly tobacco and nicotine products.  In advance of World No Tobacco Day (May 31), the WHO is launching a campaign to alert young people to the dangers they face from the industry’s manipulative practices.More than 40 million young people aged 13 to 15 smoke and use other tobacco products. The World Health Organization says the tobacco industry tries to get children and young people hooked on tobacco early in life, knowing this will turn them into life-long smokers.
Unfortunately, WHO says many smokers do not live very long.  Every year, it notes millions of people have their lives cut short because of cancers, heart disease and other smoking-related illnesses.
Coordinator of WHO’s No Tobacco Unit, Vinayak Prasad, says the tobacco industry invests more than $9 billion a year to advertise its products.  He says much of this huge budget targets young people with attractive promotional campaigns.
“At the moment, they are spending a million dollars an hour, which is by the time we finish our press conference, that is a million dollars spent,” said Prasad.  “And, why are they doing it?  They are doing it to find replacements users.  Eight million premature deaths every year.  So, they need to find new replacements.”  WHO says the industry sets its sights on the next generation of users by targeting children and young people in markets where tobacco products are not regulated and they can be manipulated easily.   
WHO is launching a new kit for school students aged 13 to 17 to protect them from the tobacco industry’s exploitative practices.  WHO Director of Health Promotion, Ruediger Krech says the kit alerts young people to the industry’s devious tactics and teaches them to say no.
“The tool kit exposes tactics such as parties and concerts hosted by the tobacco and related industries, e-cigarette flavors that attract youth in like bubble-gum and candy, e-cigarette representatives presenting in schools, and product placement in popular youth streaming shows,” said Krech.
WHO is calling on all sectors of society to prevent the tobacco industry from preying on youth.  To reach a young audience, the agency is spreading its no tobacco message on  TikTok, Pinterest, YouTube and other social media.
Health officials urge schools, celebrities and influencers to reject all offers of sponsorship from the industry.  They call on TV and streaming services to stop showing tobacco or e-cigarette use on screen.   
They say governments should ban all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and should enact strict tobacco control laws.

Mitch McConnell Stresses Need to Wear Face Masks in Public

Wading into a politically charged issue, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday preached the importance of wearing masks in public as the nation’s economy reopens from the “cataclysmic” damage inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic.
During a tour of hospitals this week in his home state of Kentucky, the Republican leader has stressed wearing masks in public and following social distancing guidelines.
“There should be no stigma attached to wearing a mask,” McConnell said during an appearance in Owensboro. “And even among age groups that are least likely to either contract this disease or die from it, you could be a carrier. So I think what we all need to do is say, ‘OK, I’m going to take responsibility not only for myself but for others.'”
McConnell, who is in his late 70s and is in the midst of his own reelection campaign, has worn masks at his appearances. On Thursday, he stuffed the face covering into his coat jacket to speak. He donned it again afterward.
His mask-wearing is in stark contrast to the unwillingness of a key political ally to do so. President Donald Trump has refused to wear face coverings, and polls find that conservative Americans are more likely to forgo them. McConnell did not mention the president while touting the use of masks.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has repeatedly stressed the use of masks as people increasingly venture out as the economy gradually gets rebooted.
“This is not a battle between political parties or ideologies,” the Democratic governor said recently. “It’s plain, basic public health guidance that’s out there from the CDC and from everywhere else. It’s the same guidance on the federal and on the state level. And it’s just smart, right?”
Even as government restrictions to combat the virus are easing, the fallout reached a flashpoint in Kentucky last weekend when armed protesters gathered at the State Capitol. Protesters swarmed outside the Governor’s Mansion and hanged Beshear in effigy near the statehouse.
The rally was billed as a defense of constitutional rights, including the right to bear arms, but turned into a protest against coronavirus restrictions and Beshear’s administration, according to media reports. Beshear condemned the rally and vowed not to back down. McConnell denounced the protesters’ actions as “completely outrageous and unacceptable.”
On Thursday, McConnell termed the pandemic as a “cataclysmic event” for the economy as businesses shuttered to try to contain the disease.
The senator listed three factors he said were key to getting back to “full normalcy” from the health crisis — testing, treatment and a vaccine. He said earlier in the week that “the ultimate solution” is getting a vaccine developed and into circulation as quickly as possible. McConnell said he was upbeat about those prospects after speaking recently with pharmaceutical executives.
“We’re going to get on top of this at warp speed compared to any other serious virus that the world has been afflicted with in the past,” he said Thursday.
McConnell, who is seeking a seventh term this year, has toured hospitals to thank health care workers for battling the virus and to tout federal virus-relief aid sent to Kentucky. The events were his first public appearances in the Bluegrass State since mid-March due to the pandemic.

Travel Disruptions Challenge Global Transplant Deliveries

Over the past two months, as air travel ground to a halt, Mishel Zrian has crisscrossed the Atlantic and the United States dozens of times, sleeping in empty airports and unable to return home to see his family in Israel, all in a race against time to deliver life-saving transplants.
Zrian is a courier hired by Israel’s Ezer Mizion bone marrow donor registry, which has had to perform logistical acrobatics to get its transplants to their destinations amid the travel disruptions caused by the pandemic. The nonprofit, as well as others involved in coordinating transplants around the world, has been tested by the shortage of flights and restrictions on travel, forced to find creative solutions or risk the health of patients.
“It’s been a struggle the entire time but at the back of our minds always is that the patient must receive this transplant or else he will die,” said Bracha Zisser, director of Ezer Mizion, the world’s largest Jewish bone marrow donor registry.  
With the coronavirus upending air travel and countries shutting down borders to prevent the influx of infected travelers, airlines have been forced to drastically cut services, leaving those who still rely on commercial flights scrambling for ways around the logjam.  
For those in need of a bone marrow transplant — usually cancer patients — finding the right DNA match is difficult and often requires the help of international donors.
Timing is critical. At the start of the transplant process, the patient’s own bone marrow is removed; if the transplant is not provided within 72 hours, the patient could die.
Ordinarily, delivering a bone marrow transplant to a far-flung destination is simple. But according to the World Marrow Donor Association, donor registries and transplant centers around the world have been grappling with how to navigate the new rules under coronavirus restrictions.
In one case, an Italian military plane was called up to deliver a transplant from Turkey to a 2-year-old patient in Rome. Germany, Italy and the U.S. set up special exchange points at military bases to allow couriers to drop off and pick up transplants there rather than have them enter the country by way of civilian airports.
As flights to Israel became scarce, Ezer Mizion’s transplants were sent to Europe via Belgium by cargo flights and then driven to their final destination. A daily commercial flight out of Israel to the U.S. has allowed the organization to continue its deliveries, but within the confines of the chaos wrought by the pandemic.
Zrian, the nonprofit’s main U.S.-bound courier, left Israel for what was supposed to be a brief journey in mid-March, only to be told upon his return that he would need to remain in quarantine for 14 days, according to Israeli rules on all incoming travelers.
At that point, Ezer Mizion appealed to the Israeli Health Ministry and the National Security Council, and managed to secure Zrian special entry to the country, as long as he didn’t leave the airport.
He is allowed to sleep in an airport lounge between flights and receive his deliveries without being forced to quarantine. With airport restaurants closed, Zrian subsists on fast food while in the U.S. When he returns to Israel, he gets to have more lavish meals at the airport lounge.
But he can’t go home.  
The 47-year-old hasn’t seen his two teenage sons in more than 70 days, and his wife was only granted one airport visit during that time. In the U.S., he has been given special clearance to enter on the grounds that he is an essential worker.
Zrian, who works for courier company Royale International, has flown with his precious cargo more than 50 times since mid-March, often the only passenger on the plane and landing at deserted airports. While he sometimes sleeps at his destination, his life moves to the beat of his deliveries. He recently spent six straight nights on flights. He’s been wearing the same pair of jeans for weeks, he said, washing them in hotel bathtubs when he gets the chance.
“I miss my family,” he said. “But I always carry the transplant with me and I know I am doing the right thing.”
In one delivery, destined for Oslo, Zrian boarded a cargo flight to Belgium, where another courier was set to drive the transplant 14 hours to Norway. When pilots he encountered offered him a seat on a direct flight to Oslo, which would save several crucial hours, he jumped at the chance.
But with flights from Europe to Israel nearly at a standstill, Zrian had to make a roundabout journey through Frankfurt and then New York to be able to get back to Israel.
The drop in flights has also affected the U.S., where kidneys, the most common transplant in America, are often flown across the country and need to reach patients within 30 hours. The longer a kidney is out of a body, the more its condition deteriorates. Other organs typically travel on private planes.
According to Dorry Segev, a professor of transplant surgery at Johns Hopkins University, the travel disruption is likely leading to delays, which affects the quality of the kidney and could prompt some patients to postpone the care they need.
“We don’t have our commercial flight infrastructure in the United States, which kidney transplantation rides on the back of,” he said. “It’s very chaotic.”
Rick Hasz, of the Philadelphia-based Gift of Life Donor Program, said kidneys were still reaching their destinations, although with different preservation techniques and additional planning.
Zisser, of the Israeli nonprofit, said none of the dozens of deliveries made over the past two months has missed its deadline.
“The idea of saving a life was always in our hearts,” she said, “and we were willing to do everything for that.”

Nearly 6 Million Worldwide Infected with Coronavirus

There are more than 5.8 million infections of COVID-19 around the world, with more than 360,000 deaths. Some countries are starting to loosen restrictions initiated to halt the spread of the devastating disease, while the number of cases is skyrocketing in other places. The Americas are the new epicenter of the outbreak.  The U.S. has more than 1.7 million coronavirus infections, followed by Brazil with more than 438,000 cases. Developing nationsUnited Nations chief Antonio Guterres has warned that the pandemic could cause “unimaginable devastation and suffering around the world,” including famine and massive unemployment, unless governments start taking preventative action now.“Developed countries have announced their own relief packages, because they can,”  Guterres told a virtual summit of nearly 50 world leaders. “But we have not yet seen enough solidarity with developing countries to provide them with the massive and urgent support they need.”Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama suggested that the price of a global post-coronavirus recovery for poorer countries would be a bargain. He said wealthy nations have already dedicated $8 trillion for their own comeback. “Even if the equivalent of one-half of 1% of this was dedicated to all the world’s small island developing states, it would provide us with the vital support we need.”Why does a virus make some people sicker than others?Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
A worker from Bidvest Prestige wearing protective gear, sprays disinfectant in a classroom to help reduce the spread the new coronavirus ahead of the reopening of Landulwazi Comprehensive School, east of Johannesburg, South Africa, May 26, 2020.South African studentsSome South African parents of seventh and 12th grade students are reluctant to allow their children back into schools, set to reopen Monday, saying current disinfection efforts are not enough to convince them that it is safe for their children to return.Boston marathonThe Boston Marathon has been canceled for the first time in 124 years because of the coronavirus.The legendary road race had already been postponed from April, and organizers had said they hoped to be able to run it on September 14.Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said Thursday that date looked “less and less plausible.””There’s no way to hold this usual race format without bringing large numbers of people into close proximity,” Walsh said.The first Boston Marathon was held in 1897 and is the longest running such event in the world.  

Report Warns of Dangers From Deep-Sea Mining

Scientists and environmentalists are urging an international moratorium on deep-sea mining after releasing a report indicating its impact on the Pacific Ocean and island states would be severe, extensive and last for generations.The report also said mining for polymetallic nodules, potato-sized lumps found in the seabed that contain metals used in battery manufacturing and high-tech industries, would cause “essentially irreversible damage” to the region, including Kiribati the Cook Islands, Nauru, Tonga, Papua New Guinea and Tuvalu.Entitled “Predicting the Impacts of Mining Deep Sea Polymetallic Nodules in the Pacific Ocean,” the 52-page report represents a scientific consensus based on 250 peer-reviewed articles, and 80 NGOs are now calling for a moratorium as a result.“There’s the removal of the nodules themselves and the sediment that will be stirred up and also the waste that’s going to be discharged from the mining process,” said Helen Rosenbaum, coordinator for the Deep Sea Mining Campaign.“At this point we don’t know what’s going to be in that sediment, what kind of heavy metals might be there, how bio-available they are, that is how readily they might be taken up in the food chain.”Exploration licensesIncreased demand for the metals — cobalt, nickel, copper and manganese — has bolstered deep-sea mining for polymetallic nodules.The International Seabed Authority, an intergovernmental organization based in Kingston, Jamaica, has issued about 30 exploration licenses – 25 in the Pacific Ocean, and 18 of those in the Clarion Clipperton Zone, which stretches from Kiribati to Mexico, where DeepGreen — a Canadian mining company that plans to mine these metals with an eye toward electric vehicles — hopes to be the first to begin operations by 2024.DeepGreen Chief Executive Officer Gerard Barron was unimpressed by the report, saying deep-sea mining offers the best alternative to surface mining, which has a long history of pollution and the destruction of forests, habitats and wildlife.“I think it was a bias, narrow view, which doesn’t address any the issues, by a group of people that have their hearts set on trying to stop the progress of this industry,” he said.He added, though, that severe shortfalls in metals used in high-tech industries are emerging. Some were available under rainforests in countries such as Indonesia but extracting those metals would exact an enormous toll on the local environment, he said.“The argument should be what has the lowest impact from an environmental and a societal perspective,” he said, adding the Clarion Clipperton Zone contained “enough nickel and cobalt there to electrify a billion electric vehicles.”“We have a choice to continue to go into these biodiverse areas and destroy these biodiverse habitats.“Or we can ramp up ocean science studies and say: ‘Look if ever Mother Nature was to put a large abundant resource somewhere out of harm’s way, 4,000 meters below sea level, a thousand miles from the nearest land mass would seem to be a pretty good place.'”Unrealistic financial expectationsHowever, environmentalists remain skeptical, warning cash-strapped island states – already feeling the effects of climate change – against unrealistic financial expectations from mining and the poor track record of surface miners in the region.That includes a nine-year war fought on Bougainville which emerged from a dispute over a copper mine, extensive damage to the Fly River system in Papua New Guinea caused by the Ok Tedi open pit gold mine and long-running disputes over phosphate mining on Nauru.Last year Canadian company Nautilus Minerals went bankrupt, abandoning its deep sea mining ambitions, which cost PNG about $120 million.“We don’t know if there’s going to be other toxic substances such as processing agents in the mine-ways,” Rosenbaum added. “One thing we know is, it’s going to be constant plume of sediment and whatever the sediment is carrying for the life of the mine.”The report found sperm whales, whale sharks, Leatherback turtles and bird life could be at as much risk from nutrient enrichment and metal toxicity as commercial fish such as tuna.“Also, local communities in the Pacific are worried about their way of life being disrupted because they’re very connected to the ocean environment,” she said.Emeline Siale Ilolahia, executive director of the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Governmental Organizations, echoed her sentiments.“For me it was really like, ban the whole system from any mining until we have more scientific information available for our decision makers,” Ilolahia said.“We are now in a situation of COVID-19 and we see in our countries are struggling to have funds to support the response in-country and then you always question in your mind, thinking; where has the money coming from mining gone?” she said. 

This Week’s Space News

The United States almost sent two astronauts into orbit from American soil for the first time in nearly a decade.  Circumstances on the ground and in the skies changed flight plans for the public-private partnership between NASA and commercial flight company, SpaceX.  VOA’s Arash Arabasadi spoke with NASA to understand what happened and what happens next in This Week in Space.Camera: NASA/AP/REUTERS/SpaceX/SKYPEProducer: Arash Arabasadi

UN warns of Latin America Hunger Crisis Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) is warning that at least 14 million people could go hungry in Latin America, with the COVID-19 outbreak continuing to rise as jobs and economies decline under the weight of the pandemic.The WFP Latin America regional director, Miguel Barreto, has dubbed COVID-19 the “hunger pandemic. He said social protection networks are now necessary for people who normally didn’t need it.Many governments across Latin America are providing food assistance for the most vulnerable groups.While insisting the government do more, many people in poor communities are organizing soup kitchens, sharing what they have to try and sustain themselves.Pan American Health Organizations say the hunger situation is a major concern as Latin America becomes the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.Brazil leads the region with more than 400,000 confirmed cases. Other Latin America countries struggling to contain the virus include Mexico, Peru and Chile. 

Democratic Lawmakers Raise Concerns Over TikTok Privacy Regulations

Fourteen Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee are requesting that Federal Trade Commission regulators investigate the popular video app TikTok for violations of children’s privacy.The Energy and Commerce Committee conducts oversight on the FTC’s privacy unit. The lawsuit filed Thursday follows claims submitted by the Center for Digital Democracy, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and others that TikTok failed to remove videos posted by children under the age of 13, which it had previously agreed to do in a 2019 agreement with the FTC.The FTC fined TikTok $5.7 million in February 2019 over lax enforcement of measures designed to ensure children’s privacy.In addition to removing videos of underage children, the FTC also required the company to comply with all aspects of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in the future.The 2019 case alleged that TikTok neglected to implement blocks against the collection of tweens’ personal data and did not permit parents to request that their child’s data be deleted — if the parents were even aware that personal data was being collected in the first place.After the FTC ruling, TikTok introduced an under-13 section of the app that does not permit the dissemination of personal information. Last month, the Family Pairing feature was announced, which provides parents with a way to implement restrictions on all teenage accounts, not just those under 13.The Democratic lawmakers say that failure to comply with the FTC’s mandate violates COPPA.”The blatant disregard for the consent decree could encourage other websites to fail to adhere to settlements made with your agency, thereby weakening protections for all Americans,” the letter to the FTC said.The Chinese-owned app has been downloaded 1.9 billion times internationally, including 172 million times in the United States, The New York Times reported. Its popularity has soared since the onset the coronavirus pandemic and worldwide shelter-in-place orders, achieving record first-quarter growth.Suspicions over data collectionThe U.S. government has previously expressed doubts regarding the trustworthiness of the app, citing its Chinese origins. Several branches of the U.S. military, for example, have prohibited personnel from creating an account, and at least one senator has proposed legislation to ban use for federal employees.The lawmakers’ letter to the FTC comes after two Republican members of the Energy and Commerce Committee wrote a letter to the CEO of TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance.Representatives Greg Walden and Cathy McMorris Rodgers requested that the company disclose its data-collection practices for Americans and how that data is shared with the Chinese Communist Party or other Chinese state entities.According to The Hill, TikTok has previously stated it stores American user data in Singapore and denies that it shares information with the Chinese government.

What is Section 230 of Communications Decency Act?

QUESTION: What is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act?ANSWER: Section 230 “is one of the most valuable tools for protecting freedom of expression and innovation” on the internet, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a U.S.-based global nonprofit digital rights group.The original purpose of the 1996 Communications Decency Act was to restrict free speech on the internet, the EFF said. The Supreme Court, however, struck down anti-free speech provisions after objections from the internet community, including the EFF.Section 230 says, in part, that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”Q: What is an interactive computer service?A: An interactive computer service is partially described in the CDA as “any information service, system, or access software provider that provides or enables computer access by multiple users to a computer server, including specifically a service or system that provides access to the internet.”This means internet service providers such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon are subject to CDA regulations.A variety of interactive computer service providers that generally include any online service that publishes third-party content are also required to comply with CDA regulations. Examples are Twitter, YouTube and Vimeo.Q: Does the CDA provide protections for online intermediaries? If so, what are they?A: Section 230 protects them from civil liability. It says, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in paragraph.”In summary, Section 230 protects online intermediaries against multiple laws that could otherwise hold them legally accountable for the content and actions of others. Regular ISPs are protected, as are essentially any online services that publish third-party content.While the measure protects them from some of their users’ content, it does not completely do so, as they must still comply with certain intellectual property and criminal laws.Q: Do other countries offer legal protections to interactive computer services, as Section 230 of the CDA does in the U.S.?A: Many other countries do not have similar laws, according to the EFF. While Canada, European countries and Japan provide high levels of internet access, most major online services are U.S.-based.”This is in part because CDA 230 makes the U.S. a safe haven for websites that want to provide a platform for controversial or political speech and a legal environment favorable to free expression,” the EFF says.Source:

Larry Kramer Focused World’s Attention on AIDS Through Protests, Writing

Larry Kramer, the grandfather of fierce protests demanding action to fight the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and ’90s, died Wednesday at age 84. The author and activist founded the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, known as ACT UP, in 1987.ACT UP mounted dramatic and angry demonstrations credited with raising awareness of the plight of those suffering from Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. They were also aimed at pressuring the U.S. government to devote resources to stop the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and to find an effective treatment for the disease. AIDS primarily struck gay men in America, an often-reviled group with little political clout before Kramer launched his unique brand of unapologetically confrontational activism.Tributes have poured in for Kramer, including from those with whom he had a stormy relationship, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, who served as the first director of the U.S. government’s Office of AIDS Research.Kramer granted his last on-camera media interview to VOA’s Carolyn Presutti in April, when his health was failing. Here are selected clips, in Kramer’s words, recorded as he struggled to hold his cellphone to speak.Larry Kramer: The first cases included several of my friends who died. So I was involved then [from the beginning] with AIDS activism really since 1981.ACT UP was one of the most successful grassroots organizations that was ever founded. It was enormously successful. We never stopped working and fighting, and moving and doing all kinds of things to call the world’s attention to AIDS. You have to remember that Ronald Reagan, who was president, never even said the word AIDS. So we were operating “on our own” to bring the world the message that we were dying from this mysterious virus.Fauci was someone we were very angry with because he wasn’t doing anything.VOA: Larry, Fauci is actually quoted as saying, “You can divide medical research into before Larry and after Larry.”Kramer: I know he said that and that was very nice of him. I certainly had a lot of fights with him, as did ACT UP, to get him to the point where he paid attention to us. Now we are all buddy-buddy.VOA: Why was it so hard to get him and the government to pay attention?Kramer: Because it was happening mostly to gay people.VOA: Going back to the battles then, the battles of the ’90s, do you feel like you won that battle?Kramer: No. We still don’t have a cure. We have some drugs that keep us alive longer. They cost a good bit of money if you don’t have insurance. The fight is never, ever over.

New ‘Hunger Games’ Book Sells More Than 500,000 Copies

A decade after the “Hunger Games” series had apparently ended, readers were clearly ready for more.
Suzanne Collins’ “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” sold more 500,000 copies last week, even as many of the country’s bookstores were closed or offering limited service because of the coronavirus pandemic. The total includes print, e-books and audiobooks, according to Collins’ publisher, Scholastic.  
NPD BookScan, which tracks around 85 percent of the print market, reported Wednesday that “Songbirds and Snakes” topped last week’s list with 270,000 copies sold. Collins’ book, a prequel to her previous “Hunger Games” novels, came 10 years after the author seemingly wrapped up the Dystopian series with “Mockingjay.” The Associated Press in a review  praised the new novel, released May 19, as “mesmerizing” and called Collins “a master of building a fascinating world around complex characters.”
The opening for “Songbirds and Snakes” was slightly higher than the numbers reported for “Mockingjay” in 2010, when Scholastic announced first week sales of more than 450,000. Collins’ novels, which also include “The Hunger Games” and “Catching Fire,” have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide and are the basis for a billion dollar movie franchise.

Trump to Sign Executive Order Aimed at Reining in Twitter

U.S. President Donald Trump will sign an executive order Thursday regarding social media platforms, after Twitter tagged a pair of his tweets with a fact-check warning.Sources close to the White House say the president’s executive order would require the Federal Communication Commission to clarify a section of the Communications Decency Act that largely exempts online companies like Twitter and Facebook from any legal liability from any content posted by their users.The order also directs the White House Office of Digital Strategy to redouble its efforts to collect complaints of online censorship and submit them to the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department.Trump Threatens Action Against TwitterPresident lashes out at social media platform after it put fact-check alert on pair of his tweets about mail-in ballotsTrump on Wednesday threatened to “strongly regulate” or shut down social media platforms.  He said that Republicans feel that “Social Media Platforms totally silence conservative voices.” He alleged that social media sites attempted — and failed — during the 2016 election to stifle conservatives’ voices. “We can’t let a more sophisticated version of that happen again,” Trump wrote on Twitter.On Tuesday, an unprecedented alert on the @realDonaldTrump tweets about mail-in balloting prompted the president to accuse Twitter of interference in this year’s election and of “completely stifling” free speech.“I, as President, will not allow it to happen,” he concluded..@Twitter is now interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election. They are saying my statement on Mail-In Ballots, which will lead to massive corruption and fraud, is incorrect, based on fact-checking by Fake News CNN and the Amazon Washington Post….— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 26, 2020When those viewing Trump’s flagged tweets on Tuesday clicked on the warning placed by Twitter, they were taken to a notification titled: Trump makes unsubstantiated claim that mail-in ballots will lead to voter fraud.The alert, linked to stories from CNN and The Washington Post, and also included a fact box:What you need to know- Trump falsely claimed that mail-in ballots would lead to “a Rigged Election.” However, fact-checkers say there is no evidence that mail-in ballots are linked to voter fraud. – Trump falsely claimed that California will send mail-in ballots to “anyone living in the state, no matter who they are or how they got there.” In fact, only registered voters will receive ballots. – Though Trump targeted California, mail-in ballots are already used in some states, including Oregon, Utah and Nebraska.”Social media companies have been struggling with the spread of misinformation and the need for fact checking for years, most prominently in the last presidential election,” said Marcus Messner, the director of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture.“Twitter is right to flag incorrect information even when it involves tweets by President Trump,” Messner told VOA.The journalism professor noted the action “walks the fine line between fact checking and being accused of censoring political speech through more drastic measures such as deleting posts and suspending accounts. But the question remains whether the fact tags with links to news articles will even be recognized by supporters of President Trump, who regularly dismiss all reporting from mainstream media. The effect of the fact tags in this heated partisan environment might be limited.”It is unclear what legal leverage Trump has over Twitter, which does not need any government licenses to operate as do radio or television stations.A Twitter spokesperson said the company took the unprecedented action, based on its new policy announced earlier this month, because Trump’s tweets “contain potentially misleading information about voting processes and have been labeled to provide additional context around mail-in ballots.”Twitter has also been facing calls to remove Trump’s tweets that push an old conspiracy theory about the death of a congressional staffer.The president has stopped short of directly accusing Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, who hosts a morning program on the MSNBC cable channel of killing a woman in 2001 even though the politician was 1,300 kilometers away at the time and authorities ruled her death an accident.Scarborough was once friendly with Trump but has become a fierce on-air critic of the president.Timothy Klausutis, widower of Lori Klausutis, has written to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey claiming the president has violated the social media company’s terms of service and “has taken something that does not belong to him-the memory of my dead wife-and perverted it for perceived political gain.”

Apple Music to Launch its 1st Radio Show in Africa

Apple Music is launching its first radio show in Africa.The streaming platform announced Thursday that “Africa Now Radio with Cuppy” will debut Sunday and will feature a mix of contemporary and traditional popular African sounds, including genres like Afrobeat, rap, house, kuduro and more.  Cuppy, the Nigerian-born DJ and music producer, will host the weekly one-hour show, which will be available at 9 a.m. EDT.”The show represents a journey from West to East and North to South, but importantly a narrative of Africa then to Africa now,” Cuppy in a statement.African music and artists have found success outside of the continent and onto the pop charts in both the U.S. and U.K. in recent years. Acts like Drake and Beyoncé have borrowed the sound for their own songs, while performers like South African DJ Black Coffee as well as Davido, Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, Wizkid and Mr Eazi — all with roots in Nigeria — continue to gain attention and have become household names.Apple Music’s announcement comes the same week Universal Music Group said it was launching Def Jam Africa, a new division of the label focused on representing hip-hop, Afrobeat and trap talent in Africa. The label said it will be based in Johannesburg and Lagos but plans to sign talent from all over the continent. 

This Shared Fear Unites Us During Pandemic

The United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, recently called for mental health treatment to be given to millions of people around the world who are suffering from psychological distress triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not just about those who are sick – but for all of us, the fear of what might happen if we do get the virus. And it’s especially acute for caregivers. VOA’s Veronica Balderas Iglesias has this penetrating firsthand report.
Camera: Veronica Balderas Iglesias  Producer: Veronica Balderas Iglesias

NASA Postpones 1st Commercial Space Flight

NASA postponed Wednesday’s scheduled launch of a Space X rocket ship, the first manned commercial space flight in history.NASA canceled the launch 16 minutes before takeoff because of the threat of lightning near the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.NASA will try again Saturday to send the Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station.The launch will be the first time since the space shuttle fleet was retired in 2011 that Americans will fly into space from U.S. soil. Astronauts have been using Russian Soyuz spacecraft to travel to the space station.Led by veteran NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, the flight marks a new era in piloted space flight.Space X will join Gemini, Apollo and the space shuttle in space aviation history. The difference is that those rockets were built by U.S. government contractors.Space X was built by Tesla CEO Elon Musk and is the first time any space agency anywhere in the world used a private commercial company to fly humans into space.“We’re doing it differently than we’ve ever done it before,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said. “We’re transforming how we do space flight in the future.”Speaking on NASA’s livestream, Musk said, “This is a dream come true, I think for me and everyone at SpaceX. This is not something I ever thought would happen. When starting SpaceX in 2002, I really did not think this day would occur.”NASA’s aim is to have a cost-effective and safe system to send crews to space. Boeing also has a spacecraft in the testing phase for crewed missions. For cargo deliveries, both SpaceX and Northrop Grumman have sent multiple spacecraft to the ISS in recent years. 

Olympic Chief Bach Consults With IOC Members Over Virus Fallout

Olympic chief Thomas Bach on Wednesday held talks with International Olympic Committee members on the potential consequences of the coronavirus pandemic that has seen the Tokyo Games pushed back a year to 2021, sources said.Bach was to address the 100 IOC members in three different sessions decided by language and local time zone.Bach’s aim is to canvas the members for their view on “how to handle the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic,” a source told AFP.The IOC president wants to hear “thoughts, ideas and experiences of all members across the globe,” the source said.While Bach addressed all Olympic actors on March 24 when announcing the postponement of the Tokyo Games, it was the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak that he had specifically consulted IOC members.Bach was backed up by Olympic Games executive director Christophe Dubi, IOC sports director Kit McConnell, IOC director general Christophe De Kepper and chief operating officer Lana Haddad.The IOC’s medical and scientific director, Richard Budgett, also took to the floor to discuss “the issue of a vaccine,” according to a second source.’Last option’Bach warned last week that 2021 was the “last option” for holding the delayed Tokyo Games, stressing that postponement could not go on forever.He said he backed Japan’s stance that the games would have to be canceled if the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t under control by next year.The German wouldn’t say whether a vaccine was a prerequisite for going ahead with the Olympics, but he was lukewarm on the idea of holding them without fans.In March, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics were postponed to July 23, 2021, over the coronavirus, which has killed hundreds of thousands around the world and halted international sport and travel. It was the first peacetime postponement of the Olympics.The IOC has already set aside $800 million to help organizers and sports federations meet the extra costs of a postponed Olympics.According to the latest budget, the games were due to cost $12.6 billion, shared among the organizing committee, the government of Japan and Tokyo city.