SpaceX capsule back on Earth, paves way for new manned US flights

An unmanned capsule of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is seen as it was lifted out of the ocean and loaded on the recovery ship, after splashing down into the Atlantic Ocean, about 200 miles off the Florida coast, US. (NASA via Reuters)
Updated 08 March 2019
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SpaceX capsule back on Earth, paves way for new manned US flights

  • Musk’s SpaceX capped the first orbital test mission in NASA’s long-delayed quest to resume human space flight from US soil later this year
  • After a 6-day mission on the orbital outpost, Crew Dragon autonomously detached and sped back to earth reaching hypersonic speeds

WASHINGTON: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule completed its NASA demonstration mission Friday with a successful splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean, paving the way for the resumption of manned space flights from the US.
After hours of suspense, the Crew Dragon touched down in the Atlantic Ocean at 8:45 am some 230 miles (370 kilometers) off the coast of the US state of Florida.
The capsule brought its “crew” of one test dummy back to Earth in the same way that American astronauts returned to the planet in the Apollo era in the 1960s and 1970s, before the 1981-2011 Space Shuttle Program.


NASA TV footage showed the capsule gently drifting into the ocean, its decent slowed by its four main orange and white parachutes, which folded into the water around it as boats sped toward the site.
“Good splashdown of Dragon confirmed!” the SpaceX Twitter account tweeted.
“Beautiful parachute deployment,” said Benji Reed, the director of crew mission management at SpaceX. “I’m still shaking.”

An unmanned capsule of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft descends down into the Atlantic Ocean, after a short-term stay on the International Space Station, about 200 miles off the Florida coast, US. (NASA via Reuters)

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine hailed the splashdown, saying it “marked another milestone in a new era of human spaceflight.”
Launched on Saturday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Dragon docked at ISS the following day before successfully undocking Friday some 250 miles over Sudan.
On NASA TV, it looked like a slow-motion ballet, even though the two craft were actually orbiting Earth at 17,500 miles per hour.
The re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere tested the vehicle’s heat shield for the first time, and SpaceX founder Elon Musk had previously said that the phase was “probably my biggest concern.”
“You see the light from the atmosphere as it heats up,” astronaut Bob Behnken said of re-entry. “You see some orange light flickering.”
While Dragon’s crew member was a dummy named Ripley this time, the mission sets the stage for a manned flight, which will see two US astronauts — one of them Behnken — book a return trip to the ISS sometime before the end of the year, according to NASA.
Boeing is also in on the project to resume manned space flight from US soil after an eight year hiatus.

“It won’t be long before our astronaut colleagues are aboard Crew Dragon and Boeing Starliner vehicles, and we can’t wait,” US astronaut Anne McClain said on behalf of the ISS crew after the capsule left the station.
NASA and the administration of President Donald Trump have spent all week extolling the historic nature of the mission.
It represents the first private space mission to the ISS, as well as the first time a space vessel capable of carrying people was launched by the US in eight years.
Dragon also marks a return to a “vintage” format: it is the first US capsule since the pioneering Apollo program.
Capsules have no wings and fall to the earth, their descent slowed only by parachutes — much like the Russian Soyuz craft, which lands in the steppes of Kazakhstan.

SpaceX’s swanky new crew capsule undocks from the International Space Station. The Dragon capsule pulled away from the orbiting lab early Friday, a test dummy named Ripley its lone occupant. (NASA TV via AP)

The last generation of US spacecraft, the Space Shuttles, landed like airplanes. Shuttles took American astronauts to space from 1981 to 2011, but their cost proved prohibitive, while two of the original four craft had catastrophic accidents, killing 14 crew members.
After the program was retired, the US government, under then president Barack Obama, turned toward SpaceX and Boeing to develop a new way to ferry its crews, paying the firms for their transport services.
Due to about three years of development delays, the switch has come to fruition under Trump.
“I realize I’ve been holding my breath for five years. Not exactly time to fully exhale, but another big milestone behind us,” said Lori Garver, the former deputy administrator of NASA who took part in awarding the initial contracts to SpaceX.
For now, Russia will continue to be the only country taking humans to the ISS.
Space station astronauts have been stuck riding Russian rockets since NASA’s shuttles retired eight years ago. NASA is counting on SpaceX and Boeing to start launching astronauts this year. SpaceX — which has been delivering station cargo for years — is shooting for summer.
The launch systems are aimed at ending US reliance on Russian Soyuz rockets for $80 million-per-seat rides to the $100 billion orbital research laboratory, which flies about 250 miles (400 km) above earth.


WWWorries? Inventor of Web laments coming-of-age woes

Updated 12 March 2019
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WWWorries? Inventor of Web laments coming-of-age woes

  • Tim Berners-Lee was working at CERN as a software engineer when he invented the hypertext-transfer protocol
  • He hopes countries can make the web available to more citizens

GENEVA: The inventor of the World Wide Web knows his revolutionary innovation is coming of age, and doesn’t always like what he sees: state-sponsored hacking, online harassment, hate speech and misinformation among the ills of its “digital adolescence.”
Tim Berners-Lee issued a cri-de-coeur letter and spoke to a few reporters Monday on the eve of the 30-year anniversary of his first paper with an outline of what would become the web — a first step toward transforming countless lives and the global economy.
The European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, plans to host Berners-Lee and other web aficionados on Tuesday. “We’re celebrating, but we’re also very concerned,” Berners-Lee said.
Late last year, a key threshold was crossed — roughly half the world has gotten online. Today some 2 billion websites exist.
The anniversary offers “an opportunity to reflect on how far we have yet to go,” Berners-Lee said, calling the “fight” for the web “one of the most important causes of our time.”
He is convinced the online population will continue to grow, but says accessibility issues continue to beset much of the world.
“Look at the 50 percent who are on the web, and it’s not so pretty for them,” he said. “They are all stepping back suddenly horrified after the Trump and Brexit elections realizing that this web thing that they thought was so cool has actually not necessarily been serving humanity very well.”
The anniversary is also a nod to the innovative, collaborative and open-source mindset at the Geneva-based CERN, where physicists smash particles together to unlock secrets of science and the universe.
As a young English software engineer, Berners-Lee came up with the idea for hypertext-transfer protocol — the “http” that adorns web addresses — and other building blocks for the web while working at CERN in March 1989. Some trace the actual start of the web to 1990, when he released the first web browser.
Berners-Lee reminisced about how he was really out to get disparate computer systems to talk to one another, and resolve the “burning frustration” over a “lack of interoperability” of documentation from disparate computing systems used at CERN in the late 1980s.
Now, the hope of his World Wide Web Foundation is to enlist governments, companies, and citizens to take a greater role in shaping the web for good under principles laid out in its “Contract for the Web.”
Under the contract’s sweeping, broad ambition, governments are supposed to make sure everyone can connect to the Internet, to keep it available and to respect privacy. Companies are to make the Internet affordable, respect privacy and develop technology that will put people — and the “public good” — first. Citizens are to create and to cooperate and respect “civil discourse,” among other things.
To Berners-Lee, the web is a “mirror of humanity” where “you will see good and bad.”
“The Contract for the Web recognizes that whether humanity, in fact, is constructive or not actually depends on the way you write the code of the social network,” he said.
Some tough regulation may be necessary in some places, in others not, Berners-Lee said.
On one issue, he’s insistent: “Net neutrality — strong regulation,” Berners-Lee said, hammering a fist on the table. He was alluding to a principle that anyone with an Internet connection should have equal access to video, music, email, photos, social networks, maps and other online material.
Berners-Lee said the web has created opportunity, made lives easier and given the marginalized a voice, but “it has also created opportunity for scammers, given a voice to those who spread hatred, and made all kinds of crime easier to commit.”
Ultimately, his “Contract” proposal is not about “quick fixes,” but a process for shifting people’s relationship with the online world, he said.
“It’s our journey from digital adolescence to a more mature, responsible and inclusive future,” he wrote.