Russian, North American astronauts to return to earth

NASA astronaut Anne McClain, Canadian Space Agency's David Saint-Jacques and cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos at the Space Station on Dec. 3, 2018. (NASA photo via Twitter)
Updated 25 June 2019

Russian, North American astronauts to return to earth

  • The trio’s launch on December 3 was the first after a Soyuz rocket failed in October just minutes after blast-off

ALMATY, Kazakhstan: The first crew to blast off to the International Space Station following a launch accident that deepened doubts over Russia’s space program is set to return to earth Tuesday.
NASA astronaut Anne McClain, veteran cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos, and Canadian Space Agency record-holder David Saint-Jacques are expected to touch down on the steppes of Kazakhstan at around 0248 GMT.
The trio’s launch on December 3 was the first after a Soyuz rocket carrying Russia’s Aleksey Ovchinin and US astronaut Nick Hague failed in October just minutes after blast-off, forcing the pair to make an emergency landing.
They escaped unharmed but the failed launch was the first such incident in Russia’s post-Soviet history and a new setback for the country’s once proud space industry.
McClain, Kononenko and Saint-Jacques were optimistic ahead of their successful launch and remained upbeat throughout their time aboard the orbital lab which is seen as a rare example of cooperation between Russia and the West.
“A beautiful night pass over Africa on my last night on @Space_Station,” tweeted 40-year-old McClain, who completed two spacewalks during her virgin mission to the ISS.
Fellow first-time flyer Saint-Jacques broke the record for the longest single spaceflight by a Canadian astronaut, previously held by Robert Thirsk.
Thirsk clocked 187 days at the ISS in 2009 during a typical six-month mission, while 49-year-old Saint-Jacques’ mission will stand at 204 days by the time he touches down.
The record was helped along by the fact that the launch was moved forward to December 3 from December 20 for operational reasons — possibly as a confidence booster after the accident.
The returning trio were joined aboard the ISS by Ovchinin, Hague and NASA astronaut Christina Koch in March.
Koch, who was not part of Hague and Ovchinin’s aborted mission in October, will have her stay at the ISS extended to nearly 11 months, which would set a record for the longest spaceflight by a woman, NASA confirmed in April.
That record is currently held by Koch’s former NASA colleague Peggy Whitson, now retired, who spent 288 days aboard the ISS in 2016-17, NASA said.
Russians dominate the rankings for cumulative days spent in space, with the returning Kononenko set to reach 737 days by the time his fourth mission is complete on Tuesday.
That will leave the 55-year-old sixth in the all-time standings and just a typical ISS mission short of beating the 879-day record set by 60-year-old Roscosmos colleague Gennady Padalka in 2015.
Since 2011, Russia is the only country to oversee manned launches to the ISS.
But last year’s failed launch, multi-billion dollar corruption scandals at Roscosmos and the emergence of private sector competitors like Elon Musk’s SpaceX have combined to put into question Moscow’s future dominance.
NASA said earlier this month that it will be opening the ISS up to space tourists for the first time next year with 30-day visits expedited by SpaceX and Boeing expected to cost around $58 million per person.
Russia has flown seven tourists to the ISS but is set to increase that number beginning in 2021, according to Roscosmos, which struck a deal with American company Space Adventures earlier this year.
US businessman Dennis Tito was the first space tourist to the ISS, paying Russia around $20 million for the trip.

Afghans react angrily to Trump’s boast that the US could ‘wipe Afghanistan off the face of the Earth’

Updated 24 July 2019

Afghans react angrily to Trump’s boast that the US could ‘wipe Afghanistan off the face of the Earth’

  • Trump made his remarks at the White House ahead of a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan
  • “I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people,” Trump tells Pakistani PM

KABUL: The Afghan government demanded clarification from Washington on Tuesday after President Donald Trump said that the country “would be wiped off the face of the Earth” if he decided to win the conflict there.

Trump made his remarks at the White House ahead of a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday in which he sought to mend ties with Islamabad and seek its help to end the war in Afghanistan, the longest and most unpopular conflict in US history.

“I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people,” Trump said, referring to what he claimed were prepared military plans in Afghanistan.

“If I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth, it would be gone, it would be over in literally 10 days.”

The US leader’s comments could be a blow for President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which signed a security pact with Washington in late 2014 allowing US-led troops to stay in Afghanistan and, in 2017, hailed the US after it dropped the world’s largest non-nuclear bomb in the east of the country.

Trump’s remarks come amid rising violence in Afghanistan, which has claimed the lives of hundreds of Taliban, government troops and civilians in recent months. Many Afghans are asking why the world’s leading superpower has failed to defeat the insurgents 18 years after the ouster of the Taliban regime.

"Trump’s comments highlight Washington’s failure to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan” 

Political analyst Wahidullah Ghazikhail

The Afghan government, which relies heavily on US troops and funding in the war against the Taliban, has sought official clarification over Trump’s comments.

“Our partnership and cooperation with the world, and in particular with the US, is based on mutual interest and respect,” a statement issued by the presidential palace said on Tuesday.  

“The Afghan nation has never allowed and will not permit any foreign power to choose its destiny,” it added.

Many Afghans, including former government officials, reacted angrily to Trump’s comments.

Rahmatullah Nabil, a presidential candidate who served as Afghanistan’s spy chief, said in a tweet that Trump’s comments should prompt Afghan leaders to set aside their differences.

“In reply to the insults of #Afg by @realDonalTrump, all Afg politicians, including Ashraf Ghani and Taliban leaders, should drop their selfishness and announce that we will make peace among ourselves & there is no need for mediation for US/Pak,” he said.

Modaser Islami, a leading Afghan religious scholar, said that Trump’s remarks showed “hostility toward Afghans” and questioned if Trump was “fighting the Taliban, as terrorists or as Afghans? His recent remarks show he is enemy of latter.”

Veteran journalist Bilal Sarwary described the comments as “offensive, stupid and arrogant,” while another senior journalist called the remarks an “insult to the entire Afghan nation.”

Political analyst Wahidullah Ghazikhail told Arab News that Trump’s comments “highlight Washington’s failure to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan.” 

“Obviously, the US wants to strike a deal with the Taliban and Pakistan’s role is key in the peace process,” he said.