Record-breaking NASA astronaut coming back to Earth

In this Jan. 6, 2017 photo made available by NASA, astronaut Peggy Whitson works during a spacewalk outside the International Space Station. (AP)
Updated 03 September 2017

Record-breaking NASA astronaut coming back to Earth

WASHINGTON: A record-shattering NASA astronaut is set to return to Earth on Saturday, finishing a 288-day mission that put her over the top as the American who has spent the most cumulative amount of time in space.
Peggy Whitson, 57, is also the oldest female astronaut in the history of space exploration, was the first female International Space Station commander, and holds the record for number of spacewalks by a woman.
The biochemist is completing a mission at the International Space Station that began in November 2016, covering 122.2 million miles (196.7 million kilometers) and 4,623 orbits of Earth.
She and crewmates Jack Fischer of NASA and Fyodor Yurchikhin of Russian space agency Roscosmos were expected to land in Kazakhstan at 9:22 p.m. (0122 GMT Sunday) in a Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft.
Upon her return, Whitson will have racked up 665 days in space in her career, more than any other American astronaut. She is eighth on the all-time space endurance list, NASA said.
After earning a doctorate in biochemistry in 1985, Whitson worked as a NASA scientist for seven years before starting as an astronaut in 1997.
On this most recent mission, Whitson conducted experiments with human stem cells, blood samples and grew several crops of Chinese cabbage, according to posts on her Facebook page.
“The best part, was that after we harvested for the science, we got to eat the rest!” she said of her greens.
In an interview before departing the space station, Whitson said she was looking forward to flush toilets (“Trust me, you don’t want to know the details“) and pizza.
But, “I will miss seeing the enchantingly peaceful limb of our Earth from this vantage point. Until the end of my days, my eyes will search the horizon to see that curve,” she said, according to a transcript of the interview posted on the NASA website.
She noted that she’s not totally comfortable with the attention she receives for her various records and her status as a role model.
“I honestly do think that it is critical that we are continuously breaking records, because that represents us moving forward in exploration,” Whitson said.
The scientist also has a silly side. To celebrate the July Fourth holiday, she posted photos and a video of herself and Fischer wearing loud red, white and blue outfits, striking poses in zero gravity.
“I am not sure what the future holds for me personally, but I envision myself continuing to work on spaceflight programs. My desire to contribute to the spaceflight team as we move forward in our exploration of space has only increased over the years,” she said of her plans.
The astronauts’ return comes as the Texas city of Houston, home to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, has been struggling to get back to normalcy after a week of deadly flooding triggered by Hurricane Harvey.
“As a result of the impacts of Hurricane Harvey, NASA is reviewing return plans to Houston of Whitson, Fischer and the science samples landing in the Soyuz spacecraft,” the space agency said.


EU leaders split over $1.2 trillion post-Brexit budget

Updated 18 October 2019

EU leaders split over $1.2 trillion post-Brexit budget

  • Under a proposal prepared by Finland, the next long-term budget should have a financial capacity between 1.03% and 1.08% of the EU GNI, a measure of output
  • After the meeting, some EU leaders and officials described the talks as difficult

BRUSSELS: European Union leaders discussed a new budget plan on Friday that could allow the EU to spend up to 1.1 trillion euros ($1.2 trillion) in the 2021-2027 period, but deep divisions among governments may block a deal for months.
Under a proposal prepared by Finland, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, the next long-term budget should have a financial capacity between 1.03% and 1.08% of the EU gross national income (GNI), a measure of output.
That would allow the EU to spend 1 trillion to 1.1 trillion euros for seven years in its first budget after the departure of Britain, one of the top contributors to EU coffers.
After the meeting, some EU leaders and officials described the talks as difficult.
The Finnish document, seen by Reuters, is less ambitious than proposals put forward by the European Commission, the EU executive, which is seeking a budget worth 1.1% of GNI. The EU parliament called for an even bigger budget, 1.3% of GNI.
But the Finnish proposal moves beyond a 1% cap set by Germany, the largest EU economy. And it has displeased most of the 27 EU states, EU officials said, suggesting long negotiations before a compromise can be reached.
Talks on budgets are usually among the most divisive in an EU increasingly prone to quarrels. The member states are deeply split over economic policies, financial reforms and how to handle migrants.

DEEP SPLIT
The Finnish proposal, which cuts spending on farmers and poorer regions, has managed to unite the divided EU leaders in their criticism.
“The text has caused nearly unanimous dissatisfaction,” a diplomat involved in the talks said.
New, expensive policies, such as protecting its borders and increasing social security, have been enacted, but states are reluctant to pay more.
Germany and other Nordic supporters of a smaller budget argue that because of Brexit, they would pay more into the EU even with a 1% cap because they would need to compensate for the loss of Britain.
Eastern and southern states, who benefit from EU funds on poorer regions and agriculture, want a bigger budget and are not happy with Finland’s proposed cuts on these sectors.
Under the proposal, subsidies to poor regions would drop to less than 30% of the budget from 34% now. Aid to farmers would fall to slightly more than 30% from over 35% of the total.
To complicate matters, the new budget should also include rules that would suspend funding to member states with rule-of-law shortcomings, such as limits on media freedom or curbs on the independence of judges.
This is irking states like Poland and Hungary, which Brussels has accused of breaches in the rule of law after judiciary and media reforms adopted by their right-wing governments.
Friday’s meeting was not supposed to find a compromise, but divisions are so deep that many officials fear a deal may not be reached by a self-imposed December deadline. A later deal would delay the launch of spending programs.
The Finns remained confident, however, and insist their suggested spending range would eventually be backed by EU states. “The fact that almost everybody is against our text shows we have put forward a fair proposal,” one diplomat said.