Earth’s richest man Bezos, 3 others, to blast off into space

Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos addresses the media about the New Shepard rocket booster and Crew Capsule mockup in Colorado Springs, US, on April 5, 2017. (REUTERS/file photo)
Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos addresses the media about the New Shepard rocket booster and Crew Capsule mockup in Colorado Springs, US, on April 5, 2017. (REUTERS/file photo)
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Updated 18 July 2021

Earth’s richest man Bezos, 3 others, to blast off into space

Earth’s richest man Bezos, 3 others, to blast off into space

WASHINGTON: Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world, is set to join the astronaut club Tuesday on the first crewed launch by Blue Origin, another key moment in a big month for the fledgling space tourism industry.
The mission comes days after Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson crossed the final frontier, narrowly besting the Amazon magnate in their battle of the billionaires.
Blue Origin’s sights are, however, set higher: both literally in terms of the altitude to which its reusable New Shepard craft will ascend compared to Virgin’s spaceplane, but also in its future ambitions.
Bezos founded Blue Origin back in 2000, with the goal of one day building floating space colonies with artificial gravity where millions of people will work and live.
Today, the company is developing a heavy-lift orbital rocket called New Glenn and also a Moon lander it is hoping to contract to NASA under the Artemis program.
“They’ve had 15 successful New Shepard uncrewed flights and we’ve been waiting years to see when they’re going to start flying people,” Laura Forczyk, founder of space consulting firm Astralytical, told AFP, calling it an “exciting time” for enthusiasts.
New Shepard will blast off at 8:00 am Central Time (1300 GMT) on July 20 from a remote facility in the west Texas desert called Launch Site One, some 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of the nearest town, Van Horn.
The event will be live streamed on BlueOrigin.com beginning an hour and a half before.




This undated image shows an illustration of the capsule that will be used to take tourists into space. (Blue Origin via AP)

Joining Bezos on the fully autonomous flight will be barrier-breaking female aviator Wally Funk, who at 82 is set to be the oldest ever astronaut, Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen, the company’s first paying customer, who will become the youngest astronaut.
Rounding out the four-member crew is Jeff Bezos’ brother Mark, a financier who directs the Bezos Family Foundation and works as a volunteer firefighter.
The pair are best friends, and Jeff shared the moment he asked his younger sibling to join him in a viral video on Instagram last month.
Notably absent is the mysterious winner of a $28 million auction for a seat, who had “scheduling conflicts” and will take part in a future flight, and has asked to remain anonymous, the company said.
After lift-off, New Shepard will accelerate toward space at speeds exceeding Mach 3 using a liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine with no carbon emissions.
The capsule soon separates from its booster, and the astronauts unbuckle and begin to experience weightlessness.
The crew will spend a few minutes beyond the Karman line — the internationally recognized boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space, at 62 miles altitude (100 kilometers), as the spacecraft peaks at 65 miles high (106 kilometers).
They will be able to admire the curvature of the planet — and the inky black of the rest of the universe — from large windows that comprise a third of the cabin’s surface area.
The booster returns autonomously to a landing pad just north of its launch site, while the capsule freefalls back to Earth before deploying three giant parachutes, and finally a thruster, to land gently in the west Texas desert.

Beyond the first flight, relatively little is known about Blue Origin’s future tourism plans.
The company has a history of secrecy, its existence only becoming public knowledge three years after its creation. It then pursued a policy of “self-imposed silence” until 2015.

Unlike Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin hasn’t officially started selling tickets — Daemen won his spot through the auction process. The company wants two more flights this year, then “many more” in 2022, it told AFP.
Forczyk, the analyst, said it will all depend on the level of demand that is generated by these early flights, and how well the industry recovers from accidents “which there inevitably will be, because spaceflight is inherently risky.”
Elon Musk’s SpaceX will enter the fray in September with an all-civilian orbital expedition on its Crew Dragon, and is tying up with another company, Axiom, for visits to the International Space Station.
Beyond tourism, Blue Origin would like to supplant SpaceX as NASA’s leading private sector partner, and sees New Shepard as “sort of the stepping stone and also the way to make money along the way for the greater ambition,” said Forczyk.



Who’s who on Blue Origin’s first crewed flight

Jeff Bezos, 57: The spaceship Blue Origin was built by the company he founded in 2000, when he was still merely a single-digit billionaire. Six years before that, he started a small online bookstore called Amazon.com out of his garage. Bezos’ net worth is today estimated at more than $200 billion.

Mark Bezos: The brother of Jeff is a financier who directs the Bezos Family Foundation and works as a volunteer firefighter. The pair are best friends, and Jeff shared the moment he surprised his sibling, six years his junior, by asking him to join the mission in a video that went viral on Instagram last month.

Wally Funk: At 82, barrier-breaking woman aviator is about to become the oldest ever astronaut, fulfilling a lifelong dream that was thwarted by the sexism of the early space era. Funk, who took her first flying lesson aged nine, excelled in the Mercury 13 project which was intended to train women for space using the same standards as male astronauts, but the program was eventually nixed. She nevertheless had an accomplished career in aviation, becoming the first female air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, and serving as chief pilot in several flight schools.

Oliver Daemen: At 18, she is set to become the youngest astronaut. He holds a private pilot’s license and is a space enthusiast who will study physics in university this fall. The Dutch teen is flying in place of the still anonymous winner of a $28 million public auction, who asked to pass this time because of “scheduling conflicts,” and will go on a later trip. Daemen’s ticket was paid for by his father, the CEO of a private equity firm, CNBC reported.



How can you become a space tourist?

Thrill-seekers might soon be able to get their adrenaline kicks — and envy-inducing Instagram snaps — from the final frontier, as space tourism finally lifts off.
All you’ll need is a bit of patience. And a lot of money.
Here’s a rundown of where things stand.

Two companies are offering short “suborbital” hops of a few minutes: Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, founded by Richard Branson.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket takes off vertically and the crew capsule detaches and crosses the Karman line (62 miles, or 100 kilometers, in altitude), before falling back to Earth with three parachutes.
Virgin Galactic uses a massive carrier plane, which takes off from a horizontal runway then drops a rocket-powered spaceplane. This in turn soars to over 50 miles altitude before gliding back.
In both cases, up to six passengers are able to unbuckle from their seats to experience a few minutes of weightlessness and take in the view of Earth from space.

Virgin Galactic has said regular commercial flights will begin from 2022, following two more test flights. Their waiting list is already long, with 600 tickets so far sold.
But the company predicts it will eventually run up to 400 flights per year. Two seats on one of the first flights are up for grabs in a prize draw: registrations are open until September 1.
As for Blue Origin, no detailed calendar has been announced.
“We’re planning for two more flights this year, then targeting many more in 2022,” a spokesperson told AFP.
Another way to get to space is via reality television. Space Hero, an upcoming show, says it plans to send the winner of a competition to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2023.

The first tickets sold by Virgin Galactic went for between $200,000 and $250,000 each, but the company has warned that the cost for future sales will go up.
Blue Origin hasn’t announced prices. The anonymous winner of a public auction for a seat on the first crewed flight paid $28 million, but decided to defer their trip.
It’s not known what amount was bid for the seat secured by Dutch teen Oliver Daemen, who will fly in the auction winner’s place.
The more “budget conscious” might consider spending $125,000 for a seat on Space Neptune: a capsule that offers 360 degree windows and is lifted to the upper atmosphere by a balloon the size of a football stadium.
Despite the promise of spectacular views, the balloon ascends only 19 miles — far from the boundary of space, and weightlessness.
The 300 seats for 2024 have all been sold, but reservations are open for 2025.

No — you’re only expected to be in reasonable shape. Virgin Galactic’s training lasts just five days.
Blue Origin promises to teach you everything you need to know “the day before you launch,” and its first crewed flight includes pioneering aviator Wally Funk, who at 82 will become the oldest astronaut.
The company’s requirements include being able to climb seven flights of stairs in under 90 seconds (the height of the launch tower) and being between 5’0” and 110 pounds (152 centimeters and 50 kilograms) and 6’4” and 223 pounds (193 cm and 100 kg).

Elon Musk’s company is also getting into the space tourism game, but its plans involve journeys that are far longer. The costs are also predicted to be astronomical — tens of millions of dollars.
In September, American billionaire Jared Isaacman has chartered a mission called Inspiration4 to take him and three other passengers into orbit around the Earth on a SpaceX Crew Dragon, launched into space by a Falcon 9 rocket.
Then in January 2022, three businessmen will travel to the ISS with an experienced astronaut. The mission, named Ax-1, is being organized by the company Axiom Space, which has signed up for three other future flights with SpaceX.
Elon Musk’s company is also planning a trip to orbit for four people, organized by intermediary Space Adventures — the same company in charge of the flight of the Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa to the ISS in December, aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket.
Maezawa is also supposed to take a trip around the Moon in 2023, this time aboard a rocket that is still under development by SpaceX, called Starship.
He invited eight members of the public to join him — but applications are now closed.


Wray: Afghanistan unrest could inspire extremism inside US

Wray: Afghanistan unrest could inspire extremism inside US
Updated 16 min 5 sec ago

Wray: Afghanistan unrest could inspire extremism inside US

Wray: Afghanistan unrest could inspire extremism inside US
  • FBI is confronting increasing threats from individuals motivated by racial and political grievances
  • The danger posed in Afghanistan by groups like al-Qaida and the Daesh is at the moment primarily a regional threat

WASHINGTON: The possibility of a 9/11-type attack has diminished over the last 20 years, but the Taliban victory in Afghanistan could embolden US-based extremists.
At the same time that the FBI is confronting increasing threats from individuals motivated by racial and political grievances, top national security officials warned Tuesday.
Christine Abizaid, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, testified before the Senate Homeland Security Committee that the terrorism threat to the country is less “acute” than it was two decades ago, and that the danger posed in Afghanistan by groups like Al-Qaeda and the Daesh is at the moment primarily a regional threat. And FBI Director Christopher Wray said that though extremist groups have never stopped plotting attacks against the US, the FBI is better positioned to stop them.
Even so, the officials said, the collapse of the Afghanistan government and the potential ascendancy of foreign terror groups there could inspire Westerners to commit acts of violence. That’s on top of a domestic terrorism caseload that Wray said has “exploded” since the spring of 2020 from about 1,000 investigations to around 2,700.
“We are concerned that, with developments in Afghanistan — among other things — that there will be more inspiration to the first bucket,” Wray said of the international terrorism threat. “So I think we anticipate, unfortunately, growth in both categories as we look ahead over the next couple of years.”
US officials say they’re monitoring the situation in Afghanistan following the speedy Taliban blitz, particularly with an eye on how Al-Qaeda or IS could rebuild to the point of being able to conduct an attack targeting the US
“I think it is fair to assess that the development of those groups’ external operations capability, we’ve got to monitor and assess whether that’s going to happen faster than we had predicted otherwise,” Abizaid said. “Afghanistan is a very dynamic environment right now.”
Officials also defended the vetting process they have in place to screen the backgrounds of Afghanistan refugees seeking entry into the US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the number of refugees denied entry has been minimal because “we have not found many people with derogatory information relative to those who qualify for admission to the United States by reason of their status.”
“The (screening) architecture that has been built over 20 years since 9/11 remains in place and has only strengthened,” he said. “We have a screening and vetting architecture. We have greater cooperation among the federal agencies in the counterterrorism, intelligence and law enforcement communities. We remain ever vigilant in that regard.”


Egypt’s sovereign fund eyes investment in fintech sector

Egypt’s sovereign fund eyes investment in fintech sector
Updated 23 min 3 sec ago

Egypt’s sovereign fund eyes investment in fintech sector

Egypt’s sovereign fund eyes investment in fintech sector

RIYADH: The Sovereign Fund of Egypt is exploring investment opportunities in the fintech sector with a focus on small and medium projects, Ayman Suliman said in a CNBC Arabiya interview.

Talking about investments in other sectors, the chief executive officer of the fund said the tourism sector represents 20-20 percent of the fund's total investments.

Suliman also mentioned the fund’s plans to transform the historic Bab Al-Azab area in Cairo’s Salah Al-Din Al-Ayoubi Citadel into the first integrated innovation zone in the Middle East and North Africa.  

He said several projects in the health sector are also being studied such as the expansion of pharmaceutical exports.

“The health sector is a mainstay in the fund’s investment portfolio,” the CEO added.

The fund aims to attract private investments in Egypt’s underutilized assets and create wealth for future generations and boost the country’s economic growth.


Saudi ambassador: Vision 2030 reforms bring India ‘immense opportunities’

Saudi ambassador: Vision 2030 reforms bring India ‘immense opportunities’
Updated 20 min 38 sec ago

Saudi ambassador: Vision 2030 reforms bring India ‘immense opportunities’

Saudi ambassador: Vision 2030 reforms bring India ‘immense opportunities’
  • Writing in The Indian Express newspaper, Saud Bin Mohammed Al-Sati praises relations
  • Says Indian investment in the Kingdom continues to grow

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 economic reform program has created “immense opportunities” for Indian companies, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to India said.

Writing in The Indian Express newspaper, Dr. Saud bin Mohammed Al-Sati said the number of Indian companies investing in the Kingdom had continued to grow.
“In our endeavor to achieve the Vision 2030 strategic goals, we have created immense opportunities and an attractive business environment for our strategic partners,” Al-Sati said. 

Vision 2030 aims to diversify the Saudi economy away from fossil fuels and increase non-oil revenue, including from foreign investment.

Al-Sati said that in 2020, 44 new licenses were issued for Indian investments and that Saudi Arabia had made investments worth $2.81 billion in areas including renewable energy, agriculture and health.

In the column to mark Saudi Arabia’s National Day on Thursday, Al-Sati praised relations with India.
“Our dynamic cultural, socio-economic, and political partnership is based on mutual respect and shared values and interests and shall continue to thrive for the interests of our two friendly people and the people of the region,” he said.

Al-Sati outlined the progress made by Vision 2030 since it was announced in April 2016 by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

He said the reforms had helped Saudi Arabia weather COVID-19 and that the Kingdom’s investment environment was returning to pre-pandemic levels.


Abu Dhabi to use drones to deliver medical supplies

Abu Dhabi to use drones to deliver medical supplies
Updated 53 min 26 sec ago

Abu Dhabi to use drones to deliver medical supplies

Abu Dhabi to use drones to deliver medical supplies

DUBAI: Abu Dhabi is working on plans to add advances drones to its health sector’s supply chain, said an official statement.

Drones will be used to deliver medical supplies, medicine and blood units, vaccines and samples between laboratories, pharmacies, blood banks across healthcare facilities around the city in a safe manner.

The project will create a state-of-the-art delivery system and network using drones at 40 stations throughout the year 2022, the statement said. 

The project is a collaboration between Abu Dhabi’s Department of Health, the General Civil Aviation Authority, SkyGo and Matternet. It will leverage existing advanced infrastructure to transform healthcare logistics.

It aligns with the year of preparation for the “UAE Projects of the 50,” the UAE's Fourth Industrial Revolution Strategy, and broader strategies to position Abu Dhabi as a global hub for innovation. 

The statement issued by the Abu Dhabi Government Media Office said: The use of drones will yield environmental benefits with a reduction in CO2 emissions and reduced road traffic congestion.” 

SkyGo and Matternet have completed phase one of testing and are now working on phase two, which will be finalized by the end of this year and will address all aviation safety requirement and risk assessments.


UK minister sorry over Afghan interpreters’ data breach

UK minister sorry over Afghan interpreters’ data breach
Updated 21 September 2021

UK minister sorry over Afghan interpreters’ data breach

UK minister sorry over Afghan interpreters’ data breach
  • British media reports said the people whose email addresses were distributed included some individuals who are in hiding from the Taliban
  • “On behalf of the Ministry of Defense, I apologize," Defense Minister Ben Wallace told Parliament

LONDON: Britain’s defense minister apologized and his ministry suspended an official Tuesday after a “significant” data breach involving the email addresses of dozens of Afghan interpreters hoping to settle in the UK
A Defense Ministry email to more than 250 Afghans who are eligible for relocation and still remain in Afghanistan was mistakenly copied to all applicants Monday instead of blind copied. British media reports said the people whose email addresses were distributed included some individuals who are in hiding from the Taliban.
“It is an unacceptable level of service that has let down the thousands of members of the armed forces and veterans. On behalf of the Ministry of Defense, I apologize,” Defense Minister Ben Wallace told Parliament.
Investigations are taking place, and officials will help provide security advice to those affected, Wallace added. He told lawmakers that authorities believe there are 900 “credible cases” of Afghan resettlement currently being processed.
The opposition Labour Party welcomed Wallace’s apology but said actions matter more than words.
“These Afghan interpreters worked alongside our British forces and the Government rightly pledged to protect them,” lawmaker John Healey said. “Ministers must make good on those promises now.”
Defense Committee Chairman Tobias Ellwood, who like Wallace is a member of the governing Conservative Party, said: “The Taliban haven’t changed, they seek to exact revenge on anybody that worked for NATO. We must get these interpreters out or they’ll be hunted and killed.”
Britain’s government dispatched over 1,000 soldiers, diplomats and officials to Afghanistan in August to evacuate some 15,000 British nationals and Afghan allies after the Taliban took control of the capital, Kabul.