Astronauts stuck on space station ‘confident’ Boeing Starliner will bring them home

Astronauts stuck on space station ‘confident’ Boeing Starliner will bring them home
US astronauts Suni Williams, left, and Butch Wilmore say they still had faith in the problem-plagued Boeing Starliner team and the spaceship. (NASA via AP)
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Updated 11 July 2024
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Astronauts stuck on space station ‘confident’ Boeing Starliner will bring them home

Astronauts stuck on space station ‘confident’ Boeing Starliner will bring them home
  • Their return was pushed back because of thruster malfunctions and helium leaks that came to light during the journey
  • In 2014, both SpaceX and Boeing were awarded multibillion-dollar contracts by NASA to develop crewed spaceships

WASHINGTON: A pair of US astronauts stuck waiting to leave the International Space Station said Wednesday they were confident that the problem-plagued Boeing Starliner they rode up on would soon bring them home, even as significant uncertainties remain.
Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams blasted off on June 5 aboard the brand new spaceship that NASA is hoping to certify to ferry crews to-and-from the orbital outpost.
They docked the following day for what was meant to be roughly a week-long stay, but their return was pushed back because of thruster malfunctions and helium leaks that came to light during the journey.
No date has been set for the return, but NASA officials said Wednesday they were eying “late July.”
Asked during a live press call from the station whether they still had faith in the Starliner team and the spaceship, mission commander Wilmore replied: “We’re absolutely confident.”
“I have a real good feeling in my heart that the spacecraft will bring us home, no problem,” added Williams.
She said they were continuing to enjoy their time aboard the ISS, performing tasks like changing out the pump on a machine that processes urine back into drinking water, and carrying out science experiments such as gene sequencing in the microgravity environment.
They have also tested Starliner as a “safe haven” vehicle in case of problems aboard the ISS, and checked out how its life support performs when four people are inside.
Before Wilmore and Williams can come home, however, engineering teams need to run more simulations of similar thrusters and helium seals on the ground, to better understand the root causes of some of the technical issues Starliner experienced — and modify the way it will fly down, if necessary.
It was known there was one helium leak affecting the spaceship before the launch, but more leaks emerged during the flight. Helium, while non-combustible, provides pressure to the propulsion system.
What’s more, some of Starliner’s thrusters that provide fine maneuvering initially failed to kick in during its approach to the station, delaying docking.
Engineers are not sure why the craft’s computer “deselected” these thrusters, though they were able to restart all but one of them.
In a subsequent press call, Boeing executive Mark Nappi told reporters that the “working theory” for the thruster malfunction was overheating due to excessive firing.
Theories on the cause of the helium leaks ranged from debris entering the propulsion system to Boeing possibly installing seals that were undersized for the task.
NASA and Boeing insist Starliner could fly home in case of an emergency, particularly since the problems affected only certain thrusters that control orientation.
They have no concerns over any of the more powerful thrusters responsible for the “deorbit burn” that will bring the spaceship back.
But much remains unclear — including whether the orientation control thrusters that malfunctioned have become degraded, which would make it necessary to rely on other thrusters during descent, NASA official Steve Stich said.
He insisted that NASA wasn’t yet considering bringing Williams and Wilmore back on a SpaceX Crew Dragon, in what would amount to a major humiliation for the aerospace giant Boeing, whose reputation has taken a hit in recent years over the safety crisis affecting its commercial jets.
“The prime option today is to return Butch and Suni on Starliner,” said Stich, while conceding that a return flight on a SpaceX spaceship can’t be ruled out.
In 2014, both SpaceX and Boeing were awarded multibillion-dollar contracts by NASA to develop crewed spaceships after the retirement of the Space Shuttle program. SpaceX carried out a successful crewed test in 2020 and has flown dozens of people since.


US invites Sudan’s warring parties for talks in Switzerland in August

US invites Sudan’s warring parties for talks in Switzerland in August
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US invites Sudan’s warring parties for talks in Switzerland in August

US invites Sudan’s warring parties for talks in Switzerland in August
  • Antony Blinken: ‘The scale of death, suffering, and destruction in Sudan is devastating. This senseless conflict must end’
  • The war in Sudan has forced almost 10 million people from their homes, sparked warnings of famine and waves of ethnically-driven violence
WASHINGTON: The United States has invited the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces for US-mediated ceasefire talks starting on Aug. 14 in Switzerland, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday.
The talks will include the African Union, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and the United Nations as observers, Blinken said in a statement.
“The scale of death, suffering, and destruction in Sudan is devastating. This senseless conflict must end,” Blinken said, calling on the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) to attend the talks and approach them constructively.
The war in Sudan, which erupted in April 2023, has forced almost 10 million people from their homes, sparked warnings of famine and waves of ethnically-driven violence blamed largely on the RSF.
Talks in Jeddah between the army and RSF that were sponsored by the United States and Saudi Arabia broke down at the end of last year.
State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters on Tuesday that the goal of the talks in Switzerland was to build on work from Jeddah and try to move the talks to the next phase.
“We just want to get the parties back to the table, and what we determined is that bringing the parties, the host nations and the observers together is the best shot that we have right now at getting the nationwide cessation of violence,” Miller said.

Harris assails Trump, promises compassion over chaos in debut rally

Vice President Kamala Harris waves before boarding Air Force Two as she departs on campaign travel to Milwaukee, Wisc.
Vice President Kamala Harris waves before boarding Air Force Two as she departs on campaign travel to Milwaukee, Wisc.
Updated 37 min 4 sec ago
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Harris assails Trump, promises compassion over chaos in debut rally

Vice President Kamala Harris waves before boarding Air Force Two as she departs on campaign travel to Milwaukee, Wisc.
  • Harris led Trump 44 percent to 42 percent among registered voters in the national Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted on Monday and Tuesday
  • Her rise dramatically reshapes an election in which many voters were unhappy with their options

MILWAUKEE: Vice President Kamala Harris assailed Donald Trump on Tuesday at her first campaign rally since replacing President Joe Biden as the Democratic presidential candidate, while a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll showed her taking a marginal lead over Trump, the Republican nominee.
“In this campaign, I promise you I will proudly put my record against his any day of the week,” she told a cheering crowd of several thousands at West Allis Central High School in a Milwaukee suburb in Wisconsin, a crucial battleground state in the Nov. 5 election.
“Do we want to live in a country of freedom, compassion and rule of law, or a country of chaos, fear and hate?” she asked.
Harris led Trump 44 percent to 42 percent among registered voters in the national Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted on Monday and Tuesday after Biden dropped out of the contest on Sunday and endorsed Harris as his successor.
Previous surveys taken before Biden’s exit found Harris and Trump tied at 44 percent a week ago and Trump ahead of her by a percentage point at the beginning of the month.
In all three cases, the difference was within the poll’s 3-point margin of error, but the results could signal some limited movement in Democrats’ direction — and may suggest that Harris’ elevation to the top of the ticket blunted whatever momentum Trump may have gained from last week’s Republican National Convention, also in Milwaukee.
Harris swiftly consolidated her party’s support after Biden, 81, abandoned his reelection campaign under pressure from members of his party who worried about his ability to beat Trump or to serve for another four-year term.
She wrapped up the nomination on Monday night by winning pledges from a majority of the delegates who at next month’s party convention will determine the nominee, the campaign said.
Most Democratic lawmakers have lined up behind her candidacy, including the party’s leaders in the Senate and House, Chuck Schumer and Hakeem Jeffries, who endorsed Harris on Tuesday at a joint press conference.
An unofficial survey of delegates by the Associated Press showed Harris with more than 2,500 delegates, well over the 1,976 needed for the nomination. Delegates could still change their minds, but no one else received any votes in the AP survey; 54 delegates said they were undecided.
Harris’ rise dramatically reshapes an election in which many voters were unhappy with their options.
Saddled with concerns that included his health and persistent high prices crimping Americans’ household finances, Biden had been losing ground against Trump in opinion polls, particularly in the competitive states that are likely to decide the election, including Wisconsin and the Sun Belt states of Arizona and Nevada.

CAMPAIGN RESET
The Wisconsin event offered another opportunity for Harris, the first Black woman and Asian American to serve as vice president, to reset the Democrats’ campaign.
Harris has been raking in campaign contributions. Her campaign said on Monday she had raised $100 million since Sunday, topping the $95 million that the Biden campaign had in the bank at the end of June.
While a wave of senior Democrats have lined up behind Harris, the racial justice group Black Lives Matter on Tuesday challenged the party’s swift move.
It called for a national virtual snap primary ahead of the Aug. 19-22 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where the party will formally nominate its candidate.
“We call for the Rules Committee to create a process that allows for public participation in the nomination process, not just a nomination by party delegates,” Black Lives Matter said in a statement to Reuters.
RUST BELT PUSH
Biden said on X that he would deliver a speech on Wednesday night from the Oval Office explaining his decision to end his campaign. He was returning to Washington on Tuesday after spending several days in isolation at home with COVID-19. The president has tested negative and no longer has symptoms, the White House doctor said in a letter on Tuesday.
Biden’s dramatic exit followed Trump’s narrow survival of a July 13 assassination attempt that raised questions about security failures in the US Secret Service. The agency director, Kimberly Cheatle, resigned on Tuesday after numerous lawmakers called for her to step down.
Trump and his allies have tried to tether Harris to some of Biden’s more unpopular policies, including his administration’s handling of the surge of migrants at the southern border with Mexico.
“Kamala Harris’ dismal record is one of complete failure and utter incompetence. Her policies are Biden’s policies, and vice versa,” Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung said.
Wisconsin is among a trio of Rust Belt states, along with Michigan and Pennsylvania, that are critical for Democrats’ chances of defeating Trump.
“There are independents and young people who did not like their choices, and Harris has a chance to win them,” said Paul Kendrick, executive director of the Democratic group Rust Belt Rising.
Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley, a Democrat, said Harris could also help bring back crucial Black voters.
“Many of them didn’t come along because they were distracted by his (Biden’s) age, distracted by his appearance,” he said.
Democratic National Committee chair Jaime Harrison, in an interview on NBC’s “Today” program, said the party had to move quickly to get the ticket on ballots in all 50 states, and that the vice presidential pick needed to be made by Aug. 7.
“This process is going to be fair, transparent, open but it’s going to be fast,” Harrison said.
Potential running mates include Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, Arizona Senator Mark Kelly, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, according to people familiar with internal policy discussions.


Ukrainian drone damages ferry in Russian port, one person dead, says regional governor

Ukrainian drone damages ferry in Russian port, one person dead, says regional governor
Updated 23 July 2024
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Ukrainian drone damages ferry in Russian port, one person dead, says regional governor

Ukrainian drone damages ferry in Russian port, one person dead, says regional governor
  • A fire at the port resulting from the drone strike was later extinguished
  • Port Kavkaz is located on a spit of land opposite the Crimean Peninsula

MOSCOW: A Ukrainian drone attack damaged a ferry and killed one person in Port Kavkaz in Russia’s southern Krasnodar region, regional governor Veniamin Kondratyev said on Tuesday on the Telegram messaging app.
The Ukrainian military, also posting on Telegram, said the attack had “significantly damaged” the “Slavianin” which it described as the last railway ferry Russia had been using for military purposes in the region.
“The occupiers used this ferry to transport railway cars, vehicles, and containers for military purposes,” Ukraine’s General Staff said.
A fire at the port resulting from the drone strike was later extinguished, the RIA state news agency reported, citing an emergency services source.
Reuters could not immediately confirm accounts of the attack from either side.
Port Kavkaz is located on a spit of land opposite the Crimean Peninsula. Ferries based there help to connect Russia’s mainland with Crimea, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Russia also ships oil and grain exports from the port across the Black Sea. In May, the Ukrainian military said it had struck Port Kavkaz’s oil terminal with missiles.


Sicily’s Catania airport reopens after Etna eruption

Sicily’s Catania airport reopens after Etna eruption
Updated 23 July 2024
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Sicily’s Catania airport reopens after Etna eruption

Sicily’s Catania airport reopens after Etna eruption
  • All flights would resume from 10pm
  • The airport had suspended all flights earlier Tuesday “due to eruptions and ash emissions“

ROME: The airport at Catania in Sicily, a top Italian tourist destination, reopened late Tuesday afternoon after suspending all flights when an eruption at nearby Mount Etna spewed volcanic ash.
Millions of passengers pass every year through Catania International Airport, which serves the eastern part of Sicily with tourist sites such as Syracuse and Taormina.
“Due to the decrease in volcanic activity, flight operations will resume,” the airport operator wrote on X.
Departures resumed from 6pm (1600gmt), while four arrivals per hour would be allowed from 8pm (1800gmt), it said.
All flights would resume from 10pm (2000gmt), it added.
The airport had suspended all flights earlier Tuesday “due to eruptions and ash emissions.”
That message was posted with a warning image of Mount Etna with the text “high intensity” and “volcanic activity in progress” overlayed.
The National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology said the ash column had reached an altitude of eight kilometers (five miles).
At 3,324 meters (nearly 11,000 feet), Etna is the tallest active volcano in Europe and has erupted frequently in the past 500,000 years.
Catania airport was last closed on July 5 due to an eruption.


Poll says 32 percent of Ukrainians open to territorial concessions for quick peace

Poll says 32 percent of Ukrainians open to territorial concessions for quick peace
Updated 23 July 2024
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Poll says 32 percent of Ukrainians open to territorial concessions for quick peace

Poll says 32 percent of Ukrainians open to territorial concessions for quick peace
  • The Kyiv International Institute of Sociology said 55 percent of Ukrainians remain opposed to making any territorial concessions
  • Nearly 29 months since its full-scale invasion, Russia occupies around 18 percent of Ukrainian territory

KYIV: Nearly a third of Ukrainians would accept some territorial concessions to Russia for a quick end to the war, a more than three-fold increase over the past year, although most still oppose giving up any land, a poll showed on Tuesday.
The Kyiv International Institute of Sociology said its poll of 1,067 people on Ukrainian-held territory from May 16-22 found that 32 percent would agree to some form of territorial concessions, up from just 10 percent a year earlier and 19 percent at the end of last year.
It said 55 percent of Ukrainians remain opposed to making any territorial concessions.
Nearly 29 months since its full-scale invasion, Russia occupies around 18 percent of Ukrainian territory, including the Crimean peninsula it seized in 2014. Kyiv’s troops have been on the back foot this year facing a Russian offensive after their counteroffensive failed to make significant gains last year.
The survey did not ask those polled what territorial concessions they would be open to or how large they should be. KIIS said those polled did not necessarily see concessions as equating to recognizing the territory as Russian.
“For example, some people are ready to postpone the liberation of certain territories until the future at a better time,” KIIS said in a statement with its findings.
Russia in 2022 unilaterally declared it had annexed the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, which it partially controls.
In remarks published alongside the survey, KIIS’s executive director, Anton Hrushetskyi, said Ukrainians remained against the idea of reaching a peace settlement with Russia at any cost.
“It’s ... important that in the context of possible ‘concessions’, Ukrainians are against ‘peace on any terms’,” he said.