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SpaceX Successfully Sent Dragon to ISS But Falcon 9 Rocket Misses Landing Pad

A Falcon 9 rocket didn’t come down quite where it was supposed to after propelling a Dragon spacecraft toward the International Space Station.

SpaceX on Wednesday had trouble sticking the landing with one of its reusable rockets. It’s the first time that’s happened since the groundbreaking launch of the company’s Falcon Heavy spacecraft in February.

Elon Musk’s company succeeded in its primary mission of sending a Dragon spacecraft on its way to the International Space Station to deliver supplies, but the first stage of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle appeared to lose control as it approached Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral.

The live feed from the rocket cutaway on the SpaceX webcast, but video from people in the media area at the cape showed the Falcon 9 appearing to regain control before making an unplanned landing in the water rather than ashore at the landing area.

Musk tweeted shortly afterward that cutting the live feed “was a mistake” and shared the full clip of the water landing from the rocket’s perspective:

Twitch user DasValdez from Kerbal Space Academy did manage to catch the entire landing from the ground:

A SpaceX Falcon 9 makes a splashdown after having problems approaching its planned landing zone.
Video by DasValdez/Twitch / capture by Alexandra Able 

The rocket took off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 1:16 p.m. local time, a little more than 48 hours after SpaceX sent another Falcon 9 to space from the West Coast on Monday. Dragon’s flight to low-Earth orbit was supposed to happen Tuesday, but the mission was pushed back a day to replace some food being sent to the space station for experimental mice living there.

SpaceX had planned to land the first stage of the brand-new Block 5 Falcon 9 rocket at a landing zone ashore at Cape Canaveral, but as the rocket descended toward the cape, the live feed from the booster’s onboard cameras appeared to show the craft going into some sort of uncontrolled spin.

A Falcon 9 begins to spin wildly on its landing approach.
SpaceX video capture by Alexandra Able 

The feed was then cut from the webcast, but groans and cheers could be heard from the crowd at SpaceX headquarters in California as SpaceX engineer Tom Praderio, who was co-hosting the webcast, conveyed the information about the rocket’s water landing.

Meanwhile, Musk tweeted that the problem was that a “grid fin hydraulic pump stalled, so Falcon landed just out to sea.”

The Falcon 9 is equipped with four fins that rise perpendicular to the body of the rocket as the craft descends, to help slow and control its approach for landing. The video seems to show that one of the fins didn’t initially extend all the way, causing the rocket to spin.

It seems that once the stalled fin extended fully, the rocket nearly regained control and came in for a landing almost like normal, but off target, in the water. Remarkably, it seems SpaceX may still be able to recover the rocket.

“Appears to be undamaged & is transmitting data. Recovery ship dispatched,” Musk wrote, latter adding: “We may use it for an internal SpaceX mission.”

Musk also tweeted that the pump that failed didn’t have a backup because “landing is considered ground safety critical, but not mission critical. Given this event, we will likely add a backup pump & lines.”

When SpaceX launched Falcon Heavy, which is essentially powered by three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together, the center booster didn’t land as planned on a drone-ship in the Atlantic, though the two other rockets returned to the ground safely. The last time a regular Falcon 9 launch ended with a failed landing was June of 2016.

Meanwhile, the Dragon spacecraft continues on its way to the space station, carrying fresh mouse food; new science and engineering experiments; and plenty of other goodies. It’s scheduled to arrive Saturday morning.

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An Extensive 3D Body Scanner Delivers A Startling First Human Scans

See through a whole person in three dimensions.

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UC Davis scientists Simon Cherry (left) and Ramsey Badawi stand with a mock-up of the Explorer scanner. Lisa Howard/UC Davis

“Explorer” is a fitting name for what the University of California Davis is calling “the world’s first medical imaging scanner that can capture a 3D picture of the whole human body at once.”

The magical machine combines two familiar types of imaging: positron emission tomography (PET) and X-ray computed tomography (CT). The UC Davis scientists behind the scanner released a video look at Explorer’s first human scans this week.

“While I had imagined what the images would look like for years, nothing prepared me for the incredible detail we could see on that first scan,” says Simon Cherry, one of the machine’s creators.

Explorer is much faster than a normal PET scan. It can turn out a whole-body diagnostic scan in less than 30 seconds. Explorer’s developers say it can be used to track disease progression, including cancer that has spread.

A second video shows Explorer’s ability to trace a glucose injection into a leg vein.

The first Explorer scanner will be installed in Sacramento, California, for use in research projects and human studies starting in 2019.

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NASA Released New Findings On ‘Oumuamua, The ‘Alien Probe’ Asteroid

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photo credit: European Southern Observatory/M. Kornmesser

The Spitzer telescope looked for ‘Oumuamua and couldn’t find it — but that doesn’t mean it was sent by an alien civilization.

There have been some zany theories about the cigar-shaped asteroid, known as ‘Oumuamua, that scientists first detected zipping through our solar system in October 2017.

As the first interstellar object we’ve detected floating through our neck of the cosmic woods, ‘Oumuamua captivated scientists and stargazers alike. Its detection was a watershed moment because, although scientists suspect interstellar visitors pass through our system with some regularity, this was the first time they had actually seen one.

The unusual shape and strange speed of the interstellar asteroid had astronomers puzzled. It seemed to zip past the sun in a way scientists did not expect, grabbing an unexpected speed boost on its journey across the solar system. That led to one particular paper suggesting it might even be an alien probe, sent from the far reaches of space.

Immediately after its detection, ground-based and space-based telescopes focused themselves on ‘Oumuamua, hoping to understand exactly what it was.

One of those telescopes was Spitzer, an infra-red telescope NASA launched in 2003. In a study published on Wednesday in The Astronomical Journal, astronomers explained that they pointed Spitzer at ‘Oumuamua for two months after its initial detection but they couldn’t detect it.

“The fact that ‘Oumuamua was too small for Spitzer to detect is actually a very valuable result,” said David Trilling, lead author on the paper.

Though it seems like a “non-detection” might not be able to tell us anything about ‘Oumuamua, it’s actually quite an important finding because it places constraints on just how strange an object the interstellar visitor can be.

Astronomers suspect jets of gas are responsible for giving ‘Oumuamua an unusual speed boost. NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Spitzer telescope has a different pair of eyes to a traditional telescope, as it were because it sees in infrared energy and thus detects a heat signature, rather than looking for reflected light. Though it is believed that ‘Oumuamua has an elongated body, Spitzer cannot infer the shape of the object from its reading, but can make an estimate about the object’s “spherical diameter”. The study suggests it may be as small as 100 meters (320 feet), or as large as 440 meters (1,440 feet).

Importantly, placing size constraints on ‘Oumuamua is central to one of the outstanding mysteries of the interstellar visitor — the unusual speed boost it received as it sped past the sun. In June, a study suggested that if the asteroid was small enough, outgassing — the release of gas trapped in the asteroid as it heats up — may be responsible for the increased speed. Spitzer’s observations certainly make that theory much more likely and effectively puts the “alien probe” theory to bed.

As the object continues its journey through space, away from the Earth, it gets further and further away from our telescopes so we’re unlikely to get a handle on just exactly what ‘Oumuamua is.

Like ships in the night, the Earth and ‘Oumuamua are destined to carry on sailing across the cosmic ocean, never to meet again.

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Video Of A Russian Rocket That Failed While NASA Astronaut On Board

Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, has released footage from a camera on board the Soyuz rocket that failed last month, forcing a dramatic emergency landing of the two astronauts on board.

The Oct.11 launch was meant to carry NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin to the International Space Station, but a short time after blast-off an “anomaly” occurred as the first-stage boosters separated.

The new video shows a view of the lower, or “strap-on,” booster blocks from launch until just after the moment three of the four large blocks can be seen falling away. As we now know, the fourth strap-on block didn’t separate properly and actually smacked its top against the central core rocket stage of the Soyuz.

“It resulted in its decompression (of the core’s fuel tank) and, as a consequence, the space rocket lost its attitude control,” Roscosmos said in a statement released Thursday.

The automatic systems on board the rocket detected the problem and triggered the escape system, which detaches the crew capsule and shoots it to the side to safely clear the rest of the rocket assembly.

The final moments of the new video show the rocket clearly beginning to spin in a chaotic way. This would be about the same moment Hague and Ovchinin’s capsule was being flung to the side of the failing rocket.

Hague later recounted the occasionally uncomfortable long ride back to the surface, where both men were quickly rescued and found to be unscathed from the experience.

Roscosmos now says the failure was the result of a bent separation sensor pin on the strap-on block.

“It was damaged during the assembling of the strap-on boosters with the core stage at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.”

The Russian space agency says it is taking preventive measures to guard against future failures and to get Soyuz back into space. In fact, a Soyuz launch to carry cargo to the space station is scheduled for Nov. 16 and a crewed launch set for Dec. 3.

It seems likely a NASA astronaut could be on that December flight.

“We have a number of Russian Soyuz rocket launches in the next month and a half and in December, we’re fully anticipating putting our crew on a Russian Soyuz rocket to launch to the International Space Station again,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said last week.

NASA turns 60: The space agency has taken humanity farther than anyone else, and it has plans to go further.

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Zuckerberg Will Be Attending UK And Canadian Parliaments After An Issued Joint Summons

Two separate parliamentary committees, in the UK and Canada, have issued an unprecedented international joint summons for Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg to appear before them.

The committees are investigating the impact of online disinformation on democratic processes and want Zuckerberg to answer questions related to the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook user data misuse scandal, which both have been probing this year.

More broadly, they are also seeking greater detail about Facebook’s digital policies and information governance practices — not least, in light of fresh data breaches — as they continue to investigate the democratic impacts and economic incentives related to the spread of online disinformation via social media platforms.

In a letter sent to the Facebook founder today, the chairs of the UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee and the Canadian Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics (SCAIPE), Damian Collins  and Bob Zimmer respectively, write that they intend to hold a “special joint parliamentary hearing at the Westminster Parliament”, on November 27 — to form an “‘international grand committee’ on disinformation and fake news”.

“This will be led by ourselves but a number of other parliaments are likely to be represented,” they continue. “No such joint hearing has ever been held. Given your self-declared objective to “fix” Facebook, and to prevent the platform’s malign use in world affairs and democratic process, we would like to give you the chance to appear at this hearing.”

Both committees say they will be issuing their final reports into online disinformation by the end of December.

The DCMS committee has already put out a preliminary report this summer, following a number of hearings with company representatives and data experts, in which it called for urgent action from government to combat online disinformation and defend democracy — including suggesting it look at a levy on social media platforms to fund educational programs in digital literacy.

Although the UK government has so far declined to seize on the bulk of the committee’s recommendations — apparently preferring a ‘wait and gather evidence’ (and/or ‘kick a politically charged issue into the long grass’) approach.

Meanwhile, Canada’s interest in the democratic damage caused by so-called ‘fake news’ has been sharpened by AIQ, the data company linked to Cambridge Analytica,  as one of its data handlers and system developers — and described by CA whistleblower Chris Wylie as essentially a division of his former employer — being located on its soil.

The SCAIPE committee has already held multiple, excoriating sessions interrogating executives from AIQ, which have been watched with close interest by at least some lawmakers across the Atlantic…

At the same time, the DCMS committee has tried and failed repeatedly to get Facebook’s CEO before it during the course of its multi-month inquiry into online disinformation. Instead, Facebook despatched a number of less senior staffers, culminating with it’s CTO — Mike Schroepfer — who spent around five hours being roasted by visibly irate committee members. And whose answers left it still unsatisfied.

Yet as political concern about election interference has stepped up steeply this year, Zuckerberg has attended sessions in the US Senate and House in April — to face (but not necessarily answer) policymakers’ questions.

He also appeared before a meeting of the EU parliament’s council of presidents — where he was heckled for dodging MEPs’ specific concerns.

But the UK parliament has been consistently snubbed. At the last, the DCMS committee resorted to saying it would issue Zuckerberg with a formal summons the next time he stepped on UK soil (and of course he hasn’t).

They’re now trying a different tack — in the form of a grand coalition of international lawmakers. From two — and possibly more — countries.

While the chairs of the UK and Canadian committees say they understand Zuckerberg cannot make himself available “to all parliaments” they argue Facebook’s users in other countries “need a line of accountability to your organization — directly, via yourself”, adding: “We would have thought that this responsibility is something that you would want to take up. We both plan to issue final reports on this issue by the end of this December 2018. The hearing of your evidence is now overdue, and urgent.”

“We call on you to take up this historic opportunity to tell parliamentarians from both sides of the Atlantic and beyond about the measures Facebook is taking to halt the spread of disinformation on your platform, and to protect user data,” they also write.

So far though, where non-domestic lawmakers are concerned, it’s only been elected representatives of the European Union’s  28 Member States who have proved to have enough collective political clout and pulling power to secure a little facetime with Zuckerberg.

So another Facebook snub seems the most likely response to the latest summons.

“We’ve received the committee’s letter and will respond to Mr. Collins by his deadline,” a Facebook spokesperson told us when asked whether it would be despatching Zuckerberg this time.

The committee has given Facebook until November 7 to reply.

Perhaps the company will send its new global policy chief, Nick Clegg — who would at least be an all-too-familiar face to Westminster lawmakers, having previously served as the UK’s deputy PM.

Even if Collins et al’s latest gambit still don’t net them Zuckerberg, the international coalition approach the two committees are now taking is interesting, given the challenges for many governments of regulating global platforms like Facebook whose user bases can scale bigger than some entire nations.

If the committees were to recruit lawmakers from additional countries to their joint hearing — Myanmar, for example, where Facebook’s platform has been accused of accelerating ethnic violence — such an invitation might be rather harder for Zuckerberg to ignore.

After all, Facebook does claim: “We are accountable.” And Zuckerberg is its CEO. (Though it does not state who exactly Facebook/Zuckerberg feels accountable to.)

While forming a joint international committee is a new tactic, UK and Canadian lawmakers and regulatory bodies have been working together for many months now — as part of their respective inquiries and investigations, and as they’ve sought to unpick complex data trails and understand transnational corporate structures.

 

One thing is increasingly clear when looking at the tangled web where politics and social media collide (with mass opinion manipulation the intended outcome): The interconnected, cross-border nature of the Internet, when meshed with well-funded digital political campaigning — and indeed buckets of personal data, is now placing huge strain on traditional legal structures at the nation-state level.

National election laws reliant on regulating things like campaign spending and joint working, as the UK’s laws are supposed to, simply won’t work unless you can actually follow the money and genuinely map the relationships.

And where the use of personal data for online political ad-targeting is concerned, ethics must be front and center — as the UK’s data watchdog has warned.

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