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Russia To Quit International Space Station ‘After 2024’

Russia said on Tuesday it was leaving the International Space Station “after 2024”, amid tensions with the West, in a move analysts warned could lead to a halt to manned flights.

The confirmation of the long-mooted move comes as ties unravel between the Kremlin and the West over Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine and several rounds of devastating sanctions against Russia, including its space sector.

Space experts said the departure from the International Space Station would seriously affect the country’s space sector and deal a major blow to the programme of manned flights, a major source of Russian pride.

“Of course we will fulfil all our obligations to our partners but the decision to leave this station after 2024 has been made,” Yury Borisov, the new head of Russian space agency Roscosmos, told President Vladimir Putin, according to a Kremlin account of their meeting.

“I think that by this time we will start putting together a Russian orbital station,” Borisov added, calling it the domestic space programme’s main “priority”.

“Good,” Putin replied.

The ISS is due to be retired after 2024, although US space agency NASA says it can remain operational until 2030.

The ISS was launched in 1998 at a time of hope for US-Russia cooperation following their Space Race competition during the Cold War.

Washington has not received “any official word” from Russia yet, Robyn Gatens, director of the ISS for NASA, said during a conference on the outpost.

Asked whether she wanted the US-Russia space relationship to end, she replied: “No, absolutely not.”

Until now, space exploration has been one of the few areas where cooperation between Russia and the United States and its allies had not been wrecked by tensions over Ukraine and elsewhere.

Independent space analyst Vitaly Yegorov said it was next to impossible to build a new orbiting station from scratch in a few years, especially in the current circumstances.

Blow to manned flights

Russia is heavily reliant on imports of everything from manufacturing equipment to consumer goods and the effects of Western sanctions are expected to wreak havoc on the country’s economy in the long term.

“Neither in 2024, nor in 2025, nor in 2026 will there be a Russian orbital station,” Yegorov told AFP.

He added that creating a full-fledged space station would take at least a decade of “the most generous funding”.

Yegorov said Russia’s departure from the ISS meant Moscow might have to put on ice its programme of manned flights “for several years” or even “indefinitely.”

The move could also see Russia abandon its chief spaceport, Baikonur, which it is renting from the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, Yegorov said.

Soyuz rockets were the only way to reach the ISS until SpaceX, run by the billionaire Elon Musk, debuted a capsule in 2020.

The Soviet space programme can boast of several key accomplishments, including sending the first man into space in 1961 and launching the first satellite four years earlier. These feats remain a major source of national pride in Russia.

But experts say Roscosmos is now a shadow of its former self and has in recent years suffered a series of setbacks, including corruption scandals and the loss of a number of satellites and other spacecraft.

Borisov, a former deputy prime minister with a military background, was appointed head of Roscosmos in mid-July.

He replaces Dmitry Rogozin, a firebrand nationalist politician known for his bombastic statements and eccentric behaviour.

Rogozin had previously warned that without cooperation from Moscow, the ISS could de-orbit and fall on US or European territory.

At his meeting with Putin, Borisov admitted that the space industry was in a “difficult situation”.

He said he would seek “to raise the bar and, first of all, to provide the Russian economy with the necessary space services”, which he said included navigation, communication and data transmission.

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Elon Musk Says The Planet Needs More Oil . . . And Babies

Billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, who has fathered 10 children, said on Monday the world needs to “make more babies” — and keep digging for oil.

The richest man on the planet, who has repeatedly warned that low birth rates pose a “danger” to civilization, said ahead of an energy conference in Norway that the world is facing a “baby crisis”.

Asked about the greatest challenges facing the world, Musk cited the transition to renewable energies but also said the birth rate was “one of my favourite… things to be concerned about.”

“We don’t want the population to drop so low that we’ll just eventually die,” Musk, founder of American electric car manufacturer Tesla and SpaceX, told reporters in Stavanger, southwest Norway.

“At least make enough babies to sustain the population,” he added.

Many Western societies and populated countries such as China are facing declining birth rates and ageing societies.

“They say civilization might die with a bang or with a whimper,” added Musk. “If we don’t have enough kids, then we will die with a whimper in adult diapers. And that will be depressing.”

He also said the planet still needed new fossil fuel sources.

“I think realistically we do need to use oil and gas in the short term, because otherwise civilization would crumble,”  he said, adding that “some additional exploration is warranted at this time”.

He went on to advocate the maintenance of nuclear power plants, describing himself as “pro-nuclear”.

Several European countries had decided to phase out nuclear power, but following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February and Europe’s subsequent push to wean itself off of Russian oil and gas, the nuclear debate has reignited.

“I know this may be an unpopular view in some quarters, but I think if you have a well-designed nuclear power plant, you should not shut it down,” Musk said.

The businessman, who has been divorced three times, has fathered 10 children, one of whom died at 10 weeks old.

Earlier this year one of his children, who recently turned 18, filed a petition in a California court to change her name and gender identity to female.

Court documents said that she did not want “to be related to my biological father in any way, shape or form” as one of the reasons for the name change.

Musk also has two children with the musician Grimes, a girl they named Exa Dark Sideræl Musk — although the parents said they will mostly call her Y — and a boy born in May 2020 called “X Æ A-12”, or more simply, X.

Musk announced last autumn that he was “semi-separated” from the singer.

The American press recently revealed that he also had twins in November with an executive at Neuralink, Musk’s brain-implant maker, a few weeks before the birth of Exa Dark Sideræl Musk.

AFP

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From Fish to Humans, A Microplastic Invasion May Be Taking a Toll

 

Mark Browne had a suspicion. He hoped the samples of dried blood taken from a blue mussel and placed under a special microscope would tell him if he was correct. As a fuzzy, three-dimensional image of the mussel’s blood cells appeared, there they were, right in the middle—tiny specks of plastic.

Whereas photos of sea turtles eating plastic bags have become the poster child of the environmental harm wrought by humanity’s plastic waste, research like Browne’s illustrates the scope of the problem is far larger than the trash we can see. Tiny pieces of degraded plastic, synthetic fibers and plastic beads, collectively called microplastics, have turned up in every corner of the planet—from Florida beach sands to Arctic sea ice, from farm fields to urban air.

Their size—from about five millimeters, or the size of a grain of rice, down to microscopic—means they can be ingested by a wide range of creatures, from the plankton that form the basis of the marine food chain to humans. As Browne’s 2008 study was one of the first to demonstrate, those plastic particles don’t always pass harmlessly through the body. The finding “was one of those sort of bittersweet moments,” the ecotoxicologist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney says. “You’re pleased that some prediction you’ve made has come true—but then you’re devastated” because of the potentially profound ecological implications.

Ingested microplastic particles can physically damage organs and leach hazardous chemicals—from the hormone-disrupting bisphenol A (BPA) to pesticides—that can compromise immune function and stymie growth and reproduction. Both microplastics and these chemicals may accumulate up the food chain, potentially impacting whole ecosystems, including the health of soils in which we grow our food. Microplastics in the water we drink and the air we breathe can also hit humans directly.

Browne is one of dozens of scientists trying to sort out exactly what this widespread, motley assortment of microplastics pollution might be doing to animals and ecosystems. Tantalizing evidence is emerging, from the impaired reproduction of fish to altered soil microbe communities. As researchers accumulate more data, “we start realizing we’re just at the tip of the iceberg with the problem,” Browne says.

A THREAT TO ORGANS AND BLOODSTREAM

When Browne experimented with blue mussels back in 2008, many researchers thought animals would just excrete any microplastics they ate, like “unnatural fiber,” as Browne called it—but he wasn’t so sure. He tested the idea by placing mussels in water tanks spiked with fluorescent-tagged microplastic particles smaller than a human red blood cell, then moved them into clean water. For six weeks he harvested the shellfish to see if they had cleared the microplastics. “We actually ran out of mussels,” Browne says. The particles “were still in them at the end of those trials.”

The mere presence of microplastics in fish, earthworms and other species is unsettling, but the real harm is done if microplastics linger—especially if they move out of the gut and into the bloodstream and other organs. Scientists including Browne have observed signs of physical damage, such as inflammation, caused by particles jabbing and rubbing against organ walls. Researchers have also found signs ingested microplastics can leach hazardous chemicals, both those added to polymers during production and environmental pollutants like pesticides that are attracted to the surface of plastic, leading to health effects such as liver damage. Marco Vighi, an ecotoxicologist at the IMDEA Water Institute in Spain, is one of several researchers running tests to see what types of pollutants different polymers pick up and whether they are released into the freshwater and terrestrial animals that eat them. The amount of microplastics in lakes and soils could rival the more than 15 trillion tons of particles thought to be floating in the ocean’s surface alone.

Credit: Amanda Montañez; Source: “Sources, Fate and Effects of Microplastics in the Marine Environment: A Global Assessment,” edited by Peter J. Kershaw, (IMO/FAO/UNESCO-IOC/UNIDO/WMO/IAEA/UN/UNEP/UNDP Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection), GESAMP Reports and Studies, No. 90; 2015

What matters most is whether these physical and chemical impacts ultimately affect an organism’s growth, reproduction or susceptibility to illness. In a surprising study published in March, not only did fish exposed to microplastics reproduce less but their offspring, who weren’t directly exposed to plastic particles, also had fewer young, suggesting the effects can linger into subsequent generations. Some organisms such as freshwater crustaceans called amphipods haven’t yet exhibited any ill effects, perhaps because they can handle natural indigestible material like bits of rock, says Martin Wagner, an ecotoxicologist at Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who studied them. And some species have shown toxic effects from microplastics exposure from certain types of plastic, but not others, says Chelsea Rochman, a microplastics researcher at the University of Toronto.

Most work on microplastic impacts has been done in the lab for short stints, with only a single type of plastic, often with larger particles than some species tend to eat, and at higher concentrations than are found in the environment. The studies “won’t tell us about long-term ecological consequences happening at low concentrations,” Wagner says. He is one of several researchers starting to bridge that gap by matching animals to the polymers and pollutants they are most likely to encounter and incorporating the intricacies of the real world where microplastics “won’t be the only stressor,” Wagner says. Microplastics could be a last straw for species subject to pressures as chemical pollutants, overfishing and climate change. “It’s just damn complicated,” Wagner says.

INVITING CHAOS

Messy, real-world conditions are the goal on the green lawn of a botanical garden in Frankfurt, Germany. A row of small, identical ponds stretch across the grass, exposed to the elements. Wagner spiked each one with different microplastic particles—some virgin polymers, some contaminated with pollutants—to see how freshwater insects and zooplankton fare. Although Wagner hasn’t yet observed any overt impacts, he is investigating whether certain organisms exhibit more subtle signs of harm, which could have a ripple effect throughout an ecosystem’s food web.

Like Wagner, Browne is venturing farther out into the real world. He has several freezers’ worth of fish and other organisms plucked from Sydney Harbor that he will examine for ingested microplastics. His team will be linking those to the routes by which microplastics might be entering the harbor and looking for signs of ecological damage such as changes in population size. The approach means animals can behave normally and are exposed to typical environmental conditions such tides and storms, as well as a host of other stressors such as changing ocean temperatures and industrial pollutants. “We want a chaotic system because if something can cause an impact in that chaotic system, above those other stresses, we know that we really, really need to be worried about it,” Browne says.

Matthias Rillig, a plant ecologist at Free University of Berlin, has shown how microplastics can affect organisms by altering their environments. In a recent study he co-authored, soil laden with polyester microfibers was much fluffier, retained more moisture and seemed to affect the activity of microbes that are crucial to the soil nutrient cycle. The finding is an early but concerning one, given that farmers around the world apply microfiber-rich treated sewage sludge as fertilizer to agricultural land. Rillig is also one of several scientists looking to see how microfibers in soils might be affecting crop growth.

FULL CIRCLE

Microplastics may threaten people more directly. A study published in April found particles and microfibers in packaged sea salt, beer, bottled water and tap water, making it virtually certain we are ingesting microplastics. In bottled beverages microplastics could be infiltrating during the bottling process; microfibers could be falling from the atmosphere into the reservoirs that supply tap water. Even for researchers steeped in the field, “it still comes as a shock,” Rochman says. “It just shows that the mismanagement of our waste is coming back to us.”

Because it is unethical to intentionally feed doses of microplastic particles to humans, some researchers, like Browne, have turned to medical studies that use particles to deliver precise amounts of drugs to specific areas of the body to get a better sense of how easily microplastics might move through humans. If particles are small enough, they might migrate through the body and potentially accumulate in places like the bloodstream. A study of hamsters injected with microplastics suggests such particles can lead to blood clots.

Humans could also be inhaling microfibers as they fall from the sky—everywhere from the heart of Paris to the remote Arctic. Small airborne particles are known to lodge deep in the lungs where they can cause various diseases, including cancer. Factory workers who handle nylon and polyester have shown evidence of lung irritation and reduced capacity (although not cancer), but they are exposed to much higher levels than the average person. Stephanie Wright, a research associate at King’s College London, is trying to better understand how much microfiber humans are actually exposed to and whether airborne microplastics might penetrate the lungs. She is also teaming up with the university’s toxicology unit to examine their lung tissue collection for signs of microfibers and related damage.

Some scientists say the focus on microplastics in humans might be missing a larger point: People are continually exposed to plastic food and beverage containers, which could be a much bigger source of at least the chemicals added to plastics such as the endocrine disruptor BPA. The potential exposure to microplastics hasn’t stopped Rochman from eating seafood, however. “To the best of my knowledge the benefits outweigh the costs,” she says. It could be that, as with many pollutants, there is a threshold beyond which microplastics become toxic to humans or other species. “We just need to try to understand what that threshold is,” she notes.

Experts say the sheer ubiquity of the contaminant combined with the harm that has already been observed is enough for humanity to start to clean up its act. “There are always questions to be answered,” Rochman says, but we have reached the point where “it’s enough information to act toward solutions.”

Part 3: Solving Microplastic Pollution Means Reducing, Recycling—And Fundamental Rethinking

Rights & Permissions
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Rocket Woes Delay Launch of NASA’s Artemis I Mission

A problem with one of the Space Launch System’s main engines has postponed the test flight until at least September 2

 

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen on its launch pad at sunrise days before its first flight attempt for the Artemis I mission, at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

 

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — An engine cooling issue on NASA’s giant new rocket for deep-space exploration forced the agency to call off the booster’s much-anticipated launch debut early Monday (Aug. 29). 

NASA had mostly fueled its first Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket to launch the Artemis 1 moon mission on Monday when launch controllers were unable to chill one of the four main engines to the temperatures needed to handle its super-cold propellant. The issue stalled plans to launch the SLS rocket and its uncrewed Orion spacecraft on an ambitious 42-day test flight around the moon. Liftoff was scheduled for 8:33 a.m. EDT (1233 GMT).

Chilling the SLS rocket’s engines before flowing cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen through them is a required step before the rocket can launch, NASA officials said. While three of the engines passed that test, Engine No. 3 did not, despite troubleshooting efforts.

“Launch controllers condition the engines by increasing pressure on the core stage tanks to bleed some of the cryogenic propellant to the engines to get them to the proper temperature range to start them,” NASA officials said in a statement. “Engine 3 is not properly being conditioned through the bleed process, and engineers are troubleshooting.”

All four of these engines flew on NASA’s space shuttle program of reusable vehicles.

According to NASA spokesperson Derrol Nail, the engine conditioning was not something that the team was able to verify during the “wet dress rehearsal” process that concluded in June.

“This is something they wanted to test during Wet Dress 4 but were unable to,” Nail said. “So this was the first opportunity for the team to see this live in action. It’s a particularly tricky issue even going in to get that temperature dialed in, according to engineers.”

The Engine No. 3 conditioning issue cropped up as NASA worked through a series of glitches during the countdown, including a liquid hydrogen leak early in the fueling process and a possible crack in a part of core booster known as the intertank flange, which connects the SLS’s giant liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen tanks. The tanks can hold a combined 730,000 gallons (3.3 million liters) of propellant.

“The flanges are connection joints that function like a seam on a shirt, are affixed at the top and bottom of the intertank so the two tanks can be attached to it,” NASA said in the update.

NASA engineers found that the crack was actually in the insulating foam on the flange, not in the rocket’s metal structure. “That ice that formed is essentially air that’s being chilled by the tank that gets trapped inside of a crack in the foam but not the actual tank,” Nail said. 

Nail added that NASA personnel had seen similar cracks in the foam when it was used on the space shuttles before their retirement in 2011.

The Engine No. 3 problems and the feared crack followed concerns about a liquid hydrogen leak in the rocket. The leak during the fueling process appeared similar to one that occurred during an SLS fueling test earlier this year, Nail noted. But NASA officials were not quick to judge. 

“Although a similar issue was identified in an earlier wet dress rehearsal, it may not necessarily be the same cause,” NASA officials wrote in a subsequent update.

NASA stopped and restarted the flow of liquid hydrogen into the tank in an attempt to verify the leak and even proceeded with fueling the 322-foot-tall (98 meters) rocket’s upper stage while engineers worked the issue.

Even before fueling the SLS rocket, NASA faced challenges during Monday’s launch countdown. Offshore storms and lightning delayed fueling of the SLS rocket by nearly an hour, forcing launch controllers to work to catch up for lost time. 

With NASA unable to launch today, the agency could try for one of at least two back-up days on which to fly Artemis 1 on its mission to the moon. If the agency solves the Engine No. 3 issue, it could try to launch again Friday (Sept. 2) or Sept. 5, weather permitting. If NASA cannot launch by Sept. 5, its next launch try would likely be in October, mission managers have said. Launch opportunities are limited by the stage of the moon and lighting conditions upon reentry, among other considerations.

“The earliest opportunity, depending on what happens with this engine bleed, would be Sept. 2,” Nail said. “However, we will await a determination of what the plan is to go forward.”

Artemis 1 will send an uncrewed Orion capsule to lunar orbit and back, on a mission that will take six weeks from liftoff to splashdown. It will be the first flight for the long-delayed SLS and the second for Orion, which made a brief trip to Earth orbit back in 2014. (Orion rode atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket on that uncrewed test flight.)

Artemis 1 will also be the first mission for NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to establish a long-term, sustainable human presence on and around the moon. If all goes well with Artemis 1, NASA will be clear to start gearing up for Artemis 2, which will send astronauts on a journey around the moon.

NASA is targeting 2024 for the Artemis 2 liftoff and 2025 or 2026 for Artemis 3, which will land astronauts on the moon for the first time since the final Apollo mission in 1972.

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Tech Firms Unveil Plan For ‘Space-Based’ 5G Network

Thales, Qualcomm and Ericsson unveiled Monday a plan to allow smartphones to communicate directly with satellites, a “space-based network” they hope will bring connectivity to the entire globe.

The three firms envisage launching hundreds of satellites with 5G capabilities to bring coverage to “extreme geographies or remote areas across seas”.

The plan would potentially cut out the base stations and antennas that current mobile networks need to send and receive data.

But the idea is still in its early stages.

The firms said they had carried out “multiple studies and simulations” and would now explore possible uses of the technology.

“The result could effectively mean that a future 5G smartphone could use 5G connectivity anywhere on Earth,” they said in a statement.

Among the possible benefits would be greater security, which could be useful for national governments.

They also suggested space-based networks could be used as back-up during disasters or other large-scale blackouts affecting terrestrial networks.

However, the three firms are not expecting an imminent rollout.

It was “too early to say” when the first satellites might be put into use, said Ericsson’s Erik Ekudden.

Thales said a rollout of 600 to 800 satellites could begin within four or five years.

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Skies Are Sucking More Water from the Land

Drought is typically thought of as a simple lack of rain and snow. But evaporative demand—a term describing the atmosphere’s capacity to pull moisture from the ground—is also a major factor. And the atmosphere over much of the U.S. has grown a lot thirstier over the past 40 years, a new study in the Journal of Hydrometeorology found.

Evaporative demand can be thought of as a “laundry-drying quotient,” says Nevada state climatologist Stephanie McAfee, who was not involved in the study. When hanging laundry outside, she explains, “we know that it’s going to dry best and fastest if it’s warm, sunny, windy and dry.” This quotient does not simply creep upward alongside climate warming; it increases exponentially, says study lead author Christine Albano, an ecohydrologist at the Desert Research Institute in Reno. “With a one- to two-degree rise in temperature, we’re getting much larger increases in evaporative demand.”

To measure how atmospheric thirst has been changing, Albano and her colleagues examined five data sets covering 1980 to 2020 that included temperature, wind speed, solar radiation and humidity—all of which contribute to evaporative demand. They found the biggest U.S. increases occurring over Southwestern states, whereas rising humidity offset higher temperatures in the East. In the Rio Grande region, the atmosphere craved 135 to 235 millimeters more water annually in 2020 than it did in 1980, an 8 to 15 percent increase. That water vaporized instead of quenching crops and filling aquifers. (A 10 percent increase means the same crops under the same management need 10 percent more water to be as productive as 40 years ago.)

Along with higher temperatures and lower humidity, the study also noted rising wind speeds and increasing solar radiation. In arid regions, humidity declines as temperatures warm. Albano says she is not yet sure why the sunlight and wind are changing.

Rising evaporative demand adds to the strain as the West continues to endure megadrought conditions that have not been seen for 1,200 years. The increase contributed to low spring runoff from the Sierra Nevada in 2021, when much less stream water came from snow than predicted, Albano says. A thirstier atmosphere also dried out Western forests, leading to larger wildfires.

The study shows that resource managers “really have to think a lot about how we make sure that we’re controlling the amount of water that we’re all using,” says Caroline Juang, a Columbia University Earth scientist who was not involved in the study.

“Three inches of rain doesn’t go as far as it used to,” McAfee says. “The atmosphere wants a bigger sip.”

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How Climate Change Is Leaving Some Species with ‘Nowhere Left to Go’

By Fionna M. D. Samuels

 

For millennia, many animals and plants have coped with occasional climate changes by moving into new areas. But humans’ relatively recent burning of fossil fuels is pushing global temperatures upward at an exceptionally rapid rate, placing many species on what a new book by science journalist Benjamin von Brackel notes has been called an “escalator to extinction”—and raising the question of whether migration can save them this time. It is estimated that land-dwelling animals are now moving toward the poles at a rate of an average of about 17 kilometers (more than 10 miles) per decade and that the front line of ocean dwellers is now doing so at a rate of 72 kilometers (45 miles) per decade. Some plant and animal species—such as the Edith’s checkerspot butterfly and the Scots pine—are shifting to higher, cooler elevations in the mountains as well. What happens when they all run out of places to flee the heat?

His book Nowhere Left to Go: How Climate Change Is Driving Species to the Ends of the Earth (The Experiment Publishing) came out on July 5. In it, von Brackel examines this question and others that have arisen from the massive migrations spurred by global warming. The book discusses the research into how ecosystems might change as old species leave and new ones arrive, as well as the substantial implications for human societies.

Scientific American spoke with von Brackel about what science is telling us we can expect from having so many species on the move and how we might help some persist in the face of climate change.

[An edited transcript of the interview follows.]

Where did the idea for this book come from?

It was a couple of years ago, when I had been reading a study on ocean acidification, and there was this passing mention that cod are moving hundreds of kilometers north in the North Sea. I had to read the sentence twice. I thought, “Okay, wow, if the cod is doing this, maybe other fish species are doing this, too, and maybe other land-dwelling creatures also—and maybe all species on Earth.” In my mind’s eye I saw some kind of living tsunami rolling over the planet and confronting human societies. I thought, “Okay, wow, this could be huge.” When I found out that this is actually happening—and except for the scientists dealing with this, nobody knows about the extent of this phenomenon—I thought, “Okay, well, I have to immerse myself in it.”

What happens to species that can’t move anymore?

The species that are not able to move and to conquer new places, they have a high risk of becoming extinct—that’s it. Right now many species can move poleward. In latitudes like Europe or North America, species are expanding, so they can have new ranges. But the problem is in the tropics. There you have tropical mountains, where we now see the first species becoming extinct because they are at some point at the summit, so they can’t move anywhere. It’s a dead end.

The book talks about how insects and animals moving into new areas can bring health threats to humans. What are some of those potential threats?

I think it’s one of the issues we should be most concerned about in terms of species range shifts. Let’s take the Asian tiger mosquito [which can spread pathogens, including the dengue viruses and West Nile virus]. This insect is already conquering much of the U.S. and Europe. They initially came from Asia via international shipping to the U.S. in, I think, the 1980s—and then, afterward, to Italy in the 1990s. It was funny, because, two weeks ago, I was in Italy, and I wondered, “What are all these little mosquitoes biting me all the time?” Then I took a close look and I saw the zebralike white stripes on it. They actually were Asian tiger mosquitoes and, oh my God, I clobbered so many of them.

What are the possible economic impacts of these mass migrations?

There are already a lot. For example, in Germany, the two most important tree species for timber production are the Scots pine and European spruce, and their ranges are both retracting because of climate change. So they retract up the mountains, and they retract to Scandinavia. This has huge impacts, because models say that by the year 2100, 20 to 60 percent of the forest land will only be suitable for Mediterranean oak forest types—and they have much lower economic output.

Are there species that might leave a cultural loss as they move away?

Probably the people most affected by species shifts are Indigenous people, and that’s because they live close to nature, and many of them depend on specific animals or plants. Many of them have circled their whole culture around just one species—like the Inupiat in Alaska, who hunt bowhead whales. Bowhead whales now migrate much farther north. That’s a big problem for the Inupiat. Everything is changing, and they can’t easily adapt by choosing another species as their main species.

Is there a similar situation with the disappearing kelp forests in Japan? That was another example you mention in the book that seems like a big shift, considering how central kelp and the fish species found in kelp forests are to Japanese culture and cuisine.

The kelp forests, on one hand, are so important for the Japanese as a food resource but also culturally. They do everything to protect them, but in the end, they can’t stop this process. Maybe one good thing is that the species that follow the kelp forests are corals, so they have new coral reefs emerge. I find that kind of magical.

That was actually something that I took away as a glimmer of hope: some of the most at-risk species are moving, so maybe they won’t go extinct.

I think this is the main message in the book: that species are able to respond to climate change. So this is a positive thing. In the last 2.6 million years of the ice age, there were many times that species had to respond to climate warming and climate cooling. And the interesting thing is that every time there were not many species that did go extinct. So they managed to do this. And this is a very hopeful thing.

What is different about today?

The thing that’s different today is us. First of all, we have occupied so many places on Earth—about half the surface of Earth—with agricultural land and cities. And we also crisscrossed the land with streets and canals. That makes it very hard for many species to move to respond to climate change.

How can we help species adapt to this very drastic change in climate?

So the most important and most obvious thing is to curb emissions. Without stopping climate change and curbing emissions fast enough, species don’t have a chance. But on the way to do this, we can do a lot of other things. In general, we have to give species the room to respond to climate change and to create enough conservation areas where they can thrive and to connect them with enough wildlife corridors—and that’s starting to happen already. Some scientists recommend protecting about 30 percent of Earth’s surface and some even more—around 50 percent. In fact, at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference, coming up in autumn, nations are about to decide on [how much land to protect]. So this is a real possibility, and I think this will be an important first step. But afterward, one has to see, “Okay, where are the conservation areas built?” and “Will this be implemented?”

Can individual people help by, for example, not growing lawns?

I think everybody who has a garden can help species to create a stepping-stone so that they can move to higher latitudes. And yeah, as you said, a lawn isn’t very helpful. Here in Berlin, I see many gardens that are even paved or full of gravel—and that’s also not very helpful. What you can do is to have a hedge instead of a fence, to have fruit trees and berry bushes where bumblebees or honeybees can thrive or have little branch piles so birds and rodents can hide. You can do a lot with the garden.

 

 AUTHOR(S)Fionna M. D. Samuels is a 2022 AAAS Mass Media Fellow at Scientific American. She’s pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry at Colorado State University. Follow her on Twitter @Fairy__Hedgehog
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NASA Rolls Out Its Mega Moon Rocket

With the Orion crew capsule fixed on top, the Space Launch System (SLS) Block 1 stands 322 feet (98 meters) high — taller than the Statue of Liberty, but a little smaller than the 363 feet Saturn V rockets that powered the Apollo missions to the Moon.

Despite this, it will produce 8.8 million pounds of maximum thrust (39.1 Meganewtons), 15 percent more than the Saturn V, meaning it’s expected to be the world’s most powerful rocket at the time it begins operating.

“This is a flagship rocket you’re about to see, it’s a symbol of our country,” Tom Whitmeyer, associate administrator for exploration systems development, told reporters on a call this week.

A symbol that comes at an estimated price tag of $4.1 billion per launch for the first four Artemis missions, NASA Inspector General Paul Martin told Congress this month.

Once it reaches the iconic launch pad, where 53 Space Shuttles took off, engineers have roughly two more weeks worth of checks before what’s known as the “wet dress rehearsal,” the final prelaunch test.

On the morning of April 3, the SLS team will load more than 700,000 gallons (3.2 million liters) of cryogenic propellants into the rocket and practice every phase of launch countdown, cutting off the engines less than ten seconds from blast off.

The propellant will then be drained to demonstrate safely standing down a launch attempt.

– To the Moon and beyond –

NASA is targeting May as the earliest window for Artemis-1, an uncrewed lunar mission that will be the first flight for SLS and Orion.

SLS will first place Orion into a low Earth orbit, then, using its upper stage, perform what’s called a trans-lunar injection.

This maneuver is necessary to send Orion 280,000 miles beyond Earth and 40,000 miles beyond the Moon — further than any spaceship capable of carrying humans has ventured.

On its three-week mission, Orion will deploy 10 shoebox size satellites known as CubeSats to gather information on the deep space environment.

It will journey around the far side of the Moon — thanks to thrusters provided by the European Space Agency (ESA) service module — and finally make its way back to Earth, where its heat shield will be tested against the atmosphere.

Splashdown takes place in the Pacific, off the coast of California.

Artemis-2 will be the first crewed test, flying around the Moon but not landing, while Artemis-3, now planned for no earlier than 2025, will see the first woman and first person of color touch down on the lunar south pole.

NASA wants to use the Moon as a proving ground for testing technologies necessary for a Mars mission, sometime in the 2030s, using a Block 2 evolution of the SLS.

– SLS v Starship –

NASA calls SLS a “super heavy lift exploration class vehicle.” The only currently operational super heavy rocket is SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, which is smaller.

Elon Musk’s company is also developing its own deep space rocket, the fully reusable Starship, which he has said should be ready for an orbital test this year.

Starship would be both bigger and more powerful than SLS: 394 feet tall with 17 million pounds of thrust. It could also be considerably cheaper.

The tycoon has suggested that within years, the cost per launch could be as little as $10 million.

Direct comparisons are complicated by the fact that while SLS is designed to fly direct to its destinations, SpaceX foresees putting a Starship into orbit, then refueling it with another Starship so it can continue its journey, to extend range and payload.

NASA has also contracted a version of Starship as a lunar descent vehicle for Artemis.

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‘TechWorks’ Brings Dreams Of Jordan Inventors To Life

In the age of Covid, Jordanian mechanical engineer Saliba Taimeh pondered how to deal with one contaminated everyday surface: the handrails of escalators in shopping malls and transport hubs.

He came up with a device to sterilise them with UV rays — and this is where TechWorks stepped in.

A wealth of ideas would not have seen the light of day without TechWorks, a Jordanian platform aimed at bringing together youth, ideas and resources to jump-start innovations.

Set up in 2018, TechWorks says its mission is “to plug into entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystems” and turn ideas into reality.

It is equipped with state-of-the-art technology such as 3D printers and affiliated with a foundation set up by Crown Prince Hussein.

Last year, it attracted about 100 inventors and start-up companies, enabling them to produce prototypes quickly and at low cost.

Taimeh, 39, said TechWorks “provided me with every support, back-up, advice and guidance” to help perfect the sterilising device, after 23 attempts over almost two years.

His invention sterilises the handrails of escalators “from all kinds of viruses, such as coronavirus and bacteria,” he said.

After contacting several international companies, a German firm specialising in health and safety in public places signed up to manufacture the “Brigid Box”.

Weighing in at 7.2 kilograms (almost 16 pounds), it can be installed in less than 15 minutes.

– Success stories –

Taimeh’s success story is only one of many.

High school student Zain Abu Rumman, 18, has developed a tracking device for elderly patients and people with special needs, worn like a watch or around the neck.

The “SPS Watch” has a battery that lasts eight days and is resistant to water, heat and breakage.

 

People sit together at the TechWorks digital fabrication lab in Jordan’s capital Amman on February 20, 2022. – A wealth of ideas would not have seen the light of day without TechWorks, a Jordanian platform aimed at bringing together youth, ideas and resources to jump-start innovations.  (Photo by Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP)

 

“The device can send alerts to the mobile phone of a family member through a special application in case the person wearing it falls or is hurt, or if he strays from a certain place,” Abu Rumman said.

It took him two-and-a-half years to perfect and he has struck a production accord with a Chinese company.

Omar Khader, 26, works for “Jazri Studio”, an industrial design company which has devised a “smart” plug to protect children from electric shocks.

“TechWorks has advanced equipment, engineers and technicians that help us convert our ideas into successful products,” he said.

– FabLab ‘open to all’ –

Other designers, like 32-year-old civil engineer Malik Nour, still have a long and expensive way to go to refine their products.

Nour’s brainchild is the “Pikler Triangle”, designed as a safe and environmentally friendly children’s toy.

He hopes to attract Swedish furniture giant IKEA to take on his products, which he is already selling over social media to customers in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, under the label of “Fares World”, named after his child.

 

Omar Khader, a 26-year-old Jordanian who works for “Jazri Studio”, an industrial design company which has devised a “smart” plug to protect children from electric shocks, holds one of his plugs as he speaks during an interview with AFP at the TechWorks digital fabrication lab in Jordan’s capital Amman on February 20, 2022. (Photo by Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP)

 

Ismail Hakki, executive director of TechWorks, said its aim is to provide “a creative environment and all the necessary resources to support and enable young people to transform their projects from a mere idea into a real product”.

The doors of the project’s “Fabrication Lab”, or FabLab, are “open to all; we support students, entrepreneurs, and startups”, he said.

FabLab also provides services to doctors and hospitals in the fields of facial restoration, digital dentistry, face masks and sterilisation.

At the request of a doctor, it transformed the chest x-ray of a patient with a malignant tumour close to the heart into a three-dimensional model of the patient’s chest making it easier to operate.

FabLab touts many successes, including a “smart home” which allows a mobile phone user to control electrical appliances inside the house from afar by turning on heating or cooling systems, and a piano keyboard to help a blind musician play.

It plans to open two more branches in Jordan to provide technology training and help for school and university students.

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Tesla Finally Gets Green Light To Start Production In Germany

After getting snarled up in German red tape, US electric car pioneer Tesla at last got the final go-ahead from authorities Friday, paving the way for production to begin shortly at its “giga factory” outside Berlin.

Officials in the eastern state of Brandenburg, where the factory sits, issued the final approval for the company’s first production site in Europe.

The green light was “a big day for Brandenburg, a big step into the future” state leader Dietmar Woidke told a press conference, adding that the approval process had been a “mammoth task”.

Brandenburg, formerly part of communist East Germany, is hoping for a job boost from the new factory and has positioned itself as a hub for the production of electric vehicles.

“The future is very exciting!” Tesla CEO Elon Musk wrote in a German-language tweet.

Also on Friday, German car giant Volkswagen announced a 2 billion euro ($2.2 billion) investment in a purpose-built electric plant of its own, set to break ground at its main Wolfsburg site as soon as early 2023.

Tesla parked its ambitions on Volkswagen’s lawn when it announced its plans for the factory in Gruenheide, to the southeast of Berlin, with much fanfare in November 2019.

The Tesla plant, which is slated to produce 500,000 vehicles a year, followed an expedited approval process, and was allowed to begin construction before receiving the final planning permission.

But the US manufacturer’s early momentum was broken by a series of legal and administrative difficulties, in part prompted by angry locals with concerns over the environmental impact of the site.

Protected  Lizards

Together with national environmental groups Nabu and Gruene Liga, residents did everything to stand in the way of Tesla’s plans, organising protests, bringing court appeals and writing open letters.

In 2020, courts ordered Tesla to stop work at the site after a complaint by local associations fearing the destruction of the habitat of endangered lizards and snakes.

The plant’s massive demand for water was also a sore point for residents in an area that has been hit by summer droughts in the last three years.

The local administration still faces a separate legal battle over its plans to pump out more water for use at the plant.

Under pressure from environmentalists, authorities were careful to examine the case closely, delaying the arrival of planning permission.

Setbacks also gave Tesla the opportunity to amend its application, adding a massive yet-to-be-built battery plant next to the main factory.

Concerns over the build were dismissed by Tesla’s rockstar CEO Musk, who sought to win over locals by hosting a country fair on the factory grounds in October.

Works Council 

Had approval for the plant not been given, the costs for dismantling the work already done would have fallen on Tesla.

Production at the factory should begin almost immediately with Tesla having already made a “limited” number of vehicles in a test, a Tesla spokesman told AFP.

Tesla’s next challenge is to find workers, while businesses in Germany are contending with shortages of skilled labour.

What employees there are at the factory have seen to the organisation of a works council, against the US carmaker’s protestations.

The shop-floor organisation is common to German industries, and hands workers a degree of influence over corporate decision-making.

Elections to the works council, which took place at the end of February, were nonetheless won by representatives of “Gigavoice”, which is closer to management.

Currently between 2,500 and 3,000 people work at the plant, according to union sources, primarily more senior members of staff.

In time, employment at the multi-billion-euro plant should rise to 12,000, according to local press reports, figures not confirmed by Tesla.

The opening of the plant represents a big step forward for the electric carmaker, which “will alleviate the bottlenecks of production for Tesla globally” and up deliveries, according to analysts at investment firm Wedbush.

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