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SpaceX crew Dragon departs, carrying NASA astronauts toward home

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By: New York Times |

Published: August 2, 2020 9:16:49 am


NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken head to launch pad 39 to board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for a second launch attempt on NASA?s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station from NASA?s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S. May 30, 2020. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Two astronauts who took the first commercial trip to orbit have left the International Space Station. They are scheduled to return home Sunday.

Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley traveled to the space station in May aboard a Crew Dragon capsule built and run by SpaceX, the private rocket company started by Elon Musk.

The Crew Dragon undocked from the space station at 7:35 p.m. EDT on Saturday, with brief thruster firings pushing the spacecraft back.

As the capsule backed away from the station, Hurley thanked the current crew of the space station and the teams on the ground that helped manage their mission.

“We look forward to splashdown tomorrow,” he said.

If the weather remains favorable, it will splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico off Pensacola, Florida, at 2:41 p.m. Sunday, NASA announced.

A safe return would open up more trips to and from orbit for future astronaut crews, and possibly space tourists, aboard the spacecraft.

Isaias is forecast to sweep up along the Atlantic coast of Florida over the weekend. NASA and SpaceX have seven splashdown sites in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, but the track of the storm ruled out the three in the Atlantic.

“We have confidence that the teams on the ground are, of course, watching that much more closely than we are,” Behnken said during a news conference Friday, “and we won’t leave the space station without some good landing opportunities in front of us, good splashdown weather in front of us.”

How can I watch the return of the astronauts?

NASA Television’s coverage will continue through splashdown.

What will happen after they leave the station?

A: The capsule is now performing a series of burns to move away from the station and then line up with the splashdown site.

For much of the trip, Behnken and Hurley will be sleeping. Their schedule sets aside a full night of rest.

Any return journey that exceeds six hours has to be long enough for the crew to get some sleep between undocking and splashdown, Daniel Huot, a NASA spokesman, said in an email.

Otherwise, because of the extended process that leads up to undocking, the crew would end up working more than 20 hours straight, “which is not safe for dynamic operations like water splashdown and recovery,” Huot said.

Just before a final burn that will drop the Crew Dragon out of orbit Sunday afternoon, it will jettison the bottom part of the spacecraft, known as the trunk, which will then burn up in the atmosphere.

At reentry, the Crew Dragon will be traveling at about 17,500 mph. Two small parachutes will deploy at an altitude of 18,000 feet when the spacecraft has already been slowed by Earth’s atmosphere to about 350 mph. The four main parachutes deploy at an altitude of about 6,000 feet.

Once the capsule splashes in the water, it is expected to take 45 to 60 minutes to pluck them out.

Why does Isaias affect the return?

The storm complicated where splashdown could take place. At the splashdown site, winds must be less than 10 mph for the capsule to land safely. There are additional constraints on waves, rain and lightning. In addition, helicopters that take part in the recovery of the capsule must be able to fly and land safely.

The first landing opportunity will aim for only the primary site, Pensacola. If weather there is inconsistent with the rules, the capsule and the astronauts will remain in orbit for another day or two, and managers will consider the backup site, which is Panama City, Florida.

 Is it safer to land on water or on land?

Spacecraft can safely return to Earth in either environment.

During the 1960s and 1970s, NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules all splashed down in the ocean while Soviet capsules all ended their trips on land. Russia’s current Soyuz capsules continue to make ground landings, as do China’s astronaut-carrying Shenzhou capsules.

When Boeing’s Starliner capsule begins carrying crews to the space station, it will return on land, in New Mexico. SpaceX had originally planned for the Crew Dragon to do ground landings but decided that water landings, employed for the earlier version of Dragon for taking cargo, simplified the development of the capsule.

Why is the return trip an important part of the Crew Dragon’s first flight?

A: After launch, reentry through Earth’s atmosphere is the second most dangerous phase of spaceflight. Friction of air rushing past will heat the bottom of the capsule to about 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. A test flight of the Crew Dragon last year successfully splashed down, so engineers know the system works.

A successful conclusion to the trip opens the door to more people flying to space. Some companies have already announced plans to use Crew Dragons to lift wealthy tourists to orbit.

In the past, NASA astronauts launched on spacecraft like the Saturn 5 moon rocket and the space shuttles that NASA itself operated. After the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011, NASA had to rely on Russia, buying seats on the Soyuz capsules for trips to and from orbit.

Under the Obama administration, NASA hired two companies, SpaceX and Boeing, to build spacecraft to take astronauts to the space station. NASA financed much of the work to develop the spacecraft but will now buy rides at fixed prices. For SpaceX, the trip by Behnken and Hurley — the first launch of astronauts from American soil since the last space shuttle flight — was the last major demonstration needed before NASA officially certifies that the Crew Dragon is ready to begin regular flights.

 Who are the astronauts?

Behnken and Hurley have been friends and colleagues since both were selected by NASA to be astronauts in 2000.

Both men have backgrounds as military test pilots and each has flown twice before on space shuttle missions, although this is the first time they have worked together on a mission. Hurley flew on the space shuttle’s final mission in 2011.

In 2015, they were among the astronauts chosen to work with Boeing and SpaceX on the commercial space vehicles that the companies were developing. In 2018, they were assigned to the first SpaceX flight.

 What have the astronauts been doing aboard the space station?

Originally, the mission was to last only up to two weeks, but Behnken and Hurley ended up with a longer and busier stay at the space station. Because of repeated delays by SpaceX and Boeing, NASA ended up short-handed, with only one astronaut, Christopher J. Cassidy, aboard the space station when the Crew Dragon and its two passengers docked.

They stayed two months, helping Cassidy with space station chores. Behnken and Cassidy performed four spacewalks to complete the installation of new batteries on the space station. Hurley helped by operating the station’s robotic arm.

The men have also been contributing to science experiments in low earth orbit. They assisted in a study of water droplet formation in the low gravity environment of the space station using a shower head, and another that used fruit punch and foam to look at how to manage fluids in space. They also helped install new equipment inside the station that will be used in future scientific research.

Cassidy will remain aboard the station with two Russian astronauts, Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner. All three are to stay on board through October when another crew of one American and two Russian astronauts will replace them.

When are the next Crew Dragon flights, and who will they carry?

A: The first operational flight of the Crew Dragon will launch no earlier than late September. It will take three NASA astronauts — Michael S. Hopkins, Victor J. Glover and Shannon Walker — and one Japanese astronaut, Soichi Noguchi, to the space station.

The second operational flight, tentatively scheduled for February 2021, will carry two NASA astronauts, Robert S. Kimbrough and K. Megan McArthur; Akihiko Hoshide of Japan; and Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency.

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Chinese ‘robotaxis’ take riders for a spin

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Chinese players such as Baidu, Alibaba-backed AutoX and ride-sharing king DiDi Chuxing recently launched autonomous taxi pilot p
Chinese players such as Baidu, Alibaba-backed AutoX and ride-sharing king DiDi Chuxing recently launched autonomous taxi pilot projects in cities around the country

Chinese entrants in the race to put autonomous vehicles on the road are bringing “robotaxis” online in hopes that a hired-car format can be the key to unlocking wide acceptance of the futuristic technology.

It is expected to be years before cars that operate completely without are unleashed owing to lingering technological, regulatory, and safety hurdles.

But as China challenges US tech dominance, Chinese players such as Baidu, Alibaba-backed AutoX and ride-sharing king DiDi Chuxing recently launched autonomous taxi pilot projects in cities around the country.

Similar efforts are under way in the US, and AutoX’s chief executive Xiao Jianxiong told AFP the first fully- could be on the roads by the end of the year.

Robotaxis or delivery services are considered ideal for accumulating the driving time and huge data cache needed for cars to “learn” and become safe enough.

Chinese consumers—known for eagerly embracing , online payments and other digital solutions—are lining up for a spin in DiDi Chuxing’s self-developed autonomous taxis at a Shanghai pilot project launched in June.

Underlining the work-in-progress nature of the concept, a DiDi staffer occupies the driver’s seat, ready to take the wheel if needed.

But Da Xuan, a 24-year-old social-media worker, leapt at a taste of the future.

Robotaxis or delivery services are considered ideal for accumulating the driving time and huge data cache needed for cars to 'le
Robotaxis or delivery services are considered ideal for accumulating the driving time and huge data cache needed for cars to ‘learn’ and become safe enough

‘Smooth’ running

“I heard companies like Uber or Tesla were doing autonomous driving, so I was curious what Chinese companies were doing, whether they can go into production, and if so, what will the (riding) experience be like,” she said.

“It was very smooth,” Da said, adding that she would feel safe in such a car.

Test subjects use DiDi’s mobile app to plot a ride through suburban roads in a Volvo fitted with a crown of tech hardware topped by a spinning radar device.

The vehicle confidently sets out, accelerating, braking, signalling and turning on its own in real traffic as a female voice calmly narrates: “Yielding for crosswalk”; “Your car has been disinfected”.

When a large truck abruptly swerved in front, DiDi’s AI driver smoothly applied the brake.

Like any student driver, however, it still needs practice.

Chinese consumers—known for eagerly embracing e-commerce, online payments and other digital solutions—are lining up for a spin i
Chinese consumers—known for eagerly embracing e-commerce, online payments and other digital solutions—are lining up for a spin in DiDi Chuxing’s self-developed autonomous taxis at a Shanghai pilot project launched in June

At one stop sign, it braked so abruptly that passengers lurched forward.

And any impromptu deviation from the plotted route requires human intervention.

But Meng Xing, chief operating officer of DiDi’s autonomous driving company, told AFP its AI system “is already smart enough to handle most of the situations”, and safety drivers almost never need to touch the steering wheel or brakes.

Tesla chief executive Elon Musk, known for his overly rosy predictions, raised eyebrows in July by saying the US electric carmaker could have a completely autonomous car ready this year, which analysts have dismissed.

‘Long way’ to go

Paul Lewis, who heads policy research at the Washington-based non-profit Eno Center for Transportation, told AFP that hopes are being “reset” as the pace of the technology’s development disappoints.

“Technology developers are starting to realise the limits of artificial intelligence and the benefits of the human brain in handling some of these tasks,” he said, adding we remain “a long way” from driverless cars.

A Didi executive said in June that the ride-hailing giant aims to operate more than a million self-driving cars by 2030
A Didi executive said in June that the ride-hailing giant aims to operate more than a million self-driving cars by 2030

But Xiao of AutoX expects a “sizeable” deployment of the vehicles—without safety drivers—could take place in two to three years, with regulations and technology being the main obstacles.

“It’s just a matter of time and effort to make it happen,” he said. “There are no open scientific questions left to be solved.”

Tech giant Baidu has plans for autonomous car testing bases in more than 10 Chinese cities including Beijing, with a 45-strong robotaxi fleet already on trial in central China’s Changsha city, plying an area of around 130 square kilometres (50 square miles).

Its Apollo Park in the capital, which opened this year, has more than 200 vehicles while Apollo general manager Li Zhenyu told employees in a letter that “the era of unmanned driving in traffic will definitely arrive”.

A Didi executive said in June that the ride-hailing giant aims to operate more than a million self-driving cars by 2030.

“What we are trying to solve is the last 0.5 percent of problems… we believe in the future, we’ll be able to get to that point where we can provide a safer experience than a human driver.”


China’s Didi launches Silicon Valley research hub


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China uses tech as tool of repression to monitor citizens: US commission

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The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is committed to the production and use of technology that controls and surveils its population, according to a congressional commission of the US.

In a joint statement to Fox News, Chairman Robin Cleveland and Vice Chairman Carolyn Bartholomew of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission said that China’s move to use technology as a tool of repression is “politically motivated to sustain the Party”.

“The Chinese Communist Party is committed to the production and use of technology that controls and surveils its population. The decision to use these tools of repression is politically motivated to sustain the Party,” the statement read.

The Chinese government monitored every corner of Beijing by state-of-the-art surveillance cameras. Facial recognition algorithms matched with images filed away in a secret database could see you in legal trouble for something you did near your front door. A semi-political post made in a private chat could lead to the loss of your job.

Also read: Apple iPhone 12 may support China’s BeiDou navigation

According to the report in Fox News, surveillance has become a booming business in the world’s most populated country with scores of tech start-ups moving in to meet the market demand with the government’s encouragement.

Several human rights activists said that the enterprise has quickly become a critical apparatus for suppression and abuses, especially on minority groups.

Beijing uses a system called the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP), which has the ability to audit entire populations.

The system is developed by a state-owned military contractor China Electronics Technology Corporation, IJOP. It is said to have been copied by Chinese military theorists researching how the US military used information technology during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and enhanced from there.

“From there, it can rapidly produce names of people classified as “suspicious” — and thus marked for possible detention — purely as a result of their travel patterns abroad, mobile applications installed and key phrases used in bulletins or private messages, sometimes as basic as asking someone else where they can pray,” the report said.

Joseph Humire, Executive Director for the Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS), told Fox News that Xinjiang serves as the “central nervous system of surveillance” in China, which is an IJOP that prompts you to enter identifying information, such as when you grow a beard, leave your house, or your blood type, etc.

“These apps try to determine your pattern of life, and if Chinese authorities determine any change in your pattern of life, they come to visit you,” he told Fox News.

“It is targeting the whole population with the focus on anyone who has independent thinking,” said Xiaoxu “Sean” Lin, a microbiologist and activist/spokesperson for the Washington-based Falun Dafa Association.

“Many technologies are involved in facial recognition including Facial Action Unit analysis, facial expression recognition, deep neuro network analysis, facial muscle movement recognition, topographic modelling, deep machine learning and supercomputer technologies,” Xiaoxu added.



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MacBook Air (2020) review: Nobody does it better

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Written by Nandagopal Rajan
| New Delhi |

Updated: August 9, 2020 3:59:38 pm


macbook air, apple macbook air 2020, macbook air 2020 review, macbook air price in india, macbook air 2020 specs, macbook air In the realm of the thinnest, lightest and most portable computers, the MacBook Air still blows the competition away. (Image credit: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

Never before have we been so bothered about the devices we use. Is it heating up? Is it slowing down? Isn’t it a bit too heavy to keep on the lap all day long? And a lot of us are realising that what we thought was a good device for work, is not exactly that when it comes to working from home. In our cramped urban homes, most of us are also struggling to find the right place to sit and work, with the computer jostling for space on the dining table with leftover plates as the sink is already overflowing. This is where a lot of people are considering new devices for the new normal. And the new MacBook Air has arrived at just such a time.

MacBook Air 2020 specification: 13.3-inch 400-nit LED-backlit Retina display with IPS technology (2560x1600p, ~227ppi) | 1.1GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 (Turbo Boost up to 3.5GHz) | Intel Iris Plus Graphics | 8GB RAM + 512GB SSD | Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports x 2 + 3.5mm jack | 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking; IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible | Bluetooth 5.0 | 720p FaceTime HD camera | speakers with Dolby Atmos | 49.9-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery | macOS Catalina

MacBook Air 2020 price in India: Rs 92,990 onward

What’s new and what’s good?

Having got through the past few months using my old 2015 vintage MacBook Air and a review unit of MacBook Pro, the new MacBook Air came as a breath of fresh air. For one, this was a much lighter, much portable device compared to these two, though the same size as the last MacBook Air. The all-metal feel is not just style, as the bumps and folded edges of my old MacBook Air will tell you. This is made to last, and last they do.

In fact, after playing around with the device for a while, I started wondering if this was actually lighter than the new iPad Pro with the keyboard. While it really isn’t at 1.2 kg, that is how light this MacBook Air is. This is the device that does not tie you to a table and lets you move around — a Zoom call in the roof, early morning e-papers in the balcony, writing reviews on the sofa and back to the dining table for the dreaded spreadsheets.

macbook air, apple macbook air 2020, macbook air 2020 review, macbook air price in india, macbook air 2020 specs, macbook air With whatever I did, editing stories, accessing a WordPress back end and playing around with designs on Canva, this one really up to it all the time. (Image credit: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

The one aspect of the new MacBook Air that will stand out for those like me who have also used the earlier version is the Magic Keyboard, the same one Apple debuted with the MacBook Pro last year. The keys are now softer to your touch and offer the right amount the pushback and travel. The scissor mechanism is back and that spring in the keys makes the MacBook Air a great device for writing and editing for users like me. There is the inverted T for arrow keys so that you don’t have to look where your fingers are. Also, despite the small build, the trackpad is sufficiently larger and more than responsive for whatever you want to do.

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The 13.3-inch Retina display has a native resolution of 2560×1600 pixels. The colours pop out and the text is sharp to read. In the display, things have really improved over last time and you feel it everywhere from the wallpaper to when wiring this using the dark mode in the Bear app I am so fond of. But what really stood out for me was how bright this display is. In fact, I can challenge people to work for more than 15 minutes indoors with the screen at full brightness. That is going to be really tough and you don’t have to push the screen beyond 60 per cent to work at home. The extra brightness can come in handy when you are trying to impress colleagues by taking that boring video call to under the interesting August skies.

macbook air, apple macbook air 2020, macbook air 2020 review, macbook air price in india, macbook air 2020 specs, macbook air The all-metal feel is not just style, as the bumps and folded edges of my old MacBook Air will tell you. (Image credit: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

The MacBook Air is often underestimated in terms of processing power. My old faithful can still pull through a video edit if needed and not even break a sweat. The new generation is no different. While you don’t really want to use purely for a high-intensity video editing call of duty, it will be more than able to help with one when the time comes. With whatever I did, editing stories, accessing a WordPress back end and playing around with designs on Canva, this one really up to it all the time. And given that even the most demanding apps like Photoshop are now cloud-based, this is all most of us will need. Apple offers configurations up to a quad-core 10th Gen Intel Core i7 processor with Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz, and that should be more than enough for the target audience of this device.

And thanks to the SSD storage, this one is up and running whenever you want it. Just open it, tough the fingerprint scanner to unlock and you are back where you left it. All within a few seconds. The fingerprint scanner is habit-forming too and you hate the times when you have to key in the password. Since the MacBook Pro too has this feature, this is something I am already used to.

macbook air, apple macbook air 2020, macbook air 2020 review, macbook air price in india, macbook air 2020 specs, macbook air The keys are now softer to your touch and offer the right amount the pushback and travel. (Image credit: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

The battery is good enough to last you a full day at work, and you can keep the power adapter at home. Anyway, these days you can find USB-C chargers in most places and in case you run out of power that’s all you need to recharge this.

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What to keep in mind?

Those moving from a larger laptop will take a few days to get adjusted to the smaller keyboard. I did coming from the larger MacBook Pro where I was doing most of my writing in recent days. But the transition is easy and before you realise the fingers will be finding the right keys.
I would have loved to see an edge-to-edge display on this one, just a little bit extra screen. Now, there is a bezel though a thin one.
As I realised recently with an accessory I wanted to test, the USB-A port is something some users moving from older devices will miss. Even though Apple has been pushing for a transition to USB-C, the ecosystem is still not there yet. Trying getting a good USB-C mouse and you will realise what I am talking about.

macbook air, apple macbook air 2020, macbook air 2020 review, macbook air price in india, macbook air 2020 specs, macbook air The 13.3-inch Retina display has a native resolution of 2560×1600 pixels. (Image credit: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

Should you buy it?

If your need is regular computing with portability and reliability, then the MacBook Air is really the device you should look at. Yes, I know a lot of you will feel the price is beyond you, but I’ve now convinced the longer product life of this device will more than make up for that in the long run. Those who need more power for high-end tasks and a larger screen should look at the MacBook Pro instead. In the realm of the thinnest, lightest and most portable computers, the MacBook Air still blows the competition away.

 

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