American billionaire businessman Jeff Bezos said on Monday he is excited and curious but not very nervous on the eve of taking part in his company Blue Origin’s inaugural suborbital flight alongside the oldest and youngest people ever bound for space.
The world’s richest person and three crewmates are due to fly from a desert site in West Texas on an 11-minute trip to the edge of space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard, a 60-foot-tall (18.3 metres) and fully autonomous rocket-and-capsule combo. The flight represents an important milestone in the establishment of the space tourism industry.
Bezos did a round of televised interviews ahead of the launch, set for around 8am CDT (6:30pm IST) from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One facility some 20 miles (32km) outside the rural Texas town of Van Horn.
“People keep asking if I’m nervous. I’m not really nervous, I’m excited. I’m curious. I want to know what we’re going to learn,” Bezos, founder of Amazon, told the “CBS This Morning” programme.
“We’ve been training. This vehicle is ready. This crew is ready. This team is amazing,” Bezos said. “We just feel really good about it.”
Bezos and his brother Mark Bezos will be joined in the all-civilian crew by 82-year-old pioneering female aviator Wally Funk and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, a recent high school graduate set to attend the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands to study physics and innovation management in September.
Daemen is the company’s first paying customer. His father heads investment management firm Somerset Capital Partners.
The flight comes nine days after rival Richard Branson, the British billionaire businessman, was aboard his company Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane for its pioneering suborbital flight from New Mexico.
Bezos sought to downplay any rivalry with Branson.
“There’s one person who was the first person in space. His name was Yuri Gagarin. And that happened a long time ago,” Bezos said on the NBC’s programme “Today,” referring to the Soviet cosmonaut who reached space in 1961.
“I think I’m going to be number 570 or something. That’s where we’re going to be in this list. So this isn’t a competition. This is about building a road to space so that future generations can do incredible things in space,” Bezos said.
Funk was one of the so-called Mercury 13 group of women who trained to become astronauts for the first US human spaceflight program in the early 1960s. She passed the same rigorous testing as the Mercury Seven male astronauts in NASA’s space programme, though the women were denied the chance to become astronauts because of their gender.
“Back when Wally was part of the Mercury 13, all the testing that she did, she outperformed all of the men,” Bezos said on “Today.” “And we can confirm at 82 years old, she can still outperform all of the men. We’ve been doing the training with Wally. She can outrun all of us.”
© Thomson Reuters 2021
China to Send First Civilian Into Space as Part of Crewed Mission: Details
China will send its first civilian astronaut into space as part of a crewed mission to the Tiangong space station on Tuesday, its Manned Space Agency announced, as Beijing pushes ahead with its extra-terrestrial ambitions.
The world’s second-largest economy has invested billions of dollars into its military-run space programme, trying to catch up with the United States and Russia after years of belatedly matching their milestones.
Until now, all Chinese astronauts sent into space have been part of the People’s Liberation Army.
“Payload expert Gui Haichao is a professor at Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics,” China Manned Space Agency Spokesperson Lin Xiqiang told reporters Monday.
Gui will be “mainly responsible for the on-orbit operation of space science experimental payloads”, Lin said.
The commander is Jing Haipeng — on his fourth mission into space, according to state media — and the third crew member is engineer Zhu Yangzhu.
They are set to take off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China on Tuesday at 9:31 am (0131 GMT), the Manned Space Agency said.
Gui’s university, known as Beihang University in English, said he hailed from an “ordinary family” in western Yunnan province.
He “first felt the attraction of aerospace” listening to the news of China’s first man in space, Yang Liwei, on campus radio in 2003, the university said in a post on social media.
Under President Xi Jinping, plans for China’s “space dream” have been put into overdrive.
China is planning to build a base on the Moon and the country’s National Space Administration said it aims to launch a crewed lunar mission by 2029.
The final module of the T-shaped Tiangong — whose name means “heavenly palace” — successfully docked with the core structure last year.
The station carries a number of pieces of cutting-edge science equipment, state news agency Xinhua reported, including “the world’s first space-based cold atomic clock system”.
Once finished, Tiangong is expected to remain in low Earth orbit at between 400 and 450 kilometres (250 and 280 miles) above the planet for at least 10 years — realising an ambition to maintain a long-term human presence in space.
It will be constantly crewed by rotating teams of three astronauts, who will conduct scientific experiments and help test new technologies.
While China does not plan to use Tiangong for global cooperation on the scale of the International Space Station, Beijing said it is open to foreign collaboration.
It is not yet clear how extensive that cooperation will be.
China has been effectively excluded from the International Space Station since 2011, when the United States banned NASA from engaging with the country.
Elon Musk’s Neuralink Now Has FDA Approval to Begin Human Trials
Elon Musk’s brain-implant company Neuralink on Thursday said the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had given the green light to its first-in-human clinical trial, a critical milestone after earlier struggles to gain approval.
The FDA nod “represents an important first step that will one day allow our technology to help many people,” Neuralink said in a tweet. It did not elaborate on the aims of the study, saying only that it was not recruiting yet and more details would be available soon.
Neuralink and the FDA did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.
Musk envisions brain implants could cure a range of conditions including obesity, autism, depression, and schizophrenia as well as enabling web browsing and telepathy. He made headlines late last year when he said he was so confident in the devices’ safety that he would be willing to implant them in his children.
On at least four occasions since 2019, Musk predicted Neuralink would begin human trials. But the company only sought FDA approval in early 2022 and the agency rejected the application, seven current and former employees told Reuters in March.
The FDA had pointed out several concerns to Neuralink that needed to be addressed before sanctioning human trials, according to the employees. Major issues involved the lithium battery of the device, the possibility of the implant’s wires migrating within the brain, and the challenge of safely extracting the device without damaging brain tissue.
Neuralink, founded in 2016, has been the subject of several federal probes.
In May, US lawmakers urged regulators to investigate whether the makeup of a panel overseeing animal testing at Neuralink contributed to botched and rushed experiments.
The Department of Transportation is separately probing whether Neuralink illegally transported dangerous pathogens on chips removed from monkey brains without proper containment measures.
Neuralink is also under investigation by the US Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General for potential animal-welfare violations. This probe has also been looking at the USDA’s oversight of Neuralink.
Neuralink has not responded to requests for comment on the probes.
© Thomson Reuters 2023
NASA Partners With Blue Origin to Build Spacecraft for Moon Mission
A team led by Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin won a coveted NASA contract to build a spacecraft that will send astronauts to and from the moon‘s surface, NASA’s chief announced on Friday, capping a high-stakes contest.
NASA’s decision will give the agency a second ride to the moon under its Artemis program, after it awarded Elon Musk‘s SpaceX $3 billion (nearly Rs. 24,850 crore) in 2021 to land astronauts on the moon for the first time since the final Apollo mission in 1972.
Those initial missions using SpaceX’s Starship system are slated for later this decade.
The Blue Origin contract is valued roughly $3.4 billion (nearly Rs. 28,150 crore), NASA’s exploration chief Jim Free said, with Blue Origin privately contributing “well north” of that amount, Blue Origin’s lunar lander head John Couluris said.
“Honored to be on this journey with @NASA to land astronauts on the Moon — this time to stay,” Amazon.com billionaire founder Bezos said in a tweet after the announcement.
Blue Origin plans to build its 52-foot (16-meter) tall Blue Moon lander in a partnership with Lockheed Martin, Boeing, spacecraft software firm Draper, and robotics firm Astrobotic.
SpaceX’s Starship lander is poised to conduct the first two astronaut moon landings under NASA’s Artemis program, sending a pair of astronauts to the lunar surface for each mission. The Blue Moon landing, planned for 2029, is also expected to ferry two astronauts to the surface.
“Our partnership will only add to this golden age of human spaceflight,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said. He added that having a second moon lander for the agency’s Artemis mission promotes commercial competition, echoing a trend in recent years that reduces costs for NASA.
Friday’s announcement in Washington was a long-awaited outcome for Blue Origin, which had unsuccessfully had competed for past contracts. The space company overcame a rival bid from Leidos-owned defense contractor Dynetics Inc, the head of a partnership with Northrop Grumman.
Those companies lost out to SpaceX for the 2021 contract, part of an initial moon lander procurement program. NASA under that program said it could pick up to two companies, but blamed budget constraints for only going with SpaceX.
This new contract is a boost for Bezos, who since founding Blue Origin in 2000 has invested billions into the company to compete for high-profile commercial and government space contracts with SpaceX, a dominant force in satellite launches and human spaceflight.
After losing in 2021, Blue Origin unsuccessfully fought to overturn NASA’s decision to ignore its Blue Moon lander, first with a watchdog agency and then in court.
Blue Origin and lawmakers had pressured NASA to award a second lunar lander contract to promote commercial competition and ensure the agency has a backup ride to the moon. NASA in early 2022 announced the program for a second lander contract.
Couluris, who will lead Blue Origin’s development of the moon lander, said Friday’s award was hard fought outcome.
“We’ve been working for some time, and we’re still ready to go,” he said.
© Thomson Reuters 2023
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