Space Race 2.0
December 18, 2020
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“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” ― Carl Sagan
“It’s human nature to stretch, to go, to see, to understand. Exploration is not a choice, really; it’s an imperative.” — Michael Collins
Space Race 2.0
(Photo via Getty Images)
Early Thursday morning, China rocked the space world, literally. Around 2 am, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) confirmed the safe arrival of the Chang’e 5 re-entry capsule — which contained the country’s first-ever retrieval of lunar samples, marking a successful end to their landmark mission to the moon. And while it’s been decades since the term “space race” was ever taken seriously, China’s first foray into extraterrestrial resource exploitation could signal the start of a revamped competition between global governments for space-age supremacy. While they may be late to the game, experts predict China’s plans for the future could ignite a renewed rivalry between NASA and their Chinese counterparts.
Thursday’s completed mission marks the third time that China has successfully landed on the moon — and they are the only nation to do so in the 21st century. Similar to the United States, their national space agency has announced future plans to establish a lunar base that could exploit potential resources and serve as a launching pad for more ambitious missions. And while Beijing has not “staked out some sort of declarative statement where they want to replace the United States as leader in space,” Brendan Curry, chief Washington, D.C., operations at the Planetary Society said, “they certainly want to be a major actor in space.”
China’s aerospace advancements have prompted renewed rivalrous rhetoric from the Trump administration. Last year, Vice President Mike Pence announced plans for NASA to return to the moon by 2024 in order to surpass China as they attempt to “seize the lunar strategic high ground and become the world’s pre-eminent spacefaring nation.”
Wondering why the two nations can’t just work together on a shared mission? NASA is actually forbidden from directly working with the Chinese space agency or Chinese-owned companies thanks to a 2011 funding provision that aimed to punish China for their human rights record and protect American aerospace innovation. This means that NASA could be completely iced out from the scientific discoveries made from Chang’e 5’s lunar samples, which would only further accelerate a new-and-improved 21st-century space race.
- China’s Chang’e 5 mission: Sampling the lunar surface (Space.com)
- New Space Race Shoots for Moon and Mars on a Budget (Bloomberg)
- China collects Moon samples, may not share with NASA due to Wolf Amendment (Ars Technica)
Floating Danish “Mini-Nukes”
- If the thought of an expansive nuclear power grid frightens you, then this story isn’t for you. But this Danish startup wants to change the way the world looks at the nuclear option. Seaborg Technologies believes it can make cheap nuclear electricity widely available to developing nations using a fleet of floating barges fitted with advanced nuclear reactors.
- Claiming it could begin powering energy grids by 2025, Seaborg has raised more than $24 million on the prospect of using seaborne “mini-nukes” to wean nations off of fossil fuels. Ships will be fitted with one or more small nuclear reactors capable of generating and transferring power onto the mainland. In doing this, Seaborg believes they can supply cleaner energy without risking that reactors fall into the hands of unstable regimes that are susceptible to nuclear accidents or the nefarious spread of materials that could create weapons.
- “The scale of the developing world’s energy demand growth is mind-boggling,” said Troels Schönfeldt, the CEO of Seaborg. “If we can’t find an energy solution for these countries, they will turn to fossil fuels and we surely won’t meet our climate targets.” Some hail Seaborg’s idea as an innovative clean energy solution, while others see floating nuclear reactors as a recipe for disaster in places like Indonesia or Thailand.
- Seabourne mini-nukes contain “all of the flaws and risks of larger land-based nuclear power stations,” said Jan Haverkamp of Greenpeace, “On top of that, they face extra risks from the unpredictability of operation in coastal areas and transport – particularly in a loaded state – over the high seas. Think storms, think tsunamis.” (Guardian)
- Tiny Nuclear Reactors Are the Future of Energy (Vice)
Additional World News
- Mask up, Macron: Emmanuel Macron: Positive test prompts European leaders to self-isolate (BBC)
- Inside the UK’s Pandemic Spending: Waste, Negligence and Cronyism (NYT, $)
- Vladimir Putin Shrugs Off Alexei Navalny’s Poisoning: ‘Who Needs Him?’ (NPR). Putin’ him off for some other time.
- Russia banned from using name and flag at next 2 Olympics over doping charges (Axios)
- Polarized pollution: Who Gets to Breathe Clean Air in New Delhi? (NYT, $)
- Hassan Diab: Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister indicted over Beirut blast (CNN)
- Trump’s Turkey sanctions could give Erdoğan and Biden a clean slate (Axios). Turkey joins the clean slate club.
- Nigerian official says over 300 abducted schoolboys freed (AP)
- Argentina to add more transgender people to labor force (NBC)
- Countering the cartel has a cost: As Mexico’s security deteriorates, the power of the military grows (WaPo, $)
- Canada floats idea of North American ban on new gasoline-powered cars (Reuters)
An Extra Dose Of Optimism
(Justin Tallis via Getty Images)
- Despite widespread concern that the United States has failed to procure enough doses of Pfizer’s newly authorized COVID-19 vaccine, some good news is beginning to trickle out of hospitals across the nation. According to pharmacists administering each precious vial, it appears that many Pfizer products contain extra doses — sometimes up to two extra shots — worth of the vaccine.
- The Food and Drug Administration has directed health care providers to go ahead and use those excess inoculations on extra patients, granting the United States potentially millions more doses at a time when everyone and their mother is scrambling to receive a jab. This discovery was first reported by Politico on Wednesday, meaning that hundreds of estimated doses may have been thrown out since Monday as initial orders instructed administrators to treat five patients per vial.
- On Wednesday, the FDA tweeted that it’s “working with Pfizer to determine the best path forward,” but went so far as to say that for the time being “it is acceptable to use every full dose obtainable (the sixth, or possibly even a seventh) from each vial, pending resolution of the issue.” According to Dr. Erin Fox from the University of Utah, a small excess amount is usually included to account for spillage, but an entire one or two doses is considered a rare find.
- “They initially thought that they had incorrectly done it because there was so much left in the vial after they pulled up the five doses,” Fox said of pharmacists on her staff. “They sent us a picture and were like, ‘Can we use the extra?’” After receiving the go-ahead from the FDA, those extra doses are now fair game. This massive discovery comes at a time of extreme worry regarding the availability of vaccines, as some states were just recently informed that they wouldn’t be given the number of doses they were initially promised. (Vice)
Additional USA News
- Modern problems require Moderna solutions: 2nd COVID-19 vaccine set for OK in US with panel endorsement (AP)
- Pence Will Be Vaccinated on Live TV, Adding to Administration’s Mixed Virus Message (NYT, $)
- Influx of new voters could swing US Senate runoffs in Georgia (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
- Early voting changes in Georgia counties are suppressing turnout, advocates warn (NBC). A political war for Georgia.
- ‘Everything’s great’: GOP ditches election post-mortems (Politico)
- Joe on the GOP: Biden’s Contrasting Messages About the Republican Party (Atlantic, $)
- Michael Regan, North Carolina environmental official, to run EPA (WaPo, $)
- A Native American will oversee her native land: Biden makes historic Cabinet pick with Deb Haaland for interior secretary (Vox)
- U.S. Cyber Agency: Computer Hack Poses ‘Grave Risk’ (NPR)
- Nuclear weapons agency breached amid massive cyber onslaught (Politico)
- More than 30 states level latest antitrust lawsuit against Google (Axios)
- ‘I Was Stunned’: Big Gifts to Small Colleges From an Unexpected Source (NYT, $)
- More than just tobacco on Tobacco Road: Feds bust drug ring they say used fraternities to supply students at UNC and Duke (NBC)
Trump’s Password Might As Well Have Been “1234567”
- If it’s too good to be true, it usually is. But lucky for us, one of the more peculiar stories to come out of 2020 was just recently verified by Dutch prosecutors as a bonafide Twitter truth. You might recall back in October, when President Trump was reportedly hacked via a random guess that his password was “maga2020!”
- Well, the mastermind behind such ingenious was foreign hacker Victor Gevers, who told the Dutch Ministry recently that he merely guessed the leader of the free world’s password after just five attempts back in October. Hacking is considered a crime in the Netherlands, but due to the serendipitous nature of his crimes, it was announced that he would not face charges. “We believe the hacker has actually penetrated Trump’s Twitter account, but has met the criteria that have been developed in case law to go free as an ethical hacker,” said the public prosecutor’s office in a statement.
- While one guessing the password once may seem to be dumb luck, Gevers astonishingly claims that this is in fact the second time he has successfully weaseled his way into Trump’s account. Back in 2016, he reportedly hacked Trump using the same method. The password: “yourefired,” a play on the president’s former days as a reality TV star. This laughable lack of security gives us an invaluable look into the mind of the lame-duck president — to beat the Trump, you just have to think like the Trump. (Guardian)
- A quantum leap: Researchers Have Achieved Sustained Long-Distance Quantum Teleportation (Vice)
- How mail-order frogs could save Colombia’s amphibians (BBC)
- An Elixir From the French Alps, Frozen in Time (NYT, $)
- How AI can fight the climate problem hiding inside buildings (Fast Company). Is this building up to code?
- The Year of Ambitious TV Watching (Atlantic, $)
- Here are the winners and losers in the tech industry in 2020 (WaPo, $)
- MindGeek: the secretive owner of Pornhub and RedTube (Ars Technica)
- Tinfoil gloves: Why has MMA become a breeding ground for QAnon?
- How Restaurants Retooled for Takeout—and Survival (Wired)
- We asked an influencer, yoga teacher, and vanlifers whether their pandemic pivots worked (The Verge)
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