Makings of Moon landing: 50 years ago, Apollo 11 was one year from ‘giant leap’

One year before humanity’s first lunar landing, the moon must have still felt quite far away.

On July 20, 1968, the pieces for Apollo 11 were starting to come together, but the mission itself was still six months from a formal announcement. Four missions needed to launch and be successful before Apollo 11 could even attempt to fulfill President John F. Kennedy’s challenge from seven years before.

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth,” Kennedy said in May 1961. [Building Apollo: Photos from Moonshot History]

And Apollo 11 would achieve that and more.

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But 50 years ago this Friday (July 20), the space agency was still recovering from a launchpad fire that claimed the lives of its first Apollo crew a year and a half earlier. In addition, the rocket that NASA needed to fly astronauts to the moon still had serious issues, and the spacecraft that would deliver the crew to the lunar surface was facing delays.

With the Soviet Union pursuing its own moon landing program, it would take more than one giant leap for Apollo 11 to win the space race.

Stages to the moon

One year before the landing, the Apollo 11 launch vehicle was in pieces.

By July 20, 1968, the massive Saturn V rocket had launched only twice — both times without a crew — and the second time did not go well. In April 1968, Apollo 6 lifted off and quickly developed “pogo,” a self-induced vibration, that damaged the second- and third-stage engines.

In the aftermath of the anomaly, Boeing ordered a delay to the static test-firing of Apollo 11’s Saturn V first stage, S-IC-6, until pogo-preventing modifications could be made. On July 16, 1968, one year to the day before the launch of Apollo 11, first-stage propellant tanking tests were declared complete.[Watch NASA’s Apollo 11 Moonwalk Moments in This Archive Video]

“Two days later, NASA announced the conclusions of its investigations into the pogo problem,” Alan Lawrie wrote in “Saturn V: The Complete Manufacturing and Test Records” (Apogee, 2005).

The fix, as implemented and tested on S-IC-6, was to add small gas reservoirs in the first stage’s liquid-oxygen pre-valves, changing the frequency of the propulsion system.

Meanwhile, the Apollo 11 Saturn V’s second stage, S-II-6, had been waiting since June 28 in the A-2 test stand at the Mississippi Test Facility (now called the Stennis Space Center), in preparation for its own first test-fire, slated for September 1968.

The third stage, S-IVB-506N, was test-fired on July 17, 1968, at the Douglas Aircraft Co.’s Sacramento Test Operations Facility in California. The stage’s single J-2 engine burned for 445.2 seconds, clearing it to send Apollo 11 to the moon. [Apollo 11’s Scariest Moments: Perils of the 1st Manned Moon Landing]

Ships’ shape

On July 10, 1968, NASA managers met in Houston, where they certified the “Block II” Command and Service Module (CSM) for flight. The review of the redesigned spacecraft came 18 months after the launchpad fire tore through the Apollo 204 (Apollo 1) Block I command module, killing three astronauts and bringing the Apollo program’s pursuit of the moon to a temporary halt.

The Apollo 7 mission, which would launch in October 1968, still needed to prove the vehicle’s flight-worthiness in Earth orbit, but work could now pick up in pace on the down-schedule spacecraft.

In July 1968, Apollo 11’s CSM-107 was still under construction at North American Aviation’s factory in Downey, California. The command module had yet to have its heat shield installed, and both it and the service module were undergoing individual system checks.

The CSM was still six months from being ready to ship to Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Apollo 11 lunar module, LM-5, would ultimately beat CSM-107 to the Cape by a week, but one year out from it landing on the moon, it was still undergoing testing at Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp.’s factory in Bethpage, New York.

Electrical engineer Salvatore Sarbello, writing in a construction log for LM-5, noted fluctuations in power levels as environmental control system testing continued on July 20, 1968.

Just a few days earlier, Sarbello logged the 4 hours it took to install Panel 5 in the ascent stage of the lunar module. The panel included the stop and start buttons to control the engines that would lower and raise the vehicle for the lunar surface.

CSM-107 and LM-5 would come to be much better known as “Columbia” and “Eagle,” but those call signs would not be publicly known for almost another full year.

Moon men

One year out from their landing on the moon, Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins were not the crew of Apollo 11.

On July 20, 1968, Armstrong and Aldrin were serving as the backup commander and lunar module pilot, respectively, for the Apollo 8 Earth orbit mission. At that point, even the idea of sending Apollo 8 to circle the moon, which would happen that December, was still two weeks away (and that change of mission would not be announced to the public until November).

Collins, meanwhile, was in training as Apollo 8’s command module pilot, when, on July 22, 1968, NASA announced he was to undergo surgery “to remove a bone spur growth that has developed in his cervical spine.”

“Whether the problem will affect Collins’ assignment as prime command module pilot for the third manned Apollo mission will not be known until after surgery, when the amount of time required for recuperation can be established,” the space agency said at the time.

The next day, the situation became clear: Collins had gone through the surgery without complications, but he would need three to six months to recover, requiring that he be replaced on the Apollo 8 crew. Jim Lovell moved up from the backup to the prime crew for Apollo 8 (which resulted in Aldrin moving over to become backup command module pilot).

Armstrong would not be approached to command the possible first moon landing until Apollo 8 entered lunar orbit. He, Aldrin and Collins would not be announced to the public as the Apollo 11 crew until Jan. 9, 1969.

Robert Pearlman is a Space.com contributing writer and the editor of collectSPACE.com , a Space.com partner site and the leading space history news publication. Follow collectSPACE on Facebook and on Twitter at @ collectSPACE . Follow us @Spacedotcom , Facebook and Google+ . Original article on Space.com.

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Mystery Egypt sarcophagus found not to house Alexander the Great’s remains

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (Reuters) – Egyptian archaeologists on Thursday dashed local hopes that a newly discovered ancient sarcophagus might contain the remains of Alexander the Great, finding instead the mummies of what appeared to be a family of three.

Egyptian excavation workers labor outside the site of the newly discovered giant black sarcophagus in Sidi Gaber district of Alexandria, Egypt July 19, 2018 in this handout picture courtesy of the Ministry of Antiquities. The Ministry of Antiquities/Handout via Reuters

Workmen inadvertently unearthed the approximately 2,000-year-old black granite sealed sarcophagus this month during the construction of an apartment building in the historic Mediterranean port city of Alexandria.

The 30-ton coffin is the largest yet found in Alexandria, prompting a swirl of theories in local and international media that it may be the resting place of the ancient Greek ruler who in 331 BC founded the city that still bears his name.

Mostafa Wazir, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, inspects the site of the newly discovered giant black sarcophagus in Sidi Gaber district of Alexandria, Egypt July 19, 2017 in this handout picture courtesy of the Ministry of Antiquities. The Ministry of Antiquities/Handout via Reuters

Egypt’s antiquities ministry had vigorously dismissed the chances of finding Alexander’s remains inside the 30-tonne sarcophagus and on Thursday its scepticism was vindicated.

“We found the bones of three people, in what looks like a family burial… Unfortunately the mummies inside were not in the best condition and only the bones remain,” Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, told reporters at the site.

Waziri said some of the remains had disintegrated because sewage water from a nearby building had leaked into the sarcophagus through a small crack in one of the sides.

The location of the remains of Alexander the Great, who died in 323 BC in Babylon, remains a mystery.

Slideshow (4 Images)

The sarcophagus in Alexandria is the latest of a series of interesting archaeological finds this year in Egypt that include a 4,400-year-old tomb in Giza and an ancient necropolis in Minya, south of Cairo.

The unmarked tomb in Alexandria did not likely belong to any other notable ruler in the Ptolemaic period (332 BC-30 BC) associated with Alexander the Great, or the subsequent Roman era, Waziri said.

The prospect of opening the long-sealed sarcophagus had stirred fears in Egyptian media that it could unleash a 1,000-year curse.

“We’ve opened it and, thank God, the world has not fallen into darkness, said Waziri.

“I was the first to put my whole head inside the sarcophagus… and here I stand before you … I am fine.”

Reporting by Ahmed Salem; Writing by Nadine Awadalla and Eric Knecht; Editing by Gareth Jones

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Why I’ll Never Be Replaced by a Robot

A lot of people are worried that robots are going to take their jobs. Doctors are worried that they’ll be replaced by robot doctors. Chefs are worried that they’ll be replaced by robot chefs. But me? I’m not worried. I do certain things at work that a robot would never be able to replicate.

For instance, on an average workday, I spend two to three hours in the bathroom. Sometimes I’m doing bathroom things, but usually I’m playing games on my phone or napping. A robot, though? It doesn’t need to go to the bathroom. The second that people see those shiny, metal robot legs under the stall door, they’ll know that the robot’s goofing off instead of sitting at its desk. Point is, I can watch a whole episode of “The Big Bang Theory” in the bathroom, and robots can’t.

Here’s another thing that I do that a robot can’t: send passive-aggressive e-mails that undermine my colleagues. Despite major advances in artificial intelligence, today’s robots aren’t capable of writing, “Marcia, per my last e-mail, do you have any updates on your end of the project?,” and then cc’ing Marcia’s boss, like I would. At best, a robot could write, “Beep boop, beep boop, I believe what you are looking for is in the attachment, Marcia.”

A couple of times a year, I pressure my colleagues into ordering Girl Scout cookies from my fictional daughter, and then I pocket the money. I’m sure that a robot could do that, too, but I can’t imagine that it would want to . . . and that’s a problem.

Human employees, like me, give co-workers funny nicknames—like Fat Steve, which is what I call my colleague Steve. But a robot could never come up with a nickname as creative as that, because it can only see in Terminator vision—its visual processor only categorizes people as threats or allies. So, at best, the robot would call Steve either Threat Steve or Ally Steve. Those are terrible nicknames, especially for someone as fat as Steve.

I think the thing I’m best at is taking other people’s lunch from the refrigerator. A robot would never do that, because it would be too busy ogling the refrigerator. That’s robots for ya—always falling in love with appliances.

Robots are great at rote tasks, but they lack a certain human touch. Case in point: a robot would never “conveniently forget” to help pay for a cake when it’s a co-worker’s birthday—but that’s something I do constantly! I’ve eaten about four hundred dollars’ worth of free cake throughout my career, whereas a robot would probably both pay for the cake and get it all jammed up in its USB ports. Hardly a workplace revolution, if you ask me.

If I finish off the pot of coffee in the break room, I never make a new one. A robot, on the other hand, would use predictive analytics to have brewed a new pot before the old one was even finished. But, if robots are so smart, how come they aren’t selling stolen coffee makers on eBay like I am?

I play on my company’s softball team. I show up drunk (robots can’t drink), I strike out every time (robots would hit home runs every time), and I never hustle (robots always hustle). But has a robot ever been escorted off the field by the umpire and a police officer for shouting lewd and offensive comments at the opposing team? No. Which means scientists still have a long way to go before we’ll see robots in the workplace.

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Alligator spotted near North Carolina Marine barracks, officials warn

An alligator was spotted near the barracks of the Marine Corps Air Station New River in Jacksonville, North Carolina, officials said.

A video posted on the air station’s Facebook page shows the gator emerging from the water, quickly moving toward the videographer as he or she throws a blade of grass toward it. The gator, which has been “actively fed” by humans, likely thought the grass was food.

“Unfortunately, people have been actively feeding this alligator which is why it moved towards the camera when a piece of grass was thrown its way,” the Marine Corps Air Station New River wrote in a Facebook post.

FLORIDA WOMAN SHOCKED BY ‘HISSING’ ALLIGATOR IN GARAGE: ‘IT WAS A BIG BOY’

“In addition to being illegal, feeding an alligator is dangerous and creates a safety issue if they become habituated to being fed by humans,” the officials added.

Wildlife personnel at New River were first to spot the gator, which is estimated to be 6 feet long, Military.com reported.

GIANT ALLIGATOR IN SOUTH CAROLINA ATTEMPTS TO SCALE FENCE TO ESCAPE TRAPPERS

“It was tracking these officials as they approached the pond and started swimming toward them,” Kirk Kropinack, director of the air station’s installation and environment department, told Military.com.

In the past, gators have been found on the base’s parking lots and airfield.

“In the case of this specific alligator, plans were in the works to capture and relocate it to a remote location elsewhere on the installation,” the Marine Corps Air Station New River said. However, the gator moved to an unknown location before officials were able to capture it.

Officials at two Marine Corps bases — the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station New River — ask anyone who spots an alligator and believes it to be a safety concern to call wildlife officials.

Madeline Farber is a Reporter for Fox News. You can follow her on Twitter @MaddieFarberUDK.

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More Americans Are Dying From Suicide, Drug Use And Diarrhea

Americans are dying in different ways than they used to. As of 2014, more were dying from drug use than in years past, even as deaths from alcohol had largely remained unchanged. Deaths resulting from interpersonal violence were on the decline, but fluctuations (and a recent increase) in deaths from suicide meant that violence was still a relatively common cause of death. Over the previous decade, deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — the main types are chronic bronchitis and emphysema — had steadied, even beginning to slowly decline, but it remained a leading cause of death.

Even as the trends differ, however, they have something in common: huge disparities by region and sometimes even within states. Some of the biggest increases in diarrhea-related deaths have taken place in the Northeast and Midwest, for example — likely as a result of infections that stem from antibiotic use. All of this can be seen in 35 years of county-level mortality estimates, covering 1980 to 2014, that have been released by academic researchers who attempted to fill in the gaps on mortality statistics, painting one of the clearest pictures yet of how people die in the U.S.

In recent years, there’s been a focus on how much we’re spending on health care in the U.S., but to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s Ali Mokdad, the more distressing problem is how little we seem to be getting for all that money. Generally, U.S. mortality is higher than almost every other wealthy country, for nearly every disease, he said. “We talk about health more than anybody else, we talk about guns more than anybody else, we talk about violence more than anybody else, and you still see these huge disparities,” Mokdad said. “It makes you wonder why.”

Mokdad is part of a team at the institute, which is based at the University of Washington, that has published an analysis of 21 mortality categories, including more than 80 causes of death, within the U.S. — an analysis that we’re also publishing in our interactive map of the ways Americans die. The most recent update to it — which adds several new death categories — provides a deeper look at some of those ways and how they’ve changed over time.

Infectious diseases

The mortality rate (the number of deaths per 100,000 people) from lower respiratory infections, which include pneumonia and acute bronchitis, declined nationally by 25.8 percent from 1980 to 2014. Not every part of the country experienced a decline, however. More than 50 percent of counties had a decrease in mortality from lower respiratory infections during that time, but 12.3 percent had an increase. Those increases were heavily concentrated in Appalachia, parts of the Southeast, and a few counties in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. Lower respiratory infections made up 79 percent of all infectious disease mortality in 2014, so those percentage increases translate into a lot of deaths. “The trends of disparity are getting worse — they are increasing,” Mokdad said. “For us, that’s really sad.”

Of the major infectious diseases, diarrheal diseases were the only cause of mortality that increased nationally from 2000 to 2014. Much of that can be attributed to deaths from C. difficile, a bacterium that can cause life-threatening intestinal issues, which are most commonly found among older patients whose immune systems have been weakened by antibiotic usage — making many of these deaths the result of medical treatment. A corridor running from Missouri to Maine, with its heart in the Rust Belt, saw some of the highest rates of mortality from diarrheal diseases in 2014.

Substance use

The rise in opioid deaths has been called an epidemic in recent years, and the data from the institute backs that up. It found an increase in the drug use mortality rate in just about every county in the U.S. from 1980 to 2014.

Alcohol and drug use deaths also vary geographically. Notably, the Southern Black Belt, which has high rates of mortality for most causes of death has some of the lowest rates of death from substance use.

Violence

An overall decline in violence-related deaths took off in the 1990s because of a precipitous decline in deaths from interpersonal violence, a category that includes assault, domestic violence and child abuse. However, a recent uptick in suicide has kept the combined category among the leading causes of death. Some of the decrease in mortality from interpersonal violence is the result of improvements in medicine that have increased survival rates after an incident.

Many of these deaths result from firearms, which are once again under increased scrutiny after 17 people were killed in a school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Mass casualty events understandably capture a lot of the headlines around gun violence in the U.S. But as FiveThirtyEight has explored previously, the majority of gun deaths are from suicide — categorized as “self-harm” in the institute’s data — a problem that has grown since the late 1990s.

There are clear regional patterns for violent deaths, with suicides happening at a high rate in the Mountain West, and interpersonal violence death rates high in the rural Southeast, on some Native American reservations and in a handful of large cities.

Chronic respiratory diseases

The rate of death from chronic respiratory diseases was dramatically higher in 2014 than it was in 1980. And more than 4.6 million people died from those diseases over that 35-year period. The vast majority of those deaths are from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is most commonly caused by cigarette smoke.

That’s just some of what we found while exploring the new data. But don’t let our eyes be the only ones that look for interesting trends: Explore the maps yourself.

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Deep reefs won’t be ‘twilight zone’ refuge for fish, corals: study

OSLO (Reuters) – Deep coral reefs in a “twilight zone” in the oceans differ sharply from those near the surface, dimming hopes that they can be a refuge for marine life fleeing threats such as climate change and pollution, scientists said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Tourists snorkel in an area called the ‘Coral Gardens’ at Lady Elliot Island, located north-east from the town of Bundaberg in Queensland, Australia, June 11, 2015. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo

Worldwide, coral reefs in shallow waters are among ecosystems most threatened by climate change. The Great Barrier Reef off Australia suffered severe bleaching, a whitening driven by warm waters that can kill corals, in 2016 and 2017.

A U.S.-led team of divers who studied little-known reefs in the West Atlantic and Pacific Oceans between 30 and 150 meters (100-500 ft) deep where sunlight fades, found most species of corals and fish were unlike those closer to the surface.

FILE PHOTO: Peter Gash (L), owner and manager of the Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort, snorkels with Oliver Lanyon and Lewis Marshall, Senior Rangers in the Great Barrier Reef region for the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, during an inspection of the reef’s condition in an area called the ‘Coral Gardens’ located at Lady Elliot Island in Queensland, Australia, June 11, 2015. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo

“We were surprised to find little overlap,” lead author Luiz Rocha of the California Academy of Sciences told Reuters of the findings published in the journal science.

Less than five percent of fish and corals were found in both shallow and deep waters against the scientists’ previous estimate of 60-75 percent, based on historical records, he said.

“The potential for deep reefs to act in a refuge capacity is far less than we have previously hoped,” they wrote. And, like shallow reefs, the deep reefs also faced threats including climate change, storms and pollution.

Divers found, for instance, plastic fishing nets entangled on deep corals off the Philippines and deep corals harmed by warm waters off the Bahamas.

FILE PHOTO: A man snorkels in an area called the “Coral Gardens” near Lady Elliot Island, on the Great Barrier Reef, northeast of Bundaberg town in Queensland, Australia, June 11, 2015. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo

Rocha said the scientists were trying to place temperature sensors in the twilight zone to see how far deep reefs were exposed to rising ocean temperatures, which are most extreme at the surface.

Deep reefs covered at least the same ocean area worldwide as shallow reefs, he estimated. Some reefs, such as those off the mouth of the Amazon River, exist only in the depths.

The authors urged better safeguards for deep reefs, for instance by expanding protected areas and banning bottom trawlers that can scrape the seabed.

Among previous research, a 2016 study by the U.N. Environment Programme found evidence that some deep reefs could act as what it called ‘lifeboats’ for nearby, connected shallower reefs.

But it said that in other cases, deep reefs “may be just as vulnerable as shallower reefs” to human pressures.

Details of the Science study: here

Reporting By Alister Doyle; editing by John Stonestreet

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What We Know About Michael Cohen’s Tape

What sort of lawyer surreptitiously tapes his conversations with his client? Donald Trump’s lawyer. On Friday, the Times reported that Michael Cohen, who at times has been Trump’s attorney and fixer, “secretly recorded a conversation with Mr. Trump two months before the presidential election in which they discussed payments to a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump.” Other media outlets quickly confirmed the scoop, which, for a few hours anyway, overshadowed the continuing controversy about the President’s abject performance alongside Vladimir Putin at the Helsinki summit.

With accusations of treason flying around, some people dismissed the Cohen story as a distraction. Perhaps it is. But it’s also a reminder that Cohen’s legal troubles are ongoing, and that their potential ramifications for Trump are far from clear. As Paul Waldman pointed out in the Washington Post on Friday, “you never know when something that looks trivial today could turn out tomorrow to be anything but.”

Cohen made the recording in September, 2016, and F.B.I. agents seized it this April, when they raided his office, home, and hotel room in New York. Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, told the Times the recording is less than two minutes long. At the time it was made, A.M.I., the parent company of the National Enquirer, was negotiating with representatives of the former Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal, who claimed she had an affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007. A.M.I.’s chairman, David Pecker, is a longtime friend of Trump. In a practice known in the tabloid world as “catch and kill,” A.M.I. bought McDougal’s tell-all but didn’t publish it. (In February, my colleague Ronan Farrow published an article about what happened.)

We already knew that, shortly before the election, Cohen paid the porn star Stormy Daniels a hundred and thirty thousand dollars to secure her silence about her claim that she, too, had an affair in 2006 with Trump. But it’s still not clear what role, if any, Cohen played in the Enquirer’s decision to buy McDougal’s story. “In the September 2016 conversation, Cohen and Trump were discussing a plan by Cohen to attempt to purchase the rights to McDougal’s story from AMI for roughly $150,000,” the Washington Post reported. “Trump can be heard urging Cohen to make sure he properly documents the agreement to buy the rights and urges him to use a check—rather than cash—to keep a record of the transaction.” As far as we know so far, the transaction between Cohen and A.M.I. was never completed.

The new revelation suggests that the Trump campaign was lying when, a few days before the 2016 election, it denied Trump had any knowledge of the A.M.I. deal with McDougal. Of course, Trump may not give a hoot about being proved a liar, yet again. But his friend Pecker and A.M.I. could be in trouble, because buying and killing the story on Trump’s behalf could be considered an undisclosed campaign contribution. “If one of the options was buying it”— McDougal’s story—“from AMI and AMI convinced them they didn’t need to buy it, that bolsters the argument that it’s a campaign contribution,” Lawrence Noble, a former lead counsel for the Federal Elections Commission, told the Post’s Philip Bump.

Is this tape the only one Cohen made? On Friday, a few hours after the Times’ story broke, CNN.com reported, “Cohen has other recordings of the President in his records that were seized by the FBI, said both a source with knowledge of Cohen’s tapes and Giuliani.” The CNN story also said, “There are other tapes of Cohen and other ‘powerful’ individuals that the FBI seized beyond the President that could be embarrassing for the people on the tape and for Cohen, according to a source familiar with the tapes.’’ If this story is accurate, it seems likely that at some point, we will learn a good deal more about Cohen’s recordings.

Two other big questions remain: Who leaked the story about the Trump tape, and why? It is possible that Cohen or one of his lawyers did the leaking, although it isn’t clear, if so, what their motive might have been. Someone connected with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Southern District of New York might have been responsible, although it’s not even clear that prosecutors in that office are yet in possession of the tape. Another possibility—perhaps the most likely one—is that Giuliani or someone else in the Trump camp was responsible, either because of a desire to change the subject from Putin and Russia, or because the Trump team knew the tape’s existence would emerge eventually and wanted to get ahead of the story.

“It helps us, rather than hurts us,” Giuliani told the Wall Street Journal. For one thing, it “bears out the fact” that the President didn’t know about A.M.I.’s payment to McDougal until Cohen told him about it. And second, Trump wanted the deal that Cohen was proposing to do with A.M.I. “done in a regular way that was transparent. You just don’t do any form of an illegal tax or campaign-finance violation by check.”

Giuliani was trying to spin the news in Trump’s favor, of course. The news of the tape confirms that, at least in the case of McDougal, Cohen kept the President fully informed about his efforts to buy a woman’s silence. In addition to blowing up the White House’s prior version of these events, this raises the question of what else Cohen did for Trump, and what he might tell federal prosecutors, including the special counsel Robert Mueller, about these activities. There has been much speculation about this, of course. Cohen worked on an abortive effort to develop a Trump Tower in Moscow. He also pushed a proposed peace deal for Ukraine, the terms of which favored Russia. And after Trump was elected, a financial firm with close ties to a Russian oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, hired Cohen as a consultant.

The pressure on Cohen is increasing, and it has been widely reported that he is thinking about coöperating with the Feds in return for a plea deal. As well as looking into what Cohen did for Trump, prosecutors are reportedly investigating whether he obtained bank loans fraudulently by inflating the value of some taxi medallions that he owns. Earlier this month, Cohen hired a new legal team, which includes Lanny Davis, a Democrat who helped defend Bill Clinton during the Whitewater investigation. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, of ABC News, Cohen appeared to indicate that his loyalty to Trump was wavering. “My wife, my daughter, and my son have my first loyalty and always will,” he said. “I put family and country first.”

This roundup of the week’s news appeared in Rational Irrationality, John Cassidy’s weekly newsletter. Sign up here to receive it in your in-box every week.

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Maine beachgoers find decomposing body of possible basking shark: ‘It was foul’

Maine beachgoers were surprised to find a  mysterious sea creature washed up on Higgins Beach earlier this week.

HUMPBACK WHALES LUNGE TOWARD CALIFORNIA TOUR BOAT IN SHOCKING VIDEO

The creature was found Thursday morning and was possibly the decomposing body of a basking shark, Dr. James Sulikowski, a shark expert at the University of New England, told WCSH.

Creature2

One beach goer said the carcass smelled like a “hot day at a fish market.”

 (Amy Cesar)

The carcass, which weighed roughly 600 pounds and was 15 feet in length, was removed by officials with the Portland Department of Public Works, the news station reported. It was later buried in a nearby landfill.

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One beachgoer, Chris Blair, told WCSH that the carcass was “pretty gross” and smelled like a “bad, hot day at a fish market.”

“It was pretty foul,” he added.

Basking sharks are the second-largest fish in the world, according to Oceana, which added that this type of shark can reach up to 40 feet in length. Unlike other species of shark, however, this one doesn’t pose a threat to humans. It mainly eats plankton and can be found throughout the world’s oceans.

Madeline Farber is a Reporter for Fox News. You can follow her on Twitter @MaddieFarberUDK.

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A Crackdown On Drug Dealers Is Also A Crackdown On Drug Users

To combat the opioid crisis, the Trump administration is calling for drug dealers to face tougher penalties, including capital punishment in some cases. The U.S. Sentencing Commission is also considering proposals for tougher prison sentences in crimes involving fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is many times more deadly than heroin. “If we don’t get tough on the drug dealers,” the president said in a recent speech, “we’re wasting our time.”

But Trump’s position — that cracking down on dealers will help users — is contradictory, according to people who work closely with users and researchers who study drug markets. Harsher policies have largely been ineffective in the past at curbing drug supply or consumption, according to most research. But the experts say that when trying to separate users from dealers, a tougher approach will only exacerbate the problem: Sellers and users are often the same people.

Louise Vincent is the director of the Urban Survivors Union, a coalition of active and former drug users based in Greensboro, North Carolina, and has herself straddled the line between user and seller. She grew up around substance abuse, battled addiction and mental health disorders, and faced a charge of possession with intent to deliver. “When I was struggling in my life and surrounded by drug-using lifestyles, part of survival is selling drugs,” she told me. Vincent lost her daughter to an overdose after sending her to treatment. “My life has been shaped by drug policy,” she said.

Vincent now works to support outreach for overdose prevention and harm reduction, and her union operates clean syringe exchange services. According to her experience, it’s harmful to make the distinction that “drug dealers need to go to prison and the drug users are victims,” she said. “Not everyone who sells drugs uses drugs, but I think just about everybody that uses drugs has probably sold drugs or at least hooked up a friend.”

There’s no way to put a definitive number on how many drug users also sell drugs. For starters, users aren’t generally forthcoming about their habit. The most recent results from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which asks respondents to self-report their drug use, estimated that 475,000 Americans over the age of 12 were current heroin users as of 2016. But household surveys often underestimate illicit drug use because of the stigma attached with the behavior, among other reasons. Dealers are probably even less inclined to report their activities, so quantifying users who also sell drugs is extra difficult.

Instead, organizations like Vincent’s help researchers connect with these communities to better understand and describe them. “It’s a minority method,” said Lee Hoffer, a cultural and medical anthropologist at Case Western Reserve University who studies illegal drug use and substance abuse. “People want to do big surveys, but these are riddled with challenges.”

Hoffer’s work has helped expand the conventional understanding of local illegal drug markets from sellers and buyers to include middlemen, or “brokers.” Brokers are almost always users who buy drugs from dealers for their friends or other users and often get a cut of the heroin in exchange, which allows them to sustain their own habits.

“These are people that are essentially helping their peers. They don’t consider themselves dealers and no one else would, except the police,” Hoffer said. “Then it gets complicated. Who is the dealer, and how do you distinguish this person from other people?”

These complexities make it difficult to simply target one actor — the dealer or user — with tough enforcement or penalties. “Unless you understand the nuance of who’s a drug dealer on the continuum of using and selling, then law enforcement is always going to miss the mark,” said Jon Zibbell, a senior public health analyst at the nonprofit research institute RTI International.

Adding fentanyl to the mix when considering harsher drug penalties — as the Trump administration apparently wants to do — makes things even messier, and it’s another example of how the real world is often much more complicated than policies imagine. In many cases, users and sellers are unaware that fentanyl is present in other illicit substances they purchase. In an analysis by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, only 15 percent of those sentenced for trafficking fentanyl in 2016 in the U.S. were reported as clearly knowing they were selling fentanyl. Researchers also told me that they aren’t sure how prosecutors could begin to consider sentencing guidelines for fentanyl because dozens of variations of the drug exist on the street with different levels of potency.

Another recent study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health on fentanyl testing strips and other drug-checking technology found that users are concerned about and often unaware of the presence of fentanyl in drugs they have used. Of 256 respondents surveyed for the study who believed they had consumed fentanyl, only 26 percent said it was their drug of preference.

Zibbell recently wrapped up research for RTI on fentanyl test strips with the help of Vincent’s organization, and a paper will soon be submitted for review. During the study, Vincent noticed that people selling drugs were also among those using the testing strips.

“People who used drugs didn’t want fentanyl and they weren’t trying to buy it, and people who were selling drugs sure didn’t want the people that they’re selling the drugs to to die,” Vincent said.

Ramping up penalties is unlikely to help those people, and it could hurt them.

These policies are “going to be falling on these lower-level people,” said Eric Sevigny, a professor of criminal justice at Georgia State University. “They’ll be filling prisons and jails with those who probably need treatment, these user addicts who are often also selling to support their addiction. If you ramp up enforcement, that’s more likely the person to get caught up on the criminal justice side.”

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NASA prepares to fly probe into Sun’s scorching atmosphere

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla (Reuters) – NASA is preparing to send a probe closer to the Sun than any other spacecraft has ventured, enduring wicked heat while zooming through the solar corona to study this outermost part of the stellar atmosphere that gives rise to the solar wind.

Technicians and engineers perform light bar testing on NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which will travel through the Sun’s atmosphere, in the Astrotech processing facility near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, in Titusville, Florida, U.S., June 5, 2018. Picture taken on June 5, 2018. Courtesy Glenn Benson/NASA/Handout via REUTERS

The Parker Solar Probe, a robotic spacecraft the size of a small car, is slated to launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida, with Aug. 6 targeted as the launch date for the planned seven-year mission. It is set to fly into the Sun’s corona within 3.8 million miles (6.1 million km) from the solar surface, seven times closer than any other spacecraft.

Alex Young, solar scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (middle), Nicola Fox, Parker Solar Probe project scientist at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) (right), and Betsy Congdon, Parker Solar Probe Thermal Protection System lead engineer at APL (left), speak during a preview briefing on the NASA’s Parker Solar Probe at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, U.S., July 20, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Brown

“To send a probe where you haven’t been before is ambitious. To send it into such brutal conditions is highly ambitious,” Nicola Fox, a project scientist from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, told a news conference on Friday.

The previous closest pass to the Sun was by a probe called Helios 2, which in 1976 came within 27 million miles (43 million km). By way of comparison, the average distance from the Sun for Earth is 93 million miles (150 million km).

The corona gives rise to the solar wind, a continuous flow of charged particles that permeates the solar system. Unpredictable solar winds cause disturbances in our planet’s magnetic field and can play havoc with communications technology on Earth. NASA hopes the findings will enable scientists to forecast changes in Earth’s space environment.

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“It’s of fundamental importance for us to be able to predict this space weather, much like we predict weather here on Earth,” said Alex Young, a solar scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. “In the most extreme cases of these space weather events, it can actually affect our power grids here on Earth.”

The project, with a $1.5 billion price tag, is the first major mission under NASA’s Living With a Star program.

The probe is set to use seven Venus flybys over nearly seven years to steadily reduce its orbit around the Sun, using instruments designed to image the solar wind and study electric and magnetic fields, coronal plasma and energetic particles. NASA aims to collect data about the inner workings of the highly magnetized corona.

The probe, named after American solar astrophysicist Eugene Newman Parker, will have to survive difficult heat and radiation conditions. It has been outfitted with a heat shield designed to keep its instruments at a tolerable 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius) even as the spacecraft faces temperatures reaching nearly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius) at its closest pass.

Reporting by Joey Roulette; Editing by Will Dunham

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