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3 Astronauts Return to Earth after 115-Day Mission on International Space Station

During the mission, NASA's Rubins successfully sequenced samples of mouse, virus and bacteria DNA while scientists on Earth simultaneously sequenced identical samples

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Astronauts
Russian space agency rescue team helps U.S. astronaut Kate Rubins to get from the capsule shortly after landing of the Russian Soyuz MS space capsule about 150 km (90 miles) southeast of the Kazakh town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016. VOA

October 30, 2016: Three astronauts have returned to Earth safely after a 115-day mission aboard the International Space Station where American Kate Rubins became the first person to sequence DNA in space.

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Rubins, along with Japan’s Takuya Onishi and Russia’s Anatoly Ivanishin landed Sunday morning near Dzhezkazgan on the treeless Central Asian Steppes.

After they were removed from the capsule, the three space travelers sat on the chilly steppes still in their capsule seats while readjusting to the force of gravity after nearly four months of experiencing weightlessness. They were then taken to a nearby medical tent for examination.

American Kate Rubins became the first person to sequence DNA in space. Click To Tweet

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During the mission, NASA’s Rubins successfully sequenced samples of mouse, virus and bacteria DNA while scientists on Earth simultaneously sequenced identical samples. The U.S. space agency says the experiment could help identify possible dangerous microbes on the space station and diagnose illnesses in space.

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Still onboard the ISS are Russian cosmonauts Andrei Borisenko and Sergey Ryzhykov, along with American astronaut Robert Shane Kimbrough. The three arrived at the space station on October 22. (VOA)

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SpaceX Capsule by NASA Carries tons of Science Experiments, Ice Cream to the International Space Station

This is the 13th delivery by the Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX, one of two private shippers hired by NASA

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International Space Station
A Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket launches from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Aug. 14, 2017. The mission of the spacecraft is a cargo and supply delivery to the International Space Station. VOA
  • SpaceX landed its leftover booster back at Cape Canaveral shortly after liftoff, a key to its long-term effort to recycle rockets and reduce costs.
  • Experiments make up most of the 6,400 pounds of cargo, which should reach the orbiting lab Wednesday
  • The space station was zooming 250 miles above the Atlantic, just off Nova Scotia, when the Falcon took flight

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA, August 14, 2017: A SpaceX capsule rocketed to the International Space Station on Monday, carrying tons of scientific research, plus ice cream.

As has become customary on these cargo flights, SpaceX landed its leftover booster back at Cape Canaveral shortly after liftoff, a key to its long-term effort to recycle rockets and reduce costs.

“Gorgeous day, spectacular launch,” said Dan Hartman, NASA’s deputy manager of the space station program.

Experiments make up most of the 6,400 pounds of cargo, which should reach the orbiting lab Wednesday. That includes 20 mice that will return alive inside the SpaceX Dragon capsule in about a month.

ALSO READ: To Save Earth, NASA plans to Crash a Refrigerator-Sized Spacecraft

Ice cream aboard

The Dragon is also doubling as an ice cream truck this time.

There was extra freezer space, so NASA packed little cups of vanilla, chocolate and birthday cake ice cream, as well as ice cream candy bars. Those treats should be especially welcomed by U.S. astronaut Peggy Whitson, in orbit since November. She’s due back at the beginning of September. Newly arrived U.S. spaceman Randolph Bresnik turns 50 next month.

The space station was zooming 250 miles above the Atlantic, just off Nova Scotia, when the Falcon took flight.

It was the 14th successful booster landing for SpaceX and the sixth on the giant X at the company’s touchdown spot at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, just a few miles from its NASA-leased pad at Kennedy Space Center.

“It’s right on the bull’s-eye, and a very soft touchdown,” said SpaceX’s Hans Koenigsmann.

The experiments

The mice on board are part of a study of visual problems suffered in space by some male astronauts. Scientists will study the pressure in the animals’ eyes, as well as the movement of fluid in their brains. Thirty days for mice in space is comparable to three years for humans, according to Florida State University’s Michael Delp, who’s in charge of the experiment. The study may help explain why female astronauts don’t have this vision problem, which can linger long after spaceflight, he added.

The Dragon also holds an instrument to measure cosmic rays from the space station. This type of device has previously flown on high-altitude balloons. The Army has an imaging micro-satellite on board for release this fall from the station. It’s a technology demo; the military wants to see how small satellites like this, with low-cost, off-the-shelf cameras and telescopes, might support critical ground operations. It’s about the size of a dormitory-room refrigerator.

Also going up on behalf of the Michael J. Fox Foundation: protein crystals that, in space, might shed light on Parkinson’s disease. The mission got a televised plug from Fox, an actor who has the disease.

Three Americans, one more than usual, and an Italian will tackle all this scientific work in orbit. The station also is home to two Russians; that number will go back up to three in a year or so.

SpaceX delivery

This is the 13th delivery by the Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX, one of two private shippers hired by NASA. The other is Orbital ATK; its next supply run is in November from Wallops Island, Virginia.

The SpaceX Dragon is the only supply ship capable of returning items to Earth. It parachutes into the Pacific; the others burn up during re-entry.

This particular Dragon is brand new, as is the Falcon rocket. In June, SpaceX launched its first reused Dragon, and in March, its first reused Falcon. From now on, the company said it may only fly used Dragons.

SpaceX is also developing a crew Dragon for NASA astronauts, set to debut next year. Boeing is working on its own capsule to ferry space station astronauts.

In the meantime, SpaceX is aiming for a November debut of its Falcon Heavy rocket, which will feature three first-stage boosters and 27 engines, versus the single booster and nine engines on the Falcon 9. It will have two-thirds the thrust of NASA’s Saturn V rocket, which was used during the Apollo moon program. All three of the Falcon Heavy’s first-stage boosters are meant to fly back to a touchdown. (VOA)

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

ALSO READ: Flashback to Terror: 1993 Mumbai Blasts Judgement to Hail on June 27 After 24 Years

Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)

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Satellite sends First Quantum Signal to Earth

This is a big step towards achieving a secure and developed way to encrypt communications because ever-improving computer algorithms can not crack them

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Micius
Micius satellite. wikimedia
  • An orbiting satellite has sent the first entangled pair of photons to Earth
  • It is a big step towards achieving a secure and developed way to encrypt communications
  • They can not be cracked by ever-improving computer algorithms

June 18, 2017: It was reported by scientists today that an orbiting satellite has sent the first entangled pair of photons to Earth. It is a big step towards sending quantum keys from satellites — an approach that has been heralded as a secure and developed way to encrypt communications because ever-improving computer algorithms can not crack them.

A laser on China’s Micius satellite, which was launched last year and is dedicated to researches related to quantum satellite communications, spit out pairs of entangled photons from its position, 500 km above Earth. Then two telescopes on Earth – about 1200 km apart — had 5 minutes each day to look for them as the satellite passed over both telescopes. It was found that paired photons survived the journey through Earth’s atmosphere. They detected 1 entangled pair per second out of the 6 million sent in that time.

So how exactly does all this work?

A quantum key needs to be generated first by two people who are looking to communicate. Then, one person receives one of the entangled photons in the pair, the other person receives the other. When the received photons have measured the photons, they obtain bits of information strung together to create a key that they both have. That key can be used to encrypt and decrypt a message. The users can also share a portion of the key publicly to check if it has been compromised. In case if someone tries to intercept the communication at any point, they would then notice a difference between their strings.

Also read: NASA’s Curiosity rover finds a Wide Variety of Minerals in Martian Rocks

There is a certain set of problems as well. Caltech’s John Preskill believes even though it is an important proof of concept, the feat doesn’t address one of the biggest problems with quantum communications. Currently, these messages can’t be sent long distances. Photons, using an optical fiber to carry a quantum signal, can only make it about 100 km before the dissipation of the light.

Quantum systems are similar to optical telecommunications here on earth and need repeaters that are able to amplify the message so it can be passed long distances. But amplifying a quantum message in the same way optical ones are done would effectively result in the destruction of the information. That is why satellite-based communication are being eyed by researchers. The reported 500 km from space is an improvement over optical. Quantum signals were measured in another study published today from a satellite 38,000 km away to a single point. But in deploying a global network which would likely be able to combine optical fiber and satellites, the repeater problem still stands.

Preskill has predicted that it is more likely we will first come up with another form of encryption for communication. “There will be other ways of doing classical public key cryptosystems that we won’t know how to break with quantum computers,” he added.

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang