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Oldest and Most Experienced US Female Astronaut Peggy Whitson Sets another Record in Orbit

About 27,000 pieces of orbital debris currently are being tracked by ground stations on Earth, according to Britain's Royal Astronomical Society

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U.S. astronaut Peggy Whitson, member of the main crew of the expedition to the International Space Station, speaks with her relatives prior the launch of Soyuz MS-3 space ship at the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Nov. 17, 2016. VOA

Nov 20, 2016: The International Space Station has gained three new residents, including the oldest and most experienced female astronaut ever to orbit the world.

A Russian Soyuz capsule carrying the fresh crew docked Saturday at the space station, 400 kilometers above Earth. The new arrivals at the orbital research laboratory — American astronaut Peggy Whitson, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy — joined the three men already on board, one American and two Russians.

The Soyuz-FG rocket booster with Soyuz MS-03 space ship carrying a new crew to the International Space Station blasts off at the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Nov. 18, 2016. VOA
The Soyuz-FG rocket booster with Soyuz MS-03 space ship carrying a new crew to the International Space Station blasts off at the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Nov. 18, 2016. VOA

Whitson, who will be the mission commander once her team settles in orbit, already holds the record for time spent in space by a woman — over 400 days during her various missions. Over the course of the next six months, she will celebrate her 57th birthday in the weightless conditions of Earth orbit, as she extends her time-in-space record every day.

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Before their launch Thursday from Kazakhstan, Pesquet paid tribute to Whitson’s leadership and seniority, but said he was carrying with him a small piece of a meteorite from Mars that will become “the most experienced space traveler there is in the world.”

The French astronaut, making his first spaceflight, said his intention was to show that human and robotic explorers of outer space “are all working together.” He intends to bring the stone back to Earth next year and place it aboard a Mars rover for a return flight to its home planet.

Third space flight

Whitson, a biochemist by training, is making her third flight to the space station. Prior to this mission, no woman older than 55 had flown in space.

Novitskiy is making his second spaceflight.

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The new crew’s arrival at the space station Saturday coincided with the 47th anniversary of mankind’s second landing on the moon — on November 19, 1969, by American astronauts Charles Conrad and Alan Bean.

The past few days have been busy with space-related activities.

Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng (left, in blue) and Chen Dong, who landed safely aboard China's Shenzhou 11 spacecraft's re-entry capsule in the northern region of Inner Mongolia, arrive in Beijing, China, Nov. 18, 2016. VOA
Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng (left, in blue) and Chen Dong, who landed safely aboard China’s Shenzhou 11 spacecraft’s re-entry capsule in the northern region of Inner Mongolia, arrive in Beijing, China, Nov. 18, 2016. VOA

As Whitson and her crew were heading into orbit, two Chinese astronauts touched down safely in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia after a successful monthlong mission in orbit, demonstrating the progress China has made in its quest to establish a permanent space station.

Major General Jing Haipeng and Colonel Chen Dong spent 33 days in orbit, a new record for Chinese manned space missions. They lived aboard the Tiangong space lab, which is a prototype for a permanent orbital laboratory that China hopes to establish by 2020.

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While in orbit, the Chinese astronauts tested new hardware for use in space, including a remotely operated robotic arm to transfer cargo, and also released a microsatellite to fly around the Tiangong lab, inspecting and photographing it.

The small device also is said to be equipped to divert any space debris on a collision course with the main spacecraft.

In this photo taken with long time exposure the Soyuz-FG rocket booster with Soyuz MS-03 space ship carrying a new crew to the International Space Station blasts off at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Nov. 18, 2016. VOA
In this photo taken with long time exposure the Soyuz-FG rocket booster with Soyuz MS-03 space ship carrying a new crew to the International Space Station blasts off at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Nov. 18, 2016. VOA

First satellite launch

Since the first satellite was launched from Earth into orbit — the Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1, in 1957 — space debris has been accumulating steadily. Some scientists estimate up to 100 million pieces of space junk are currently floating around Earth, posing an increasing threat to the safety of both manned and unmanned satellites high above.

About 27,000 pieces of orbital debris currently are being tracked by ground stations on Earth, according to Britain’s Royal Astronomical Society, which met Friday in London to discuss the growing problem. Many bits of debris are too small to track accurately, but they nevertheless pose a risk to any other objects they encounter.

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“Tackling the problem of space debris is one of humankind’s greatest environmental challenges, but also perhaps the one that is the least known,” said Hugh Lewis, head of astronautics research at the University of Southampton in England.

“Every day we use and rely on services provided by satellites without ever realizing how vulnerable they are,” Lewis added.

Satellite launches

Meanwhile, the European space program launched four more Galileo satellites this week, moving a step closer to completing its own satellite-based navigation system, which will compete against the U.S. Global Positioning System, or GPS.

The four satellites — the most the European Union has sent aloft at one time — were carried into orbit Thursday by an Ariane rocket launched from a spaceport in French Guiana.

The upper stage and payload fairing containing the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-Series R (GOES-R) on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is shown at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Nov. 18, VOA
The upper stage and payload fairing containing the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-Series R (GOES-R) on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is shown at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Nov. 18, VOA

And as astronaut Whitson’s crew was maneuvering toward docking Saturday with the International Space Station, the U.S. space agency NASA was preparing to launch another rocket carrying a new weather satellite into orbit.

Also Saturday, a weather satellite called “America’s most advanced eye in the sky” was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The $1 billion satellite, part of an $11 billion effort to revolutionize forecasting, will be able to relay more frequent and higher-definition images of severe weather patterns, the U.S. space agency said.

The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R Series (GOES-R) spacecraft launched Saturday is “really a quantum leap above any satellite NOAA has ever flown,” Stephen Volz, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s director of satellites, told The Associated Press. (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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India’s Textile and Fashion Heritage now part of Google project

Google's project 'We Wear Culture' is collaborating with 183 renowned cultural institutions from all around the world including India and its objective is to let people explore history of clothes dating as early as 3,000 years ago

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we wear culture
Google's new art project 'We wear Culture' digitizes fashion, Wikimedia
  • Google’s project ‘We Wear Culture’ is collaborating with 183 renowned cultural institutions from all around the world including India
  • It intends to trace the story and importance of Indian textiles from ancient sculptures
  • Its objective is to let people explore history of clothes dating as early as 3,000 years ago

June 15, 2017: To a certain extent, a culture is defined by what is worn by its people. In a country as diverse as India, vast and varied spectrum of cultures and clothes is one of the specialties. Google’s latest virtual exhibition project now provides us the opportunity to explore and know more about it.

Google’s project ‘We Wear Culture’ is collaborating with 183 renowned cultural institutions from all around the world including India and its objective is to let people explore history of clothes dating as early as 3,000 years ago, from the ancient Silk Road to the unmatched elegance of the Indian Saree,  from the courtly fashion of Versailles, to the Victorian ballgowns with intricate thread work.

According to Amit Sood, director of Google Arts and Culture,”We invite everyone to browse the exhibition on their phones or laptops and learn about the stories behind what you wear. You might be surprised to find out that your Saree, jeans or the black dress in your wardrobe have a centuries-old story. What you wear is true culture and more often than not a piece of art.”

Culture is defined by what is worn by its people. Click To Tweet

The company also mentioned that noteworthy collections from Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) and varied weaves from across India, from Gharchola to Patola to Temple to Ikat sarees will be included in the online project, as it intends to trace the story and importance of Indian textiles from ancient sculptures.

ALSO READ: New Google Project Digitizes World’s Top Fashion Archives.

According to PTI reports, the world fashion exhibit also includes designs from north-eastern India including the weaves of tribes such as the Nagas, Meitis. it will showcase the traditional attire from Meghalaya called ‘Dhara’ or ‘Nara’ worn by the Khasi women as well.

As a part of the exhibit, Sewa Hansiba Museum has brought the unique colorful and rich embroidery arts, applique and mirror work from different communities such as the Ahir, Rabari, Chaudhury Patel and many others from the western part of India online.

The exhibition conducted by Salar Jung Museum brings to light the Sherwani and its journey of becoming the royal fashion statement of the Nizams from 19th century Hyderabad. Fashion and textiles enthusiasts can revisit Colonial Indian attires with Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum. Over 400 online exhibitions and stories sharing a total of 50,000 photos, videos and other documents on world fashion are open to exploration as well.

The ‘We wear Culture’ initiative highlights significant events in the growth of the world fashion industry; the icons, the movements, the game changers and the trendsetters like Alexander McQueen, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Gianni Versace, Audrey Hepburn and many more.

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