VOA Science & Tech
Updated: 29 min 1 sec ago
College student Fatima Guerra, 19, will be the first to admit, she’s into some really nerdy stuff. “Like, up there nerdy.” "Way up there nerdy," she says. "All the way up into space." Guerra is an astronomer in training, involved since a high school internship with a small project at the Adler Planetarium, with big goals. “Our main goal was to see if the ozone layer is getting thinner and by how much, and if there is different parts of the Earth’s atmosphere getting thinner because of the pollution and greenhouse gases,” she told VOA from the laboratory at the Adler where she often works. Coding ThinSat Data that sheds light on those circumstances is gathered by a small electronic device called “ThinSat” designed to orbit the Earth. It is developed not by high-paid engineers and software programmers, but by Chicago-area students like Guerra. “We focused on coding the different parts of the sensors that the ThinSat is composed of. So, we coded so that it can measure light intensity, pressure.” “This stuff is very nerdy,” Jesus Garcia admits with a chuckle. “What we hope to accomplish is look at Earth from space as if it was the very first exoplanet that we have. So, imagine that we are looking at the very first images from a very distant planet.” As a systems engineer, Garcia oversees the work of the students developing ThinSat for the Adler’s Far Horizon’s Project, which he outlines “bring all types of students, volunteers and our staff to develop projects, engineering projects, that allow us to answer scientific questions.” Garcia says the students he works with on the project cross national, racial and cultural divides to work toward a common goal. “Here at the Adler, we have students who are minorities who have been faced with challenges of not having opportunities presented to them,” he said. “And here we are presenting a mission where they are collaborating with us scientists and engineers on our first mission that is going into space.” Rocket carries project into space As the NASA-owned, Northrop Grumann-developed Antares rocket successfully blasted off from the coast of Virginia on April 17, it wasn’t just making a resupply mission to the International Space Station. On board was ThinSat, the culmination of work by many at the Adler, including Guerra, who joined the Far Horizons team as a high school requirement that ended up becoming much more. “A requirement can become a life-changing opportunity, and you don’t even know it,” she told VOA. “It’s really exciting to see, or to know, especially, that my work is going to go up into space and help in the scientific world.” Daughter of immigrants It is also exciting for her parents, immigrants from Guatemala, who can boast that their daughter is one of the few who can claim to have built a satellite orbiting the Earth. “I told them it might become a worldwide type of news, and I’m going to be a part of it. And they were really proud. And they were calling my family over there and saying, ‘She might be on TV.’ And it’s something they really feel a part of me about,” Guerra said. Long after the data compiled by ThinSat is complete, Guerro will still have a place in history as a member of a team that put the first satellite developed by a private planetarium into space. She says her friends don’t think that’s nerdy at all. “It’s cool, because it’s interesting to see that something so nerdy is actually going to work, and is going to go up into something so important,” she said.
For some, the launch of a rocket into space to resupply the International Space Station is a routine mission. But for a group of students working with the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, it is a historic moment marking the achievement of a lifetime. VOA's Kane Farabaugh has more from Chicago.
Amazon and Walmart on Thursday kicked off a two-year government pilot program allowing low-income shoppers on government food assistance in New York to shop and pay for their groceries online for the first time. ShopRite will join the two retailers on the program early next week, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The USDA has long required customers using electronic benefits transfer, or EBT, to pay for their purchases at the actual time and place of sale. So the move marks the first time SNAP customers can pay for their groceries online. ShopRite and Amazon are providing the service to the New York City area, and Walmart is providing the service online in upstate New York locations. The agency said the pilot will eventually expand to other areas of New York as well as Alabama, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington. Purchase food, but not delivery The pilot program will test both online ordering and payment. SNAP participants will be able to use their benefits to purchase eligible food items but will not be able to use SNAP to pay for service or delivery charges, the agency said. ``People who receive SNAP benefits should have the opportunity to shop for food the same way more and more Americans shop for food — by ordering and paying for groceries online,'' said USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. ``As technology advances, it is important for SNAP to advance, too, so we can ensure the same shopping options are available for both non-SNAP and SNAP recipients.'' Perdue said he will be monitoring how the pilot program increases food access and customer service, specifically for those who have trouble visiting physical stores. Roughly 38 million individuals receive food stamps in the U.S., according to the USDA. Nearly $52 billion, or 82% of all food stamp dollars, were spent at big box stores and grocery chains in 2017, according to the most recent USDA data. The 2014 Farm Bill authorized the USDA to conduct and evaluate a pilot program for online purchasing prior to national implementation. The USDA says the move was intended to ensure online transactions are processed safely and securely. Seattle-based Amazon said those who qualify don't need to be Prime members to buy groceries with their benefits. They'll get free access to its AmazonFresh service, which delivers meat, dairy and fresh produce to shoppers' doorsteps. And they'll also be able to use Prime Pantry, which delivers packaged goods like cereal and canned food. Qualifying amounts However, they'll need to spend over a certain amount to qualify for free shipping: $50 at AmazonFresh and $25 at Amazon.com. The online shopping giant launched a website, amazon.com/snap, where people can check if they qualify. Amazon said it's working with the USDA to expand service to other parts of New York state. Amazon.com Inc. was on the initial list for the government pilot program, and Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart Inc. made the list later. The world's largest retailer, however, in late 2017 had started allowing customers in limited locations to order items through its online grocery pickup service and then pay for it in person at the stores. ``Access to convenience and to quality, fresh groceries shouldn't be dictated by how you pay,'' Walmart said. ``This pilot program is a great step forward, and we are eager to expand this to customers in other states where we already have a great online grocery.'' Walmart said that nearly 300 locations with grocery pickup in the states will be part of the USDA government program.
Facebook Inc said on Wednesday it may have "unintentionally uploaded" email contacts of 1.5 million new users since May 2016, in what seems to be the latest privacy-related issue faced by the social media company. In March, Facebook had stopped offering email password verification as an option for people who signed up for the first time, the company said. There were cases in which email contacts of people were uploaded to Facebook when they created their account, the company said. "We estimate that up to 1.5 million people's email contacts may have been uploaded. These contacts were not shared with anyone and we are deleting them," Facebook told Reuters, adding that users whose contacts were imported will be notified. The underlying glitch has been fixed, according to the company statement. Business Insider had earlier reported that the social media company harvested email contacts of the users without their knowledge or consent when they opened their accounts. When an email password was entered, a message popped up saying it was "importing" contacts without asking for permission first, the report said. Facebook has been hit by a number of privacy-related issues recently, including a glitch that exposed passwords of millions of users stored in readable format within its internal systems to its employees. Last year, the company came under fire following revelations that Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm, obtained personal data of millions of people's Facebook profiles without their consent. The company has also been facing criticism from lawmakers across the world for what has been seen by some as tricking people into giving personal data to Facebook and for the presence of hate speech and data portability on the platform. Separately, Facebook was asked to ensure its social media platform is not abused for political purposes or to spread misinformation during elections.
Google said Thursday it will start giving European Union smartphone users a choice of browsers and search apps on its Android operating system, in changes designed to comply with an EU antitrust ruling. Following an Android update, users will be shown two new screens giving them the new options, Google product management director Paul Gennai said in a blog post. The EU’s executive Commission slapped the Silicon Valley giant with a record 4.34 billion euro (then $5 billion) antitrust fine in July after finding that it abused the dominance of Android by forcing handset and tablet makers to install Google apps, reducing consumer choice. The commission had ordered Google to come up with a remedy or face further fines. The company, which is appealing the ruling, said the changes are being rolled out over the next few weeks to both new and existing Android phones in Europe. Android users who open the Google Play store after the update will be given the option to install up to five search apps and five browsers, Gennai said. Apps will be included based on their popularity and shown in random order. Users who choose a search app will also be asked if they want to change the default search engine in the phone’s Chrome browser. Android is the most widely used mobile operating system, beating even Apple’s iOS.
Earth, meet Polo. Polo Ralph Lauren on Thursday launched a version of its iconic polo shirt made entirely of recycled plastic bottles and dyed through a process that uses zero water. David Lauren, the youngest son of the company’s founder and its chief innovation officer, told The Associated Press ahead of the announcement that the new shirt is part of a broader strategy of fresh environmental goals throughout the manufacturing process. “Every day we’re learning about what’s happened with global warming and what’s happening all around the world, and our employees and our customers are really feeling that it’s time to step up and make a difference,” Lauren said. Not the first The Polo isn’t the first of its kind. Smaller brands around the world are using repurposed and recycled materials. In announcing Earth Polo, Ralph Lauren committed to removing at least 170 million bottles from landfills and oceans by 2025. The shirts are manufactured in Taiwan, where the bottles are collected. Each uses an average 12 bottles. The shirts are produced in partnership with First Mile, an organization that collects the bottles turned into yarn and, ultimately, fabric. The new fibers will also be used for existing performance wear already made of polyfibers, which are popular for their ability to wick away moisture. The Earth Polo went on sale Thursday, ahead of Monday’s Earth Day, at RalphLauren.com and retail stores around the world. It comes in styles for men and women in green, white, navy and light blue. The shirts are not more expensive than other Polos. Serious about environment Ralph Lauren has taken on environmental initiatives over the years, but it’s putting into place a more significant strategy aimed at changing both its corporate culture and how it thinks about the clothes it produces. The effort includes a new supply chain and sustainability officer, Halide Alagoz, who said more details will be released in June. “At the moment we’re refreshing our approach and framework around sustainability,” she said. Among the company’s other goals: the use of 100% sustainably sourced cotton by 2025 and 100% recyclable or sustainably sourced packaging materials by the same year. Fashion forward Other fashion powerhouses are also getting more aggressive on the environment. Late last year, Burberry and H&M were among fashion stakeholders to sign on to the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, launched at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP24, in Poland. The charter contains a vision to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Ralph Lauren is not a signatory but is exploring the call to action. As for Earth Polo, a huge threat facing oceans today involves trillions of tiny plastic and chemical-covered non-plastic microfibers that flow from washing machines through drain water, placing smaller fish and other sea life, such as anemones, at risk. Alagoz said Ralph Lauren is working with experts who say the impact of turning a plastic bottle into recycled microfiber is “much less than that bottle ending up in the ocean.” The broader question of biodegradability of such fibers remains unresolved. For Polo Earth, the story is about recycling and reusing, Lauren said. “There’s so much out in the world that is not good for the environment. Whatever materials we can turn into threads, we’ll start looking at other opportunities,” he said. “Right now, we’re trying to make sure that what we produce is as good for the environment as possible, or at least helps clean up another problem. Are we creating a new problem? I think we’re creating solutions, or at least trying to find solutions.”
South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. said it has received a few reports of damage to the main display of samples of its upcoming foldable smartphone and that it will investigate. Some tech reviewers of the Galaxy Fold, a splashy $1,980 phone that opens into a tablet and that goes on sale in the United States April 26, said the phone malfunctioned after only a day or two of use. “We will thoroughly inspect these units in person to determine the cause of the matter,” Samsung said in a statement, noting that a limited number of early Galaxy Fold samples were provided to media for review. Screen cracking, flickering The problem seems to be related to the unit’s screen either cracking or flickering, according to Twitter posts by technology journalists from Bloomberg, The Verge and CNBC who received the phone this week for review purposes. Samsung, which has advertised the phone as “the future,” said removing a protective layer of its main display might cause damage, and that it will clearly inform customers such. The company said it has closed pre-orders for the Galaxy Fold because of “high demand.” It told Reuters there is no change to its release schedule following the malfunction reports. From phone to tablet The South Korean company’s Galaxy Fold resembles a conventional smartphone but opens like a book to reveal a second display the size of a small tablet at 7.3 inches (18.5 cm). Although Galaxy Fold and Huawei Technologies Co Ltd.’s Mate X foldable phones are not expected to be big sellers, the new designs were hailed as framing the future of smartphones this year in a field that has seen few surprises since Apple Inc. introduced the screen slab iPhone in 2007. The problems with the new phone drew comparisons to Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 phone in 2016. Battery and design flaws in the Note 7 led to some units catching fire or exploding, forcing Samsung to recall and cancel sales of the phone. The recall wiped out nearly all of the profit in Samsung’s mobile division in the third quarter of 2016. Samsung has said it plans to churn out at least 1 million foldable Galaxy Fold handsets globally, compared with its total estimated 300 million mobile phones it produces annually. Reviewers puzzled Reviewers of the new Galaxy Fold said they did not know what the problem was and Samsung did not provide answers. Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman tweeted: “The screen on my Galaxy Fold review unit is completely broken and unusable just two days in. Hard to know if this is widespread or not.” According to Gurman’s tweets, he removed a plastic layer on the screen that was not meant to be removed and the phone malfunctioned afterward. Dieter Bohn, executive editor of The Verge, said that a “small bulge” appeared on the crease of the phone screen, which appeared to be something pressing from underneath the screen. Bohn said Samsung replaced his test phone but did not offer a reason for the problem. “It is very troubling,” Bohn told Reuters, adding that he did not remove the plastic screen cover. Steve Kovach, tech editor at CNBC.com tweeted a video of half of his phone’s screen flickering after using it for just a day.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued its first guidelines on digital health intervention. The U.N. agency said governments can improve the health of their citizens by using digital technology to make health systems more efficient and responsive to their patients. The United Nations said 51 percent of the world's population has access to broadband internet service. Chief WHO scientist Soumya Swaminathan said increased availability and use of digital technology offers new opportunities to improve people's health. She told VOA the technology enables people, even in the remotest settings, to leapfrog into the development of a more effective, inclusive health system. With the use of mobile phones, computers and laptops, she said it is possible to bypass the intervening stages many countries have had to go through. "So, a health worker in Congo can directly start using a mobile phone if the government is able to provide one to the health worker and get away from filling 30 paper registers, which occupy about one-third of front-line health workers time," she added. New recommendations The new guidelines include 10 recommendations on how governments can use digital technology for maximum impact on their health systems. A WHO scientist specializing in digital innovations and research, Garrett Mehl, said the recommendations deal with issues such as birth notification. "Knowing that a baby has been born is critical to knowing how to provide vaccinations; knowing that the mother needs different post-natal care visits," he said. "But without knowing that there was a birth that has happened, it is difficult to trigger those events in the health system." The guidelines also address privacy concerns.They have recommendations for ensuring that sensitive data, such as issues of sexual and reproductive health, are protected and not put at risk.
Scientists in Israel have revealed what they say is the world's first 3D-printed heart using human tissue. It's hoped the small heart will pave the way for transplants without donors, when every hospital might have access to 3D organ printers. Faith Lapidus reports.
Tech toys used to be their own category at the toy store, but just as technology has become unavoidable in day-to-day life, so too has it become more integrated into toys for children. Tina Trinh reports.
Microsoft recently rejected a California law enforcement agency’s request to install facial recognition technology in officers’ cars and body cameras because of human rights concerns, company President Brad Smith said Tuesday. Microsoft concluded it would lead to innocent women and minorities being disproportionately held for questioning because the artificial intelligence has been trained on mostly white, male pictures. AI has more cases of mistaken identity with women and minorities, multiple research projects have found. “Anytime they pulled anyone over, they wanted to run a face scan” against a database of suspects, Smith said without naming the agency. After thinking through the uneven impact, “we said this technology is not your answer.” Prison contract accepted Speaking at a Stanford University conference on “human-centered artificial intelligence,” Smith said Microsoft had also declined a deal to install facial recognition on cameras blanketing the capital city of an unnamed country that the nonprofit Freedom House had deemed not free. Smith said it would have suppressed freedom of assembly there. On the other hand, Microsoft did agree to provide the technology to an American prison, after the company concluded that the environment would be limited and that it would improve safety inside the unnamed institution. Smith explained the decisions as part of a commitment to human rights that he said was increasingly critical as rapid technological advances empower governments to conduct blanket surveillance, deploy autonomous weapons and take other steps that might prove impossible to reverse. ‘Race to the bottom’ Microsoft said in December it would be open about shortcomings in its facial recognition and asked customers to be transparent about how they intended to use it, while stopping short of ruling out sales to police. Smith has called for greater regulation of facial recognition and other uses of artificial intelligence, and he warned Tuesday that without that, companies amassing the most data might win the race to develop the best AI in a “race to the bottom.” He shared the stage with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, who urged tech companies to refrain from building new tools without weighing their impact. “Please embody the human rights approach when you are developing technology,” said Bachelet, a former president of Chile. Microsoft spokesman Frank Shaw declined to name the prospective customers the company turned down.
Google has blocked access to the hugely popular video app TikTok in India to comply with a state court's directive to prohibit its downloads, a person with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Tuesday. The move comes hours after a court in southern Tamil Nadu state refused a request by China's Bytedance Technology to suspend a ban on its TikTok app, putting its future in one of its key markets in doubt. The state court had on April 3 asked the federal government to ban TikTok, saying it encouraged pornography and made child users vulnerable to sexual predators. Its ruling came after an individual launched a public interest litigation calling for a ban. The federal government had sent a letter to Apple and Google to abide by the state court's order, according to an IT ministry official. The app was still available on Apple's platforms late Tuesday, but was no longer available on Google's Play store in India. Google said in a statement it does not comment on individual apps but adheres to local laws. Apple did not respond to requests for comment, while TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Google's move. TikTok, which allows users to create and share short videos with special effects, has become hugely popular in India but has been criticized by some politicians who say its content is inappropriate. It had been downloaded more than 240 million times in India, app analytics firm Sensor Tower said in February. More than 30 million users in India installed it in January 2019, 12 times more than in the same month last year. Jokes, clips and footage related to India's thriving movie industry dominate the app's platform, along with memes and videos in which youngsters, some scantily clad, lip-sync and dance to popular music. Challenge to court's ban Bytedance challenged the state court's ban order in India's Supreme Court last week, saying it went against freedom of speech rights in India. The top court had referred the case back to the state court, where a judge on Tuesday rejected Bytedance's request to put the ban order on hold, said K. Neelamegam, a lawyer arguing against Bytedance in the case. TikTok earlier said in a statement that it had faith in the Indian judicial system and was "optimistic about an outcome that would be well received by millions" of its users. It did not comment further on the judge's decision. The company, however, welcomed the decision to appoint a senior lawyer to assist the court in upcoming proceedings. The state court has requested written submissions from Bytedance in the case and has scheduled its next hearing for April 24. Salman Waris, a technology lawyer at TechLegis Advocates & Solicitors, said the legal action against Bytedance could set a precedent of Indian courts intervening to regulate content on social media and other digital platforms. In its Supreme Court filing, Bytedance argued that a "very minuscule" proportion of TikTok content was considered inappropriate or obscene. The company employs more than 250 people in India and had plans for more investment as it expands the business, it said.
Automakers are showcasing electric SUVs and sedans with more driving range and luxury features at the Shanghai auto show, trying to appeal to Chinese buyers in their biggest market as Beijing slashes subsidies that have propelled demand. Communist leaders wanting China to lead in electric vehicles have imposed sales targets. That requires brands to pour money into creating models to compete with gasoline-powered vehicles on price, looks and performance at a time when they are struggling with a Chinese sales slump. General Motors, Volkswagen, China's Geely and other brands on Tuesday displayed dozens of models, from luxury SUVs to compacts priced under $10,000, at Auto Shanghai 2019. The show, the global industry's biggest marketing event of the year, opens to the public Saturday following a preview for reporters. On Monday, GM unveiled Buick's first all-electric model for China. GM says the four-door Velite 6 can travel 301 kilometers (185 miles) before the battery needs charging. VW showed off a concept electric SUV, the whimsically named ID. ROOMZZ, designed to travel 450 kilometers (280 miles) on one charge. Features include seats that rotate 25 degrees to create a lounge-like atmosphere. Communist leaders have promoted "new energy vehicles'' for 15 years with subsidies to developers and buyers. That, along with support including orders to state-owned utilities to blanket China with charging stations, is helping to transform the technology into a mainstream product. "People's mindset and governmental policies are more encouraging toward e-cars than in any other country,'' said VW CEO Herbert Diess. Electric vehicles play a key role in the ruling Communist Party's plans for government-led development of Chinese global competitors in technologies from robotics to biotech. Those ambitions set off Beijing's tariff war with President Donald Trump. Washington, Europe and other trading partners complain Chinese subsidies to technology developers and pressure on foreign companies to share know-how violate its market-opening commitments. Electric car subsidies end next year, replaced by sales quotas. Automakers that fall short can buy credits from competitors that exceed their targets or face possible fines. "Most of the traditional car makers are under huge pressure to launch NEVs,'' said industry analyst John Zeng of LMC Automotive. Last year's Chinese sales of pure-electric and hybrid sedans and SUVs soared 60% over 2017 to 1.3 million, or half the global total. At the same time, industry revenue was squeezed by a 4.1% fall in total Chinese auto sales to 23.7 million vehicles. That skid that worsened this year. First-quarter sales fell 13.7% from a year ago. Still, China is a top market for global automakers, giving them an incentive to go along with Beijing's electric ambitions. Total annual sales are expected eventually to reach 30 million, nearly double last year's U.S. level of 17 million. Under Beijing's new rules, automakers must earn credits for sales of electrics equal to at least 10% of purchases this year and 12% in 2020. Longer-range vehicles can earn double credits. That means some brands can fill their quota if electrics make up as little as 5% of sales. Also Tuesday, Nissan Motor Co. and its Chinese partner displayed the Sylphy Zero Emission, an all-electric model designed for China. Based on Nissan's Leaf, the lower-priced Sylphy went on sale in August. Mercedes Benz displayed its first all-electric model in China, the EQC 400 SUV. The Germany automaker says it can travel 400 kilometers (280 miles) on one charge and can go from zero to 100 kph (62 mph) in 5.2 seconds. Mercedes plans to release 10 electrified models worldwide, with most built in China, according to Hubertus Troska, its board member for China. Some Chinese rivals have been selling low-priced electrics for a decade or more. China's BYD Auto, the biggest global electric brand by sales volume, unveiled three new pure-electric models last month. All promise ranges of more than 400 kilometers (280 miles) on one charge. Last week, Geely Auto unveiled a sedan under its new electric brand, Geometry, with an advertised range of up to 500 kilometers (320 miles) on one charge. Geely's parent, Geely Holding, launched a joint venture with Mercedes parent Daimler AG in March to develop electrics under the smart brand. Geely Holding is Daimler's biggest shareholder and also owns Sweden's Volvo Cars. Beijing wants to force automakers to speed up innovation and squeeze out producers that rely too heavily on subsidies. But the technology minister acknowledged in January that China faces a difficult transition as that spending is ending. Keeping development on track "will be a challenge,'' said Miao Wei, according to a transcript on his ministry's website. The shift creates an opportunity for fledgling Chinese automakers that lag global rivals in gasoline technology. They have just 10% of the global market for gasoline-powered vehicles but account for 50% of electric sales. The end of subsidies should lead to dramatic changes, said Zeng of LMC Automotive. He said longer-range, feature-rich models from global majors will replace small producers that cannot survive without subsidies. Electric vehicles "will be much more competitive,'' said Zeng. As the cost of batteries and other components falls, industry analysts say electrics in China could match gasoline vehicles in price and become profitable for manufacturers in less than five years. EVs carry a higher sticker price in China than gasoline models. But industry analysts say owners who drive at least 16,000 kilometers (10,000 miles) a year save money in the long run, because maintenance and charging cost less.
Most wireless communications use RF or radio frequency communications to send data back and forth. But all that information can slow things down. One National Science Foundation supported researcher is using light to send information, and, as we hear from VOA's Kevin Enochs, it’s quicker and more secure than RF.
The vibrant colors and hues that make up Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings soon will be on full display for color blind visitors The vibrant colors and hues in Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings soon will be on full display for color blind visitors. The Santa Fe museum announced Monday it's teaming up with California-based EnChroma to expand the gallery experience through special glasses. Starting May 3, visitors with red-green color blindness can borrow glasses to see O'Keeffe's work in the way that she intended. One of the museum's curators, Katrina Stacy, says O'Keeffe in her later years developed visual impairment from macular degeneration and turned her attention to sculpture. Stacy says the project with EnChroma has ties to that part of the artist's story. EnChroma co-founder Andrew Schmeder says O'Keeffe juxtaposed colors from nature in ways that evoked emotion and seeing that relationship between colors has been challenging for people with color blindness.
The Israeli start-up behind last week's failed lunar landing has vowed to create a second mission to steer a privately funded spacecraft onto the moon. Morris Kahn, Israeli billionaire and chairman of SpaceIL, the nonprofit that undertook the botched lunar mission, says he's already formed a task force of engineers and donors that will build another spacecraft. He called the new mission a lesson in persistence for "the younger generation." SpaceIL confirmed Monday that the crew will convene in the coming weeks to figure out how to fix the technical glitches that caused the first mission to crash, while still keeping the venture relatively fast and cheap. The crash ended an ambitious eight-year effort to make Israel the fourth nation to land on the moon.
Women are woefully underrepresented in technology, science, engineering and mathematics jobs in South Africa. But for the last decade, a homegrown, UNICEF-supported program has worked to bring 11,000 lower-income high school girls into these industries. Among those students was Raquel Sorota. Sorota has come a long way from her humble upbringing in Johannesburg’s Tembisa township. She now works as a risk engineer at a top South African insurance company. She was those one of those South African high school girls who went through the UNICEF-supported TechnoGirls program, which started in 2005. She was selected for the program in 2009. Now 24, she says it changed her life. “My life has literally never been the same again,” she said. “So, before the program, I wanted to be a doctor and today I’m an engineer, through that program. So I think a lot of what I think I took from that program was how it exposed me to the world of engineering. I think for the longest time I never knew how broad that world was and that I could have a place in that world, most importantly.” Bright, disadvantaged girls The program selects bright high school girls from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, gives them exposure to professions in science, technology, engineering and math, pairs them with mentors, and follows them through their university studies. The program’s founder, Staff Sithole, says this is about much more than creating a new crop of workers. This, she says, is about changing the world — and who runs it. “It is more an instrument, or a program, which is contributing towards gender equality. So rather than just running advocacy programs, let’s come with something that can change the circumstances, can be a purposeful targeted intervention of contributing towards gender equality,” she said. Challenging obstacles For high school students Gugulethu Zungu and Queen Makaile, the obstacles are more than just lack of opportunity. Both are physically challenged; they were both born with different, rare genetic defects that have affected their appearance and their health. Both were chosen to participate in the program this year for their high grades in math and science. Zungu says the program led her to identify her dream career — forensics — but also to expand her horizons. “I like investigating and solving mysteries. And it actually makes me believe that, indeed, nothing is impossible. You just have to think out of the box,” she said. Makaile, who has struggled with hearing and vision problems as a result of her rare defect that has also given her asymmetrical facial features, says she now wants to be come a journalist, to show the world that her thoughts matter more than her looks. For these girls, nothing, they say, will stand in their way.
Women are woefully underrepresented in technology, science, engineering and mathematics jobs in South Africa. But for the last decade, a homegrown, UNICEF-supported program has worked to bring 11,000 lower-income high school girls into these industries. VOA's Anita Powell catches up with a few such "TechnoGirls" in Johannesburg and brings us their stories.
The world’s largest aircraft took off over the Mojave Desert in California Saturday, the first flight for the carbon-composite plane built by Stratolaunch Systems Corp., started by late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, as the company enters the lucrative private space market. The white airplane called Roc, which has a wingspan the length of an American football field and is powered by six engines on a twin fuselage, took to the air shortly before 7 a.m. Pacific time (1400 GMT) and stayed aloft for more than two hours before landing safely back at the Mojave Air and Space Port as a crowd of hundreds of people cheered. First flight 'fantastic' “What a fantastic first flight,” Stratolaunch Chief Executive Officer Jean Floyd said in a statement posted to the company’s website. “Today’s flight furthers our mission to provide a flexible alternative to ground launched systems,” Floyd said. “We are incredibly proud of the Stratolaunch team, today’s flight crew, our partners at Northrup Grumman’s Scaled Composites and the Mojave Air and Space Port.” The plane is designed to drop rockets and other space vehicles weighing up to 500,000 pounds at an altitude of 35,000 feet and has been billed by the company as making satellite deployment as “easy as booking an airline flight.” Saturday’s flight, which saw the plane reach a maximum speed of 189 mph and altitudes of 17,000 feet, was meant to test its performance and handling qualities, according to Stratolaunch. Demand for satellite deployment Allen, who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975, announced in 2011 that he had formed the privately funded Stratolaunch. The company seeks to cash in on higher demand in coming years for vessels that can put satellites in orbit, competing in the United States with other space entrepreneurs and industry stalwarts such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Stratolaunch has said that it intends to launch its first rockets from the Roc in 2020 at the earliest. Allen died in October 2018 while suffering from non-Hodgkins’ lymphoma, just months after the plane’s development was unveiled. “We all know Paul would have been proud to witness today’s historic achievement,” said Jody Allen, Chair of Vulcan Inc and Trustee of the Paul G. Allen Trust. “The aircraft is a remarkable engineering achievement and we congratulate everyone involved.”
Even though the U.S. first landed on the moon 50 years ago this year, it's never been — nor will it ever be — an easy thing to accomplish. The Israelis learned just how difficult it is. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.