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Archive for October, 2013

India sets November 5 for Mars mission launch

Bangalore, India (AFP)
Oct 22, 2013

Scientists on Tuesday set November 5 for the delayed launch of India’s first mission to Mars, which was postponed due to problems in positioning a seaborne tracking system.

Blast-off for the unmanned Mars Orbiter Mission had to be rescheduled after the state-run Indian Space Agency Organization (ISRO) said at the weekend that it would be unable to launch as expected on October 28.

Two Indian ships have been sent to Fiji in the Pacific Ocean to enable constant tracking of the rocket, but one of them has been late to arrive because of bad weather.

“The Mars Orbiter Mission has been rescheduled to November 5 and its spacecraft will be launched at 14:36 IST (Indian Standard Time) from Sriharikota spaceport,” ISRO spokesman Deviprasad Karnik told AFP.

The 1.3-ton Orbiter probe will be launched on a 350-tonne rocket from Sriharikota on the Bay of Bengal, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of Chennai.

The nine-month Mars mission was approved by the government and has a budget of 4.5 billion rupees (73 million dollars).

India says the mission will mark a significant step in its space program, which has already placed a probe on the Moon and is a source of national pride in the country of 1.2 billion.

But the spending has also attracted criticism as the government struggles to tackle widespread poverty and massive infrastructure problems.

A host of countries have previously launched missions to Mars, including the United States, Russia, Japan and China.

Source: Mars Daily.

Cygnus cargo craft readies to leave space station

Washington (AFP)
Oct 21, 2013

A private cargo ship built by Orbital Sciences Corporation is preparing to leave the International Space Station early Tuesday and burn up on re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, NASA said Monday.

The Cygnus spacecraft is scheduled to detach from the orbiting research outpost at 1000 GMT Tuesday and leave the ISS an hour and a half later.

“Orbital engineers then will conduct a series of planned burns and maneuvers to move Cygnus toward a destructive re-entry in Earth’s atmosphere,” NASA said in a statement.

Orbital said Cygnus is expected to re-enter the atmosphere on Wednesday, October 23 at 1818 GMT over the Pacific Ocean east of New Zealand.

The unmanned spaceship attached itself to the ISS on September 29, marking the first successful demonstration mission of a cargo resupply flight by Orbital Sciences.

It is the fourth such mission by a private company to ferry supplies to global astronauts, a capacity the United States lost when the space shuttle program ended in 2011.

The California-based SpaceX, owned by entrepreneur Elon Musk, in 2012 became the first private enterprise to send its own cargo-bearing spacecraft to the ISS and back.

Both companies have billion-dollar NASA contracts to deliver cargo to the ISS on multiple missions over the coming years.

Unlike SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, Cygnus cannot return to Earth intact and will be destroyed after its mission is complete.

NASA said astronauts aboard the ISS have loaded Cygnus “with items no longer needed,” which will burn up with the spacecraft when it plunges back to Earth.

Source: Space-Travel.

Ethiopia sets sights on stars with space program

Addis Ababa (AFP)
Oct 22, 2013

Ethiopia unveiled Friday the first phase of a space exploration program, which includes East Africa’s largest observatory designed to promote astronomy research in the region.

“The optical astronomical telescope is mainly intended for astronomy and astrophysics observation research,” said observatory director Solomon Belay.

The observatory, which will formally be opened on Saturday, boasts two telescopes, each one meter (over three feet) wide, to see “extra planets, different types of stars, the Milky Way, and deep galaxies,” Solomon added.

The 3.4 million dollar (2.5 million euro) observatory, run by the Ethiopian Space Science Society (ESSS), is funded by Ethiopian-Saudi business tycoon Mohammed Alamoudi.

The observatory, 3,200 meters (10,500 feet) above sea level in the lush Entoto mountains on the outskirts of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, is an ideal location because of its minimal cloud cover, moderate winds and low humidity, experts said.

When established in 2004, ESSS was labeled as the “Crazy People’s Club”, according to the group, but has gained credibility in the past decade with astronomy courses introduced at universities and winning increased political support.

The Ethiopian government is set to launch a space policy in coming years.

Solomon said the group originally faced skeptics in Ethiopia and abroad, who questioned whether space exploration was a wise use of resources in one of Africa’s poorest economies, plagued in the past by chronic famine and unrest.

But Solomon said promoting science is key to the development in Ethiopia, today one of Africa’s fastest growing economies largely based on agriculture.

“If the economy is strongly linked with science, then we can transform a poor way of agriculture into industrialization and into modern agriculture,” he said.

The ESSS is now looking to open a second observatory 4,200 meters (13,800 feet) above sea level in the mountainous northern town of Lalibela, also the site of the largest cluster of Ethiopia’s ancient rock-hewn churches.

Photographs from the ESSS show scientists with testing equipment looking for the best site to put the next telescope on the green and remote peaks, as local villagers wrapped in traditional white blankets watch on curiously, sitting outside their thatch hut homes.

Solomon hopes to boost “astronomy tourism” among space fans interested in coming to one of the least likely countries in the world to boast a space program, an added economic benefit.

The country will also launch its first satellite in the next three years, ESSS said, to study meteorology and boost telecommunications.

Ethiopia is not the first African nation to look to the skies; South Africa has its own National Space Agency, and in 2009 the African Union announced plans to establish The African Space Agency.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, has also called for a continent-wide space program.

Solomon said while the next several years will be about boosting research and data collection, along with promoting a strong local and regional interest in astronomy, he is not ruling out sending an Ethiopian into space one day.

“Hopefully we will,” he said with a laugh.

Source: Space-Travel.

Moscow rally urges release of political prisoners

October 27, 2013

MOSCOW (AP) — Several thousand opposition supporters marched through the Russian capital on Sunday to demand the release of people they consider political prisoners.

The demonstration was intended primarily to show support for those who were arrested after May 2012 clashes between protesters and police on the eve of President Vladimir Putin’s inauguration for a third presidential term. Their arrests and trials were widely seen as part the Kremlin’s crackdown on dissent.

More than 5,000 protesters chanted slogans such as “Free Political Prisoners” and carried a big poster that read “End Putinism, free hostages!” The march, which was sanctioned by authorities, went on peacefully amid a heavy police presence.

The number of demonstrators was significantly lower than the organizers’ expectations of 20,000. The relatively low attendance reflected the sense of weariness among the opposition movement, which has been losing its energy after a series of major anti-Putin demonstrations in Moscow in the winter of 2011-2012, which attracted 100,000 or more.

Alexei Navalny, a charismatic 37-year old anti-corruption lawyer who has emerged as the most prominent opposition leader, told reporters Sunday that the rally was needed to raise pressure for the release of those arrested. He warned opposition supporters that they shouldn’t expect a quick victory.

“The truth is that we need to get ready for a long and more difficult struggle,” he said. In July, Navalny was convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to five years in prison on charges widely seen as political, but he was released the next day in what some saw as a government attempt to make the Moscow mayoral race, in which he took part, look more competitive.

Navalny won 27 percent of September’s vote, finishing a strong second behind the Kremlin-backed incumbent. The surprisingly strong performance cemented his positions as the No.1 Russian opposition politician.

Earlier this month, a court replaced a prison term for Navalny with a suspended sentence. The protesters carried pictures of those who are on trial for their role in the May 2012 protest that turned violent. Some also held pictures of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who marked 10 years in prison this week since his arrest on charges widely seen as a punishment for challenging Putin’s power.

Some people carried pictures of the two members of the punk band Pussy Riot, who are serving two-year sentences for an irreverent protest against Putin. One woman carried a colorful umbrella with the images of masked Pussy Riot performers.

After Putin’s inauguration, the Kremlin has sought to stifle dissent with a series of arrests of opposition activists and repressive legislation that sharply hiked fines for participants in unsanctioned protests and imposed tough new restrictions on non-government organizations.

“We want to show the government, the Russians, the global community yet another time that Russia is not a democratic country, but is governed by the police,” rally organizer Vitaly Zalomov said.

Russia drops piracy claims vs Greenpeace activists

October 23, 2013

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s main investigative agency said Wednesday that it has dropped piracy charges against jailed Greenpeace activists and charged them instead with hooliganism, which could still mean years in prison.

The Investigative Committee’s statement follows a comment by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said last month that he doesn’t think that the Greenpeace activists were pirates. Piracy is punishable by a prison term of up to 15 years, while the specific hooliganism charge being applied now carries a maximum sentence of seven years.

The Investigative Committee also warned that it could file additional charges against the Greenpeace activists, including violence against authorities — punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The 28 Greenpeace activists, a Russian photographer and a British videographer have been held since their ship, the “Arctic Sunrise” was seized by the Russian coast guard after protesting outside the oil rig belonging to Russia’s Gazprom state energy giant on Sept. 18.

The Investigative Committee said that the detainees’ refusal to testify has impeded the investigation. “That prompts the investigators to thoroughly check all possible versions, including the seizure of the platform for financial benefit, terrorist motives, the conduct of illegal scientific research and espionage,” the agency added.

It dismissed the Greenpeace claim that the protest was peaceful, saying it was a crime under an international law to try to seize an oil rig. Vladimir Chuprov of Greenpeace Russia said the activists “are no more hooligans than they were pirates” and should be freed immediately.

“We will contest the trumped-up charge of hooliganism as strongly as we contested the piracy allegations. They are both fantasy charges that bear no relation to reality,” he said in a statement. Chuprov also dismissed the committee’s warning that it may charge some of the activists with use of force against officials, pointing at Greenpeace’s 42-year history of peaceful protest.

“They arrived at that oil rig in a ship painted with a dove and a rainbow,” he said. “Those brave men and women went to the Arctic armed with nothing more than a desire to shine a light on a reckless business. ”

The platform is the first offshore rig in the Arctic. It was deployed to the vast Prirazlomnoye oil field in the Pechora Sea in 2011, but its launch has been delayed by technological challenges. Gazprom said in September that it was to start pumping oil this year, but no date has been set.

The Netherlands has asked the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to order Russia to release a Greenpeace protest ship and the activists who were on board.

Rouhani names three new ministers: Will conservatives accept nominations?


TEHRAN – Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani named three new ministers on Sunday to replace nominees rejected by the conservative-dominated parliament in August, Iranian media reported.

Rouhani made a last-minute change to his pick for the science, research and technology portfolio for fear of a new rejection by MPs.

Interim minister Jafar Tofiqi had come under fire from hardliners in parliament for alleged involvement in the massive street protests that accompanied the controversial 2009 re-election of Rouhani’s predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as well as for allegedly dismissing conservative officials at the ministry.

Reza Faraji Dana, who holds a PhD from Canada’s Waterloo University and was unsuccessfully nominated for the same post under reformist president Mohammad Khatami, Ahmadinejad’s predecessor, received the nomination in his place, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Ali Asghar Fani, a reformist who was for a short period interim education minister under Ahmadinejad, was nominated for the education portfolio.

Reza Salehi Amiri, who worked for the Center for Strategic Research, a think-tank linked to parliament which Rouhani headed from 1992 until his election as president in June, was nominated for the sports ministry.

Parliament will start voting on the three new nominations on October 27, the ISNA news agency reported.

In August, parliament rejected Rouhani’s original nominees for education, Mohammad Ali Najafi, and science, research and technology, Jafar Mili-Monfared — both considered close to reformists — as well as Massoud Sontani-far, at sports and youth.

Source: Middle East Online.

Georgian president elected with 62 percent

October 28, 2013

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — Preliminary results in Georgia’s presidential election show the billionaire prime minister’s candidate winning with 62 percent of the vote.

Former university rector Giorgi Margvelashvili’s victory in Sunday’s election consolidates the power of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili in this U.S.-aligned former Soviet republic. The results posted by Georgia’s Central Election Commission on Monday, with more than 90 percent of precincts counted, are in line with exit polls.

The candidate from outgoing President Mikhail Saakashvili’s party finished second with 22 percent, which is higher than expected. Saakashvili did not wait for the official results to congratulate his successor.

Ivanishvili has kept Georgia on track toward greater European integration and maintained close ties with the United States.

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