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Bezos in space: Amazon CEO, brother claim seats on first flight | Science and Technology News



Just weeks after he formally steps down as CEO of, Jeff Bezos plans to blast off into outer space.

The billionaire founder of space firm Blue Origin announced Monday that he would be one of the passengers on the first crewed flight of its New Shepard rocket on July 20. He will be joined by his brother, Mark Bezos.

“Ever since I was five years old, I’ve dreamed of travelling to space,” Bezos, 57, said in a video announcement posted to Instagram. “On July 20th, I will take that journey with my brother. The greatest adventure, with my best friend.”

The Bezos brothers will be joined by four other passengers, including the winner of a private auction Blue Origin launched in May to raise money for its charity, Club for the Future. The non-profit organisation’s mission is to promote science, math, engineering and technology careers.

The auction’s final round will conclude with live bidding on June 12, with the winner joining the Bezos brothers on the trip of a lifetime. The current highest bid stands at $3.2bn.

Flight details

Blue Origin has spent the last few years putting its rocket and crew capsule through a series of 15 test flights to ensure it can safely transport people.

The New Shepard rocket — named after the first American in space, NASA astronaut Alan Shepard — and crew capsule are designed to carry six people and scientific equipment just beyond an invisible line known as the Karman line, which separates Earth from space.

The New Shepard capsule uses parachutes to land back on Earth [File: Blue Origin via AP]

To get past the Karman line, roughly 100km (62 miles) above the Earth, the crew capsule with passengers on board is launched atop the rocket. The rocket then detaches and lands itself, while the capsule descends by parachute before touching down in the desert in Texas in the United States.

The company’s most recent test flight, which occurred in April, included preflight astronaut operations in which company executives dressed as astronauts ran through tests and procedures then disembarked the vehicle before liftoff.

According to Blue Origin, the exercise was “a verification step for the vehicle and operations before flying astronauts”. The company says it’s now ready to start flying passengers as early as July.

Zero-gravity tourism

Passengers will be treated to epic views of space as well as the Earth below thanks to the capsule’s massive windows.

Crew members will spend roughly 11 minutes in zero gravity, where they can float within the cabin before the craft returns to Earth.

“You see the Earth from space and it changes you,” Bezos said in his video announcement Monday. “It changes your relationship with this planet, with humanity.”

Bezos’s participation in the flight could potentially boost the value of the winning bid for the final seat — or lead to criticism, said Lori Garver, a former deputy administrator for NASA.

This illustration provided by Blue Origin shows the capsule that the company aims to use to take tourists into space [File: Blue Origin via AP]

“Personal participation in the flight will likely heighten interest,” Garver told Al Jazeera. “But it could tease a backlash over perceived billionaire ‘junkets.’”

Bezos and his rivals, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Virgin Galactic CEO Richard Branson, have all said they want to reduce the cost of travelling to space.

But so far, only very wealthy individuals have been able to afford seats on future flights — or donate them to others.

Billionaire Jared Isaacman used his four seats on SpaceX’s first flight to raise money for St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, awarding them to a community college educator from Arizona and a former Air Force missileman from Washington. That flight is set to take off no earlier than mid-September.

Virgin Galactic, which plans to begin flying people in 2022, has announced a few of its own passengers, most recently a payload specialist named Kellie Gerardi.

As a researcher at the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences, Gerardi will blast off sometime next year to conduct research during her flight.

“This is a chance to set a precedent for the next generation of researchers,” Gerardi told Al Jazeera. “In the past, only handfuls of humans had access to space. Now platforms like Virgin Galactic will enable researchers and scientists to fly to space with their payloads.”

Battling billionaires

Each space firm has honed its own design to ferry passengers.

Virgin Galactic relies on a rocket-powered plane to transport its passengers to suborbital space. Travellers will have roughly the same experience as those with Blue Origin, although the view will be out of smaller windows.

Musk’s SpaceX is arguably the most successful of the space tycoon endeavours thus far, as the company has successfully carried three different crews of astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA and has several private astronaut flights already on the books.

SpaceX’s design for a lunar lander ultimately won NASA over, but the two other firms in the race have filed protests against the United States space agency, alleging it gave Elon Musk’s firm an unfair advantage [Courtesy: NASA]

SpaceX and Blue Origin are currently battling over a multibillion-dollar contract to design and launch a human landing system as part of NASA’s efforts to return to the moon. The US space agency awarded SpaceX a sole contract worth $2.9bn, but Blue Origin and a third contender, Dynetics, have filed formal protests over the process.

There is no love lost between Bezos and Musk, who openly taunted the Amazon CEO locker-room style after SpaceX won the contract.

In addition to the competition between their firms, Bezos and Branson are locked in a race to be the first tycoon to make the trip themselves, while Musk has expressed casual interest in flying to space.

Branson has said he wants to take a Virgin Galactic flight himself before welcoming passengers on board, and Musk has previously said he wants to go to space one day but has yet to make definitive plans to do so.

If all goes as planned and Bezos does fly on July 20, he will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere with bragging rights, too.

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Deadly blast in Pakistan near residence of armed group founder | Pakistan News




Three killed and 13 others wounded after explosion near house of Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed in Lahore.

At least three people have been killed and 13 others wounded after an explosion near the residence of the founder of armed group, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, hospital and police officials said.

The blast took place in the Johar Town area of the city, Pakistan’s second largest, on Wednesday, provincial police chief Inam Ghani said.

“The [Counter Terrorism Department] has taken over the site of the attack completely,” Ghani told reporters at the site of the blast shortly after it took place.

“The CTD will ascertain what it was, what material it was, what was used … and secondly, was it an [improvised explosive device] lodged in a vehicle, and whether it is a suicide attack or not.”

Ghani said a police picket that was set up near the home of a “high-value target” was the apparent target of the attack.

Television footage from the scene showed significant damage to a number of homes near the blast site [Arif Ali / AFP]

A residence belonging to Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder of LeT that is designated as a “terrorist” group under Pakistani law and by the United Nations, is located near the site of the blast.

“The biggest target that we see right now is that they are targeting law enforcement agencies,” Ghani said.

Television footage from the scene showed massive damage to a number of homes near the blast site, with windows smashed in, doors blown open and extensive damage to buildings close to the blast epicentre.

At least 16 wounded people were shifted to the nearby government-run Jinnah Hospital, with three of them succumbing to their wounds, a hospital official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera.

Six of the wounded were in a critical condition, the official said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Security officials inspect the site of the blast near Saeed’s residence [Rahat Dar/EPA]

LeT founder Saeed is blamed by the United States and India for being the “mastermind” behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which killed more than 160 people in a series of coordinated bombings and shootings across the Indian financial capital.

Saeed has denied any wrongdoing and currently runs the charitable wing of the LeT, called Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), which has been designated by both Pakistan and the UN as a front for the armed group.

He was convicted and jailed last year in a series of terrorism financing cases lodged by the Pakistani government as it tightened financial laws and restrictions as part of its review by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) inter-governmental body.

A JuD spokesperson told the Reuters news agency that Saeed was in prison and therefore not in the residence that may have been targeted in Wednesday’s bombing.

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Explainer: What is the Delta Plus variant of COVID-19? | Coronavirus pandemic News




Scientists worry the mutation, coupled with other existing features of the Delta variant, could make it more transmissible.

India on Wednesday said it has found about 40 cases of the Delta coronavirus variant carrying a mutation that appears to make it more transmissible, and advised states to increase testing.

Here is what we know about the variant.

What is Delta Plus?

The variant, called Delta Plus in India, was first reported (PDF) in a Public Health England bulletin on June 11.

It is a sublineage of the Delta variant first detected in India and has acquired the spike protein mutation, called K417N, which is also found in the Beta variant first identified in South Africa.

Some scientists worry that the mutation, coupled with other existing features of the Delta variant, could make it more transmissible.

“The mutation K417N has been of interest as it is present in the Beta variant (B.1.351 lineage), which was reported to have immune evasion property,” India’s health ministry said in a statement.

Shahid Jameel, a top Indian virologist, said the K417N was known to reduce the effectiveness of a cocktail of therapeutic monoclonal antibodies.

Where all it has been found?

As of June 16 (PDF), at least 197 cases have been found in 11 countries – Britain (36), Canada (1), India (8), Japan (15), Nepal (3), Poland (9), Portugal (22), Russia (1), Switzerland (18), Turkey (1), the United States (83).

India said on Wednesday about 40 cases of the variant have been observed in the states of Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh, with “no significant increase in prevalence”. The earliest case in India is from a sample taken on April 5.

Britain said its first five cases were sequenced on April 26 and they were contacts of individuals who had travelled from, or transited through, Nepal and Turkey.

No deaths were reported among the United Kingdom and Indian cases.

What are the worries?

Studies are continuing in India and globally to test the effectiveness of vaccines against this mutation.

“WHO is tracking this variant as part of the Delta variant, as we are doing for other Variants of Concern with additional mutations,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement sent to Reuters news agency.

“For the moment, this variant does not seem to be common, currently accounting for only a small fraction of the Delta sequences … Delta and other circulating Variants of Concern remain a higher public health risk as they have demonstrated increases in transmission,” it said.

But India’s health ministry warned that regions where it has been found “may need to enhance their public health response by focusing on surveillance, enhanced testing, quick contact-tracing and priority vaccination”.

There are worries Delta Plus would inflict another wave of infections on India after it emerged from the world’s worst surge in cases only recently.

“The mutation itself may not lead to a third wave in India – that also depends on COVID-appropriate behaviour, but it could be one of the reasons,” said Tarun Bhatnagar, a scientist with the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research.

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EU citizens in UK to be given 28 days to apply for settled status | Brexit News




People who miss the June 30 settlement scheme deadline will be issued warnings to apply or risk losing their rights.

European Union citizens living in the United Kingdom will be given a 28-day warning to apply for post-Brexit settled status or face losing some of their rights from next month, the government said on Tuesday.

The UK’s so-called settlement scheme for EU and European Economic Area (EEA) citizens, which opened in early 2019, closes on June 30.

It allows Europeans in the UK to retain the same residence, travel, employment and healthcare rights they had before Brexit.

The rules around the UK’s departure from the bloc, which came into force at the beginning of this year, ended the reciprocal freedom of movement.

About 5.6 million people and their dependents have applied for settled status under the scheme since it was introduced.

But about 400,000 cases still require processing, while many are rushing to submit their applications before next week’s deadline.

At the same time, messaging and outreach campaigns are targeting those who may not be aware of the need to apply by next week’s deadline.

Immigration minister Kevin Foster said anyone whose application was not filed by the deadline would not see their rights immediately withdrawn, as they were protected by law.

But he also ruled out extending the June 30 cutoff point.

“Put simply, extending the deadline is not the solution to reaching those people who have not yet applied, and we would just be in a position further down the line where we would be asked to extend again, creating more uncertainties,” Foster told members of a parliamentary committee.

He added that immigration enforcement officials would instead begin issuing 28-day notices to those yet to apply.

The UK’s Home Office, which oversees immigration, said that applications may also be submitted past the 28-day notice period in some cases.

“We’ll set up the support available and we’ll signpost people to make an application, but we do recognise that there may be some people who, after that 28 days, still haven’t been able to make an application,” a Home Office spokesman said, according to The Guardian newspaper.

“I think we would want to work with them to understand why that is the case, and then support them again to make the application.”

Foster said those who had missed the deadline on reasonable grounds will still be able to apply, citing exceptions such as children whose parents had failed to apply on their behalf, or individuals with a serious illness that had prevented them from filing their paperwork.

The government will also issue a “certificate of application” for those awaiting a decision, he added, which will act as proof of their right to work, rent property, obtain benefits and use the National Health Service.

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