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  • Inside Kim Kardashian's Prison-Reform Machine

    Inside Kim Kardashian's Prison-Reform MachineKim Kardashian West breezed into a steakhouse in Washington, D.C., last month wearing a bright white outfit with a giant fabric flower on the lapel. Technically, it was a pantsuit, but tighter and more fabulous than its Beltway cousins.Inside the restaurant, Charlie Palmer, with its plate-glass windows overlooking the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building, her sizable entourage roamed around an area with a dozen tables. At the center of one, preset with plates of tuna tartar and salad to share, Kardashian West took a seat with two lawyers and three women who had been released from federal prison just two weeks before. They did their best to pretend the "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" camera crew wasn't floating a boom mic above their appetizers.At a nearby table sat goody bags from the White House, packed with MAGA hats and signed commutation papers. That morning, Kardashian West had accompanied her guests there so President Donald Trump could meet the women whose sentences he reduced and convince him to let other people out of prison, too.She posted about each of the three women on Twitter that day: Crystal Munoz, whom she said was sentenced to 20 years for conspiracy to possess and distribute marijuana, and gave birth to her second daughter while wearing shackles; Judith Negron, who got 35 years for conspiracy to commit health care fraud, her first offense; and Tynice Hall, who spent almost 14 years in prison on drug conspiracy charges after her boyfriend used her house for his drug activities.The next day, she had a different kind of update for her 64 million Twitter followers, about fuzzy knit tank tops and bathrobes: "JUST RESTOCKED: Our best selling @skims Cozy Collection styles in Bone and Dusk."Over the past two years, Kardashian West has become a force in the world of criminal justice reform. She has successfully lobbied Trump, spent time on the phone with governors and legislators, written letters in support of clemency petitions and paid legal bills for people trying to get out of prison. She has a documentary coming out Sunday on Oxygen, "Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project," in which she supports the early release of four people who were convicted on charges including murder.Kardashian West, 39, is even studying to become a lawyer, taking part in an apprenticeship program that requires 18 hours of legal work each week. She writes memos or motions, reads transcripts and does legal research for a criminal justice reform group called Cut50. She plans to take the first-year law students' examination -- the "baby bar" -- this year.It's all a bit unexpected. Kardashian West is at the height of 21st-century celebrity, of famous for being famous. She took her reality show prominence and spun it into a number of businesses and products, including Skims, KKW Fragrance, KKW Beauty and "Kim Kardashian: Hollywood," a game for mobile devices. She has 164 million followers on Instagram, where she sprinkles some sponsored posts about hair care products, Facebook's video calling service and, to much internet outrage, meal replacement shakes by Flat Tummy Co. According to a lawsuit she filed last year in which she accused an online retailer of using her image to sell knockoffs of her outfits, she can charge hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single post.But in recent years she has used that fame to further her activism, blending the two to get results. While Jane Fonda spent her fall Fridays getting arrested at the Capitol to highlight the urgency of the climate crisis, Kardashian West was able to walk into the Oval Office and appeal directly to the president. It helps to know the right people: She counts Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner among her friends.For decades, being tough on crime was seen as the only political option in America, which led to a building boom for prisons, long mandatory-minimum sentences and an extremely high incarceration rate compared with other countries. Today, criminal justice reform is seeing increasing bipartisan support, along with a push from celebrities like John Legend and Jay-Z.The president has embraced it as a signature issue, airing a multimillion-dollar campaign ad during the Super Bowl highlighting sentencing reform he signed into law last year, which the White House saw as a way to appeal to black voters. The ad starred Alice Marie Johnson, a woman he released early from prison after Kardashian West helped plead her case.Kardashian West's success is Trump's success, too.In such a divisive time, that could be dangerous. In addition to working closely with a president despised by the left, someone many of her fans (and customers) may detest, she's taking on an issue that, while becoming more broadly palatable, remains charged. As politicians have feared for years, there is always a chance that some people who are freed will go on to commit other crimes.If what she is doing is helping Trump's image, Kardashian West doesn't seem to mind. Her brand, meanwhile, appears to be doing just fine. In the last presidential election, she publicly endorsed Hillary Clinton. But this time around, focused on her justice reform issues, she has said she won't endorse anyone."I do love that I see so many different potential candidates discussing it," she said, the Capitol building over her shoulder looking a little dingy against the blazing white of her suit. "I will work with any administration."As many of us have noticed recently, it's hard to get work done when your kids are around. So several times a week, Kardashian West would drive -- or be driven by her security team -- to Cut50's Los Angeles offices in a nondescript, two-story building not far from her home. (That was in normal times, anyway, before she stocked an extra house she owns with food, cleaning supplies and toilet paper.) In the office, she would set up shop with her contracts or "crim law" binders and a tiny white chocolate mocha, hot, with whipped cream. She said her army green "school backpack" from Yeezy, her husband's brand, ripped because her books were so heavy."I was never one to like school; honestly, I hated it," she said. "So the fact that I love it is so shocking to me. But everything kind of pertains to me now" -- like contracts, for example, which would have felt meaningless to her in college, she said. "Now I get contracts all the time. So I read them, and I understand how to read them and how to write them. And then criminal law, that's just what I'm into. That's superinteresting to me."As an apprentice at Cut50 (the group's national director, Michael Mendoza, giggled as he called her "our intern"), she must do at least 18 hours of work for them each week, five of which have to be supervised. So Jessica Jackson, one of the group's co-founders, flies to LA to study with her, where she is joined by a senior counsel at Cut50, Erin Haney. Both women split their time between the Bay Area and Washington, D.C. They settle into a room where white walls are lined with legal books while Kardashian West takes notes in what Jackson describes as "absurdly good handwriting." Kardashian West pays for their travel expenses, though these days, they make do with FaceTime and phone calls.In return for Jackson's and Haney's efforts, Cut50 gets an apprentice with one of the biggest megaphones on the planet and access to her tremendous list of contacts."I know my role, that I can be there at the end to push it through," Kardashian West said. "I can also be a silent partner. I think it's knowing when to speak out and when not to, and when to privately call," she added. "People think you need to shout it out on social media and shame people into making decisions, but that's not how it is."Celebrity activism is an American tradition, from Fonda to Harry Belafonte to Mark Ruffalo, who has pushed hard against fracking, and Rose McGowan, who used her personal struggles to fire the MeToo movement.A good cause also rounds out one's image, polishes the brand. Kardashian West said she started hearing she should find one when she first became well known years ago. Publicists suggested Operation Smile, which performs surgery on children with cleft lips and palates, and something about saving the dolphins, she said. And while she hastened to say that both are worthy causes, they didn't speak to her.Until 2 1/2 years ago, criminal justice reform didn't, either. She didn't know anyone who had been to prison. Her husband, Kanye West, has a cousin who is incarcerated for murder, but she had never met him. She didn't have a connection to it, she said.That changed -- where else but on Twitter -- when she saw a video about Johnson that argued that after more than 20 years, she should no longer be in prison for a nonviolent drug offense. Kardashian West contacted a family friend, a lawyer named Shawn Holley, who worked with her father, Robert Kardashian, on the O.J. Simpson trial, and asked if there was anything they could do. Holley called lawyers (whom Kardashian West paid for, Holley said) while she called Ivanka Trump.After her initial audience with the president in 2018, outraged think pieces sprung up on the internet, including one in The New Yorker that, while careful to give Kardashian West credit for trying to use her platform to help, described the meeting as "this Boschian spectacle of horrors, this stand-in for the reflective, responsible work of actual public service." A tweet Kardashian West posted praising Johnson's participation in the president's Super Bowl ad this year was greeted angrily by people who considered it an endorsement of Trump."People would always warn me, 'Well, you can't go into the White House; you can't have any association,'" she said. "To me, that wasn't what it was about. I thought, my reputation over someone's life? It didn't matter to me about what anyone assumed."When Momolu Stewart was serving a life sentence in the Central Detention Facility in Washington, Kardashian West became a topic of conversation. Word spread that she had helped Johnson get released, so maybe she would help them, too."You've got a lot of guys where that's all they do: focus on getting out," said Stewart, who spoke to Kardashian West in the documentary, before his own release.So people in prisons around the country, along with their family members and lawyers, started writing letters to Kardashian West. And more letters. And more letters. She estimates she receives hundreds of letters a month, sent to her through every available channel, including Cut50 and her business manager.They are opened by her security team, sometimes sorted by her assistant or someone from Cut50, and arrive on her desk almost every day in a neat little stack, most of them written out by hand. She said she reads them all.To do that, she carves out regular letter time. She'll often read them at night curled up on a cream-colored banquette in her kitchen, sorting them into piles on a long wooden table, a place where her children do crafts and homework. She keeps an eye out for policy issues Cut50 is working on, like mandatory minimums, and cases where she thinks she might be able to help. Hyperorganized and a self-proclaimed micromanager of her own time -- she likes to keep her inbox at zero and deletes text conversations at the end of the day -- she said she tries to keep the stack small so it doesn't get away from her.One of those letters ended up in her documentary: the story of a woman named Dawn Jackson. The headlines when she was arrested said that she murdered her stepgrandfather after he refused to give her money. But the story put forward in the documentary is more complicated: He molested her as a child and tried to rape her that day, so she stabbed him.Kardashian West said that Dawn Jackson deserved to go to prison for what she did, but 20 years later, she is no longer a danger to society and should be able to go home. Her case is still ongoing.This is not a casual stance to take. It's easy to say that nonviolent drug offenders who have never had a parking ticket shouldn't be dying in prison, but Kardashian West is also vouching for people who have committed violent crimes and don't deny it."Doing the documentary, I wanted to pick very specific people -- in a sex trafficking situation, in a murder -- and really show people that once you maybe get to know their background and their history, you might soften up, too," she said. "And there's a lot of people who are really deserving of these second chances."Rod Aissa, executive vice president of original programming at Oxygen and E!, said that as an executive producer, Kardashian West was very hands-on -- in the story selection, in hiring the showrunner, in watching every cut and trailer. And while the Kardashians are masterful at finding ways to make money, this documentary did not represent such an opportunity, he said. Documentaries rarely do, and in this case, Aissa said the whole budget went into shooting and postproduction.Perhaps it is here, in the documentary, that Kardashian West's two worlds flow completely together. Here, she's on television. Here, she's a star. But she's also visiting a prison, dressed modestly in black, and the home of a lieutenant governor talking about sentencing reform, while wearing sky-high snakeskin boots.It's undeniable that people will pay attention to Kardashian West -- some with admiration, others with skepticism. And some will always be fans."Hey, will you do me a favor?" said David Shephard, whose release from prison was chronicled in the documentary, over the phone. "Tell Kim I said thanks for everything."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company

  • It's Bedlam in the Mask Market, as Profiteers Out-Hustle Good Samaritans

    It's Bedlam in the Mask Market, as Profiteers Out-Hustle Good SamaritansLast month, Susan Houghtelling, a hospital supply-chain manager in upstate New York, was facing a shortfall of medical supplies when her inbox suddenly flooded with offers.There were advertisements for gallons of hand sanitizer, crates of isolation gowns and, most crucially, pallets of N95 masks -- perhaps the most sought-after product on the planet. All were for prices that were multiples higher than what she normally paid."All of these people are coming out of the woodwork, and all of them mysteriously now have access to an abundant supply," said Houghtelling, who works for three hospitals owned by Arnot Health, based in Elmira, New York. She forwarded dozens of messages to The New York Times from brand-new vendors. One offered her boxes of 50 surgical masks for $70 each; she used to pay $2.28.One solicitor in particular caught her attention: Blank Industries, a company that offered N95 masks for nearly $5 each -- and only if Houghtelling ordered 1 million. She figured it was a scam.Blank Industries is a real company, but it's an ice-melt manufacturer in Hudson, Massachusetts. In an interview, Andrew Blank, the founder, said he had upended his business to sell masks after hearing from a former Chinese supplier he had once hired to make a new kind of toothbrush. (Blank had invented it.) After the coronavirus hit, the supplier turned his dental-products plant into a mask factory. Blank told his 12 employees to stop selling rock salt and start selling masks.Why was he charging $4.92 for each N95? "To be honest, I don't even know what an N95 normally sells for," he said.I told him. "50 cents?" he repeated. His supplier was charging him $4.75. (His margin would cover shipping costs; he planned to take no profit.)The eruption in demand for dwindling amounts of masks has resulted in a kind of global supply-chain bedlam. In the United States, the federal government has decided against commandeering American factories to create a new stream of masks. Instead, federal officials are competing against states, hospitals and medical suppliers for the same pool of masks, which come mostly from China.Yet states and hospitals, whose typical suppliers are overwhelmed and overextended, have little experience negotiating directly with the Chinese supply chain. Thousands of middlemen -- entrepreneurs, do-gooders and profiteers -- have rushed to fill the void.That frenzy has created a mess of confusion, according to interviews with hospitals, factories and mask buyers. Production of masks is soaring, but so are scams, logistical hurdles and, of course, prices.'We're getting bombarded'After the coronavirus outbreak began, China imported 2 billion masks. France ordered 1 billion and vowed to become self-sufficient by year-end. The U.S. government has done comparatively little to coordinate purchasing and ensure that American governments and hospitals aren't competing.Last month, federal officials agreed to buy roughly 600 million N95 masks over the next 18 months. But many states and hospitals are desperate for supplies right now, and the government has already nearly exhausted the supply of protective gear in the national stockpile. On Thursday, the White House said it had invoked the Defense Production Act, a 1950s law, to ensure the manufacturing giant 3M sends a certain share of its masks to the United States.Some of the entrepreneurs stepping up in the government's stead have succeeded. Operation Masks, a two-week-old nonprofit run by tech executives, said it had just closed deals for 1 million N95s for New York state and 200,000 for Hawaii, charging just over $3 for each mask, not including shipping and other costs. On Thursday, Massachusetts received 1.2 million N95 masks via the New England Patriots team plane.Still, several hospital executives said that while they appreciated the surge of well-intentioned people, they were overwhelmed with new names in their inboxes, all offering products they need for prices far higher than what they typically pay."We're getting bombarded," said Ed Bonetti, head of supply chain for the UMass Memorial hospital network in Worcester, Massachusetts.The hospital is prepared to pay more for masks, but it does not want to buy counterfeit gear. "You're in this uncharted territory where you're struggling to just at least validate," Bonetti said. "The last thing we want to do is put product on a clinician that is not going to protect them."Medical-supply arbitrageNot every new entrant to the market is a good Samaritan. Groups on Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram are teeming with posts hawking thousands of masks at inflated prices.Some are wholesalers who bought pallets of masks from China or in liquidation sales and then marked them up. Many more are simply middlemen who call themselves brokers. They scour the groups for masks advertised for a relatively low price, and then repost the offer for a few thousand dollars more. They don't handle the masks or put up their own money.Yaear Weintroub is one of those brokers. A 22-year-old community college student from Brooklyn, he typically sells wholesale electronics to Amazon sellers. But the online forums he searches for deals became flooded with listings for masks last month, so he now spends his days trying to connect buyers and sellers for a bit of medical-supply arbitrage.In a recent interview, he said he was working with a partner to close a deal for 280,000 surgical masks that would increase their price 20% and net the pair a roughly $40,000 profit. He said many of the brokers sold to other brokers, each one marking up the price, until the masks presumably make it to a nursing home or a hospital. He said he would prefer to sell directly to hospitals."They're just more serious," he said. "So if I have the goods, I want a serious buyer for them. And besides, it's a morally good reason."To these sellers, medical supplies are simply another hot product to flip for a profit. Avraham Eisenberg, a New York wholesaler who is trying to ship masks from China, compared the rush for masks to the fad several years ago for fidget spinners.The Justice Department said last month that it would investigate people manipulating the medical-supply market. Five days later, federal authorities charged a Brooklyn man with lying about price gouging after he tried to sell 1,000 masks and other supplies to a doctor for $12,000. (He also was charged with assault after he claimed he had the coronavirus and coughed on FBI agents.) Federal officials are now distributing the more than half a million supplies they confiscated from him.Global demand and stacks of cashIn China, the competition is intense. A small number of Chinese factories are certified by the Food and Drug Administration to make N95 masks, and "those are the diamonds right now," said Lily Liu, a Chinese hospital executive turned Silicon Valley entrepreneur who now helps run Operation Masks."What's happening at those factories is France shows up in the morning, and then they get Germany at breakfast, and then Italy after lunch, and then the U.S. in the afternoon," she said. "In between they get distributors showing up at their doorstep with stacks of cash."That demand has fueled the spike in prices. While some factory owners are probably making handsome margins, much of the price increase is likely spread across the supply chain, from the firms that ship and inspect the masks to those that make the masks' fabric and the machines that assemble them.Take Zhou Hua, the owner of a factory in Xuancheng, China, that months ago made children's clothing. In February, as the coronavirus swept across his country, he rushed to buy mask machines and spent roughly $500,000 transforming his plant. Now his staff has nearly doubled to 75 employees, and they make 1.6 million masks a day.He said his margins were modest, and blamed higher material costs for much of the price increases. Most masks use melt-blown fabric to stop tiny particles. Zhou said the price of that material had risen 90% to about $53 a ton. He added that the price for machines that weld straps to the masks had tripled, to roughly $2,100.From pool noodles to masksThe people jumping into the mask market come from across the spectrum. Dan Schonfeld, for instance, sells pool noodles. He's pretty good at it, too. He found a reliable supplier in China, slapped sports teams' logos on them and built a steady business through the coronavirus spread last month to his home state, New York, Schonfeld thought he could use his connections in China to get masks to American doctors. He dropped his pool-supply business and began pursuing masks, vowing not to earn a cent."The fast-forward button was pressed at that moment, and it really hasn't stopped," Schonfeld, 40, said. "I don't think I slept for four nights straight."He worked his iPhone around the clock, calling American hospitals by day and Chinese contacts by night. The hospitals were all interested, but reliable masks were in short supply.Then, just before midnight on March 19, his pool-noodle supplier in Ningbo, China, Jensen Jiang, emailed with news. He had secured a deal with a nearby factory for 100,000 N95 masks at $2.70 each. But competing orders were coming in, he said, so Schonfeld had to decide quickly."Tomorrow is too late," Jiang wrote. Schonfeld told him to place the $35,000 deposit.The next day, Schonfeld excitedly called the hospitals. But executives who had expressed such desperation for masks were suddenly wary of turning over $270,000 to a man who was selling pool parts just days before. One replied "We just don't know you," Schonfeld said. "It turned into me needing help."Eventually, his lawyers found a new buyer: a network of nonprofits that care for 35,000 New Yorkers with intellectual disabilities. They wired the money, and Schonfeld booked a cargo flight.Then he awoke to more bad news. "I am afraid that I made big trouble to you," Jiang said in a March 26 email. "All the masks were taken by government." The email included a photo of a closure notice on the factory's doors, dated 11 days earlier. Schonfeld didn't know what to believe.As Jiang negotiated a refund, which still hasn't arrived, they decided to find and ship a different mask: the so-called KN95, China's effective version of the N95. Schonfeld ordered 150,000 from a new factory and booked a freight plane for April 3.But then there was another catch: The FDA's guidelines for medical use of KN95 masks in the United States were murky, and Schonfeld's lawyers warned that officials could seize them. (On April 2, the agency said it would not block imports of the masks.)"Every day I wake up, there's a new hurdle," he said. "I just never thought it would be this hard to help."Whatever happens to the shipment, it will end his fling with medical supplies, he said.A day later, he mentioned he was looking into ventilator suppliers. "I told my wife, 'All right, I'm done,'" he said. "But if I see on the news that they're begging for ventilators, and I see that there's just inaction, I don't see how I can just sit back."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company

  • 10 years to save 'world’s most threatened sea turtle'

    10 years to save 'world’s most threatened sea turtle'The critically endangered Eastern Pacific leatherback's future looks "dire," say conservationists.

  • NASA goes back to the future and revives its formerly forbidden ‘worm’ logo

    NASA goes back to the future and revives its formerly forbidden ‘worm’ logoNASA is restoring a squiggly graphic representation of its acronym, known as "the Worm," to a place of prominence, 28 years after it was consigned to the dustbin of space history. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine declared that "the worm is back" today in a tweet — and revealed that it's been painted on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that's due to launch NASA astronauts to the International Space Station as soon as next month. That demonstration mission will mark the first time U.S. astronauts have been launched to orbit from U.S. soil since the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in… Read More

  • Conifer is top tree in urban sound absorption test

    Conifer is top tree in urban sound absorption testScientists say trees have a role to play in combating noise pollution in urban environments.

  • Three human-like species lived side-by-side in ancient Africa

    Three human-like species lived side-by-side in ancient AfricaTwo million years ago, Africa was home to three human-like species, new discoveries reveal.

  • Amid ‘rapidly evolving’ COVID-19 outbreak, Blue Origin’s launch plans spark debate

    Amid ‘rapidly evolving’ COVID-19 outbreak, Blue Origin’s launch plans spark debateDiscussions about future launch plans for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin space venture have reportedly generated internal acrimony due to concerns about the coronavirus outbreak — and that, in turn, has generated reassurances about safety. The acrimony is laid out in a report from The Verge, based on accounts from unnamed employees as well as an audio recording of a staff meeting at the company's headquarters in Kent, Wash. Employees reportedly worried that plans for a test flight of Blue Origin's New Shepard suborbital spaceflight could put them at risk, because the operation would involve traveling to the company's… Read More

  • 'Dinosaurs walked through Antarctic rainforests'

    'Dinosaurs walked through Antarctic rainforests'Sediments drilled off the coast of the ice continent reveal a time of great warmth and plant growth.

  • Hungry black hole may be cosmic 'missing link'

    Hungry black hole may be cosmic 'missing link'Astronomers say they have found the best evidence yet for an elusive class of black hole.

  • Oceans can be successfully restored by 2050, say scientists

    Oceans can be successfully restored by 2050, say scientistsResearchers say there are good reasons to be optimistic about the future of our oceans.

  • Japanese astronaut joins the crew for SpaceX Dragon mission to space station

    Japanese astronaut joins the crew for SpaceX Dragon mission to space stationThe first non-American to be added to the crew for a SpaceX Dragon flight to the International Space Station is Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi. Noguchi first visited the space station in 2005 during the first space shuttle flight following the 2003 Columbia shuttle tragedy, and rode a Russian Soyuz spacecraft for a six-month orbital stay on the station in 2009-2010. For his next mission, Noguchi will be teaming up with NASA's Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover Jr. — plus Shannon Walker, who was also named today as a member of the first crew to begin a regular tour of duty… Read More

  • Climate change: Warming clips the nightingale's wings

    Climate change: Warming clips the nightingale's wingsRising temperatures may be having a profound impact on one of the world's favourite songbirds.

  • Self-isolation proves a boon to rainfall project

    Self-isolation proves a boon to rainfall projectScientists have been amazed at the public's response to help digitise the UK's old rainfall records.

  • Univ. of Washington studies antimalarial drug’s use to head off COVID-19, with Gates Foundation’s aid

    Univ. of Washington studies antimalarial drug’s use to head off COVID-19, with Gates Foundation’s aidUniversity of Washington researchers are among the leaders of a newly announced clinical trial investigating whether hydroxychloroquine, a drug that's commonly used to counter malaria and autoimmune disease, can prevent COVID-19. The multi-site trial, managed by UW in collaboration with New York University's Grossman School of Medicine, aims to determine definitively whether taking the drug can prevent transmission in people exposed to the virus. "We currently don’t know if hydroxychloroquine works, but we will learn in as short a timeframe as possible what the outcome is,” principal investigator Ruanne Barnabas, associate professor of global health in the University of Washington… Read More

  • Peacock spiders show more of their colours

    Peacock spiders show more of their coloursA new batch of these ostentatiously coloured and popular arachnids is described in Australia.

  • Machine translates brainwaves into sentences

    Machine translates brainwaves into sentencesScientists have taken a step forward in their ability to decode what a person is saying just by looking at their brainwaves when they speak.

  • Heirloom plants: Saving the nation's seeds from extinction

    Heirloom plants: Saving the nation's seeds from extinctionThe incredible history of the UK's heirloom plants and why they're set to make a comeback.

  • SpaceX wins NASA contract to send cargo to lunar Gateway with new Dragon XL craft

    SpaceX wins NASA contract to send cargo to lunar Gateway with new Dragon XL craftNASA has tapped a type of SpaceX cargo craft that hasn't yet been built to deliver supplies to a moon-orbiting outpost that hasn't yet been launched. SpaceX's robotic Dragon XL, a cylindrical, supersized version of its workhorse Dragon spacecraft, will handle shipments to the Gateway space platform as the first commercial provider to receive a Gateway Logistics Services contract from NASA. The contract is similar to NASA's existing Commercial Resupply Services contracts with SpaceX, Northrop Grumman and Sierra Nevada Corp. for cargo shipments to the International Space Station. NASA's Artemis program calls for the first elements of the Gateway to… Read More

  • Plastic: How to predict threats to animals in oceans and rivers

    Plastic: How to predict threats to animals in oceans and riversScientists find out more about the threats of plastic to thousands of fish, whales and other aquatic life.

  • Climate change: 'Gob-smacking' vision for future UK transport

    Climate change: 'Gob-smacking' vision for future UK transportPublic transport and active travel will be the "natural first choice", the Transport Secretary says.

  • Xplore’s Xcraft space probe lands in Xtronaut 2.0 board game — and STEM students are the winners

    Xplore’s Xcraft space probe lands in Xtronaut 2.0 board game — and STEM students are the winnersSeattle-based Xplore isn't due to launch its first Xcraft space probe until late 2021, but it's already landed in an educational board game. Xtronaut 2.0, a multiplayer game devised by planetary scientist Dante Lauretta and Xtronaut Enterprises CEO Michael Lyon, will feature Xcraft as one of the deck's playing cards. Players can combine the cards to create their own game-board missions to deep space. The arrangement is part of a sponsorship deal for Xtronaut 2.0's Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. "We are proud to have the Xcraft featured in Xtronaut 2.0, and are delighted that our sponsorship enables us to give 120… Read More

  • Help needed to rescue UK's old rainfall records

    Help needed to rescue UK's old rainfall recordsPre-1960s handwritten rain gauge data can inform drought and flood planning, but only if digitised.

  • Calling all kids: Send Blue Origin a space postcard while you’re stuck at home

    Calling all kids: Send Blue Origin a space postcard while you’re stuck at homeAre you looking for educational activities to occupy the kids while you're cooped up due to the coronavirus outbreak? One option is to make space postcards for the Club for the Future, an educational campaign created by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin space venture. Last year, Blue Origin collected thousands of student-decorated cards, and sent them to space and back on its New Shepard suborbital craft. After the flight, the cards were stamped "Flown in Space" (in some cases, by Bezos himself) and then mailed back to their senders. Now Blue Origin is inviting students, educators and parents to… Read More

  • Climate change: Green energy plant threat to wilderness areas

    Climate change: Green energy plant threat to wilderness areasSolar, wind and hydro electric installations are often built in conservation areas.

  • How are you doing during the COVID-19 crisis? Scientists want to hear your story

    How are you doing during the COVID-19 crisis? Scientists want to hear your storyResearchers at the University of Washington are launching a study aimed at answering the question that's on a lot of people's minds as the coronavirus epidemic spreads through the Seattle area: How are you holding up? The King County COVID-19 Community Study, a.k.a. KC3S, is recruiting King County residents to tell their stories. The study is scheduled to collect data through April 19. “We want to start collecting this information now — as the COVID-19 pandemic is unfolding — about how families and communities are being impacted, and how they are adapting,” Nicole Errett, a lecturer in the UW Department… Read More

  • Mammal study explains 'why females live longer'

    Mammal study explains 'why females live longer'Across wild mammal species, females live over 18% longer than males because of genetics and environment.

  • Fossil worm shows us our evolutionary beginnings

    Fossil worm shows us our evolutionary beginningsA tiny, 555-million-year-old seafloor creature reveals why our bodies are organised the way they are.

  • OceanGate chooses Toray CMA to make carbon fiber for its Titanic submersibles

    OceanGate chooses Toray CMA to make carbon fiber for its Titanic submersiblesEverett, Wash.-based OceanGate says Toray Composite Materials America is its preferred provider for the carbon fiber material that will be used in the company's next-generation submersibles. Toray CMA is the world's largest supplier of carbon fiber and the leader in providing fibers for numerous aircraft, including the Boeing 777 and 787. The company's U.S. head office is in Tacoma, Wash. OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush said in a statement that Toray CMA "will play a critical role as we develop the next generation of manned submersible, to usher in a new era of exploration using aerospace-quality composites." Toray CMA's vice president… Read More

  • Climate change: Earth's deepest ice canyon vulnerable to melting

    Climate change: Earth's deepest ice canyon vulnerable to meltingNasa scientists probe Denman Glacier which fills the deepest land gorge on Earth.

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  • As Natural Disasters Strike, a New Fear: Relief Shelters May Spread Virus

    As Natural Disasters Strike, a New Fear: Relief Shelters May Spread VirusWASHINGTON -- Coast-to-coast storms. A spate of wildfires. Flooding in Hawaii. As the United States rushes into disaster season, federal officials now have an added crisis to worry about: How to stop tightly packed disaster-response shelters from becoming hot spots of coronavirus transmission.The virus is forcing emergency managers to rethink long-held procedures for operating shelters like these in real time. That challenge comes as the nation's crisis-response workforce is already taxed by three years of brutal hurricanes, floods and wildfires, a trend that climate change promises to accelerate."All of these activities that we do during and after disasters are activities that require a lot of people to be in close proximity to each other," said Samantha Montano, assistant professor of emergency management and disaster science at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. "And that is the exact opposite of what we need to do to keep people safe from COVID-19.""Any hazards that we're concerned about on an annual basis, we need to be twice as concerned about them now," she said.The Federal Emergency Management Agency has begun encouraging workers to "practice social distancing" and to limit to four the number of disaster victims who can be in one of its field offices at any given time, a spokeswoman said Thursday. The agency has also halted training at its National Fire Academy and Emergency Management Institute, as well as other facilities.It also said Thursday that it would let states seek reimbursement for sheltering victims individually, for example in hotels. However, in a disaster scenario, hotels themselves might be damaged or unusable because of the crisis, or simply not close enough to serve the immediate needs.So one of the most pressing challenges remains: What to do about shelters?When Americans are forced to leave their homes because of flooding or fires and have nowhere else to go, charitable organizations routinely open temporary shelters that usually consist of rows of cots in school gymnasiums, churches, convention centers or other large indoor spaces.Those shelters have offered a place of refuge, one that has become increasingly important as climate change causes more frequent and intense disasters.On Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued data predicting widespread flooding between now and the end of May, with major or moderate floods in 23 states. California has already been hit by nine wildfires this year; the National Interagency Fire Center reported 11 new large fires around the country this week alone.A major storm stretched across much of the country this week, with FEMA warning Friday of heavy rain from the southern plains to the Tennessee Valley. And hurricane season is just 10 weeks away.The coronavirus has the potential to turn the shelters from a refuge into a danger of their own.The American Red Cross, which runs most of the temporary shelters around the U.S., has set new guidelines for their operation, trying to curb the risk of transmission by screening evacuees and isolating those who show symptoms, as well as spacing cots 6 feet apart and emphasizing good hygiene.Officials with the organization said they knew that wasn't a perfect solution.Amid a pandemic, "a congregate shelter is not the best environment," said Trevor Riggen, senior vice president for disaster services for the Red Cross, using the term for shelters that place groups of people in a single shared space. He said the Red Cross would try to move more people into hotels or motels, but added that there weren't always enough available rooms close to a disaster, particularly if the number of people who need shelter extends into the hundreds.Public health officials said it would be better to house disaster victims separately, despite the additional cost and logistical hurdles."Congregate settings are clearly a higher infection-control risk, especially when dealing with a novel respiratory virus," said Lucy Wilson, who ran infection control for Maryland and is now a professor in the emergency health services department at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. She compared group shelters to other crowded settings like dormitories, barracks, prisons and cruise ships, where "respiratory diseases are known to rapidly spread."Arnold Monto, a professor of epidemiology and global health at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, said he thought the Red Cross was taking reasonable steps to protect the health of people in its shelters. But he said it seemed likely, based on what is known so far about COVID-19, that people who don't have symptoms may nonetheless have the disease -- and, more important, can probably spread it to others."Being in a motel would give them more distance," Monto said. "The more people you have, the more likely that one of them might be affected."The federal government's Thursday announcement that states can seek federal reimbursement for the cost of sheltering people individually -- provided it's at the direction of a public health official -- could help address that concern, assuming the rooms are available. Keeping people out of group shelters "may be necessary in this Public Health Emergency to save lives," the agency said in a fact sheet, "as well as to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe."Riggen said the Red Cross would try to get people into hotels when the risk of contagion is particularly high. Following an apartment fire this month in Jacksonville, Florida, a state with a large number of coronavirus cases, the organization put 45 people in hotels on the advice of local health officials, he said.In the meantime, the Red Cross is continuing to rely on shelters, but with a few changes.Its new guidelines call for taking the temperature of everyone coming into shelters, whether evacuees or volunteers, as well as checking for other symptoms of COVID-19. Once inside, everyone is supposed to be checked three times a day. Other steps include hand-washing stations, along with "enhanced cleaning of all hard surfaces."People are also told not to pull their cots together.The Red Cross has already applied its new guidelines at two shelters, according to Riggen. One is in Hawaii, which was hit this week by flooding. That shelter housed 150 people on Tuesday night.The other was at a school in Salt Lake City, which was set up following a 5.7-magnitude earthquake Wednesday. A Red Cross spokeswoman, Greta Gustafson, said Friday that no one had stayed at the shelter. Workers at the shelter denied entry Thursday to a photographer for The New York Times."We are not aware of any positive tests" for COVID-19 at either of the two shelters, Gustafson said.Despite the risk of the coronavirus, switching from a shelter model to putting people in hotels is more challenging that it might seem. And money isn't the only problem.In addition to being expensive, having people dispersed across different locations makes it harder to provide them with food and supplies, Riggen said. In some places, particularly rural areas, there may not be enough hotels nearby. And it's not always possible to get a hotel room if somebody is pushed from their home in the middle of the night."We don't want to leave people standing out on the curb waiting," Riggen said.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company

  • I Spent a Year in Space, and I Have Tips on Isolation to Share

    I Spent a Year in Space, and I Have Tips on Isolation to ShareBeing stuck at home can be challenging. When I lived on the International Space Station for nearly a year, it wasn't easy. When I went to sleep, I was at work. When I woke up, I was still at work. Flying in space is probably the only job you absolutely cannot quit.But I learned some things during my time up there that I'd like to share -- because they are about to come in handy again, as we all confine ourselves at home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Here are a few tips on living in isolation, from someone who has been there.Follow a scheduleOn the space station, my time was scheduled tightly, from the moment I woke up to when I went to sleep. Sometimes this involved a spacewalk that could last up to eight hours; other times, it involved a five minute task, like checking on the experimental flowers I was growing in space. You will find maintaining a plan will help you and your family adjust to a different work and home life environment. When I returned to Earth, I missed the structure it provided and found it hard to live without.But pace yourselfWhen you are living and working in the same place for days on end, work can have a way of taking over everything if you let it. Living in space, I deliberately paced myself because I knew I was in it for the long haul -- just like we all are today. Take time for fun activities: I met up with crewmates for movie nights, complete with snacks, and binge watched all of "Game of Thrones" -- twice.And don't forget to include in your schedule a consistent bedtime. NASA scientists closely study astronauts' sleep when we are in space, and they have found that quality of sleep relates to cognition, mood, and interpersonal relations -- all essential to getting through a mission in space or a quarantine at home.Go outsideOne of the things I missed most while living in space was being able to go outside and experience nature. After being confined to a small space for months, I actually started to crave nature -- the color green, the smell of fresh dirt, and the feel of warm sun on my face. That flower experiment became more important to me than I could have ever imagined. My colleagues liked to play a recording of Earth sounds, like birds and rustling trees, and even mosquitoes, over and over. It brought me back to earth. (Although occasionally I found myself swatting my ears at the mosquitoes.)For an astronaut, going outside is a dangerous undertaking that requires days of preparation, so I appreciate that in our current predicament, I can step outside any time I want for a walk or a hike -- no spacesuit needed. Research has shown that spending time in nature is beneficial for our mental and physical health, as is exercise. You don't need to work out two and a half hours a day, as astronauts on the space station do, but getting moving once a day should be part of your quarantine schedule (just stay at least six feet away from others).You need a hobbyWhen you are confined in a small space you need an outlet that isn't work or maintaining your environment.Some people are surprised to learn I brought books with me to space. The quiet and absorption you can find in a physical book -- one that doesn't ping you with notifications or tempt you to open a new tab -- is priceless. Many small bookstores are currently offering curbside pickup or home delivery service, which means you can support a local business while also cultivating some much-needed unplugged time.You can also practice an instrument (I just bought a digital guitar trainer online), try a craft, or make some art. Astronauts take time for all of these while in space. (Remember Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield's famous cover of David Bowie's Space Oddity?)Keep a journalNASA has been studying the effects of isolation on humans for decades, and one surprising finding they have made is the value of keeping a journal. Throughout my yearlong mission, I took the time to write about my experiences almost every day. If you find yourself just chronicling the days' events (which, under the circumstances, might get repetitive) instead try describing what you are experiencing through your five senses or write about memories. Even if you don't wind up writing a book based on your journal like I did, writing about your days will help put your experiences in perspective and let you look back later on what this unique time in history has meant.Take time to connectEven with all the responsibilities of serving as commander of a space station, I never missed the chance to have a videoconference with family and friends. Scientists have found that isolation is damaging not only to our mental health, but to our physical health as well, especially our immune systems. Technology makes it easier than ever to keep in touch, so it's worth making time to connect with someone every day -- it might actually help you fight off viruses.Listen to expertsI've found that most problems aren't rocket science, but when they are rocket science, you should ask a rocket scientist. Living in space taught me a lot about the importance of trusting the advice of people who knew more than I did about their subjects, whether it was science, engineering, medicine, or the design of the incredibly complex space station that was keeping me alive.Especially in a challenging moment like the one we are living through now, we have to seek out knowledge from those who know the most about it and listen to them. Social media and other poorly vetted sources can be transmitters of misinformation just as handshakes transmit viruses, so we have to make a point of seeking out reputable sources of facts, like the World Health Organization and the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.We are all connectedSeen from space, the Earth has no borders. The spread of the coronavirus is showing us that what we share is much more powerful than what keeps us apart, for better or for worse. All people are inescapably interconnected, and the more we can come together to solve our problems, the better off we will all be.One of the side effects of seeing Earth from a the perspective of space, at least for me, is feeling more compassion for others. As helpless as we may feel stuck inside our homes, there are always things we can do -- I've seen people reading to children via videoconference, donating their time and dollars to charities online, and running errands for elderly or immuno-compromised neighbors. The benefits for the volunteer are just as great as for those helped.I've seen humans work together to prevail over some of the toughest challenges imaginable, and I know we can prevail over this one if we all do our part and work together as a team.Oh, and wash your hands -- often.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company

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  • NASA delays work on Moon rocket during virus pandemic

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  • Social Distancing? You Might Be Fighting Climate Change, Too

    Social Distancing? You Might Be Fighting Climate Change, TooAs the nation shifts abruptly into the fight against coronavirus, a question arises: Could social isolation help reduce an individual's production of greenhouse gases and end up having unexpected consequences for climate change?The biggest sources of carbon emissions caused by our lifestyles come from three activities, said Kimberly Nicholas, a researcher at the Lund University Center for Sustainability Studies in Sweden: "Any time you can avoid getting on a plane, getting in a car or eating animal products, that's a substantial climate savings." Many people trying to avoid the coronavirus are already two-thirds of the way there.Christopher M. Jones, lead developer at the CoolClimate Network, an applied research consortium at the University of California, Berkeley Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, said that "all these extra precautions that schools and businesses are taking to keep people home are saving lives, and that's clearly what's most important." Having said that, he added that many of the actions people are taking in response to the coronavirus outbreak could have a benefit of a reduced carbon footprint -- though others would have little effect or could even expand it, he said.Here are four areas we may see changes in greenhouse gas emissions because of the coronavirus.Transportation: Big ReductionsPeople are staying home and flying less. That's good for the planet, Nicholas said. "For average Americans, the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions is driving," she said. Anything that reduces driving, including working from home, "has a big impact on our climate pollution." Avoiding air travel can have a large effect as well: One round-trip flight from New York to London, she said, produces as much greenhouse gas emissions as the preventive climate impact of nearly eight years of recycling. Nicholas was an author of a 2018 study that examines greenhouse gas emissions reductions in actions people take to fight climate change and is currently writing a book about personal action and the climate crisis.The actual effects on your greenhouse gas emissions of staying home will greatly depend on where you live, Jones said. For the roughly 25% of Americans living in the suburbs and another 25% in rural areas, cutting out a commute often means driving far less. But about 50% of Americans live in urban areas, and for those who use mass transit, avoiding a commute doesn't necessarily cause much of a dip in emissions. UC Berkeley has suspended in-person instruction, and Jones said: "I commute by train, and the train is going with or without me and everyone else, so I don't think there's an impact there."Food: A Big MaybeJones has done research into the relative carbon footprints of dining at home or dining out, but so far, the results are fuzzy. "We don't have conclusive evidence yet," he said, citing the comparative efficiency benefits of eating out and the waste involved in making meals at home. "We waste about 25% of the food that we buy," he said. If you drive long distances to go to a favorite place -- like Austinites who drive more than 30 miles to Lockhart, Texas, for excellent barbecue, "that's going to swamp the emissions from your food."Nicholas said that where you eat is not as important as what you eat; "eating beef has a disproportionate climate impact," she said, while eating foods "lower on the food chain" such as plants results in a much smaller carbon footprint. So here's your chance for a twofer: save the planet by working down the stockpiles of rice and beans that you panic-bought along with all that toilet paper.At Home: It's Still Location, Location, LocationFor people who turn their thermostats down while they are out of the house, staying home means more heat and more greenhouse gases. But when it comes to the greenhouse gas impact of heating your home, "Where you live is by far the biggest factor in determining your carbon footprint," Jones said. "If you live in a cold climate, heating your home can more than offset the savings from driving your vehicle."The energy mix where you live also matters, as well: Much of the Northeast still depends on coal to produce power, while California has relatively lower-carbon power sources, getting 31% of its electricity from renewable energy and only around 3% from coal.Shopping: More, Less, Differently?If you're at home staring at your computer without the prying eyes of your co-workers, you may be tempted to shop online a bit more. Or maybe you'll avoid the supermarket or mass transit by ordering your groceries. A bump in online shopping might be bad for your wallet, but it could be good for the planet, Nicholas said. She cited research suggesting that people who decide to use online ordering and package delivery could well be reducing their effect on climate change, thanks to the benefits of logistically organized, centralized delivery routes and driving less. "I would expect in general that having fewer vehicles on the road is better for the climate," she said. (While online shopping can reduce greenhouse gases, it is most effective when you order in bulk to limit the number of trips delivery vehicles make to your home.)Will any of the low-carbon behaviors that people have adopted persist after the crisis passes? Charles Duhigg, author of "The Power of Habit" and a former New York Times reporter, said habits built over lifetimes are hard to shake. "As soon as the environment becomes stable again, the habit starts to reassert itself" unless there is a "powerful reward" to the new behavior.Duhigg said that while there is no set time for a habit to form or change, some cultural habits could, if the pandemic response lasts long enough, take hold. One example: shaking hands. "I could see other kinds of behavior replacing that habit or maybe just diminishing" and wondered aloud whether his own children might one day think "hand shaking is a weird, old-timey thing."Some practices, like videoconferencing and telecommuting, may gain ground, Duhigg said, for a reward of saved time and trouble. He expressed doubts, however, that leisure travel behavior would see a similar shift. "It seems unlikely to me that people will say, 'You know, I loved not taking vacations. I learned staying at home with my kids is so rewarding!' "Nicholas, who makes an effort to fly less for conferences, said the best result of this epidemic could be "finding new ways to work and collaborate and learn and study and share, with less physical travel," she said.Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said that the disease, for all of the pain and destruction it is causing, can teach important lessons. "It's unfortunate to learn it this way, but we're learning we can do a whole lot more today in terms of what we do, how we do it and where we do it."Never waste even a tragic crisis," he said.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company