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3 astronauts land safely on Earth after 6 months in space

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Washington, Oct 5: Two astronauts from NASA and one from the Russian Space agency Roscosmos have returned safely to Earth after 197 days of scientific research on the International Space Station.

NASA astronauts Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold, and cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev of the Russia — part of the Expedition 56 crew — landed safely on a Soyuz MS-08 spacecraft at 7:44 a.m. EDT (5:44 p.m. in Kazakhstan) southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan, the US space agency said in a statement late on Thursday.

They spent months providing hands-on support for scientific research in low-Earth orbit, working to keep the orbiting laboratory fully operational, and performing three spacewalks.

The crew completed hundreds of experiments during its 197-day expedition in space, including an investigation to study ultra-cold quantum gases using the first commercial European facility for microgravity research, and a system that uses surface forces to accomplish liquid-liquid separation.

Both Feustel and Arnold participated in dozens of educational downlink events while in space, as part of NASA’s Year of Education on Station, reaching more than 2 lakh students in 29 states, the statement said.

Feustel has now logged more than 226 days in space on three spaceflights, accumulated 61 hours and 48 minutes over nine career spacewalks, and ranks third overall among American astronauts.

Arnold has spent more than 209 days during the course of two missions and has clocked 32 hours and 4 minutes during five career spacewalks.

Artemyev conducted one spacewalk, with fellow cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev, to manually launch four small technology satellites and install an experiment called Icarus onto the Russian segment of the space station.

The spacewalk timed out at 7 hours and 46 minutes, the longest in Russian space programme history. Artemyev has now spent 366 days in space on his two flights.

Currently, Expedition 57 continues station research and operations with a crew comprised of Serena Aunon, Chancellor of NASA, Alexander Gerst of ESA (European Space Agency) and Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos.

NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin are scheduled to reach Earth on October 11.

IANS

India

China doubled its air bases, air defences and heliports near LAC in three years: Report

Amid the current standoff in Ladakh that became public in early May, there have been numerous reports of China deploying additional troops, special forces, armoured units and air defence units on the Tibetan plateau

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New Delhi: China began building at least 13 new military positions, including airbases and air defence units, near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India after the 2017 standoff at Doklam, with work on four heliports beginning after the current tensions in Ladakh.

Details of these military positions are outlined in a report released on Tuesday by Stratfor, a leading security and intelligence consultancy. The new positions include three airbases, five permanent air defence positions and five heliports.

“Construction on four of those new heliports started only after the onset of the current Ladakh crisis in May,” said the report authored by Sim Tack, a Belgium-based security and a military analyst with Stratfor.

“The 2017 Doklam crisis appears to have shifted China’s strategic objectives, with China more than doubling its total number of airbases, air defence positions, and heliports near the Indian border over the past three years,” it added.

The Chinese military is building four air defence positions within existing airbases, and other facilities such as additional runways and shelters that will help obscure combat aircraft from observation. It has also been deploying more air defence systems and fighter aircraft to existing facilities, the report said.

Amid the current standoff in Ladakh that became public in early May, there have been numerous reports of China deploying additional troops, special forces, armoured units and air defence units on the Tibetan plateau.

Analysis of open source satellite imagery has shown that China has created a surface-to-air missile site on the banks of Mansarovar Lake in Tibet, and is developing similar facilities to cover sensitive stretches of the disputed border in the Doklam and Sikkim sectors.

A graphic included in the Stratfor report showed that China had only one heliport and one air defence site on the Tibetan plateau in 2016, and there was a substantial expansion and upgrade of its military infrastructure in the area since 2019.

Last year, China developed four airbases, four air defence sites, one heliport and one electronic warfare station.

China has developed four airbases, four heliports and one air defence site on the Tibetan plateau this year. Work on heliports and one airbase began after the tensions in Ladakh.

“The rapid expansion of permanent Chinese military infrastructure points to intentions that span a wider timeframe than current and recent border standoffs,” the report said.

A significant portion of China’s recent infrastructure developments is aimed at “strengthening its ability to project air power along the entire Indian border” and exploiting potential “gaps in India’s capabilities”.

The report surmised that such “long-term developments rise above the more immediate deployments that China conducted in its previous border standoffs with India, and indicates future intent to ramp up Chinese assertive military posturing in border disputes with India”.

“China’s strategy aims to confront India with an insurmountable challenge in territorial disputes by leaning on broad support capabilities that provide Beijing with a tremendous ability to mobilise forces into disputed border areas,” it said, adding that such an approach is similar to Beijing’s strategy in the South China Sea, where a build-up of permanent defence facilities supports Chinese “localised military superiority and significantly raises the potential cost of military opposition to Beijing’s maritime claims in the region”.

By applying the same strategy on the LAC, China aims to “discourage Indian resistance or military action during future border disputes by ostentatiously demonstrating its ability and intent to engage in military confrontations”.

Following a string of smaller skirmishes that culminated in the June 15 clash, which killed 20 Indian soldiers and also caused unspecified Chinese casualties, the two sides have deployed around 50,000 additional troops each along the LAC. After several rounds of military and diplomatic talks failed to take forward the disengagement process, China resorted to “provocative” military manoeuvres on August 29 and 30 that were thwarted by the Indian side.

This was followed by a string of incidents in which guns were fired for the first time along the LAC since 1975, though there were no casualties.

“China’s intensified development of military infrastructure on the Indian border suggests a shift in Beijing’s approach to territorial disputes, forcing New Delhi to rethink its national security posture,” the Stratfor report said.

While China’s new developments are geographically focused on Ladakh, its activity “across India’s entire border will likely drive future expansions of Indian military infrastructure near disputed borders at Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh”, it said.

The report warned: “By forcing India to respond in kind, China’s aggressive strategy is leading to a greater concentration of military assets in heavily disputed areas along the border that could raise the risk of potential escalations and sustained conflict.”

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India

India’s projects in Africa ‘empower rather than extract’: Jaishankar

The minister didn’t refer to other countries involved in the development of Africa in his remarks, made during a virtual event organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry, but it appeared he was comparing India’s track record to that of China.

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External affairs minister S Jaishankar on Tuesday held up India as Africa’s most steadfast partner, whose projects would “empower rather than extract from local communities” and ensure sustainable development.

Jaishankar didn’t refer to other countries involved in the development of Africa in his remarks, made during a virtual event organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry, but it appeared he was comparing India’s track record to that of China.

Describing maritime security as the new frontier in cooperation between the two sides, he said India offers Africa “an honest partnership and room to maximise its space under the sun and multiply its options” in all spheres.

“Africa is, of course, not without its options and by no stretch does India claim to be the only one. However, what we can promise is to be Africa’s most steadfast partner,” he said in his speech at the CII-Exim Bank digital conclave on the India-Africa project partnership.

Pointing to India’s partnership with Africa, Jaishankar said the country has implemented 194 developmental projects in 37 African countries and is working on 77 more in 29 countries with a total outlay $11.6 billion. These projects, which are in sectors such as infrastructure, ICT, power generation, water, roads, railways and agriculture, foster entrepreneurship and “empower rather than extract from local communities”, he said.

The projects also marry transparency and technology with imperatives of social and ecological sustainability, he said. “This is the template we offer our African friends,” he added.

In recent years, China has faced criticism for bringing in large numbers of its nationals to work on projects in Africa and for “debt trap” financing of projects under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Against the backdrop of the border standoff in Ladakh, India has stepped up developmental assistance and projects for countries in its immediate neighbourhood.

Jaishankar also highlighted the importance of the Indian Ocean in ties between India and Africa, saying it has “acquired even greater salience” and the two sides “need to cooperate to preserve and protect it”.

In the field of trade, the minister noted that India is Africa’s third-largest export and Indian investments in the continent total $54 billion. He also welcomed the coming into force of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement because of the possibility of increased business. India’s oil and gas firms have invested $7 billion in a gas field in Mozambique and $0.5 billion in South Sudan, and these make Africa a “crucial energy partner for India”, he said.

Jaishankar also pointed to India’s maintenance of critical supply chains to provide medical supplies to Africa amid the Covid-19 pandemic as another instance of its reliability as a partner. Describing the pandemic as the most debilitating global event of the past 80 years, he said it posed a challenge to the global economy, reliability of supply chains and achievement of Sustainable Development Goals.

“For India, Africa’s rise as one of the global system’s poles is not just desirable, it is absolutely necessary. In fact, it is fundamental to our foreign policy thinking. Broader global rebalancing is incomplete without the genuine emergence of Africa. Only then will the world’s strategic diversity come into full play,” he said.

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Global Covid-19 cases top 31mn mark: Johns Hopkins

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The overall number of global coronavirus cases on Monday surpassed the 31 million mark, while the deaths have increased to more than 960,000, according to the Johns Hopkins University.

The total number of cases stood at 31,044,033 and the fatalities rose to 960,826, the University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) revealed in its latest update.

The US is the worst-hit country with the world’s highest number of cases and deaths at 6,805,629 and 199,512, respectively, according to the CSSE.

India comes in the second place in terms of cases at 5,487,580, while the country’s death toll soared to 87,882.

The other top 15 countries with the maximum amount of cases are Brazil (4,544,629), Russia (1,105,048), Peru (768,895), Colombia (765,076), Mexico (697,663), South Africa (661,211), Spain (640,040), Argentina (631,365), France (467,614), Chile (446,274), Iran (422,140), the UK (396,744), Bangladesh (348,918), Saudi Arabia (329,754) and Iraq (319,035), the CSSE figures showed.

Brazil currently accounts for the second highest number of fatalities at 136,895.

The countries with a death toll above 10,000 are Mexico (73,493), the UK (41,866), Italy (35,668), Peru (31,369), France (31,257), Spain (30,495), Iran (24,301), Colombia (23,665), Russia (19,420), South Africa (15,953), Argentina (13,053), Chile (12,286) and Ecuador (11,090).

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