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One American, Two Russians Blast off to International Space Station | Top News

By Joey Roulette and Olzhas Auyezov

WASHINGTON/ALMATY (Reuters) – A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying a U.S. astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday and successfully reached orbit, live footage broadcast by Russia’s space agency Roscosmos showed.

The crew members travelling to the International Space Station (ISS) are Kate Rubins, a NASA microbiologist who in 2016 became the first person to sequence DNA in space, and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov.

The mission is the last scheduled Russian flight carrying a U.S. crew member.

Since the space shuttle program ended in 2011, NASA has relied on Russia to ferry its astronauts to the space station, an orbiting laboratory 250 miles above Earth that has housed international crews of astronauts continuously for nearly 20 years.

The U.S. space agency in 2014 contracted Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Boeing Co

to build competing space capsules in an effort to reclaim NASA’s launch independence.

The $8 billion program enabled SpaceX’s first manned trip to the space station in May, marking the first from home soil in nearly a decade.

NASA has purchased additional crew seats from Russia as its public-private crew program faced delays, with Rubins’ mission being the most recent.

The U.S. is scheduled to begin operational missions on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule. 

“We have an incredible partnership,” Rubins said in an interview from Russia’s Star City before her flight. “We’ll continue to train crews over here and we’re going to have cosmonauts come to the Johnson Space Center and train.”

NASA and Roscosmos have committed to continue the flight-sharing partnership and are in talks to fly Russian astronauts on U.S. vehicles and to fly U.S. astronauts on Russian rockets when needed, a spokesperson for Roscosmos told Reuters. 

“Of course, mutual flights are of interest for ISS reliability and continuous operations,” the spokesperson said. “This approach (mixed crew flights) will ensure delivery of the crew to the station, should a problem with the partner spacecraft occur.”

(Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Dan Whitcomb, Leslie Adler and Andrew Osborn)

Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.

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American higher education caught in perfect economic storm

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit America’s colleges and universities like a category 5 hurricane. After a very tough spring and summer, campuses are doing their best to open. 

Those that cannot have gone virtual, which has generated demands for refunds of housing, meal plan fees, tuition and other fees. These refunds in combination with COVID-19 related compliance and safety-related expenses and major investments in technology and training to go virtual have just added to the pain. The losses that schools incurred from the spring shutdowns were only partially offset from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and additional funding from the federal government is questionable.

The refunds and additional expenses are being compounded with the loss of revenue from international students and students taking a gap year.  Future revenue is likely to be impacted due to projected demographics showing domestic college-bound students down or flat for the next decade throughout most of the country.

Many larger schools rely on their football and basketball programs to generate the revenue that is needed to support their other sports programs. The loss of revenue from the cancellation of the NCAA basketball and baseball tournaments and a significantly reduced or eliminated football schedule has meant billions in lost revenue.  

Very few schools have the reserves to deal with the financial deficits that they are experiencing and lie ahead. Smaller schools are at a particular disadvantage because they do not have the scale to spread these costs like their larger competitors, and average tuition has been increasing at more than two times the rate of inflation, so many schools have reached the limit of tuition that can be sustained. So cost cuts may be the only viable option. 

Many schools have been attempting to reduce costs by deferring maintenance on their buildings. According to JLL (a leading international real estate advisory firm), the average school has more than $123 per square foot of deferred maintenance and that number is expected to grow. Donors love putting their names on new buildings but have little interest in providing new roofs or HVAC systems, so these costs will continue to burden future cash flows.

Many schools with historic campuses are located in small towns that have lost employers over the years that provided the local tax base to help support these community pillars. Many of these smaller schools have excellent programs and educate students that become the teachers, nurses, local business entrepreneurs and other skilled positions these communities and America desperately need.

Unlike their larger competitors, smaller schools also have smaller alumni bases to fund endowments needed for capital improvements, upgrades and future capital expansions. Lastly, higher education institutions of all sizes worry about the trending occurrence of litigation, with COVID-19 claims and issues of moving to virtual academic delivery generating even more claims. 

If this were a true category 5 hurricane, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would have a team dealing with this disaster. The federal government has been less than

Nobelist Talks CRISPR Uses – Scientific American

Steve Mirsky: On October 7th, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier shared the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of the gene editing tool called CRISPR. Last April, I spoke with Doudna at an event in Washington, DC:

SM: A few months ago, I was at a talk about wine. And CRISPR came up. And it was it was an appropriate thing to bring up. What is it like to be in this field right now where everyone is talking about the work that you do and its implications?

Jennifer Doudna: Well, I have to say it’s very exciting. And as a scientist, it’s wonderful to see all the creative work that’s going on with gene editing. It’s just a fascinating opportunity to see the innovation that people come up with when they have a tool that’s so broadly useful across biology.

SM: You do a million interviews and you make a lot of public talks. What do people not talk to you about that you would love to talk about regarding CRISPR?

JD: Well, I think a lot of the discussion around CRISPR right now focuses on biomedical applications, which clearly are very exciting. I think, something that I don’t hear as much, although I’m happy to hear that you had this conversation at a wine event. It are the opportunities in agriculture, I think they’re going to be huge. And I’m really, really excited about the opportunities to use gene editing to create plants that will be drought tolerant, pest resistant, maybe more nutritious, give farmers opportunities to grow plants in environments where in the past they’ve been really challenging to grow.

SM: Yeah, the range of applications is just seemingly endless. I think in the wine talk, we were discussing the threats to viniculture from global warming, right. And one of the possible applications there is to get the more heat- tolerant organisms to chip in, help the wine grapes. You talk about the ethical considerations a lot. Anything you’d like to discuss?  

JD: I think the ethical considerations are incredibly important. People get very excited and concerned appropriately, I think, on occasion about opportunities to use gene editing, in systems where, you know, we really need to be thoughtful about the responsible use, where there are great opportunities, but also big, big challenges. And of course, a very obvious one is in the human germline embryo editing, but also, frankly, also in microbes and other organisms that could be released into the environment, using gene editing to spread genetic traits in a mode called gene drives. So that’s another area where there’s a lot of discussion about how careful we need to be how do we regulate this technology appropriately? How do we encourage science to advance but do it in a way that’s responsible?

—Steve Mirsky

(The above text is a transcript of this podcast)

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