Orbital Rocket Explodes After Launch

Orbital Rocket Explodes After Launch

Washington — An unmanned rocket owned by Orbital Sciences Corporation exploded in a giant fireball and plummeted back to Earth just seconds after launch on what was to be a resupply mission to the International Space Station.

“The Antares rocket suffered an accident shortly after lift-off,” NASA mission control in Houston said, describing the blast at Wallops Island, Virginia, as a “catastrophic anomaly.”

Orbital’s unmanned Cygnus cargo ship was carrying 5,000 pounds (2,200 kilograms) of supplies for the six astronauts living at the research outpost.

After the countdown, the base of the tall, white rocket ignited on cue, then rose a short distance into the air before it suddenly exploded in a fiery blast six seconds later.

Enveloped in flames, the rocket collapsed to the ground, as a cloud of dark gray smoke rose from the wreckage.

Officials said the cost of the rocket and supplies was over $200 million, not including the damage caused on the ground.

Investigators swiftly secured the perimeter of the area and forbade any outside interviews of witnesses or staff, citing classified equipment that had been aboard the spacecraft.

As night fell, fires were seen burning at the coastal launch pad, where waves lapped at the shore.

It was unclear what caused the explosion, which occurred at 6:22 pm (2222 GMT).

“Something went wrong, and we will find out what that is,” said Frank Culbertson, executive vice president at Orbital Sciences.

He said investigators would evaluate the debris and analyze the rocket’s telemetry to uncover the exact sequence of events.

All personnel in the area were accounted for, and there were no injuries, officials said.

There was, however significant property damage at the launchpad.

It was the first nighttime launch of an Antares rocket, according to Orbital’s pre-launch blog.

Engineers said the countdown had gone smoothly, and there were no issues apparent with the machinery before the launch.

“We don’t really have any early indication of what might have failed,” Culbertson said.

– Space station well-stocked –

The mission, known as CRS-3, was to be Orbital’s fourth trip to the ISS, including an initial demonstration flight.

Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, said the space station was well-stocked and that no “absolutely critical” cargo was lost in the blast.

Orbital has a $1.9 billion contract with NASA for a total of eight supply missions.

After the U.S. space shuttle program ended in 2011, leaving no government program to send humans to the space station, private companies raced to restore U.S. access.

SpaceX’s Dragon was the first commercial spacecraft to make a supply journey there in 2010. Its next trip is scheduled for early December.

The Cygnus craft, which is shaped like a massive beer keg, made its first journey to the ISS in 2013.

Unlike the Dragon, which returns to Earth intact, the Cygnus burns up on re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere.

President Barack Obama was briefed on the launch failure and would continue to receive updates on the probe, the White House said.

AFP Photo

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Texas Case Forces U.S. To ‘Rethink’ Ebola Approach

Texas Case Forces U.S. To ‘Rethink’ Ebola Approach

Washington (AFP) — The United States must rethink its approach to controlling the Ebola virus after a Texas health care worker was infected with the often deadly virus, health authorities said Monday.

“We have to rethink the way we approach Ebola infection control, because even a single infection is unacceptable,” said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Tom Frieden.

Frieden spoke to reporters a day after Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas announced one of its staff members had contracted Ebola — marking the first case of infection inside the United States.

However, he gave few specifics about what precisely was going to change.

“What we will be doing in the coming days and weeks is doubling down on the amount of education, training, outreach, and support we provide,” Frieden said.

He also said experts still don’t know exactly how the woman was infected while caring for Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan, who died of Ebola on Wednesday and was the first person diagnosed with Ebola outside Africa.

Local media WFAA identified the woman as Nina Pham, a 26-year-old who had recently completed the nursing program at Texas Christian University.

She treated Duncan multiple times during his hospital stay and had extensive contact with him, but had worn extra safety gear including a mask, face shield, gown and gloves according to CDC guidelines, officials have said.

Duncan was hospitalized September 28 and died of Ebola on Wednesday.

– More cases possible –

Frieden said CDC workers are still interviewing other health workers at the hospital to see if anyone else is experiencing Ebola symptoms or is at risk of infection.

“We have to consider the possibility that there could be additional cases particularly among health care workers,” said Frieden, adding that he would “unfortunately not be surprised” to see more such cases.

A prominent nursing group, National Nurses United, lashed back at the CDC on Sunday, saying that hospitals needed to provide better protection to health care workers.

Holding signs that said “Stop Blaming Nurses” at a press conference, members called for proper training against Ebola and hazardous materials suits to guard against the virus.

A spokesman for the group told AFP that nurses want access to hazmat suits, and said three quarters of nurses polled said they had not been briefed by their hospitals on how to handle an Ebola case.

Frieden said Sunday that a “breach of protocol” was the reason for the infection of the woman who helped care for Duncan.

On Monday, he apologized for appearing to place the blame on her when he cited a lapse of safety procedures.

“Some interpreted that as finding fault with the hospital or the healthcare workers, and I am sorry if that was the impression given. It was certainly not my intention,” said Frieden, telling reporters he felt “awful” upon learning of the case.

“All of us have to work together to do whatever is possible to reduce the risk that any other healthcare worker becomes infected.”

– White House meeting –

President Barack Obama met Monday with members of his public health and national security team to receive an update on the response to the diagnosis of the second Ebola case in Dallas, Texas.

Ebola has killed more than 4,000 people in West Africa since the start of the year, and is spread through close contact with bodily fluids.

Frieden said the latest Texas case “doesn’t change the fact that we know how Ebola spreads. It doesn’t change the fact that we know how to take care of Ebola safely.

“But it does change substantially how we approach it.”

Photo via Louis DeLuca via Dallas Morning News/MCT

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Man Dies Of Ebola In Texas, U.S. Steps Up Airport Screening

Man Dies Of Ebola In Texas, U.S. Steps Up Airport Screening

Washington — A Liberian man who was the first person diagnosed with Ebola outside of West Africa died in a Texas hospital Wednesday, as Washington stepped up airport screening against the deadly virus.

Thomas Eric Duncan died in a Dallas hospital 10 days after he was admitted and despite receiving an experimental drug to fight off the illness, which causes vomiting, diarrhea and often fatal bleeding.

“Mr. Duncan succumbed to an insidious disease, Ebola. He fought courageously in this battle,” said a statement from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.

Duncan is believed to have been infected with Ebola before he left Liberia and boarded a plane to visit family in Texas.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said there was “zero risk” that he had infected any fellow travelers because he was not symptomatic until days after the flight.

Duncan’s case however raised global fears, leading to a spike of suspected Ebola cases and forcing governments to consider stronger methods of keeping the virus at bay.

The world’s largest outbreak of Ebola has killed more than 3,400 people in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal since the beginning of the year.

Hours after Duncan died, the White House announced that stricter airport screenings would be implemented at five major U.S. airports.

The measures will include sending extra CDC staff to select airports and taking the temperatures of people arriving from Ebola-hit nations.

The “vast majority of people” coming from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — the three countries hit hardest by the epidemic — will be screened, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

The airports implementing the measures are John F. Kennedy International in New York, Washington Dulles International, Chicago O’Hare International, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International and Newark Liberty International in New Jersey.

– Spanish fears mount –

In Spain, five people were isolated and dozens more monitored after a nurse in Madrid apparently caught Ebola while treating two elderly missionaries who died of the disease.

The nurse, Teresa Romero, is the first person to contract Ebola outside West Africa.

One of the doctors treating her said she may have caught the deadly virus after touching her face with an infected glove.

“It seems like it was the gloves. The gloves touched the face,” doctor German Ramirez told reporters outside the hospital.

Ebola is transmitted by close contact with the bodily fluids of a person who is showing symptoms of infection such as fever, aches, vomiting and diarrhea, or who has recently died of the infection, experts say.

As Spain scrambled to identify people who came into contact with Romero, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called for calm and promised “transparency” over the scare, which has sparked fierce criticism of Spanish safeguards.

The World Health Organization also moved to calm fears of wider contagion in Europe.

Regional director, Zsuzsanna Jakab, said sporadic cases in Europe were “unavoidable” but the risk of a full outbreak were “extremely low.”

– U.S. urges broader response –

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said more countries must step up the fight against Ebola.

“The fact is more countries can and must step up,” Kerry told reporters after talks with his British counterpart Philip Hammond, warning there were “still not enough countries to make the difference.”

Kerry showed a series of slides showing efforts by individual nations, and highlighting how small countries had in some ways done more per capita than their larger counterparts.

“I’m here this morning to make an urgent plea to countries in the world to step up even further. While we are making progress, we are not where we can say that we need to be,” he said.

Britain unveiled plans to send 750 military personnel as well as a medical ship and three helicopters to Sierra Leone.

“If we get ahead of it, if we rise to the challenge, we can contain it and beat it. We know how to do this,” Hammond said.

MCT Photo/Rodger Mallison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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U.S. Tidal Floods Will Be ‘Chronic’ In 15 Yrs, Study Claims

U.S. Tidal Floods Will Be ‘Chronic’ In 15 Yrs, Study Claims

Washington (AFP) — Many U.S. coastal communities already struggle with flooding at high tides, a problem that will become “chronic” in the coming 15 years due to global warming, scientists said Wednesday.

As shorelines are growing more populated, sea levels are swelling due to melting glaciers and polar ice sheets, putting more populations at risk, said a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Particularly dire consequences are expected along the U.S. east coast and the Gulf Coast, the report warned.

“Our analysis shows that increases in tidal flooding will be substantial and nearly universal,” said the report, based on tidal gauges in 52 coastal communities from the northeastern state of Maine down to Florida and along the Gulf Coast of Texas.

“That means the steady creep of sea level rise will force many communities largely unfamiliar with tidal floods today to grapple with chronic flooding in the next 15 to 30 years.”

Scientists said the floods, while not catastrophic, could harm key infrastructure such as bridges and roads and cause property damage.

From 1880 to 2009, global sea levels rose about eight inches (20 centimeters). Today, oceans are rising at an even faster rate.

“No longer an intangible global trend, sea level rise has arrived on the doorstep of communities scattered up and down the east coast, delivered by the tides,” it added.

“In the next 15 years alone, two-thirds of these communities could see a tripling or more in the number of high-tide floods each year.”

– Big changes in mid-Atlantic –

The biggest changes are expected in the mid-Atlantic, said the report.

The U.S. capital, Washington, DC, and Annapolis, Maryland can expect more than 150 tidal floods per year by 2030.

In southeastern towns like Savannah, Georgia and Lewisetta, Virginia, “extensive flooding is expected to occur with tides alone on a regular basis within one or two decades,” said the report.

“By 2045, even more places can expect to see extensive flooding, including Ocean City, Maryland, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.”

In some places, the changes may be dramatic. For instance, the northeastern town of New London, Connecticut currently experiences tidal floods about twice per year, but that could rise to 35 in 30 years.

Spots along Texas’s Gulf Coast that rarely see tidal floods “could face 35 to 70 tidal floods per year by 2045,” the report found.

Some places, like Norfolk, Virginia, have put up tide gates to keep floods out of downtown business districts, but that’s not an option everywhere.

Miami, the world’s seventh richest city, is built on porous limestone and is already losing water wells to incoming saltwater. The city of 417,000 faces more frequent flooding of business and residential areas.

“By 2030, Miami can expect the frequency of tidal flooding to increase nearly eightfold — from about six per year today to more than 45,” said the report.

“And by 2045, the city can expect more than 40 times as many floods as today.”

New Jersey’s coastal resort towns and gambling haven of Atlantic City — which were battered by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 — are also forecast to see floods up to 90 times a year by 2030, and 240 annually by 2045.

“Such unrelenting disruption could radically change the South Jersey Shore as a place to live and play,” said the report.

– ‘Dangerous’ climate change –

The problem is not new, and some east coast communities have already seen “a fourfold increase in the annual number of days with tidal flooding since 1970,” it found.

Solutions adopted by some coastal communities involve a combination of defending against the rising waters, accommodating them or retreating from them.

The report urged world leaders to take the threats seriously and plan ahead, but also to cut back on burning fossil fuels that lead to global warming.

“Global emissions are rising rapidly, and are on a trajectory to push surface temperatures more than 2 Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial average — the threshold beyond which scientists say ‘dangerous’ climate change becomes unavoidable,” said the report.

“To stay below this threshold, and slow the rate of sea level rise later this century and beyond, global carbon emissions need to peak and begin to decline by the end of this decade.”

Photo via Florida Fish and Wildlife via Flickr

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U.S. Hospital Bungled Report Of Africa Travel In Ebola Case

U.S. Hospital Bungled Report Of Africa Travel In Ebola Case

Washington (AFP) — The first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States initially told a nurse he had traveled in Africa but was sent home anyway, raising concerns about U.S. preparedness for the spread of the deadly virus.

The man, whose identity and nationality have not been released by health authorities, flew from Liberia, the hardest hit nation in West Africa’s deadly Ebola outbreak, to Texas to visit family.

An apparent miscommunication among hospital staff left the man in the open community and contagious for four days, and he even came in contact with schoolchildren before he was finally isolated in a hospital, officials said Wednesday.

“I know that parents are being extremely concerned about that development,” said Texas Governor Rick Perry.

“These children have been identified and they are being monitored and the disease cannot be transmitted before having any symptoms.”

He arrived in Texas on September 20 and did not exhibit symptoms until September 24, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chief Tom Frieden said Tuesday.

He sought medical care on the 26th, but was sent home because the medical team “felt clinically it was a low-grade common viral disease,” said Mark Lester, executive vice president of Texas Health Resources.

“He volunteered that he had traveled from Africa in response to the nurse operating the checklist and asking that question,” Lester added.

“Regretfully, that information was not fully communicated throughout the full team.”

He was returned via ambulance to the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas on September 28, and was placed in strict isolation.

The patient is currently in serious but stable condition, a hospital spokeswoman said.

– Symptoms of infection –

The incubation period for Ebola is between two and 21 days. Patients are not contagious until they start to show signs of fever, aches, vomiting and diarrhea.

As U.S. officials scrambled to track down people the man encountered while sick, the worldwide death toll from Ebola jumped higher, to 3,338 dead and 7,178 infected since the beginning of the year, the World Health Organization said.

Meanwhile, the United Nations announced its first suspected victim of Ebola, a Liberian man who worked for the U.N. mission in Liberia and died of a probable but unconfirmed Ebola infection last week.

In response to the fast-moving outbreak, the World Bank boosted its aid to the campaign by adding $170 million toward expanding the health-care workforce and buying needed supplies for care and treatment.

The new aid took to $400 million the amount the bank has put toward the fight against the spread of Ebola, which has swept quickly through Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

– Hunt for cases –

While health experts say the public should not panic — since Ebola is spread not through the air but only through close contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person — medical personnel are on the lookout for more cases of Ebola on U.S. soil.

Zachary Thompson, the director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, told local media WFAA “there may be another case that is a close associate with this particular patient.”

Three crew members who worked in the ambulance that transported the patient have tested negative for Ebola, but they will be monitored for 21 days, the City Of Dallas said on Twitter.

Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, said the man should have been identified as a suspected Ebola case the first time he sought care.

“If the person said, ‘Well, I just came back from Liberia,’ that would have been an enormous red flag for anybody, given the publicity that we have,” Fauci said on CNN.

“So that is really the issue, to make sure physicians are aware that we have a problem, that there is an outbreak in West Africa and people will be coming to the United States who will be without symptoms.”

AFP Photo/Mike Stone

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First U.S. Child Dies From Enterovirus D68

First U.S. Child Dies From Enterovirus D68

Washington (AFP) — A child in the northeastern U.S. state of Rhode Island has become the first to die from an ongoing outbreak of a respiratory virus, enterovirus D68, health officials said Wednesday.

The child died from an unusual combination of enterovirus D68 — which has infected more than 470 kids across the United States since August — and a staph infection.

“Infection by both Staphylococcus aureus sepsis and EV-D68 is a very rare combination that can cause very severe illness in children and adults,” the Rhode Island Department of Health said in a statement.

Enterovirus D68 typically causes flu-like symptoms, but in some cases it can cause wheezing and breathing problems that may require hospitalization.

A spike in cases among patients nationwide has reached 472 people, most of them children, in 41 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Concerns have also mounted over the emergence of nine cases in Colorado where children had respiratory infections that were followed by acute neurologic illness, including sudden limb weakness.

Experts are investigating whether there may be a link between the enterovirus outbreak and the paralysis cases.

Four cases of children who had recent respiratory infections, followed by neurologic illness with limb weakness are also being tracked in Boston, Massachusetts.

“At this time, a connection between EV-D68 and the neurologic illness with limb weakness has not been definitively proven,” Boston Children’s Hospital said in a statement.

The children range in age from four to 15 years old. One is in intensive care, two are hospitalized, and one has been discharged, the hospital added.

Some enteroviruses, including D68, have been shown in rare cases in the past to be capable of causing neurologic symptoms and sudden muscle weakness.

Viruses in this family typically circulate in the late summer to early fall, before flu season begins in earnest.

If the seasons start to overlap, experts say the potential for dual infections could be particularly dangerous for children with asthma.

There is no vaccine to prevent EV-D68, and frequent hand-washing is the best way to prevent it, experts say.

“We are all heartbroken to hear about the death of one of Rhode Island’s children,” said Michael Fine, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health.

“Many of us will have EV-D68. Most of us will have very mild symptoms and all but very few will recover quickly and completely. The vast majority of children exposed to EV-D68 recover completely.

AFP Photo/Marc Piscotty

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NASA’s MAVEN Spacecraft Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s MAVEN Spacecraft Enters Mars Orbit

Washington (AFP) — NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft began orbiting Mars on Sunday, on a mission to study how the Red Planet’s climate changed over time from warm and wet to cold and dry.

The unmanned orbiter has traveled more than 10 months and 442 million miles (711 million kilometers) to reach Mars for a first-of-its kind look at the planet’s upper atmosphere.

“Wow, what a night. You get one shot with Mars orbit insertion and MAVEN nailed it tonight,” said project manager David Mitchell.

The data from the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft aims to help scientists understand what happened to the water on Mars and the carbon dioxide in its atmosphere several billion years ago.

How Mars lost its atmosphere is one of science’s biggest mysteries. The answers could shed light on the planet’s potential to support life — even if that was just microbial life — long ago.

MAVEN’s findings are also expected to help add to knowledge of how humans could survive on a future visit to the Red Planet, perhaps as early as 2030.

“Mars is a cool place, but there is not much atmosphere,” said John Clarke of the MAVEN science team.

“It is very cold, it is well below zero. The atmosphere is about half a percent of what we are breathing,” he added.

“But we know that Mars could change and it was probably different in the past. There is a lot of evidence of flowing water on the surface from Mars’s ancient history.”

– Mission begins –

Next, MAVEN will enter a six-week phase for tests.

It will then begin a one-year mission of studying the gases in Mars’s upper atmosphere and how it interacts with the sun and solar wind.

“We are looking at early November as the official start of science,” said MAVEN principal investigator Bruce Jakosky.

Much of MAVEN’s year-long mission will be spent circling the planet 3,730 miles above the surface.

However, it will execute five deep dips to a distance of just 78 miles above the Martian landscape to get readings of the atmosphere at various levels.

NASA is the world’s most successful space agency at sending rovers and probes to Mars, and past missions have included the Viking 1 and 2 in 1975 and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2005.

The U.S. space agency’s latest robotic vehicle, Curiosity, is exploring Gale Crater and Mount Sharp, looking for interesting rocks and returning data on whether the Martian environment shows evidence of a past ability to support life.

Later this week, an Indian spacecraft, the Mars Orbiter Mission, is expected to reach Mars.

The unmanned MOM probe is set to enter Mars’s orbit in the coming days after 10 months in space, marking India’s first mission to the Red Planet.

“We are anxiously awaiting the arrival in two days of the India MOM mission and we are hoping for their success,” said Jakosky.

“We are sending them the best wishes from the entire MAVEN team for a successful orbit insertion and mission.”

AFP Photo

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NASA To Make Announcement On U.S. Human Spaceflights

NASA To Make Announcement On U.S. Human Spaceflights

Washington (AFP) — The company — or companies — that will build America’s next space taxi to carry astronauts to low Earth orbit and back is to be revealed Tuesday.

NASA, which has been unable to send astronauts to space since the retirement of the shuttle in 2011, said the announcement would be made at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center at 4:00 pm (2000 GMT).

“We’re returning human spaceflight launches to America. Learn who will take crews to the ISS (International Space Station),” NASA tweeted.

A spokesman for the U.S. space agency declined to provide further details until the disclosure, which is timed to coincide with the closing of the U.S. markets.

The agency has spent more than $1.4 billion since 2010 to help private companies like SpaceX, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada develop their own crew transport vehicles that could carry astronauts to the ISS by 2017.

In the meantime, the world’s space powers have had to rely on Russia’s Soyuz for transporting rocket scientists to the orbiting outpost, at a cost of $70 million per seat.

The Wall Street Journal cited unnamed industry sources as saying Boeing was considered a favorite in the NASA bids.

Of the three front-runners, Boeing has received the largest amount of NASA funds — $620.8 million to help build its commercial crew vehicle, according to NASA’s website.

Boeing’s acorn-shaped space capsule is called the Crew Space Transportation-100, or CST-100 for short, and is designed to carry up to seven passengers or a mix of crew and cargo to the space station, which circles the planet in low-Earth orbit.

The sleek, metallic capsule is designed without welding creases, may be re-used up to 10 times, and is equipped with wireless Internet access and tablet technology so the crew can interface with mission control.

California-based SpaceX has been awarded $554.5 million to develop its crew vehicle, which it has based on the Dragon cargo carrier it designed and which in 2010 became the first private spaceship to complete resupply missions to the ISS.

SpaceX is headed by Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk, who made his fortune as co-founder of PayPal and also serves as CEO of Tesla Motors.

Musk unveiled the Dragon Version Two, or V2, at a glitzy nighttime news conference in May.

Shaped like a gum-drop and painted gleaming white with blue accents, the Dragon V2 is designed to be able to “land propulsively almost anywhere on Earth,” and could carry up to seven crew members, SpaceX said on its website.

The third company in the running, Sierra Nevada, received $363.1 million in NASA seed money for its Dream Chaser vehicle, which looks like a miniature space shuttle, with room for up to seven astronauts, and is designed to land on runways much like an airplane.

Industry experts expect NASA may choose more than one company — though the size of the cash awards may differ — so as to encourage competition in the fledgling field of commercial crew space transport.

Photo: Luke Bryant via Flickr

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