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pentagon — U.S. Army Colonel Frank Rubio, who holds the record for the longest U.S. spaceflight, recounted the “awesome” experience of re-entering Earth’s atmosphere on Thursday during a Pentagon ceremony honoring his achievement.
“Colonel Rubio is a stellar example of someone who has made the absolute most of every opportunity,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said as she presented him with an honor known as the Army Astronaut Device. “It’s truly a privilege to have him representing the Army and the United States.”
The Army awards the astronaut device to soldiers who complete at least one mission in space. Rubio joins Colonel Anne McClain and Colonel Andrew Morgan as the only active-duty soldiers authorized to wear it.
Rubio returned to Earth late last year on a Russian spacecraft after 371 days in the International Space Station.
The doctor and Black Hawk helicopter pilot flew more than 600 hours in dangerous combat deployments in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq before joining NASA in 2017 to become an astronaut.
While becoming an astronaut is a childhood dream for many who go to space, Rubio said he fell in love with the space mission much later in life.
“It’s few things where you can say, ‘Hey, my job helps represent humanity.’ And that’s a pretty powerful thing to be a part of,” Rubio told reporters at the Pentagon.
While he now holds the record for longest spaceflight by an American, he certainly wasn’t trying to earn that title. Rubio’s six-month mission was extended to 371 days after his initial ride home sprang a leak.
His year in space led to incredible highlights, he said, from hurtling into space on top of 300 tons of rocket fuel during the launch, to spacewalks, to re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.
“You essentially become a meteorite, right, and you have a plasma layer a couple of inches below you, because of the heat that’s generated. All those things were awesome,” he said in response to a question from VOA.
Rubio is the son of Salvadoran immigrants, and he credits the Army for giving him the chance to reach for the stars.
“I think it is the American Dream. It really represents the fact that we have so many opportunities, and again, I really value the fact that it’s the opportunity that’s given, not the results,” he said. “And I think if you put in the hard work, if you dedicate yourself and you sacrifice, really almost anything is possible.”
Rubio told reporters on Thursday that he hopes to continue contributing to NASA’s mission on the ground and back in space.
montgomery, alabama — A second in vitro fertilization provider in the U.S. state of Alabama is pausing parts of its care to patients after the state Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are legally considered children.
Alabama Fertility Services said in a statement Thursday that it has “made the impossibly difficult decision to hold new IVF treatments due to the legal risk to our clinic and our embryologists.”
The decision comes a day after the University of Alabama at Birmingham health system said in a statement that it was pausing IVF treatments so it could evaluate whether its patients or doctors could face criminal charges or punitive damages.
“We are contacting patients that will be affected today to find solutions for them and we are working as hard as we can to alert our legislators as to the far reaching negative impact of this ruling on the women of Alabama,” Alabama Fertility said. “AFS will not close. We will continue to fight for our patients and the families of Alabama.”
Doctors and patients have been grappling with shock and fear this week as they try to determine what they can and can’t do after the ruling by the all-Republican Alabama Supreme Court that raises questions about the future of IVF.
Alabama Fertility Services’ decision left Gabby Goidel, who was days from an expected egg retrieval, calling clinics across the South looking for a place to continue IVF care.
“I freaked out. I started crying,” Goidel said. “I felt in an extreme limbo state,”
The Alabama ruling came down Friday, the same day Goidel began a 10-day series of injections ahead of egg retrieval, with the hopes of getting pregnant through IVF next month. She found a place in Texas that will continue her care and plans to travel there Thursday night.
Goidel experienced three miscarriages and she and her husband turned to IVF as a way of fulfilling their dream of becoming parents.
“It’s not pro-family in any way,” Goidel said of the Alabama ruling.
Dr. Michael C. Allemand, a reproductive endocrinologist at Alabama Fertility, said Wednesday that IVF is often the best treatment for patients who desperately want a child, and the ruling threatens doctors’ ability to provide that care.
“The moments that our patients are wanting to have by growing their families — Christmas mornings with grandparents, kindergarten, going in the first day of school, with little backpacks — all that stuff is what this is about. Those are the real moments that this ruling could deprive patients of,” he said.
Justices — citing language in the Alabama Constitution that the state recognizes the “rights of the unborn child” — said three couples could sue for wrongful death when their frozen embryos were destroyed in an accident at a storage facility.
“Unborn children are ‘children’ … without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics,” Justice Jay Mitchell wrote in Friday’s majority ruling. Mitchell said the court had previously ruled that a fetus killed when a woman is pregnant is covered under Alabama’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act and nothing excludes “extrauterine children from the Act’s coverage.”
While the court case centered on whether embryos were covered under the wrongful death of a minor statute, some said treating the embryo as a child — rather than property — could have broader implications and call into question many of the practices of IVF.
WASHINGTON — Alzheimer’s quietly ravages the brain long before symptoms appear, and now scientists have new clues about the dominolike sequence of those changes — a potential window to one day intervene.
A large study in China tracked middle-aged and older adults for 20 years, using regular brain scans, spinal taps and other tests.
Compared to those who remained cognitively healthy, people who eventually developed the mind-robbing disease had higher levels of an Alzheimer’s-linked protein in their spinal fluid 18 years prior to diagnosis, researchers reported Wednesday. Then every few years afterward, the study detected another so-called biomarker of brewing trouble.
Scientists don’t know exactly how Alzheimer’s forms. One early hallmark is that sticky protein called beta-amyloid, which over time builds up into brain-clogging plaques. Amyloid alone isn’t enough to damage memory — plenty of healthy people’s brains harbor a lot of plaque. An abnormal tau protein that forms neuron-killing tangles is one of several co-conspirators.
The new research, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, offers a timeline for how those abnormalities pile up.
The study’s importance “cannot be overstated,” said Dr. Richard Mayeux, an Alzheimer’s specialist at Columbia University who wasn’t involved in the research.
“Knowledge of the timing of these physiological events is critical” for testing new ways of treating and maybe eventually even preventing Alzheimer’s, he wrote in an accompanying editorial.
The findings have no practical implications yet.
More than 6 million Americans, and millions more worldwide, have Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia. There’s no cure. But last year, a drug named Leqembi became the first to be approved, with clear evidence that it could slow the worsening of early Alzheimer’s — albeit for a few months.
It works by clearing away some of that gunky amyloid protein. The approach also is being tested to see if it’s possible to delay Alzheimer’s onset if high-risk people are treated before symptoms appear. Still, other drugs are being developed to target tau.
Tracking silent brain changes is key for such research. Scientists already knew that in rare, inherited forms of Alzheimer’s that strike younger people, a toxic form of amyloid starts accumulating about two decades ahead of symptoms, and at some point later, tau kicks in.
The new findings show the order in which such biomarker changes occurred with more common old-age Alzheimer’s.
Researchers with Beijing’s Innovation Center for Neurological Disorders compared 648 people eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and an equal number who remained healthy. The amyloid finding in future Alzheimer’s patients was the first, 18 years or 14 years prior to diagnosis depending on the test used.
Differences in tau were detected next, followed by a marker of trouble in how neurons communicate. A few years after that, differences in brain shrinkage and cognitive test scores between the two groups became apparent, the study found.
“The more we know about viable Alzheimer’s treatment targets and when to address them, the better and faster we will be able to develop new therapies and preventions,” said Claire Sexton, the Alzheimer’s Association’s senior director of scientific programs. She noted that blood tests are coming soon that promise to also help by making it easier to track amyloid and tau.
Zimbabwe has launched an emergency polio vaccination campaign to contain a new outbreak, even as it fights a cholera outbreak that has claimed close to 500 lives. Columbus Mavhunga reports from Harare. Camera: Blessing Chigwenhembe.
WASHINGTON — Boeing said on Wednesday it was replacing the head of its troubled 737 MAX program effective immediately, the first major executive departure since the January 5 midair panel blowout of a new Alaska Airlines MAX 9.
Ed Clark, who had been with the plane-maker for nearly 18 years, departed as Boeing has been dealing with its latest crisis and has vowed to ramp up quality efforts.
Regulators have curbed the plane-maker’s production, and lawmakers and customers have been scrutinizing production and safety measures.
Boeing has scrambled to explain and strengthen safety procedures after a door panel detached during flight on a new Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9, forcing pilots to make an emergency landing while passengers were exposed to a gaping hole 16,000 feet above the ground.
Clark’s departure came after Boeing’s board met this week and approved the changes, according to sources familiar with the matter. He oversaw the company’s production facility in Renton, Washington, where the plane involved in the accident was completed.
Clark was previously chief mechanic and engineer for the 737 before being named head of the program in 2021. He was the fifth person in four years to run the 737 program.
Katie Ringgold is replacing him as vice president and general manager of the 737 program, according to a memo seen by Reuters sent to staff by Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stan Deal, who said the plane-maker was working to ensure “that every airplane we deliver meets or exceeds all quality and safety requirements. Our customers demand, and deserve, nothing less.”
The latest mishap occurred as Boeing was still working to rebuild its reputation following the 20-month grounding of the 737 MAX following two fatal crashes that killed a total of 346 people. That grounding was lifted in November 2020.
Airline industry executives have expressed frustration with Boeing’s quality control. The only other major manufacturer of commercial aircraft is France’s Airbus.
The memo was first reported by the Seattle Times.
The FAA grounded the MAX 9 for several weeks in January and has capped Boeing’s production of the MAX while it audits the plane-maker’s manufacturing process, which has suffered a string of quality issues in recent years.
The door panel that flew off the MAX 9 appeared to be missing four key bolts, according to a preliminary report from the U.S. National Safety Transportation Board in early February. The panel is a plug-in placed on some 737 MAX 9s instead of an additional emergency exit.
According to the report, the door plug in question was removed to repair rivet damage, but the NTSB has not found evidence the bolts were reinstalled.
The disclosure has prompted anger among Boeing’s airline customers. Some, including Alaska Airlines, announced they would conduct enhanced quality oversight of planes before they leave the Boeing factory.
When Ukrainian soldiers are wounded during combat, they are taken to what is called a stabilization point, where combat medics take care of them. Now, thanks to overseas donors, medics at one of the stabilization points in Ukraine’s Donbas region can perform blood transfusions. Anna Kosstutschenko has the story. VOA footage by Pavel Suhodolskiy.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A private U.S. lunar lander reached the moon and eased into a low orbit Wednesday, a day before it will attempt an even greater feat — landing on the gray, dusty surface.
A smooth touchdown would put the U.S. back in business on the moon for the first time since NASA astronauts closed out the Apollo program in 1972. The company, if successful, also would become the first private outfit to ace a moon landing.
Launched last week, Intuitive Machines’ lander fired its engine on the back side of the moon while out of contact with Earth. Flight controllers at the company’s Houston headquarters had to wait until the spacecraft emerged to learn whether the lander was in orbit or hurtling aimlessly away.
Intuitive Machines confirmed its lander, nicknamed Odysseus, was circling the moon with experiments from NASA and other clients. The lander is part of a NASA program to kickstart the lunar economy; the space agency is paying $118 million to get its experiments on the moon on this mission.
On Thursday, controllers will lower the orbit from just under 60 miles (92 kilometers) to 6 miles (10 kilometers) — a crucial maneuver occurring again on the moon’s far side — before aiming for a touchdown near the moon’s south pole. It’s a dicey place to land with all the craters and cliffs, but deemed prime real estate for astronauts since the permanently shadowed craters are believed to hold frozen water.
The moon is littered with wreckage from failed landings. Some missions never even got that far. Another U.S. company — Astrobotic Technology — tried to send a lander to the moon last month, but it didn’t get there because of a fuel leak. The crippled lander came crashing back through the atmosphere, burning up over the Pacific.
A rundown on the moon’s winners and losers:
The Soviet Union’s Luna 9 successfully touches down on the moon in 1966, after its predecessors crash or miss the moon altogether. The U.S. follows four months later with Surveyor 1. Both countries achieve more robotic landings, as the race heats up to land men.
NASA clinches the space race with the Soviets in 1969 with a moon landing by Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Twelve astronauts explore the surface over six missions, before the program ends with Apollo 17 in 1972. Still the only country to send humans to the moon, the U.S. hopes to return crews to the surface by the end of 2026 or so, a year after a lunar fly-around by astronauts.
China, in 2013, becomes the third country to successfully land on the moon, delivering a rover named Yutu, Chinese for jade rabbit. China follows with the Yutu-2 rover in 2019, this time touching down on the moon’s unexplored far side — an impressive first. A sample return mission on the moon’s near side in 2020 yields nearly 4 pounds (1.7 kilograms) of lunar rocks and dirt. Another sample return mission should be launching soon, but this time to the far side. Seen as NASA’s biggest moon rival, China aims to put its astronauts on the moon by 2030.
In 2023, Russia tries for its first moon landing in nearly a half-century, but the Luna 25 spacecraft smashes into the moon. The country’s previous lander — 1976’s Luna 24 — not only landed, but returned moon rocks to Earth.
India triumphs on take 2
After its first lander slams into the moon in 2019, India regroups and launches Chandrayaan-3 (Hindi for moon craft) in 2023. The craft successfully touches down, making India the fourth country to score a lunar landing. The win comes just four days after Russia’s crash-landing.
Japan lands sideways
Japan becomes the fifth country to land successfully on the moon, with its spacecraft touching down in January. The craft lands on the wrong side, compromising its ability to generate solar power, but manages to crank out pictures and science before falling silent when the long lunar night sets in.
A privately funded lander from Israel, named Beresheet, Hebrew for “in the beginning,” crashes into the moon in 2019. A Japanese entrepreneur’s company, ispace, launches a lunar lander in 2023, but it, too, wrecks. Astrobotic Technology, a Pittsburgh company, launches its lander in January, but a fuel leak prevents a landing and dooms the craft. Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines plan more moon deliveries.
WASHINGTON — A company from Texas is poised to attempt a feat that until now has only been accomplished by a handful of national space agencies but could soon become commonplace for the private sector: landing on the moon.
If all goes to plan, Houston-based Intuitive Machines will guide its spaceship named Odysseus to a gentle touchdown near the lunar south pole on Thursday at 2249 GMT, then run experiments for NASA that will help pave the way for the return of astronauts later this decade.
A previous effort by another U.S. company last month ended in failure, raising the stakes to demonstrate private industry has what it takes to put an American lander on Earth’s cosmic companion for the first time since the Apollo era.
“Accepting risk was a challenge posed by the United States to the commercial business sector,” Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus said ahead of launch. “Our collective aim is to return to the moon for the first time in 52 years.”
The company plans to run a live stream on its website, with flight controllers expected to confirm landing around 15 seconds after the milestone is achieved, because of the time it takes for radio signals to return.
As it approaches the surface, Odysseus will shoot out an external “EagleCam” that captures images of the lander in the final seconds of its descent.
About the size of a big golf cart, Odysseus is hexagon-shaped and stands on six legs.
It launched on Feb. 15 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and boasts a new type of supercooled liquid oxygen, liquid methane propulsion system that allowed it to race through space in quick time, snapping pictures of our planet along the way.
Its destination, Malapert A, is an impact crater 300 kilometers (180 miles) from the lunar south pole.
NASA hopes to eventually build a long-term presence and harvest ice there for both drinking water and rocket fuel under Artemis, its flagship Moon-to-Mars program.
The U.S. space agency paid Intuitive Machines $118 million to ship science hardware to better understand and mitigate environmental risks for astronauts, the first of whom are scheduled to land no sooner than 2026.
Instruments include cameras to investigate how the lunar surface changes as a result of the engine plume from a spaceship, and a device to analyze clouds of charged dust particles that hang over the surface at twilight as a result of solar radiation.
The rest of the cargo was paid for by Intuitive Machines’ private clients and includes 125 stainless steel mini moons by the artist Jeff Koons.
After touchdown, the experiments are expected to run for roughly seven days before lunar night sets in on the south pole, with the lack of solar power rendering Odysseus inoperable.
Dubbed IM-1, the mission is the second under a NASA initiative called Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS), which it created to delegate cargo services to the private sector to achieve savings and stimulate a wider lunar economy.
Four more CLPS launches are expected this year, which would make 2024 among the busiest ever for moon landings.
The first, by Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic, launched in January, but its Peregrine spacecraft sprung a fuel leak and it was eventually brought back to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.
Spaceships landing on the moon have to navigate treacherous boulders and craters and, absent an atmosphere to support parachutes, must rely on thrusters to control their descent. Roughly half of the more than 50 attempts have failed.
The Soviet Union was the first country to achieve a survivable landing on a celestial body when its Luna 9 spaceship touched down and transmitted pictures back from the moon in February 1966.
Next came the United States, which is still the only country to also put people on the surface.
In America’s long absence, China has landed three times since 2013. India reached the moon in 2023, and Japan was the latest, last month.
Health care professionals are increasingly using artificial intelligence to better diagnose and treat serious medical conditions. However, with the use of artificial intelligence in medicine growing, there are concerns among medical ethicists about how emerging technologies should be deployed
Montgomery, Alabama — The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law, a ruling critics said could have sweeping implications for fertility treatments.
The decision was issued in a pair of wrongful death cases brought by three couples who had frozen embryos destroyed in an accident at a fertility clinic. Justices, citing anti-abortion language in the Alabama Constitution, ruled that an 1872 state law allowing parents to sue over the death of a minor child “applies to all unborn children, regardless of their location.”
“Unborn children are ‘children’ … without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics,” Justice Jay Mitchell wrote in the majority ruling Friday from the all-Republican court.
Mitchell said the court had previously ruled that fetuses killed while a woman is pregnant are covered under Alabama’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act and nothing excludes “extrauterine children from the Act’s coverage.”
The ruling brought a rush of warnings about the potential impact on fertility treatments and the freezing of embryos, which had previously been considered property by the courts.
“This ruling is stating that a fertilized egg, which is a clump of cells, is now a person. It really puts into question the practice of IVF,” Barbara Collura, CEO of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, said in an interview Tuesday. The group called the decision a “terrifying development for the 1 in 6 people impacted by infertility” who need in-vitro fertilization.
She said it raises questions for providers and patients, including if they can freeze future embryos created during fertility treatment or if patients could ever donate or destroy unused embryos.
The plaintiffs in the Alabama case had undergone IVF treatments that led to the creation of several embryos, some of which were implanted and resulted in healthy births. The couples had paid to keep others frozen in a storage facility at the Mobile Infirmary Medical Center. A patient in 2020 wandered into the area and removed several embryos, dropping them on the floor and “killing them,” the ruling said.
The justices ruled that wrongful death lawsuits by the couples could proceed.
An anti-abortion group cheered the decision. “Each person, from the tiniest embryo to an elder nearing the end of his life, has incalculable value that deserves and is guaranteed legal protection,” Lila Rose, president and founder of Live Action said in a statement.
Chief Justice Tom Parker issued a concurring opinion that quoted the Bible as he discussed the meaning of the phrase “the sanctity of unborn life” in the Alabama Constitution.
“Even before birth, all human beings bear the image of God, and their lives cannot be destroyed without effacing his glory,” Parker said.
Justice Greg Cook, who filed the only full dissent to the majority opinion, said the 1872 law did not define “minor child” and was being stretched from the original intent to cover frozen embryos.
“Moreover, there are other significant reasons to be concerned about the main opinion’s holding. No court — anywhere in the country — has reached the conclusion the main opinion reaches,” he wrote, adding the ruling “almost certainly ends the creation of frozen embryos through in vitro fertilization (IVF) in Alabama.”
The Alabama Supreme Court decision partly hinged on anti-abortion language added to the Alabama Constitution in 2018, stating that it is the “public policy of this state to ensure the protection of the rights of the unborn child.”
Supporters at the time said it would “be a declaration of voters’ beliefs” and would have no impact unless states gain more control over abortion access. States gained control of abortion access in 2022. Critics at the time said it would have broad ramifications for civil and criminal law beyond abortion access and that it was essentially a “personhood” measure that would establish constitutional rights for fertilized eggs.
CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA — Astronomers have discovered what may be the brightest object in the universe, a quasar with a black hole at its heart growing so fast that it swallows the equivalent of a sun a day.
The record-breaking quasar shines 500 trillion times brighter than our sun. The black hole powering this distant quasar is more than 17 billion times more immense than our sun, an Australian-led team reported Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy.
While the quasar resembles a mere dot in images, scientists envision a ferocious place.
The rotating disk around the quasar’s black hole — the luminous swirling gas and other matter from gobbled-up stars — is like a cosmic hurricane.
“This quasar is the most violent place that we know in the universe,” lead author Christian Wolf of Australian National University said in an email.
The European Southern Observatory spotted the object, J0529-4351, during a 1980 sky survey, but it was thought to be a star. It was not identified as a quasar — the extremely active and luminous core of a galaxy — until last year. Observations by telescopes in Australia and Chile’s Atacama Desert clinched it.
“The exciting thing about this quasar is that it was hiding in plain sight and was misclassified as a star previously,” Yale University’s Priyamvada Natarajan, who was not involved in the study, said in an email.
These later observations and computer modeling have determined that the quasar is gobbling up the equivalent of 370 suns a year — roughly one a day. Further analysis shows the mass of the black hole to be 17 to 19 billion times that of our sun, according to the team. More observations are needed to understand its growth rate.
The quasar is 12 billion light-years away and has been around since the early days of the universe. A light-year is 5.8 trillion miles.
LONDON — Lockbit, a notorious cybercrime gang that holds its victims’ data for ransom, has been disrupted in a rare international law enforcement operation by Britain’s National Crime Agency, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Europol and a coalition of international police agencies, according to a post on the gang’s extortion website on Monday.
“This site is now under the control of the National Crime Agency of the UK, working in close cooperation with the FBI and the international law enforcement task force, ‘Operation Cronos,’” the post said.
An NCA spokesperson confirmed that the agency had disrupted the gang and said the operation was “ongoing and developing.”
A representative for Lockbit did not respond to messages from Reuters seeking comment but did post messages on an encrypted messaging app saying it had backup servers not affected by the law enforcement action.
The U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The post named other international police organizations from France, Japan, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland and Germany.
Lockbit and its affiliates have hacked some of the world’s largest organizations in recent months. The gang makes money by stealing sensitive data and threatening to leak it if victims fail to pay an extortionate ransom. Its affiliates are like-minded criminal groups that are recruited by the group to wage attacks using Lockbit’s digital extortion tools.
Ransomware is malicious software that encrypts data. Lockbit makes money by coercing its targets into paying ransom to decrypt or unlock that data with a digital key.
Lockbit was discovered in 2020 when its eponymous malicious software was found on Russian-language cybercrime forums, leading some security analysts to believe the gang is based in Russia.
The gang has not professed support for any government, however, and no government has formally attributed it to a nation-state. On its now-defunct dark web site, the group said it was “located in the Netherlands, completely apolitical and only interested in money.”
“They are the Walmart of ransomware groups, they run it like a business — that’s what makes them different,” said Jon DiMaggio, chief security strategist at Analyst1, a U.S.-based cybersecurity firm. “They are arguably the biggest ransomware crew today.”
Officials in the United States, where Lockbit has hit more than 1,700 organizations in nearly every industry from financial services and food to schools, transportation and government departments, have described the group as the world’s top ransomware threat.
In November of last year, Lockbit published internal data from Boeing, one of the world’s largest defense and space contractors. In early 2023, Britain’s Royal Mail faced severe disruption after an attack by the group.
According to vx-underground, a cybersecurity research website, Lockbit said in a statement in Russian and shared on Tox, an encrypted messaging app, that the FBI hit its servers that run on the programming language PHP. The statement, which Reuters could not verify independently, added that it has backup servers without PHP that “are not touched.”
On X, formerly known as Twitter, vx-underground shared screenshots showing the control panel used by Lockbit’s affiliates to launch attacks had been replaced with a message from law enforcement: “We have source code, details of the victims you have attacked, the amount of money extorted, the data stolen, chats, and much, much more,” it said.
“We may be in touch with you very soon” it added. “Have a nice day.”
Before it was taken down, Lockbit’s website displayed an ever-growing gallery of victim organizations that was updated nearly daily. Next to their names were digital clocks that showed the number of days left to the deadline given to each organization to provide ransom payment.
On Monday, Lockbit’s site displayed a similar countdown, but from the law enforcement agencies who hacked the hackers: “Return here for more information at: 11:30 GMT on Tuesday 20th Feb.” the post said.
Don Smith, vice president of Secureworks, an arm of Dell Technologies, said Lockbit was the most prolific and dominant ransomware operator in a highly competitive underground market.
“To put today’s takedown into context, based on leak site data, Lockbit had a 25% share of the ransomware market. Their nearest rival was Blackcat at around 8.5%, and after that it really starts to fragment,” Smith said.
“Lockbit dwarfed all other groups and today’s action is highly significant.”
WASHINGTON — U.S. lawmakers are raising alarms about what they see as America’s failure to compete with China in biotechnology, warning of the risks to U.S. national security and commercial interests. But as the two countries’ rivalry expands into the biotech industry, some say that shutting out Chinese companies would only hurt the U.S.
Biotechnology promises to revolutionize everyday life, with scientists and researchers using it to make rapid advances in medical treatment, genetic engineering in agriculture and novel biomaterials. Because of its potential, it has caught the attention of both the Chinese and U.S. governments.
Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to bar “foreign adversary biotech companies of concern” from doing business with federally funded medical providers. The bills name four Chinese-owned companies.
The Chinese Embassy said those behind the bills have an “ideological bias” and seek to suppress Chinese companies “under false pretexts.” It demanded that Chinese companies be given “open, just, and non-discriminatory treatment.”
The debate over biotechnology is taking place as the Biden administration tries to stabilize the volatile U.S.-China relationship, which has been battered by a range of issues, including a trade war, the COVID-19 pandemic, cybersecurity and militarization in the South China Sea.
Critics of the legislation warn that restrictions on Chinese companies would impede advances that could bring a greater good.
“In biotech, one cannot maintain competitiveness by walling off others,” said Abigail Coplin, an assistant professor at Vassar College who specializes in China’s biotech industry. She said she was worried that U.S. policymakers would get too obsessed with the technology’s military applications at the cost of hindering efforts to cure disease and feed the world’s population.
In a letter to senators sponsoring the bill, Rachel King, chief executive officer of the trade association Biotechnology Innovation Organization, said the legislation would “do untold damage to the drug development supply chain both for treatments currently approved and on market as well as for development pipelines decades in the making.”
But supporters say the legislation is crucial to protecting U.S. interests.
The National Security Commission on Emerging Biotechnology, a group created by the U.S. Senate to review the industry, said the bill would help secure the data of the federal government and of American citizens and it would discourage unfair competition from Chinese companies.
The commission warned that advancement in biotechnology can result not only in economic benefits but also rapid changes in military capabilities.
Much is at stake, said Rep. Mike Gallagher, chair of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party. Gallagher introduced the House version of the bill and last week led a congressional delegation to Boston to meet with biotech executives.
“It’s not just a supply chain battle or a national security battle or an economic security battle; I would submit it’s a moral and ethical battle,” Gallagher said. “Just as the sector advances at a really astronomic pace, the country who wins the race will set the ethical standards around how these technologies are used.”
He argues that the U.S. must “set the rules of the road” and if not, “we’re going to live in a less free, less moral world as a result.”
Both the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, have identified biotech as a critical national interest.
The Biden administration has put forward a “whole-of-government approach” to advance biotechnology and biomanufacturing that is important for health, climate change, energy, food security, agriculture and supply chain resilience.
The Chinese government has plans to develop a “national strategic technology force” in biotech, which would be tasked with making breakthroughs and helping China achieve “technological independence,” primarily from the U.S.
“Both the Chinese government and the Americans have identified biotech as an area important for investment, a sector that presents an opportunity to grow their economy,” said Tom Bollyky, the Bloomberg chair in global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. He said any restrictive U.S. measures should be tailored to address military concerns and concerns about genomic data security.
“Naturally there’s going to be competition, but what’s challenging in biotech is that we are talking about human health,” Bollyky said.
Ray Yip, who founded the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention office in China, also worries that the rivalry will slow medical advancements.
The benefit of coming up with better diagnostics and therapy is beyond any individual country, Yip said, “and will not overshadow the capacity or prestige of the other country.”
What concerns Anna Puglisi, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, is Beijing’s lack of transparency and its unfair market practices. “Competition is one thing. Unfair competition is another thing,” she said.
Puglisi described BGI, a major Chinese biotech company identified in both the House and Senate bills, as “a national champion” that is subsidized and given favored treatment by the state in a system that “blurs private and public as well as civilian and military.”
“This system creates market distortions and undermines the global norms of science by using researchers and academic and commercial entities to further the goals of the state,” Puglisi said.
BGI, which has stressed its private ownership, offers genetic testing kits and a popular prenatal screening test to detect Down syndrome and other conditions. U.S. lawmakers say they are concerned such data could end up in the hands of the Chinese government.
The Defense Department has listed BGI as a Chinese military company, and the Commerce Department has blacklisted it on human rights grounds, citing a risk that BGI technology might have contributed to surveillance. BGI has rejected the allegations.
In raising its concerns about BGI, the National Security Commission on Emerging Biotechnology says the company is required to share data with the Chinese government, has partnered with the Chinese military, and has received considerable Chinese state funding and support.
State subsidies have allowed BGI to offer genomic sequencing services at a highly competitive price that is attractive to U.S. researchers, according to the commission. The genomic data, once in the hands of the Chinese government, “represents a strategic asset that has privacy, security, economic, and ethical implications,” it said.
BGI could not immediately be reached for comment.
In the U.S. state of Texas, people are making clones of their beloved pets so the genetically identical animal can live after their pet dies. From the Texas capital, Austin, VOA’s Deana Mitchell has our story.
paris — A new artificial intelligence tool that promises to create short videos from simple text commands has raised concerns along with questions from artists and media professionals.
OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT and image generator DALL-E, said Thursday it was testing a text-to-video model called “Sora” that can allow users to create realistic videos with simple prompts.
The San Francisco-based startup says Sora can “generate complex scenes with multiple characters, specific types of motion, and accurate details of the subject and background,” but admits it still has limitations, such as possibly “mixing up left and right.”
Here are early reactions from industries that could be affected by the new generative artificial intelligence (AI) tool:
Examples of Sora-created clips on OpenAI’s website range widely in style and subject, from seemingly real drone footage above a crowded market to an animated bunny-like creature bouncing through a forest.
Thomas Bellenger, founder and art director of Cutback Productions, has been carefully watching the evolution of generative AI image generation.
“There were those who felt that it was an unstoppable groundswell that was progressing at an astonishing rate, and those who just didn’t want to see it,” said Bellenger, whose France-based company has created large scale visual effects for such touring musicians as Stromae and Justice.
He said the development of generative AI has “created a lot of debate internally” at the company and “a lot of sometimes visceral reactions.”
Bellenger noted that Sora has yet to be released, so its capabilities have yet to be tested by the public.
“What is certain is that no one expected such a technological leap forward in just a few weeks,” Bellenger said. “It’s unheard of.”
He said whatever the future holds, they’ll “find ways to create differently.”
Mixed reaction among creators
Video game creators are equally likely to be impacted by the new invention, with reaction among the sector divided between those open to embracing a new tool and those fearing it might replace them.
French video game giant Ubisoft hailed the OpenAI announcement as a “quantum leap forward” with the potential to let players and development teams express their imaginations.
“We’ve been exploring this potential for a long time,” a Ubisoft spokesperson told AFP.
Alain Puget, chief of Nantes-based studio Alkemi, said he won’t replace any artists with AI tools, which “only reproduce things done by humans.”
Nevertheless, Puget noted, this “visually impressive” tool could be used by small studios to produce more professionally rendered images.
While video “cut scenes” that play out occasionally to advance game storylines are different from player-controlled action, Puget expects tools like Sora to eventually be able to replace “the way we do things.”
‘A terrifying leap’
Basile Simon, a former journalist and current Stanford University researcher, thinks there has been “a terrifying leap forward in the last year” when it comes to generative AI allowing realistic-looking fabrications to be rapidly produced.
He dreads the idea of how such tools will be abused during elections and fears the public will “no longer know what to believe”.
Julien Pain of French TV channel France Info’s fact-checking program “Vrai ou Faux” (True or False) says he’s also worried about abuse of AI tools.
“Until now, it was easy enough to spot fake images, for example by noticing the repetitive faces in the background,” Pain said. “What this new software does seems to be on another level.”
While OpenAI and U.S. tech titans may promote safety tools, such as industry-wide watermarks that reveal AI-created imagery, “what about tomorrow’s competitors in China and Russia?” he posited.
The Fred & Farid agency, which has collaborated with the Longchamp and Budweiser brands and where a studio dedicated to AI was opened in early January, anticipates that “80 percent of brand content will be generated by artificial intelligence.”
“Creative genius” will no longer be limited by production skills thanks to generative AI tools, one enthusiast contended.
Stephanie Laporte, chief executive and founder of the OTTA advertising and influencer agency, believes the technology will “force the industry to evolve.”
She also anticipates ad companies with lean budgets will resort to AI tools to save money on workers.
A possible exception, she believes, is the luxury segment, where brands are “very sensitive to authenticity” and “will probably use AI sparingly.”
TOKYO — Japan’s flagship H3 rocket reached orbit and released two small observation satellites in a key second test following a failed debut launch last year, buoying hope for the country in the global space race.
The H3 rocket blasted off from the Tanegashima Space Center on time Saturday morning, two days after its originally scheduled liftoff was delayed by bad weather.
The rocket successfully reached orbit at an altitude of about 670 kilometers (about 420 miles) and released two satellites, said the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA.
“We feel so relieved to be able to announce the good results,” JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa told a news conference.
The H3’s main missions are to secure independent access to space and be competitive as international demand for satellite launches grows. “We made a big first step today toward achieving that goal,” Yamakawa said.
The launch is a boost for Japan’s space program following a recent streak of successes, including a historic precision touchdown on the moon of an unmanned spacecraft last month.
The liftoff was closely watched as a test for Japan’s space development after H3, in its debut flight last March, failed to ignite the second-stage engine. JAXA and its main contractor, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, have been developing H3 as a successor to its current mainstay, H-2A, which is set to retire after two more flights.
JAXA H3 project manager Masashi Okada called the result “perfect,” saying H3 cleared all missions set for Saturday’s flight. “After a long wait, the newborn H3 finally had its first cry.”
At 57 meters (187 feet) long, the H3 is designed to carry larger payloads than H-2A at much lower costs of about 50 billion yen ($330 million).
LOISABA CONSERVANCY, Kenya — Conservationists in Kenya are celebrating as rhinos were returned to a grassy plateau that hasn’t seen them in decades.
The successful move of 21 eastern black rhinos to a new home will give them space to breed and could help increase the population of the critically endangered animals. It was Kenya’s biggest rhino relocation ever.
The rhinos were taken from three parks that are becoming overcrowded to the private Loisaba Conservancy, where herds were wiped out by poaching decades ago.
“It’s been decades since rhinos roamed here, almost 50 years ago,” said Loisaba security manager Daniel Ole Yiankere. “Their numbers were severely impacted by poaching. Now, our focus is on rejuvenating this landscape and allowing rhinos to breed, aiming to restore their population to its former splendor.”
Moving rhinos safely is a serious challenge. The 18-day exercise involved tracking the rhinos using a helicopter and then shooting them with tranquilizer darts. Then the animals — which weigh about a ton each — have to be loaded into the back of a truck for the move.
Disaster nearly struck early in the relocation effort, when a tranquilized rhino stumbled into a creek. Veterinarians and rangers held the rhino’s head above water with a rope to stop it from drowning while a tranquilizer reversal drug took effect, and the rhino was released.
Some of the rhinos were transferred from Nairobi National Park and made a 300-kilometer trip. Others came from two parks closer to Loisaba.
Rhinos are generally solitary animals and are at their happiest in large territories. As numbers in the three parks where the rhinos were moved from have increased, wildlife officials decided to relocate some in the hope that they will be happier and more likely to breed.
David Ndere, an expert on rhinos at the Kenya Wildlife Service, said their reproduction rates decrease when there are too many in a territory.
“By removing some animals, we expect that the rhino population in those areas will rise up,” Ndere said. “And then we reintroduce that founder population of at least 20 animals into new areas.”
Loisaba Conservancy said it has dedicated around 25,000 hectares to the new arrivals, which are a mix of males and females.
Kenya has had relative success in reviving its black rhino population, which dipped from around 20,000 in the 1970s to below 300 in the mid-1980s because of poaching, according to conservationists, raising fears that the animals might be wiped out completely in the country. Kenya now has around 1,000 black rhinos, the third biggest population behind South Africa and Namibia.
There are just over 6,400 wild black rhinos left in the world, all of them in Africa, according to the Save the Rhino organization.
Tom Silvester, the CEO of Loisaba Conservancy, said Kenya’s plan is to get its black rhino numbers to 2,000 over the next decade.
“Once we have 2,000 individuals, we will have established a population that will give us hope that we have brought them back from extinction,” he said.
Kenyan authorities say they have relocated more than 150 rhinos in the last decade.
An attempt to move 11 rhinos in 2018 ended in disaster when all of the animals died shortly after moving.
Ten of the rhinos died from stress, dehydration and starvation intensified by salt poisoning as they struggled to adjust to saltier water in their new home, investigations found. The other one was attacked by a lion.
Since then, new guidelines have been created for the capture and moving of rhinos in Kenya. Silvester said tests have been conducted on the water quality at Loisaba.
Kenya is also home to the last two remaining northern white rhinos on the planet. Researchers said last month they hope they might be able to save that subspecies after creating an embryo in a lab from an egg and sperm previously collected from white rhinos and transferring it into a surrogate female black rhino. The pregnancy was discovered in a postmortem after the surrogate died of an infection following a flood.
RIO DE JANEIRO — The small team of state public health workers slalomed between auto parts strewn across a Rio de Janeiro junkyard, looking for standing water where mosquitoes might have laid their eggs.
They were part of nationwide efforts to curtail a surge in Brazil of the mosquito-borne illness of dengue fever during the country’s key tourist season that runs through the end of February.
Paulo Cesar Gomes, a 56-year-old entomologist, found some mosquito larvae swimming in shallow rainwater inside a car bumper.
“We call this type of location a strategic point” because of the high turnover in items converging from all over, he said. “It’s difficult not to have mosquitoes here.”
Earlier in the month, just days before Rio kicked off its world-famous Carnival festivities, the city joined several states and the country’s capital in declaring a public health epidemic over this year’s greater-than-normal number of cases of dengue.
“We had more cases in January than any other January,” Ethel Maciel, head of health surveillance at Brazil’s Health Ministry, said in an interview with The Associated Press.
So far this year, Brazil has recorded 512,000 cases nationwide, including both confirmed and likely cases — nearly four times more than those registered in the same period a year ago.
There have been 425 deaths under investigation for dengue so far this year, with 75 confirmed, as compared with just over 1,000 for all of 2023.
Dengue is a viral infection transmitted to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes. Frequent rains and high temperatures, which accelerate the hatching of mosquito eggs and the development of larvae, make the famously hot city of Rio especially susceptible to outbreaks.
Many who are infected never develop symptoms, but dengue can cause high fever, headache, body aches, nausea and a rash, according to the World Health Organization. While most get better after a week or so, some develop a severe form that requires hospitalization and can be fatal.
Health workers like Gomes, equipped with masks and plastic gloves, meticulously combed the junkyard on a hot morning, gently kicking and shaking piled up auto parts looking for any trace of the Aedes aegypti mosquito that can spread dengue.
Whenever he saw standing water Gomes grabbed a hand pipette out of his bag and looked for larvae, which he collected in a white plastic container. Captured mosquitos and larvae are kept alive and brought to a city laboratory to be tested for dengue.
At locations with positive tests, health agents spray the walls with a product that kills mosquitoes and then monitor the location for weeks.
Maciel, from the Health Ministry, said the first warning about a possible epidemic came in September.
Brazil’s leading research institute, the state-funded Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, or Fiocruz, came up with several scenarios indicating that Brazil could have as many as 4.2 million cases this year, up from 1.6 million in 2023.
Maciel said the surge is due to excessive heat and intense rain, both possible effects of climate change or El Niño, a natural, temporary and occasional warming of part of the Pacific that shifts weather patterns across the globe.
Maciel also cited the circulation of four dengue virus serotypes at the same time, one of which authorities had not seen in 15 years.
In Rio, more than 80% of mosquito breeding sites are located in residential properties, health officials say. So, efforts to combat dengue must start in homes, and raising awareness is key, said Mário Sérgio Ribeiro, a health surveillance official for Rio de Janeiro state.
State officials launched a “10 minutes that save lives” initiative to encourage residents to inspect their homes, offices and places of worship for any standing water.
Health workers and volunteers went door to door, pacing up and down the narrow streets of Rio’s Tabajara working-class neighborhood, or favela, to spread the word. They distributed leaflets and climbed on rooftops, looking for containers with rainwater.
One elderly woman, Vilza da Costa, told the AP she believes she contracted the disease.
“It started with a fever, then my body was itching all over, weakness, and a lot of pain. I was in a very bad way,” she said. “There are a lot of mosquitoes here.”
During Carnival, which ended Wednesday, health employees welcomed visitors with free repellent. A van with a giant crossed off mosquito and the words “Against Dengue Everyday” opened and closed the parades several nights, for millions of TV viewers to see.
Maciel said the effect of Carnival will not be known for another week. Even though dengue is not transmissible from person to person, increased tourism can boost the spread of the disease to locations that had not been affected.
It’s not clear if the cases have reached a peak and now “are going to start going down, or if the worst-case scenario is indeed happening,” Maciel said.