The Dreamliner Nightmare

this article comes courtesy of the Associated Press:

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TOKYO (AP) — Boeing Co.’s 787 planes were grounded for safety checks Wednesday by two major Japanese airlines after one was forced to make an emergency landing in the latest blow for the new jet.

All Nippon Airways said a cockpit message showed battery problems and a burning smell were detected in the cockpit and the cabin, forcing the 787 on a domestic flight to land at Takamatsu airport in western Japan.

The 787, known as the Dreamliner, is Boeing’s newest and most technologically advanced jet, and the company is counting heavily on its success. Since its launch, which came after delays of more than three years, the plane has been plagued by a series of problems including a battery fire and fuel leaks. Japan’s ANA and Japan Airlines are major customers for the jet and among the first to fly it.

Japan’s transport ministry said it got notices from ANA, which operates 17 of the jets, and Japan Airlines which has seven, that all their 787s would not be flying. The grounding was done voluntarily by the airlines.

The earliest manufactured jets of any new aircraft usually have problems and airlines run higher risks in flying them first, said Brendan Sobie, Singapore-based chief analyst at CAPA-Center for Aviation. Since about half the 787 fleet is in Japan, more problems are cropping up there.

“There are always teething problems with new aircraft and airlines often are reluctant to be the launch customer of any new airplanes,” Sobie said. “We saw it with other airplane types, like the A380 but the issues with the A380 were different,” he said.

Japan’s transport ministry categorized Wednesday’s problem as a “serious incident” that could have led to an accident, and sent officials for further checks to Takamatsu airport. The airport was closed.

ANA executives apologized, bowing deeply at a hastily called news conference in Tokyo.

“We are very sorry to have caused passengers and their family members so much concern,” said ANA Senior Executive Vice President Osamu Shinobe.

One male in his 60s was taken to the hospital for minor hip injuries after going down the emergency slides at the airport, the fire department said. The other 128 passengers and eight crew members of the ANA domestic flight were uninjured, according to ANA.

The grounding in Japan was the first for the 787, whose problems had been brushed off by Boeing as teething pains for a new aircraft. The transport ministry had already started a separate inspection Monday on another 787 jet, operated by Japan Airlines, which had leaked fuel at Tokyo’s Narita airport after flying back from Boston, where it had also leaked fuel.

A fire ignited Jan. 7 in the battery pack of an auxiliary power unit of a Japan Airlines 787 empty of passengers as the plane sat on the tarmac at Boston’s Logan International Airport. It took firefighters 40 minutes to put out the blaze.

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ANA cancelled a domestic flight to Tokyo on Jan. 9 after a computer wrongly indicated there was a problem with the Boeing 787’s brakes. Two days later, the carrier reported two new cases of problems with the aircraft – a minor fuel leak and a cracked windscreen in a 787 cockpit.

The 787 relies more than any other modern airliner on electrical signals to help power nearly everything the plane does. It’s also the first Boeing plane to use rechargeable lithium ion batteries, which charge faster and can be molded to space-saving shapes compared to other airplane batteries. The plane is made with lightweight composite materials instead of aluminum.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement that it is “monitoring a preliminary report of an incident in Japan earlier today involving a Boeing 787.”

It said the incident will be included in the comprehensive review the FAA began last week of the 787 critical systems, including design, manufacture and assembly. U.S. government officials have been quick to say that the plane is safe. Nearly 50 of them are in the skies now.

GS Yuasa Corp., the Japanese company that supplies all the lithium ion batteries for the 787, had no comment as the investigation was still ongoing.

In Tokyo, the transport minister, Akihiro Ota, said authorities were taking the incidents seriously.

“These problems must be fully investigated,” he said.

Boeing has said that various technical problems are to be expected in the early days of any aircraft model.

“Boeing is aware of the diversion of a 787 operated by ANA to Takamatsu in western Japan. We will be working with our customer and the appropriate regulatory agencies,” Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is aware of Wednesday’s emergency landing in Japan and is gathering information on the incident, Kelly Nantel, a spokeswoman for the board, said.

In Wednesday’s incident, a cockpit instrument showed a problem with the 787’s battery and the pilot noticed an unusual smell, the airline said. The flight requested and was granted permission to make an emergency landing at Takamatsu airport.

Aviation safety expert John Goglia, a former National Transportation Safety Board member, said the ANA pilot made the right choice.

“They were being very prudent in making the emergency landing even though there’s been no information released so far that indicates any of these issues are related,” he said.

But much remains uncertain about the problems being experienced by the 787, said Masaharu Hirokane, analyst at Nomura Securities Co. in Tokyo.

The problems could turn out to be relatively easy to fix, or it could be major, and things were still unclear, including how long the improvements would take, he said.

“You need to ensure safety 100 percent, and then you also have to get people to feel that the jet is 100 percent safe,” said Hirokane.

AP Business Writer Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong and AP Transportation Writer Joan Lowy in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

Jackson Williams.

Good News, Everyone: We’re NOT Going to Die!

this article comes courtesy of the Associated Press:

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Upon further review, a big scary-sounding asteroid is no longer even a remote threat to smash into Earth in about 20 years, NASA says.

Astronomers got a much better look at the asteroid when it whizzed by Earth on Wednesday from a relative safe 9 million miles away. They recalculated the space rock’s trajectory and determined it wasn’t on a path to hit Earth on April 13, 2036 as once feared possible.

At more than 1,060 feet wide, the rock called Apophis could do significant damage to a local area if it hit and perhaps even cause a tsunami. But it was not large enough to trigger worldwide extinctions. One prominent theory that explains the extinctions of dinosaurs and other species 65 million years ago says a six-mile-wide meteorite hit Earth and spewed vast amounts of dust into the air, cooling and darkening the planet.

About nine years ago, when astronomers first saw Apophis (uh-PAH’-fihs), they thought there was a 2.7 percent chance that it would smack into our planet. Later, they lowered the chances to an even more unlikely 1 in 250,000.

Now it’s never mind.

“Certainly 2036 is ruled out,” said Donald Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program. “It’s why we track them so we can be assured that they won’t get dangerously close.”

Yeomans said now the asteroid, named after an evil Egyptian mythical serpent, won’t get closer than 19,400 miles. That’s still the closest approach asteroid watchers have seen for a rock this large. And when astronomers got a closer look they noticed it was about 180 feet larger than they thought, but not a threat.

Asteroids circle the sun as leftovers of failed attempts to form planets billions of years ago. When asteroids enter Earth’s atmosphere, they become meteors and when they hit the ground they are meteorites.

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This is the second time in as many months the asteroid watchers have had good news for Earth. Last month, astronomers got a closer look at a smaller asteroid that they had previously calculated had a 1 in 500 chance of hitting Earth, this time in 2040. And they decided the 460-foot asteroid was no longer a threat.

If you still want to see a space rock come cosmically close to Earth, there’s always next month.

On Feb. 15, a small asteroid, only 130-feet wide, will come close to Earth, about 17,000 miles above the equator. That’s so close it will come between our planet and some of the more distant satellites that circle the globe. But it will miss Earth.

“This will be the closest passage of an object this size,” Yeomans said.

That asteroid, called 2012 DA14, should be visible with smaller telescopes and binoculars, but mostly in Eastern Europe, Asia and Australia, he said.

NASA’s Near Earth Object ProgramHTTP://NEO.JPL.NASA.GOV/

Jackson Williams.

“Death Star? Are you all HIGH?” — The White House

DeathStar

This Isn’t the Petition Response You’re Looking For: The White House responds to a petition asking for a Death Star…

The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn’t on the horizon. Here are a few reasons:

  • The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We’re working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
  • The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
  • Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?

However, look carefully (here’s how) and you’ll notice something already floating in the sky — that’s no Moon, it’s a Space Station! Yes, we already have a giant, football field-sized International Space Station in orbit around the Earth that’s helping us learn how humans can live and thrive in space for long durations. The Space Station has six astronauts — American, Russian, and Canadian — living in it right now, conducting research, learning how to live and work in space over long periods of time, routinely welcoming visiting spacecraft and repairing onboard garbage mashers, etc. We’ve also got two robot science labs — one wielding a laser — roving around Mars, looking at whether life ever existed on the Red Planet.

Keep in mind, space is no longer just government-only. Private American companies, through NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office (C3PO), are ferrying cargo — and soon, crew — to space for NASA, and are pursuing human missions to the Moon this decade.

Even though the United States doesn’t have anything that can do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, we’ve got two spacecraft leaving the Solar System and we’re building a probe that will fly to the exterior layers of the Sun. We are discovering hundreds of new planets in other star systems and building a much more powerful successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that will see back to the early days of the universe.

We don’t have a Death Star, but we do have floating robot assistants on the Space Station, a President who knows his way around a light saber and advanced (marshmallow) cannon, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is supporting research on building Luke’s arm, floating droids, and quadruped walkers.

We are living in the future! Enjoy it. Or better yet, help build it by pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field. The President has held the first-ever White Housescience fairs and Astronomy Night on the South Lawn because he knows these domains are critical to our country’s future, and to ensuring the United States continues leading the world in doing big things.

If you do pursue a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field, the Force will be with us! Remember, the Death Star’s power to destroy a planet, or even a whole star system, is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

Paul Shawcross is Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget

Jackson Williams.

Watson & The War on Cancer

this articles comes courtesy of Reuters:

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(Reuters) — A day after an exhaustive national report on cancer found the United States is making only slow progress against the disease, one of the country’s most iconic – and iconoclastic – scientists weighed in on “the war against cancer.” And he does not like what he sees.

James Watson, co-discoverer of the double helix structure of DNA, lit into targets large and small. On government officials who oversee cancer research, he wrote in a paper published on Tuesday in the journal Open Biology, “We now have no general of influence, much less power … leading our country’s War on Cancer.”

On the $100 million U.S. project to determine the DNA changes that drive nine forms of cancer: It is “not likely to produce the truly breakthrough drugs that we now so desperately need,” Watson argued. On the idea that antioxidants such as those in colorful berries fight cancer: “The time has come to seriously ask whether antioxidant use much more likely causes than prevents cancer.”

That Watson’s impassioned plea came on the heels of the annual cancer report was coincidental. He worked on the paper for months, and it represents the culmination of decades of thinking about the subject. Watson, 84, taught a course on cancer at Harvard University in 1959, three years before he shared the Nobel Prize in medicine for his role in discovering the double helix, which opened the door to understanding the role of genetics in disease.

Other cancer luminaries gave Watson’s paper mixed reviews.

“There are a lot of interesting ideas in it, some of them sustainable by existing evidence, others that simply conflict with well-documented findings,” said one eminent cancer biologist who asked not to be identified so as not to offend Watson. “As is often the case, he’s stirring the pot, most likely in a very productive way.”

There is wide agreement, however, that current approaches are not yielding the progress they promised. Much of the decline in cancer mortality in the United States, for instance, reflects the fact that fewer people are smoking, not the benefits of clever new therapies.

GENETIC HOPES

“The great hope of the modern targeted approach was that with DNA sequencing we would be able to find what specific genes, when mutated, caused each cancer,” said molecular biologist Mark Ptashne of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. The next step was to design a drug to block the runaway proliferation the mutation caused.

But almost none of the resulting treatments cures cancer. “These new therapies work for just a few months,” Watson told Reuters in a rare interview. “And we have nothing for major cancers such as the lung, colon and breast that have become metastatic.”

The main reason drugs that target genetic glitches are not cures is that cancer cells have a work-around. If one biochemical pathway to growth and proliferation is blocked by a drug such as AstraZeneca’s Iressa or Genentech’s Tarceva for non-small-cell lung cancer, said cancer biologist Robert Weinberg of MIT, the cancer cells activate a different, equally effective pathway.

That is why Watson advocates a different approach: targeting features that all cancer cells, especially those in metastatic cancers, have in common.

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One such commonality is oxygen radicals. Those forms of oxygen rip apart other components of cells, such as DNA. That is why antioxidants, which have become near-ubiquitous additives in grocery foods from snack bars to soda, are thought to be healthful: they mop up damaging oxygen radicals.

That simple picture becomes more complicated, however, once cancer is present. Radiation therapy and many chemotherapies kill cancer cells by generating oxygen radicals, which trigger cell suicide. If a cancer patient is binging on berries and other antioxidants, it can actually keep therapies from working, Watson proposed.

“Everyone thought antioxidants were great,” he said. “But I’m saying they can prevent us from killing cancer cells.”

‘ANTI-ANTIOXIDANTS’

Research backs him up. A number of studies have shown that taking antioxidants such as vitamin E do not reduce the risk of cancer but can actually increase it, and can even shorten life. But drugs that block antioxidants – “anti-antioxidants” – might make even existing cancer drugs more effective.

Anything that keeps cancer cells full of oxygen radicals “is likely an important component of any effective treatment,” said cancer biologist Robert Benezra of Sloan-Kettering.

Watson’s anti-antioxidant stance includes one historical irony. The first high-profile proponent of eating lots of antioxidants (specifically, vitamin C) was biochemist Linus Pauling, who died in 1994 at age 93. Watson and his lab mate, Francis Crick, famously beat Pauling to the discovery of the double helix in 1953.

One elusive but promising target, Watson said, is a protein in cells called Myc. It controls more than 1,000 other molecules inside cells, including many involved in cancer. Studies suggest that turning off Myc causes cancer cells to self-destruct in a process called apoptosis.

“The notion that targeting Myc will cure cancer has been around for a long time,” said cancer biologist Hans-Guido Wendel of Sloan-Kettering. “Blocking production of Myc is an interesting line of investigation. I think there’s promise in that.”

Targeting Myc, however, has been a backwater of drug development. “Personalized medicine” that targets a patient’s specific cancer-causing mutation attracts the lion’s share of research dollars.

“The biggest obstacle” to a true war against cancer, Watson wrote, may be “the inherently conservative nature of today’s cancer research establishments.” As long as that’s so, “curing cancer will always be 10 or 20 years away.”

(Reporting by Sharon Begley; Editing by Jilian Mincer and Peter Cooney)

Jackson Williams.

The Super Comet

from Reuters:

A comet blazing toward Earth could outshine the full moon when it passes by at the end of next year – if it survives its close encounter with the sun.

Super Comet!

The recently discovered object, known as comet ISON, is due to fly within 1.2 million miles (1.9 million km) from the center of the sun on Nov. 28, 2013 said astronomer Donald Yeomans, head of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

As the comet approaches, heat from the sun will vaporize ices in its body, creating what could be a spectacular tail that is visible in Earth’s night sky without telescopes or even binoculars from about October 2013 through January 2014.

If the comet survives, that is.

Comet ISON could break apart as it nears the sun, or it could fail to produce a tail of ice particles visible from Earth.

Celestial visitors like Comet ISON hail from the Oort Cloud, a cluster of frozen rocks and ices that circle the sun about 50,000 times farther away than Earth’s orbit. Every so often, one will be gravitationally bumped out from the cloud and begin a long solo orbit around the sun.

On Sept. 21, two amateur astronomers from Russia spotted what appeared to be a comet in images taken by a 16-inch (0.4-meter) telescope that is part of the worldwide International Scientific Optical Network, or ISON, from which the object draws its name.

“The object was slow and had a unique movement. But we could not be certain that it was a comet because the scale of our images are quite small and the object was very compact,” astronomer Artyom Novichonok, one of the discoverers, wrote in a comets email list hosted by Yahoo.

Novichonok and co-discoverer Vitali Nevski followed up the next night with a bigger telescope at the Maidanak Observatory in Uzbekistan. Other astronomers did likewise, confirming the object, located beyond Jupiter’s orbit in the constellation Cancer, was indeed a comet.

“It’s really rare, exciting,” Novichonok wrote.

Comet ISON’s path is very similar to a comet that passed by Earth in 1680, one which was so bright its tail reportedly could be seen in daylight.

The projected orbit of comet ISON is so similar to the 1680 comet that some scientists are wondering if they are fragments from a common parent body.

“Comet ISONcould be the brightest comet seen in many generations – brighter even than the full moon,” wrote British astronomer David Whitehouse in The Independent.

In 2013, Earth has two shots at a comet show. Comet Pan-STARRS is due to pass by the planet in March, eight months before ISON’s arrival.

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover may be able to provide a preview.

Comet ISON is due to pass by the red planet in September and could be a target for the rover from its vantage point inside Gale Crater.

The last comet to dazzle Earth’s night-time skies was Comet Hale-Bopp, which visited in 1997. Comet 17P/Holmes made a brief appearance in 2007.

(Editing by Kevin Gray and Leslie Gevirtz)

Jackson Williams.