YouTube suspends One America News Network, a Trump favorite, for peddling covid misinformation #SootinClaimon.Com

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YouTube suspends One America News Network, a Trump favorite, for peddling covid misinformation (nationthailand.com)

YouTube suspends One America News Network, a Trump favorite, for peddling covid misinformation

Nov 25. 2020

By The Washington Post · Craig Timberg · NATIONAL, BUSINESS, TECHNOLOGY, POLITICS, MEDIA

YouTube said it suspended right-wing channel One America News for one week, beginning Tuesday, for violating its policy against misinformation related to the covid-19 pandemic and temporarily stripped the channel of its ability to make money from other videos.

The action against OAN, which President Donald Trump’s allies have praised in recent weeks while raging against Fox News for supposed disloyalty during and after this month’s election, was the latest sign that Silicon Valley was prepared to enforce policies against false and misleading information – even against those aligned with the president.

YouTube spokeswoman Ivy Choi said OAN, which has 1.2 million subscribers on the video service and sees some of its posts reach hundreds of thousands of viewers, violated the policy against portraying a covid-19 remedy as a cure for the illness that has killed more than 258,000 Americans and 1.4 million people worldwide.

In addition to losing the ability to post new videos for the coming week, OAN has been suspended from YouTube’s “Partner Program,” which allows monetization of videos through advertisements and can be a significant source of revenue to online operations. The reason, Choi said, was “repeated violations” of YouTube’s policies against covid misinformation.

“After careful review, we removed a video from OAN and issued a strike on the channel for violating our COVID-19 misinformation policy, which prohibits content claiming there’s a guaranteed cure,” Choi said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

OAN did not respond to a request for comment.

Google, which owns YouTube, has joined other leading tech companies this year in enforcing increasingly strict rules against misinformation that may confuse people about the nature, spread and treatments of the novel coronavirus. The companies adopted the policies in February, taking a tougher line than they traditionally had against purely political disinformation, on the argument that medical matters can be more readily backed by scientific authorities.

This has sparked a loud, sustained backlash from Trump and other Republicans who have claimed, without offering systematic evidence, that Silicon Valley is biased against conservative voices.

OAN has in recent weeks broken with mainstream news organizations in presenting Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud as credible, even as such claims have been repeatedly dismissed by elections officials, numerous courts and news reports scrutinizing the available evidence. The top headline on the OAN website Tuesday afternoon read, “Trump Campaign Continues To Fight As More Evidence Of Voter Fraud Emerges,” even as growing numbers of Republicans distanced themselves from such claims and urged Trump to move forward with the transition to President-elect Joe Biden.

Think twice before you sign up for ‘free’ digital service #SootinClaimon.Com

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Think twice before you sign up for ‘free’ digital service (nationthailand.com)

Think twice before you sign up for ‘free’ digital service

Nov 22. 2020

By Korea Herald
Yang Sung-jin

Last week, Google announced it would change its storage policy for Google Photos, which is now being used by more than 1 billion people across the globe. Simply put, it will end its free unlimited photo storage service from June, 2021. To back up more photos, users have to sign up for a paid plan.

I was neither shocked nor disappointed. I had already seen Google and other big tech companies calling it quits on their “innovative” services overnight. They didn’t — and never will — care about whether their fickle decisions could shatter individual users’ cherished memories, now mostly saved in digital formats. What they care about is developing a business model that ensures more profits, which is, to be fair, legitimate and even encouraged in the business sector.

What is regrettable is the way Google has misled unsuspecting users. The US tech giant falsely promoted the idea that its Photos service would replace traditional backup options such as external hard disk drives.

“Free up space on your device,” Google says in its official Photos website. “You can use Google Photos to save space on your phone when you remove photos from your device that are safely backed up.”

Now that Google has announced its decision to get rid of its free, unlimited option, the promotional message should be changed as follows: “You can use Google Photos to save space on your phone when you remove photos from your device that are safely backed up as long as you pay for it every month, and depending on your storage size, you have to pay more.”

Many of my friends have been using Google Photos to free up space on their smartphones while backing up their photos automatically. They might not be so concerned about Google using their photos to refine its face-recognition and machine learning algorithms. Now, they are suddenly required to weigh options for saving their photos and videos, but it seems unlikely that there will be a viable alternative service any time soon.

Earlier, Yahoo!, another US tech firm, introduced a free, unlimited photo storage in connection with Flickr photo service, but later scrapped the free option since it wasn’t sustainable.

For ordinary users, especially those who prefer saving their photos and videos in cloud services, Google’s latest move should be taken as a cautionary reminder that no service is truly free.

Big tech firms offer what they called “free” services in return for collecting and utilizing your personal data for research or advertising purposes. They gather and analyze your every digital move and use such information to sell more ads or products.

More importantly, popular digital services that are now storing an expanding collection of your writings, photos and videos might change their policies or go out of business one day.

Remember Cyworld? Years ago, Cyworld used to be Korea’s biggest social networking service, and a lot of Koreans put their photos on there. It is now out of business and there’s no way to recover those old photos.

In other words, what you post on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram could be gone in the future, since there’s no guarantee that they can safeguard your data against hacking or their own demise.

The implication of Google’s policy change for users is simple: Be prepared. Google said it would allow users to keep their photos uploaded until June of next year free of charge, but it may change its policy again.

Currently, Google allows users to upload as many YouTube videos as they want for free, but if the same logic is applied, Google might require heavy users to pay for their video storage. Who knows?

Worse, Google and other big tech companies make it extremely easy to upload text, photos and videos on their platforms, but do not provide fast, seamless and error-free tools to download them again — in some cases, there is no download tool whatsoever.

Just imagine how long it will take if you want to copy every single post you have uploaded on Facebook over the years, and paste it onto your hard disk drive. Even if it’s technically possible, it is a time-consuming and frustrating task. And Google and big tech firms know that many users, dreadful of the tedious backup process, would opt for a paid plan.

This is a tactic that might be called “bait and charge” — offering sweet free services that encourage users to upload their personal data, only to change the policy into a paid one, fully aware that users find it hard to move their data somewhere else.

My advice: Set up a data backup system before you sign up for a digital service, and take extra caution when the service is described as “free.”

Yang Sung-jin is the multimedia editor of The Korea Herald. — Ed.

Blue Angels jet gets new home at Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum #SootinClaimon.Com

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Blue Angels jet gets new home at Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum (nationthailand.com)

Blue Angels jet gets new home at Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum

Nov 20. 2020Commander Frank Commander Frank “Walleye” Weisser stands near a F/A-18 Hornet jet at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, in Chantilly, Va. Washington Post photo by Matt McClain. 

By The Washington Post
Michael E. Ruane

Old 439 rolled slowly down the runway in the afternoon sun, trailing noise and jet fumes, and still looking sharp in blue and gold after 33 years in the Navy.

The veteran of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, of countless aircraft carrier “traps” and “cat shots” – landings and takeoffs – and once the “boss” jet for the Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration team pulled to a stop outside the Smithsonian museum where it will end its days.

Cmdr. Frank Weisser had flown a few passes in the F/A-18C Hornet in front of the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center on Wednesday, the jet’s engines howling. Then he landed at Dulles International Airport next door.

It was 439’s last flight.

The Navy has turned over the jet to the Smithsonian so it can be displayed with other historical aircraft in the cavernous center in Chantilly, Va. The Udvar-Hazy Center is a branch of the main museum on the National Mall in downtown Washington.

The Blue Angels have replaced the Hornet, a jack-of-all-trades workhorse, with the newer and bigger Super Hornet.

“I have spent hundreds of hours flying 439,” former Blue Angels leader Capt. Eric “Popeye” Doyle said in a statement. “Whether in combat or . . . with the Blue Angels, the Hornet . . . has brought me and many of my friends home safely for decades.”

Commander Frank "Walleye" Weisser stands near a F/A-18 Hornet jet at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, in Chantilly, Va. Washington Post photo by Matt McClain.

Commander Frank “Walleye” Weisser stands near a F/A-18 Hornet jet at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, in Chantilly, Va. Washington Post photo by Matt McClain.

Christopher Browne, deputy director of the Air and Space Museum, said the Hornet was an ideal addition.

“Part of our mission is to grow the national collection of the most iconic aerospace artifacts this nation has ever had,” Browne said. “The F-18 that the Blue Angels have used clearly falls within that category.

“Not only did it have a wartime record in Desert Storm 30 years ago, but . . . it is also an aircraft that most of America sees and understands. To be able to get an aircraft with this kind of record, this kind of provenance . . . [is] one of the most popular acquisitions we will have made in many years.”

The jet – technically Navy Bureau No. 163439 – taxied to the museum down a narrow runway from the airport about 3 p.m. Weisser had flown it in from headquarters in Pensacola, Fla.

“I’ve been privileged to fly this airplane in air shows all over the country,” he said after he climbed out of the cockpit. He said Blue Angels pilots often get to fly the same jet over and over, which is “pretty rare in naval aviation.”

“So you do have an affinity for these airplanes,” Weisser said. “The one that I flew more than the rest, I feel like I love just shy behind my family.”

Before donning the colors of the Blue Angels, the aircraft had variously carried the insignia of eight different squadrons, including the red-eyed ram of the VFA-83 Rampagers, the coiled snake of VFA-86 Sidewinders and the white raptor of the VFA-136 Knighthawks.

It flew with the Sidewinders during the Gulf War and then with the Rampagers enforcing the no-fly zone over southern Iraq in 1994, according to the Smithsonian.

The Hornet, with its distinctive V-shape tail section, has been used by the Blue Angels twice as long as any other aircraft type, serving for 34 of the team’s 74 years, the Smithsonian said.

The organization was founded in 1946. Its name was plucked from a column in the New Yorker magazine that mentioned the Blue Angel nightclub in Manhattan, the team says on its website. The pilots loved it, and it stuck.

The Smithsonian’s jet is among the first C models built. It was handed over to the Navy in 1987. The Smithsonian will now own it, spokeswoman Alison Mitchell said.

It came to the Blue Angels in 2015. The jet had been active with the team until the end of the 2020 season, when the Hornet was replaced by the Super Hornet.

The team’s breathtaking air show maneuvers are not without danger. In 2016, another F/A-18C crashed and its pilot, Marine Capt. Jeffrey Kuss, 32, was killed during a practice session in Tennessee.

He tried to eject when he lost control of the jet but did so too late, Navy investigators have reportedly said.

Under normal conditions, the Hornet is extremely versatile and easy to maintain, said Laurence Burke, curator of U.S. naval aviation at the National Air and Space Museum.

“There’s a brief period (in the 1980s and ’90s) . . . where the air wing on a carrier is almost entirely Hornets,” Burke said. In addition to its flexibility, one of the big things was its reliability. It was designed to be as reliable as possible with maintenance in mind, to be easier to work on.

“I’ve heard . . . how amazing it was on a carrier when the first Hornets began arriving, and they needed so much less maintenance . . . than the F-14,” he said. “The Hornet is a real game changer.

“It was hoped at the beginning of naval aviation that there would be one airplane that would be able to do everything. The Hornet is the closest the Navy has gotten to that ideal.”

A F/A-18 Hornet jet used by the United States Navy Blue Angels flies near the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, in Chantilly, Va. Washington Post photo by Matt McClain.

A F/A-18 Hornet jet used by the United States Navy Blue Angels flies near the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, in Chantilly, Va. Washington Post photo by Matt McClain.

Astronauts on space station discuss SpaceX’s rocket, sleeping quarters, Baby Yoda #SootinClaimon.Com

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Astronauts on space station discuss SpaceX’s rocket, sleeping quarters, Baby Yoda (nationthailand.com)

Astronauts on space station discuss SpaceX’s rocket, sleeping quarters, Baby Yoda

Nov 20. 2020The SpaceX Crew-1 is Shannon Walker, left, Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins and Soichi Noguchi. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jonathan NewtonThe SpaceX Crew-1 is Shannon Walker, left, Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins and Soichi Noguchi. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jonathan Newton 

By The Washington Post · Christian Davenport · NATIONAL, SCIENCE-ENVIRONMENT

He had flown on the Space Shuttle and the Russian Soyuz. And now after flying the SpaceX Dragon capsule, Soichi Noguchi is the third person, after John Young and Wally Schirra, to travel to orbit in three vehicles.

Asked Thursday how the three compared, Noguchi did not hesitate. “For the record, Dragon is the best,” the Japanese astronaut said. “Short answer.”

During their first news conference since arriving at the International Space Station on Monday night, the astronauts who blasted off Sunday evening said their escape from Earth’s gravity was a thrilling ride atop a spacecraft that on the ground appeared restless, grunting and vibrating before being unleashed into the skies, a fury of nine engines churning through thousands of gallons of propellant.

“You can just tell it wants to get off the ground,” mission commander Mike Hopkins said. “It’s definitely ready to go, and it just leaped off the pad. It was amazing.”

The mission followed a test flight in May that ended NASA’s absence from human spaceflight since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011. With that successful mission, which sent NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the station for two months, NASA then proceeded with the Crew-1 flight, making the Dragon capsule the first privately owned and operated spacecraft to be certified by NASA for human spaceflight.

The craft carrying a crew of four – NASA astronauts Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Victor Glover, as well as Noguchi – lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sunday evening and arrived at the station about 27 hours later. The crew is scheduled to spend six months on the orbiting laboratory conducting science experiments, including one, proposed by Michigan high school students, that will examine how spaceflight affects brain function.

On Monday, the Dragon docked autonomously with the station while it orbited Earth at 17,500 mph. The astronauts sat by, monitoring the spacecraft but staying off the controls.

Glover, a Navy fighter pilot with more than 3,000 flight hours in more than 40 aircraft, including 24 combat missions, said being hands-off “wasn’t an issue.”

“The rocket, the Falcon 9, performed superbly, the way it was supposed to,” he said. “Dragon performed superb.”

The crew joined NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, who arrived at the station last month. Now with seven occupants the football field-sized station is a bit cozy – but not, Rubins said, crowded.

“This is busy in a great way,” she said. “There’s energy up here. We’ve got people zooming by.”

Seven people are aboard the station that has six sleeping quarters, so Hopkins is bunking down in the Dragon capsule, making it one of the most expensive space bedrooms ever.

As commander of the mission, he said, “it just felt right that that’s where I was supposed to go. We talked about it as a crew a little bit. And everybody would be willing to sleep wherever. You’re in space, and so you’re not going to complain. . . . Overall, I think it’s going to work. It’s a roomy vehicle.”

He said he was being careful, though, to make sure that he did not do anything to damage the vehicle as he floats in and out. “It’s what’s going to get us home, and so I want to make sure I don’t do anything to compromise that while I’m sleeping in there.”

Following spaceflight tradition, the crew brought up a “zero-G indicator,” something that would float to let the astronauts know that they had escaped gravity. On this flight, it was a Baby Yoda doll, chosen in an attempt to provide a bit of levity during a tumultuous year, rocked by a pandemic, civil unrest and a polarizing election.

“When you see him,” Hopkins said of the “Mandalorian” character bobbing about in space, “it’s hard not to smile.”

The election was a chance for Facebook and Twitter to show they could control misinformation. Now lawmakers are grilling them on it. #SootinClaimon.Com

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The election was a chance for Facebook and Twitter to show they could control misinformation. Now lawmakers are grilling them on it.

Nov 18. 2020

By The Washington Post · Cat Zakrzewski, Rachel Lerman · NATIONAL, BUSINESS, TECHNOLOGY, POLITICS, CONGRESS, WHITEHOUSE, US-GLOBAL-MARKETS

WASHINGTON – Twitter and Facebook executives fielded familiar questions from lawmakers on Tuesday about their moderation and labeling practices, but they barely scratched the surface on the efficacy of their efforts during the 2020 election.

Both social media companies took unprecedented steps to limit the spread of election misinformation both before and in the weeks following the election. Eventually lawmakers asked about those interventions, but not before focusing on individual lawmaker’s pet issues with the executives, including unsubstantiated claims of bias against conservatives and concerns the companies have become too dominant in the market.

Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg had last been before a Senate committee just three weeks ago, when they appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee to answer questions about their companies’ content moderation practices.

Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday were quick to condemn the sites for labeling President Donald Trump’s false claims that he won the election, and said it was time to rein in their power.

“You have used this power to run amok, you have used this power to silence conservatives,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.

But Democrats also asked questions about the sites’ use of labels to warn users that a post might be disputed or inaccurate.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked if Twitter’s labels on Trump’s posts that noted official sources might have called the election differently were effective enough. Dorsey said they were sufficient, along with the link Twitter provided for users to get more information.

“I do believe that connecting people to the larger conversation, to give them more context, is the right avenue,” Dorsey said.

The hearing highlighted the partisan divisions over Silicon Valley’s recent crackdown on misinformation that have been evident throughout the election campaign, with Republicans accusing the companies of going too far in labeling or otherwise limiting the spread of falsehoods, and Democrats demanding they do more, especially as Trump and his allies continue to use Twitter and Facebook to spread claims of election fraud without evidence.

The most noticeable change in the hearing wasn’t about content, but appearances. Dorsey, for example, had trimmed his widely-discussed beard since his last testimony and appeared to be testifying from a kitchen in front of stacks of dishes on open shelves.

Tuesday’s showdown also was more disorganized and lacking in a clear focus than previous tech hearings. Senators from both parties frequently exceeded the seven-minute time limit they’d been given for questioning, and they jumped from election misinformation to antitrust to tech addiction.

The hearing crystallized long-running criticisms that Washington lawmakers are ill-equipped to take on large tech companies. Lawmakers circled around important issues about how the tech companies handled misinformation during the election. But they repeatedly failed to gain new information about whether the many new interventions tech companies applied during the 2020 election had been effective in stopping the spread of falsehoods and other inflammatory content.

Lawmakers from both parties gave blistering assessments of the companies and said greater regulation of Silicon Valley was needed, signaling that could be a greater priority in the next Congress.”The bottom line is we want to make these platforms better,” Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said. “We want to continue to grow this part of our society responsibly, and right now without regulation or lawsuit, it’s becoming the Wild Wild West.”

But the lawmakers’ competing assessments of the tech companies’ moderation efforts during the just-ended campaign reflected the country’s political polarization that makes it unclear how Congress might overcome its differences to pass meaningful regulation of the tech companies.

“I think there’s one certainty here and that’s that Mr. Dorsey and Mr. Zuckerberg will be back in the next Congress,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. He also called for the executives of Facebook and Amazon to testify as well. (Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post).

Graham kicked off the hearing by calling for changes to Section 230, the law that protects Internet companies from much liability for what their users post online and that faces bipartisan criticism. Graham and Blumenthal have introduced bipartisan legislation to revise Section 230, called the EARN IT Act.

“When you have companies that have the power of governments, have far more power than traditional media outlets, something has to give,” Graham said.

Dorsey said that the company had overhauled its policies in light of the backlash that greeted its decision to block the sharing of New York Post articles involving alleged emails about Hunter Biden that were reportedly found on an abandoned laptop. Dorsey admitted the company had made a mistake when it assumed the articles violated its policies on hacked materials, and he noted that the company had admitted the error within 24 hours, notified the New York Post and changed the policy.

“I hope this illustrates the rationale behind our actions, and demonstrates our ability to take feedback amid the stakes and make changes all transparently to the public,” Dorsey said.

Dorsey called on lawmakers to work with tech companies to build on Section 230, and warned against changes that could limit competition. Dorsey reiterated the company’s commitment to addressing attempts to undermine voting. He pointed out that Twitter labeled about 300,000 tweets in the lead-up to the election and the week following on content that was potentially misleading.

Zuckerberg focused on Facebook’s efforts to combat misinformation and voter suppression. Zuckerberg said the company removed false claims about polling conditions in coordination with local law enforcement and partnered with third-party fact-checkers to suss out misinformation. He also acknowledged that the company’s work on election interference is not done.

“We try to do what’s best for our community and the world, acknowledging that there are difficult trade-offs,” Zuckerberg said. “I believe that some of these trade-offs would be better made through a democratic process.”

In one of the most substantive exchanges of the hearing, Zuckerberg recommended that any new regulations should require companies to issue transparency reports about the results and efficacy of their content moderation systems.

“That way, the people who are responsible for holding all of us accountable – whether it’s journalists, Congress, academics – could have an apples to apples comparison of how all the other companies are doing, and potentially as part of a law, require companies maintain a certain level of effectiveness,” Zuckerberg said.

Social media companies already make transparency reports available, but they often categorize or report their takedowns differently, making it difficult to compare from business to business.

Tech chief executives have become a common fixture on Capitol Hill as the political backlash against social media companies has swelled in recent years. Zuckerberg avoided testifying in front of Congress at all for the first 14 years of Facebook’s existence, but this will be his third virtual appearance since July.

Dorsey has been a far less frequent witness, but his company faces greater ire from Republicans. The company has taken aggressive steps in recent weeks to limit posts from Trump that make false or unsubstantiated claims about the election.

Twitter has said its labeling accounted for about 0.2 percent of all election-related content. But researchers say there still is not enough data available to determine how effective the interventions were.

Tuesday’s hearing was scheduled last month after Republicans on the committee voted to subpoena Dorsey and Zuckerberg in response to the steps they took to limit the spread of the New York Post articles, though they ultimately agreed to appear in front of the panel voluntarily.

Graham said in a statement that the hearing would focus on the “censorship and suppression” of the articles and that it would also provide lawmakers “a valuable opportunity to review the companies’ handling of the 2020 election.”

Democrats focused on Trump’s use of social media to spread baseless claims about mail-in ballots and voting machines. Blumenthal accused the companies of giving the president a megaphone to spread falsehoods “in an apparent attempt to overturn the will of the voters.” He said the companies’ efforts are only “baby steps” and called on them to take greater responsibility for their services.

Blumenthal noted that no executive from Google, which owns YouTube, was called to testify at today’s hearing. He criticized Google for being less aggressive about misinformation than Facebook and Twitter. He also said he hopes that the committee could have a series of hearings on tech issues in the future, addressing issues including antitrust and Section 230.

Blumenthal also called the Republicans’ focus on censorship a “political sideshow.”

“This hearing is a betrayal of the real victims of the real harms caused by Big Tech,” he told Dorsey and Zuckerberg. “You have repeatedly and catastrophically failed the American public.”

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., turned the hearing back to the election, asking both CEOs if they had conducted a post-mortem of their response to misinformation. Dorsey and Zuckerberg both said they have a plan to do so and that they will allow some academics to have access to their companies’ information to do independent analyses.

“We have taken action on tweets from leaders all around the world, including the president,” Dorsey said in response to Republican questioning about fact-check labels.

The Biden campaign has had a publicly contentious relationship with Facebook and repeatedly accused the company of not going far enough to prevent the spread of election-related misinformation. Democrats are also pushing for more-aggressive antitrust enforcement against the tech industry, and the Federal Trade Commission is expected to file an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook as early as this month.

The repeated hearings have given lawmakers a platform to air their grievances with Silicon Valley, but so far no meaningful regulation has resulted from them.

A top NASA official asked Boeing if it would protest a major contract it lost. Boeing then tried to profit from the inside information. #SootinClaimon.Com

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A top NASA official asked Boeing if it would protest a major contract it lost. Boeing then tried to profit from the inside information.

Nov 18. 2020Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing's space and launch division. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jonathan Newton.Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing’s space and launch division. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jonathan Newton. 

By The Washington Post · Christian Davenport · BUSINESS, TECHNOLOGY, COURTSLAW, US-GLOBAL-MARKETS

WASHINGTON – Boeing’s bid to build a spacecraft capable of flying NASA astronauts to the moon didn’t meet NASA’s requirements, and the company was going to lose out on a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

But NASA was worried that the corporate giant would protest the contract award, potentially holding it up for months at a time when the space agency was trying to meet a White House mandate to get astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024.

So in February, Doug Loverro, then the head of NASA’s human exploration directorate, called Jim Chilton, the senior vice president of Boeing’s space and launch division, to explain that the company was going to lose the contract and to inquire whether it would file a challenge, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.

That call, which occurred during a period when the agency was to have no contact with any of the bidders, is now the subject of investigations by the NASA inspector general and the Justice Department into the integrity of the procurement, according to multiple people. It also led NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine to force Loverro to abruptly resign in May.

Boeing did not protest the award of the lunar lander contract – which was awarded on April 30 to three bidders for a total of nearly $1 billion: a team led by Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin; the defense contractor Dynetics, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

But it did something that NASA officials found just as alarming: After Loverro told Chilton that Boeing would not win the award, the company attempted to revise and resubmit its bid. That last-ditch effort to win one of the contracts was so unusual given that the time for bids had passed that members of the NASA committee considering the award feared it may amount to a violation of procurement regulations. They alerted the agency’s inspector general, who in turn referred the matter to the Justice Department. The U.S. attorney’s office in the District of Columbia has impaneled a grand jury and is investigating, officials said.

The Post previously reported that Boeing tried to revise its bid after the call between Loverro and Chilton, but this is the first time the substance of their conversation has been reported.

It’s unclear who else at NASA knew about the conversation between Loverro and Chilton, or if anyone directed Loverro to ask Boeing about whether it would protest.

In his resignation letter, Loverro wrote that he took “a risk earlier in the year because I judged it necessary to fulfill our mission. Now, over the balance of time, it is clear that I made a mistake in that choice for which I alone must bear the consequences.”

In an interview in spring, Loverro said he was trying to speed up NASA’s lunar program, known as Artemis, as many were already doubting whether NASA could meet the White House’s new 2024 deadline. “It had to do with moving fast on Artemis, and I don’t want to characterize it in any more detail than that,” he said. Loverro was an adviser to the procurement selection committee, but didn’t have final say into the awards.

Loverro would not comment on the record for this story. Boeing declined to comment.

NASA referred to a previous statement that said the procurement for the lunar spacecraft, known as the Human Landing System (HLS), was handled properly and is proceeding with the program. “The agency is confident in the integrity of the HLS procurement,” it has said. “Mr. Loverro was not the selection official, and his resignation has no impact on the performance of these HLS contracts.”

Typically, violations of the Procurement Integrity Act are situations where contractors receive inside information they use to their benefit to win a contract. In this case, Boeing still didn’t win the contract – its revised bid arrived well after the submission deadline – but “there are rules and processes that shouldn’t be taken lightly,” said Scott Amey, the general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group.

“Boeing should have known better,” he said. “If they tried to use that info to revise their bid, they could equally be on the hook for a Procurement Integrity Act violation because they were trying to use it for their benefit.”

POGO has catalogued 80 instances of Boeing misconduct since 1995, resulting in nearly $1.5 billion in fines. The highest profile case involved Air Force contracting officer Darleen Druyun, who steered contracts to Boeing and received a lucrative job at the company, as did her daughter and son-in-law. She was sentenced to nine months in prison. Michael Sears, then Boeing’s chief financial officer, received a four-month prison sentence after admitting he gave her the job in exchange for inside information.

The loss of the lunar lander contract was another embarrassment for Boeing, which has been a NASA partner since the dawn of the Space Age. The company was once so trusted that NASA initially gave Boeing only a limited review of its safety culture while forcing its rival SpaceX to go through a comprehensive audit after Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, took a hit of marijuana on a podcast broadcast on the Internet.

But then at the end of last year, Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft suffered multiple software problems during a test flight without astronauts on board that forced the company to redo the mission. It also has been reeling since the fatal crashes of two 737 Max airplanes that killed a total of 346 people.

Its stumble on the lunar lander contract opened the door for other companies. A team led by Blue Origin, including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper, won an initial contract worth $579 million. Dynetics, which teamed up with the Sierra Nevada Corp., received $253 million, and SpaceX won $135 million.

In addition to Boeing, another company, Vivace Corp. of San Antonio, was eliminated early in the source selection process, according to NASA’s source selection document. But it doesn’t say why the companies’ bids were rejected. Vivace did not respond to requests for comment.

Last month the agency said that all three winning companies completed a key milestone that establishes the designs, schedules and plans to have their vehicles certified by NASA for human spaceflight.

The agency has said it plans to select two of the vehicles in the coming months to continue development.

Hurricane Iota, most powerful storm of 2020, aims for Nicaragua at Category 5 intensity #SootinClaimon.Com

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Hurricane Iota, most powerful storm of 2020, aims for Nicaragua at Category 5 intensity

Nov 16. 2020

Hurricane Iota

Hurricane Iota

By The Washington Post · Matthew Cappucci, Anna-Cat Brigida, Jason Samenow · WORLD, THE-AMERICAS
MANAGUA – The Nicaraguan coast prepared for Hurricane Iota Monday as it approaches as a “potentially catastrophic” Category 5 hurricane that will make landfall Monday night or Tuesday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Iota is expected to be even more devastating than Hurricane Eta, which ravaged Central America less than two weeks ago. It is the latest Category 5 hurricane to occur in the Atlantic on record, and the strongest storm to occur so late in the Atlantic Hurricane season.

“I’m really sad, to be honest, because it’s not fair that after we experienced one storm, once again another threat arrives for our people,” said Presly Coleman Alejandro, an activist with the Youth Indigenous Movement of La Moskitia, in an interview. “I don’t know what we’ve done to deserve this treatment.”

Nicaraguan authorities evacuated an estimated 30,000 people during Eta, which made landfall in Puerto Cabezas on the northern Nicaraguan coast on Nov. 4. Coleman Alejandro estimates less than half were able to return to their communities to check on their homes, crops and livestock, before having to prepare for this next hurricane.

Many never returned to their homes before the government issued a new hurricane alert to evacuate communities. They are staying in churches, schools and universities trying to wait out the storm. Coleman Alejandro said the shelters are not well coordinated, and lack some basic supplies, like mattresses and cooking utensils.

Hurricane Iota intensified at an extreme rate Sunday night into Monday morning.

Near the coastline, “extreme” winds and a “life-threatening” storm surge of 12 to 18 feet are expected where Iota’s eye makes landfall, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, while “potentially catastrophic” impacts are expected inland across a wide swath of Central America due to rainfall measured in feet causing widespread flooding and mudslides.

Iota is likely to make landfall very near or in the same location as Eta did, its predecessor moving ashore with 140 mph winds and ravaging the community of Puerto Cabezas in northern Nicaragua. There’s a chance Iota could equal or exceed that force as it makes landfall overnight Monday into Tuesday.

Hurricane warnings are up for the eastern coast of Nicaragua, eastern Honduras, and Providencia Island, where Iota’s worst impacts are likely. Tropical storm warnings flank the hurricane warning, covering areas along Nicaragua’s north central coast and the southern coast of Honduras. San Andres Island is also under a hurricane watch.

Iota is the 13th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, setting an all-time record. It’s the first time on record that the Atlantic has had two major hurricanes in November. It’s also the 10th named storm of season to rapidly intensify, a feat that atmospheric scientists link to warmer sea surface temperatures.

At 10 a.m., Hurricane Iota was centered 100 miles east of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua. The storm’s southern eyewall had just clipped San Andres island as the beastly storm churned west at 9 mph. Maximum winds, tightly coiled about the center, stood at 160 mph.

Iota surpasses Laura, which struck southwest Louisiana in late August, and Eta, which made landfall in Nicaragua 12 days ago, as the strongest hurricane of the 2020 season. Activity this strong so late in the season is virtually unheard of.

A marked increase in water temperatures off the coast of Nicaragua has been noted in recent years. 

Iota became a hurricane at 1 a.m. on Sunday, and had lurched to Category 4 strength just over 24 hours later. It has been rapidly intensifying nonstop since its early stages as a tropical storm, a rate of intensification that would be extreme even during the height of the hurricane season.

Hurricane Iota will make landfall in Central America late Monday night, likely near or directly over the town of Puerto Cabezas. The official Hurricane Center forecast calls for a landfall just 14 miles north of Eta’s.

Winds of 140 to 150 mph are expected at the time of landfall, along with a 12 to 18 foot storm surge, the height that ocean waters could reach above ordinarily dry ground.

The overall environment favors maintenance or even subtle strengthening of Iota before landfall. The only possible avenue for weakening would be if the system internally experiences an “eyewall replacement cycle,” which would briefly weaken winds by perhaps fifteen percent.

In preparation for the storm’s arrival, residents boarded up the windows of the houses still left standing. Local fishermen’s boats were once again brought to shore. The communities affected are mainly Afro-Nicaraguan and from the Miskito Indigenous community. Many communities have been without electricity since Hurricane Eta, which tore down wood-paneled homes and toppled palm trees. They are also without clean water after the storm contaminated their water sources.

Aid has been arriving throughout the week, according to Coleman Alejandro, but it’s still not enough. On Sunday, the Nicaraguan government, with the support of the Nicaraguan Red Cross, sent an aid caravan with food and hygiene kits to communities in the northern Caribbean coast affected by Hurricane Eta, according to a statement from the National System for the Prevention, Mitigation and Attention of Disasters (SINAPRED).

The brigade included 39 volunteers.

“Our colleagues are going to try to arrive as quickly as possible, considering the other event that is approaching us, in order to be there before any circumstance,” said Sinapred Director Guillermo González.

“The population experiences stress at a time of crisis, especially children, women and elderly people,” he said. In a statement, president of the Nicaraguan Red Cross Oscar Gutiérrez, said getting clean water was the first priority. The second was psychological and social support for “people and kids who lost everything.”

An estimated 80,000 Nicaraguans could be affected by Hurricane Iota, according to the Nicaraguan government.

Across Central America, more than 3 million people were affected by Hurricane Eta, with the most damage in Honduras where extreme flooding affected more than 2 million people, according to the International Red Cross.

At least 250 people died across the region after flooding reached to the roofs and landslides buried homes with residents inside. The World Food Program estimates millions in Central America need food assistance after Hurricane Eta in a region already suffering from the impacts of climate change.

“Eta arrived at the worst moment, making life more difficult for millions of people who have been affected for years by erratic climate and recently by the socioeconomic crisis caused by COVID-19,” said Miguel Barreto, World Food Program Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, in a statement on Friday, Nov. 13. “It also worries us that rain and flooding could destroy the next harvest, which subsistence farmers depend on.”

Hurricane Iota is the latest storm on record to attain Category 5 strength. It also ranks the second strongest November hurricane on record.Iota’s peak winds leaped 40 mph in six hours Sunday night, quadrupling the criteria for hurricane rapid intensification, which is a 35 mph increase in 24 hours.

Its sudden strengthening was also reflected by a sudden drop in pressure, toppling 61 millibars in 24 hours, the fourth fastest rate on record, only trailing hurricanes Gilbert (1988), Rita (2005), and Wilma (2005).

This kind of rapid intensification is becoming more likely due to warming ocean waters from human-caused climate change. The water temperatures east of Nicaragua, where Iota has explosively strengthened, have warmed markedly in recent decades during November and December. Iota’s intensity and rapid strengthening have helped make the 2020 season even more exceptional compared to past seasons:

– This is the first hurricane season on record featuring two major (Category 3 or higher) hurricanes on record, following Eta earlier this month.

– Iota is the 6th major hurricane of the 2020 season, tying six other seasons for the second most in a year

The latter half of the hurricane season has been particularly remarkable, as four of the last the six named storms to form, all named after Greek letter, have become major hurricanes. Storms named using the Greek alphabet have produced the equivalent energy of an average entire hurricane season. This year marks the fifth straight with a Category 5 forming in the tropical Atlantic, the longest stretch on record. Iota is the 7th Category 5 storm during that span.

SpaceX speeding astronauts to space station in milestone flight #SootinClaimon.Com

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SpaceX speeding astronauts to space station in milestone flight

Nov 16. 2020SpaceX launched its first crewed capsule to the International Space Station at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on May 30, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jonathan NewtonSpaceX launched its first crewed capsule to the International Space Station at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on May 30, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jonathan Newton 

By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Justin Bachman · NATIONAL, SCIENCE-ENVIRONMENT

Four astronauts are cruising to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX capsule in the company’s first regular NASA mission to the International Space Station.

The Dragon capsule is scheduled to arrive at the orbiting lab at about 11 p.m. Eastern time on Monday, more than 27 hours after blasting off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The first stage of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket successfully landed on a drone ship about nine minutes after lift off.

The Crew-1 mission marks a crucial milestone in the development of a space industry in which private-sector companies provide business and tourism services in low-earth orbit. Following the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, NASA awarded Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Boeing Co. nearly $7 billion in contracts to build new transport systems to the space station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew program.

“A great launch!” said President Donald Trump in a tweet. President-elect Joe Biden called it “a testament to the power of science and what we can accomplish by harnessing our innovation, ingenuity, and determination.”

SpaceX’s first operational trip to the orbital lab followed a test flight with a two-person crew that returned to the planet three months ago. The latest launch occurred 18 years after Musk founded Space Exploration Technologies Corp. with the ultimate goal of populating other planets.

The Crew-1 mission launched two days after officials at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration determined that Musk, who may be infected with coronavirus, had no physical interactions with key personnel.

Musk tweeted Sunday morning that he had “no symptoms right now,” after saying a day earlier that he “most likely” has a moderate case of Covid-19. He said late Thursday that he’d tested positive and also negative for Covid-19 in four tests, and was experiencing mild cold symptoms.

SpaceX sent its president, Gwynne Shotwell, to Florida to observe the launch. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence also attended.

Beyond becoming the U.S. space agency’s first regular commercial launch, the Crew-1 mission is also the first human orbital flight licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration. The regulator is assuming responsibility for public safety because the flight will be conducted by a commercial company.

The Crew-1 astronauts are set for a six-month sojourn aboard the space station, where they’ll join two Russians and an American. The Dragon’s crew is comprised of three astronauts from the U.S. and one from Japan:

– Commander Michael Hopkins, 51, a U.S. Air Force colonel and test pilot, is making his second trip to the space station, seven years after his first. He’s joined by three others on the mission:

– Shannon Walker, 55, a physicist and Houston native, is serving her second stint on the orbiting lab.

– Victor Glover, 44, a Navy pilot from California, is taking his first flight to space. He’ll be the first Black astronaut to stay on the space station for a full six-month rotation, according to NASA.

– Soichi Noguchi, 55, a Japanese astronaut and aeronautical engineer, has the most space experience among the crew. With Sunday’s flight, he has left the Earth on three vehicles: Russia’s Soyuz, the Space Shuttle, and the SpaceX Dragon.

Hurricanes are becoming turbocharged-and harder to predict #SootinClaimon.Com

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Hurricanes are becoming turbocharged-and harder to predict

Nov 15. 2020Waves move towards the shore ahead of Hurricane Laura in Sabine, Texas, on Aug. 26, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Luke Sharrett.
Waves move towards the shore ahead of Hurricane Laura in Sabine, Texas, on Aug. 26, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Luke Sharrett. 

By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Brian K Sullivan · NATIONAL, SCIENCE-ENVIRONMENT 
When Hurricane Laura battered Louisiana in August, becoming the most powerful storm to ever make landfall in the U.S., forecasters were confounded by its behavior.

Not only did it fail lose power as hurricanes often do when they approach land, it appeared to be doing the exact opposite, exploding from a Category 1 to a Category 4 storm in less than 24 hours. By the time it made landfall, Laura’s winds were clocking 150 miles per hour. Projected storm surge jumped from 11 feet to 20 feet, and Louisianans intent on riding out a weaker storm were forced to make an 11th-hour decision to evacuate.

Laura’s behavior, known as rapid intensification, was likely exacerbated by climate change, according to some scientists, with warmer ocean waters causing storms to become super-charged. Meteorologists can’t yet predict which hurricanes will become overnight monsters, but as the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic Coast continue to warm, residents there will likely face more volatility, which means greater danger.

“It can create big problems for preparations,” said Chris Davis, a hurricane scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “People might decide not to evacuate for a Cat 1 and by the time it is clear that the storm will be more intense, it is too late to change plans.”

The National Hurricane Center defines rapid intensification as an increase in storm winds by about 35 miles per hour in 24 hours, said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the agency. In 2020, nine storms have rapidly intensified ahead of U.S. landfall: Hanna, Laura, Sally, Teddy, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, Zeta, and Eta. Two of the most devastating storms to slam American shores in recent years – Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and Hurricane Michael in 2018 – both gained strength as they approached land.

“Rapid intensification is nature’s turbo-boost button for hurricanes and can produce a hurricane on steroids within a matter of hours,” said Andreas Muehlbauer, an atmospheric scientist at commercial insurer FM Global.

It’s not a new phenomenon, but it may become more frequent if the world keeps warming. In simulations, storms gaining 69 mph in the day before landfall used to happen only once every 100 years, according to a 2017 paper by Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

But in simulations using a warmer, late-21st century climate, these monster storms can occur every five to 10 years. As the climate continues to warm, the likelihood of more storms undergoing an explosion of power will rise, Emanuel wrote.

Explaining how and why that happens could save lives. About 56% of all U.S. storm-related fatalities since 1900 have come from just three storms, according to Emanuel. Hurricanes that quickly gain power are more likely to catch people unawares, with catastrophic consequences.

In September 2015, the crew of a cargo ship called El Faro set out to sea near Bermuda, believing that it could slip around a weak tropical storm. But within 24 hours the tropical storm had turned into a Category 4 monster with winds of 155 miles per hour. The ship sank, killing its crew of 33.

The process is probably being fueled by warmer Atlantic waters, said Dan Kottlowski, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. Some point to the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation – a theory that the ocean undergoes decade-long sweeps between being warmer and cooler – as one cause for rising sea temperatures, but Kottlowski is convinced climate change has a role.

The exact causes of intensification are difficult to root out without more information about what’s happening inside a storm between the ocean and the clouds. The problem is that, once a storm starts to strengthen, that layer becomes one of the most dangerous places on Earth. High waves and thrashing winds all make it difficult for meteorologists to get airplanes and equipment into the area to find out what’s going on. Without those measurements, “all these models we use to predict intensity have limitations,” Davis said.

Jeff Masters, a meteorologist with Yale Climate Connections, has seen firsthand how difficult – and dangerous – this is. In 1989, as onboard meteorologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Hurricane Hunters, Masters was part of a crew taking measurements of Hurricane Hugo from the air.

“We flew into Hugo expecting a Cat 3 with 120-225 mph winds, and Hugo turned out to be a Cat 5 with 160 mph winds,” he said.

Hugo’s turbulence sent equipment flying through the plane and damaged the P-3 Orion’s engines, causing one of them to catch fire, according to an account Masters published on the WeatherUnderground website. The crew saved the plane and the crew and the mission has become a legend among meteorologists and hurricane hunters.

Climate change plays another role in increasing risks associated with storms: Rising sea levels mean that more people are at risk of dangerous storm surge. While a foot or two of sea level rise “doesn’t sound overly dramatic, it is changing the baseline,” Davis said.

Forecasters such as Kottlowski, who prepare outlooks for businesses and the public, say the situation is fraught with peril. He has already begun to look at what 2021 may bring.

“My worry is that we will still have a lot of warm water,” Kottlowski said. “My biggest concern is because it is climate change, it is possible the oceans may stay warm for an indefinite period.”

NASA moves SpaceX launch to Sunday because of poor weather offshore #SootinClaimon.Com

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NASA moves SpaceX launch to Sunday because of poor weather offshore

Nov 14. 2020SpaceX launched its first crewed capsule to the International Space Station at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on May 30, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jonathan NewtonSpaceX launched its first crewed capsule to the International Space Station at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on May 30, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jonathan Newton 

By The Washington Post · Christian Davenport · NATIONAL, BUSINESS, HEALTH, SCIENCE-ENVIRONMENT, HEALTH-NEWS

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – In May, SpaceX launched a pair of NASA astronauts into space in a kick-the-tires test flight designed to wring out any problems with its Crew Dragon spacecraft and the rocket that would propel it to space on a two-month mission to the International Space Station.

Now that NASA has deemed that mission a success, from launch to docking to splashdown, SpaceX is moving ahead with what it hopes will be regular flights to the space station carrying full contingents of astronauts for extended stays. The first of those “operational” flights, as NASA calls them, is scheduled for this weekend, with four space travelers – three from the United States and one from Japan – aboard. But there is nothing routine about it.

That was made clear Friday, when the mission’s planned Saturday launch was thrown into doubt after Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, tweeted that he had twice tested positive for the coronavirus, but also had tested negative the same day. He said he had been feeling unwell the past few days: “Mild sniffles & cough & slight fever past few days. Right now, no symptoms, although I did take NyQuil.”

But the news left SpaceX and NASA scrambling to determine whether Musk had come in contact with anyone who might have had access to the astronauts. On Friday afternoon, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told The Washington Post that contact tracing showed that “no mission essential personnel has been in touch with Elon Musk,” news Bridenstine called “very, very positive.”

“So there should be no impact on the mission,” he added. “I think we’re in good shape, and we’re looking forward to a good launch.”

Hours later, however, the launch was moved to Sunday after weather forecasters determined that conditions offshore were likely to be too rough to allow the recovery of the vehicle’s booster. This booster is particularly important because SpaceX intends to use it for its next flight with astronauts, the Crew-2 mission, now scheduled for the spring of 2021. That would mark the first time NASA allowed a flight of crew to launch on a booster that had flown previously.

The launch is now scheduled for 7:27 p.m. EST Sunday.

Flying humans to space is a risky and difficult endeavor that, as SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell has said, requires “a million things to go right” for a successful launch, “and only one thing has to go wrong to have a particularly bad day.”

Speaking to reporters earlier this week, Benji Reed, SpaceX’s director of crew mission management, said that every time he comes to the Kennedy Space Center he visits a grove of trees planted to commemorate the lives lost when the shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff. The trees remind him of the responsibility the company has.

“We hold the lives of people in our hands as we transport them into space,” he said. The Crew Dragon stays attached to the station “to be a lifeboat if they need it, and then we bring them home to their families. And that is really important. We ask our teams to read the accident reports of the previous accidents that have happened to take those lessons to heart as well.”

Rockets and spacecraft are complex machines, operating under extraordinary circumstances – propellants that are extremely cold, ignited to generate a massive amount of thrust – and filled with thousands of parts that need to work perfectly.

To get to this point, SpaceX has had to overcome a series of failures. Its Falcon 9 rocket has exploded twice – once in 2015 during a cargo resupply mission to the space station, then in 2016 while being fueled ahead of an engine test fire. Then last year, its Dragon capsule exploded during a test of its abort engines.

“We’re transitioning from a test flight to operational flights,” Bridenstine said Sunday during a ceremony to welcome the astronauts to the Kennedy Space Center. “Make no mistake, every flight is a test flight when it comes to space travel. But it’s also true that we need to routinely be able to go to the International Space Station.”

SpaceX got another reminder of how tricky rockets can be when during a launch for the U.S. Space Force last month the rocket’s sensors noticed a problem and autonomously aborted the flight with just two seconds to go on the countdown clock.

SpaceX later discovered the problem was that a little bit of lacquer, used to prevent corrosion before being cleaned off, was getting stuck in tiny vent holes in some of its engine valves. During a news conference last month, Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX’s vice president of build and flight reliability, said that if the rocket had fired, it would have been what’s called a “hard start,” which he said was “not necessarily bad. In most cases, it rattles the engine and it may cause a little bit of damage on the engines. In extreme cases, it may cause more damage to the engines. In general, you do not want that. You want a good start-up.”

He said that the rocket was safe “the whole time” because it was “held down on the ground” while the rocket’s computers shut down the operation before it could launch.

Still, SpaceX swapped out two of the engines on the Falcon 9 rocket that will be used to fly this weekend’s Crew-1 mission and ran another series of tests to ensure they were working properly.

After the test flight, SpaceX also noticed a little more erosion than expected on the capsule’s heat shield, which protects the astronauts as they fly back to Earth through the atmosphere. SpaceX decided to reinforce those areas, and NASA has since approved the changes.

Those technical challenges serve as additional reminders of how a rocket as tall as a 23-story building could be tripped up by small components, some no bigger than an insect.

“No question, rocketry is tough and requires a lot of attention to detail,” Koenigsmann said. “Rockets are humbling. Every day I work with them, it’s always a challenge, and it’s always difficult. And you just have to be super diligent and on your toes to get this right.”

The problem with the engine and the heat shield posed no danger to the astronauts, officials have said repeatedly. And NASA this week said that after years of work it had certified SpaceX to fly crews to space, the first time a commercial company has held that responsibility.

The message from NASA to SpaceX is: “You can safely fly our crew members to and from the International Space Station,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations mission directorate. “You’ve shown us the data, and we trust you to do that. There’s a big trust factor here. This is a big step for us.”

But human spaceflight is still a risky endeavor, with all sorts of hurdles that need to be cleared before flying to the space station is even close to being routine.

Unlike the space shuttle, which had no abort capability, the Crew Dragon is equipped with emergency escape engines that can pull the capsule away from the rocket in case anything goes wrong. The spacecraft would then land somewhere in the Atlantic, and rescue crews from the Defense Department and ManTech, a defense contractor, will be standing by up and down the East Coast to recover the crew.

The chances of an abort are low. “But we have to plan for the worst case,” said Mike McClure, a ManTech program manager who used to command the Air Force’s rescue detachment. “And the worst case that we are preparing for is if the spacecraft has to come down and splashes down in the deep open.”

Amid the pandemic, the crew, NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Victor Glover, as well as Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, and their families have been in lockdown for weeks. And NASA said it has taken extra precaution to ensure they are not exposed.

“It’s not only to protect us,” Hopkins said during a news conference Monday. “But also to protect the entire team – the trainers, the people that are building the vehicles, the people that are sitting in the control rooms, all of that. It has taken a special effort to protect everybody.”