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SpaceX Moon mission extends Elon Musk’s ambitions

Elon Musk, it seems, loves nothing more than to spin plates. When most of us might be looking to lighten the load, he's piling on the ambition.

The serial entrepreneur's latest gambit is to fly people around the Moon. Two wealthy individuals have apparently lodged significant deposits with his SpaceX company to make this journey.

We have no idea who they are, just that these space tourists include "nobody from Hollywood".

That Mr Musk should announce his intention to carry out an Apollo 8-like Moon loop should not really be a surprise; such a venture is on the natural path to deep-space exploration and colonisation – his stated end goals.

What does take the breath away is the timeline.

He's talking about doing this journey in late 2018, in hardware that has not yet even flown. That's Elon for you.

For sure, his Falcon rockets have been working for some time now and the Dragon capsule has become something of an old hand at shuttling back and forth to the International Space Station (ISS). But the circumlunar project is another step on from robotic cargo runs to low-Earth orbit.

The Falcon Heavy, the much bigger rocket that will be needed, should make its debut this summer.

The crew version of Dragon, with its all-important life-support equipment, is targeted to make its maiden voyage at the end of 2017.

This will be an unmanned test outing; the first flight to the ISS with people aboard is slated for the spring of 2018.

That does not leave much time to configure and adapt systems for the longer, more arduous Moon mission.

The Dragon will need some sort of propulsion and service module (with extra propellants, oxygen, water, etc) to help sustain the required trajectory and the tourists for what will be at minimum a 6-to-7-day journey.

"Back in the Apollo days the outbound journey would usually take between two and three days and the same for the return journey, maybe about a one-week round trip once they leave the Earth," commented Jason Davis from the space advocacy group the Planetary Society.

"It is a little bit different than say putting an astronaut in low-Earth orbit on the International Space Station because your quick return to Earth is no longer an option.

"Once you fire that rocket and head towards the Moon, you can't turn around and go home so you are really kind of on your own for about a week with no-one to come and save you if there is a problem."

Mr Musk says his tourists understand the risks, and that they will receive "extensive training before going on the mission."

The entrepreneur hasn't yet confirmed it, but it's hard to imagine the ticketed passengers would fly without also being accompanied by an astronaut of experience. If there is a problem, having someone aboard with intimate knowledge of the Dragon's workings could make all the difference

Of course, history tells us that everything in space "moves to the right". Timelines are rarely fixed. And SpaceX is not immune in this respect.

The Falcon Heavy is behind on its original schedule; like Musk, we all thought he’d be flying people to the ISS regularly by now; and his recently promised robotic Mars landing has just been pushed back two years. And don't forget the long list of satellite operators who've seen their launches delayed in the aftermath of two Falcon mishaps.

So, don't be surprised if this Moon loop also extends into the future. The really interesting sub-plot, however, is what this all means for the US space agency (Nasa).

It can be no coincidence that its leadership has announced that it will be looking to put people on the maiden flight of the agency’s huge new rocket, the Space Launch System, and its associated crew capsule, Orion.

These systems are currently due to fly in an unmanned test configuration late next year. A Nasa inquiry could now see a way to slip the mission to 2019 and make it a manned outing instead.

This would make for an intriguing comparison. You would have two missions launching almost at the same time, to do essentially the same mission profile around the Moon, except one (SLS/Orion) would have cost billions to get to the launch pad while the other (Falcon Heavy/Dragon) would have cost in the hundreds of millions. Certainly there would be an order of magnitude difference in price.

It is said that President Trump is looking very hard at how to expand commercial space activity during his administration. The Moon missions would give him considerable food for thought.

Publicly, both Musk and Nasa are on the same page. The agency, which has invested considerable sums in SpaceX, released a statement late on Monday saying that it commended "its industry partners for reaching higher".

Musk tweeted: “SpaceX could not do this without Nasa. Can't express enough appreciation”.

But the comparisons are inescapable. And this is a wave we are witnessing.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has been quietly acquiring space credentials through his impressive Blue Origin company. He is building a rocket to rival the Falcon Heavy that he calls New Glenn. He’s even got one on the drawing board that’s bigger still called New Armstrong.

The ambition is the same as SpaceX. So is the cost model. That is, to create something that is considerably cheaper than the public sector can deliver with its burdensome oversight and its (politically driven) distributed manufacturing methods.

After all, it is in part the cost of access to space that has slowed the pace of exploration since the Apollo era.

 

BBC

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Masisi to make things right with Dangote

26th October 2020

High Commissioner of the Federal Government of Nigeria to Botswana, His Excellency Umar Zainab Salisu, has challenged President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi to move swiftly and lobby Africa’s richest man, Nigerian Billionaire, Aliko Dangote to invest in Botswana.

Speaking during a meeting with President Masisi at Office of President on Thursday Zainab Salisu said Dangote has expressed massive interest in setting up billion dollar industries in Botswana.  “We have a lot of investors who wish to come and invest in Botswana , when we look at Botswana we don’t see Botswana itself , but we are lured by its geographic location , being in the centre of Southern Africa presents a good opportunity for strategic penetration into other markets of the region,” said Salisu.

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Dow wants GBV culprits isolated

26th October 2020
Unity Dow

As murder cases and violent incidents involving couples and or lovers continue to be recorded daily, Specially Elected Member of Parliament, Dr Unity Dow has called for more funding of non-governmental organizations and accelerated action from government to come up with laws that could inhibit would-be perpetrators of crimes related to Gender Based Violence (GBV).

Just after Dr Dow had deposited her views on this subject with this reporter, a young man in Molepolole opened fire on a married woman he was having an affair with; and ended her life instantly. While it is this heinous cases that get projected to the public space, the former minister argues that the secrecy culture is keeping other real GBV cases under wraps in many spaces in the country.

The former Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said there is GBV all the time in all kinds of places. “We have become accustomed to stories of rapes, marital rapes, defilement of children, beatings and psychological violence and even killings,” she said.

Gender-based violence is a phenomenon deeply rooted in gender inequality, Dow is worried that there is absolutely no social punishment for perpetrators; they will continue to have the same friends, jobs, wives, homes, as before. Yet another factor, she said, is that there is little or no “justice” for victims of GBV.

The renowned activist said justice for GBV victims is not just the jailing of the perpetrator. “Justice for victims means an agile, victim-friendly, accessible (time, money and procedures) and restorative justice system.”

Asked what could be leading to a spike in Gender Based Violence cases or incidents, she observed that there is no one factor to which this spike can be attributed. “The most obvious factor is stress as a result of economic distress and or poverty. Poverty makes one vulnerable and open to compromises that they would otherwise not make. For perpetrators with anger management issues, economic stress leads to lashing out to those closest to them. Another factor is the disintegration of families and family values,” she opined.

According to Dow, no government anywhere in the world is doing enough, period. “We know the places and spaces where women and girls are unsafe. We know the challenges they face in their attempts to exit those spaces and places.” The former Judge of the High Court said GBV undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains shrouded in the culture of silence.

Asked what could be done to arrest GBV cases, Dow said it is critical to involve and fund civil society organizations. She observed that much of the progress done in the area of women’s human rights was during the time when Botswana had strong and funded civil society organizations.

“The funding dried up when Botswana was declared a middle-income country but unfortunately external funding was not replaced by local funding,” she acknowledged.

Further Dow said relevant government institutions must be funded and strengthened.

“Thirdly, create a society in which it is not okay to humiliate, rape, beat or kill women. You create this by responding to GBV the same way we have responded to livestock theft. We need to create agile mechanisms that hear cases quickly and allow for the removal of suspected perpetrators from their homes, work places, boards, committees, etc.”

The former Minister said the much anticipated Inter-Ministerial Task Force on Gender Based Violence will have its work cut out for it. According to Dow, GBV is not just a justice issue, it’s not just a gender issue, but rather an issue that cuts across health, education, labour, economic, housing and politics. “As long as any one believes it is someone else’s problem, we will all have the problem,” she said.

In her view, Dow said every work, educational and other place must have a GBV Policy and/or Code of Conduct. “It is important that we acknowledge that the majority of men are law-abiding. The problem is their silence, in the face of injustice,” she observed.

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State ignores Butterfly P85 million suit threat

26th October 2020
Butterfly

The State has chosen to ignore intents by kingpins in the P100 billion scandal to sue for a combined P85 million as tables turn against the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP) in the matter.

Key players in the matter; the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) and Bank of Botswana (BoB) have eroded the prospects of success following the duo’s institutions’ appearance before parliamentary committees recently.

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