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NASA will let tourists visit the International Space Station starting in 2020

NASA plans to allow tourists to visit the International Space Station from 2020 – at an estimated cost of more than $50 million (£39 million) per trip.

Until now, the floating space lab has only been accessible to astronauts representing state-level space agencies.

In a surprise announcement today, NASA confirmed that it would be “opening the International Space Station for commercial business”.

It means that private companies will be able to take “private astronauts” to the ISS for up to 30 days.

“The agency can accommodate up to two short-duration private astronaut missions per year to the International Space Station,” Nasa explained.

“These missions will be privately funded, dedicated commercial spaceflights.”

Transport will be provided by both Boeing and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, who are currently developing capsules that can carry humans to the ISS.

It’s expected that a trip will likely cost around $50 million (£39 million) per astronaut, according to early estimates – but could easily rise well above that figure.

The spaceflight to the ISS will account for a large chunk of the cost.

NASA typically pays around $75 million for seats aboard a Soyuz spacecraft destined for the ISS, and even paid $82 million per seat in 2015.

However, NASA says seats aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon and/or Boeing CST-100 capsules will cost roughly $58 million per seat.

It’s these capsules that will be used to ferry astronauts up to the ISS – but the cost continues to rise after the journey.

Keeping astronauts on board the ISS is a pricey business.

For instance, regenerative life support and toilet cost $11,250 (£8,800) per astronaut each day.

And general supplies – like food and air – cost $22,500 (£17,500) per astronaut each day.

Nasa will get around $35,000 (£27,000) per night that a private astronaut spends on board the ISS.

A large bank balance won’t be enough either: you’ll have to pass Nasa’s rigorous health checks and training procedures.

As part of its “commercialization” of the ISS, Nasa will be making one space station port and utilities available for a private company to “attach a commercial module to”.

And it hopes that in the long-term, there will be lots of private space stations floating just above Earth.

“In the long-term, NASA’s goal is to become one of many customers purchasing services from independent, commercial and free-flying habitable destinations in low-Earth orbit,” NASA explained.

“A robust low-Earth orbit economy will need multiple commercial destinations, and NASA is partnering with industry to pursue dual paths to that objective that either go through the space station or directly to a free-flying destination.”

Whatever ends up going into space, it’s unlikely to get cheaper any time soon.

Even SpaceX charges $62million (£48.7million) to send commercial satellites into orbit with its relatively new Falcon 9 rocket.

And Axiom Space, a Houston-based company hoping to organize trips to the ISS, has pledged to charge $55 million (£43.2 million) for a 10-day trip to the ISS.

So why is NASA letting tourists travel to the ISS?

The main advantage seems to be keeping costs down, as the ISS is very expensive to run.

But it’s also about continuing to test space travel – to make it safer and cheaper for everyone.

“Market studies identified private astronaut missions to low-Earth orbit as a key element to demonstrate demand and reduce risk for future commercial destinations in low-Earth orbit,” NASA explained.

The long-term plan is to create space stations near Earth that can be used as stop-off points for deeper trips into space.

NASA hopes to set up several “lunar gateways” starting from 2028 that will float near the Moon, and could be used for crewed missions to Mars.

“The first Gateway is about the moon, but I think the second Gateway, being a deep-space transport, again using commercial and international partners, enables us to get to Mars,” said NASA top boss Jim Bridenstine, speaking last year.

“What we don’t want to do is go to the surface of the moon, prove that we can do it again, and then be done. We want to go to stay.

“And the Gateway, in my view – I’ve been convinced – enables us to take advantage of commercial and international partners in a more robust way so we are there to stay, it enables us to get to more parts of the moon than ever before, and it enables us to get to Mars.”

This story originally appeared in The Sun.

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Stone block with mysterious 12,000-year-old engravings discovered at prehistoric hunting site

Archaeologists in France have uncovered a mysterious carved stone block at a prehistoric hunting site.

The stone was found during excavations at Angouleme in southwestern France.  A number of engravings have been carved into the sandstone, including horses, deer and an aurochs, an extinct species of wild cattle.

Drawings on the stone block. (Denis Gliksman, Inrap)

Drawings on the stone block. (Denis Gliksman, Inrap)

“The most visible engraving, that of a headless horse turned to the right, occupies half the surface,” according to a translated statement from French national archeological research organization Inrap. “The rump and the saddle follow the curves of the natural edge of the stone. Very fine incisions may suggest the coat”.

The area where the stone was found was used as a hunting site by the prehistoric Azilian culture. Other items discovered at the site include tools for stripping carcasses.

Side face of the sandstone block.

Side face of the sandstone block. (Denis Gliksman, Inrap)

Experts think that the stone is about 12,000 years old. More research will be done to precisely date and gain more information from the artifact.

Other mysterious stones have been grabbing attention in France. A village in Brittany, for example, recently offered a reward to anyone who can decipher a strange inscription on a centuries-old rock.

Last year, archaeologists announced the discovery of 12,000-year-old cave drawings in Eastern France.

Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia and Madeline Farber contributed to this article.  Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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Bronze Age Siberian “Birdman” wore a collar of beaks and skulls

Bronze Age Siberian ‘Birdman’ wore a collar of beaks and skulls

Archaeologists have unearthed a Bronze Age skeleton that was buried with an unusual garment: a collar or headdress made of dozens of bird beaks and skulls.

The so-called birdman’s remains, which date to about 5,000 years ago, were discovered at the Ust-Tartas dig site in Siberia’s Novosibirsk region, The Siberian Times reported .

The collar of beaks and skulls may have been a protective garment like armor, or may have been worn for rituals, Kobeleva said. While the birds have not yet been identified, they were likely large shore birds, such as herons or cranes , according to The Times.

Archaeologists still don’t know exactly how the skulls and beaks were attached to each other or to a piece of fabric, as the scientists have not yet detected any holes drilled into the bones so they could be stitched together, The Times reported.

And the “birdman” had company; the archaeologists discovered a two-tiered grave nearby. An upper layer held the bodies of two children, who were approximately 5 and 10 years old when they died. On the lower level — and underneath a wooden divider — was the skeleton of an adult male.

A number of artifacts were buried with the man. One object the researchers found near the skull was a type of mask made of two bronze hemispheres with circular eyeholes, and a bronze crosspiece, according to The Times. Polished stones near the body were thought to be ceremonial, suggesting that this individual — along with the beak-wearing birdman — conducted rituals for his Bronze Age group.

“Both men must have carried special roles in the society,” Kobeleva told The Times.

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‘Treasure trove’ discovered at ancient fort destroyed by Vikings

Archaeologists at the University of Aberdeen made the remarkable finds at Burghead on Scotland’s northern Moray coast. The fort, which was once used by the ancient Pictish people, is described as the largest of its kind in Scotland.

The fort was burned to the ground in the 10th century, likely by advancing Vikings. Experts say that this has preserved items that would have otherwise rotted away hundreds of years ago.

Excavations at the site began in 2015. Last month a dig at the site revealed more of the fort’s secrets.
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A bramble headed dress or hair pin (University of Aberdeen)

“When we started digging, we discovered that while the destruction of the fort in the 10thcentury may not have been good news for the Picts, the fact that so much of it was set alight is a real bonus for archaeologists,” said Dr. Gordon Noble head of archaeology at the University of Aberdeen, in a statement.

In addition to a fortified wall, archaeologists found ornate hair and dress pins, one of which has a detailed bramble design. They also identified so-called “midden layers,” which are essentially ancient garbage dumps and are likely to shed more light on the lives of the ancient fort dwellers.

“We are digging in what is essentially the area that the Picts threw their rubbish but this collection of the waste products of their day-to-day lives is a treasure trove to archaeologists,” said Noble, who led the excavation. “What’s exciting is the level of preservation here. We’ve found animal bone which rarely survives in mainland Scotland because of the acidic soil. We are already getting really nice information about what people ate within the fort and we hope to extract a level of information we’ve not had for Pictish sites before.”

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The wall face of the Pictish fort at Burghead (University of Aberdeen)

Dubbed “Picti” or “painted people” by the Romans, the Picts were a confederation of tribesin northern Scotland.

Much of the Pictish culture, however, remains shrouded in mystery so archaeologists are thrilled with the Burghead finds. “The Picts were a huge influence on northern Scotland but because they left no written records, archaeology is essential in providing answers in regard to their lives, influence and culture,” said Noble, in the statement.

Coastal erosion means that archaeologists are facing a race against time at Burghead. “The timber wall we found is only one to one and a half meters [5 feet] away from the erosion face,” explained Noble. “We hope to return next year to rescue as much as we can before it falls into the sea.”

Men dressed as vikings stand in front of a 40 foot-long viking longship as it is burned on Calton Hill in Edinburgh.  Men dressed as vikings stand in front of a 40 foot-long (12 metres) viking longship as it is burned on Calton Hill in Edinburgh as the launch pad for the city's Hogmanay (New Year) celebrations December 29, 2004. The festival was attended by thousands of spectators and people dressed as vikings from Shetland. REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell - RP5DRIDSVQAA

File photo – Men dressed as vikings stand in front of a 40 foot-long viking longship as it is burned on Calton Hill in Edinburgh as the launch pad for the city’s Hogmanay (New Year) celebrations Dec. 29, 2004. (REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell)

Other archaeological finds in Scotland have also offered insight into the country’s history. Last year, for example, experts announced the discovery of a rare Roman coin on a remote island in the Orkney archipelago. Archaeologists and volunteers also found the location of a long-lost early medieval kingdom in southern Scotland.

In 2014, a stunning hoard of ancient silver, believed to have been used as bribes by Romans, was discovered with a metal detector by a teenager in Dairsie, in the Scottish region of Fife.

Experts in Scotland have also used 3-D technology to reconstruct the face of an 18th-century ‘witch.’

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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Giant pig caught on camera ravaging dumpster near school goes viral

The moment a gigantic boar stands on his hind legs to chow down on garbage has been caught on camera — but it’s where the animal is doing it that’s causing concern.

Shocked parents taking their kids to school in Hong Kong spotted the huge animal standing on the tips of his hooves to get his head in the dumpster, while two piglets stand next to him.

The terrifying video, posted to Facebook by Tu Dong, has since gone viral.

More than 2,500 social media users also commented on the video, many of which expressed concern about how close the wild pigs were to the school.

Misaki Ceci wrote: “The wild pig is in front of the left school. I’m careful with Hyung-Hyung’s primary school, and I’ve got a wild boar.”

The footage shows the boar trying to pull a black garbage bag out of the can while his piglets stand guard.

In Australia, feral pigs were declared pest animals in 2013, meaning they can be legally killed by farm owners.

In July 2013, a 10-year-old boy was gored in the neck by a wild boar at an Australian beach. He had been riding his bike when the pig charged at him and stabbed him in the neck with his tusk.

Feral pigs are also known to cause significant economic losses to agriculture by damaging crops, water holes and fencing.

There are strict laws in place to deter people from transporting and releasing live feral pigs, with fines starting at $2,200 for possessing a wild animal.

Fines climb to $22,000 for transporting live feral pigs.

This story originally appeared in news.com.au.

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Biblical king’s palace uncovered beneath shrine destroyed by ISIS

The remains of the Tomb of Prophet Yunus, destroyed by Islamic State militants, in Mosul, Iraq, January 28, 2017. (REUTERS/Azad Lashkari)

The remains of the Tomb of Prophet Yunus, destroyed by Islamic State militants, in Mosul, Iraq, January 28, 2017. (REUTERS/Azad Lashkari)

Archaeologists in Mosul have made a stunning find beneath the Tomb of the Prophet Jonah that was destroyed by Islamic State militants in 2014: the long-hidden palace of ancient Assyrian King Sennacherib.

Experts were documenting the jihadists’ destruction of the tomb’s ruins when they located the palace, which dates back to 600 B.C. ISIS had dug tunnels into the site in a search for ancient artifacts to plunder, according to media reports.

The Telegraph reports that Iraqi archaeologist Layla Salih found a marble cuneiform inscription of Assyrian King Esarhaddon inside one of the tunnels. The inscription is believed to date to 672 B.C. when the palace was part of the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh.

One of the earliest forms of writing, cuneiform harnesses wedge-shaped marks and was widely used in ancient Mesopotamian civilizations.

The palace was built for the Assyrian King Sennarcherib, expanded by his son Esarhaddon, and renovated by his grandson King Ashurbanipal, according to the Telegraph, which notes that the palace was partly destroyed during the sack of Nineveh in 612 B.C. Sennacherib’s invasion of the ancient kingdom of Judah is extensively documented in the Bible. Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal are also mentioned in scripture, although feature less prominently.

Elsewhere in the tunnel, archaeologists found ancient Assyrian stone sculptures of a demi-goddess, the Telegraph reports.

The Tomb of Jonah, or Nebi Yunus in Arabic, is located on a hill in Eastern Mosul. The site was recaptured from ISIS by the Iraqi army last month during its Mosul offensive.

Jonah is revered in Christian, Muslim, and Jewish traditions. The Prophet’s tomb, which was located within a Sunni mosque, was destroyed by ISIS militants in July 2014.

Dr. Paul Collins, Chair of The British Institute for the Study of Iraq, which is working with the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage and UNESCO to protect Iraq’s cultural heritage, told Fox News that there could be more damage at the site. “The tunnels, probably dug for looting, are in imminent danger of collapse,” he explained, via email. “If this happens the result will be even more destruction at a site that had already been devastated by the explosions that destroyed the ancient Shrine of Jonah – in effect we will lose a place where Iraq’s ancient, medieval and modern cultural heritage rests one above the other.”

Archaeologists have been aware since the nineteenth century that ancient Assyrian royal buildings are beneath the shrine, according to Collins, who notes that inscriptions and a relief from a dig in the 1870s are now in the British Museum. “Iraqi excavations in the 1950s revealed an entrance to an Assyrian royal arsenal and in 1990 a large Assyrian building to the east of the mosque guarded by colossal human-headed winged bulls was excavated, but this work came to an end with the Iraq/Kuwait war,” he said.

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15th-century manuscript with ‘alien’ characters finally decoded

Scientists have harnessed the power of artificial intelligence to unlock the secrets of an ancient manuscript that has baffled experts.

Discovered in the 19th century, the Voynich manuscript uses “alien” characters that have long puzzled cryptographers and historians. Now, however, computing scientists at the University of Alberta say they are decoding the mysterious 15th-century text.

Computing science Professor Greg Kondrak and graduate student Bradley Hauer applied artificial intelligence to find ambiguities in the text’s human language.

The first stage of the research was working out the manuscript’s language. The experts used 400 different language translations from the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” to identify the language used in the text. Initially, it seemed like the text was written in Arabic, but the researcher’s algorithms revealed that the manuscript is written in Hebrew.

“That was surprising,” said Kondrak, in a statement. “And just saying ‘this is Hebrew’ is the first step. The next step is how do we decipher it.”

Kondrak and Hauer worked out that Voynich manuscript was created using ‘alphagrams’ that use one phrase to define another so built an algorithm to unscramble the text. “It turned out that over 80 per cent of the words were in a Hebrew dictionary, but we didn’t know if they made sense together,” said Kondrak.

The initial part of the text was then run through Google Translate. “It came up with a sentence that is grammatical, and you can interpret it,” Kondrak explained.

The sentence was: “She made recommendations to the priest, man of the house and me and people.”

The full meaning of the text will need the involvement of historians of ancient Hebrew. The vellum, or animal skin, on which the codex is written has been dated to the early 15th century.

The research study is published in Volume 4 ofTransactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics.

There have been multiple attempts to decode the Voynich manuscript. In 2014, for example, researchers argued that the illustrations of plants in the manuscript could help decode the text’s strange characters. In 2011, a self-proclaimed “prophet of God” claimed that he had decoded the book.

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