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Space station shipment launched from Virginia

Space station shipment launched from Virginia

Orbital Sciences Corp. launched its Cygnus capsule from the Virginia coast, its third space station delivery for NASA.

Daylight and clouds limited visibility, but observers from North Carolina to New Jersey still had a shot at seeing the rising Antares rocket. It resembled a bright light in the early afternoon sky.
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Its destination, the space station, was soaring 260 miles above Australia when the Cygnus took flight. The unmanned capsule should arrive there Wednesday.

This newest Cygnus contains more than 3,000 pounds of supplies, much of it food. Also on board: mini-satellites, science samples, equipment and experimental exercise clothes. NASA said the new type of clothing is resistant to bacteria and odor buildup. So the astronauts won’t smell as much during their two hours of daily workout in orbit and they’ll require fewer clothing changes.

NASA is paying for the delivery service. The space agency hired two companies — the Virginia-based Orbital Sciences and California’s SpaceX — to keep the space station well stocked once the shuttle program ended. The international partners also make shipments; the European Space Agency, for example, will launch its supply ship in 1 1/2 weeks from French Guiana.

This particular Cygnus delivery was delayed a few months by various problems, including additional engine inspections and, most recently, bad weather at the Wallops Island launch site.

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The Cygnus will remain at the space station for about a month. It will be filled with trash and cut loose for a fiery re-entry. Unlike the SpaceX Dragon capsule, the Cygnus is not built to return safely to Earth.

Saturday, meanwhile, marked the 5,000th day of continuous human habitation at the 260-mile-high outpost. Six men currently are on board, representing the United States, Russia and Germany.

“Humans are explorers!” German astronaut Alexander Gerst said via Twitter.

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Mars ‘flying saucer’ splashes down after NASA test

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FILE – In this undated file photo provided by NASA, a saucer-shaped test vehicle known as a Low Density Supersonic Decelerator is shown in the Missile Assembly Building at the US Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility at Kekaha on the island of Kauai in Hawaii.AP/NASA

After several weather delays, NASA on Saturday launched a helium balloon carrying a saucer-shaped vehicle high in Earth’s atmosphere to test technology that could be used to land on Mars.

The craft deployed a novel inflatable braking system on its way back to Earth, but its massive parachute failed to fully unfurl as it descended to a splashdown.

Control room cheers that greeted successful steps in the complex test rapidly died as the parachute appeared to emerge tangled.

“Please inform the recovery director we have bad chute,” a mission official ordered.

Since the twin Viking spacecraft landed on the red planet in 1976, NASA has relied on the same parachute design to slow landers and rovers after piercing through the thin Martian atmosphere.

The $150 million experimental flight tests a novel vehicle and a giant parachute designed to deliver heavier spacecraft and eventually astronauts.

Viewers around the world with an Internet connection followed portions of the mission in real time thanks to cameras on board the vehicle that beamed back low-resolution footage.

After taking off at 11:40 a.m. from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, the balloon boosted the disc-shaped vehicle over the Pacific. Its rocket motor should then ignite, carrying the vehicle to 34 miles high at supersonic speeds.

The environment this high up is similar to the thin Martian atmosphere. As the vehicle prepared to drop back the Earth, a tube around it expanded like a Hawaiian puffer fish, creating atmospheric drag to dramatically slow it down from Mach 4, or four times the speed of sound.

Then the parachute if only partially — and the vehicle splashed down about three hours later. At 110 feet in diameter, the parachute is twice as big as the one that carried the 1-ton Curiosity rover through the Martian atmosphere in 2011.

Despite the parachute problem, “what we just saw was a really good test,” said NASA engineer Dan Coatta with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The test was postponed six previous times because of high winds. Winds need to be calm so that the balloon doesn’t stray into no-fly zones.

Engineers planned to analyze the data and conduct several more flights next year before deciding whether to fly the vehicle and parachute on a future Mars mission.

“We want to test them here where it’s cheaper before we send it to Mars to make sure that it’s going to work there,” project manager Mark Adler of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory said during a pre-launch news conference in Kauai in early June.

The technology envelope needs to be pushed or else humanity won’t be able to fly beyond the International Space Station in low-Earth orbit, said Michael Gazarik, head of space technology at NASA headquarters.

Technology development “is the surest path to Mars,” Gazarik said at the briefing.

The Los Angeles Times reported that teams working on the project will report at different times. These teams include specialists who will launch the balloon and communication teams. There are antennas near the base, the report said.

There is a lot that can go wrong, but that’s precisely why the teams say these tests are imperative.

“We learn even more when we fail,” Robert Manning, the chief engineer, told The Times. “If you’re not dropping balls, you’re not learning how to juggle.”

Click for more from LA Times

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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Some Times Your Number is Just Up…

When you are out fishing in the middle of a river, and a tiger jumps up and kills you, it was pretty much your time.  You can prepare for a lot of deaths, but tiger attack while fishing is not usually anticipated…

Tiger leaps onto boat, snatches man in swamp in India

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April 26, 2014 – Royal Bengal tiger prowls in Sunderbans, at the Sunderban delta, about 80 miles south of Calcutta, India. An Indian fisherman says a tiger has snatched a man off a fishing boat and dragged him away into a mangrove swamp.AP

A Bengal tiger snatched a man off a fishing boat in eastern India, dragging him away into a mangrove swamp as his children looked on in horror, the man’s son said Friday.

The attack happened Thursday as Sushil Manjhi and his son and daughter were crab fishing in a stream in the Sunderbans National Park. The tiger leaped aboard the boat and clamped its jaws on Manjhi’s neck, said Sushil’s son, Jyotish.

The tiger “quickly flung my father on his back and gave a giant leap before disappearing into the forest,” Jyotish said by telephone from his village of Lahiripur in West Bengal state. He said he and his sister tried to beat the animal with sticks and a knife, but the thrashing had no effect. His father was dragged away and was presumed dead.

The attack underlines the difficult existence of millions of poor Indians who make a living by scavenging in forests and rivers, often at risk from wild predators. Many villagers fish for crabs in the Sunderbans — even though it’s illegal in the protected reserve — because they fetch a good price at markets in nearby towns.

The national park is one of the largest reserves for the royal Bengal tiger. Thursday’s attack was the fourth deadly assault by a tiger this year in the Sunderbans, wildlife officials said.

India has more than half of the 3,200 tigers believed to be left in the wild in the world. But as the country undergoes breakneck development to accommodate the growth of its 1.2 billion people, tiger habitats have been shrinking.

The big cat’s numbers have also dwindled because of rampant poaching to feed a flourishing market for tiger organs and bones in China.

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Archaeologists find 1,000-year-old artifacts at Illinois airport

Crews with the Illinois State Archaeological Survey discovered five house plots from the Mississippian Era at the Southern Illinois Airport in Murphysboro. The dig also uncovered a stone ax that is thousands of years older than the plots. It would have been used to cut trees and wood.

 The Southern Illinoisan reported on Friday that the archaeological excavation was required before the airport could be expanded.

Gary Shafer is the airport’s manager. He says he knew the area had history, but added that the discoveries ended up being much “denser” than anticipated.

Archaeologists say they’ll continue working at the area for a few more weeks to search for more artifacts.

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Scientists find 6,200-year-old parasite egg in ancient skeleton

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June 19, 2014: A skeleton in a grave in northern Syria in 2010.ap

In a skeleton more than 6,200 years old, scientists have found the earliest known evidence of infection with a parasitic worm that now afflicts more than 200 million people worldwide.

Archaeologists discovered a parasite egg near the pelvis of a child skeleton in northern Syria and say it dates back to a time when ancient societies first used irrigation systems to grow crops. Scientists suspect the new farming technique meant people were spending a lot of time wading in warm water — ideal conditions for the parasites to jump into humans. That may have triggered outbreaks of the water-borne flatworm disease known as schistosomiasis.

 “The invention of irrigation was a major technological breakthrough (but) it had unintended consequences,” said Gil Stein, a professor of Near Eastern archaeology at the University of Chicago, one of the report’s authors. “A more reliable food supply came at the cost of more disease,” he wrote in an email.

People can catch the flatworm parasite when they are in warm fresh water; the tiny worms are carried by snails and can burrow into human skin. After growing into adult worms, they live in the bladder, kidneys, intestines and elsewhere in the body for years. The parasites can cause symptoms including a fever, rash, abdominal pain, vomiting and paralysis of the legs. These days, the disease can be easily treated with drugs to kill the worms.

Stein said there was evidence of wheat and barley farming in the town where the skeletons were found and that irrigation might have also spurred outbreaks of other diseases like malaria by creating pools of stagnant water for mosquitoes to breed.

Piers Mitchell, another study author, said ancient farming societies could have inadvertently launched the global transmission of the flatworm parasites, which sicken millions of people every year. He said modern irrigation systems are still spreading diseases in developing countries.

“In many parts of Africa, someone clever decides to put in a dam or an artificial water source and then 10 years later, everyone’s getting schistosomiasis,”Mitchell said.

The research was published online Thursday in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Other experts agreed it was likely that irrigation spread parasitic diseases beginning in ancient times.

“Egypt along the Nile was a hotspot for generations because people were crammed into the flood plain and there were probably a lot of people who had low-level (flatworm) infections for their entire lives,” said Quentin Bickle, a parasite expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “People would have known there was something weird going on but they wouldn’t have known what to do about it.”

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Ancient skeleton of teenage girl sheds new light on first Americans

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FILE: Diver Susan Bird, working at the bottom of Hoyo Negro, a large dome-shaped underwater cave in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, brushes a human skull found at the site while her team members take detailed photographs.AP

Thousands of years ago, a teenage girl toppled into a deep hole in a Mexican cave and died. Now, her skeleton and her DNA are bolstering the long-held theory that humans arrived in the Americas by way of a land bridge from Asia, scientists say.

The girl’s nearly complete skeleton was discovered by chance in 2007 by expert divers who were mapping water-filled caves north of the city of Tulum, in the eastern part of the Yucatan Peninsula. One day, they came across a huge chamber deep underground.

“The moment we entered inside, we knew it was an incredible place,” one of the divers, Alberto Nava, told reporters. “The floor disappeared under us and we could not see across to the other side.”

They named it Hoyo Negro, or black hole.

Months later, they returned and reached the floor of the 100-foot tall chamber, which was littered with animal bones. They came across the girl’s skull on a ledge, lying upside down “with a perfect set of teeth and dark eye sockets looking back at us,” Nava said.

The divers named the skeleton Naia, after a water nymph of Greek mythology, and joined up with a team of scientists to research the find.

The girl was 15 or 16 when she met her fate in a cave, which at that time was dry, researchers said. She may have been looking for water when she tumbled into the chamber some 12,000 or 13,000 years ago, said lead study author James Chatters of Applied Paleoscience, a consulting firm in Bothell, Washington. Her pelvis was broken, suggesting she had fallen a long distance, he said.

The analysis of her remains, reported Thursday in the journal Science by researchers from the United States, Canada, Mexico and Denmark, addresses a puzzle about the settling of the Americas.

Most scientists say the first Americans came from Siberian ancestors who lived on an ancient land bridge, now submerged, that connected Asia to Alaska across the Bering Strait. They are thought to have entered the Americas sometime after 17,000 years ago from that land mass, called Beringia.  And genetic evidence indicates that today’s native peoples of the Americas are related to these pioneers.

But the oldest skeletons from the Americas — including Naia’s — have skulls that look much different from those of today’s native peoples. To some researchers, that suggests the first Americans came from a different place.

Naia provides a crucial link. DNA recovered from a molar contains a distinctive marker found in today’s native peoples, especially those in Chile and Argentina. The genetic signature is thought to have arisen among people living in Beringia, researchers said.

That suggests that the early Americans and contemporary native populations both came from the same ancestral roots in Beringia — not different places, the researchers concluded. The anatomical differences apparently reflect evolution over time in Beringia or the Americas, they said.

The finding does not rule out the idea that some ancient settlers came from another place, noted Deborah Bolnick, a study author from the University of Texas at Austin.

Dennis O’Rourke, an expert in ancient DNA at the University of Utah who didn’t participate in the work, said the finding is the first to show a genetic link to Beringia in an individual who clearly had the anatomical signs of a very early American.  He said he considered the notion of multiple migrations from different places to be “quite unlikely.”

Last February, other researchers reported that DNA from a baby buried in Montana more than 12,000 years ago showed a close genetic relationship to modern-day native peoples, especially those in Central and South America. An author of that study, Mike Waters of Texas A&M University, said the Mexican finding fits with the one in Montana.

There are so few such early skeletons from the Americas, he said, that “every single one of them is important.”

However, Richard Jantz, a retired professor of forensic anthropology at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, said he still believes early settlers arrived by boat from east Asia before any migration occurred via Beringia. That’s based on anatomical evidence, he said. The argument in the new paper “leaves a lot of unanswered questions,” he said in an email.

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Young Blood Injected Into Old Reverses Aging

Young blood reverses aging in mice

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This combination of images shows 3-D reconstructions of brain blood vessels in, from left, a young mouse, an old mouse, and an old mouse who was exposed to the blood of a young mouse. (AP Photo/Lida Katsimpardi)

If Mickey Mouse is feeling his age at 86, scientists may have found just the tonic: the blood of younger mice.

Older mice got stronger, exercised longer and performed better mentally after they were injected with blood from young mice, or even just with a substance that’s more abundant in younger blood.

Someday, if more research goes well, this may lead to a way to treat some infirmities of old age in people. In the meantime, scientists have a warning for do-it-yourselfers.

“Don’t try this at home,” said Saul Villeda of the University of California, San Francisco, an author of one of three papers published online Sunday by the journals Nature Medicine and Science.

He worked with mice that were roughly the equivalent of people in their 20s and 60s. Researchers repeatedly injected the older mice with blood from either the younger animals or other aged mice. Those that got the young blood did better in learning and memory tests than the mice given the older blood. For example, they performed better at recalling where to find a submerged platform in a maze.

Villeda said the researchers are trying to figure out what’s in the young blood that made the difference.

The two other papers, from Harvard University, focused on a substance that is more abundant in the blood of younger mice than old. That protein, called GDF11, is also found in human blood and its concentration also appears to decline with age, said Amy Wagers, an author on both papers.

On average, aging mice that got injections of it showed greater grip strength and more endurance on a treadmill than untreated mice.

The Harvard scientists also found that exposing older mice to the blood of younger mice produced more blood vessels and blood flow in the brain. Injections of GDF11 had a similar effect. Lee Rubin, a study author, said those results suggest further work may lead to a way to treat age-related mental decline and perhaps dementia in people.

Wagers and Villeda said it’s not clear whether GDF11 explains the results of Villeda’s study. Wagers said she suspects other substances in blood can also help aging animals.

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Historians unravel mystery behind cryptic Lincoln note

Historians unravel mystery behind cryptic Lincoln note

Published March 09, 2014

Associated Press
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    This photo provided by Papers of Abraham Lincoln project shows a note written by Abraham Lincoln. (AP)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. –  The cryptic note penned by Abraham Lincoln identifies its recipient only as “my dear Sir” and has a small section carefully clipped out.

Who was he writing to and why was a key piece of information later removed so meticulously?

Historians believe they have unraveled the mystery and uncovered a bit of political intrigue in the process.

Researchers at the Papers of Abraham Lincoln project concluded Lincoln was writing to an ally to ask him to maintain a secret relationship with a political insider during the 1860 election campaign.

Lincoln asked his cohort to “keep up a correspondence” with the person, a phrase that gave researchers their best clue. They ran it through a searchable database of Lincoln’s papers and found several matches.

One was in a letter to Lincoln from fellow attorney and Republican Leonard Swett of Bloomington, Ill.

The two men, it turns out, were conspiring to keep tabs on a New York political figure. The mystery note was Lincoln’s response to Swett’s letter, the researchers surmised.

“If you can keep up a correspondence with him without much effort, it will be well enough,” Lincoln wrote to Swett. “I like to know his views occasionally.”

Swett’s earlier letter also had a clue about who the political insider was. It referred to “our friend TW of Albany,” who researchers concluded was Thurlow Weed, a Republican newspaper editor and political boss of New York state.

Lincoln was seeking Weed’s support in New York, even though Weed had been backing front-runner William H. Seward for the Republican presidential nomination. Lincoln got his way, ultimately winning Weed’s support. Seward later became his secretary of state.

But Lincoln couldn’t be seen as close to Weed during the campaign so he recruited Swett to be a secret go-between. That also explains why Swett clipped Tweed’s name from Lincoln’s note.

A New York City manuscript dealer recently contacted the Papers of Abraham Lincoln for help solving the riddle.

The group of researchers is trying to identify, transcribe and publish all documents written by or to Lincoln. Project Director Daniel Stowell said Saturday that solving the mystery behind the note points to the project’s value.

“To be able to identify the date, recipient and subject of such a brief letter is a remarkable achievement,” he said.

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Expansion planned at Maker’s Mark distillery

Expansion planned at Maker’s Mark distillery

Published February 28, 2014

Associated Press
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    The producers of Maker’s Mark bourbon announced a distillery expansion  to pump up production and keep pace with growing demand for the Kentucky whiskey. (Maker’s Mark)

Thursday to pump up production and keep pace with growing demand for the Kentucky whiskey, known by its distinctive bottles sealed in red wax.

The $67 million expansion comes barely a year after the brand created a backlash by saying it was cutting the amount of alcohol in each bottle to stretch its whiskey supplies. Producers quickly scrapped the idea.

The expansion — in the works well before the watered-down whiskey flap — comes amid strong sales across the whiskey sector. Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey revenues rose a projected 10.2 percent last year in the U.S., and exports surpassed $1 billion for the first time, according to the Distilled Spirits Council.

Maker’s shipped 1.4 million cases in 2013, up 10.7 percent from the prior year. It forecasts shipments to reach 2 million cases later this decade, after surpassing 1 million cases in 2011.

Bourbon makers in Kentucky, which produces 95 percent of the world’s supply, have invested more than $300 million in expansions in the last two years, said Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.

In a bow to tradition, the Maker’s addition will replicate the existing distillery in Loretto, a town about 45 miles south of Louisville where every drop of Maker’s has been produced. That continuity ensures “the DNA of Maker’s Mark is preserved as the brand grows,” said Maker’s Mark chief operating officer Rob Samuels, grandson of the brand’s founders.

“This investment is a continuation of the heritage, tradition and vision for this brand as Maker’s Mark continues to grow,” he said.

It’s the second major expansion of the Maker’s distillery. The newest update will add a replica of two existing stills, more fermenters and additional warehouses to store the whiskey. The addition will boost the distillery’s production capacity by 50 percent.

Groundbreaking is planned for next month. The first whiskey coming off the new still will go into barrels for aging in mid-2015 and will mature, on average, between six and seven years before being bottled.

The state said the brand’s producers will be eligible for up to $5 million in tax benefits as part of the project.

“We are very excited that this iconic Kentucky brand continues to grow in popularity,” Gov. Steve Beshear said.

The expansion comes as the ownership of Maker’s is changing hands. Suntory Holdings Ltd., a Japanese beverage company, announced a deal in January to acquire Beam Inc., parent of Jim Beam and Maker‘s Mark. The combined company would have annual sales topping $4.3 billion.

The Beam Inc. board approved the project Wednesday.

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Florida woman dubbed ‘hot convict’ sues website over mug shot photo

Florida woman dubbed ‘hot convict’ sues website over mug shot photo

Published February 28, 2014

Associated Press
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    Meagan Simmons, of Zephyrhills, Fla., seen here in a 2010 mug shot, filed the lawsuit in Hillsborough County Court against InstantCheckmate.com. (Hillsborough County)

TAMPA, Fla. –  A 28-year-old mother of four has filed a lawsuit against a background check website, saying the company used her attractive arrest booking photo for commercial and advertising purposes, without compensating her or even getting her permission.

Meagan Simmons of Zephyrhills filed the lawsuit in Hillsborough County Court against InstantCheckmate.com.

In her lawsuit, she says all the exposure has disturbed her peace of mind, invaded her privacy and caused her mental anguish. The suit seeks monetary damages and an injunction to prevent further use of her picture.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that Simmons’ image popped up on countless websites where she was branded “a hot convict.”

The photo was taken during a 2010 DUI charge.

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