Boeing’s Starliner Now Has 5 Leaks While Parked Outside the ISS

Following an iffy docking at the International Space Station last week, Boeing managed to deliver a pair of NASA astronauts to the orbital lab. The stressful Starliner saga continues as the crew capsule developed more leaks in its service module. NASA is currently evaluating its ability to return the duo back to Earth.

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In an update shared on Monday, NASA revealed that the Starliner teams are assessing the impact that five helium leaks would have on the remainder of the mission. “While Starliner is docked, all the manifolds are closed per normal mission operations preventing helium loss from the tanks,” the space agency wrote.

If you’ve been keeping track, there were three leaks on the Starliner spacecraft the last time we checked. Starliner teams had identified two new leaks on the spacecraft after it launched on June 5, in addition to a helium leak that was detected prior to liftoff. The team took some time to assess the issue before launching the capsule, but eventually Boeing and NASA decided to proceed with flying the crew on the leaky Starliner spacecraft without resolving the problem.

The spacecraft consists of a reusable crew capsule and an expendable service module. Helium is used in the spacecraft’s thruster systems to allow the thrusters to fire without being combustible or toxic. “We can handle this particular leak if that leak rate were to grow even up to 100 times,” Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said during a news conference before the Starliner launch.

Well, it’s getting there. Despite the leaks suggesting a larger issue with Starliner’s propulsion system, NASA remains confident in its commercial partner and is downplaying the spacecraft’s anomalies. “Engineers evaluated the helium supply based on current leak rates and determined that Starliner has plenty of margin to support the return trip from station,” NASA wrote in its update. “Only seven hours of free-flight time is needed to perform a normal end of mission, and Starliner currently has enough helium left in its tanks to support 70 hours of free flight activity following undocking.”

A “normal end of mission” is key here seeing as how Starliner had a hard time docking to the ISS. Starliner missed its first docking opportunity at 12:15 p.m. ET due to technical issues, prompting NASA to target another docking window an hour later. Five of the spacecraft thrusters failed during its approach, and four were subsequently recovered. The capsule finally docked with the ISS at 1:34 p.m. ET on June 6.

While it’s parked outside the ISS, engineers also are evaluating an RCS oxidizer isolation valve in the service module that’s not properly closed, according to NASA’s recent update. An RCS, or Reaction Control System, uses thrusters for attitude control and steering, while the oxidizer isolation valve regulates the flow of oxidizer, which is essential for burning fuel in the thrusters. Mission managers are continuing to work through the return plan, which includes assessments of flight rationale, fault tolerance, and potential operational mitigations for the remainder of the flight,” the space agency wrote.

Starliner is scheduled to undock from the orbital space station no earlier than June 18. The Crewed Flight Test is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and is meant to transport crew and cargo to and from the International Space Station (ISS) under a $4.3 billion contract with the space agency. NASA’s other commercial partner, SpaceX, has so far launched eight crews to the space station.

The spacecraft’s first crewed flight was meant to usher in regular trips to the ISS, but NASA may require Starliner to undergo some fixes before it approves the capsule for normal operations.

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via Gizmodo

June 12, 2024 at 10:57AM

SpaceX’s Inspiration4 astronauts got genetically younger in space: study

The four crew members of Inspiration4, the first ever all-civilian space mission, got genetically younger during their stay in space, a study has found. But the effects didn’t last long. Scientists are now trying to unravel how the space environment affects human DNA. 

Inspiration4 crew members had a packed schedule during their three-day trip to space in September 2021. Instead of just floating around in weightlessness and enjoying the breathtaking views from their modified Crew Dragon Resilience space capsule, they lent their bodies to science. 

Hayley Arceneaux, the mission’s the chief medical officer and trained physician assistant, was busy during their time orbit taking fingerpick blood samples and skin swabs of herself and her crewmates. A battery of tests followed their return to Earth and continued for several months after that. 

Results of these experiments have been published in three scientific papers in the journals Nature and Nature Communications on Tuesday, June 11. The tests showed that the space environment has fast-acting and profound effects on the human body, which can be detected in markers in blood after only a few hours in orbit. 

NASA, JAXA and the European Space Agency have previously conducted similar experiments with astronauts during long-duration stays on the International Space Station, but the Inspiration4 mission provided scientists with an opportunity to study the earliest stages of these space-induced processes in the human body.

Related: Inspiration4: The first all-civilian spaceflight on SpaceX Dragon

Chromosome caps getting longer

"We are getting closer to the point where we can almost measure the dose of space on the body," Chris Mason, a professor of genomics, physiology and biophysics at Weill Cornell Medicine and lead author of two of the papers, told in an interview. "They were in space only for a few days, but we could already see early signatures of spaceflight exposure on the body including protein changes and gene expression changes."

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For example, the researchers observed that markers indicating the aging of DNA decreased in space, making the crewmembers’ DNA appear younger and healthier. Those markers, known as telomeres, are caps that protect chromosomes that are known to shorten with age and due to environmental factors and stress. 

For the Inspiration4 participants, however, the telomeres got longer during the space mission. Scientists previously observed telomere lengthening in NASA astronaut Scott Kelly when they studied the effects of his one-year stay in orbit in 2015 on his body. The findings were already surprising back then as the researchers expected the opposite to happen due to the high levels of stress the organism is subject to in space. 

Scott Kelly, shown here in the cupola of the International Space Station, completed a year-long mission in March 2016. (Image credit: NASA)

To see those effects in the Inspiration4 crew members after only a few days in space was even more unexpected, scientists say.

"We did see telomere elongation in all four of the crew members," Susan Bailey, a professor of radiation cancer biology and oncology at Colorado State University who led the research, said in a press conference presenting the papers on Monday, June 10. "It’s really a remarkable finding in a number of ways and helps us solidify our findings."

The researchers think the telomere elongation is triggered as a protective response by exposure to the higher radiation environment of space. Similar effects have been measured in mountain climbers after they scaled the world’s highest peaks. 

"We think it’s the DNA’s equivalent to hormesis," Mason said. "It’s the effect that we see when you stress the body, for example in the gym, your muscles get sore, but the body responds by building strength."

There is, however, a catch, said Bailey. After the astronauts’ return to Earth, the telomeres shrink almost immediately and get shorter than they were before the spaceflight. The researchers, Bailey said, don’t understand what triggers the shortening but hope they might be able to control the response in the future. 

"It takes a number of months for the telomeres to recover," Bailey said. "It’s one of the things that doesn’t quite get back to where you were when you started. We think that there is a real opportunity to think about long-term health outcomes for astronauts once they return to Earth and how we can better monitor and improve that outcome."

The shortening of the protective telomeres leads to DNA damage and makes individuals susceptible to a range of diseases including cancer, heart disease or immune system deficiency. Research, however, suggests that healthy diets and restorative practices such as meditation can help those chromosomal caps to recover.

Just like in astronauts in long duration mission, the bodies of Inspiration4 crew members showed other signs of aging during the spaceflight including increased markers for bone and muscle loss and brain stress. Those, however, returned to pre-flight levels within six months. Inspiration4 crew members Hayley Arceneaux and Chris Sembroski, who participated in the briefing didn’t seem to regret the degradation their telomeres suffered due to their space trip. 

"I was so happy to be able to contribute to science and I know that it was very important for all of our crew members," said Arceneaux.

Pioneering Inspiration4 mission crew member Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and pediatric cancer survivor, circuited Earth for nearly three days in September 2021. (Image credit: Inspiration4/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital)

Sembroski added: "It’s really humbling and honoring to be a part of this study. I don’t think any of our crew members really understood the full potential of what this mission was going to turn into, but it’s been incredible to see the impacts that have come from it." 

The study also found that the female crew members Arceneaux and geologist Sian Proctor recovered faster from the spaceflight with most of their health markers back at pre-flight levels faster than those of their male counterparts Sembroski and mission commander and benefactor Jared Isaacman. The results confirm observations in female NASA astronauts and suggest that female bodies may be better suited to endure the stresses of spaceflight. 

The Inspiration4 crew poses for a selfie in the Crew Dragon cupola. (Image credit: Inspiration4)

The data will be part of an open-access astronaut biological data repository, the Space Omics and Medical Atlas (SOMA), which has also been published as part of the Nature package. The atlas contains data from long-duration space missions conducted by NASA, JAXA and ESA, and it’s a first-of-a-kind resource allowing researchers to compare and study in detail the many biological, physiological and genetic changes that can occur in humans during spaceflight. 

The researchers hope the database will enable them in the future to not only select people that are genetically best suited to endure the rigors of space travel, but also to devise strategies to improve the outcomes for those suited less. 

"We want to use this data to predict how people will respond to space at a physiological and molecular level," said Mason. "Eventually, we would like to find ways to boost their response, target some of the changes with a drug and help them, so that we don’t exclude anybody from going to space."

Mason, in fact, published a book in 2021 called "The Next 500 Years: Engineering Life to Reach New Worlds," in which he makes a case for genetically engineering humans to make them better suited to explore and settle the solar system. He admits that the current state of knowledge is not sufficient to attempt any tempering with astronauts’ genomes. 

"We need probably another 20 years of data before I would even think we could have a good guess as to what to do," said Mason. "But this is the beginning of mapping out what changes to target, what to build new drugs around and what someday we can potentially do."

The research could also help medical scientists on Earth looking to find cures for genetic ailments that ruin lives of millions of children worldwide and for which there is currently no remedy.

The three studies in the journal Nature about these spaceflight-induced genetic changes crew can be found here, here and here.

via Space

June 11, 2024 at 11:21AM

Modder gets Android on the Rabbit R1 AI gadget, makes it actually useful

For all the hullabaloo around AI this year, the consumer products that feature AI seem a bit lackluster. They’re either augmenting existing designs (like “AI PCs”) or they’ve flopped hard.

Take the Rabbit R1, which was such an instant failure that it made its way into mainstream news. But one modder is determined to make the thing useful—with a bit of old-fashioned Android ROM power.

If you missed the feeding frenzy that was the Rabbit R1 launch, here’s a quick recap: the Rabbit R1 is a handheld gadget that claims to leverage the power of artificial intelligence to replace some (or all) of the functions of a smartphone, automatically performing the tasks that you’d normally do yourself via apps and texts.

At launch, the barebones hardware (basically just a front-end for APIs and a lot of ChatGPT-style voice interfaces) was blasted as essentially useless, with almost all of the promised near-magical functionality either broken or unavailable until an unspecified date. It was so bad, the makers of the Rabbit R1 have been accused of running a multi-million-dollar scam.

Despite all its problems, the Rabbit R1 is actually kind of cute. With its squat orange case and prominent scroll wheel, it looks like one of those experimental smartphones you would’ve seen ten years ago (like the Blackberry Passport).

Maybe that’s why smartphone modder Facundo Holzmeister of the HowToMen YouTube channel decided to get a custom-baked version of Android running on the thing.

Unsurprisingly, the Rabbit R1’s mobile hardware already runs Android under its hood. The open-source OS is, after all, the easiest way to customize any kind of small gadget with a touchscreen.

But in order to turn the thing into something closer to a conventional smartphone—a small, goofy-looking one—Holzmeister needed to get a slightly customized version of the Lineage custom ROM on the thing, building on initial work done by others since the device’s launch.

Running a more fully-baked version of Android 13, the Rabbit R1 becomes a tiny, functional phone that’s a bit slow and janky. The rotating camera is now working, which is more than you could say for the “AI detection” functionality of the original software.

You can even use the chunky scroll wheel as a volume dial, and you can send and receive texts with the device’s SIM card. (Sadly, phone calls aren’t working at the moment.) But perhaps most impressive is that many apps from the Google Play Store can run on the 2.8-inch screen.

The $200 Rabbit R1 likely won’t be a favorite of Android modders like other oddball hardware, such as the old Barnes & Noble Nook Color or the HP Touchpad. Its tiny size and abysmal battery life when running a more fully-fledged OS make it impractical for everyday use.

But if you’re a fan of weird, doomed gadgets, it might just get a spot on your shelf next to, say, the HTC First “Facebook Phone” or the OUYA.

via PCWorld

June 10, 2024 at 10:18AM

A US Company Enabled a North Korean Scam That Raised Money for WMDs

For years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been unraveling what it asserts is a scam perpetrated by agents of North Korea, which used fake companies employing real IT workers to funnel money back to the regime’s military.

An American company played a key role in creating shell companies used as part of the scheme, a WIRED review of public records shows. Elected officials are now contemplating addressing loopholes in business-registration law that the scheme exposed.

In May, Wyoming secretary of state Chuck Gray revoked the business licenses of three companies linked to the North Korean scam: Culture Box LLC, Next Nets LLC, and Blackish Tech LLC. Gray said his office made the decision after receiving information from the FBI and conducting an investigation.

“The communist, authoritarian Kim Jong Un regime has no place in Wyoming,” Gray said in a May press release.

The companies posed as legitimate operations where businesses could hire contract workers to perform IT solutions, complete with fake websites featuring smiling photos of apparent employees. The companies all had one thing in common: Their incorporation documents were filed by a company called Registered Agents Inc., which says its global headquarters is in Sheridan, Wyoming.

Registered Agents, which provides incorporation services in every US state, takes the practice of business privacy to the extreme, and regularly uses fake personae to file formation documents with state agencies, a WIRED investigation previously found.

Culture Box LLC, one of the companies that Gray and the FBI linked to North Korea, listed “Riley Park” as the name of a Registered Agents employee on documents submitted to the Wyoming secretary of state. Park, according to several former employees of Registered Agents, is a fake persona that the company regularly used to file incorporation documents.

In a statement provided to WIRED, Registered Agents wrote, “The Wyoming Secretary of State dissolved the entities and we initiated the 30-day process to resign as their agent in mid-May. Ours and Wyoming’s processes to identify bad actors works. It strikes the best balance of individual privacy and business transparency supported by an entire ecosystem that cares about supporting entrepreneurs while rooting out the small percent of scammers.” The FBI’s St. Louis office, which led the investigation, did not respond to a request for comment.

The North Korean operation worked like this: Agents of the regime created fake companies purporting to be legitimate firms offering freelance IT services. Workers hired by North Koreans, or North Koreans themselves, would then perform legitimate contractor work, often using assumed identities.

In some instances, Americans would set up low-cost laptops with remote-access software, allowing North Korean workers to perform freelance IT work while appearing to use American IP addresses. The FBI referred to these Americans as “virtual assistants.”

The payments for the IT work were eventually funneled back to North Korea—where, the Department of Justice asserts, it was directed to the country’s Ministry of Defense and other agencies involved in WMD work. The scheme was so expansive that any company that hired freelance IT workers “more than likely” hired someone involved in the operation, according to FBI agent Jay Greenberg.

via Wired Top Stories

June 5, 2024 at 04:39AM

Qualcomm wants 50% of the PC market by 2029

The biggest news at Computex is how Snapdragon chips are storming the beaches of the Windows-based PC market, spearheading Microsoft’s huge Copilot+ laptop push. We’ve seen Arm-based PC hardware before, but the designs have improved so much that they’re meeting and sometimes beating the Intel and AMD competition. Qualcomm’s CEO thinks they might be good enough to dominate, and do it very quickly.

Speaking to Tom’s Hardware, Cristiano Amon doubled down on bullish projections from Arm, the company that designs the architecture behind the chips in smartphones, tablets, most integrated electronics, and now, Macs and PCs. Amon said that he subscribed to the idea that Arm-based chips could take over 50 percent of the PC market within five years.

“Some OEMs are talking about 40 to 60 percent of their total sales within three years,” Amon said. “I also saw some OEMs talking about 50 percent, but those are the order of magnitudes. That’s kind of the opportunity that we have.”

Yesterday PCWorld’s Mark Hachman spoke with Arm CEO Rene Haas about Qualcomm’s designs for Arm Snapdragon chips, the rise of AI in consumer PCs, and how Apple pushed the industry to open up to Arm processors. For a more practical look at what an Arm-based Windows PC might mean for you, be sure to check out Gordon Ung’s analysis of benchmarks between laptops powered by Qualcomm, Apple, and Intel hardware.

via PCWorld

June 4, 2024 at 10:41AM

Google Is an Even Bigger Privacy Nightmare Than You Think

Saying "Google is a privacy nightmare" in 2024 probably isn’t telling you anything you don’t already know. It’s an open secret that one of the biggest tech companies in the world gobbles up our data, with and without our consent, and uses it in a bunch of different ways, some of which you might find unscrupulous.

But Google still has the capacity to shock: 404 Media has revealed details from six years’ worth of privacy and security reports contained within an internal Google database. These previously unreported privacy incidents number into the thousands, and were disclosed by Google employees to the company.

The incidents run the gamut in terms of severity, and it’s worth noting that some affected only a limited pool of users, or were rapidly addressed by Google. However, as a whole, the collection of incidents 404 Media shared today is as fascinating as it is concerning.

Privacy issues affecting children, YouTube users

Many of these incidents affected children. One claim suggests Google exposed over one million email addresses from users following an acquisition of the company, including those belonging to minors—and it’s possible those users’ IP addresses and geolocation data were also exposed. Another claim says a "Google speech service" logged all audio for an hour, and the recordings included speech information for around 1,000 children; a filter that was set to block data collection when it detects children’s voices failed to work. And during the launch of the YouTube Kids app, children that pressed the microphone button on an Android keyboard had their audio logged.

Other incidents also involved YouTube. Most notably, Nintendo’s YouTube account was mildly compromised after a Google employee was able to access its private videos. That employee then leaked news that Nintendo was preparing to reveal in an upcoming announcement, although Google says the incident was "non-intentional." YouTube also suggested videos to users based on videos those people had deleted from their watch histories, which goes against YouTube’s internal policies. It’s not clear why it happened. YouTube’s blurring feature also left uncensored versions of pictures available for view, and videos uploaded as "Unlisted" or "Private" had a short window when they were publicly viewable.

Waze leaked addresses and Google Docs links were made public

It doesn’t stop there. Other general privacy and security issues include problems with the carpool feature in Waze, which reportedly leaked both trip information and the addresses of users. Someone reportedly manipulated affiliate tracking codes through AdWords (Google’s ad platform at the time) by modifying customer accounts; a raid of Google’s Jakarta office was leaked through a warning from Google’s security service; and for a time, Google Drive and Google Docs on iOS treated the “Anyone with the link" setting as a "Public" link.

The most egregious incident, in my view, impacted people who weren’t actively using a Google service in the first place. The report alleges that Google’s Street View feature transcribed and saved license plate numbers alongside geolocation information. That’s a pretty big mistake, Google. Not that any of us actually consented to Google taking photographs of nearly every street in the world, but the company is supposed to censor identifying information, like faces, license plates, and, of course, where in the world you happened to be when that Street View photo was taken—not log it away.

To Google’s credit, the company told 404 Media that these reports were all addressed, and are from over six years ago. Google says it is all part of the company’s process for reporting product issues: If an employee detects a problem, such as a privacy or security violation, they can flag it and send along to the appropriate department for triage. The company also said some of these flags ended up not being issues at all, or stemmed from problems impacting third-party services.

Too big to avoid

Admittedly, all products and services, especially at the scale at which Google operates, are going to have issues from time to time. No company makes the perfect system, and when issues happen, what’s important is how the company responds, and what it changes to ensure the issue doesn’t occur again. It’s tough to be so understanding, though, when you’re talking about a company as gargantuan as Google. The search giant owns a piece of all of our data in some way, shape, or form, so when one of their products has an issue, whether it involves revealing censored images, logging audio from users, or storing private data with geolocation tags, it’s going to affect an outsized number of people.

It doesn’t even matter if you pledge to swear off using Google products for good: You could abstain from internet-connected devices entirely, and still have your license plate scraped and stored by Street View. There’s no getting away from it: Google is now everywhere, and we can only hope they are being as responsive and thorough as they claim in safeguarding our data.

via Lifehacker

June 3, 2024 at 04:36PM