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International Briefs

International Briefs
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Fly me to the Moon

Man first set foot on the moon 50 years ago, a historic event that impacted science and society alike. The first words spoken by mission leader Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, “a small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind” was watched live by over 600 million people, a viewership record that lasted till Lady Diana Spencer married Prince Charles in 1981. The New York Times banner headline—the straightforward “Men Walk on Moon”—was set in the largest type ever used in the paper. It also turned astronauts into global celebrities. Armstrong was the undoubted star, while the other two aboard Apollo 11, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Command Module pilot Michael Collins, were seen as heroes, not just pioneers.

Few people know that ISRO, India’s version of NASA, had timed its launch of Chandrayaan 2, the lunar probe, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of man setting foot on the lunar surface. Since then, there has been a giant leap in technology and the moon is very much in focus again with a new space race that involves players such as India and China apart from the original rivals, the US and Russia. There is also the new space race fuelled by the billionaires’ club. That includes Elon Musk’s Space X programme, fellow billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic which intends to turn space tourism into a business, while another billionaire, Jeff Bezos, is financing Blue Origin with a similar agenda. The late Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, had financed Vulcan Aerospace while Israeli-Russian billionaire Yuri Milner is backing the Breakthrough Starshot interstellar project. Frank Sinatra’s hit song, “Fly me to the Moon”, has never been more real.

Boeing’s Darkest Days

The fallout from the two crashes of Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft which killed 354 passengers and crew, is now being felt in America where relatives of the victims are testifying before the US Congress. Paul Njoroge, who lost his wife, his mother-in-law and three young children in the Ethiopian Airlines crash, told Congress that he wants the company’s top executives to resign and face criminal charges for not grounding the plane after earlier crashes. Michael Stumo, whose daughter, Samya Stumo, was killed in the crash, sat by his side.

Congress Committee members asked the men what actions should be taken to prevent such a tragedy from happening again. Njoroge wanted the plane scrapped while Stumo told legislators that the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) policy of allowing aircraft manufacturer employees to do safety inspections of airplanes should end and the FAA should return to a system where the inspectors are paid by the FAA but report jointly to the agency and the company.

End of the Road

The Netflix series, Narcos Mexico, was a rivetting saga of the country’s drug cartels led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. He will now spend the rest of his life in a United States penitentiary after a federal judge handed down a life sentence plus 30 years last week, accusing him of “overwhelming evil”. Guzman, 62, had been extradited to the US in 2017. Earlier, a jury had convicted Guzman of trafficking tons of cocaine, heroin and marijuana and engaging in multiple murder conspiracies as a top leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, Mexico’s largest, most violent drug trafficking organisations.

His 11-week trial, which featured testimony from more than a dozen former associates who had made deals to cooperate with prosecutors, offered an unprecedented look at the cartel’s inner workings. Andrea Velez, a former associate, said that Guzman had paid the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang $1 million to have her killed. The witnesses included some of Guzman’s top lieutenants who described how he built a sophisticated organisation resembling a multinational corporation. Forbes magazine once listed him as one of the world’s richest men.

Shake, Rattle & Roll

It’s the shake that has an entire nation, and the European Union, trembling. Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, has been seen in public three times at official events undergoing severe trembling and the country now debates the question of whether she should step down before her health problems cause more embarrassment. Newspaper headlines have questioned whether she’s fit enough to stay in office while medical experts offering a diagnosis are dominating TV chat-shows. Last week pushed the debate into overdrive when she started trembling a third time while welcoming the Finland PM to Berlin as the national anthem played. A day later, while welcoming the Danish PM, both leaders sat during the national anthem—a radical departure from protocol. Merkel has said she has no health issues but the fact is that it has led to talks in European capitals that after 14 years of leading the country, the Merkel era, during which she became the most powerful European leader, is drawing to a close.

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