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ICESat-2 satellite tracks how polar ice is lost

Antarctica
This color-coded map shows the amount of ice gained or lost by Antarctica between 2003 and 2019. Dark reds and purples show large average rates of ice loss near the Antarctic coast, while blues show smaller rates of ice gain in the interior. (Smith et al. / Science / AAAS via UW)

A satellite mission that bounces laser light off the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland has found that hundreds of billions of tons’ worth of ice are being lost every year due to Earth’s changing climate.

Scientists involved in NASA’s ICESat-2 project report in the journal Science that the net loss of ice from those regions has been responsible for 0.55 inches of sea level rise since 2003. That’s slightly less than a third of the total amount of sea level rise observed in the world’s oceans over that time.

To track how the ice sheets are changing, the ICESat-2 team compared the satellite’s laser scans with similar measurements that were taken by the original ICESat spacecraft from 2003 to 2009. (ICESat stands for “Ice, Cloud and Elevation Satellite.”)

“If you watch a glacier or ice sheet for a month, or a year, you’re not going to learn much about what the climate is doing to it,” Ben Smith, a glaciologist at the University of Washington and lead author of the Science paper, said in a NASA news release. “We now have a 16-year span between ICESat and ICESat-2 and can be much more confident that the changes we’re seeing in the ice have to do with the long-term changes in the climate.”

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These landers made the list for lunar missions

Blue Moon lander
An artist’s conception shows Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lander, equipped with an ascent module built by Lockheed Martin. (Blue Origin Illustration via NASA)

NASA has selected teams led by Blue Origin, Dynetics and SpaceX to develop lunar landing systems capable of putting astronauts on the moon by as early as 2024.

“We want to be able to go to the moon, but we want to be a customer,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told reporters today during a teleconference. “We want to drive down the costs, we want to increase the access, we want to have our partners have customers that are not just us, so they compete on cost and innovation, and just bring capabilities that we’ve never had before.”

Fixed-price contracts totaling $967 million will go to the three corporate teams over the next 10 months to flesh out their proposals for lunar landing systems that would carry astronauts to and from the lunar surface.

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Bill Gates: We’ll need 7 billion doses of vaccine

Bill Gates has been big on vaccines since before the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but in a new blog posting, the Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist says the only way to end the pandemic for good is to offer a vaccine to almost all of the planet’s 7 billion inhabitants.

That’s big.

“We’ve never delivered something to every corner of the world before,” Gates notes.

It’s especially big considering that a vaccine hasn’t yet been approved for widespread use, and that it may take as long as a year to 18 months to win approval and start distribution.

Some companies are aiming for a faster pace: Oxford University says its vaccine candidate has shown encouraging results in trials with rhesus macaque monkeys, and if it clears accelerated human trials, a few million doses could be available by September.

Meanwhile, the White House is pressing an initiative called Operation Warp Speed that Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, could result in hundreds of millions of vaccine doses being manufactured by January.

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Remdesivir wins a vote of COVID-19 confidence

An antiviral drug called remdesivir got a strong vote of confidence today from one of the most prominent figures in the battle against the coronavirus outbreak.

“The data shows that remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters during a White House photo op.

Also today, The New York Times quoted an unnamed administration official as saying that the Food and Drug Administration is likely to clear remdesivir to be employed more widely as a treatment for COVID-19 under the terms of an Emergency Use Authorization.

The FDA acknowledged that it’s “engaged in sustained and ongoing discussions” with remdesivir’s manufacturer, California-based Gilead Sciences, to make the drug available to patients as quickly as possible where appropriate.

Fauci said his optimism is based on a randomized, placebo-controlled trial involving more than 1,000 COVID-19 patients at medical clinics around the world, including four clinics in Washington state.

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Mars Helicopter gets a new name: Ingenuity

Picking up on a suggestion from an Alabama high-school junior, NASA has given an ingenious name to the first helicopter due to take flight on Mars.

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Boeing plans cutbacks amid coronavirus losses

Boeing 777
A Boeing 777 jet is assembled at the company’s plant in Everett. (Boeing Photo)

Boeing says it’s planning to reduce its workforce by 10% and cut back on production of wide-body jets in response to the coronavirus pandemic’s dramatic effect on the aviation industry.

“We will be a smaller company for a while,” David Calhoun, Boeing’s CEO and president, told investors today during a conference call.

The moves came as the company reported an adjusted loss of $1.7 billion and a negative cash flow of $4.7 billion for the first quarter of the year. It was the second quarterly loss in a row, but it wasn’t as bad as analysts feared. As a result, Boeing’s shares finished today’s trading session up nearly 6%, at a closing price of $139.

In a letter to employees, Calhoun said that the pandemic has delivered a “body blow to our business.”

“The aviation industry will take years to return to the levels of traffic we saw just a few months ago,” he wrote.

In response, the company has started executing a plan for a 10% reduction in total workforce through a combination of voluntary layoffs, natural turnover and involuntary layoffs as necessary.

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SpaceX seeks regulatory changes for Starlink

Starlink launch
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches 80 Starlink satellites into orbit on April 22. (SpaceX Photo)

In a new regulatory filing, SpaceX says it plans to start offering commercial broadband internet service using its Starlink satellite constellation in the northern U.S. and southern Canada by the end of this year.

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Xplore works with gravity-lens telescope team

Solar sail
An artist’s conception shows Xplore’s advanced solar sail for NASA’s Solar Gravity Lens Focus mission. (Visualization by Bryan Versteeg, SpaceHabs.com / via Xplore)

NASA has awarded a $2 million grant to the Jet Propulsion LaboratoryThe Aerospace Corp. — and Xplore, a Seattle-based space venture — to develop the design architecture for a far-out telescope array that would use the sun’s gravitational field as a lens to focus on alien planets.

The Phase III award from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, or NIAC, would cover two years of development work and could lead to the launch of a technology demonstration mission in the 2023-2024 time frame.

Xplore’s team will play a key role in designing the demonstration mission’s spacecraft, which would be launched as a rideshare payload and propelled by a deployable solar sail.

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Coronavirus modelers raise projected death toll

COVID-19 death projection
A chart created by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation traces the actual and projected trend line for daily COVID-19 deaths in the United States between March 1 and July 1, as solid and dotted lines respectively. The pink shaded area indicates a wide uncertainty interval for future death rates. (IHME Graphic)

The timeline has slipped to the right and the projected death toll has trended upward in a new projection from the creators of a closely watched computer model for the course of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak.

Tonight’s update from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation raises the outlook for the cumulative U.S. death toll through Aug. 4 from the 67,641 fatalities projected on April 22 to a new figure of 74,073.

That’s creeping closer to the death toll of 81,114 that IHME laid out in its first projection, way back in late March. Since then, the figures have gone as high as 93,000 and as low as 60,000.

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Navy ‘officially’ releases widely seen UFO videos

The Defense Department has authorized the release of three unclassified Navy videos, captured in 2004 and 2015, that purport to show unidentified flying objects — or to use the Pentagon’s preferred term, unidentified aerial phenomena.

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