SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Our awareness of Mars dates back millennia, while our modern picture of the red planet emerged in the 1870s, when Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli claimed to see networks of channels (canali) through his telescope. The Italian word, mistranslated into English as "canals," helped inspire American astronomer Percival Lowell to observe Mars for decades and create detailed maps of a Martian canal system.
Lowell's work popularized the idea of Mars as a dry and dying world with canals constructed by an advanced civilization carrying life-giving water from the polar ice caps. (Related: The Psychology of Deep Space Travel.)
This romantic vision helped spur novels like War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells. But in the 20th century, Wells's fantastic sci-fi world of heat-ray-wielding Martian invaders gave way to scientific research on how humans might actually visit the red planet.
German rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun was the first to develop a practical plan for a Martian journey. In the early 1950s, while working for the U.S. government, he proposed a massive expedition involving ten 4000-ton spaceships and 70 crew members.
The envisioned Mars trip reflected von Braun's grand dream of winged shuttle rocket fleets, a giant orbiting space station, and a moon base. Beginning in 1952, Collier's magazine published eight articles on this futuristic goal, hiring artists to bring von Braun's plans to life. ("Meet One of Mars Rover Curiosity's Earthbound Twins.")
Working with von Braun, Walt Disney produced a series of television specials dramatizing human trips to orbit, the moon, and finally Mars. Cereal manufacturers introduced toy models of this proposed Martian space fleet.
More than half a century on, the dream that compelled so many Americans still seems, to many, to be just that: a dream.
So why hasn't Martian travel happened yet?
Technology and cost have been the two big sticking points.
Von Braun's plan, for its part, overlooked many barriers—prolonged effects of weightlessness, radiation from solar flares—and was grounded in a poor understanding of Mars, whose thin atmosphere makes it a far more hostile place than he knew.
The costs involved to solve such problems are immense, helping prevent Mars travel so far. But Von Braun's proposals have given rise to more than a thousand schemes from governments, companies, and private groups to reach the red planet. The NASA publication Humans to Mars, written by David S.F. Portree, chronicles these efforts. Here are highlights:
1962: Project EMPIRE. A series of studies by NASA and outside aerospace contractors, Project EMPIRE proposed a Mars flyby using the same 500-day orbit as the planned 2018 Inspiration Mars trip. The flyby was designed to allow astronauts to gain more information about the planet and return to Earth. Later plans envisioned an enormous rocket called Nova—larger than the Saturn V moon rocket—to boost five 450-foot-long (137-meter-long) ships to orbit, carrying a total of 15 crew members to Mars for an extended stay. This and other early plans assumed large manned ships would slow down by skimming off the surface of a thick Martian atmosphere, saving huge amounts of fuel.
1964: Mariner 4. This unmanned probe, the first to reach Mars, revealed a planet with a far thinner atmosphere and higher radiation levels than expected. Lowell's canals and an ancient Martian civilization were missing. Mariner revealed that human travel to Mars would be hazardous and that automated probes might perform many observations more cheaply.
1966: JAG. This plan for a 1976 mission proposed using a nuclear-powered rocket carrying four humans on a flyby around Mars. On approach, an automated probe would descend to the planet's surface, collect soil samples, then quickly rocket up to a manned ship zooming overhead. The crew would return to Earth after a 667-day voyage. Soaring Vietnam War costs killed the project, although the automated lander eventually developed into the unmanned Viking missions that successfully touched down on Mars in 1976.
1969: Post-Apollo. Hoping to exploit the first moon landing, NASA proposed an ambitious follow-on program, pitched in part by Wernher von Braun and echoing his original vision: a winged shuttle, a space station, and a large human expedition to Mars. Faced with Vietnam War costs and waning public interest in space following the moon landing, the plan was rejected, though then President Richard Nixon approved development of the space shuttle. In the following decades, unmanned craft successfully visited Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.
1989: Space Exploration Initiative. Developed during the first Bush Administration, the plan provided a framework to complete the space station, set up a lunar outpost, and mount a Mars expedition around 2010. Cost estimates soared to over $500 billion, dooming the effort.
2004: Vision for Space Exploration. This plan, hatched during the second Bush Administration, called for using technology developed for the Apollo and shuttle programs to construct a new crew vehicle, booster rocket, and heavy-lift rocket to return to the moon as early as 2015. New technologies and approaches tested on the moon, the thinking went, would lead to human trips to Mars around 2030. Most of the program was canceled for cost reasons.
2012: Red Dragon. Developed by Elon Musk's Space Exploration company, this plan proposes to send an automated "Dragon" vehicle to land on Mars in 2018, paving the way for an eventual human landing.
2013: Inspiration Mars. Proposed by Dennis Tito, the first space tourist, the idea is to seize on an unusual 2018 planetary alignment to send a male and female astronaut on a 500-day flyby around Mars. The National Geographic Society is exploring the idea of partnering with Tito's group.-www.shfaqna.com/English
President Correa’s policies resulted in reversing the crisis into success for Ecuador. In 2010 the country's GDP grew by 3.6 percent and in 2011 by 7.8 percent, according to the CIA World Factbook. According to the Central Bank of Ecuador, in 2012 unemployment was at 5 percent, a record low indicator in the region over a 25-year period. The poverty rate declined to 16 percent against 25.5 percent on its peak in September of 2009.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – On February 17th President Correa won another term in Ecuador’s national elections. The Ecuadorians also elected 137 legislators of the National Assembly. The president's block won the absolute majority of 60-65 percent. His closest rival, the former banker Guillermo Lasso, won 24 percent of the votes. Rafael Correa who is an economist won his first election in 2006 determined to fight against poverty. He inherited the country in a completely dysfunctional state after the failure of liberal reforms of Lucio Gutierrez. In 2008 the country faced the global financial crisis, whose consequences were devastating for Ecuador. Oil prices that account for 62 percent of exports and 34 percent of the state budget fell by nearly 80 percent. The revenue from other export sectors and Ecuadorians working abroad also dramatically declined.
President Correa’s policies resulted in reversing the crisis into success for Ecuador. In 2010 the country's GDP grew by 3.6 percent and in 2011 by 7.8 percent, according to the CIA World Factbook. According to the Central Bank of Ecuador, in 2012 unemployment was at 5 percent, a record low indicator in the region over a 25-year period. The poverty rate declined to 16 percent against 25.5 percent on its peak in September of 2009. Spending on education has doubled since 2007 and on other sectors such as health care, subsidised housing loan program also increased significantly. Some of the measures taken by Correa which has taken the country out of the crisis in record time are mentioned here.
In 2009, Ecuador bought back 91 percent of its impaired bonds through an international auction. Today, only 1 percent of the country's GDP is spent on servicing the national debt. In 2009, the government ended 13 bilateral investment treaties that were not beneficial to the country, including those with the United States. In 2010, Ecuador revised 15 of 24 of its oil contracts and provided the rental payments of up to 80 percent, compared to 18 percent in the previous scheme. Oil revenues in the six years allowed doubling the social spending by 25 percent and increasing GDP by 50 percent. Correa replaced the US with China as the main investor in the country. In 2011, the government signed a contract for 2 billion dollars with the China Development Bank that won the rights for priority oil contracts up to 1 billion dollars.
Correa also signed a contract with China for financing hydro-power projects. In 2000, Ecuador abandoned its currency in favour of the US dollar as Correa could not adjust the exchange rate to counter the recession, or print the money like the US Federal Reserve. He nationalised the Central Bank forcing it to return assets held abroad to the amount of over 2 billion dollars and a tax on transferring money abroad was introduced. Banks are required to keep 60 percent of their liquid assets in the country. A program of preferential mortgage loans was launched, and now this money is coming back, fuelling the economy. This was Correa's way to provide the country with liquid assets in the shortest possible time. The government abolished the monopoly of banks and large oligarchic structures on the media which led to providing support to the reforms.
"You cannot cover the sun with your finger and deny radical changes in the country. We jumped into a departing train, there are jobs and health, we have gained dignity, justice, and sovereignty," Correa said in his recent campaign rally. The measures taken by Correa’s government since 2006 allowed Ecuador along with other governments in Latin America (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Cuba, and others) to confront globalisation by the transnational capital and create a new kind of socialism.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — A woman's race may determine whether vitamin D helps them to conceive through IVF.
The sunshine vitamin is famed for its benefit to bones and the immune system, but it also plays a role in conception. Now, evidence suggests that the vitamin's benefits may only apply to certain racial groups – while white women can boost their IVF success rates with vitamin D, the opposite appears to be true for Asian women.
For couples struggling to conceive, in vitro fertilisation (IVF) is a popular option. The technique involves extracting eggs from a woman and fertilising them with sperm outside of the body. The resulting embryo is then transferred into the uterus. As many women know, IVF isn't a guaranteed ticket to pregnancy – less than a third of treated women under 35 will go on to have a baby, and the odds decrease with age.
In 2010, Sebiha Özkan at Kocaeli University in Turkey and her colleagues found that women with the recommended levels of Vitamin D (30 ng/mil) appeared to boost their chances of IVF success. Women with the highest levels of vitamin D were four times more likely to get pregnant than those with the lowest levels (Fertility and Sterility, DOI: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2009.05.019).
Both IVF success rates and vitamin D levels are known to vary by race. To find out whether vitamin D carries the same benefits in women of different races, Briana Rudick at Columbia University Medical Center in New York and her colleagues compared vitamin D levels and IVF success rates in white Hispanic, white non-Hispanic, and Asian women from south-east Asia and the Indian subcontinent. All 188 women were having IVF for the first time.
Of these women, only 42 per cent had the recommended levels of vitamin D – just over a third had insufficient levels, while a fifth were completely deficient.
White women who were vitamin D replete were four times more likely to have a successful pregnancy than women of the same race who were deficient in the vitamin. Surprisingly, the reverse was true for Asian women – those with the lowest vitamin D levels were most likely to get pregnant.
"I'm thrilled the findings [in white women] corroborate our observation," says Lubna Pal at Yale School of Medicine, Connecticut, who co-authored the 2010 paper. The racial difference is something of a mystery, though. "It's an intriguing association that merits further study," she says.
Rudick's team aren't sure why the difference exists, but they think it might have something to do with the enzyme that deactivates vitamin D. There are also ethnic differences in the gene for the vitamin D receptor, which may affect the link between vitamin D and conception, they say.
Pal cautions that only a relatively small number of women in the study were Asian, and that lumping south-east Asian and Indian races together may be too crude. "They're very different in terms of skin colour, diet and culture," she says.
Rudick agrees that it's too soon to say for sure how much vitamin D is beneficial for Asian women. "I would never tell an Asian woman not to take vitamin D – there are too many other benefits, including pregnancy benefits [after conception]," says Rudick. But she adds that she wouldn't necessarily encourage them to follow the current recommendations of increasing their vitamin D levels either. —www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: New Scientist
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — The US voices outrage at the Syrian Army’s success in clearing Syria’s largest city of Aleppo of anti-Damascus armed groups.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Sunday that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has lost all legitimacy by attacking the armed groups in the city.
"If they continue this kind of tragic attack on their own people in Aleppo, I think it ultimately will be a nail in Assad's own coffin," Panetta told reporters.
"What Assad has been doing to his own people and what he continues to do to his own people makes clear that his regime is coming to an end. It's lost all legitimacy," he added.
This is while Syrian security forces are clearing more areas across the country of militants.
The US official made the remarks ahead of a weeklong trip to the Middle East and North Africa.
The United States has said it is enlarging its assistance to Syria's fractured opposition. Also, according to Reuters, the White House will soon authorize greater covert assistance to the armed gangs.
Washington has already thrown its support behind Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey for arming the Syrian opposition.
Syria has been experiencing unrest since March 2011. The country says outlaws, saboteurs, and armed terrorists are the driving factor behind the unrest and deadly violence, while the opposition accuses the security forces of being behind the killings.
Western states have been calling for Assad to step down. However, Russia and China are strongly opposed to the Western drive to oust the Syrian president.
Damascus says that the chaos is being orchestrated from outside the country. There are reports that a very large number of the militants are foreign nationals. —www.shafaqna.com/english
Source: Press TV
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — As all eyes are turning to London to watch the Olympic Games on Friday, July 27, many Olympians are citing religion as the driving force for their success in the world tournament.
"I think God has a big role to play in sporting activities especially sometimes when you're injured or things aren't going as well as expected,” Jehue Gordon, a Trinidadian track and field athlete, told BBC Sport.
“I think he's the one that can keep you on the righteous path," said Gordon, who aspires to win the gold medal in the 400m hurdle race at London Olympics.
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Gordon won the gold medal of CARIFTA Games in 2009.
He also set a world-age best and senior national record of 48.66 seconds in the heats at the 2009 World Championships in Athletics.
US gymnast Shawn Johnson also opines that religion is the driving force for success in the sport field.
"My religion and faith play a huge part, if not the biggest part, in my career,” says the retired gymnast.
“It gives me the strength and stability to believe in what I'm doing and see my dreams and goals through.
“It gives me meaning which is more than a medal or score could ever do for me. I pray before every meet and sometimes before every routine."
The Olympic Games are set to open in London on Friday, July 27, and run through August 12.
For Jonathan Edwards, Olympic gold medalist in the triple jump, religion is the key to success.
"My faith was pivotal to my success,” Jonathan Edwards, a former British Olympian, told BBC Sport.
“Believing in something beyond the self can have a hugely beneficial psychological impact, even if the belief is fallacious.”
A devout Christian, Edwards held the world record in triple jumping since 1995.
Due to his strong Christian beliefs, he initially refused to compete on Sundays, but eventually decided to do so in 1993.
This decision proved timely, since the qualifying round at that year's World Championships took place on a Sunday.
“It (religion) provided a profound sense of reassurance because I took the view that the result was in God's hands and that God was on my side,” he said.
“It enabled me to block out doubt before I was due to jump."—www.shafaqna.com/english
Source: On Islam