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SpaceX Mars launch site in Texas may be spared by border-security deal

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spacex texas boca chica beach launch site starship test hopper sunset copyright jaime almaguerA prototype of SpaceX’s Starship rocket stands vertically at the company’s launch site in Boca Chica, Texas.Copyright Jaime Almaguer

  • SpaceX, the rocket company founded by Elon Musk, is building spaceship prototypes at a launch site in southern Texas.
  • The site is less than 3 miles from the US-Mexico border and embroiled in President Donald Trump’s push for a border wall.
  • Government maps reportedly show a proposed physical barrier running directly through SpaceX’s site.
  • President Trump on Thursday said he will sign a nearly $1.4 billion border-security deal that excludes SpaceX’s site from fencing.
  • However, Trump on Friday declared a national emergency to circumvent Congress and build more fencing that’s not part of the agreement.

Elon Musk’s aerospace company, SpaceX, is working around-the-clock to build a rocket-launch site at the southern tip of Texas.

Most immediately, SpaceX plans to fly a stainless-steel “test hopper” vehicle: a squat prototype for a much larger launch system that Musk calls Starship. When stacked together, a complete Starship spaceship and its Super Heavy rocket booster may stand about 39 stories high.

Firing off Starship to the moon or Mars from that site might be impossible, though, if a wall cuts across the launch facility: SpaceX’s site is less than three miles from the US-Mexico border. Yet lawmakers said a physical barrier is precisely what proposed maps from the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) showed, according to Bloomberg.

However, a $1.37 billion border-security agreement by a bipartisan group of lawmakers may spare SpaceX’s facility from DHS bulldozers, thanks to a small section in the 1,159-page document.

“None of the funds made available by this Act or prior Acts are available for the construction of pedestrian fencing … within or east of the Vista del Mar Ranch tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge,” states section 231 of the bill.

That wildlife refuge region encompasses SpaceX’s 50-acre site launch site.

Read more: SpaceX’s giant rocket ship was damaged by powerful winds in Texas — the nosecone blew over, and Elon Musk says repairs will take weeks

Though President Donald Trump is expected to sign the agreement into law, it remains to be seen if Musk’s facility would be spared.

What SpaceX is doing in southern Texas

starship test hopper stainless steel spacesuit actual photo boca chica brownsville texas launch site elon musk twitter january 2019 DwmagBZX4AEbUN enlargedSpaceX’s “test hopper,” an experimental stainless-steel ship, in Texas. The person at the bottom is for scale.Elon Musk/SpaceX via Twitter

SpaceX began seriously exploring the South Texas launch site around 2012.

Documents filed by SpaceX suggest the company would annually launch up to 12 missions from the site per year: about 10 on the company’s workhorse Falcon 9 rockets, and no more than two on Falcon Heavy — currently the world’s most powerful operational rocket.

But during a May 2018 press briefing, Musk said the South Texas launch site “will be dedicated to” the upcoming Starship system (formerly called “Big Falcon Rocket“), and that other sites would launch Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy.

Read more: SpaceX test-fired a Raptor rocket engine with ‘insane power’ for moon and Mars missions. The future of Elon Musk’s company may ride on its unrivaled performance.

Now parts of the site, if not the entire area, is at risk of being taken over by the government, due to a Republican-led push for a border wall.

Trump campaigned on erecting a southern border wall, stating that Mexico would pay for the project. As President, he’s pushed for about $5.7 billion of taxpayer funding for the physical barrier (and claimed Mexico would later reimburse the US).

Trump’s latest push led to political deadlock and a 34-day partial shutdown of the US government in December and January — the longest in history. About two-thirds of Americans oppose funding a physical border, according to opinion poll data collected in early January.

The new bipartisan compromise does not come close to Trump’s desired level of funding, and Trump said Wednesday that he is not happy with the deal, according to the Associated Press. On Thursday, Trump said he will sign the bill anyway, but by Friday morning he signed a national emergency declaration.

Why Musk’s Mars launch site may still be at risk

spacex brownsville texas equator distance google earthSpaceX’s Texas launch site is located just west of Boca Chica Beach and Brazos Island.Google Earth; Business Insider

In theory, declaring a national emergency will permit the Trump administration to circumvent congressional funding rules and reassign more than $6 billion from other government sources toward a border wall. Part of that diversion includes $3.6 billion earmarked for military construction projects, including housing for military families.

“I didn’t need to do this,” Trump said on Friday of the national emergency declaration, adding: “I just want to get it done faster.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday that he would “support the national emergency declaration.”

Though the $1.37 billion in the new law can’t be used to build fences over SpaceX’s launch site, it’s not yet clear if Trump’s emergency funding (which is not part of the new law) could be used to do so.

The US government would first have to take over a series of properties owned by SpaceX, and at least one lawyer sees the use of eminent domain by way of Trump’s emergency order as unlikely.

“The law does not permit the use of eminent domain under the emergency declaration provisions, and any attempt to seize private property will likely be frustrated by length court proceedings,” Matthew Kolken, an immigration lawyer and an elected board member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told Business Insider.

SpaceX declined to comment on the proposed legislation.

US Congressman Henry Cuellar, a Democrat representing Texas’ 28th district, claimed credit for getting the language into the new agreement that may ultimately protect SpaceX’s interests.

“This is a big win for the Rio Grande Valley,” Rep. Cuellar said in a statement emailed to Business Insider. “I worked hard to include this language because protecting these ecologically-sensitive areas and ensuring local communities have a say in determining the solutions that work for them is critical. I know we can secure the border in a much more effective way, and at a fraction of the cost, by utilizing advanced technology and increasing the agents and properly equipping them on the border.”

Some fencing already exists near the SpaceX launch site in South Texas, but it “is full of gaps” that US Customs and Border Patrol agents and landowners “drive through daily,” a former local government official told Business Insider.

Physical barriers are not all that guard the border in the area, though.

“There are sensors all over and they know when someone is going through,” the official said. “The [Rio Grande] river below that is patrolled by boat, helicopter, drone, and monitored by the blimp.”

John Haltiwanger contributed reporting to this story.

This story has been updated with new information. It was originally published on February 14, 2019.

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Trudeau Government Should Turn to Sustainable Floor Heating In Its New Deal

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A consortium has been chosen by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to manage the $1.1-billion overhaul of five heating and cooling plants in the National Capital Region. However, this decision has been met with a lot of disapproval by the country’s largest federal public service union.

Early June, the department announced that Innovate Energy has been awarded the 30-year contract “to design, retrofit, maintain and operate the plants,”winning the bid over a rival group that included SNC-Lavalin.

Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna, said the federal government was “leading by example” in its bid to drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions across the country. McKenna noted that by supporting this project, they’re utilizing heating and cooling infrastructure to promote a more environmentally friendly option.

“We’re very proud that our government is working with partners like Innovate Energy to modernize this critical infrastructure,” she said during the announcement at one of the facilities that will be upgraded, the Cliff Heating and Cooling Plant in downtown Ottawa.

The plants would be known as the district energy system and would heat 80 buildings in the area with steam. It is also expected to cool 67 of these buildings with chilled water through more than 14 kilometres of underground pipes.

Under the Energy Services Acquisition Program, PSPC will be tasked with modernizing the outdated technology in the plants to lower emissions and supportgrowth in the eco-friendly technology sector.

During the first stage of the overhaul, the system would be converted from steam to low temperature hot water and then switched from steam to electric chillers—with the estimated completion date being 2025. PSPC notes that the project will reduce current emissions by 63 per cent, the equivalent of removing 14,000 non-eco-friendly cars off the road.

Afterwards, the natural gas powering the plant will then be replaced by carbon-neutral fuel sources, which according to estimated will reduce emissions by a further 28 per cent. The renovation project is bound to save the government an estimated fee of more than $750 million in heating and cooling costs in the next 40 years.

Furthermore, the implementation of radiant floor heating in Ottawa by the federal government would be an additional step in driving its agenda for a more eco-friendly state.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website, radiant floor heating has a lot of benefits and advantages over alternate heat systems and can cut heating costs by 25 to 50 per cent.

“It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts,” the website states.

Radiant floor heating provides an equal amount of heat throughout a building, including areas that are difficult to heat, such as rooms with vaulted ceilings, garages or bathrooms. Consideringit warms people and objects directly—controlling the direct heat loss of the occupant—radiant floor heating provides comfort at lower thermostat settings.

“Radiators and other forms of ‘point’ heating circulate heat inefficiently and hence need to run for longer periods to obtain comfort levels,” reports the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNet).

Radiant heating is a clean and healthy option—a perfect choice for those with severe allergies—as it doesn’t rely on circulating air, meaning there are no potentially irritating particles blowing around the room. Additionally, it is more energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing with wall radiators or floor registers and virtually noiseless when in operation.

“They draw cold air across the floor and send warm air up to the ceiling, where it then falls, heating the room from the top down, creating drafts and circulating dust and allergens.”

It is important for the leadership in Ottawa to equally drive the adoption of radiant floor heating as doing this would lead to increased usage in residential buildings—and even government-owned buildings.

However, in October, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), a representative body of employees of the plants,began a campaign target at the government against their decision to use a public-private partnership (P3) for the retrofitting project, citing concerns about costs and safety.

According to the union, outside employees won’t be bound to the same health and safety standards of government workers and that typically P3 projects cost a lot more than traditional public financing deals.

The union demands that the government scraps the proposed project and meet PSAC members and experts to brainstorm on a new way forward that would ensure federal employees continue to operate and maintain the plants.

However, parliamentary secretary to public services and procurement minister, Steve MacKinnon said that the union officials have consulted him but that after conducting an analysis, the P3 option was still the best for the job.

“We didn’t have (to) sacrifice on safety or health — we didn’t have to sacrifice on job security,” he said.

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Steps to becoming a Data Scientist

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Data science has become one of the most in-demand career paths in this century, according to Business Insider. With the amount of information being circulated online, it has created a huge demand for storing, interpreting and implementing big data for different purposes—hence the need for a data scientist.

Today, there too much information flying around for regular people to process efficiently and use. Therefore, it has become the responsibility of data scientists to collect, organize and analyze this data. Doing this helps various people, organizations, enterprise businesses and governments to manage, store and interpret this data for different purposes.

Though data scientists come from different educational backgrounds, a majority of them need to have a technical educational background. To pursue a career in data science, computer-related majors, graduations and post graduations in maths and statistics are quite useful.

Therefore, the steps to becoming a data scientist are quite straightforward.  After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in an IT related field—such as computer science, maths or physics—you can also further your education by obtaining a master’s degree in a data science or any other related field of study. With the necessary educational background, you can now search for a job and obtain the required experience in whichever filed you choose to invest your acquired skills.

Here are the necessary steps to be taken to become a data scientist.

Step 1: Obtain the necessary educational requirements

As earlier noted, different educational paths can still lead to a career in data science. However, it is impossible to begin a career in data science without obtaining a collegiate degree—as a four-year bachelor’s degree is really important. However, according to a report by Business Insider, over 73% of data scientist in existence today have a graduate degree and about 38% of them hold a Ph.D. Therefore, to rise above the crowd and get a high-end position in the field of data science, it is important to have a Master’s degree or a Ph.D.—and with various online data science masters program, obtaining one is quite easy.

Some institutions provide data science programs with courses that will equip students to analyze complex sets of data. These courses also involve a host of technical information about computers, statistics, data analysis techniques and many more. Completing these programs equips you with the necessary skills to function adequately as a data scientist.

Additionally, there are some technical—and computer-based degrees—that can aid you begin a career in data science. Some of them include studies in, Computer Science, Statistics, Social Science, Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Applied Math. These degrees will imbibe some important skills related to data science in you—namely, coding, experimenting, managing large amounts of data, solving quantitative problems and many others.

Step 2: Choose an area of specialization

There rarely exists an organization, agency or business today that doesn’t require the expertise of a data scientist. Hence, it is important that after acquiring the necessary education to start a career as a data scientist, you need to choose an area of specialization in the field you wish to work in.

Some of the specializations that exist in data science today include automotive, marketing, business, defence, sales, negotiation, insurance and many others.

Step 3: Kick start your career as a data scientist

After acquiring the necessary skills to become a data scientist, it is important to get a job in the filed and company of your choice where you can acquire some experience.

Many organizations offer valuable training to their data scientists and these pieces of training are typically centred around the specific internal systems and programs of an organization. Partaking in this training allows you learn some high-level analytical skills that were not taught during your various school programs—especially since data science is a constantly evolving field.

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Artificial intelligence pioneers win tech’s ‘Nobel Prize’

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Computers have become so smart during the past 20 years that people don’t think twice about chatting with digital assistants like Alexa and Siri or seeing their friends automatically tagged in Facebook pictures.

But making those quantum leaps from science fiction to reality required hard work from computer scientists like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. The trio tapped into their own brainpower to make it possible for machines to learn like humans, a breakthrough now commonly known as “artificial intelligence,” or AI.

Their insights and persistence were rewarded Wednesday with the Turing Award, an honor that has become known as technology industry’s version of the Nobel Prize. It comes with a $1 million prize funded by Google, a company where AI has become part of its DNA.

The award marks the latest recognition of the instrumental role that artificial intelligence will likely play in redefining the relationship between humanity and technology in the decades ahead.

Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” said Cherri Pancake, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, the group behind the Turing Award.

Although they have known each other for than 30 years, Bengio, Hinton and LeCun have mostly worked separately on technology known as neural networks. These are the electronic engines that power tasks such as facial and speech recognition, areas where computers have made enormous strides over the past decade. Such neural networks also are a critical component of robotic systems that are automating a wide range of other human activity, including driving.

Their belief in the power of neural networks was once mocked by their peers, Hinton said. No more. He now works at Google as a vice president and senior fellow while LeCun is chief AI scientist at Facebook. Bengio remains immersed in academia as a University of Montreal professor in addition to serving as scientific director at the Artificial Intelligence Institute in Quebec.

“For a long time, people thought what the three of us were doing was nonsense,” Hinton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They thought we were very misguided and what we were doing was a very surprising thing for apparently intelligent people to waste their time on. My message to young researchers is, don’t be put off if everyone tells you what are doing is silly.” Now, some people are worried that the results of the researchers’ efforts might spiral out of control.

While the AI revolution is raising hopes that computers will make most people’s lives more convenient and enjoyable, it’s also stoking fears that humanity eventually will be living at the mercy of machines.

Bengio, Hinton and LeCun share some of those concerns especially the doomsday scenarios that envision AI technology developed into weapons systems that wipe out humanity.

But they are far more optimistic about the other prospects of AI empowering computers to deliver more accurate warnings about floods and earthquakes, for instance, or detecting health risks, such as cancer and heart attacks, far earlier than human doctors.

“One thing is very clear, the techniques that we developed can be used for an enormous amount of good affecting hundreds of millions of people,” Hinton said.

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