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Virgin Galactic flies first passenger, but Bezos questions altitude

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virgin galactic spaceshiptwo sst vss unity second spaceflight 50 miles marsscientific trumbull studiosSpaceShipTwo, or VSS Unity, launches toward the edge of space for the second time on February 22, 2018.Virgin Galactic; MarsScientific.com/Trumbull Studios

  • Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company founded by Richard Branson, launched its first passenger past the edge of space on Friday.
  • Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic‘s chief astronaut instructor, was the passenger. She was accompanied by two pilots.
  • SpaceShipTwo, named “VSS Unity,” rocketed the crew to nearly 56 miles above Earth, providing a few minutes of weightlessness.
  • But Jeff Bezos, who’s starting his own space tourism company, Blue Origin, questioned the capabilities of Virgin Galactic earlier this week.
  • Bezos said vehicles should fly above 62 miles — an internationally recognized boundary of space — to avoid leaving “asterisks” next to any space traveler’s name.

Richard Branson’s company, Virgin Galactic, has flown its first passenger on a rocket-powered spaceship.

The flight is part of a decades-long effort by multiple companies to usher in an era of frequent and safe suborbital space tourism, in which vehicles can fly high enough to briefly enter space, provide minutes of zero-gravity, and then return to the ground.

On Friday, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo vehicle, named “VSS Unity,” did just that. Unity lifted off the ground under the wings of a double-bodied airplane mothership called WhiteKnightTwo. Once at the proper altitude, the vehicle dropped from its mothership, ignited a rubber-fuel rocket engine, and soared high above Earth.

Unity accelerated to about three times the speed of sound and reached an altitude of 55.87 miles (89.9 km), according to Virgin Galactic. That’s about 10 times higher than a typical passenger jet’s cruising altitude. It’s the second flight to puncture the boundary that the US government considers to be the edge of space.

Virgin Galactic’s first passenger wasn’t a tourist who bought a $250,000 ticket, though — it was Beth Moses, the company’s chief astronaut instructor, who tested the crew cabin and experienced several minutes of weightlessness inside. She is the first person to fly as a passenger aboard a commercial spaceship.

“The crew enjoyed extraordinary views of Earth from the black skies of space and, during several minutes of weightlessness, Beth floated free to complete a number of cabin evaluation test points,” Virgin Galactic said in a press release. “The human validation of data previously collected via sensors, and the live testing of other physical elements of the cabin interior, are fundamental to the provision of a safe but enjoyable customer experience.”

However, another billionaire interested in space tourism — Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and the aerospace company Blue Origin — questioned the capabilities of Virgin Galactic earlier this week.

“One of the issues that Virgin Galactic will have to address, eventually, is that they are not flying above the Kármán line. Not yet. The vehicle isn’t quite capable,” Bezos said during an event at the Wings Club in New York on Tuesday.

Bezos explained that not going beyond this point would leave “asterisks” next to space flyers’ names.

What the Kármán line is and why Blue Orgin is targeting it

virgin galactic spaceshiptwo ss2 vss unity second spaceflight cockpit 56 milesInside the SpaceShipTwo or VSS Unity rocket ship as it flew near the edge of space on February 22, 2019. Beth Moses (center) was the company’s first passenger.Virgin Galactic

There is no official, globally recognized boundary for where Earth ends and space begins. In fact, just this month researchers said the outer fringes of Earth’s atmosphere stretch more than 150,000 miles beyond the moon.

Still, Earth’s air pressure drops off dramatically at high altitudes, and wing-based lift begins to peter out if a vehicle gets dozens of miles high. NASA and the US Air Force consider the demarcation between pilots and astronauts to be at an altitude of 50 miles (80 kilometers).

But “for most of the world … the edge of space is defined as 100 kilometers” or 62 miles high, Bezos said on Tuesday during a conversation moderated by Jeff Foust of Space News.

That boundary is named after Theodore von Kármán. In his book “The Wind and Beyond,” Kármán says that above 57 miles (92 kilometers) in altitude, “there is no longer any air to contribute lift.” The World Air Sports Federation has taken this line 5 miles (8 kilometers) higher to mark the spot where space begins.

Read more: The space between Earth and the moon is mind-boggling. This graphic reveals just how big it is — and what’s out there.

“I think that one of the things that [Virgin Galactic] will have to figure out, is how to get above the Kármán line. We fly to 106 kilometers” or 66 miles, Bezos said.

By “we” Bezos was referring to Blue Origin, which has developed an autonomous, fully reusable rocket-and-space-capsule system called New Shepard.

new shepard reusable rocket launch 2016 blue originBlue Origin’s reusable New Shepard suborbital rocket launches toward space in 2016.Blue Origin

The squat rocket launches the capsule on a ballistic (up-and-down) trajectory, then returns to Earth and lands, allowing it to be refueled. Meanwhile, the sleek crew capsule continues flying upward, providing about 4 minutes of weightlessness for passengers.

Read more: SpaceX’s list of competitors is growing — here are 9 futuristic rockets in the pipeline for the new space race

The reason New Shepard was designed to pierce the internationally recognized boundary of space, Bezos said, was to remove any doubts about status.

“We’ve always had as our mission that we wanted to fly above the Kármán line, because we didn’t want there to be any asterisks next to your name about whether you’re an astronaut,” he said.

Bezos added that Blue Origin plans to launch its first people on New Shepard imminently.

“This is the first time I’ve ever been saying, ‘this year,'” he said. “For a few years, I’ve been saying, ‘next year.'”

A series of firsts for suborbital space tourism

virgin galactic spaceshiptwo whiteknighttwo airplane ss2 wk2 vss unity second spaceflight 50 milesSpaceShipTwo, or VSS Unity, lifts off the ground attached to its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo. The small rocket ship launched toward the edge of space for a second time on February 22, 2019.Virgin Galactic

A representative of Virgin Galactic did not issue a response to Bezos’ comments in time for publication.

For its part, though, Branson’s space tourism outfit is claiming to rack up firsts.

“Today’s flight notched several additional firsts for the industry,” Virgin Galactic said in its release. “The flight was the first time that a non-pilot flew on board a commercial spaceship to space, and it was the first time that a crew member floated freely without restraints in weightlessness in space onboard a commercial spaceship; it was the first time that three people flew to space on a commercial spaceship, and Dave Mackay became the first Scottish-born astronaut.”

The flight also marked the company’s fifth back-to-back supersonic flight of a SpaceShipTwo vehicle, which is a welcome shift for the company. (In October 2014, one of its pilots died and another was seriously injured during an in-flight breakup of the “VSS Enterprise” SpaceShipTwo vehicle.)

“Flying the same vehicle safely to space and back twice in a little over two months, while at the same time expanding the flight envelope, is testament to the unique capability we have built up,” Branson said in the release.

He added: “Having Beth fly in the cabin today, starting to ensure that our customer journey is as flawless as the spaceship itself, brings a huge sense of anticipation and excitement to all of us here who are looking forward to experiencing space for ourselves. The next few months promise to be the most thrilling yet.”

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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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