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January 25


Year of the Rat begins in China

The Year of the Rat begins for the world’s most populous country, and people born under the sign, the first of the 12 animals on the Chinese zodiac, might benefit from honing their communication skills. They won’t need coaxing to watch their pennies or to view CCTV’s multi-hour New Year’s Eve extravaganza, which is one of the most important events in the country.

The week-long festival starts on New Year’s Eve, Jan 24, and runs to Jan 30.

The rat is the first of the 12 animals in the zodiac. Rat years include 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, and 2008. People born under the sign are said to be likable by all, but due to weak communication skills, their words may seem impolite and rude. They are said to be stingy hoarders, with a love for saving.

Called Chunwan, the CCTV broadcast is a cultural institution and is broadcast on national and local channels. The national broadcaster cleverly screens it live during the hours when every Chinese family is gathered to celebrate New Year’s Eve with a big feast. According to the Guinness World Records, the 2018 edition attracted one billion people, making it the most-watched television program in the world.

The gala features singing and dancing and other performances with an ideological message and overt glorification of the military. The South China Morning Post notes that it has become such an important event in the country that social media always buzzes with speculation about who and what will be featured months before the telecast. Featuring on the show is the highest accolade in the career of any performer, according to the publication, and many would kill to get on the program.

#23173 Published: July 14, 2019

January 27


Apollo 1 disaster 53 years ago in sharper relief following SpaceX Crew Dragon explosion

The 53rd anniversary of the Apollo I fire, which killed astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, falls just nine months after the explosion of the SpaceX Dragon crew capsule. The trauma of the 1967 disaster, which put America’s lunar landing programme on hold, explains why NASA won’t take chances with its newest great venture – the Commercial Crew Programme.

The 1967 tragedy happened during a practice session for the first manned Apollo mission. Its purpose, according to NASA, was "to demonstrate all space vehicle systems and operational procedures in as near a flight configuration as practical and to verify systems capability in a simulated launch." The extensive investigation identified the contributing factors and concluded that the Apollo team failed to give adequate attention "to certain mundane but equally vital questions of crew safety," and the Board’s investigation "revealed many deficiencies in design and engineering, manufacture, and quality control."

NASA began funding commercial-crew activities in 2010, in an attempt to spur the development of private astronaut taxis that take over the duties once performed by the Space Shuttle. According to, the agency has awarded some U.S. $270 million to four companies for such work – SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin and Sierra.

SpaceX had planned to launch its Dragon crew vessel, carrying astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, from Cape Canaveral to the International Space Station (ISS) in June 2019. The Apr 20 explosion occurred, with no crew aboard, during a Static Fire Test on the launch pad. NASA and SpaceX have gone back to the drawing board, as the Apollo team did after the 1967 fire. The key test and launch plans for all four companies will be on hold until everyone is sure history won’t repeat itself with a commercial crew.

NASA officials stressed that the setback offers a chance to make Crew Dragon a better, safer vehicle. "This is why we test," NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. "We will learn, make the necessary adjustments and safely move forward with our Commercial Crew Programme." notes that there is another lesson as well – one that the Apollo 1 fire, the losses of the shuttles Challenger and Columbia and other spaceflight disasters have drilled into us.

#23111 Published: May 17, 2019

January 27


World leaders and royals to attend 75th Auschwitz liberation events

The Soviet Army liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp in German-occupied Poland on Jan 27, 1945, and world leaders and members of royal families are expected for the 75th anniversary commemorations at both the Nazi death camp and in Israel.

The Soviets found some 7,000 prisoners when they entered the camp. An estimated 1.3 million inmates were shipped to Auschwitz for extermination. They were mainly Jews, but the Nazis also sent Poles, Roma and Soviet prisoners of war to their death at the camp.

The Birkenau death camp was set up in 1941 a short distance away from Auschwitz, which was declared a national memorial site in 1947.

The number of Auschwitz survivors is now shrinking rapidly. The Auschwitz75 organizers describe them as the most important guests at the ceremonies.

The anniversary is commemorated worldwide each year as Holocaust Remembrance Day.

#23363 Published: December 12, 2019

January 30


NASA retires Spitzer Space Telescope with release of stunning images

NASA plans to shut down the Spitzer Space Telescope, which sees the Universe in infrared light. Because of its infrared sensitivity, Spitzer can get exceptional views of nebulas, the clouds of dust and gas peppered throughout the Universe.

The agency marked the announcement with the release of a stunning pair of images taken by the instrument of nebulas, with stars scattered within them, including a cluster called Cepheus C and another called Cepheus B.

The primary mission of Spitzer, launched on Aug 23, 2003, was designed to last only 2.5 years. The telescope kept working at full capacity for 3.5 years longer than that before running out of coolant. reports that a star cluster and pillar are also on display in the image.
The green-tinted image draws on data gathered by two of Spitzer’s instruments, but only one of them is still working today; the other needed to be kept cool and has been offline since 2009.

The publication notes that NASA decided to end the mission in 2020 after an agency search for a private organization to take over the telescope turned up empty.

#23162 Published: July 4, 2019

January 30-31


African Union leaders to press forward on continental free trade deal

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa chairs the 33rd Ordinary Session of the African Union Assembly in Addis Ababa. He is expected to urge more investment in the bloc’s new free trade area and call for investors to choose infrastructure over arms. The bloc’s failure to Silence the Guns in Africa by 2020, a commitment made in 2013, overshadows the proceedings.

The African Continental Free Trade Area, launched in Jul 2019, aims to develop a single market of 54 nations, with 1.2 billion people and a combined GDP of US $3 trillion. In the opening address to the Financial Times Africa Summit in Oct 2019, Ramaphosa described the agreement as the realization of the dreams of the founders of the African Union 56 years ago, and compared it to the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 that began an era of integration in Europe. It is expected to boost intra-African trade from 15 per cent to 25 per cent by 2040. Intra-African trade is low compared to 47 per cent reported in the Americas, 61 per cent in Asia and 67 per cent in Europe, according to News24, which reported Ramaphosa’s speech.

The African Union’s Master Roadmap of Practical Steps to Silence the Guns in Africa by the Year 2020 offers steps for realizing the bloc’s plan to end conflict on the continent. It was presented as a flagship project of the bloc’s wider developmental blueprint for the continent, Agenda 2063. Its Master Roadmap identifies just about all of Africa’s familiar ills as causes of the endemic violence.

December is on target to end without the guns of Africa being silenced. In his address in London, Ramaphosa asserted that the development of Africa is being threatened through interference by external powers. "Foreign money that buys the weapons used in theatres of war on the African continent should instead be building bridges, ports and rail lines, schools, hospitals and clinics," he said.

#23311 Published: November 5, 2019

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