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Daily Archives: January 10, 2022

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How to Become a Better Listener

Robin Abrahams and Boris Groysberg wrote . . . . . . . . .

It’s never been more important — or more difficult — for leaders to be good listeners. Job switching is rampant, and remote work means we don’t get the nonverbal cues we’d pick up from an in-person conversation. Employers who fail to listen and thoughtfully respond to their people’s concerns will see greater turnover. And given that the highest rates of turnover are among top performers who can take clients and projects with them, and the frontline employees responsible for the customer experience, the risk is clear.

While listening is a skill universally lauded, it’s rarely, if ever, explicitly taught as such, outside of training for therapists. A 2015 study showed that while 78% of accredited undergraduate business schools list “presenting” as a learning goal, only 11% identified “listening.”

Listening well is the kind of skill that benefits from not just teaching but coaching — ongoing, specialized instruction from someone who knows your personal strengths, weaknesses, and most importantly, habits. Reading this article won’t turn you into a champion listener any more than reading an article on balance will turn you into Simone Biles. Our aims are to increase your understanding of what good listening is, and offer research-backed advice to improve your listening skills.

Becoming a Better Listener

A participant in any conversation has two goals: first, to understand what the other person is communicating (both the overt meaning and the emotion behind it) and second, to convey interest, engagement, and caring to the other person. This second goal is not “merely” for the sake of kindness, which would be reason enough. If people do not feel listened to, they will cease to share information.

This is “active listening.” It has three aspects:

  • Cognitive: Paying attention to all the information, both explicit and implicit, that you are receiving from the other person, comprehending, and integrating that information
  • Emotional: Staying calm and compassionate during the conversation, including managing any emotional reactions (annoyance, boredom) you might experience
  • Behavioral: Conveying interest and comprehension verbally and nonverbally

Getting good at active listening is a lifetime endeavor. However, even minor improvements can make a big difference in your listening effectiveness. Here’s a “cheat sheet” with nine helpful tips:

1. Repeat people’s last few words back to them.

If you remember nothing else, remember this simple practice that does so much. It makes the other person feel listened to, keeps you on track during the conversation, and provides a pause for both of you to gather thoughts or recover from an emotional reaction.

2. Don’t “put it in your own words” unless you need to.

Multiple studies have shown that direct repetition works, even though it may feel unnatural. Rephrasing what your interlocutor has said, however, can increase both emotional friction and the mental load on both parties. Use this tool only when you need to check your own comprehension — and say, explicitly, “I’m going to put this in my own words to make sure I understand.”

3. Offer nonverbal cues that you’re listening — but only if it comes naturally to you.

Eye contact, attentive posture, nodding and other nonverbal cues are important, but it’s hard to pay attention to someone’s words when you’re busy reminding yourself to make regular eye contact. If these sorts of behaviors would require a significant habit change, you can instead, let people know at the beginning of a conversation that you’re on the non-reactive side, and ask for their patience and understanding.

4. Pay attention to nonverbal cues.

Remember that active listening means paying attention to both the explicit and implicit information that you’re receiving in a conversation. Nonverbal cues, such as tone of voice, facial expression, and body language, are usually where the motivation and emotion behind the words is expressed.

5. Ask more questions than you think you need to.

This both improves the other person’s experience of feeling listened to, ensures that you fully understand their message, and can serve as a prompt to make sure important details aren’t overlooked.

6. Minimize distractions as much as possible.

You’ll want to avoid noise, interruptions, and other external distractions, but it’s important to minimize your internal distractions as well. If you are preoccupied with another topic, take time to re-center. If you know a conversation might be upsetting, calm yourself as much as possible before going in.

7. Acknowledge shortcomings.

If you know going into a conversation that you may be a subpar listener — because you’re exhausted from a dozen intense conversations earlier that day, unfamiliar with the topic under discussion, or any other reason — let the other person know right away. If you lose your footing during the conversation — a lapse of attention or comprehension — say you didn’t quite get it, and ask the person to repeat themselves.

8. Don’t rehearse your response while the other person is talking.

Take a brief pause after they finish speaking to compose your thoughts. This will require conscious effort! People think about four times faster than other people talk, so you’ve got spare brainpower when you’re a listener. Use it to stay focused and take in as much information as possible.

9. Monitor your emotions.

If you have an emotional reaction, slow the pace of the conversation. Do more repetition, pay attention to your breathing. You don’t want to respond in a way that will cause the other person to disengage. Nor — and this is a subtler thing to avoid — do you want to fall into the easy defense mechanism of simply tuning out what you don’t want to hear, or rushing to discount or argue it away.

The Skills Involved in Active Listening

Listening is a complex job, with many different subtasks, and it’s possible to be good at some and bad at others. Rather than thinking of yourself as a “good listener” or a “bad listener,” it can be useful to evaluate yourself on the subskills of active listening. Below is a breakdown of these subskills along with recommendations for what to do if you’re struggling with any one of them.

First, let’s start with what we call the “picking-up skills,” the skills that allow you to gather the information you need.

1. Hearing

If you have hearing loss, be honest about it. For whatever reason, people will boast about their poor vision but hide hearing loss. Help break that stigma. Ask for what you need — e.g., for people to face you when talking, or give you written materials in advance. Let others know, so that they will be alert to indications that you may have missed something.

2. Auditory processing

This refers to how well the brain makes sense of the sound cues. If you’re struggling to understand someone, ask questions to clarify. If it’s helpful, from time to time recap your understanding of both the subject and the other person’s reason for bringing it up — and ask them to validate or refine it. (Make it clear that you are doing this for your own understanding.)

3. Reading body language, tone of voice, or social cues accurately

The advice for auditory processing applies here. Asking a trusted colleague to be your nonverbal communication translator may be helpful in situations where accurate listening is important, but confidentiality is not.
The next two skills involve staying mentally present in the conversational moment.

4. Maintaining attention

If you often find yourself distracted when trying to listen to someone, control your environment as much as possible. Before you begin, set an intention by taking a moment to deliberately focus on this person, in this moment, in a conversation that will be about this topic. If appropriate, use a written agenda or in-the-moment whiteboarding to keep yourself and the other person aligned. If you do have a lapse in attention, admit it, apologize, and ask the person to repeat what they said. (Yes, it’s embarrassing, but it happens to everyone occasionally and to some of us frequently.) Arrive a few minutes early to acclimate yourself if you are having a meeting in a new place.

5. Regulating your emotional response

Meditation has both immediate and short-term benefits for relaxation and emotional control, regardless of the particular practice. The key is to do it twice a day for 10 to 20 minutes, focusing on a mental image or repeating a phrase and dismissing other thoughts as they come.

In the moment, focus on your breathing and do a “grounding exercise” if you feel agitated. These are simple psychological practices that work to pull people back to the present moment by directing attention to the immediate environment. Typical exercises include naming five colored objects that you can see (e.g., green couch, black dog, gold lamp, white door, red rug) or identifying four things that you are hearing, seeing, feeling, and smelling (e.g., hearing birdsong, seeing chair, feeling chenille upholstery, smelling neighbors’ cooking).

Finally, the active listener has to pull the entire package — receiving the message and acknowledging its receipt — together, in the moment. It can be challenging!

6. Integrating multiple sources of information.

At the very least, you are both listening to words and watching body language. You may also be listening to multiple people at once, communicating on multiple platforms simultaneously, or listening while also taking in visual information, such as building plans or sales projections.Figure out what helps you listen best. Do you need information in advance? A “processing break”? A chance to circle back and confirm everyone’s understanding? This is another situation where it can be helpful to have another person taking in the same information, who can fill you in on what you might have missed.

7. “Performing” active listening (e.g., eye contact, nodding, appropriate facial expressions).

If you have a natural poker face, or find it easier to pay attention to people’s words if you don’t make eye contact, share that information with your conversation partner, and thank them for accommodating you. Do extra repetition to make up for the lack of nonverbal communication. You may want to practice better performativity skills, but don’t add that mental burden to important conversations. Ask a five-year-old to tell you about their favorite superhero, then practice acting like you’re listening.

Please note: This list is not intended to be diagnostic instrument, but if any of the skills listed above seem truly difficult to you, you may want to consult your doctor. Scientific understanding of these processes, from the sensory organs to the brain, has expanded greatly in the past years. Many successful adults have discovered mid-career that they have undiagnosed sensory, attention, information-processing, or other disorders than can impair listening ability.

For each of these subskills, there is also a range of natural ability, and your life experience may have enhanced or muted this potential. We know, for example, that music training improves auditory processing skills, and acting or improvisation training improves your ability to “read” people and perform the role of an active listener. Having power, by contrast, decreases your ability to read others and accurately grasp their message — don’t let this happen to you!

Listening is vitally important, sadly undertaught, physically and mentally taxing, and in the aftermath of Covid-19 has never been more difficult. As we close in on a third year of unprecedented upheaval in work and life, employees and managers alike have more questions than ever — concerns that they may find it difficult to articulate for a variety of reasons, from mental fog to the sheer novelty of the situation.

When this happens, take a moment to listen closely. Consider the questioner, not simply the question. Now is the time for leaders to really listen, understand the context, resist the temptation to respond with generic answers, and recognize your own listening limitations — and improve on them. Have compassion for yourself — you can’t scream at your own brain like a drill sergeant and whip that raw grey matter into shape. What you can do is recognize your weak points and make the necessary adjustments.

Source : Harvard Business Review

Electric Cars Aren’t Just Vehicles. They’re Big Batteries.

Neel Dhanesha wrote . . . . . . . . .

Joe Biden is a self-professed “car guy.” As of late, he’s become an electric car guy. And he wants his fellow Americans to be electric car people too. Transportation is responsible for 29 percent of all US greenhouse gas emissions, and Biden’s ambitious climate policy, which aims to create a net-zero economy in the US by 2050, partially hinges on Americans switching from gas- to electric-powered cars and trucks.

But Biden is running into roadblocks. While the bipartisan infrastructure bill he signed into law in November included funding to build half a million EV chargers across the nation, the Build Back Better bill that would have included thousands of dollars in tax credits to help Americans buy electric cars is currently stalled in the Senate as Democrats try to find a compromise that satisfies Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who has refused to sign it in its current form. Another challenge is how Americans feel about EVs compared to traditional cars: A 2021 Pew Research Center report found that 51 percent of US adults oppose a proposal to phase out production of gasoline-powered cars and trucks.

So what will it take to convince more people to embrace EVs? One answer might be for everyone to rethink what EVs actually are. Most Americans, including Biden, talk about electric vehicles solely as modes of transport — which is understandable, given they have motors and wheels and get us around. But they are so much more than cars: they’re batteries, and batteries have uses far beyond transport. Done right, integrating EVs into American society could help prevent power blackouts, stabilize the US’s crumbling electric grid, and make solar and wind energy more reliable sources of power for more people. The first step is to stop thinking about electric vehicles as cars that happen to be powered by batteries, and instead see them as batteries that happen to be inside cars.

Getting there won’t be easy. “This sort of perception issue can be a challenge because it’s really a paradigm shift,” said Sam Houston, a senior analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a science-focused nonprofit based in Massachusetts. Historically, vehicles have mostly had a singular use in American society: to get people and goods from one place to another. Outside of ride-sharing, cars only serve their owners. Most gas-powered cars spend the majority of the day sitting idle while we are at home or work. But electric cars can do a lot when they’re not moving.

“What we need to get to is not just thinking about vehicles for transportation and a grid to support those vehicles, but sort of a mutually beneficial relationship between grids and vehicles,” Houston told Recode. As an example, she pointed to renewable energy: One of the biggest challenges to integrating renewable energy into the grid is that it’s unpredictable. Sometimes there may be too much wind and solar energy, and there’s no good way to store the excess. Instead, extra renewable energy often goes to waste untapped. Electric vehicles, Houston said, could be a solution to this problem.

A car left at a charger in an office parking lot during the workday, for example, can optimize its charging schedule so that most or all of the power used to charge the car comes from renewable sources, making the most of clean energy that might otherwise go wasted.

An electric vehicle charges in a parking garage next to a parking space reserved for EV charging.
Widespread charging infrastructure could help make integrating EVs into the grid a reality. Drew Angerer/Getty Images
EVs can also be useful to the grid even if there’s no clean energy available. Utility engineers are continually making adjustments to the amount of power flowing through the grid to ensure electricity is being generated and delivered at a consistent frequency. Too little power generation to meet demand is one of the most obvious reasons for blackouts, but too much power is just as big an issue. Electric vehicles could act like sponges in those situations, explained Kyri Baker, an assistant professor of engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder and a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

“If you have a bunch of EVs just sitting in a parking lot, they can charge or stop charging in order to make small minute adjustments in the supply and demand balance to maintain frequency,” Baker told Recode. Instead of simply charging their batteries to full as soon as they’re plugged in, cars that are sitting at chargers for extended periods of time can wait to charge until the grid needs help getting rid of excess energy, or they can reserve a portion of their batteries for helping with frequency regulation.

That’s just the beginning. One of the most ambitious uses of EV batteries comes from a concept called bidirectional charging, or sending electricity back out of an EV to charge things ranging from power tools at construction sites to entire homes during blackouts.

This is particularly alluring in an era of more frequent and more severe blackouts caused by extreme weather: EV owners could conceivably get power at home during blackouts by plugging their car into a charger in their home — and this would eliminate the need for the sometimes deadly, carbon monoxide-spewing diesel generators many people currently rely on.

Electric vehicle manufacturers are starting to use this idea as a selling point. Volkswagen’s electric vehicles will support bidirectional charging starting this year, and Ford’s upcoming F-150 Lightning, an electric version of the country’s most popular pickup truck, is designed to be able to power an entire home for up to three days. An early ad for the F-150 Lightning, released about three months after a series of winter storms in Texas knocked out power for millions and killed hundreds across the state in 2021, showed off the truck’s credentials: It can “help build your house,” the ad’s narrator said, “and if need be, power that house.”

The marketing seems to be working; as of December, nearly 200,000 people had preordered the F-150 Lightning. “Ten years ago I never would have thought that Ford would have put out an electric F-150, and I would have also never predicted how many people would have preordered it, especially in rural and conservative areas,” said Baker. “Climate change is hitting everywhere in the US, and so whether you believe in the science behind it or not, you want to protect your family. Having a large battery that can be a backup generator is just one way to do that.”

Not every carmaker is as open to bidirectional charging as Ford and Volkswagen, though. The batteries in electric vehicles are larger versions of the lithium-ion batteries used in phones and laptops, and they degrade over time just as the batteries in our phones do — which means the range of an EV will reduce over time. Most electric vehicles come with battery warranties that are voided if the batteries are discharged to power something else, in part because constantly charging and discharging a battery can make it degrade faster.

Baker isn’t quite as worried about degradation as some others in the industry. “Every time I have these conversations with people about bidirectional charging, the pushback is always that it’ll degrade the battery,” Baker told Recode. “But if you take a look at how often people in the US replace their cars, I don’t think that’s going to be a roadblock. In terms of the car’s lifespan, I feel like we’re blowing this out of proportion.” Americans tend to keep their cars for 12 years on average, and electric vehicles often enter the used car market long before their batteries see major degradation.

And batteries can still be useful even if they’re too degraded for use in cars. Houston told Recode they tend to be considered too degraded once they can only hold about 80 percent of the original capacity, which is still a significant amount of energy. “We really need to figure out the reuse and recycling angle for after the vehicle is done and the battery may have a lot of capacity left,” Houston said.

One possible solution — and another reason to see EVs as more than vehicles — is that old EV batteries can be removed from cars and used to store solar and wind power. This idea is already seeing some traction: A startup called B2U Storage Solutions has set up an energy storage facility in California that stores enough energy in an array of 160 used Nissan Leaf batteries to power more than 90 homes a day. And Hyundai is partnering with a solar energy developer and a utility company serving San Antonio, Texas, to set up a similar facility.

The obvious next step, Baker says, is to solve the degradation and recycling problems at the same time by setting up processes that would allow EV owners to easily swap out their old batteries in much the same way you can replace the battery in your phone. Those degraded batteries could then be sent to energy storage facilities like the one in California.

On a technical level, repurposing EV batteries for non-transport uses is fairly easy to set up, explained Mike Jacobs, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. The same cable that delivers energy to an EV can be used to draw energy out of the battery and use it to power a home. But it’s more complicated when it comes to energy policy and logistics in the US. Most homes aren’t wired for receiving backup power in blackouts — Ford’s own website includes the caveat that backup power would only work “when home is properly equipped” with a switch that disconnects the house from the grid. And just as many parts of the US power grid aren’t set up to integrate solar and wind power into regular operations, it’s not equipped to draw on energy from electric cars when needed.

The main problem, Jacobs told Recode, is that utility companies have historically had a monopoly on energy generation in the country, and they’re unwilling to let go of their literal and metaphorical power. “It really comes down to the enthusiasm of the utility to sort it out,” Jacobs said. “And whether there’s any value for them to spend the time on it.” Profit-wise, there doesn’t seem to be a reason why a utility would want to do that.

One of the starkest examples of the hold utilities have over energy generation in the US comes from solar panels, Baker told Recode. For the safety of their linesmen, utilities set up the circuits in most homes to simply shut down in a blackout, even if backup power is available. “If you have rooftop solar, chances are, during a grid outage, your rooftop solar won’t be able to power your house,” Baker said. “This is a huge issue because people buy solar thinking they’re going to power their houses during an outage.” To make rooftop solar — and backup power from EVs — work during a blackout, Baker explained, homeowners would have to wire their panels and EV charger on a separate circuit from the energy provided by the utility, which is a costly proposition that also undoes the benefits of integrating EV batteries into the grid.

But we don’t have to make a choice between the grid and backup power from EV batteries: They can coexist, and effectively integrating them could have a significant impact on emissions. “The technology is here,” said Houston. “It’s a matter of breaking down the policy and administrative barriers.”

Breaking down those barriers would help create a paradigm shift in how we think about electricity generation, just as using our cars as batteries would be a paradigm shift. Electric vehicles are by no means a magic fix to our climate woes — there are plenty of sources of greenhouse gas emissions outside of cars, and a reduction in transportation emissions will only go so far if our EVs get their energy from fossil fuel-powered plants. But their potential stretches far beyond their wheels, and more Americans recognizing that could mean more will decide to make the switch to electric. Saving our planet is going to require big, bold changes; buying a battery that just so happens to provide transportation is the rare tangible contribution regular folks can make to help solve the climate crisis.

“And in reality,” said Jacobs, “when we’re talking about giving up fossil fuels, this all counts.”

Source : Vox

The Space Station Race

Rebecca Heilweil wrote . . . . . . . . .

The International Space Station brings together astronauts from around the world to collaborate on cutting-edge research, and some have called it humanity’s greatest achievement. But after two decades in orbit, the ISS will shut down, and a crop of several new space stations will take its place. While these new stations will make it easier for more humans to visit space, they’re also bound to create new political and economic tensions.

NASA is scaling back its presence in low-Earth orbit as the government focuses on sending humans back to the moon and, eventually, to Mars. As part of that transition, the space agency wants to rent out facilities for its astronauts on new space stations run by private companies. When these stations are ready, NASA will guide the ISS into the atmosphere, where it will burn up and disintegrate. At that point, anyone hoping to work in space will have to choose among several different outposts. That means countries won’t just be using these new stations to strengthen their own national space programs, but as lucrative business ventures, too.

“Commercial companies have the capability now to do this, and so we don’t want to compete with that,” Robyn Gatens, the director of the ISS, told Recode. “We want to transition lower-Earth orbit over to commercial companies so that the government and NASA can go use resources to do harder things in deep space.”

Private companies currently backed by NASA, including Lockheed Martin and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, could launch as many as four space stations into Earth’s orbit over the next decade. NASA is also building a space station called Gateway near the moon; a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket carrying the living quarters for the station is scheduled to launch in 2024. Russia and India are planning to launch their own space stations to low-Earth orbit, too, and China’s Tiangong station, which is currently under construction, already has astronauts living aboard.

It’s not clear when the ISS will go offline, but it will happen. NASA has only technically certified the station’s hardware until 2028 and has awarded more than $400 million to fund private replacements. Other longtime ISS partners are already planning their next steps. Russia may leave the ISS as soon as 2025, the same year its space agency, Roscosmos, plans to launch its new $5 billion space station. The European Space Agency, which represents 22 different European countries, is now training its astronauts for eventual missions to Tiangong.

These new stations are building on technology first seen in the ISS, but they stand to make low-Earth orbit a more politically fraught place. After all, researchers looking to conduct research in space will potentially have to reckon with the political consequences of choosing one nation’s station over that of another. There will also be a new dynamic of several space stations competing for customers in the private sector.

The nascent space station race isn’t quite a return to the Cold War, but it’s not the pinnacle of internationalism, either. In the best of scenarios, these new stations will learn from each other and massively expand scientific knowledge. But they will also make global politics a much bigger part of space, which could impact what happens here on Earth and how humanity explores the moon and Mars.

NASA is downsizing in low-Earth orbit

The ISS is a big operation. It took 42 assembly flights and an estimated $100 billion to build this habitable satellite made of 16 interconnected modules, where astronauts live and work, as well as eight solar arrays that power the station. The ISS serves as a shared laboratory in space, which NASA uses to study technologies that could be deployed on future missions to other planets, including oxygen- and water-recycling systems. Astronauts aboard the space station also research how to mitigate the health risks that come with living in space, like radiation exposure, muscle loss, and bone loss.

“Up in space, we can measure things that we can’t measure and we can’t observe down here,” explained Cady Coleman, a former astronaut and chemist who spent several months on the ISS.

The space station is fully functional right now. Eleven astronauts from four different countries are currently aboard the ISS, where they’ve recently added a new module, organized a spacewalk, and fixed faulty components. Much of the work on the ISS happens with the help of private companies, including major aerospace and defense firms like Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin. SpaceX, meanwhile, has been carrying supplies to the ISS since 2012 and started transporting astronauts to it last year.

But eventually, NASA wants to get out of the expensive business of running the ’90s-era space station. The ISS is the size of a football field and costs as much as $4 billion annually to operate, and NASA estimates that relocating its astronauts to commercial alternatives could save about $1 billion every year. Newer space stations will be smaller than the ISS and include newer tech, and NASA would only need to pay for the portion that it uses. And once these replacements are launched into orbit, the space agency can finally dispose of the ISS.

“We’re looking at ISS technology that was designed beginning in the ’80s, built in the ’90s, and launched in the ’90s and 2000s,” Wendy Whitman Cobb, a professor at the US Air Force School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, told Recode. “This is definitely aging.”

The plan is to deorbit the ISS right over an area called Point Nemo in the South Pacific Ocean, which is the world’s farthest point from land. This will be a delicate process, and could take up to three years. After letting gravity pull the ISS downward to a critical height of 155 miles above Earth, NASA will organize one final flight to remove any remaining research (or astronauts). Soon afterward, ISS operators will use a cargo spacecraft to push the ISS into the atmosphere. While most of the space station should burn off, “a number of high-density payload and structural components” are likely to break through intact, according to NASA spokesperson Stephanie Schierholz.

While letting the ISS fall to Earth might sound extreme, it’s the same approach the space agency took when it retired Skylab, the first US space station, in 1979. Engineers have been studying this plan for years, and they plan to fine-tune the workflow until the ISS is close to its final descent.

In the meantime, the goal is to keep the ISS functioning as long as possible, which will give NASA more time to prepare. To ensure that happens, a bipartisan set of lawmakers want to extend the space station’s operations until 2030, a proposal that’s currently packaged within the United States Innovation and Competition Act. NASA and Congress are now waiting on a final decision from the Biden administration.

Private companies are building their own space stations

By creating an economy in low-Earth orbit, NASA thinks it can split the cost of operating a space station with the private sector. The agency is hoping that future commercial space stations will operate like coworking spaces. This would allow NASA astronauts to use facilities in low-Earth orbit alongside astronauts from other national space agencies as well as those from the private industry. There could even be media production companies and space hotel guests on board. NASA is also betting that some companies will want to use these stations to manufacture specialty products in microgravity.

To accelerate these plans, NASA has granted seed funding to four different space station concepts. Perhaps the most high-profile grant is the $130 million going to Orbital Reef, a space station project designed by Blue Origin. The company wants this station to function as a “mixed use business park” that includes labs, 3D printers, and a garden. Blue Origin says Orbital Reef will be only slightly smaller than the ISS but would cost an “order of magnitude” less to build. Orbital Reef will also look more modern, with one large, tubular main corridor that’s lined with windows and just a single layer of solar arrays extending from one side of the spacecraft, according to renderings released by the company.

In addition to the Blue Origin project, NASA has backed StarLab — not to be confused with Skylab — a new space station being developed by commercial space company Nanoracks in partnership with Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin. There’s also a proposal from Northrop Grumman. Both StarLab and the unnamed Northrop Grumman space station plan to house up to four astronauts at a time and include lab space.

Separately, NASA has awarded over $140 million to Axiom Space, a company that’s building a module for space tourism that will attach directly to the ISS. Axiom Space hired the French industrial architect and designer Philippe Starck to design the module, which will include a two-meter-high window deck and an aesthetic meant to remind people of “a nest.” When the ISS is decommissioned, the original Axiom module will be attached to other Axiom modules to form an entirely new station.

“Because this has never been a commercial endeavor, the idea of what the market is is all fluid,” Tejpaul Bhatia, the chief revenue officer of Axiom, told Recode. “We have ideas from the research that’s been done on ISS of what kind of advantages pharma, biotech, material science, and industrial manufacturing can get in microgravity.”

The interior of the Axiom commercial space station module was designed by a French industrial architect. Axiom Space
This plan has its risks. NASA is betting there will be a lot of demand for commercial space stations, which are all supposed to launch around 2027. But only a fifth of ISS crew resources that NASA has set aside for private companies to develop their businesses in space have been used thus far, according to Gatens, the ISS director. And competition for customers could get even more intense as space stations launched by China, Russia, and India open for business.

These companies have committed, however, to finding enough business to support their operations. Millions of dollars of their seed funding from NASA is devoted to developing marketing plans, according to contracts with the agency that Recode accessed through a public records request. While Blue Origin has said NASA and its partners will serve as its primary customer for research, the StarLab station will only depend on NASA for 30 percent of its revenue during its first decade.

NASA can’t afford for them to fail. The agency has no plans to build an ISS replacement on its own, but NASA’s inspector general concluded in November that the agency’s critical research in microgravity — which NASA needs for missions to the moon and Mars — won’t be completed by 2030. The space agency’s worst nightmare is not having its own space station to complete that work, several space policy experts told Recode.

Two ISSs on the moon

It’s time for humankind to go back to the moon, and this time we’ll stay, according to NASA’s plans. As part of the space agency’s Artemis missions, NASA will establish a long-term human presence on the lunar surface, including a permanent habitat, a rocket launcher, and even a nuclear power plant. To make that all happen, the space agency is constructing the Gateway, a new space station that will orbit the moon.

Like the ISS, the Gateway is a collaboration between several countries and companies. The European, Canadian, and Japanese space programs are joining NASA in the effort, and several private aerospace space firms, including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Boeing, are also involved. SpaceX has already agreed to transport the first components for the Gateway, a habitation module and a propulsion system, on its Falcon Heavy launch system sometime in 2024.

It’s best to think of the Gateway as a transit stop or a scaled-down version of the Space Station V from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Astronauts will use the Gateway as a place to dock before landing on the moon or before traveling back to Earth. The station will be big enough to fit four astronauts for up to three months, and will also double as lab space and a “mission control” center for lunar operations. When complete, the outpost will only be a sixth of the ISS’s size. The tiny station could also play a pivotal role in plans to send humans to Mars, which NASA is hoping to do sometime in the 2030s.

“This Gateway is directly derived from all the hardware and experiences learned on the International Space Station development,” Richard Mastracchio, a former ISS astronaut and current business development director at Northrop Grumman, which is building the Gateway’s habitation module, told Recode. “There’s no reason we can’t develop and utilize the same lessons learned and a lot of the same hardware to have a space station orbiting Mars.”

On the Gateway, astronauts could simulate practice missions to Mars. Astronauts could also use the Gateway to test how well experimental technologies do in space, and the station could even be used to assemble and park vehicles headed deeper into the solar system, according to Mastracchio.

But even as NASA seeks more countries to assist with the Gateway, the space station already has some competition. China and Russia agreed in March to collaborate on moon research efforts, including the construction of an International Scientific Lunar Station. While we don’t know much about these plans yet, countries and companies looking to join an international collaboration to do research on the moon can now choose between two different space stations.

International cooperation in space is more complicated

Space has never been completed isolated from the geopolitical conflict on Earth. The first decades of the Cold War launched the initial space race between the Soviet Union and the US. But even in recent years, politics has influenced what happens in space.

Back in 2011, Congress passed legislation severely restricting NASA from collaborating with the Chinese government, which effectively barred China National Space Administration astronauts from the ISS. Roscosmos has repeatedly threatened to leave the space station in response to US sanctions on its domestic space industry. Space debris created by anti-satellite tests launched by the US, China, Russia, and India continues to fuel geopolitical tensions in space.

But those tensions could become even more complicated as the next generation of stations launch, which will allow the countries operating in space to form international collaborations beyond the ISS.

China’s Tiangong space station plans to host experiments from several other countries and is open to working with the US. New space stations planned by Russia and India are also likely to recruit partner countries and companies. And while the four commercial space stations with NASA funding present themselves as global platforms, they will legally function as American companies and will be subject to US rules limiting what countries they can work with, explains Namrata Goswami, an independent scholar of space policy.

“Anything involving space is not just about space prestige and power, but it’s also a lot about economic benefits and economic development,” Goswami told Recode. “The space industry today is about $400 billion. The space station plays a role in developing these technologies.”

These developments will create new opportunities for countries without space stations — countries like the United Arab Emirates, Nigeria, and Australia, which have wanted to send their own astronauts into space but don’t have anywhere to stay in low-Earth orbit. Which space station they choose to partner with won’t just depend on cost, but on political calculations too.

So the ISS’s eventual deorbit won’t be the end of international collaboration in space. On the contrary, it ushers in a new era of space stations, one that will make cooperation a lot more politically and economically complicated. This generation will surely remind us that humanity’s current conflicts are by no means limited to planet Earth.

Source : Vox

Viewpoint: Those Who Underestimate Omicron Aren’t Doing the Math

Kevin Kavanagh wrote . . . . . . . . .

Infectivity causes more harm and deaths than lethality and in the case of Omicron more than makes up for its somewhat milder infections in immunologically naive individuals.

From what I have seen, the data on Omicron has been spun to paint a rosier picture than what the data truly show. The mild results are largely from the large number of reinfections and breakthrough infections in those who, if they had Delta, probably would not have been infected in the first place. Infectivity causes more harm and deaths than lethality and in the case of Omicron more than makes up for its somewhat milder infections in immunologically naive individuals.

For example: If for every infection the virus spreads to 2 people in the first week a person is infectious, then in 1 month 16 people will develop the disease. If the virus is 10% fatal, then 1.6 will die. If you double the case fatality rate, then 3.2 individuals will die. But if you double the infection rate to 4, then 256 will become infected and 25.6 will die. Thus, in this example doubling infectivity results in over 8 times the deaths as doubling the case fatality rate.

When you walk into a retail store your chances of dying are a combination of your chances of being infected and the case fatality rate of the virus. Your chances are much better with a virus which is twice as lethal as one which is twice as infectious.

With Omicron, the math does not indicate a mild wave in the United States. We have too high of an unvaccinated population for this wave to be mild and in the young, this variant may cause even more severe disease.

Currently, Ohio has the highest rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations it has ever had during this pandemic and there are critical staff shortages with the triaging of care in some areas of our nation. The disinformation that hospitalizations are being inflated by needlessly hospitalizing mild COVID-19 cases is ridiculous. In actuality, needed care for heart disease and cancer are being postponed because the unvaccinated are needlessly filling the hospitals with severe illness.

With Omicron there is little upside of its infectivity. Herd immunity is not possible due to fleeting immunity with a highly mutating RNA virus which already resides in animal hosts.

Our best protection is to become fully vaccinated, including boosters, along with optimizing ventilation in buildings, wearing N95 masks and frequent testing. Schools might be able to be opened with a degree of safety, if these mitigation strategies are rigorously followed, but if not, both students and teachers will be at risk. In addition, it needs to be remembered that Omicron causes more severe disease in children than with other variants.

Source : Infection Control Today