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Did you know it will soon be possible to visit the International Space Station?

Marcos Hernandez Article

The International Space Station (ISS) sits, on average, 400km/250 miles in orbit above the Earth.

The first private astronauts could visit as soon as 2020. NASA has limited the numebr of visitors to two per year. 

Whoever is willing to make the trip can stay up to thirty days on board and are required to reimburse NASA’s cost to keep them aboard, approximately 35k per day.

NASA requires visitors to use commercial US spacecrafts so Elon Musk’s SpaceX might have some more flights booked in the future. 

It seems the long-term plan for the ISS will be a transition to commercial use.

Did you know flaked stone tools coincided with a change in human biology?

Marcos Hernandez Article

An archaelogical dig in Ethiopia has unearthed flaked stone tools dating back to 2.78 million years ago, approximately 200k years before the previously known flaked stone tools.

The tools were dropped near a water source and buried in the sediment millions of years ago.

The strange thing is there’s no clear connection between this technology and earlier stone tool use, in which stones were used as a hammer (Chimpanzees and monkeys, in modern times, currently use stone tools in this way) or between these flaked stone tools and those found at other archaeological sites. This suggests flaked stone tools were invented multiple times in multiple places.

The shift between using stones as blunt objects to flaking pieces of stone off to sharpen the stone occurred approximately 2.6 million years ago and coincided with a change in human biology. Specifically, teeth grew smaller since food was being processed before being consumed. 

This region in Ethiopia is a hotbed for archaeological activity; in 2013 a jawbone was found which is the oldest fossil known to belong to a member of the Homogenus (of Homo Sapienfame).

Did you know the United States decrypted Soviet messages for 37 years without even informing the President?

Marcos Hernandez Richard Nixon: The Life

The Venona Project ran from 1937-1980 and stayed secret until 1995. It was initally begun by the Army Signal Intelligence Service until this division was absorbed by the National Security Agency during WWII. The CIA was made aware of the project in 1952.

Army Chief of Staff Omar Bradley decided not to inform President Truman of the project, only telling him about the intelligence and not how they were obtained.

The project discovered Soviet Agents in the UK and uncovered Soviet penetration of the US’s Manhattan Project, responsible for the development of the atomic bomb. Additionally, the project uncovered a number of Soviet agents within the US government. 

Decrypted messages suggest Laurence Duggan, an official in the State Department, had passed information to the Soviet Union in the 40’s. His case gained prominence when he fell to his death from his New York office ten days after being questioned by the FBI about whether he had communicate with Soviet Intelligence. It is believed he committed suicide and at the time of his death there was no evidence of his work with the Soviets. It was only after the Venona Project was declassified 47 years later that suggest the accusations had some truth behind them.

Archibald Macleish, Librarian of Congress and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, wrote “The Black Day” in memory of Duggan.

Did you know a new theory has been proposed to explain why ancient humans began to walk upright?

Marcos Hernandez Article

The theory goes like this: cosmic energy from supernovae hit the earth millions of years ago, increasing electrical activity in the lower atmosphere (lightning), which led to increased forest fires, which forced ancient humans out of forests and into the savannas.

Though human ancestors spent most of their lives climbing trees, they are believed to have had the ability to walk upright between trees though it wouldn’t have been their primary mode of travel. The ability to walk upright in savannas would allow humans to see over the grasses and scan the horizon for predators. 

The forest-fire theory is supported by increased carbon deposits in corresponding soil. Scientists determined the supernova would have been between 50-100 light years away and it would have increased electrical activity up to 50x greater than normal. 

Don’t worry about any of this happening again though. “The nearest star capable of exploding into a supernova in the next million years is Betelgeuse, some 200 parsecs (652 light years) from Earth.”

Did you know SpaceX has taken the first steps towards the creation of a global internet network?

Marcos Hernandez Article

The internet-satellite megaconstellation is called Starlink and was first heard about back in 2015. Proposed plans for the network include 12,000 total satellites.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk has said only 400 would be needed for minor coverage and 800 would provide moderate coverage.

The second launch, set for May 2019, would send 60 satellites into orbit. These satellites would be a test and would lack the ability to communicate with each other.  The first two test satellites were put into orbit in February.

Based on the results from the May launch there could be anywhere from 2-6 more launches in 2019. The company plans to have Starlink operational in some capacity by 2020.

Did you know three babies in China have had their genes edited?

Marcos Hernandez Article

Twins Lulu and Nana were born in October 2018 and a third baby is set to be born in 2019. All three have been edited to lower their suscepibility to HIV.

The gene in question, CCR5, has also been found to make mice smarter and helps the human brain recover after a stroke.

The Chinese scientist who carried out the experiments, He Jiankui, used CRISPR to modify the embryos which were then fertilized in vitro before being implanted into the mothers. He has been on unpaid leave since February

CRISPR is a gene editing tool which uses a protein, Cas9, to cut DNA at the desired location. 

In April, US scientists used CRISPR to edit T-cells to attack cancer, the first time the technology the technology was used in this way. Both patients relapsed after undergoing standard treatment.

In response to the controversy surrounding He’s experiments, Chinese lawmakers have proposed the introduction of gene-editing regulations into their civil code. 

Did you know African Swine Fever could kill a third of China’s pigs in 2019?

Marcos Hernandez Article

A third of China’s pigs is about 200 million animals. China’s pork industry is so large that this is almost the amount of pigs in the US and Europe combined.

The estimate about the number of pigs to be lost comes from a Dutch bank which specializes in the agricultural sector.

African Swine Fever is harmless to humans. It was first reported in China last August and has now spread to Cambodia, Mongolia, and Vietnam.

One farmer lost his entire stock of pigs, 20 thousand animals. At one point he was losing up to 800 pigs a day.

The government has taken swift action, culling thousands of animals if one of the herd tests positive for the fever. There are plans to cull more than a million animals.

China is the world largest consumer of pork and it will be interesting to see how imports are affected with the 62% tariff imposed on pork exports by the US government. Will Europes pork industry be able to produce enough to overcome the shortfall?

One fringe industry who could benefit: tattoo artists. Pig skin is used for tattoo practice, and with so many dead pigs, aspiring artists should have no problem finding fresh canvases.

Did you know a transgender weightlifter broke women’s world records only to have the achievements revoked?

Marcos Hernandez Article

The powerlifting meet took place in Virginia at the end of April.

Powerlifting consists of three lifts: back squat, bench press, and deadlift. At a meet the athlete has three chances to lift the most weight in each of the three lifts.

At the meet, Mary Gregory made all her lift (called going 9 for 9) and broke four world records: Masters world squat, open world bench, Masters world deadlift, and master world total.

Immediately after her wins, former olympians took to twitter to voice their opinions about the unfairness of the competition.

Within weeks of the competition the governing body overseeing the meet, Raw Powerlifting Federation, stripped Gregory of her titles

USA Powerlifting, another governing body in the sport of powerlifting, has a policy in which transitioning athletes aren’t allowed to compete against atheletes who’s gender matches their biological sex.

From USA Powerlifting: “Men naturally have a larger bone structure, higher bone density, stronger connective tissue and higher muscle density than women… These traits, even with reduced levels of testosterone do not go away. While MTF (male to female) may be weaker and less muscle than they once were, the biological benefits given them at birth still remain over than of a female.”

Did you know the same bird evolved itself into existence, twice?

Marcos Hernandez Article

The White-Throated Rail is believed to be the last flightless bird in the Indian Ocean.

At two distinct times, separated by thousands of years, ancestors of this species found it’s way to the island of Aldabra. Without any natural predators on the island, the species evolved to become flightless… twice!

The reason the flightless bird went extinct in the first place was because the island was submerged under rising seas. Since the birds couldn’t fly they were all wiped out.

Thousands of years later the sea levels lowered and exposed the island. Rails flew to the island and AGAIN evolved to become flightless.

This process of evolving twice from the same ancestor at different times is called iterative evolution.

This is a monumental discovery, believed to be the only time iterative evolution has been discovered in birds. Part of the problem stems from the lack of fossil evidence… there may be many instances of the phenomenon throughout history but no way to find them. 

Did you know 1,000 year old drug paraphernalia contains traces of cocaine and DMT?

Marcos Hernandez Article

When archaeologists discovered a ritual bundle, a pouch made from three fox snouts, in the highland Andes in Bolivia, they were curious as to what they would find in the residue. Carbon-dating showed the bundle was approximately 1,000 years old. 

Chemical analysis revealed the presence of DMT, cocaine, and components of ayahuasca. Their presence is significant because these compounds come from sources both far away and from different climates, suggesting the plants were part of a trade network which spanned across the region.

It is assumed the bundle belonged to a shaman.

The announcement comes at a time when a vote is proposed in Denver to decriminalize psylocybine, the psychoactive component of shrooms. This may seem like a revolutionary step forward for a major American city but the roots of hallucinogen use goes back to a time before the continent had even been settled.