Day: August 10, 2023

Russia Launches Its First Moon Mission Since ’76

Russia launched its first mission to the moon in nearly 50 years on Friday, racing to land on the lunar south pole before a spacecraft from India gets there.

The launch of the Luna-25 craft to the moon was Russia’s first since 1976, when it was part of the Soviet Union, and is being conducted without assistance from the European Space Agency, which ended cooperation with Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian lunar lander is expected to reach the moon on August 23, about the same day as an Indian craft that was launched July 14.

Only three governments have managed successful moon landings: the Soviet Union, the United States and China. India and Russia are aiming to be the first to land at the moon’s south pole.

Study ‘is not the goal’

Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, said it wants to show Russia “is a state capable of delivering a payload to the moon,” and “ensure Russia’s guaranteed access to the moon’s surface.”

“Study of the moon is not the goal,” said Vitaly Egorov, a popular Russian space analyst. “The goal is political competition between two superpowers — China and the USA — and a number of other countries which also want to claim the title of space superpower.”

Sanctions imposed on Russia after it invaded Ukraine make it harder for it to access Western technology, impacting its space program. The Luna-25 was initially meant to carry a small moon rover, but that idea was abandoned to reduce the weight of the craft for improved reliability, analysts say.

“Foreign electronics are lighter, domestic electronics are heavier,” Egorov said. “While scientists might have the task of studying lunar water, for Roscosmos the main task is simply to land on the moon — to recover lost Soviet expertise and learn how to perform this task in a new era.”

The Luna-25 was launched from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East. The spaceport is a pet project of Russian President Vladimir Putin and is key to his efforts to make Russia a space superpower and move Russian launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Previous crash

A previous Indian attempt to land at the moon’s south pole in 2019 ended when the lander crashed into the moon’s surface.

The lunar south pole is of particular interest to scientists, who believe the permanently shadowed polar craters may contain water. The frozen water in the rocks could be transformed by future explorers into air and rocket fuel.

“The moon is largely untouched and the whole history of the moon is written on its face,” said Ed Bloomer, an astronomer at Britain’s Royal Observatory, Greenwich. “It is pristine and like nothing you get on Earth. It is its own laboratory.”

The Luna-25 is to take samples of moon rock and dust. The samples are crucial to understanding the moon’s environment ahead of building any base there. “Otherwise, we could be building things and having to shut them down six months later because everything has effectively been sandblasted,” Bloomer said.


US Hospital Pharmacists Ration Drugs as Shortages Persist, Survey Shows

Nearly a third of U.S. hospital pharmacists say they were forced to ration, delay or cancel treatments as drug shortages in the United States approach an all-time high, according to a survey released Thursday.  

The shortages are especially critical for chemotherapy drugs used in cancer treatment regimens, with more than half of the 1,123 pharmacists surveyed saying they had to limit the use of such treatments.  

The survey was conducted June 23-July 14 by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), an association that represents more than 60,000 pharmacists and technicians. 

The drugs in shortage include vital therapies such as steroids, cancer treatments and antibiotics.  

According to the survey, while spikes in demand cause short-term scarcity such as for diabetes drug Ozempic, most severe and persistent shortages are driven by economic factors including extreme price competition among generic drugmakers. 

“Purchasing at the cheapest price has led to a race to the bottom, which has basically disincentivized any investment in quality and manufacturing,” said Michael Ganio, senior director of pharmacy practice and quality at ASHP.  

The number of U.S. drugs in shortfall — at 309 by the end of the second quarter — is already near a 10-year peak, according to the association, compared with an all-time high of 320 drugs.  

“In some cases, there are no alternatives to the affected drugs, which puts patients at risk. This issue requires quick action from Congress to address the underlying causes of shortages,” said ASHP CEO Paul Abramowitz.  

In June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it was seeking new suppliers to ease shortages of methotrexate, one of the most commonly used cancer drugs, building on its push to shore up two other scarce chemotherapy medicines.


Traditional Medicine Takes Center Stage at WHO Meeting in India

The World Health Organization says traditional medicine plays a pivotal role in the health and well-being of people and the planet and should be seen as complementary to modern medicine and be integrated into national health systems.

Traditional healers have used their knowledge of plants and potions for centuries to treat people with multiple ailments. Much traditional indigenous and ancestral knowledge of traditional medicine is frequently used in health care across the world.

“We are seeing a lot of increasing demand and increasing interest in traditional medicine at the moment,” said Rudi Eggers, WHO director for integrated health services. “Traditional medicine has become a global phenomenon.”

He said 170 out of 194 countries have reported to WHO “that they used traditional medicine in some form, such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, yoga, and indigenous medicine in their countries. In fact, for millions of people, of course, it is the first choice for health care. In some cases, the only choice for health care.”

The WHO says that around 40 percent of modern pharmaceutical products have roots in traditional medicine.

“Many traditional medicines were the basis for some of the classic scientific and medical technologies that have led to some of the major medical breakthroughs, including drugs like aspirin or artemisinin for malaria, and even smallpox inoculation,” said Shyama Kuruvilla, the WHO lead for the Global Center for Traditional Medicine.

Next week, WHO is convening the Traditional Medicine Global Summit in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India. The two-day high-level meeting will explore the role of “traditional, complementary, and integrative medicine in addressing pressing global health challenges.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted the “important and catalytic role” traditional medicine can play in achieving the goal of universal health coverage and in meeting global health-related targets that were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said, “Bringing traditional medicine into the mainstream of health care…can help bridge access gaps for millions of people around the world” and would be an important step toward people-centered and holistic approaches to health and well-being.

Kuruvilla agreed that holistic well-being is at the core of all traditional medicine systems, adding that there are existing legal measures and commitments aimed at achieving this goal.

“For example, at the United Nations, the heads of states and governments in 2019 committed to looking at evidence-based ways to integrate traditional medicine into national health systems,” she said. “There are many existing commitments and frameworks that now needed to be implemented.”

Evidence essential, say experts

WHO officials say traditional medicine has contributed to breakthrough discoveries and continues to hold out great promise of other game-changing achievements.

They caution, however, that recommendations on any new therapy or treatment must be based on solid scientific evidence.

“Advancing science on traditional medicine should be held to the same rigorous standards as in other fields of health,” said John Reeder, WHO director of both the department of research for health and the special program for research and training in tropical diseases.

“We need to treat traditional interventions with the same respect we give to other more Western medical interventions and that means examining them closely and critically and scientifically in the same way,” he said.

Summit will highlight best practices

WHO reports next week’s summit will explore research and evaluation of traditional medicine. It also will be an opportunity to showcase countries’ experiences, explore regional trends and discuss best practices.

While traditional medicine has proven its value over many centuries, WHO officials say it cannot replace modern medical care.

Kim Sungchol, head of WHO’s traditional, complementary, and integrative medicine unit, observed that traditional and modern medicines have two different but complementary approaches to health.

“There is a certain advantage of each system,” he said. “For example, modern medicine is quite good and good in emergency care, in communicable disease management, and antibiotics.

“On traditional medicine, one of the unique characteristics that it has is the more holistic approach. It is much advanced in the promotion and prevention, particularly linked to non-communicable diseases,” he said. “So, we have to see the two things differently. We have to identify the strengths of each system to work together to best serve the well-being of the people and planet. That is our purpose.”


Virgin Galactic Flies Its First Tourists to the Edge of Space

Virgin Galactic rocketed to the edge of space with its first tourists Thursday, including a former British Olympian who bought his ticket 18 years ago and a mother-daughter duo from the Caribbean.

The space plane glided back to a runway landing at Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert, after a brief flight that gave passengers a few minutes of weightlessness.

Cheers erupted from families and friends watching from below when the craft’s rocket motor fired after it was released from the plane that had carried it aloft. The rocket ship reached about 88 kilometers high.

Richard Branson’s company expects to begin offering monthly trips to customers on its winged space plane, joining Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX in the space tourism business.

Virgin Galactic passenger Jon Goodwin, who was among the first to buy a ticket in 2005, said he had faith that he would someday make the trip. The 80-year-old athlete — he competed in canoeing in the 1972 Olympics — has Parkinson’s disease and wants to be an inspiration to others.

“I hope it shows them that these obstacles can be the start rather than the end to new adventures,” he said in a statement.

Ticket prices were $200,000 when Goodwin signed up. The cost is now $450,000.

He was joined by sweepstakes winner Keisha Schahaff, 46, a health coach from Antigua, and her daughter, Anastatia Mayers, 18, a student at Scotland’s University of Aberdeen. Also on board: two pilots and the company’s astronaut trainer.

It was Virgin Galactic’s seventh trip to space since 2018, but the first with a ticket-holder. Branson, the company’s founder, hopped on board for the first full-size crew ride in 2021. Italian military and government researchers soared in June on the first commercial flight. About 800 people are currently on Virgin Galactic’s waiting list, according to the company.

Virgin Galactic’s rocket ship launches from the belly of an airplane, not from the ground, and requires two pilots in the cockpit. Once the mothership reaches a height of about 15 kilometers, the space plane is released and fires its rocket motor to make the final push to just over 80 kilometers up. Passengers can unstrap from their seats, float around the cabin for a few minutes and take in the sweeping views of Earth, before the space plane glides back home and lands on a runway.

In contrast, the capsules used by SpaceX and Blue Origin are fully automated and parachute back down.

Like Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin aims for the fringes of space, quick ups-and-downs from West Texas. Blue Origin has launched 31 people so far, but flights are on hold following a rocket crash last fall. The capsule, carrying experiments but no passengers, landed intact.

SpaceX, is the only private company flying customers all the way to orbit, charging a much heftier price, too: tens of millions of dollars per seat. It’s already flown three private crews. NASA is its biggest customer, relying on SpaceX to ferry its astronauts to and from the International Space Station. since 2020.

People have been taking on adventure travel for decades, the risks underscored by the recent implosion of the Titan submersible that killed five passengers on their way down to view the Titanic wreckage. Virgin Galactic suffered its own casualty in 2014 when its rocket plane broke apart during a test flight, killing one pilot. Yet space tourists are still lining up, ever since the first one rocketed into orbit in 2001 with the Russians.

Branson, who lives in the British Virgin Islands, watched Thursday’s flight from a party in Antigua. He had held a virtual lottery to establish a pecking order for the company’s first 50 customers — dubbed the Founding Astronauts. Virgin Galactic said the group agreed Goodwin would go first, given his age and his Parkinson’s.


Emmys Pushed to January as Hollywood Strikes Press On

The 75th Emmy Awards ceremony is postponed to Jan. 15, the Television Academy and broadcast network Fox said on Thursday, as Hollywood writers and actors strike over labor disputes with major studios.

The Emmys were originally slated to air on Fox on Sept. 18, and nominations for the highest honors in television were announced in July, just before the dual work stoppage was declared.

Hollywood actors last month joined film and television writers who have been on picket lines since May after negotiations between the Writers Guild of America and major studios reached an impasse.

It is the first time that both the writers’ and actors’ unions have gone on strike together since 1960, effectively halting production of scripted television shows and films and impacting businesses across the entertainment world’s orbit.

HBO drama “Succession,” the story of a family’s cutthroat fight for control of a media empire, leads the nominees for television’s Emmy awards alongside fellow HBO show “The Last of Us,” a dystopian videogame adaptation.

Others competing for best drama include HBO’s “Game of Thrones” prequel “House of the Dragon,” vacation-gone-wrong story “The White Lotus” and Star Wars series “Andor.” Previous nominees “Better Call Saul,” “Yellowjackets” and “The Crown” are also in the mix.

The Emmy Awards will be broadcast live on Fox from the Peacock Theater at LA Live on Jan. 15. The Creative Arts Emmys — a class of awards recognizing technical and similar achievements — will take place on Jan. 6 and 7.

The show will be executive-produced by Jesse Collins, Dionne Harmon and Jeannae Rouzan-Clay of Jesse Collins Entertainment.


Seattle Volunteers Help Museum of Flight Mural Gain Liftoff

When faced with the task of painting a giant mural at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, artist Esmeralda Vasquez found it was best not to do it alone. More than 160 volunteers helped out, as reported in this story by VOA’s Natasha Mozgovaya.


Paris Plans Dramatic Transformation to Cope With Warming Temperatures

Paris’ escape from record temperatures gripping parts of Europe this summer could be a short-term reprieve. A study finds the city could have the most heatwave-related deaths of any European capital by 2050 — when temperatures may soar to 50 C (122 F). For VOA, Lisa Bryant has more from Paris.


China to Require all Apps to Share Business Details in New Oversight Push

China will require all mobile app providers in the country to file business details with the government, its information ministry said, marking Beijing’s latest effort to keep the industry on a tight leash. 

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) said late on Tuesday that apps without proper filings will be punished after the grace period that will end in March next year, a move that experts say would potentially restrict the number of apps and hit small developers hard. 

You Yunting, a lawyer with Shanghai-based DeBund Law Offices, said the order is effectively requiring approvals from the ministry. The new rule is primarily aimed at combating online fraud but it will impact all apps in China, he said. 

Rich Bishop, co-founder of app publishing firm AppInChina, said the new rule is also likely to affect foreign-based developers which have been able to publish their apps easily through Apple’s App Store without showing any documentation to the Chinese government. 

Bishop said that in order to comply with the new rules, app developers now must either have a company in China or work with a local publisher.  

Apple did not immediately reply to a request for comment. 

The iPhone maker pulled over a hundred artificial intelligence (AI) apps from its App Store last week to comply with regulations after China introduced a new licensing regime for generative AI apps for the country.  

The ministry’s notice also said entities “engaged in internet information services through apps in such fields as news, publishing, education, film and television and religion should also submit relevant documents.” 

The requirement could affect the availability of popular social media apps such as X, Facebook and Instagram. Use of such apps are not allowed in China, but they can be still downloaded from app stores, enabling Chinese to use them when traveling overseas. 

China already requires mobile games to obtain licenses before they launch in the country, and it had purged tens of thousands of unlicensed games from various app stores in 2020. 

Tencent’s WeChat, China’s most popular online social platform, said on Wednesday that mini apps, apps that can be opened within WeChat, must also follow the new rules. 

The company said that new apps must complete the filing before launch starting from September, while exiting mini apps have until the end of March.  



‘Searching for Sugar Man’ Singer, Songwriter Sixto Rodriguez Dies at 81

Sixto Rodriguez, who lived in obscurity in the U.S. only to find musical success in South Africa and a stardom he was unaware of, died Tuesday in Detroit. He was 81.

Rodriguez’s music career flamed out early in the U.S., but it took off after the singer and songwriter became the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man.

His death was announced on the website and confirmed Wednesday by his granddaughter, Amanda Kennedy.

He died following a short illness, according to his wife, Konny Rodriguez, 72.

A 2013 Associated Press story referred to Rodriguez as “the greatest protest singer and songwriter that most people never heard of.”

His albums flopped in the United States in the 1970s, but — unknown to him — he later became a star in South Africa where his songs protesting the Vietnam War, racial inequality, abuse of women and social mores inspired white liberals horrified by the country’s brutal racial segregation system of apartheid.

Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul’s documentary Searching for Sugar Man presented Rodriguez to a much larger audience. The film tells of two South Africans’ mission to seek out the fate of their musical hero. It won the Academy Award for best documentary in 2013.

Rodriguez was “more popular than Elvis” in South Africa, Stephen “Sugar” Segerman said in 2013. The Cape Town record store owner’s nickname comes from the Rodriguez song Sugar Man.

As his popularity in South Africa grew, Rodriguez lived in Detroit. But his fans in South Africa believed he also was famous in the United States. They heard various stories that the musician had died dramatically.

In 1996, Segerman and journalist Carl Bartholomew-Strydom set out to learn the truth. Their efforts led them to Detroit, where they found Rodriguez working on construction sites.

“It’s rock-and-roll history now. Who would-a thought?” Rodriguez told The Associated Press a decade ago.

Rodriguez said he just “went back to work” after his music career fizzled, raising a family that includes three daughters and launching several unsuccessful campaigns for public office. He made a living through manual labor in Detroit.

Still, he never stopped playing his music.

“I felt I was ready for the world, but the world wasn’t ready for me,” Rodriguez said. “I feel we all have a mission — we have obligations. Those turns on the journey, different twists — life is not linear.”

Konny Rodriguez said the couple met in 1972 while both were students at Wayne State University in Detroit and married in the early 1980s. Although still married at the time of his death, the couple had been separated for a number of years, she said Wednesday while looking through some of Sixto Rodriguez’s memorabilia.

“He loved college. He was born to be taught, to teach himself,” Konny Rodriguez said. “The music was more to bring people together. He would play anywhere, anytime. That’s where I noticed him. He was walking down Cass Avenue with a guitar and a black bag. He was a really eccentric guy.”

The two albums she said he recorded in 1969 and 1971 “didn’t do well.”

“I’m sure that was still in his head,” Konny Rodriguez added. “Then in 1979, I picked up the phone and it was a guy with an Australian accent who said Rodriguez ‘must come to Australia because he’s very famous here.'”

She said they toured Australia in 1979 and 1981 and later learned about the impact of his music in South Africa.

“Apartheid was going on,” she said. “Frank Sinatra had a full-page ad, ‘Do not go to South Africa.’ We didn’t.”

After the end of apartheid, Sixto Rodriguez did travel to South Africa and perform in front of his fans there, she said.

“He did so well in South Africa. It was insane,” Konny Rodriguez said.

Sixto Rodriguez later pursued royalties he did not receive from his music being used and played in South Africa.

Some of Rodriguez songs were banned by the apartheid regime, and many bootlegged copies were made on tapes and later CDs. 


Guitarist, Songwriter Robertson of The Band Dies at 80

Robbie Robertson, The Band’s lead guitarist and songwriter who in such classics as “The Weight” and “Up on Cripple Creek” mined American music and folklore and helped reshape contemporary rock, died Wednesday at 80. 

Robertson died in Los Angeles, surrounded by family, “after a long illness,” publicist Ray Costa said in a statement. 

From their years as Bob Dylan’s masterful backing group to their own stardom as embodiments of old-fashioned community and virtuosity, The Band profoundly influenced popular music in the 1960s and ’70s, first by literally amplifying Dylan’s polarizing transition from folk artist to rock star and then by absorbing some of Dylan’s own influences as they fashioned a new sound immersed in the American past. 

The Canadian-born Robertson was a high school dropout and one-man melting pot — part-Jewish, part-Mohawk and Cayuga — who fell in love with the seemingly limitless sounds and byways of his adopted country and wrote out of a sense of amazement and discovery at a time when the Vietnam War had alienated millions of young Americans.

The Band started out as supporting players for rockabilly star Ronnie Hawkins in the early 1960s and through their years together in bars and juke joints forged a depth and versatility that made them able to take on virtually any kind of music.

Stellar start 

Besides Robertson, the group featured drummer-singer Levon Helm, bassist-singer-songwriter Rick Danko, keyboardist singer-songwriter Richard Manuel and all-around musical wizard Garth Hudson. They were originally called the Hawks but ended up as The Band — a conceit their fans would say they earned — because people would point to them when they were with Dylan and refer to them as “the band.” 

They remain defined by their first two albums, “Music from Big Pink” and “The Band,” both released in the late 1960s.  

The rock scene was turning away from the psychedelic extravagances of the Beatles’ “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and a wave of sound effects, long jams and strange lyrics.  

“Music from Big Pink,” named for the old house near Woodstock, New York, where Band members lived and gathered, was for many the sound of coming home. The mood was intimate, the lyrics alternately playful, cryptic and yearning, drawn from blues, gospel, folk and country music. The Band itself seemed to stand for selflessness and a shared and vital history, with all five members making distinctive contributions and appearing in publicity photos in plain, dark clothes. 

Through the “Basement Tapes” made with Dylan in 1967 and through the group’s own albums, The Band has been widely credited as a founding source for Americana or roots music. Fans and peers would speak of their lives being changed.  

Eric Clapton broke up with his British supergroup Cream and journeyed to Woodstock in hopes he could join The Band, which influenced albums ranging from The Grateful Dead’s “Workingman’s Dead” to Elton John’s “Tumbleweed Connection.” The Band’s songs were covered by Joan Baez, the Staple Singers and many others. 

Like Dylan, Robertson was a self-taught musicologist and storyteller who absorbed everything American from the novels of William Faulkner to the scorching blues of Howlin’ Wolf to the gospel harmonies of the Swan Silvertones.  

At times his songs sounded not just created but unearthed. In “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” he imagined the Civil War through the eyes of a defeated Confederate. In “The Weight,” with its lead vocals passed around among group members like a communal wine glass, he evoked a pilgrim’s arrival to a town where nothing seems impossible. 

At Woodstock

The Band played at the 1969 Woodstock festival, not far from where they lived, and became newsworthy enough to appear on the cover of Time magazine. But the spirit behind their best work was already dissolving. Albums such as “Stage Fright” and “Cahoots” were disappointing even for Robertson, who would acknowledge that he was struggling to find fresh ideas. While Manuel and Danko were both frequent contributors to songs during their “Basement Tapes” days, by the time of “Cahoots,” released in 1971, Robertson was the dominant writer. 

They toured frequently, recording the acclaimed live album “Rock of Ages” at Madison Square Garden and joining Dylan for 1974 shows that led to another highly praised concert release, “Before the Flood.”  

But in 1976, after Manuel broke his neck in a boating accident, Robertson decided he needed a break from the road and organized rock’s ultimate sendoff, an all-star gathering at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom that included Dylan, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Muddy Waters and many others. The concert was filmed by Martin Scorsese and was the basis for his celebrated documentary “The Last Waltz,” released in 1978. 

Robertson had intended The Band to continue recording together but “The Last Waltz” helped permanently sever his friendship with Helm, whom he had once looked to as an older brother. Helm accused Robertson of greed and outsized ego, noting that Robertson had ended up owning their musical catalog and calling “The Last Waltz” a vanity project designed to glorify Robertson. In response, Robertson contended that he had taken control of the group because the others — excepting Hudson — were too burdened by drug and alcohol problems to make decisions on their own. 

“It hit me hard that in a band like ours, if we weren’t operating on all cylinders, it threw the whole machine off course,” Robertson wrote in his memoir Testimony, published in 2016. 

Solo career, soundtracks

The Band regrouped without Robertson in the early 1980s, and Robertson went on to a long career as a solo artist and soundtrack composer. His self-titled 1987 album was certified gold and featured the hit single “Show Down at Big Sky” and the ballad “Fallen Angel,” a tribute to Manuel, who was found dead in 1986 in what was ruled a suicide (Danko died of heart failure in 1999 and Helm of cancer in 2012). 

Robertson, who moved to Los Angeles in the 1970s while the others stayed near Woodstock, remained close to Scorsese and helped oversee the soundtracks for “The Color of Money,” “The King of Comedy,” “The Departed” and “The Irishman” and the upcoming “Killers of the Flower Moon.” He also produced the Neil Diamond album “Beautiful Noise” and explored his heritage through such albums as “Music for the Native Americans” and “Contact from the Underworld of Redboy.” 

Robertson married the Canadian journalist Dominique Bourgeois in 1967. They had three children before divorcing. His other survivors include his second wife, Janet Zuccarini, and five grandchildren.