(TMU) — One year ago in January, a Chinese robot landed on the dark side of the moon. Since then, the Chang’e 4 probe and the Yutu-2 rover it carried onboard have been busy photographing and scanning minerals, growing yeast, hatching fruit-fly eggs, and cultivating cotton, potato, and rapeseeds in the moon’s low gravity, according to the Daily Beast.
Now, China’s National Space Administration is quietly planning to launch yet another probe into space. Chang’e 5 could blast off as early as this year.
Last year, TMU reported that the Yutu-2 rover came across a strange “gel-like” substance which the Chinese began to study extensively.
The Chinese space agency has continued to work on its Tiangong 3 space station and is planning on testing a new manned spacecraft for deep-space missions. That permanent station will reach orbit aboard the country’s new Long March 5B rocket in the first half of 2020, AFP reported. The mission will not be associated with the International Space Station.
It is worth noting that China and Europe both planned on building a moonbase together in a move of “international collaboration” back in 2017. Europe and Russia are also eyeing plans to send a probe to the dark side of the moon to determine if they should build a moon base on the far side of the lunar surface.
And the U.S. hasn’t been quiet when it comes to the space race either with the introduction of Space Force and plans of its own for a joint base with Russia.
For the U.S., this space race to build a moonbase is nothing new. A project known as Horizon was supposedly a plan drawn up in the 1950s that seemingly depicts the blueprints for a base on the moon. Project Horizon sought to establish a stationary Army control base on the moon by 1966 but the operation was allegedly shut down and canceled and the idea never materialized further.
It was reported in a joint announcement by NASA and Russia’s Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities that the U.S. and Russia wanted to build a “moonbase” the same year that Europe and China announced their cooperation. However, the current plan with Russia resembles another previous proposal called the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) which ironically was suggested during the Cold War. Russia and the U.S. now seek to revive that plan with a base that will orbit the moon similar to how the International Space Station moves around Earth.
The MOL ran from December 1963 until its alleged cancellation in June 1969. Its mission was to use an elite corps of secret U.S. astronauts to gather intelligence on the Soviets during the Cold War.
NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos stated the partnership was for human exploration of the moon and deep space. Both agencies signed a joint statement on the collaborative effort. It all stemmed from NASA’s “deep-space gateway” concept, a mission architecture designed to send astronauts into lunar orbit by 2020.
“This plan challenges our current capabilities in human spaceflight and will benefit from engagement by multiple countries and U.S. industry,” NASA officials said in a statement at the time.
The status of plans between Russia and the U.S. as well as China and Europe aren’t currently public and either could be canceled for reasons of political tensions or something else before they see the light of day.
“China, the United States, Russia and Europe are all discussing whether to build a research base or a research station on the moon,” Wu Yanhua, deputy chief commander of China’s Lunar Exploration Program said.
The bigger worry isn’t space exploration—it is weaponizing space. The New York Times reported in 2015 that space could be the next war zone, warning about the implications of weaponizing space in an opinion piece literally titled “Preventing A Space War.”
Microsoft Wants to Reanimate You as a “Conversational” Chatbot After You Die
Black Mirror creator Charlie Booker made headlines earlier this year when he stated that the world was bleak enough without a new season of the infamously dark Netflix series. During the Trump and Covid years, many commentators have observed that reality seems to have matched and even outpaced the dire predictions of the world’s science fiction authors.
However, Black Mirror brought an especially sharp edge to the genre, so closely mirroring our own society’s disintegration into techno-dystopian chaos that at times it felt like a real-time satire that was a bit too on the nose.
Now, in a move that eerily invokes a number of Black Mirror plot arcs, reality seems to be trying to reclaim its monopoly on dystopia. The tech giant Microsoft has filed a patent for software that can “revive” a version of a person who has died and use that version as the basis for a conversational chatbot.
The patent describes harvesting “social data,” which includes images, voice data, emails, text messages, social media posts, written letters, user profile and behavioral data, transactional data, geo-location data and more, in order to “modify a personalized chat index in the theme of certain person’s personality. This personality may resemble anyone for whom enough social data can be found and could also be a historical figure, a fictional character, or a celebrity.
In other words, Microsoft plans to take the concept of data mining even further, imagining that even after we die it can continue to collect the digital breadcrumbs we’ve left behind online and on our computer devices. It further fancies reassembling those relics to construct lifelike character-versions of our personalities, mannerisms, and behaviors.
Obviously, not every patent leads to a finished product and many corporations, especially the Big Tech behemoths, file rafts of moonshot patents every year in the anticipation of future developments. But the very fact that Microsoft would see potential here strikes some as haunting, especially given our recent experience with the first generation of celebrity holograms.
It begs the question: would the average person want a chatbot themed off them guiding consumers through a user interface? Would consumers even want that? A chatbot themed on Elvis or Groucho Marx makes more sense, but a deceased friend or family member?
As noted by RT, Black Mirror‘s creative synergy has been oddly prescient, depicting the “social credit score” scenario before it was firmly on the public radar. There is also an episode in which a pop singer, played by Miley Cyrus, is algorithmically simulated by her record label so that when the real-life singer dies they can continue making money off her likeness forever.
Clearly, Microsoft is willing to invest in the R&D needed to explore the idea of chatbots themed off our personalities, but would such an idea fly? Even if they are able to elude the uncanny valley associated with machine simulations of humans, would the average person want to interact with a digital recreation of a dead loved one?
Federal Investigation Launched For Florida Manatee Found With ‘TRUMP’ Scraped on Its Back
While the United States remains caught in the throes of the fallout of last week’s storming of the U.S. Capitol Building by pro-Trump rioters, authorities are seeking the details of a far different type of political crime far from Washington.
Last Sunday, an endangered Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris) was discovered by a boat captain in the waters of the Homosassa River with the word “TRUMP” written on its back. The case of animal abuse was first reported by the Citrus County Chronicle.
The sad assault on wildlife would seem shocking until recent years, but it’s only the latest in a disturbing trend of animals being branded with the names of politicians, with a black bear in Asheville, North Carolina, also being found last year with a Trump 2020 sticker affixed to its collar.
However, officials with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) are taking this latest incident very seriously and have launched a full investigation of the harassment of a federally protected marine mammal. Anyone found responsible for this latest crime could find themselves liable to pay up to $100,000 while also facing up to a year in federal prisons.
Fortunately, early reports that the word was “carved” into the manatee’s back proved to be inaccurate, so it appears that the manatee hasn’t been injured. According to a statement by USFWS quoted by the Miami Herald, “it seems the word was written in algae on the animal’s back.”
“Manatees aren’t billboards, and people shouldn’t be messing with these sensitive and imperiled animals for any reason,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), in a press release. “However, this political graffiti was put on this manatee, it’s a crime to interfere with these creatures, which are protected under multiple federal laws.”
Florida manatees enjoy a range of special protections due to their unfortunate position as a threatened and very slow-moving animal. Any interference with the gentle giants carries heavy penalties under the 1972 U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act, the 1973 U.S. Endangered Species Act, and the 1978 Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act. Even President Trump himself signed into law the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act in 2019, which makes intentional acts of cruelty to animals a crime punishable by federal law that could result in seven years in prison and heavy fines.
Regardless of whether the creature sustained a serious injury, authorities are keen on bringing the vandal to justice, with the CBD offering a $5,000 reward for any information that can lead to apprehending the culprit of the crime.
“It’s heartbreaking that this manatee was subjected to this vile, criminal act,” Lopez told the Herald. “It’s clear that whoever harmed this defenseless, gentle giant is capable of doing grave violence and needs to be apprehended immediately.”
The specific animal is a West Indian manatee, which is a species known to congregate in secluded, spring-fed waters of Citrus County during this time of the year.
“This is very out of character for this community,” said Craig Cavanna, a senior federal wildlife officer and current investigating officer. “Wildlife conservation is a core value in Citrus County. That’s why it’s called the Nature Coast.”
Manatees are lovingly known as “sea cows” due to their placid, bovine disposition and penchant for munching on water grasses, weeds and algae. In addition to being the Sunshine State’s marine mammal, the manatee is also one of the most strange and charismatic aquatic creatures in the United States. Its gassy diet means that it retains a large amount of methane in its gut, which it uses to regulate its buoyancy and reach the surface easily. Whenever it wants to sink back to the depths, it simply farts to release its gas.
Such a gentle and unique creature hardly deserves to have the name of America’s outgoing president scrawled onto its skin, so anyone with information related to this incident is encouraged to contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-3922 or the USFWS wildlife crime tips hotline at 1-844-397-8477 and email at [email protected]
Ex-Soldier Raids Animal Shelter With Assault Rifle, in Full Tactical Gear, To Get Cat Back
An ex-soldier in full tactical gear armed with an assault rifle launched a one-man raid on an animal shelter after he believed that his missing cat was being held at the facility.
The strange chain of events unfolded Monday in the southeastern suburbs of Melbourne, a court has learned, and offers a strange twist on your Rambo-style tale of a combat veteran running amok in the civilian world.
Tony Wittmann, a 44-year-old father of three and veteran of the Australian Army, was reportedly so enraged when he was informed by workers at the Lost Dogs’ Home in Melbourne that he threatened the shelter worker with a loaded assault rifle before tying her up and holding her captive in the parking lot of the facility.
“Do as I say and listen to me, I won’t shoot you,” he allegedly threatened her, according to reports from the court. “Don’t try anything or I’ll shoot you.”
The former soldier, who was discharged for a failure to render efficient service, is now facing multiple serious charges including kidnapping, false imprisonment, and armed robbery.
Wittmann was clad in a military-style flak vest, balaclava, and tactical helmet when he stormed the Cranbourne West animal shelter on Monday night after learning that his cat was being held overnight at the shelter.
Upon learning that the shelter would be unable to release his feline friend until the next morning, the former soldier decided to escalate matters by invading the premises and brandishing his assault weapon at the worker. According to her, the firearm looked like “something a SWAT team in the movies would use.”
The unhinged gunman then proceeded to grill the woman about “where all the cats were” as he continued brandishing the weapon with his finger on the trigger. He eventually forced the woman to get on her knees before he tied her hands behind her back with zip-ties.
“The accused said, ‘I’m going to close this door. If I see you, I’ll shoot you,’” Detective Senior Constable Jo MacDonald told the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Tuesday.
After Wittmann left, the woman eventually managed to free herself before notifying her boss, who promptly alerted local authorities.
The next morning, as detectives combed over the scene for any evidence of the strange incursion, Wittmann returned to retrieve his cat. In addition to failing to get his cat back, he was also detained and jailed, and has been deprived of the right to post bail.
“The community would be at risk personally of him committing further offences if granted bail,” Magistrate Greg McNamara said. “The strength of the prosecution case is a very strong one. Firearms were involved, loaded firearms.”
The crime has also left victims in a state of fear over what transpired, according to officials.
“On this occasion, [Wittman has] acted to get back possession of a cat, which he was only going to be without for possibly 10 hours,” MacDonald informed the court. “The victim and her work colleagues are absolutely traumatized by what’s happened.”
“He’s aware of their workplace. He lives close by. He has shown a complete disregard for the safety and wellbeing of the general public,” MacDonald continued.
“He has collected a series of weapons. I’ve looked through his mobile telephone which highlights he’s purchased further weapons which are due to be delivered to his home address.”
In Wittmann’s defense, attorney Crystle Gomez Vasquez said that he had suffered a number of physical injuries and was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder due to his military service.
Wittmann is due to return to court in April.
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