Lab Attempts to Re-Awaken “Zombie Virus” Found in Frozen Mammoth

Russia’s Vector lab is extracting Stone Age viruses from woolly mammoths for experimentation but experts fear a leak could set off another catastrophic pandemic

Scientists have caused alarm by unearthing the bodies of long-dead mammals in an effort to ‘re-awaken’ Stone Age viruses.

The pathogens are believed to have been preserved for millennia in the frozen remains of woolly mammoths and other extinct species in northeast Siberia.

Such prehistoric ‘paleoviruses’ are unfamiliar to anything inhabiting the Earth today.

The project is being carried out by Russia’s State Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology, known as Vector.

It aims to extract cellular material containing the diseases for lab experiments.

One of the research center’s branches is a former biological weapons facility which, in April 1979 inadvertently released spores of anthrax.
The outbreak killed at least 66 people but Soviet authorities denied the incident ever happened.

In 2004, meanwhile, a researcher accidentally contracted Ebola by pricking herself with a needle containing the virus.

Vector currently hosts 59 maximum security biolabs around the world.

International experts, including Jean-Michel Claverie, are worried about the impact of the new experiments.
The professor of microbiology at the University of Aix-Marseille in France led a team involved in reviving a Siberian ‘zombie’ virus that had lain frozen under a lake bed for 50,000 years.

However, the professor said his work is focused only on pathogens that could infect single-celled amoeba and not animals or humans.

He described Vector’s research as “terrible”, reports state.

He said: “I’m totally against it. [It] is very, very risky. Our immune systems have never encountered these types of viruses.
“Some of them could be 200,000 or even 400,000 years old. But ancient viruses that infected animals or humans could still be infectious.”

Referring to how secure the research branch itself is, he added: “I would not be very confident that everything is up to date.”

But it’s not just what Russian scientists might unearth in the Arctic’s ancient wastelands.

Permafrost, the huge expanses of frozen ground, are melting due to global warming and could unleash deadly viruses regardless.

It had come from human and animal remains incased in the thawing permafrost.

The disease had not been seen in the region since 1941.

Original Article

‘Victory Over Death’ – Book Declares Death will Eventually be Optional

A sensational book is now declaring ‘victory over death’. Futurists think that it will soon be ‘treatable’, and by 2045 at the latest it will even be ‘optional’.

The dream of eternal life is certainly as old as humanity. In fact, we have come a little closer to it over the years, as medical advances and improvements in circumstances have already significantly extended life expectancy. And now the next decisive step is to come.

On the way to unlimited life expectancy

Futurist and technology expert from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) José Cordeiro and his co-author David Wood (mathematician and transhumanist from Cambridge University) are certain of one thing. Everyone interested will soon be able to live radically longer and even have an unlimited life expectancy. The corresponding technological revolution is taking place right now. Cordeiro explains this in an interview with watson.de.

Ultimately, he says, the main question is how to repair the damage that the ageing process does to the body. Co-author David Wood emphasizes:

Research is making progress in finding ways to systematically replace, repair or reprogram this damage.

Ageing is a curable disease

For the two futurists, ageing is a form of disease for which a cure may soon be possible. Cordeiro says:

Cell and organ rejuvenation have already been scientifically proven.

So the main thing is still to live long enough to really benefit from the powerful rejuvenation therapies that are expected.

Longevity therapies, on the other hand, will in future be a part of general social security. And instead of spending 80% of medical expenses in the last two decades of life, health care could then work in reverse – and thus become cheaper.

Society will be completely restructured

Instead, people would invest in effective longevity therapies in their first decades, so that the whole society would benefit afterwards. After all, ageing and its consequences are under control, so that humanity can then relieve the burden on health care with a kind of ‘longevity dividend’.

The two futurists Cordeiro and Wood also see no overpopulation problem arising if death becomes truly optional in the future. What is essential, however, isa change in meat production as it has been practiced up to now – to cultured meat that does not come from sentient animals. In addition, modern farming methods would work in a much more resource-efficient way.

Original Article

Tomb of ‘Jesus’ Midwife’ Yields New Secrets

A cave in Israel said to be the burial place of Salome, Jesus‘ midwife, has yielded more of its secrets, according to archaeologists who have unearthed inscriptions and precious artifacts there, which was once revered as a pilgrimage destination by early Christians.

The discoveries at the Cave of Salome, near the ancient city of Lachish and about 30 miles (48 kilometers) southwest of Jerusalem, include hundreds of clay oil lamps that pilgrims had purchased or rented before entering the cave, and inscriptions carved into the walls by worshippers, some of them written in Arabic.

Although looters discovered the cave 40 years ago and archaeologists excavated the site in 1984, the new dig is the first to examine the cave’s forecourt, a decorated spot covering 3,767 square feet (350 square meters) that sports mosaic floors and is surrounded by stone walls.

Next to the court, the cave’s entrance is heavily decorated with symbolic carvings of rosettes, pomegranates and acanthus vases — a type of vase covered with the ornamental leaves of the acanthus plant, which are said to be characteristic Jewish designs, according to a statement from the Israel Antiquities Authority (opens in new tab) (IAA). Christian pilgrims visited the cave during Byzantine times, from the fifth century A.D; but evidence suggests that a wealthy Jewish family originally used the cave for burials about 2,000 years ago, the IAA researchers said.

“The family tomb attests that its owners were a family of high status in the Judean shefelah [lowlands] in the Second Temple period,” which lasted from 516 B.C. to A.D. 70, the statement said. “The name Salome may have appeared in antiquity on one of the ossuaries [stone boxes] in the tomb, and the tradition identifying the site with Salome the midwife developed.”

Jesus’ midwife

The story of Salome the midwife is told in the Gospel of James, which is considered apocryphal by Christians — meaning its authenticity is doubted — and it does not appear in the New Testament.

Looking out from a cave, we see three archaeologists wearing hard hats as they work on the Salome’s cave and its forecourts excavation site.
The story of Salome the midwife is related in the apocryphal Gospel of James; it’s said her arm withered because she doubted the virgin birth of Jesus, but it was healed when she touched Jesus’ cradle. (Image credit: Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Salome is largely unknown to Western Christians today; but she was venerated by early Christians and is depicted as a midwife at the birth of Jesus in many Eastern Orthodox icons.

The story in the Gospel of James relates that Salome was an associate of another, unnamed midwife at the birth of Jesus; but that her hand was withered when she refused to believe that Jesus’ mother was a virgin, and it healed only after she touched the baby’s cradle.

The Salome cave itself comprises several chambers with multiple rock-hewn kokhim (burial niches) and broken ossuaries, attesting to the original Jewish burial custom. But it was a surprise to the archaeologists that the site had become an early Christian chapel and pilgrimage center.

“Salome is a mysterious figure,” the researchers said in the statement. “The cult of Salome, sanctified in Christianity, belongs to a broader phenomenon whereby the fifth-century CE Christian pilgrims encountered and sanctified Jewish sites.”

Place of pilgrimage

The Christian pilgrimage to Salome’s cave continued until at least the ninth century A.D., during the region’s Islamic period. Many of the clay oil lamps uncovered in the new excavation  date to the eighth and ninth centuries, the archaeologists noted. The team also revealed a row of shop stalls in the cave’s forecourt that sold or rented the lamps to pilgrims, perhaps so they could venture into the dark interior.

“The lamps may have served to light up the cave, or as part of the religious ceremonies, similarly to candles distributed today at the graves of righteous figures and in churches,” Nir Shimshon-Paran and Zvi Firer, the IAA’s excavation directors for the southern region, said in the statement. 

Although the cave has remained closed to the public since its discovery, Salome’s cave will open its doors, so to speak, once the current excavations are complete. The cave will be part of the Judean Kings Trail, a 60-mile-long (100 km) trail through the southern part of Israel that features dozens of significant archaeological sites.

Tom Metcalfe is a freelance journalist and regular Live Science contributor who is based in London in the United Kingdom. Tom writes mainly about science, space, archaeology, the Earth and the oceans. He has also written for the BBC, NBC News, National Geographic, Scientific American, Air & Space, and many others.

Giant ‘Gate to Hell’ Crater Opens Up in Russian Town (VIDEO)

An enormous sinkhole, described as a “gate to hell” by local media, has opened up close to one of Russia’s most popular ski resorts. The 100-foot-wide crater formed above an iron-ore mine in Sheregesh.

Terrifying footage of the incident, shared on Telegram by the channel @incident_kuzbass, shows a house teetering on the edge of an enormous smoking cavern.

There were no casualties reported as the area had already been evacuated by local authorities due to concerns over ground instability above the mine. The Tashtagol district administration said in a statement that roads and houses had not been damaged, but the main road approaching the area had been blocked and bus services suspended.

Evgeny Chuvilin, leading research scientist at the Center for Petroleum Science and Engineering at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, told Newsweek that while the billowing crater might look dramatic, it was not unexpected and that suitable security measures had been taken to minimize the damage. However, further north, craters are forming under less predictable circumstances.

“The craters found in the permafrost in the north of Western Siberia are unique geological formations,” Chuvilin said. “They are the result of an explosive release of gas from the upper horizons of the Arctic permafrost.

“The formation of a crater is preceded by a local accumulation of gas, mainly methane, under pressure in the permafrost. Its accumulation occurs in characteristic cavities that form in the lower horizons of ground ice. Subsequently, in gas-saturated cavities, an increase in pressure occurs as a result of gas concentration.”

As the pressure builds beneath the Earth’s surface, the ground above it begins to heave. Eventually, the ground gives way. “There is an explosive release of gas with a scatter of rock fragments [and] ice at a distance of several hundred meters around the area of gas breakthrough,” the scientist said.

The formation of these craters is still quite rare, Chuvilin said, and, since 2014, only 20 such craters have been found. Many of them are enormous, with one on the Gydan peninsula stretching to a width of 650 feet.

As the planet warms, the occurrence of these underground explosions is expected to increase. “It can be said that [climate warming] causes an increase in the temperature of the upper permafrost horizons, and this reduces their mechanical characteristics and thus contributes to the realization of excess gas pressures in the upper permafrost horizons in the form of gas emissions with the formation of craters,” Chuvilin said.

Whether it is the result of mining or natural gas, Russian soil is becoming increasingly vulnerable to these “gateways to hell.”

WATCH FOOTAGE BELOW:

Original Article

Face of Tutankhamun Seen for the First Time in Over 3,300 Years

The face of Tutankhamun can be seen for the first time in over 3,300 years after scientific reconstruction.

Christian Corbet, the artist who sculpted Prince Philip in 2013, used a 3D model of the pharaoh’s skull to bring the ancient Egyptian ruler to life.

The model was created using scans of Tutankhamun’s skull, taken by Andrew Nelson of Canada’s Western University.

The end result has been called the most realistic reconstruction of the pharaoh’s appearance ever created.

Dr Nelson said: “We worked from the 3D model of the skull, and then we added the layers of muscle and actually built up the face.

“The anatomy of his skull guided the facial reconstruction, so I think it’s a much more realistic appearance than any of the ones we’ve seen in the past.”

The use of computed tomography (CT) scans to create an accurate 3D model of the skull was just one aspect of creating the realistic new depiction.

The team also used tissue markers – which indicate the depth of the flesh at different places – based on modern Egyptians.

Other reconstructions of mummies have used tissue markers based on Caucasian subjects.

Mr Corbet said: “I then built the muscles up layer by layer until the forensic reconstruction was complete.

“The forensic sculpture was based on the science of the skull, and the tissue markers and the measurements of each were based on the average male Egyptian subject.

“There is no creative licence here. Every stage was also photographed to prove my work.”

The forensic bust has eyes shut, no ears and no expression.

But once it was complete, Mr Corbet had the chance to breathe life into the face.

He said: “I was permitted to be more creative and open his eyes, angle directions to the eyes, and perhaps add a bit of an upturn of the lips.

“But again there was no fabricating the features – even the ears were carefully thought out by all of us.”

As a finishing touch, a khepresh or war crown was added.

The sculptor said: “That was creative but then it was also referenced from period sculptures of Tut depicted wearing the crown.

“I just needed to learn how the physics of such a crown would work to sit on the pharaoh’s head.”

The recreation was made for a two-part documentary from Soura Films, Tutankhamun: Allies & Enemies, aired by American public broadcaster PBS.

The project was not without its challenges, however.

The ancients had used resin-soaked linen on the skull in a bid to preserve the shape of the pharaoh’s face after mummification.

Which meant the software had to be shown how to distinguish between the skull itself and other material.

Dr Nelson said: “My role in this project was to segment the skull from the CT scan.

“That involves marking pixels in the CT slices as bone, as packing/resin or as something else.

“I did this using the software, Dragonfly, and I used its deep learning segmentation capabilities by training it on a number of slices, then leaving it to run overnight to do the initial segmentation.

“I then manually cleaned it up to produce the 3D model of the skull – that took about 20 hours of work.”

And unlike with normal subjects, there was no living person for the sculptor to draw from.

Mr Corbet said: “In sculpting the duke, I could at least interview him from the many sittings I had with him; I could talk and chat, and watch his gestures and his incredible intelligence.”

But the sculptor is sure the pharaoh would have approved of the final piece.

Original Article

Notre Dame’s Uncovered Tombs Start to Reveal Their Secrets

Two lead sarcophaguses discovered buried under the nave at Notre Dame Cathedral in what was described as an “extraordinary and emotional” find have begun giving up their secrets, French scientists announced on Friday.

The first contains the remains of a high priest who died in 1710 after what experts say appeared to be a sedentary life. The occupant of the second has not yet been identified – and may never be – but is believed to be a young, wealthy and privileged noble who could have lived as far back as the 14th century.

The tombs were uncovered as part of a cache of statues, sculptures and fragments of the cathedral’s original 13th-century rood screen buried under the floor of the transept crossing at the heart of the cathedral that was ravaged by fire in April 2019.

The burial sites were described as of “remarkable scientific quality” and were found after a preventive dig under the floor where heavy scaffolding is to be erected to install the cathedral’s new spire.

While most of the treasures were discovered barely 20cm (8in) under the cathedral floor, a body-shaped lead sarcophagus was buried one metre deep.

Once opened by specialists in Toulouse, it was found to contain what was left of a man, probably in his 30s, who researchers have named “Le Cavalier”, as his pelvic bones suggest he was an experienced horseman.

There was no name plaque on the coffin, which was moulded around the shape of the body, and holes in the lead around the head meant the remains had been exposed to the air and severe deterioration.

Scientists are continuing to examine fragments of cloth and plant material found inside the coffin and say he was embalmed – a rare practice in the middle ages – and appears to have been buried with a crown of flowers.

A brass plaque on the second lead sarcophagus, also exposed to the air and water infiltration from the historic flooding of the Seine in 1910, confirmed that it contained the remains of Antoine de la Porte, the canon of Notre Dame Cathedral who died on Christmas Eve 1710 aged 83.

Eric Crubézy, professor of biological anthropology at the University of Toulouse III, who oversaw the cutting open of the coffins, said the two men were clearly important in their respective eras to have been buried in such prestigious tombs at the heart of the cathedral.

The unknown cavalier would have been a member of “the elite” at the time of his death to have been interred at the foot of the large cross on the since-destroyed rood screen, an ornate partition between the chancel and the nave that separated the clergy and choir from the congregation. Most rood screens were removed from France’s Catholic churches during the Counter-Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The young man had suffered a “chronic disease” that had destroyed most of his teeth by the time he died, Crubézy told journalists. “He would have had a difficult end of life.” The dead aristocrat also had a deformation of the skull caused by wearing a headdress or headband as a baby.

Christophe Besnier, who headed the scientific team for the dig carried out by France’s national archaeological institute, Inrap, told a press conference: “If the date of his death was around the second half of the 16th century or early 17th century, we may be able to identify him in the death register that we have. If it’s earlier than that, we probably won’t ever know who he was.”

Unlike the cavalier, de la Porte had “extraordinarily good teeth”, Crubézy said. “They were remarkable for his age. We see this very rarely, but he clearly cleaned his teeth and took care of them.”

De la Porte was rich, influential and not only commissioned several works of art that are now in the Louvre, including a painting by Jean Jouvenet entitled The Mass of Canon Antoine de la Porte, but paid 10,000 livres – a small fortune at the time – for the renovation of the choir of Notre Dame Cathedral. Part of the destroyed rood screen was used in constructing his tomb.

After fire swept through the 850-year-old cathedral, one of Paris’s most symbolic and visited monuments, in April 2019, almost destroying the entire edifice, President Emmanuel Macron pledged to have it rebuilt and open for mass in five years.

The Inrap team was called in to carry out a “preventive dig” under a section of the cathedral floor between February and April before a 30 metre-high, 600-tonne scaffold was built to reconstruct the monument’s spire. The archaeologists were given a strict timeframe and only a specific area in which to carry out the excavation.

Dominique Garcia, president of Inrap, reiterated that the human remains were not “archaeological objects” and would be treated “with respect from beginning to end” of the research before being returned to Paris for the culture ministry to decide what would happen to them.

Original Article

Discovery’s Shark Week Needs Diversity, Study Says

Lisa Whitenack loved sharks as a kid. She spent rainy days leafing through a guide to sharks in Reader’s Digest. Every summer, she would watch “Shark Week,” Discovery’s annual TV event that spotlights the ocean predator with seven days of dedicated programming.

But when the scientists appeared on her TV screen, she rarely saw any women she could look up to.

“Why would I know I could do that?” Whitenack said. “I don’t come from a family of scientists. I didn’t see very many people that looked like me on television.”

Whitenack, now a biology professor at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., found her way into shark research anyway. When the pandemic lockdowns came in 2020, she saw an opportunity to study the source of her old misconceptions. Was “Shark Week” feeding audiences the wrong messages about sharks — and who studies them?

Whitenack led a team of researchers to examine hundreds of “Shark Week” episodes that aired between 1988 and 2020. In a study published last month by the Public Library of Science, their research claims that Discovery’s programming emphasized negative messages about sharks, lacked useful messaging about shark conservation and overwhelmingly featured White men as experts — including several with the same name.

The programming featured more White experts and commentators named “Mike” than women, said David Shiffman, a conservationist at Arizona State University who was a co-author of the study.

“When there are hundreds of people of color interested who work in this field, [and] when my field is more than half women, maybe it’s not an accident anymore that they’re only featuring White men,” Shiffman said.

Discovery did not respond to a request for comment on the study’s findings. The company told NBC Boston that it wouldn’t comment on a study “that has yet to pass any scientific approvals” after a preliminary version was presented 2021. It has since undergone a scientific review, Whitenack said.

“Shark Week,” a 34-year tradition and consistent ratings draw for Discovery, has faced criticism in the past. Scientists and TV critics blasted the event in 2020 for announcing a roster of TV specials that featured six White men out of eight named experts.

Whitenack’s study found that the trend persisted throughout almost all of the television event’s history. Over 90 percent of the 229 experts featured in 201 “Shark Week” episodes were White, the study found, and about 78 percent were men.

Carlee Bohannon, a marine biologist and co-founder of Minorities in Shark Sciences, praised the study for putting numbers to her and her colleagues’ long-standing concerns about diversity in both the media and shark science. When Bohannon founded her organization with three other Black scientists in 2020, it was the first time any of them had met other Black women in their field.

“We all grew up seeing one type of person on TV,” Bohannon said. “‘Shark Week’ was really the biggest thing, and it was always filled with White men.”

According to a separate diversity study co-written by Shiffman, more than half of the members of the American Elasmobranch Society, an academic group supporting the study of sharks and other fish, are women, but over 70 percent of the group’s leadership positions have been held by men. Women in marine sciences can also face a misogynistic culture, marine biologist Catherine Macdonald wrote in Scientific American in 2020.

“‘Shark Week’ further concentrates power (in the form of publicity and media attention) in the hands of white male ‘featured scientists,’ exacerbating academic power imbalances,” Macdonald wrote.

In the latest study, Whitenack and the other researchers also found that more “Shark Week” episodes included stories of attacks and other fearmongering messaging than positive language describing sharks as “awe-inspiring” or ecologically important, which the study called a missed opportunity.

“Shark Week” also lacked effective messaging about conservation issues, researchers said. Though Discovery has used the show to promote legislation protecting sharks, “Shark Week” rarely gave viewers actionable information about conservation issues, such as avoiding seafoods caught in ways that also trap and harm sharks, the study claims.

But Whitenack and Bohannon agreed that the biggest concern was with the program’s lack of diversity and how that might shape young scientists’ perceptions of marine biology and whether they could enter the field.

“Diversity in people brings diversity in thought, which ultimately brings innovation,” Bohannon said. “Being able to see someone who looks like you in this field really has an impact.”

Whitenack said Discoveryhasn’t contacted the research group.

In 2020, National Geographic developed a partnership with Minorities in Shark Sciences that allowed members of the organization to participate in the network’s competing TV program, “SharkFest,” Bohannon said. Seven scientists of color from the group appeared in this year’s programming.

Bohannon appeared on “SharkFest” twice to talk about nurse sharks in the Bahamas and how they have adapted to swim in shallow water. It felt like a milestone — one she wishes more of her peers get to experience.

“Just seeing myself on TV,” Bohannon said, “it was very surreal.”

See Photos of “Most Beautiful Preserved Person in the World”

Rosalia Lombardo sadly passed away just before her second birthday back in 1920 due to a case of pneumonia, which experts suggest was likely caused by the Spanish flu pandemic.

Thousands of people come to visit her preserved body each year in the catacombs beneath the Capuchin convent in Palermo, Sicily, where she rests amongst 8,000 other mummies.

No one is entirely sure how she was kept in such perfect condition before being placed in a protective glass coffin, with her blond hair and skin still fully intact.

Thousands of people visit the preserved body of Rosalia Lombardo each year.
As is often the case with the strange and unexplained, a number of theories have emerged over the years, with some claiming her to be a fake wax replica.

Looking to debunk the claims, various tests were carried out on the body for a History Channel documentary in the 00s.

Not only did they confirm the mummy to be the body of Rosalia, but through x-ray scanthat her skeletal structure and organs were still intact, including her brain – although it had shrunk to 50 percent its original size.

An urban legend was also circulated by people who had claimed to have seen the young girl blink, another theory that was unsurprisingly proven to be incorrect.

The toddler’s body is so well preserved, some have accused it of being a wax replica. Credit: Hemis/Alamy Stock Photo
In a statement made back in 2014, Dario Piombino-Mascali – a bioarchaeologist and scientific curator of the Capuchin Catacombs – said: “It’s an optical illusion produced by the light that filters through the side windows, which during the day is subject to change.”

Speaking about her eyes, he added: “They are not completely closed, and indeed they have never been.”

While the true origin of Rosalia is unknown, she has become the subject of Sicilian lore over the years.

Her namesake is due to the belief that she was the daughter of the wealthy noble, General Mario Lombardo, who is said to have been so grief-stricken when she died that he refused to bury her and instead chose to have her body preserved.

Though the true history of Rosalia’s short life are unclear, the facts about the embalming process were confirmed in a manuscript found by Piombino-Mascali in 2009.

The note revealed that the toddler was mummified by Alfredo Salafia, a Sicilian taxidermist and embalmer, who used a formula of ‘one part glycerin, one part formalin saturated with both zinc sulfate and chloride, and one part of an alcohol solution saturated with salicylic acid’.

Rosalia is now kept in a glass case filled with nitrogen in order to protect her body from environmental factors that could cause her to deteriorate. 

According to Gizmodo, Piombino-Mascali explained: “It was designed to block any bacteria or fungi.”

He continued: “Thanks to a special film, it also protects the body from the effects of light,” adding that he hoped visitors would stop making up ‘totally unfounded stories’ about Rosalia’s backstory. 

Original Article

Fossils Sparking Debates on Origin of Mankind

We have long debated the origin of mankind. Some believe in God’s creation of man in his own image, while others say that mankind evolved from another species. Now, new evidence found in South Africa has reignited questions about where modern humans come from, and what species we may have left behind.

Way back in 1947, Robert Broom and John T. Robinson discovered the fossils of an ancient pre-human now known as Mrs. Ples. At the time, many believed the skull, identified as part of Australopithecus africanus, to be around 2.1 to 2.6 million years old. Many also believed the genus Australopithecus to be the likely precursor to the genus homo, marking it as the evolutionary origin of mankind.

Now, though, a new study has thrown all of these beliefs out the window. Researchers published the new study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In it, authors Darryl Granger and others posit that the skull date back to between 3.4 to 3.6 million years.

That’s almost a one-million-year difference. As such, this study’s discovery has thrown a wrench into the theories that Mrs. Ples and other skeletons that were dated similarly are the precursors to modern humankind.

What does it all mean?

Granger says the caves in South Africa where Mrs. Ples was discovered hold more Australopithecus fossils than anywhere in the world. The site, known as Sterkfontein Caves, is now part of the UNESCO World Heritage site known as the Cradle of Humankind. The discoveries in the cave have been at the center of debates on the origin of mankind for over 70 years.

Now, though, this new evidence suggests the fossils found in South Africa are from the same time as renowned fossils like Lucy, which was found in Ethiopia back in 1974. Many long considered East Africa the most likely origin of mankind, where the earliest hominin that evolved into the Homo genus resided. So, this study simply adds more merit to those claims.

But, one thing Granger notes is that it is very difficult to date the fossils found in South Africa. But, he does say they are much older than originally thought. At the time the discovery of Mrs. Ples confused many. That’s because the fossil showed a skull more akin to a chimpanzee. Many believed that the brain had evolved at the same time that pre-humans began walking upright.

With Mrs. Ples now dating to a similar period as Lucy and others, though, it once more has scientists scratching their heads. We’ve long searched for the origin of mankind, and now, it seems that scientists will need to keep searching if they hope to find a more definitive answer to that lingering question.

NASA Returns to the Moon

The first mission of NASA’s Artemis program, CAPSTONE, is on its way to the moon. The mission of the microwave-sized probe is to test the peculiar elliptical orbit around the moon that is planned for the Lunar Gateway, a facility that has come under some criticism.

It will also test deep-space navigation technology, using the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter that has been in service since 2009. However, CAPSTONE’s real importance is the launch company that sent it on its way.

CAPSTONE, which is short for Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, was launched by a company called Rocket Lab from a facility located in New Zealand. Rocket Lab has launched a number of small satellites into Earth orbit on its two stage Electron rocket.

CAPSTONE is the company’s first deep-space mission. It may be the first of many. For instance, Rocket Lab is planning to launch a private probe to Venus in 2023.

According to an analysis published by NBC News, Rocket Lab proposes to be a competitor to SpaceX. It’s not there yet. A satellite launched on an Electron costs about $10,000 per pound as opposed to about $1,200 per pound on a SpaceX Falcon 9. Unlike Falcon 9, Electron is not reusable, although Rocket Lab is experimenting with catching the first stage midair with a helicopter to return it intact for reuse. The rocket is powered by 3D-printed Rutherford engines.

However, according to a recent presentation, Rocket Lab already has a new rocket, the Neutron, in development. The company describes it as a “rocket for 2050 – built today.” It incorporates some impressive technology that should make it far cheaper to operate than anything flying today. These technologies include:

  • Carbon composite materials that are stronger and lighter and, using a new process called “automatic fiber placement” cheaper to manufacture than anything currently in use for rockets
  • Retractable fairings, the part of the rocket that protects the payload during launch, which remain attached but open and close as needed
  • Archimedes rocket engines that can be reused over and over again with a minimum of refurbishment and repair
  • The ability to land the first stage back at the launch site, without using a drone barge at sea

The Neutron will be designed to launch constellations of small satellites, similar to the SpaceX Starlink. It can also be used to launch heavier satellites to geostationary orbit, planetary probes to deep space and even crewed spacecraft.

Clearly, Rocket Lab is gunning for SpaceX with an urgency and an eye for innovation that thus far commercial space rival Blue Origin, whose New Glenn is still in development, has not been able to accomplish.

Neutron, however, is not scheduled to fly earlier that 2024. SpaceX is still developing the Starship, the absolute beast of a rocket that is designed to deliver 100 metric tons anywhere in the solar system, using in-space refueling. Even so, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had best look to his laurels.

So far, SpaceX has dominated the space launch industry. It has lowered the cost of launching payloads into space by orders of magnitude. The company is taking cargo and crew to and from the International Space Station. The first Americans back to the moon will ride to the lunar surface on board a SpaceX rocket. Musk’s dreams of settling Mars seem within the realm of possibility.

The rise of Rocket Lab, as exemplified by the launch of CAPSTONE to the moon, suggests that the SpaceX dominance may be coming to an end. In the over-all scheme of things, this new competition is a good thing. Competition in the launch business will mean even lower costs and expanded capabilities as humankind begins to realize the immense opportunities that space offers.

The rise of Rocket Lab also represents a warning for other launch companies, including legacy firms such as United Launch Alliance and would-be upstarts such as Blue Origin. Talking about or playing at innovation will not cut it anymore. To quote a line from “Star Wars,” “Do or do not. There is no try.”

The histories of other industries are littered with the wreckage of once proud companies that lost the innovation race. It looks like Rocket Lab does not propose to be one of those when the history of the commercial launch industry is written.

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