A Soyuz capsule made a soft landing in the pitch-dark in Kazakhstan's steppes on Sunday, and its US-Russian crew said they were happy to breathe in the smell of Earth after a long stint in orbit. \nUS astronaut Michael Fincke and Russian Gennady Padalka had manned the 16-nation International Space Station for almost 188 days, while Russian Yuri Shargin spent just 10 days there. \nThe returning crew precisely on time and on target, 88km north of the Kazakh town of Arkalyk. \n"We were very happy to be home," a smiling and relaxed Fincke told a news briefing later. "When they opened the hatch, there was such a beautiful smell that we knew we'd come home." \nOnce he was recovered from the capsule, Fincke called his family via satellite phone. \n"Hi, baby," he exclaimed with joy. \nSeated in a chair next to the charred black Soyuz TMA-4 capsule, Fincke said he had been exhilarated by its re-entry into the atmosphere. \n"It was like fireworks," he quipped. \nDespite their landing in the dark, which complicated the search and rescue operation, and a chilly and rainy morning with squalls of wind, an upbeat Padalka said the crew had been touched by "the warmth of reception" on Earth. \nThe crew were treated to hot tea and then underwent medical checks in an inflatable field hospital. \nFincke looked amazingly fit for a person who had just spent six months in orbit where muscles atrophy in weightlessness. He adroitly alighted from a helicopter and tried to walk on his own when the crew were flown to the regional capital Kustanai later. \nHelicopters with medical staff and recovery teams hovered above the capsule while they waited for daylight to be able to land, a spokesman for mission control said. \nScores of Russian space and military specialists and a fleet of planes and helicopters had taken up position for the pre-dawn landing, ready to take fast action if the capsule veered off its course and fell off target as happened in May last year. \n"It's great to see the Expedition Nine team come home," Bill Gerstenmayer, ISS program manager, told reporters. "It's an amazing testimony to Russia's space program and to the design of this capsule, which has been around so long." \nRussian spacecraft have become the sole means of sending crews and cargo to the ISS since February 2003, when the US space shuttle fleet was grounded after the Columbia craft disintegrated over Texas, killing all seven people on board. \nShuttle flights may resume in May or June next year, US space officials say. \nPadalka and Fincke each made four spacewalks -- instead of the originally planned two -- and each time in Russian-made suits. Fincke's first spacewalk in a US suit ended abruptly after it showed a pressure drop in his oxygen tank. \nDuring their accident-prone mission, the US-Russian crew had twice lost the station's orientation in space, and on one occasion mission control briefly lost all contact with them.
A coronavirus-free tropical island nestled in the northern Pacific might seem the perfect place to ride out a pandemic, but residents on Palau said that life right now is far from idyllic. The microstate of 18,000 people is among a dwindling number of places on Earth that still report zero cases of COVID-19 as figures mount daily elsewhere. The disparate group also includes Samoa, Turkmenistan, North Korea and bases on the frozen continent of Antarctica. A dot in the ocean hundreds of kilometers from its nearest neighbors, Palau is surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean, which has acted as a buffer against the
Dutch scientists have found the coronavirus in a city’s wastewater before COVID-19 cases were reported, demonstrating a novel early warning system for the disease. SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — is often excreted in an infected person’s stool. Although it is unlikely that sewage will become an important route of transmission, the pathogen’s increasing circulation in communities would increase the amount of it flowing into sewer systems, Gertjan Medema and colleagues at the KWR Water Research Institute in Nieuwegein said on Monday. They detected genetic material from the coronavirus at a wastewater treatment plant in Amersfoort on March 5, before
TRUE TOLL? Some Chinese are skeptical about official data, particularly given the overwhelmed medical system and initial attempts to cover up the outbreak The long lines and stacks of urns greeting family members of the dead at funeral homes in Wuhan, China, are spurring questions about the true scale of casualties at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, renewing pressure on a Chinese government struggling to control its containment narrative. The families of those who succumbed to the coronavirus in the city, where the disease first emerged, were allowed to pick up their cremated ashes at eight funeral homes last week. As they did, photographs circulated on Chinese social media of thousands of urns being ferried in. Outside one funeral home, trucks shipped in about 2,500
KEEN INTEREST: India is trying to procure medical gear from domestic producers and abroad, and China has emerged as a possible supplier as its factories reopen India is to buy ventilators and masks from China to help it deal with COVID-19, a government official said yesterday, even though some countries in Europe had complained about the quality of the equipment. India has recorded 1,251 cases of the coronavirus, with 32 deaths, but health experts said the country of 1.3 billion people could see a major surge in cases that could overwhelm its weak public health system. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said that it was trying to procure medical gear, including masks and body coveralls, both from domestic firms and from countries such as South Korea and