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Elon Musk’s SpaceX launches, destroys rocket in astronaut escape test

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SpaceX completed the last big test of its crew capsule before launching astronauts in the next few months, mimicking an emergency escape shortly after liftoff Sunday.

No one was aboard for the wild ride in the skies above Cape Canaveral, just two mannequins.

The nine-minute flight ended with the Dragon crew capsule parachuting safely into the Atlantic, after separating and speeding away from the exploding rocket.

“I’m super fired up,” Elon Musk, the company’s founder and chief executive, told reporters. “It’s just going to be wonderful to get astronauts back into orbit from American soil after almost a decade of not being able to do so. That’s just super exciting.”

NASA astronauts have not launched from the U.S. since the space shuttle program ended in 2011. Musk and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the next Crew Dragon could launch with a pair of NASA astronauts in the second quarter of this year — as early as April.

The Falcon 9 rocket blasted off as normal, but just over a minute into its supersonic flight, the Dragon crew capsule catapulted off the top 12 miles (20 kilometers) above the Atlantic. Powerful thrusters on the capsule propelled it up and out of harm’s way, as the rocket engines deliberately shut down and the booster tumbled out of control and exploded in a giant fireball.

The capsule reached an altitude of about 27 miles (44 kilometers) before parachuting into the ocean just offshore to bring the test flight to a close. Everything appeared to go well despite the choppy seas and overcast skies. Within minutes, a recovery ship was alongside the capsule.

Recycled from three previous launches, the SpaceX rocket was destroyed as it burst apart in flight and slammed in pieces into the sea. SpaceX normally tries to recover its boosters to drive down launch costs, landing them upright on a floating platform or back at the launch site.

NASA’s commercial crew program manager, Kathy Lueders, said the launch abort test was “our last open milestone” before allowing SpaceX to launch Doug Hurley and Robert Behnken to the International Space Station. Their launch date will depend, in part, on whether NASA decides to keep them for months at the orbiting lab, versus just a week or two. A longer mission will require more training before flight.

The astronauts monitored Sunday’s flight from the firing room. Hurley said it was “pretty neat to see” the capsule aboard the recovery ship within two hours. By all early accounts, the test was successful.

“We’ll see what the data show and go from there,” Hurley said. “But it certainly is a confidence builder from the standpoint if you ever got into that situation, that Dragon can get us away from the booster quickly.”

The astronauts also will have access to speed before liftoff. During a launch dress rehearsal Friday, Hurley and Behnken drove a white Tesla Model X from Kennedy Space Center’s crew quarters to the launch pad, their sleek white and black spacesuits matching the electric sports car with wing-like doors. Musk, who also runs Tesla, used the cars to get around the space center Sunday.

Delayed a day by bad weather, Sunday’s launch from Kennedy brought together hundreds of SpaceX, NASA and Air Force employees on land, at sea and in the air. Tourists and locals alike packed the adjoining visitor complex and nearby beaches to see the dramatic fiery spectacle of an out-of-control rocket. Musk brought along his own family, including his brother.

NASA hired SpaceX and Boeing a decade ago to transport astronauts to and from the space station for billions of dollars. Both companies struggled with technical problems, adding years of delay and forcing NASA to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars extra for Russian rocket rides.

After multiple cargo deliveries for NASA, SpaceX successfully flew an enhanced crew capsule to the space station last March without anyone on board, but it exploded a month later during ground testing. The emergency escape thrusters — the kind used in Sunday’s test — had to be retooled. In all, SpaceX has tested these powerful Super Draco thrusters some 700 times.

Last month, meanwhile, Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule ended up in the wrong orbit on its first test flight and had to skip the space station. The previous month, only two of the Starliner’s three parachutes deployed during a launch abort test.

Lueders said it’s too soon to know whether Boeing will need to send another Starliner to the space station without a crew or go straight to launching astronauts later this year. An investigation team is still looking into why the Starliner’s automated timer was off by 11 hours during the December test flight.

The importance of launch escape was demonstrated in 2017 when two astronauts, an American and a Russian, were pulled to safety during a failed launch from Kazakhstan. They experienced up to seven times the force of gravity during the abort, but walked away from the accident.

The SpaceX in-flight abort system, Musk pointed out, should be gentler for the crew and is good from the launch pad all the way to orbit.

Musk said the Dragon’s escape system should work — in principle — even if the capsule is still attached when the rocket erupts in a fireball. He said that could look like “something out of ‘Star Wars’” with the capsule flying right out of a fireball.

“Obviously we want to avoid doing that,” he quickly added, taking note of all the NASA personnel around him.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Supreme Court dismisses Nirbhaya convict Vinay Sharma’s plea against rejection of mercy petition

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The petition filed by Vinay Sharma, one of the convicts in 2012 Nirbhaya gangrape and murder case, to the Supreme Court against the rejection of the mercy petition by the President was dismissed by the court on Friday.

Sharma had claimed in the apex court that President Ram Nath Kovind while rejecting his petition had not considered the ‘mental stability’ he suffered due to torture in jail.

Denying his claim, the centre said he was fit and of sound mind.

The convict in his submission said that all the relevant records including one pertaining to his mental illness had not been submitted to the president in his appeal. On this, the centre had produced a medical report dated February 12 which showed that he was not suffering from any mental illness.

The four convicts in the gangrape case — which triggered a massive nationwide protest in 2012 – have been exploring every legal option one by one to stretch the date of their hanging as much as they can.

This was the last legal option left out for Sharma as his review and curative petitions to the Supreme Court and mercy petition to the President were exhausted, and the last option of a judicial review of president’s order by the Supreme Court has also ended today.

In a separate development, a Supreme Court judge, Justice R Banumathi was fainted while dictating an order on the centre’s petition seeking separate executions for the four death convicts.

Justice Banumathi regained consciousness and was subsequently taken to her chamber in a wheelchair. The plea was been heard by three judges bench which comprised Justices AS Bopanna and Ashok Bhushan as well. Further the bench said that the order will be passed in-chamber.

The savage case of gangrape and murder had took many twist and turn in last few months, as the date of execution has been shifted twice as the convicts’ lawyer had used the legal tricks very wisely to make it done.

Earlier, mother of the gangrape victim had alleged that AP Singh, lawyer of the convicts in the brutal case had challenged her by saying, “the hanging will never happen,”

On January 31, a trial court had stayed the execution of four convicts namely, Mukesh Kumar Singh (32), Pawan Gupta (25), Vinay Kumar Sharma (26) and Akshay Kumar (31) until further orders. The decision came few hours before the hanging which was scheduled for February 1 at 6 am.

The brutal gangrape and murder case in which the four convicts are sentenced is of December 16, 2012, when a paramedic student was brutally gangraped by a group of five men on a moving bus. The sixth convict was a juvenile. Later the victim succumbed to her injuries in the hospital.

One of the accused was a minor and appeared before a juvenile justice court, while another accused committed suicide in Tihar Jail. The four convicts were sentenced to death by a trial court in September 2013, and the verdict confirmed by the Delhi High Court in March 2014 and upheld in May 2017 by the Supreme Court, which also dismissed their review petitions.

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Manoj Tiwari, JP Nadda congratulate Arvind Kejriwal, assures support being in opposition

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After the Delhi Assembly election results give Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) a clear mandate for the government formation in the national capital, Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari and party president JP Nadda congratulated Arvind Kejriwal for his third-time victory.

“I accept the mandate of people of Delhi and congratulate Arvind Kejriwal. I hope he will perform well as per the expectations of the people,” Manoj Tiwari said.

Greeting party workers for their support, Tiwari said, “I thank people of Delhi. I also thank our party workers for their hard work, they have done.”

Earlier in the day before the counting had begun, Tiwari asserted that the BJP will form the government in the national capital with 55 seats, BJP Delhi chief Manoj Tiwari said, “I am not nervous, I am confident that it will be a good day for BJP. We are coming to power in Delhi today. Don’t be surprised if we win 55 seats.”

Later, when the trends were showing BJP losing with a huge gap against AAP, Manoj Tiwari expressed hopes that with the counting goes on, BJP will show improvement.

“Trends indicate that there is a gap between AAP-BJP, there is still time. We are hopeful. Whatever the outcome, being the State Chief I am responsible,” Tiwari said.

At present, AAP is leading on 24 seats and won 38 seats while the BJP is leading on 5 and won 3 seats in the 70 seats constituency.

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Delhi election results LIVE: AAP set to take capital for 3rd time; Kejriwal offers prayers at Hanuman Temple

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The results of the crucial, high-stakes election to the 70-member Delhi Assembly will be declared today.

The counting of votes, which got underway at 8 am amid tight security, is taking place at 21 centres across Delhi.

36 is the majority mark in the 70-member house.

Delhi went to polls in a single phase on February 8.

The exit polls have projected the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party to retain power, the BJP to better its previous record and the Congress to remain a no-gainer with minimum zero and a maximum of two seats.

The overarching theme that emerges is that the AAP is all set to taste power in Delhi for the second time, while the BJP will have to sit in the opposition, probably with better numbers. The Congress will have been really lucky to send even one MLA in Delhi assembly this time as well.

The Delhi polls recorded a voter turnout of 62.59 per cent, which is around 5 per cent less than the last Assembly election which marked 67.5 per cent.

However, the voter turnout is about 2 per cent more than the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Okhla constituency which includes Shaheen Bagh — which has been the hotbed of the anti-CAA protest in the country where protesters have staged a sit-in for over 50 days — has witnessed a voter turnout of 58.8 per cent.

In the tripartite contest, BJP and AAP were seen competing at the forefront with massive campaigning being done by top leaders of both the parties in the national capital.

A total of 672 candidates were in the fray for the keenly watched battle of the national capital. Of them, 79 (12%), were women, up from 66 in the previous assembly elections.

Over 14.7 million voters are eligible to exercise their franchise.

At 6.6 million, women make up 45% of the total Delhi electorate. More than 200,000 youngsters, aged between 18 and 19 years, will also be exercising their franchise, alongside 690 voters aged 100 years or above.

In the 2015 Delhi assembly election, out of 70 seats, the AAP won 67 and the BJP secured three seats.

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