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NASA Moon rocket launch delayed again, this time by storm

Photo: Gregg Newton / AFP

| By AFP |

NASA again rescheduled its long-delayed uncrewed mission to the Moon on Tuesday as Tropical Storm Nicole churned toward the east coast of Florida, officials said.

A launch attempt, which had been scheduled for November 14, will now take place on November 16, Jim Free, a senior official at the US space agency, said on Twitter.

It is the third delay of the highly-anticipated launch in as many months.

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“Our people are the most important aspect of our mission,” wrote Free, who is NASA’s Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development. “Adjusting our target launch date for #Artemis I prioritizes employee safety and allows our team to tend to the needs of their families and homes.”

The Atlantic Ocean storm was expected to develop into a hurricane Wednesday near the Bahamas, before making landfall in Florida either later that evening or early Thursday, the National Hurricane Center said.

A hurricane warning has been issued near the Kennedy Space Center, where the rocket — NASA’s most powerful ever — is to blast off.

With Nicole gaining strength, “NASA… has decided to re-target a launch for the Artemis I mission for Wednesday, Nov. 16, pending safe conditions for employees to return to work, as well as inspections after the storm has passed,” the agency said in a statement Tuesday evening.

NASA added that a launch occurring during a two-hour window that opens at 1:04 am EST (0604 GMT) on November 16 would result in a splashdown on Friday, Dec. 11.

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A back-up launch date has been set for November 19.

NASA said it would leave the giant SLS rocket on the launch pad, where it had been placed several days before.

After two launch attempts were scrubbed this summer because of technical problems, the rocket had to be returned to the Vehicle Assembly Building to protect it from Hurricane Ian.

Last week, the 322-foot (98-meter) rocket was rolled back out on a giant platform known as the crawler-transporter designed to minimize vibrations.

Earlier Tuesday, Nicole was packing sustained winds near 65 miles per hour (100 kilometers per hour) with higher gusts and was expected to strengthen even further, according to the NHC.

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Some experts have voiced concern that the rocket, which is estimated to cost several billion dollars, could be damaged by debris from the hurricane if it remains exposed. 

“As far as staying at the pad, we want to see peak winds less than 74.1 knots, and that’s kind of the key requirement that we’re tracking,” said chief rocket engineer John Blevins.

The SLS rocket is designed to withstand 85 mile-per-hour (74.4-knot) winds at the 60-foot level with structural margin, NASA said. It is designed to also withstand heavy rains at the launch pad and the spacecraft hatches have been secured to prevent water intrusion.

The uncrewed mission, dubbed Artemis 1, will bring the United States a step closer to returning astronauts to the Moon five decades after humans last walked on the lunar surface.

The goal of Artemis 1, named after the twin sister of Apollo, is to test the SLS rocket and Orion crew capsule that sits on top.

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Mannequins are standing in for astronauts on the mission and will record acceleration, vibration, and radiation levels.

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International

Food prices send hunger soaring in Latin America: UN agencies

Photo: AP News

| By AFP |

Rising food prices in Latin America and the Caribbean caused the number of people going hungry in the region to rise by more than 13 million between 2019 and 2021, a United Nations report said Tuesday.

The report by three UN agencies said the region was particularly vulnerable to the global food crisis caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine due to a high reliance on wheat, maize and fertilizer imports.

“The number of people in the region suffering from hunger increased by 13.2 million to 56.5 million,” read the report, released at a press conference in Santiago, Chile.

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In addition, moderate or severe food insecurity affected 267.7 million people — 40.6 percent of the region’s population — in 2021. 

This is “far above the world average” of 29.3 percent, said the report.

“The rise in food inflation and extreme poverty is one of the factors behind the increase in food insecurity and hunger,” said the report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

According to the FAO, food insecurity refers to a lack of regular access to healthy and nutritious food.

“The heavy reliance on imported fertilizers, and fluctuating food prices, have an unavoidable negative impact on livelihoods — mainly of the rural population — and access to healthy food,” said Mario Lubetkin, FAO Assistant Director-General.

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Colombia landslide kills 34

Photo: AFP

| By AFP |

Heavy rains in northwest Colombia sent a wall of earth crashing onto a winding road, swallowing up a bus and other vehicles and killing 34 people, emergency services said Monday.

The landslide Sunday evening prompted a large rescue effort, with dozens of people in hard hats using backhoes and excavators to dig through the earth looking for victims.

The National Unit for Disaster Risk Management said the fatalities included eight minors and that nine other people were injured in the disaster in the remote town of Pueblo Rico.

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The bus had set out from the city of Cali with 25 passengers, and traveled 270 kilometers (170 miles) before being hit by the landslide as it passed through the Andes mountain region, civil defense officials said.

Colombian media reported that a child had survived and was pulled from the arms of its mother, who did not make it.

One survivor said the bus driver had at first managed to dodge the worst of the landslide.

“Part of it was coming down and the bus was a little bit back from that. The bus driver was backing up when it all came crashing down,” Andres Ibarguen told radio station Lloro Stereo.

The rainy season that began in August is Colombia’s worst in 40 years, according to the government, causing accidents that have left more than 270 people dead.

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The country has declared a national disaster over the rains linked to the exceptionally long La Nina weather phenomenon, which cools surface temperatures and is currently causing drought and flooding around the globe.

Today, the landslide “puts this town in mourning, tomorrow it could be in another area, because we really have many unstable areas in the country, and the rainy season has not ended,” said Javier Pava of the UNGRD.

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization said last week the La Nina conditions could last until February or March 2023.

In Colombia, the phenomenon has also caused crop damage, compromising food supplies and leading to soaring prices.

In July, three children were killed in northwestern Colombia when a landslide buried a rural school. In February, 14 people died in a mudslide triggered by heavy rains in central-western Risaralda province.

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International

At least 27 killed in Colombia landslide: president

Photo: AFP

| By AFP |

At least 27 people were killed when a landslide engulfed a road in northwest Colombia, trapping people in a bus and other vehicles, said President Gustavo Petro on Monday.

“It is with sadness that I must announce that, so far, 27 people, including three minors, have lost their lives in the tragedy” that struck on Sunday in a remote area of the Pueblo Rico municipality, Petro wrote on Twitter.

On Sunday evening, the president reported three dead, as dozens of rescue workers searched for survivors.

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One survivor said the driver of the bus managed to dodge the worst of the landslide.

“Part of it was coming down and the bus was a little bit back from that. The bus driver was backing up when it all came crashing down,” Andres Ibarguen told radio station Lloro Stereo.

The bus had set out from the city of Cali with 25 passengers, civil defense officials said.

The rainy season that began in August is Colombia’s worst in 40 years, according to the government, causing accidents that have left more than 270 people dead.

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