Debris Assessment Software to predict lifetimes of satellites in low Earth orbit. “We do not know at this time if there are any plans to change that program to address the changes in atmospheric composition predicted in the paper,” he said. “The F.C.C. periodically reviews its rules and regulations and updates them consistent with developments in the marketplace and in scientific knowledge.”

SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.

Dr. Lewis said that he suspected that some of the modeling, however, relies on outdated data, and that more needed to be done to actively remove satellites and debris from orbit rather than relying on the passive atmospheric effect. “Operators have to make this aspect of the mission a priority,” he said.

Even a moderate increase in lifetimes for large constellations could pose significant problems. “If SpaceX’s spacecraft re-enter passively in 10 or 15 years, would you argue that’s good enough?” Dr. Lewis said. “Given the fact that it’s a large constellation, lots of people would say probably not.”

View Source

China’s Rocket Debris Landed Near Maldives: Here’s What to Know

Debris from a large Chinese rocket landed in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives early Sunday morning, China’s space administration announced.

It said most of the debris had burned up on re-entry. It was not immediately clear whether any of what remained had landed on any of the Maldives’s 1,192 islands.

The possibility, however slight, that debris from the rocket could strike a populated area had led people around the world to track its trajectory for days. The administrator of NASA, Bill Nelson, issued an unusual rebuke after China’s announcement, accusing the country of “failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris.”

The rocket, a Long March 5B, launched the main module of China’s next space station, Tiangong, on April 29. Usually, the large booster stages of rockets immediately drop back to Earth after they are jettisoned, but the 23-ton core stage of the Long March 5B accompanied the space station segment all the way to orbit.

tracks the comings and goings of objects in space, said on Twitter that an ocean splashdown had always been the most likely outcome, but that the episode raised questions about how China designs its space missions.

“It appears China won its gamble (unless we get news of debris in the Maldives),” he wrote. “But it was still reckless.”

Long March 5B is China’s largest rocket, and one of the largest currently in use by any nation. The country’s space program needed a large, powerful vehicle to carry Tianhe, the main module of Tiangong, the new space station, which is to be operational by 2022 after more pieces are launched and connected in orbit.

routinely fell on rural areas downrange, occasionally causing damage. China has since moved many of its launches, including the Long March 5B’s, to a new site in Wenchang, a city on Hainan, an island off the southeastern coast.

Last year, the first launch of a Long March 5B rocket lifted a prototype of China’s crewed space capsule. The booster from that rocket also made an uncontrolled re-entry, with some debris raining down on a village in Ivory Coast.

an international legal framework based on treaties from the 1960s and ’70s in which a country can demand payment for damage caused by another country’s falling rocket.

That has happened once, after Cosmos 954, a Soviet satellite that was powered by a nuclear reactor, crashed in Canada in 1978. Canada billed the Soviet Union for part of the cost of cleaning up the radioactive debris.

In recent years, China has completed a series of impressive achievements in spaceflight. Months ago, it put a spacecraft — Tianwen-1 — in orbit around Mars, and in December it also collected rocks from the surface of the moon and brought them back to Earth.

In May or June, it hopes to further advance its Mars mission by landing a robotic rover, Zhurong, on the red planet’s surface. So far only the United States has had lasting success during attempts to land on Mars.

As it works to make steady progress on space station construction, China could also launch a crew to orbit next month in a spacecraft called Shenzhou. Once in space, they are to dock with the Tianhe module.

View Source

‘It’s not quite like riding a bike’: Pilots prepare to fly again.

One returning pilot lost control of an aircraft during landing and skidded off the runway into a ditch. Another just returning from furlough forgot to activate a critical anti-icing system designed to prevent hazards in cold weather. Several others flew at the wrong altitudes, which they attributed to distractions and lapses in communication.

In all of these incidents, which were recorded on NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System, a database of commercial aviation mistakes that are anonymously reported by pilots and other airline crew, the pilots involved blamed the same thing for their mistakes: a lack of practice flying during the pandemic.

In 2020, global air passenger traffic experienced the largest year-on-year decline in aviation history, falling 65.9 percent compared with 2019, according to the International Air Transport Association. Flights were grounded, schedules reduced and thousands of pilots were laid off or put on furlough for up to 12 months.

As vaccination programs pick up speed across some parts of the world and travel starts to rebound, airlines are beginning to reactivate their fleets and summoning pilots back as they prepare to expand their schedules for the summer. On Thursday, the T.S.A. recorded the second-highest day of airport screenings since the pandemic hit: more than 1.64 million.

But returning pilots can’t just pick up where they left off.

“It’s not quite like riding a bike,” said Joe Townshend, a former pilot for Titan Airways, a British charter airline, who was laid off when the pandemic hit in March last year.

“You can probably go 10 years without flying a plane and still get it off the ground,” he said, “but what fades is the operational side of things.”

View Source

Covid-19 Live Updates: Pfizer Seeks Full F.D.A. Approval for Its Vaccine

their Covid-19 vaccine for use in people 16 and older. The vaccine is currently being administered to adults in America under an emergency use authorization granted in December.

The approval process is likely to take months.

The companies said in a statement on Friday that they had submitted their clinical data, which includes six months of information on the vaccine’s safety and efficacy, to the F.D.A. They plan to submit additional material, including information about the manufacturing of the vaccine, in the coming weeks.

“We are proud of the tremendous progress we’ve made since December in delivering vaccines to millions of Americans, in collaboration with the U.S. government,” Dr. Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chief executive, said in the statement. “We look forward to working with the F.D.A. to complete this rolling submission and support their review, with the goal of securing full regulatory approval of the vaccine in the coming months.”

As of Thursday, more than 134 million doses of the vaccine had been administered in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Full approval would allow Pfizer and BioNTech to market the vaccine directly to customers.

It could also make it easier for companies, government agencies and schools to require vaccinations. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in December that employers could mandate vaccination, and legal experts have generally agreed.

Many companies have been hesitant to require the vaccines, especially while they have only emergency authorization, which is designed to be temporary. Some institutions, like the University of California and California State University systems, have said that they would do so only after a vaccine has full approval.

Full approval could also prompt the U.S. military, which has had low uptake of Covid-19 vaccines, to mandate vaccinations for service members.

If the F.D.A. grants full approval, it could also help raise confidence in the vaccine. The pace of vaccination has slowed in the United States in recent weeks, and a recent national survey indicated that most people in the country who planned to get the shots had already done so.

The agency is also expected to issue an emergency authorization for use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in 12- to 15-year-olds next week. The companies have said that they plan to file for emergency authorization for 2- to 11-year-olds in September.

Moderna plans to apply for full approval for its Covid-19 vaccine this month, the company said during its quarterly earnings call on Thursday.

Director of the Center for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Dr. Nancy Messonnier spoke in Washington in January 2020.
Credit…Amanda Voisard/Reuters

Dr. Nancy Messonnier, who famously warned the nation early last year that the coronavirus would upend their lives, resigned from her position at the Centers for Disease Control and Protection on Friday.

Dr. Messonnier’s resignation is effective May 14. She is taking on a new role as an executive director at the Skoll Foundation, a philanthropical organization based in Palo Alto, Calif., she told staff in an email on Friday.

Her exit may augur more changes at the agency. Reports have circulated for weeks that the C.D.C.’s new director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, planned to completely reorganize the division Dr. Messonnier led.

“My family and I have determined that now is the best time for me to transition to a new phase of my career,” Dr. Messonnier wrote in the email to staff.

Dr. Messonnier began her career in public health in 1995 with a stint in the prestigious Epidemic Intelligence Service. She has since held a number of leadership posts in the C.D.C. Since 2016, she has served as director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, the C.D.C. division responsible for managing influenza and other respiratory threats.

In late 2019, she became the agency’s lead in responding to the coronavirus, and initially shared a stage with President Trump at briefings about the coronavirus.

She fell out of favor with President Trump and sent stocks tumbling after she sounded a dire alarm about the coronavirus, saying it would disrupt the lives of every American.

“It’s not a question of if this will happen but when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses,” she said on Feb. 25, just as Mr. Trump was boarding Air Force One in New Delhi for his flight home.

Soon after that, she stopped appearing at briefings of the White House and of the C.D.C.

Patients with Covid-19 in the emergency ward at the Holy Family hospital in New Delhi on Thursday.
Credit…Rebecca Conway/Getty Images

India’s worsening coronavirus outbreak has spread far outside its cities to rural areas with poor health care infrastructure and limited testing capacities, doctors and experts say.

One factor behind the surge of cases, they believe, is a series of recent campaign rallies held without social distancing.

The state of West Bengal, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party lost an election last week after more than a month of campaigning to vast crowds, is recording the highest rate of positive coronavirus tests in the country. More than 31 percent of tests in the state are now coming back positive.

“There is a clear pattern here: States that went through elections and where large rallies were held are witnessing a huge rise in cases,” said Dr. Thekkekara Jacob John, a senior virologist in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

In Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, 1,028 new coronavirus cases and four deaths were recorded on March 26. On April 29, after campaigns for local village council elections were held, there were 35,104 cases and 288 deaths. A teachers’ union in the state said that 577 teachers and support staff members who were on duty as election workers had died of Covid-19.

The country’s cases as a whole have been skyrocketing since late March, from a seven-day average of more than 62,000 on March 31 to more than 385,000, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford. On Friday, the country reported more than 410,000 new daily infections, a record, and more than 3,900 deaths.

As the outbreak reaches new heights, India’s vaccination campaign has slowed down, marred by supply shortages and competition among states.

The official daily death in the country has stayed over 3,000 over the past 10 days, and experts say the numbers are much higher,.

The true scope of the outbreak remains hard to measure. Nationwide, India conducted about 1.9 million coronavirus tests on Thursday, an increase from about 1.2 million daily tests last month, but hardly enough to keep up with a daily caseload that has almost quadrupled in that time.

West Bengal, a state of 90 million people that has poor health care infrastructure and is under a partial lockdown, has carried out fewer than 60,000 coronavirus tests a day. That is one of the lowest rates in the country, according to data compiled by researchers at the University of Michigan.

Dr. Abhijeet Barua, a physician in Kolkata, the state’s capital, said that cases had exploded in every corner of the city and that infections were spreading quickly in the state’s rural areas. At his 10-bed clinic, two people have died every day over the past 15 days, Dr. Barua said.

“What is making things worse in Kolkata is that over 70 percent of the population lives in close contact,” he said, adding that he was receiving dozens of calls a day from patients seeking help. “You can’t isolate yourself, because it is so congested here.”

Mr. Modi has repeatedly refrained from imposing a nationwide lockdown. Instead nearly a dozen of India’s 28 states have imposed restrictions, though they are less stringent than the nationwide lockdown put in place last year.

Protective masks are worn in March in Tokyo, the host of this summer’s Olympic Games.
Credit…Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times

TOKYO — Japan on Friday extended a state of emergency in Tokyo and other regions until the end of May to contain a surge of coronavirus cases, casting further doubt on the country’s ability to safely host the Summer Olympics, which are scheduled to begin in 11 weeks.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga made the announcement at a meeting of the government’s coronavirus task force, saying that the measures were necessary because infections remain at a “high level, mainly in large cities.”

The announcement extends emergency measures imposed last month to two more prefectures, covering a total of six prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, that are together home to over a third of Japan’s 126 million people. Another eight prefectures will be under slightly looser restrictions.

The existing state of emergency, which were imposed to curb travel during the just-ended Golden Week holiday period and had been set to expire next week, have not slowed Japan’s fourth wave of coronavirus infections. In early March, the country recorded about 1,000 daily new. It is now recording nearly 6,000, according to a New York Times database.

Health officials say that they are seeing a growing number of cases of coronavirus variants spreading in the population, including at least 26 cases of the strain first detected in India. The authorities in Tokyo say that in four out of five cases found in the city, the infected person neither traveled abroad nor had close contact with someone who had.

The outbreak is stretching health care systems even in Japan’s biggest cities. On Thursday, there were 370 people being treated for serious cases of Covid-19 in Osaka, a prefecture of nine million people, more than the number of hospital beds available for seriously ill patients.

Japan, which has recorded more than 620,000 infections and 10,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic, has controlled the virus better than many countries. But the government has faced criticism for the sluggish pace of vaccinations, and for pledging to go ahead with the Tokyo Olympics, scheduled to begin on July 23, despite widespread public opposition.

Toru Hashimoto, a lawyer and a former governor of Osaka prefecture, said on a television show on Friday that Olympic organizers were ignoring the severity of Japan’s outbreak, and that it was inappropriate to continue holding pre-Olympic “test events” during the state of emergency, even though they are taking place without spectators.

“If the government wants to reduce the number of people in the city, it’s not a time when test events can be held,” Mr. Hashimoto said.

The government has imposed two previous states of emergency during the pandemic, although they are looser than the total lockdowns seen in many nations. The measures allow the prefectures to ask businesses to close or to restrict their hours, and to fine those that do not.

Under the extended state of emergency, people are asked not to go out for nonessential matters, especially after 8 p.m., and to refrain from traveling outside their prefectures. Karaoke parlors are asked to close, and restaurants requested not to serve alcohol, with fines of up to 300,000 yen, or $2,750, for noncompliance.

A vaccination center in Johannesburg in March.
Credit…Joao Silva/The New York Times

A global debate is heating up over how to get Covid-19 vaccines to the nations most in need.

The United States is supporting an effort to suspend intellectual property protections on Covid-19 vaccines, and European countries say that richer nations should begin exporting more of their vaccine supply to poorer ones.

The European Union — whose approval is needed for any waiver of vaccine patents — said on Thursday that it would consider the Biden administration’s proposal. But Germany, the bloc’s largest economy, said that pushing pharmaceutical companies to share vaccine patents could have “significant implications” for the production of vaccines.

“The limiting factor in vaccine manufacturing is production capacity and high-quality standards, not patents,” a spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said in a statement.

On Friday, Canada shared similar concerns. “Our government firmly believes in the importance of protecting intellectual property and recognizes the integral role that industry has played in innovating to develop and deliver lifesaving Covid-19 vaccines,” the minister of small businesses, Mary Ng, said in a statement.

She added many barriers to vaccine access, like supply shortages, were unrelated to intellectual property.

The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said the bloc was “ready to discuss any proposals that address the crisis in an effective and pragmatic manner.”

She also suggested, however, that the focus should be on getting more vaccines to countries that needed them by following the bloc’s example in allowing significant exports of doses. The United States has balked at that approach, keeping most doses produced domestically for use at home.

“We call upon all vaccine-producing countries to allow export and to avoid measures that disrupt the supply chains,” Ms. von der Leyen said.

The European statements emphasized the challenges of winning E.U. support for the waivers at the World Trade Organization, where the bloc wields significant influence, and where unanimous approval would be needed for any measure to suspend patents.

Many experts believe that the waivers are needed to expand the manufacturing of vaccines and get them to poorer parts of the world where inoculations have far lagged behind those of richer countries.

Until the Biden administration’s announcement this week, the United States had been a major holdout at the W.T.O. over a proposal by India and South Africa to suspend some intellectual property protections. The move could give drugmakers access to the trade secrets of how the vaccines are made.

The pharmaceutical industry has argued that suspending patent protections would undermine risk-taking and innovation.

“Who will make the vaccine next time?” Brent Saunders, the former chief executive of Allergan, which is now part of AbbVie, wrote on Twitter.

But Stephane Bancel, the chief executive of Moderna, told investors on Thursday, “We saw the news last night, and I didn’t lose a minute of sleep.”

Mr. Bancel said his company never planned to enforce the patent because few, if any, other drug makers can easily manufacture mRNA, the genetic script that carries DNA instructions to each cell’s protein-making machinery.

The debate arises amid a growing divide between wealthy nations that are slowly regaining normal life, and poorer countries that are confronting new and devastating outbreaks.

In India, which is suffering the world’s worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic, only 2.2 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database. South Africa has fully vaccinated less than 1 percent of its people. By contrast, vaccinations are slowing down in the United States — where one-third of people are fully inoculated — as they begin to pick up in Europe.

If the European Union agrees to support patent waivers, it would take months for developing nations to see the impact. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the head of the W.T.O., told The Washington Post that she would press member countries to reach an agreement by Dec. 3.

Even if a waiver receives support from the trade body, it alone would not increase the world’s vaccine supply. Large drug manufacturers in India and elsewhere would need extensive technological and other support to produce doses, experts say.

Lifting intellectual property protections “is only one element,” said Anant Bhan, a health researcher at Melaka Manipal Medical College in southern India. Because of the additional steps required to begin making a vaccine on a huge scale, he said, “it is not going to mean increased access to vaccines in the near future.”

The American jobs engine slowed markedly last month, confounding rosy forecasts of the pace of the recovery and sharpening debates over how best to revive a labor market that was severely weakened by the coronavirus pandemic.

Employers added 266,000 jobs in April, the government reported Friday, far below the vigorous gains registered in March. The jobless rate rose slightly to 6.1 percent, as more people rejoined the labor force.

5

10

15%

’06

’08

’10

’12

’14

’16

’18

’20

6.1%

RECESSION

“It turns out it’s easier to put an economy into a coma than wake it up,” Diane Swonk, chief economist for the accounting firm Grant Thornton, said of the disappointing report. “It’s understandable, it’s going to take some time, you’re not just going to snap your fingers and get everyone back to work,

Economists had forecast an addition of about a million jobs. The increase for March was revised down to 770,000 from 916,000.

The Alliance for American Manufacturing blamed supply chain problems for the loss of 18,000 jobs in that sector, noting in particular the impact that a shortage of semiconductors has had on the automotive industry.

And many offices are not yet ready to reopen fully. “I just think it takes a while for businesses to figure out how many people they need,” Ms. Swonk said, noting there is still a lot of skittishness on the part of employers and workers. “I don’t view this as terribly troubling or distressing.”

Ben Herzon, executive director of U.S. economics at the financial services company IHS Markit, agreed. “A single report with unexpected weakness in job gains is not a cause for concern,” he said. “Demand is picking up, activity is picking up.”

He noted that labor force participation had been on the upswing for two months in a row, rising to 61.7 percent last month from 61.4 percent in February.

More opportunities are bubbling up as coronavirus infections ebb, vaccinations spread, restrictions lift and businesses reopen. Job postings on the online job site Indeed are 24 percent higher than they were in February last year.

“There’s been a broad-based pickup in demand,” said Nick Bunker, who leads North American economic research at the Indeed Hiring Lab. The supercharged housing market is driving demand for construction workers. There is also an abundance of loading, stocking and other warehousing jobs — a side-effect of the boom in e-commerce.

The economy still has a lot of ground to regain before returning to prepandemic levels. Millions of jobs have vanished since February 2020, and the labor force has shrunk.

–20

–15

–10

–5 million

April

June

Sept.

Jan. ’21

–8.2 million since February 2020

152.5 million jobs in February 2020

As the economy fitfully recovers, there are divergent accounts of what’s going on in the labor market. Employers, particularly in the restaurant and hospitality industry, have reported scant response to help-wanted ads. Several have blamed what they call overly generous government jobless benefits, including a temporary $300-a-week federal stipend that was part of an emergency pandemic relief program.

But there are other forces constraining the return to work. Millions of Americans have said that health concerns and child care responsibilities — with many schools and day care centers not back to normal operations — have prevented them from returning to work. Millions of others who are not actively job hunting are considered on temporary layoff and expect to be hired back by their previous employers once more businesses reopen fully. At the same time, some baby boomers have retired or switched to working part time.

An 18-year-old student received a shot of a coronavirus vaccine in Los Angeles last month.
Credit…Etienne Laurent/EPA, via Shutterstock

A series of vaccine developments and the loosening of restrictions amid an improving virus trajectory may foreshadow a welcome return to normalcy for many young Americans, just as summer vacation nears.

By early next week, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to issue an emergency use authorization allowing the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to be used in children 12 to 15 years old, a major step ahead in the United States’ efforts to tackle Covid-19. Pfizer also expects to seek federal clearance in September to administer the vaccine to children age 2 to 11, the company said on Tuesday.

Vaccinating children is key to raising the level of immunity in the population, experts say, and to bringing down the numbers of hospitalizations and deaths. It could also put school administrators, teachers and parents at ease if millions of adolescent students become eligible for vaccination before the next academic year begins.

The move would be a major leap forward, experts say, and comes as the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said that vaccinated adolescents would be able to remove their masks outdoors at summer camps.

Yet the eagerness of parents to let their children be vaccinated is limited, according to a new national poll, which found that three in 10 parents surveyed said they would get their children vaccinated right away and 26 percent said they wanted to wait to see how the vaccine was working. About 23 percent said they would definitely not get their children vaccinated, and 18 percent said they would do so only if a child’s school required it. The survey also noted that only 9 percent of respondents said they had not yet gotten a shot but still intended to do so, one more indication that achieving widespread immunity in the United States is becoming increasingly challenging.

As health experts focus on the future of vaccinating children, a growing number of students have returned to in-person learning this school year. In March, 54 percent of K-8 schools were open for full-time in-person learning, and 88 percent were open for either full-time in-person and/or hybrid learning, according to data from a federal government survey released on Thursday. But Black, Hispanic and Asian students are enrolled in full-time in-person learning at much lower rates than white students.

The Biden administration has made an aggressive push for reopening schools in recent months, including an effort to prioritize vaccinations for teachers and employees.

Administering the AstraZeneca vaccine in Nottingham, England, last month.
Credit…Oli Scarff/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Britain’s vaccines regulator advised on Friday that all adults under 40 in the country should be offered alternatives to AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine. It factored in concerns over very rare blood clots, the dwindling risk of severe coronavirus infection in younger adults and the availability of alternatives.

The guidance extends earlier advice that people under 30 would be offered alternative doses.

The use of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been marred by uncertainty after reports of a possible link between the doses and very rare blood clots, but public health experts around the world say that the vaccine’s benefits far outweigh the risks for most people.

Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization stressed that the chances of younger people becoming seriously ill with the coronavirus had grown smaller as infection rates decrease across the country. It said that this new reality paired with the availability of alternative vaccines had factored into the decision.

But the country is also closely monitoring new variants of the coronavirus, and on Friday public health officials in England noted that a variant first detected in India was now considered a “variant of concern” — meaning that it is at least as transmissible as the dominant variant in Britain. The cases identified in the country more than doubled from 202 to 520 in the week, but still account for just a fraction of the cases there.

While there is still not enough evidence to indicate whether any of the variants recently detected in India cause more severe illness or render vaccines any less effective, Britain is proceeding with caution. Most of the identified cases of the variant are in London and in the town of Bolton in the northwestern England.

Regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine, the regulator advised that where available, an alternative should be offered to healthy adults under 40, though it stressed that potentially severe side effects from the doses were “extremely rare.” It noted that “for the vast majority of people, the benefits of preventing serious illness and death far outweigh any risks.”

The vaccination committee advised that anyone who received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine should still receive a second, except those who experienced clotting.

Britain’s medicines regulatory agency had received reports of 242 cases of blood clots accompanied by low platelet counts in people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine through April 28. As of that date, about 22.6 million AstraZeneca doses had been administered in Britain, including about 5.9 million second doses.

Over all, about 35 million people in the country have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

An airplane landing at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany.
Credit…Michael Probst/Associated Press

One returning pilot lost control of an aircraft during landing and skidded off the runway into a ditch. Another just returning from furlough forgot to activate a critical anti-icing system designed to prevent hazards in cold weather. Several others flew at the wrong altitudes, which they attributed to distractions and lapses in communication.

In all of these incidents, which were recorded on NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System, a database of commercial aviation mistakes that are anonymously reported by pilots and other airline crew, the pilots involved blamed the same thing for their mistakes: a lack of practice flying during the pandemic.

In 2020, global air passenger traffic experienced the largest year-on-year decline in aviation history, falling 65.9 percent compared with 2019, according to the International Air Transport Association. Flights were grounded, schedules reduced and thousands of pilots were laid off or put on furlough for up to 12 months.

As vaccination programs pick up speed across some parts of the world and travel starts to rebound, airlines are beginning to reactivate their fleets and summoning pilots back as they prepare to expand their schedules for the summer. But returning pilots can’t just pick up where they left off.

“It’s not quite like riding a bike,” said Joe Townshend, a former pilot for Titan Airways, a British charter airline, who was laid off when the pandemic hit in March last year.

“You can probably go 10 years without flying a plane and still get it off the ground,” he said, “but what fades is the operational side of things.”

Marc Johnson, a virologist at the University of Missouri, examining samples of wastewater to track the coronavirus.
Credit…MichaelB Thomas for The New York Times

Although Covid-19 is primarily a respiratory disease, research conducted early in the pandemic revealed that people infected with the coronavirus often shed it in their stool. This finding, combined with the scale and urgency of the crisis, spurred immediate interest in tracking the virus by sampling wastewater.

In the past year, many scientists have been drawn into the once niche field of wastewater epidemiology. Researchers in 54 countries are tracking the coronavirus in sewage, according to the Covid19Poops Dashboard, a global directory of the projects.

These teams have found that the wastewater data seemed to accurately indicate what was happening in society. When the number of diagnosed Covid-19 cases in an area increased, more coronavirus appeared in the wastewater. Levels of the virus fell when areas instituted lockdowns and surged when they reopened.

Several teams have also confirmed that sewage can serve as an early warning system: Wastewater viral levels often peaked days before doctors saw a peak in official Covid-19 cases.

And wastewater analysis has allowed scientists to detect the arrival of certain variants in a region weeks before they are found in people — and to identify mutations that have not yet been detected in people anywhere.

The surveillance is not a replacement for clinical testing, experts said, but can be an efficient and cost-effective complement. The approach is likely to be especially valuable in low- and middle-income countries, where testing resources are more limited.

“Not every population gets tested, not everyone has access to health care,” said Dr. Marc Johnson, a virologist at the University of Missouri. “If there’s groups of people that are asymptomatic, they probably aren’t getting tested either. So you aren’t really getting the full big picture. Whereas for our testing, everyone poops.”

global roundup

Australian residents at the Sydney airport last year, returning from India.
Credit…Bianca De Marchi/EPA, via Shutterstock

Australia will resume repatriation flights for Australian nationals in India after May 15, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday.

The resumption will end a travel ban that made it a criminal offense for citizens and residents of Australia to enter the country from India. No other democratic nation has issued a similar ban on all arrivals.

Australians who test positive for the coronavirus will not be allowed to travel, officials said, and the government has introduced a pre-departure testing regime in India in an effort to catch infections before they reach Australia.

Critics of the travel ban have accused the government of racism and insensitivity, but officials have said that the restrictions are necessary to prevent transmission from the devastating outbreak in India.

Australian officials initially said that anyone trying to return from India faced up to five years in prison and nearly 60,000 Australian dollars ($46,300). But as the measure came under withering criticism this week, Mr. Morrison said it was “highly unlikely” that those seeking to return home would actually face jail.

In other news from around the world:

View Source

Bidding Opens for a Seat on Blue Origin’s First Passenger Space Flight

Blue Origin, the rocket company founded by Jeff Bezos, will launch a rocket into space with passengers on board for the first time in July, the company said on Wednesday.

One seat on the flight, which will carry six astronauts on a short jaunt to the edge of outer space, is up for auction.

The first astronaut flight of New Shepard, a suborbital spacecraft, is scheduled for July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

“We’ve spent years testing, so we’re ready,” Ariane Cornell, director of astronaut sales for Blue Origin, said at a news conference on Wednesday.

millions of people eventually living and working in space.

For now, most of Blue Origin’s business has stayed closer to Earth. It builds and sells rocket engines to another rocket company, United Launch Alliance. A rocket that would lift cargo to orbit is not expected to be ready for years, and the company recently lost a competition with SpaceX for a contract to build a moon lander for NASA’s astronauts (it has protested the award). Customers have also paid to fly science experiments for NASA and private scientists during test flights of the New Shepard spacecraft.

It has been preparing for years for the start of its space tourism program, which would offer suborbital trips to what is considered the boundary of outer space, 62 miles above Earth. A competitor, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, also plans to fly space tourists on suborbital jaunts. Virgin Galactic’s space plane, known as SpaceShipTwo, is flown by two pilots, so it has carried people to space on test flights, but no paying passengers yet.

Blue Origin’s tourist rocket is named after Alan Shepard, the first American to go to space. It has undergone 15 test flights, none of which had passengers aboard. Ahead of the latest test, in April, a crew rehearsed boarding and exiting the capsule.

For July’s crewed launch, astronauts will arrive to the launch site in West Texas four days before their flight for safety training, Ms. Cornell said.

terms of agreement for the auction listed on Blue Origin’s website, the winning bidder must have a height and weight from five feet tall and 110 pounds to 6-foot-four and 223 pounds.

The astronaut must also be comfortable with walking at heights above 70 feet above ground level on the gangway, be able to climb the launch tower — equivalent to seven flights of stairs — in less than 90 seconds and be able to fasten his or her own harness in less than 15 seconds.

The astronaut must also be comfortable with lots of pressure pressing down on him or her for several minutes during both the ascent and descent.

Proceeds from the winning bid will be donated to Club for the Future, a science and technology education foundation affiliated with Blue Origin, Ms. Cornell said.

Ms. Cornell declined to comment on potential pricing for regular tickets, and when they might go on sale for the general public. But she said there would be “a couple more crewed flights before the end of the year.”

She also declined to answer whether Mr. Bezos would be on the first flight and did not say if and when he would go to space.

View Source

Blue Origin Challenges NASA Over SpaceX Moon Lander Deal

Mr. Smith said Blue Origin would put in bids on a future competition. But he added, “The idea that we’re going to be able to restore competition with something that right now is completely undefined and completely unfunded doesn’t make a lot of sense to us.”

When Bill Nelson, a former senator from Florida whom President Biden has nominated to be the next administrator for NASA, testified at a confirmation hearing last week, Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington and chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, asked him to commit to providing Congress with a plan for how NASA would ensure commercial competition in the moon lander program.

“I do,” Mr. Nelson said. “Competition is always good.”

Mr. Smith said that with similar programs in the past, like the space station missions, NASA had hired more than one company even though it lacked certainty on future budgets.

The Blue Origin-led bid, at $6.0 billion, was more than double the price of SpaceX’s. But Mr. Smith said NASA had gone back to SpaceX and negotiated the price of its proposal, even though it did not have similar discussions with the other two teams.

“We didn’t get a chance to revise and that’s fundamentally unfair,” Mr. Smith said.

Less than $9 billion would have paid for two landers, and that is comparable to the $8.3 billion cost of the commercial crew program that now provides transportation to the space station, the protest argued.

“NASA is getting some great, great value from these proposals,” Mr. Smith said.

NASA’s evaluations of the bids gave ratings of “acceptable” on the technical aspects of Blue Origin’s and SpaceX’s proposals. Dynetics’s rating was lower, at “marginal.” SpaceX’s management was regarded as “outstanding,” while Blue Origin and its partners were judged, “very good,” as was Dynetics.

Mr. Smith said NASA misjudged aspects of its proposal, like the communications system and redundancy in guidance and navigation, as weaknesses. He also said it downplayed the risks in SpaceX’s design like the need to refuel Starship in orbit, which has never been tried before.

View Source

4 Astronauts Float Into the International Space Station and Open Arms

“Endeavour arriving.”

With those words, the four members of the Crew-2 Dragon Endeavour began floating one by one into the International Space Station on Saturday morning, about 24 hours after their capsule lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Dragon Endeavour docked onto the space station shortly after 5 a.m., according to Space X, the company run by Elon Musk that built the spacecraft.

Waiting to greet the crew were seven astronauts who beamed and hugged each of the new arrivals as they slowly made their way through a hatch and into the station.

“Their arrival means there are now 11 humans aboard our orbiting laboratory, a number not seen since the space shuttle era,” NASA said on Twitter.

according to NASA.

The journey to the station was relatively smooth, though at one point the crew was warned that a piece of space debris was going to whiz past the capsule at about 1:43 p.m. Eastern time on Friday.

The astronauts were told to put on their spacesuits, get back in their seats and lower their protective visors. The debris was not immediately identified. NASA said the debris ended up passing about 28 miles from the capsule, a safe distance, and that the spacecraft was not at risk.

The crew will remain with three other astronauts: Mark Vande Hei of NASA, and two Russians, Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov, all of whom arrived at the station on April 9.

The four members of Crew-1, who arrived in November on the Dragon Resilience, will spend five days with Crew-2 before returning to Earth.

Douglas G. Hurley and Robert L. Behnken, who is married to Ms. McArthur — to the space station for a test flight to work out any remaining glitches in the systems.

Earlier this month, NASA awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to develop a giant rocket called Starship, which the company said will one day take people to Mars. Its first mission, however, will be to drop off NASA astronauts on the moon.

Kenneth Chang contributed reporting.

View Source

Covid-19 Live Updates: C.D.C. Panel to Weigh in on J.&J. Vaccine Pause

recommended that inoculations with the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine be halted while researchers investigated six reports of unusual blood clots out of 6.8 million people who had received it.

Top federal officials said in interviews with The New York Times that they had found a few additional cases of the rare blood clots, but would not specify how many. They said that the overall rate did not appear to have changed significantly since last week.

The committee could recommend that Johnson & Johnson add a formal warning label about the side effect, as the company has done in the European Union. Roughly 10 million doses or more of the vaccine, produced at the company’s factory in the Netherlands, are sitting on shelves across the United States and could be deployed immediately.

The meeting comes as the federal government is also investigating problems at a Baltimore factory that was slated to help satisfy the country’s demand. Emergent BioSolutions, the plant’s operator, has produced tens of millions of doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, but they cannot be distributed until regulators certify the plant.

After Emergent had to discard up to 15 million possibly contaminated doses of the vaccine last month, federal regulators conducted an inspection that found a series of problems, including the risk that other batches could have been contaminated.

Last week’s pause followed reports of six women who experienced a rare type of blood clot in the brain within three weeks of getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The clots were accompanied by an unusual drop in platelets, components of the blood that normally help heal wounds.

On Thursday, the Oregon health authorities reported that a death was being investigated for a possible connection to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The woman who died was in her 50s and had symptoms consistent with the blood clotting cases identified in eight other Johnson & Johnson recipients in the U.S. Dr. Shimi Sharief, the state health authority’s senior health adviser, emphasized that it was not known whether the woman’s death was related to the vaccine.

The C.D.C. committee met the day after the initial pause, and a representative from Johnson & Johnson provided details on the six cases, along with two others. Rather than voting, the panel decided to hold a second meeting the following week, giving them time to better assess the data.

European regulators, who have also been scrutinizing the shots, said on Tuesday that they would allow these vaccinations to resume with the addition of a formal warning label.

A paramedic checking the oxygen level of a patient inside an ambulance in Ahmedabad, India, on Thursday.
Credit…Amit Dave/Reuters

The Times’s Emily Schmall reports from New Delhi on the desperate situation in India. The following is an excerpt from her article.

NEW DELHI — A catastrophic second wave of the coronavirus is battering India, which is reporting the world’s highest number of new infections as hospitals and patients beg for fast-diminishing oxygen supplies and other emergency aid.

India recorded more than 330,000 coronavirus cases in 24 hours, the health ministry said on Friday, the second consecutive day that the country has set a global record for daily infections.

Canada has joined Britain, Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand in barring travelers coming from India. And the U.S. State Department advised people against going to India after the Centers for Disease Control raised the risk level to its highest measure.

Even as cases have climbed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party and other parties have continued to hold mass rallies with thousands of people unmasked. The government has also allowed an enormous Hindu festival to draw millions of pilgrims despite signs that it has become a superspreader event.

The catastrophe in India is playing out vividly on social media, with Twitter feeds and WhatsApp groups broadcasting hospitals’ pleas for oxygen and medicines, and families’ desperate searches for beds in overwhelmed Covid-19 wards. With many hospitals short of ventilators, television reports have shown patients lying inside ambulances parked outside emergency rooms, struggling to breathe.

Medical students and physician assistants from Touro University Nevada waiting to screen people in Las Vegas last month.
Credit…Steve Marcus/Reuters

County health departments that a month ago couldn’t keep up with vaccine demand have now started closing some of their mass vaccination sites for lack of customers, and some counties are declining vaccine shipments.

Now that more than half of adults in the United States have received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose and the country has surpassed 202 million administered doses, demand for shots appears to be slowing in many areas.

White House and health officials are comparing the next phase of the vaccination campaign to a get-out-the-vote effort.

While every person 16 and older in the country became eligible for a coronavirus vaccination on Monday, dropping demand has pushed Mercer County, Ohio — where 27 percent of adults have at least one dose — to announce the closing of its mass vaccination site on May 7.

“It wasn’t fair to ask our volunteers to keep showing up there when they weren’t being fully utilized — they like to keep busy,” Jason Menchhofer, county health administrator, said in an interview on Thursday about the site on the local fairgrounds.

In the first few months of the year, the site in the county of 41,000, which borders Indiana, would fill up its 400 appointments in an hour or two, he said. “We could even reach down into those who were not age-eligible to get it to come in at the end of the day to come out quickly and get it into someone’s arm,” he said.

But demand has fallen precipitously in the last several weeks, and last week the county ended up wasting two doses, which was a first. “We no longer have a reserve of people who want to be vaccinated to reach into to show up and take those doses,” he added.

The largest vaccination site in Las Vegas, the Cashman Center, will close on May 5 as the list of open appointments grow and the lines to be inoculated have dwindled. The tens of thousands of open appointments at sites across the nation are forcing officials to pivot their outreach strategies and zero in on smaller events.

Palm Beach County in Florida said on Tuesday that it would shut its three mass vaccination sites, which are operating at about half capacity, by the end of May. Of 16,000 appointment slots available this week, only 6,000 were filled, according to health officials. Instead, three mobile units will each aim to give 500 doses a day.

In Galveston County, Texas, a mass drive-through clinic at a county park won’t operate after May 1. The park has been administering 5,000 doses per day, including on Thursday. But demand for appointments has dampened in the last three weeks, according to the county’s chief public health officer. He also asked the state to pause vaccine shipments.

“We’re concerned that some of it may expire before we use it, if we keep getting it,” said Dr. Philip Keiser. “We are trying to figure out how to balance out supply and demand, yet also have enough on hand so that when school kids are able to get back, we can do them.”

There will be much more targeted outreach, down to the Census tract level, Dr. Keiser said, and there might be 100 or 200 injections per day rather than thousands.

“We got about 50 percent of our people vaccinated,” he said, “and we recognize that next 25 percent is going to be a lot harder than the first.”

The Emergent BioSolutions plant in Baltimore.
Credit…Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA, via Shutterstock

AstraZeneca, which shipped millions of doses of its coronavirus vaccine to Mexico and Canada last month at the direction of the Biden administration, said on Thursday that the doses had been made at a Baltimore plant where production was halted because of serious manufacturing flaws.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine, made until recently by Emergent BioSolutions in Baltimore, is not approved for use in the United States, and tens of millions of doses have been sitting idly at manufacturing plants. But the White House said last month that the federal government, which committed last year to buying 300 million doses from the company, intended to “loan” 2.5 million doses to Mexico and 1.5 million doses to Canada.

Whether regulators from those countries inspected the Emergent plant before accepting the AstraZeneca doses, and whether American officials warned them of the ongoing issues at the site, is unclear.

The New York Times reported this month that from early October to January, Emergent discarded five lots of AstraZeneca vaccine — each the equivalent of two million to three million doses — because of contamination or suspected contamination, according to internal logs, a government official and a former company supervisor.

Officials from the Biden administration declined to comment. The Canadian government has said that the AstraZeneca doses were received and distributed, and that it reserved several thousand for quality testing. The status of the doses sent to Mexico is unclear.

In a statement on Thursday, AstraZeneca said that the doses delivered to Mexico and Canada “met the stringent requirements we are required to follow,” and that “required safety tests and quality control measures” were conducted at each step of the production process and before the batches were released.

Last month, The Times reported that an ingredient mix-up at the Emergent Baltimore plant had ruined up to 15 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson. Workers at the plant had conflated ingredients from the two vaccines.

Federal officials ordered major changes to the plant after those revelations.

The Biden administration ordered Emergent to stop making the AstraZeneca vaccine, and put Johnson & Johnson in charge of running the Baltimore plant. A report by Food and Drug Administration inspectors, made public on Wednesday, concluded that Emergent may have contaminated additional doses. It also spotlighted numerous other problems with training and cleanliness at the plant.

The disclosure that the vaccine doses sent to Mexico and Canada came from the Emergent plant raises questions about the Biden administration’s role in arranging for the shipments. Reporting in The Times has shown that federal health officials — and the F.D.A. — were aware of problems at the Emergent plant long before the recent disclosures.

The F.D.A. has not cleared the Emergent plant to release any doses in the United States and has not indicated when, or whether, it will do so. If a drug or biologic made in the United States is shipped to another country, it is up to that country’s regulators to certify whether it is safe.

In its statement on Thursday, which was issued first to CBS News, AstraZeneca said, “The quality information from the manufacturing plants involved was properly submitted to the relevant regulatory agencies in each country to support authorization and approval of shipments from this supply chain.”

On Friday in Osaka, where a state of emergency will come into effect this weekend.
Credit…Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images

TOKYO — Japan on Friday declared states of emergency in Tokyo, Osaka and surrounding areas in an effort to stem a widening coronavirus outbreak three months before the country plans to host the Summer Olympics.

The measures will take effect on Sunday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said, calling them “a short and concentrated measure” to slow the virus’s spread during the Golden Week holiday, traditionally one of the year’s busiest travel periods.

In addition to Tokyo and Osaka, the states of emergency cover the neighboring prefectures Kyoto and Hyogo and will be in place until May 11. Together, the four prefectures are home to roughly a quarter of Japan’s 126 million people.

Japan has managed the pandemic better than many other large economies, but a stubborn fourth wave, propelled by more infectious variants of the virus, has produced the most daily cases since January. Officials began imposing looser restrictions in early April over parts of 10 prefectures, but those steps have failed to corral the outbreak.

Over all, the country has recorded slightly more than half a million infections and about 10,000 deaths from the virus.

The new restrictions are intended to be tougher and shorter than two states of emergency Japan imposed over parts of the country at the start of the pandemic last year and in January, although they fall shy of the total lockdowns seen in other countries. The measures give the prefectures the authority to ask businesses to close or restrict hours, and to fine those that do not comply.

Large department stores, shopping malls, amusement parks and movie theaters will be asked to close, and all establishments will be banned from serving alcohol. Schools can remain open, and shops that sell food and other essential items will be spared. But restaurants and karaoke parlors will be asked to shorten their hours, and residents will be told not to drink alcohol in public venues.

Organizers of sporting events, including professional baseball games and soccer matches, will be asked not to allow spectators — although officials have said that the emergency measures will not affect the Tokyo Olympics, whose opening ceremony is scheduled for July 23.

Polls indicate that the Japanese public is increasingly frustrated with Mr. Suga, who took office in September, over his handling of the pandemic and his government’s insistence on going ahead with the Olympics, which were rescheduled from last year. Organizers have said the event will take place without spectators from abroad, and have barred crowds from parts of the ceremonial torch relay. Still, in surveys, more than 70 percent of Japanese say the games should be postponed again or canceled.

Eiji Fukui said he had managed to keep his Tokyo restaurant operating during previous states of emergency by reducing hours and offering takeout items. But this time he plans to close the restaurant completely, even though the rules allow him to stay open until 8 p.m. if he does not serve alcohol.

“It’s almost a tacit message not to operate during this period,” said Mr. Fukui, 39. “I don’t want to be bothered with operating without alcohol, so I will close this time since I received zero reservations anyway.”

Japan’s vaccine rollout has also been slower than in many other countries, with less than 1 percent of the population fully inoculated, according to a New York Times database.

Members of the Frutos do Senhor evangelical church performing baptisms and serving breakfast to homeless people in São Paulo, Brazil, this month.
Credit…Victor Moriyama for The New York Times

Rail-thin teenagers holding placards at traffic stops with fome — the word for hunger — in large print. Children begging for food outside supermarkets. Families huddling in flimsy encampments on sidewalks, asking for baby formula, crackers, anything.

The scenes of hunger in Brazil are stark evidence that President Jair Bolsonaro’s bet that he could protect the country’s economy by resisting public health policies intended to curb the virus has failed. From the start of the pandemic, he scorned the guidance of health experts, arguing that the economic damage wrought by lockdowns would be a bigger threat to the economy than the coronavirus itself.

That trade-off led to one of the world’s highest death tolls, but it has not kept the country afloat.

About 19 million people have gone hungry over the past year, and about 117 million people — more than half the country — faced food insecurity, with uncertain access to enough nutrition, in 2020, according to estimates. One expert says: “The way the government has handled the virus has deepened poverty and inequality. Hunger is a serious and intractable problem in Brazil.”

The San Mamés stadium in Bilbao last August.
Credit…Javier Soriano/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Plans to play some European soccer championship matches this summer in Dublin and in Bilbao, Spain, have been abandoned after the local authorities were unable to guarantee that a sufficient number of fans could attend because of coronavirus restrictions.

Munich’s role in the tournament, Euro 2020, was also in doubt, but its place was confirmed during an emergency meeting of members of the executive committee for UEFA, soccer’s governing body in Europe. The tournament, which was postponed last year because of the pandemic, is soccer’s No. 2 most-watched competition, after the World Cup. This summer it is being played on a continentwide basis, in 11 cities, for the first time.

Dublin and Bilbao were set to stage three group games and one round-of-16 match. Dublin’s group-stage schedule will move to St. Petersburg, Russia, which had already been selected to host four games. London’s Wembley Stadium, where the tournament’s semifinals and final will be played, will pick up Dublin’s knockout-round game.

Seville will take on the games slated to be played in Bilbao, despite opposition from the authorities in Bilbao, who said they would seek compensation from UEFA after working on hosting the tournament for six years.

Oleg Artemyev, a Russian astronaut, was inoculated against Covid-19 with the Sputnik V vaccine in December.
Credit…Roscosmos/Via Reuters

Without hospitals or medical specialists in space, NASA and other space agencies have always been concerned about astronauts falling sick during a mission. To minimize the chances of that, they typically spend the two weeks before launch in quarantine.

A Covid-19 superspreader event at the space station would disrupt operations.

The interior of the space station has a volume equivalent to a Boeing 747 jetliner, so there would be space for infected crew members to isolate themselves. But space station managers certainly would not want to worry about the virus spreading in the station’s perpetually filtered and recycled air.

During a news conference last week, Shane Kimbrough, the NASA astronaut who is the commander of Crew-2, said all four astronauts had received Covid vaccinations. “I guess it went fine,” he said. “We all have a little bit different reactions, just like most people do. So we’re no different in that regard. But we’re thankful that we have the vaccines.”

The three astronauts who launched in a Soyuz rocket to the station earlier this month — Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov of the Russian space agency and Mark Vande Hei of NASA — were also vaccinated.

The four astronauts of the Crew-1 mission are not, because no vaccines were available when they launched last November. When they return to Earth, every human not on the planet will be vaccinated against Covid-19.

A nurse giving a vaccination on Sunday at the Javits Center in Manhattan.
Credit…Kevin Hagen for The New York Times

Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines will effectively prevent serious illness and death from a coronavirus variant that has kept cases in New York City stubbornly high, two independent studies suggest.

City officials had repeatedly warned that the variant may be more contagious and may dodge the immune response. But researcher say that the antibodies stimulated by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are only slightly less potent at controlling the variant than the original form of the virus.

“We’re not seeing big differences,” said Michel Nussenzweig, an immunologist at Rockefeller University in New York who is a member of the team that published one of the studies on Thursday.

The results are based on laboratory experiments with blood samples from small numbers of vaccinated people and have not yet been peer-reviewed. Still, they are consistent with what is known about similar variants, several experts said, and they add to a growing body of research that suggests that the two main vaccines in the United States are protective against all of the variants identified so far.

“The take-home message is that the vaccines are going to work against the New York variant and the South African variant and the U.K. variant,” said Nathan Landau, a virologist at N.Y.U.’s Grossman School of Medicine who led the study.

The Atlantic City boardwalk last July.
Credit…Michelle Gustafson for The New York Times

With summer on the horizon, states are beginning to rethink social-distancing measures.

In Rhode Island, Gov. Dan McKee said that starting May 7, the state will stop requiring masks outside, and social gatherings can increase to 25 people indoors and 75 people outdoors. By May 28, the state will lift capacity limits on businesses and houses of worship, the bar areas of restaurants will be able to open, and dance floors can once again be filled.

“It’s a good day for everyone here in the Ocean State,” Mr. McKee said at a news conference on Thursday. “It’s a little early to put a ‘Mission Accomplished’ sign up, but we’re getting ready to order that sign.”

Mr. McKee attributed the reopening plans to the state’s vaccination rate — 48 percent of residents have received at least one shot, and 33 percent are fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database. But masks will still be required indoors.

Rhode Island is not alone.

On Monday, Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut said that the state would phase out all pandemic restrictions, except the indoor mask mandate, by May 19. And in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy said on Wednesday that he would announce “a pretty significant amount of guidance” for summer activities next week.

“We don’t want to lurch, in other words go forward and then have to pull something back,” Mr. Murphy said at his weekly news conference. “And we don’t want to start that now. But we also owe people our best guesses for what it’s going to look like for graduation, summer, the beaches and what not.”

As more people get vaccinated and the outdoors become more appealing with spring weather and sunshine, one question persists: Do people still need to wear masks outside? Science shows that the risk of viral transmission outside is very low. The Times’s Well columnist, Tara Parker-Pope, suggests making sure activities meet two out of the following three conditions: outdoors, distanced and masked.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Thursday that the agency was “looking at the outdoor masking question” and whether to revise current guidance.

View Source

Astronauts Launching to Space Are Vaccinated Against Covid-19

Without hospitals or medical specialists in space, NASA and other space agencies have always been concerned about astronauts falling sick during a mission. To minimize the chances of that, they typically spend the two weeks before launch in quarantine.

A Covid-19 superspreader event at the space station would disrupt operations.

The interior of the space station has a volume equivalent to a Boeing 747 jetliner, so there would be space for infected crew members to isolate themselves. But space station managers certainly would not want to worry about the virus spreading in the station’s perpetually filtered and recycled air.

During a news conference last week, Shane Kimbrough, the NASA astronaut who is the commander of Crew-2, said all four astronauts had received Covid vaccinations. “I guess it went fine,” he said. “We all have a little bit different reactions, just like most people do. So we’re no different in that regard. But we’re thankful that we have the vaccines.”

The three astronauts who launched in a Soyuz rocket to the station earlier this month — Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov of the Russian space agency and Mark Vande Hei of NASA — were also vaccinated.

The four astronauts of the Crew-1 mission are not, because no vaccines were available when they launched last November. When they return to Earth, every human not on the planet will be vaccinated against Covid-19.

View Source

SpaceX Wins NASA $2.9 Billion Contract to Build Moon Lander

Elon Musk’s private space company is developing a giant rocket called Starship to one day take people to Mars.

But first, it will drop off NASA astronauts at the moon.

NASA announced on Friday that it had awarded a contract to SpaceX for $2.9 billion to use Starship to take astronauts from lunar orbit to the surface of the moon.

The contract extends NASA’s trend of relying on private companies to ferry people, cargo and robotic explorers to space. But it also represents something of a triumph for Mr. Musk in the battle of space billionaires. One of the competitors for the NASA lunar contract was Blue Origin, created by Jeffrey P. Bezos of Amazon.

SpaceX now outshines Blue Origin and other rocket builders, emphasizing how it has become the highest-profile partner of NASA in its human spaceflight program.

The Washington Post.

NASA last year awarded contracts to three companies for initial design work on landers that could carry humans to the lunar surface. In addition to SpaceX, NASA selected proposals from Dynetics, a defense contractor in Huntsville, Ala., and Mr. Bezos’ Blue Origin, which had joined in what it called the National Team with several traditional aerospace companies: Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper.

The award is only for the first crewed landing, and SpaceX must first perform an uncrewed landing. “NASA is requiring a test flight to fully check out all systems with a landing on the lunar surface prior to our formal demonstration mission,” Ms. Watson-Morgan said.

NASA officials said Blue Origin, Dynetics and other companies would be able to bid for future moon landing missions.

Mr. Trump pledged a return by 2024, the schedule was not considered realistic after Congress did not provide requested financing, and NASA is now re-evaluating the schedule.

The NASA Artemis program is expected to launch its first uncrewed trip either later this year or early next year, using a powerful rocket called the Space Launch System to propel the Orion capsule, where future astronauts will be sitting, on a trip to the moon and back. The booster stage of the rocket passed an important ground test last month.

For the spacecraft that would land astronauts on the moon, NASA had been expected to choose two of the three companies to move forward and build their landers, mirroring the approach the space agency has used for hiring companies to take cargo and now astronauts to the International Space Station. Two options provide competition that helps keep costs down, and provides a backup in case one of the systems encounters a setback.

why NASA needs the Space Launch System rocket at all.

Each launch of the Space Launch System is expected to cost more than $1 billion. Because Starship is designed to be fully reusable, its costs will be far cheaper.

The Artemis plans currently call for the astronauts to launch into orbit on top of a Space Launch System rocket. The upper stage of the rocket is to then propel the Orion capsule, where the astronauts will be sitting, toward the moon.

Unlike NASA’s Apollo moon missions in the 1960s and 1970s, the lander spacecraft is to be sent separately to lunar orbit. Orion is to dock with the lander, which will then head to the surface.

But Starship will dwarf Orion in size, making the architecture similar to sailing a yacht across the Atlantic Ocean and then switching to a cruise ship for the short ride into port.

Yusaku Maezawa, has bought an around-the-moon flight on Starship. That trip, which could occur as soon as 2023, would only pass by the moon and not land.

SpaceX has been launching a series of high-altitude tests of Starship prototypes at its site at the southern tip of Texas, not far outside Brownsville, to perfect how the spacecraft would return to Earth. SpaceX has made great progress with the maneuver of belly-flopping to slow its fall, but the tests so far have all ended explosively.

Mr. Musk recently pledged that the spacecraft would be ready to fly people to space by 2023, although he has a track record of overpromising and underdelivering on rocket development schedules.

Nevertheless, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket has become the workhorse of American and international spaceflight with its reusable booster stage. The company has twice carried astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA, and it is scheduled to loft a third crew there on Thursday.

Numerous private satellite operators have relied on the company to carry their payloads to orbit. And another company, Astrobotic, announced this week that it had picked a larger SpaceX rocket, Falcon Heavy, to carry a NASA rover called VIPER to the moon’s south pole to prospect for ice in the coming years.

On Friday, the Biden administration also announced the nomination of Pamela Melroy, a former astronaut, to become NASA’s deputy administrator. Last month, Bill Nelson, a former Florida senator, was nominated to be administrator.

View Source