BBC 2024-02-23 04:31:40

Intuitive Machines: US company makes historic Moon landing

An American company has made history by becoming the first commercial outfit to put a spacecraft on the Moon.

Houston-based Intuitive Machines landed its Odysseus robot near the lunar south pole.

It took some minutes for controllers to establish that the craft was down, but eventually a signal was received.

“What we can confirm, without a doubt, is our equipment is on the surface of the Moon and we are transmitting,” flight director Tim Crain announced.

Staff at the company cheered and clapped at the news.

It was an important moment, not just for the commercial exploitation of space but for the US space programme in general.

Intuitive Machines has broken the United States’ half-century absence from the Moon’s surface. You have to go back to the last Apollo mission in 1972 for an occasion when American hardware nestled down gently in the lunar soil.

The US space agency Nasa had purchased room on Odysseus for six scientific instruments, and its administrator Bill Nelson was quick to add his congratulations to Intuitive Machines for a mission he described as a “triumph”.

“The US has returned to the Moon,” he said. “Today, for the first time in the history of humanity, a commercial company – an American company – launched and led the voyage up there. And today is the day that shows the power and promise of Nasa’s commercial partnerships.”

  • ‘Toy poodles’ on the Moon: Japan lander gets to work
  • Apollo astronauts: The last of the Moon men
  • Odysseus: The mission to prevent ‘spaceship sandblasting’

Controllers had to deal with an almost mission-stopping technical problem even before the descent began.

Odysseus’ ranging lasers, which were supposed to calculate the craft’s altitude and velocity, weren’t working properly.

Fortunately, there were some experimental lasers from Nasa on board, and engineers were able to patch these across to the navigation computers.

Odysseus touched down at 23:23 GMT. At first, there was no signal at all from the robot. There were plenty of nerves as the minutes ticked by, but eventually a communications link was made, albeit a faint one.

This will led to some concerns about the status of the lander. Within a couple of hours, however, Intuitive Machines was reporting that Odysseus was standing upright and sending back data, including pictures.

The landing site is a cratered terrain next to a 5km-high mountain complex known as Malapert. It’s the southernmost point on the Moon ever visited by a spacecraft, at 80 degrees South.

It’s on the shortlist of locations where Nasa is considering sending astronauts later this decade as part of its Artemis programme.

There are some deep craters in this region that never see any sunlight – they’re permanently in shadow – and scientists think frozen water could be inside them.

“The ice is really important because if we can actually take advantage of that ice on the surface of the Moon, that’s less materials we have to bring with us,” explained Lori Glaze, Nasa’s director of planetary science.

“We could use that ice to convert it to water – drinkable drinking water – and we can extract oxygen and hydrogen for fuel and for breathing for the astronauts. So it really helps us in human exploration.”

Nasa’s six payloads on board Odysseus are a mix of technology demonstration and science.

A key investigation will be one looking at the behaviour of lunar dust, which the Apollo astronauts found to be a serious nuisance, scratching and clogging their equipment.

The agency’s scientists want to understand better how the dust is kicked up by landing craft to hang just above the surface before then settling back down.

The six commercial payloads on board include a student camera system from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which should have been deployed from Odysseus when it was still 30m above the lunar surface.

The system was designed to take selfie images as the robot set itself down.

The American artist Jeff Koons has also attached a box to the side of the lander that contains 125 small stainless steel balls to represent the Moon’s different phases through a month.

Valencia fire: At least four killed as blaze engulfs apartment block in Spain

A massive fire has killed at least four people in a high-rise residential block in the Spanish city of Valencia, emergency services say.

The blaze engulfed a 14-storey block in the Campanar neighbourhood and spread to an adjoining building.

Firefighters were seen rescuing people from balconies, and nineteen are believed to be still missing.

At least 14 people, including six firefighters and a young child, have been injured.

High winds fanned the flames, but there are also suspicions that highly flammable cladding enabled the fire to spread rapidly.

More than 20 fire crews tackled the blaze, and by early Friday the block was a giant fire-blackened shell. People were urged to stay away from the area.

The building contains 138 flats and was home to 450 residents, newspaper El Pais reported, citing the building’s manager.

Local reports said firefighters had rescued several residents using cranes, including a couple living on the seventh floor.

One woman told TVE she had seen firefighters attempting to rescue a teenage boy trapped on the building’s first floor.

In the hours after the fire rapidly took hold, questions have been asked in Spain about the materials used in the building’s construction.

Esther Puchades, vice president of the College of Industrial Technical Engineers of Valencia, told Spanish news agency Efe she had previously inspected the building.

She claimed its exterior featured a polyurethane material, which is no longer in wide use because of fears over flammability.

One man who lives on the second floor of the building told TV channel La Sexta that the flames grew rapidly after the fire started, reportedly on the fourth floor.

“The fire spread in a matter of 10 minutes,” he said, adding that material on the facade of the building may have caused the fire to spread.

David Higuera, an engineer, told El País the building’s cladding may have been the cause of the rapid spread of the fire.

The aluminium plates with a foam insulator making up the outer layer of the building are “very good at insulating against heat and cold, but very combustible,” he said.

Firefighters were called at around 17:30 local time (16:30 GMT). A field hospital has been set up in the area, RTVE reported. People displaced from their homes would be housed in hotels, authorities said.

Writing on X (formerly known as Twitter) Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said: “Dismayed by the terrible fire in a building in Valencia… I want to convey my solidarity to all the people affected and recognition to all the emergency personnel already deployed at the scene.”

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Navalny’s mother says she has been shown his body

Alexei Navalny’s mother has said she has been shown his body, but that the Russian authorities are pressuring her to allow a “secret” burial.

In a video address, Lyudmila Navalnaya said she had been brought to a morgue where she signed a death certificate.

The former opposition leader’s press secretary said a medical report presented to Ms Navalnaya stated he died of natural causes.

Navalny’s widow has said he was killed by Russian authorities.

Lyudmila Navalnaya said the law required officials to hand over her son’s body, but that she was being “blackmailed” as they refused to do so. She alleged authorities were setting conditions for the burial of her son, including the place, time and manner of his burial.

She said: “They want to take me to the outskirts of the cemetery to a fresh grave and say: ‘Here lies your son.'”

Ms Navalnaya travelled to the northern Russian town of Salekhard following the news of her son’s death in a nearby penal colony six days ago.

She has previously been denied access to her son’s body, on Tuesday appealing personally to Russian President Vladimir Putin to allow her to bury him.

In Thursday’s address, Lyudmila Navalnaya said she was being threatened by the authorities.

“Looking into my eyes, they say that if I do not agree to a secret funeral, they will do something with my son’s body.”

She said she was told by investigators: “Time is not on your side, the corpse is decomposing.”

Lyudmila Navalnaya was speaking in a video posted to her late son’s YouTube channel, and finished the address by demanding his body be returned to her.

There was no immediate response from Russian authorities.

Separately, on Thursday US President Joe Biden met Mr Navalny’s widow Yulia and his daughter Dasha Navalnaya in San Francisco.

“The president expressed his admiration for Alexei Navalny’s extraordinary courage and his legacy of fighting against corruption and for a free and democratic Russia,” the White House said in a statement, adding that the US was preparing to issue new sanctions on Russia.

Navalny died in a prison colony on 16 February. Prison officials said he had fallen ill following a “walk”.

But Yulia Navalnaya has claimed that he was killed on the orders of Mr Putin and vowed to continue his struggle.

The Kremlin has denied the allegations, calling Western reaction to the death “hysterical”.

Political scientist Tatiana Stanovaya said that the decision to show Ms Navalnaya her son’s body indicated authorities wanted to persuade her to “make a deal.”

“The body is given back, but under the condition that the funeral does not become a political event,” she wrote in a post on her Telegram channel.

In August 2020, the former opposition leader was poisoned using the Novichok nerve agent by a team of would-be assassins from the Russian secret services.

Airlifted to Germany, he recovered there before returning to Russia in January 2021, where he was imprisoned.

Attempts at commemorating his death have been met by a heavy-handed response from Russian authorities, with makeshift monuments cleared and hundreds arrested.

Why plov is the ultimate Silk Road dish

Uzbekistan’s beloved national dish, plov, is widely believed to have aphrodisiac qualities and so it’s traditionally eaten on Thursdays – a popular day for conceiving children.

Plov – a medley of rice, vegetables, meat and spices – is popular throughout the countries of the Silk Road, but it’s most closely associated with Uzbekistan. Widely consumed at least once a week, it’s the country’s national dish and is considered an indispensable part of family celebrations, served at births, weddings and funerals and to honour Muslims returning from Hajj.

According to legend, plov was first invented for Alexander the Great, who ordered the creation of a satisfying meal to sustain his army during their campaigns in Central Asia. “We don’t have historical records to prove that, but what we do know is that by the 9th and 10th Centuries, plov had become very popular here,” said Nilufar Nuriddinova, an Uzbek tour guide who is passionate about food history. “Rice has been a staple crop in this region for more than 1,000 years. It requires hard physical work to grow, as does harvesting crops and raising livestock. So, plov would’ve been an ideal high-calorie, nutrient-rich dish for the largely agricultural society.”

Plov is now considered such a vital part of the country’s culinary traditions that it was recently inscribed on Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity List. “It is more than just a meal,” Nuriddinova explained. “It creates social bonds and encourages friendship; it brings our nation together.”

She told me even the word is an important part of the Uzbek language. “It appears in many everyday expressions such as, ‘If you know you have only one day left on Earth, spend it eating plov,'” she said. “It means that afterwards you can die happy. In Uzbekistan, life without plov is unthinkable.”

(Credit: Simon Urwin)

There are more than 100 types of plov in Uzbekistan. Recipes differ according to the region and the season, but each variation contains key ingredients whose initials gave the dish its full name, osh palov: “o” for ob (water in Persian), “sh” for sholi (rice), “p” for piyoz (onion), “a” for ayoz (carrot), “l” for lamh (meat), “o” for olio (fat or oil), and “v” for vet (salt).

(Credit: Simon Urwin)

The country’s most famous plov restaurant is Besh Qozon (also known as the Central Asian Plov Centre), located in the Yunusabad neighbourhood of the capital, Tashkent. Thought to be one of the largest plov restaurants in Central Asia, Besh Qozon serves between 5,000 and 8,000 customers daily, with plov made in nine vast wood-fired cauldrons known as kazan.

(Credit: Simon Urwin)

According to Uzbek tradition, every plate of plov must be accompanied by non (bread). Besh Qozon’s resident nonvoy (baker) is Shokirjon Nurmatov. Like all kitchen staff, he performs a special ritual before beginning work: he purifies himself, joins his hands together in the shape of a bowl and asks for a dua (blessing from Allah) to do his job successfully. Only then can he begin producing his daily batch of more than 3,000 loaves.

(Credit: Simon Urwin)

In the family home, plov is traditionally made by women; in restaurants (and on special occasions), it’s the reserve of a male chef known as an oshpaz. “That’s because it’s tough physical work to produce huge quantities,” said Fayzullah Sagdiyev, the oshpaz at Besh Qozon. “My largest kazan can hold up to three tonnes of food.” He told me he faces other even greater pressures. “If a guest doesn’t finish their plov because they don’t like the taste, it’s considered so shameful that the oshpaz may consider taking their own life,” he said. “Thankfully, it’s never happened to me.”

(Credit: Simon Urwin)

The process of cooking plov follows a strict order: it begins with the browning of meat (a mix of mutton and beef), before the addition of white and yellow carrots, onion, rice, water and spices. Sagdiyev uses a mix of salt, pepper, turmeric and principally cumin – which first arrived in Uzbekistan from India along the Silk Road. A local touch to Besh Qozon’s chaykhana plov is the addition of chickpeas and kishmish (a sour raisin)before it is slow-cooked for four hours.

(Credit: Simon Urwin)

Thursdays and Sundays are considered the most popular days to make and eat plov in Uzbekistan. “It’s likely because in ancient times, people from the countryside could only travel to the city bazaars to sell their goods twice a week,” Nuriddinova explained. “So, they had more money on Thursdays and Sundays to be able to afford to buy all the necessary ingredients.”

(Credit: Simon Urwin)

Sagdiyev told me that plov’s prevalence on a Thursday is also because it is thought to have strong qualities as an aphrodisiac, and so is perfect to eat on what is a popular day for conceiving children. He went on to tell me that some men joke that the word plov actually means foreplay, that oil from the bottom of the kazan is sometimes drunk as a form of natural Viagra and that many oshpaz will reserve the best meat for Thursdays to give male customers extra sexual power.

(Credit: Simon Urwin)

The tradition of conceiving on Thursdays is linked to the country’s strong Islamic beliefs. “It is thought that the Prophet Muhammad was conceived on a Thursday,” Sagdiyev said. “So, if you want your baby to be intelligent, well behaved, be blessed by the angels and have a heart open to receiving God, this is a good day to do it. But only after eating a plate of plov.”

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The ‘golden handcuffs’ of high-earning jobs

Corporate roles have long enticed employees with riches – at a big cost to their personal lives. Only some workers walk away.

Lewis knew that a high-pressured workplace was the price for a six-figure payday. The Berlin-based, entry-level consultant believed the stress was worth it for the fast-track to a €150,000 ($162,170; £128,460) base salary at one of the world’s most prestigious firms.

“There has to be a willingness to be chained to the desk. You accept those conditions in return for such a high salary – that’s the game. If you’re not working 12 hours straight, the response is ‘you’re being paid this much, so you have to’,” he says. “When you earn such a high wage it’s a psychological block – you feel you’ve earned it, and worked really hard to get there. You want to get out, but how much of a salary cut can you take?”

Lewis was locked into “golden handcuffs”, which can trap workers in jobs – and careers – they hate in exchange for rich paydays and luxury perks. Despite complaints of torturous workweeks, tedious tasks and toxic cultures, these types of roles offer vast sums of money to workers who often build their lives around massive pay-outs. While some can shake off golden handcuffs for a healthier work-life balance, others find them nearly impossible to walk away from – and pay the price.

Golden handcuffs are a long-held employer practice, says Rubab Jafry O’Connor, distinguished service professor of management at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, in Pittsburgh, US. “For as long as organisations have existed, there have been firms paying a top-tier salary to keep their best workers.”

The term first originated in 1976, foreshadowing an era in which Wall Street bankers’ salaries began to vastly outstrip those of the average private-sector worker. But there is often more to golden handcuffs than mere base salary, with the overall financial package loaded with stock options, annual bonuses and benefits stacked into the six figures – and beyond.

My anxiety and stress levels were sky high; my diet, exercise and sleep were a joke. I left because I felt continuing down this path would have destroyed everything else that mattered to me – Ryan Renteria

For employers, golden handcuffs aren’t only a traditional retention tool, but also a means of ensuring workers will routinely go above and beyond in the job, says Jafry O’Connor. Handsome compensation means employees are at the company’s whim. “If I pay for a room at the Fairmont, I expect more than if I take a room at a Motel 6,” she says, comparing a luxury hotel chain to a low-cost one. “So, with greater pay comes greater expectations: you’ll be compensated for the extra time and energy you’ll have to devote to that job.”

In return for sizable salaries, however, workers often pay a hefty cost in their quality of life. This is particularly the case for junior-level employees – in many cases, the work cascades from the top. “Partners sell projects to make money towards bonuses,” Lewis explains of his situation at the consultancy. “To make sales, they overpromise: a three-month project has a three-week deadline. It’s the workers at the bottom that do the legwork, resulting in long hours, stress, pressure and a horrible working culture.”

Higher up the chain, the financial packages sweeten – and the golden handcuffs tighten. Ryan Renteria, author of Lead Without Burnout, was a partner at a Wall Street hedge fund when he quit, aged 30. “The compensation opportunities were off the charts,” he says. “Every six months that you posted strong investment returns, you’d receive another large bonus that was partially deferred – you would lose it if you left.”

However, Renteria burned out – and walked away. “The toll the job took on my mental and physical health was unsustainable,” he says. “My anxiety and stress levels were sky high; my diet, exercise and sleep were a joke. I left because I felt continuing down this path would have destroyed everything else that mattered to me.”

Lucy Puttergill worked nine years in finance due to the high compensation and job prestige (Credit: Courtesy of Lucy Puttergill)

But when workers are unhappy, they often struggle to leave golden handcuffs. Lucy Maeve Puttergill says she realised within her first year working in London’s Canary Wharf that banking wasn’t the right career for her. Still, she stuck it out for nine years. “I got sucked into the prestige, and that it made me sound impressive to others. And I’d become so used to the types of numbers people made in banking being ‘normal’, I assumed that was how much you needed to be financially OK.”

Golden handcuffs are hard to discard not just because of salary, says Puttergill, but also the lifestyle they enable. “Someone with a high-paying job usually has high expenditure, linked to how hard they work. I spent a lot on numbing: buying clothes in order to make myself feel better. Unravelling my relationship with money was needed in order for me to leave.”

It’s more than a salary you’re tied to: it’s also lifestyle, friendship group and sense of worth – Lucy Puttergill

Puttergill has re-trained as a life coach. Many of her clients are in high-salaried jobs, including banking, law and consulting, typically at mid-career. “Some will say they want to quit, or are tired and stressed,” she says. “They’ll feel dead inside and not even realise it.”

She says conversations around the mental-health costs associated with golden handcuffs have grown in a changing world of work. Yet she caveats these financial packages will be here to stay – and in an uncertain economy, more workers may end up sticking it out, no matter the circumstances. “Pre-2008, it was easier to grind it out and retire early – but very few now are able to make their millions and stop working at 35,” she says. “It’s more than a salary you’re tied to: it’s also lifestyle, friendship group and sense of worth.”

Lewis was able to quit his golden handcuffs role. He says on top of “a poor work-life balance, the long hours negatively impacting my relationship, the bullying culture,” he didn’t see a path to promotion, which pushed him over the edge.

Still, even though he’s taken a 10% pay-cut for his new job, he’s stayed in consulting – an industry with high compensation and expectations to match. He believes the pay-off between salary and work-life balance is still worth it. “I thought about leaving the industry, but the finances just aren’t there elsewhere,” he says. “Once you get to a certain salary, that’s what you’re worth – a big step down in salary just isn’t feasible.”