Efforts To Protect Ukrainian Heritage And Culture

Assisting Museum Workers in Ukraine.

The founders of Museum Crisis Center talk about what they're doing to protect museum employees and preserve Ukraine's cultural legacy. 

Along with citizens, many art and cultural landmarks in Ukraine are destroyed by Russia's full-scale assault. 

During the first 20 days of the conflict, Russian soldiers bombarded local historical museums in Chernihiv, Okhtyrka, and Ivankiv, as well as an art museum, architectural monuments in Kharkiv, and many more. 

They landed a 500-kilogram bomb on the Donetsk Regional Drama Theatre in Mariupol, where over a thousand people were fleeing the bombardment as of this writing. 

While the Ukrainian government is focusing on preserving the country's art assets, local history and modern art are still under danger from the conflict. 

Furthermore, museum staff in the area often put their lives on the line to protect exhibits in combat zones. 

Local residents, cultural professionals, and NGOs create separate efforts and remove art that has a lower chance of surviving the conflict to rescue ignored Ukrainian history from extinction. 

Olha Honchar, director of the Lviv museum "The Territory of Terror," requested on Facebook on March 3 whether there were any funding available to help Ukrainian artists and institutions during the conflict. 

"Meanwhile, we start building such a fund ourselves," she said later. 

Olha created Museum Crisis Center, a grassroots project aiming at assisting museum personnel in disaster situations and evacuating artworks, in collaboration with the team from the NGO Insha Osvita. 

The first contributions to the newly created fund were made the following day. 

The center's principal purpose was to provide immediate financial and organizational help to museum personnel, many of whom were caught in the middle of the battle and unable to maintain themselves. 

The center must find methods to bypass lengthy bureaucratic procedures in order to assist people who want urgent assistance. 

Conversation with Olha Honchar and Alyona Karavai, co-founders of the Museum Crisis Center, on the balance between legal requirements and efficiency in times of crisis, as well as their critical viewpoints on international humanitarian institutions. 

Tell us about your organization's activities. 

Honchar, Olha: We have offices in Ivano-Frankivsk and Lviv [both in Ukraine's west]. 

We pooled our resources and enlisted the help of other individuals to establish the Museum Crisis Center, often known as the Museum Emergency. 

In war-torn places where museum personnel are under threat, I arrange immediate help. 

We collect contributions for necessities such as food, water, and medication. 

Many museum employees have not been paid, and their expenditures have risen as a result. 

Our objective is to guarantee that these individuals survive the battle and that [rescue teams] can reconstruct the museums that have been damaged. 

As a result, our daily routine consists of monitoring needs, obtaining funding, and making humanitarian shipments. 

We're working on an efficient algorithm for our work with the NGO "Insha Osvita" since it's difficult to react to people's needs swiftly in the bureaucratic Ukrainian system. 

Everything is set up to accommodate a lengthy bureaucracy. 

However, in many of the places where we operate, there are no accountants, the treasury is destroyed, or the cultural department is shut down. 

As a result, the only method to assist is to transfer money on a personal card. 

It is our responsibility to make it public and persuade funders that assistance is received by people who need it. 

The rehabilitation of museums and infrastructure will be the next phase, but these are large-scale projects. 

At this time, it is critical to assist teams and individuals so that rebuilding may begin later. 

You're also helping to evacuate works, concentrating on grassroots activities and art projects that will be the last to be brought to the notice of official cultural heritage organizations. 

Alyona Karavai: I'm Alyona Karavai, and I'm Or they won't show up at all. 

We met with the Minister of Culture the other day, and they told us that they were focusing on things that are considered "of cultural importance" under Ukrainian legislation, which means objects that are 50 years old or older. 

The fundamental goal of their organization is to conserve huge national collections. 

As a result, they are unable to assist even the modest state museums under their jurisdiction. 

Grassroots efforts and modern art, on the other hand, are typically outside of their area of influence. 

We [the NGO "Insha Osvita") remove artwork from artists' studios, private collections, and art museums. 

How often do you get requests for assistance, and do you do any specific tasks? 

Karavai, Alyona: There is no option to choose from. We try to assist everyone we can. 

We've had 17 requests for help, and we've only been able to fulfill six of them thus far. 

Mariupol had made a request, but it was evident that we couldn't aid there any more. 

There are certain things over which we have no control. 

We attempt to assess a scenario to see whether it is within our grasp or beyond our capabilities. 

Do you solely deal with platforms, or may artists who wish to preserve their work come to you for assistance? 

Karavai, Alyona: Anyone can do it. So far, we've received more requests from artists. 

We won't identify the people we're evacuating, but we've been contacted by well-known outlets in Ukraine. 

Honchar, Olha: We assist museums with which we have personal relationships. 

Our monitoring team consists of museum employees [and] center directors who communicate with one another and acquire information regarding requirements. 

Because there are so many dubious scenarios and bogus news these days, it's critical that we do this via proven connections. 

People are hesitant to reveal what they have in museum collections since it is unknown how this data will be used. 

That's why we depend on our trusted network and work with the close relationships I've developed over the course of my career, including as the director of the "Territory of Terror." Other emergency teams are dispatched on the basis of institutions and cultural groups at the same time. 

Everyone has enough heritage since there is so much of it. 

Our main emphasis is on tiny regional museums that are near to us. 

How can you safely evacuate and transport artwork? 

Karavai, Alyona: On the ground, we have a few volunteers. Some citizens in Kyiv and Odesa assist with the evacuation of artworks via bus. 

We've been on the lookout for a vehicle. 

It takes a long time to locate any since we are not a transportation firm and have never done anything like this before. 

There were times when we located an automobile just to have it drop at the last moment. 

The scenario on the highways is rapidly evolving. 

So just because we were allowed to utilize a route yesterday does not indicate we will be able to do so tomorrow. 

How many buildings have you already evacuated? 

Karavai, Alyona: [Over 400 works] have already been placed in storage. 

We are only a transshipment point; the works are then passed on to storage [hubs]. 

Do you get any aid from Ukraine's Ministry of Culture? 

Karavai, Alyona: They are unable to assist us, but we are able to converse with them. 

I hastened to meet with the minister so that they were aware of our existence; they had seen our news release, and we had a collaborative discussion about what we do. 

They do not, however, offer us with resources, and we do not anticipate their doing so. 

Their current mission is to conserve huge collections. 

We're searching for outside assistance. 

In Ukraine, you underline that you do not accept contributions from private persons. 

What are your financial sources? 

Karavai, Alyona: They come from the outside. 

[…] We have received offers of assistance from individual donors and organizations such as UNESCO. 

We recognize that resources exist elsewhere, and we do not want to exhaust our already limited resources in Ukraine. 

Could you, as an NGO, remove a state museum's collection? 

Karavai, Alyona: No, we won't be able to. 

We have no legal authority to do so. 

There are also constraints on what may be taken out of Ukraine and what the EU would recognize as not stealing cultural assets. 

What are the most serious threats to creative heritage today? What are the most popular destinations right now?

Honchar, Olha: We were at a UNESCO conference today, and everyone stated they didn't think Russia had bombarded our museums, archives, and cathedrals by mistake. 

This seems to be a purposeful attempt to destroy Ukrainian culture. 

These acts are consistent with Putin's assertion that Ukraine has no legal right to exist. 

The archives' directors discussed the assaults on the archives, which have proof and historical records documenting Russia's mistreatment of Ukraine. 

The purpose is to obliterate our culture and install the 'Pax Russica.' 

We informed UNESCO that all war norms, conventions, laws, and prohibitions on assaults on civilians, doctors, the press, and museums are ineffective [here]. 

This battle should not be compared to the Second World War since it is a new kind of evil that is now raging in our land. 

The rest of the globe is in danger as well. 

Because all of the norms have been violated, we must devise a new strategy for surviving the conflict and reviving the lost [legacy]. 

Ukrainian culture may teach us a lot about how to fight evil, particularly totalitarian regimes like Russia. 

The birth of a new planet is taking place right in front of our eyes. 

It also demonstrates that the bureaucracy has made a mistake. 

On every level. 

Now, NGO's like ours may be more successful than current international grants that were created to address these particular needs. 

We're currently creating new game rules. 

Because the old world is no longer functioning, new leaders must emerge in culture. 

Karavai, Alyona: [In this conflict]...  Nothing can be solved with money. 

It is not about money when it comes to evacuating art or supporting institutions; it is about human resources and horizontal linkages, the strength of civic society when there are people who care and are prepared to assist. 

Which of the storylines about Ukraine that have recently arisen in the international media do you believe should be stressed and understood? 

Karavai, Alyona: Everyone now agrees that Russia should leave us alone, and that no one in Ukraine wants to surrender. 

People seek self-determination, which is why Ukraine's agency exists. 

I think it's great that a growing number of cultural leaders are advocating for seeing Russian contemporary culture through the prism of postcolonialism. 

Our difficulties do not arise spontaneously; it is not that we [Russia's surrounding nations] are all suicidal in the presence of Russia; rather, it is Russia [that behaves violently]. 

I'm not sure whether we persuaded the international community this time, but it's at least stated more clearly today. 

Honchar, Olha: I'm hoping that the takeaway from this circumstance for us is that we should not reduce cultural programs. 

Culture, like military, should be a strategic goal for Ukraine. 

The vulnerability of museums today, during the war, was not from a desire to fix windows or pack exhibits, but from a lack of funds. 

Museum employees are currently in the most vulnerable position conceivable. 

That has to change. 

Russia provided a very different degree of cultural assistance. 

We must recognize that [politics and culture] are intertwined, and that this conflict must result in cultural shifts. 

What can citizens in the United States do right now to support Ukrainian art and culture? 

Karavai, Alyona: First and foremost, I would want to urge you to learn more about Ukraine and think on the current situation. 

Suddenly is the moment to pay attention to our artists and culture, to comprehend what we're talking about, and why Ukrainian artists are now refusing to sit on panels or participate in conversations with Russian counterparts. 

Donations are vital, but so is paying attention to these problems and listening to our concerns. 

I would suggest monitoring the Ukrainian Emergency Fund, which supports Ukrainian artists, among the foundations. 

If there is a desire to support local museums in small towns and villages, you may reach out to us, certain that the funds will reach museum personnel without the usual bureaucratic delays. 

The powerlessness and futility of key international organizations like the OSCE, the Red Cross, and the United Nations has been on our minds a lot lately. 

Although their funds for Ukraine are substantial, they have little direct influence and efficiency. 

Donating to local organizations makes a lot more sense. 

Honchar, Olha: We have sponsored 137 persons and 30 organizations in 8 districts with over 5,000 euros in these days and since March 3. 

This is a little quantity of money, however it was entirely used towards immediate assistance. 

Most [Ukrainian] organizations are unable to take this money since the legislation prohibits such payments [for state museums], particularly when it originates from overseas. 

Because we function as a middleman for these payments, we are receiving an increasing number of requests. 

Alyona Karavai: [The conflict has proved that] museum reform is necessary. 

Because they are unable to legally receive money from overseas, well-known Ukrainian institutions come to us. 

Although people are willing to give, such transactions are prohibited. 

Without the need of middleman firms like ourselves, foreign partners should be able to fund museums like the one in Ivankiv.

~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan

Find Jai on Twitter | LinkedIn | Instagram

Coronovirus COVID-19 vs. Hackathons

Thousands of technology enthusiasts and others are flocking to a new wave of hackathons created to fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
The low-sleep, high-octane sessions have attracted participants world-wide to team up online and suggest solutions to problems such as the equipment shortage for health providers or a better way to track the spread of Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.
“Everyone is looking at the urgency of the situation,” said Youseph Yazdi, executive director at Johns Hopkins Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design, which organized a five-day hackathon in the last week of March that attracted 513 teams with 2.331 applicants from 34 countries.
That hackathon was around thematic areas including how to communicate effectively about Covid-19, prevention of transmission within communities and health-care equipment shortages.
Among the ideas that emerged were a location-based mobile application to track traffic in grocery stores for effective social-distancing practices, and a tool for messaging platforms to tag misinformation by analyzing keywords and redirecting users to trusted news sources.
It was the first hackathon for Helen Xun, a medical student on leave from Johns Hopkins, whose team reviewed and refined design files of 3-D printed parts such as filters and splitters so ventilators could be shared among multiple patients. The team had already prototyped parts ahead of the hackathon, but got fresh ideas on designs and materials.
“The hackathon opened this international forum for us to talk to people globally to assess the actual needs,” Ms. Xun said.
Hackathons were made popular decades ago by the software community as communal, all-night sessions, often powered by pizza and various caffeinated beverages. Social distancing means today’s hackathons are conducted online, with interactions among team members happening over videoconferencing and chat tools from Zoom Video Communications and Slack Technologies Inc.
The rapid spread of the coronavirus, which caught many officials flat-footed, has paved the way for community-sourced solutions, ranging from hackathons to 3-D printing.
“Doctors are leading the fight, but a lot of people would love to find ways to engage and help,” said Sam Lessin, a general partner at venture-capital firm Slow Ventures, which helped organize a hackathon last month, with about 19,000 participants from across 175 countries, working on themes suggested by partners such as the World Health Organization.
Hackathon participants are expected to experiment to find solutions, making such events better equipped to tackle aspects of complex problems, said Estonia’s Minister of Trade’s Kaimar Karu.
More than 1,000 people from around 20 countries participated in a remote hackathon that the Estonia government and local companies organized last month
“There’s no known way out of this,” he said. “You can only try, experiment at a small scale and based on the results you can amplify this. If it doesn’t work at all, you essentially kill [the idea],” he said.
Last weekend, Massachusetts Institute of Technology hosted a 48-hour Beat the Pandemic hackathon in which 1,500 participants worked in 238 teams.

MIT’s Covid-19 hackathon participants had access to multiple data sets.

Rebecca Sereda, a researcher in the stem-cell and regenerative-biology department at Harvard University, was part of a team that in 40 hours created a mobile app that used machine learning to score individuals on immunity to Covid-19, similar to a credit score, based on data such as location, age, interactions, and health history. The team is refining the app and preparing to launch it.
“It was extremely chaotic because people are constantly messaging, there’s a million notifications going at once from all these different Slack channels,” Ms. Sereda said about the experience.
MIT provided access to open data sets including JHU’s epidemiological data repository and Covid-19 information compiled by the World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We had many partners from the health-care space and clinical partners involved. It is up to them to work with the teams to take the solutions developed and work toward putting those in market,” said Paul Cheek, a hacker-in-residence at Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, which organized the hackathon.

Leadership Lessons for all times & Some specific pointers for Surviving times of Crisis

Person jumping from cliff to another showing concept of success in business and leadership
Credit: Onchira Wongsiri/Shutterstock
Over the past 1 1/2 years two iconic corporate leaders of the 20th and early 21st century passed away: Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines and Jack Welch of General Electric. Both built phenomenally successful companies during their tenures. Both had unique leadership styles, that differed in many ways. However, there were a number of striking similarities, that provide leadership lessons for all times and some specific pointers for surviving times of crisis. Not surprisingly, these are characteristics called out in the Baldrige Excellence Framework and displayed by leaders of Baldrige Award recipient organizations across all sectors. Let me share the characteristics I gleaned from numerous readings about these two leaders and summarized in these articles about Kelleher and Welch.  I will relate them to the Baldrige framework and then to important lessons for times of challenge.
There were six important characteristics that these two leaders shared:
  1. Give people (employees, colleagues) a sense of purpose. Inspire them through participation in the mission and vision of the organization. Make sure every employee has a line-of-sight from their responsibilities to the outcomes the organization is striving to achieve.
  2. Be visible to the employees of the organization. Communicate frequently and be seen in the work environment. Listen to employees, don't just share your message for them. Active listening motivates employees and excites them with your enthusiasm for their work and ideas. Those ideas could be the source of your next organizational innovation.
  3. Value people. Treat all employees with dignity. Show gratitude and emphasize recognizing employee contributions. If employees come first, they will treat customers equally well and shareholders will benefit. Two-time Baldrige Award recipient, Ritz-Carlton, has a motto that has withstood the test of time, workforce diversity, and workforce generations, "We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen." The lowest-paid hourly employee is valued equally to a hotel guest. Actually, maybe more than any guest because the Ritz-Carlton will find another hotel accommodation for any guest who mistreats an employee.
  4. Build trust. Be transparent and honest in all interactions with employees. Messages should include positive statements, but not at the expense of full disclosure of troubling situations. Story-telling and sharing personal stories of successes and failures build trust. Demonstrate caring for employees' personal stories. For more on building trust, check this old Insights on the Road to Performance Excellence blog, entitled If You Want to Build Trust, Collect Trash.
  5. Be strategically agile. The external environment is constantly changing. Competitors disappear and new ones arise from adjacent industries. Constant assessment and reprioritization are keys to survival and success.
  6. Focus on innovation. Jack Welch always checked to see if the company was riding the right wave. Herb Kelleher treated competition from other airlines as an opportunity to innovate, starting with the belief that Southwest was in the customer service industry, not the airline industry. Welch and Kelleher set high expectations and employees innovated to deliver on those expectations because they knew they and their ideas were valued.
Not surprisingly, all of these six topics are addressed in the Baldrige Excellence Framework. Let me illustrate with some specific examples:
  • These six concepts are embedded in the Baldrige Core Values, which underpin the questions in the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence (part of the Baldrige Excellence Framework). The relevant core values are: Visionary LeadershipValuing PeopleOrganizational Learning and AgilityFocus on SuccessManaging for Innovation, and Ethics and Transparency.
  • The Leadership category of the criteria ask these questions: How do senior leaders deploy the vision and values through the leadership system, to the workforce....? How do senior leaders communicate with and engage the entire workforce? How do they encourage frank, two-way communication, communicate key decisions and needs for organizational change, and take a direct role in motivating the workforce toward high performance? How do senior leaders create an environment for success now and in the future? How do they create and enforce your organizational culture? How do they cultivate organizational agility...innovation, and intelligent risk-taking? How do senior leaders create a focus on action...and demonstrate personal accountability for the organization's actions?
  • The Strategy category of the criteria ask these questions: How does your strategy development process stimulate and incorporate innovation? How do you recognize and respond when circumstances require a shift in action plans and rapid execution of new plans?
  • The Workforce category of the criteria ask these questions: How do you determine the key drivers of workforce engagement? How do you foster an organizational culture that is characterized by open communication, high performance, and an engaged workforce? 
  • The Operations category of the criteria ask these questions: How do you pursue your opportunities for innovation? How do you ensure that your organization is prepared for disasters or emergencies?
How are you using the lessons learned from Jack Welch and Herb Kelleher to survive in challenging times? How are you giving employees a sense of purpose at this time? Are you visible to employees, even if they are working remotely? Are you giving employees an opportunity to communicate with you and are you treating them with dignity? Are you listening to their ideas? Are you being open, honest, and transparent in your interactions with employees, sharing the current situation for the organization? Are you being organizationally agile and looking for opportunities for innovation and greater safety?

Airline Industry is looking to Rewrite the Rules it Agreed to tackle Global Emissions

With global air travel at a near standstill, the airline industry is looking to rewrite the rules it agreed to tackle global emissions. The Guardian reports that the airline is billing it as a matter of survival, while environmental activists are accusing the industry of trying to dodge their obligations.

The governing body of the airline industry, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has warned that airlines will start to pull out of a plan to offset and reduce carbon emissions if the International Civil Aviation Organization does not amend the rules, according to The Guardian.

The issue is that future offsets are determined by a benchmark that averages emissions from 2019 and 2020. The higher the emissions are, the higher the bar will be set and the less the airlines will have to pay. Rather than commit to a low-carbon future, though, the airline-lobbying group is complaining that the global pandemic has reduced emissions so drastically that it will push the average down too much and future carbon targets will be too steep a challenge, as The Guardian reported.

The Green Alliance found that before the coronavirus lockdowns the airlines' plans to reduce emissions would not meet the requirements of the Paris agreement.

As The Guardian reported, James Elliott, a Green Alliance policy adviser, said, "Calls to reduce burdens on the [aviation] sector as it recovers are understandable. But the climate emergency also presents an urgent challenge which must be addressed. If the sector cannot find ways to rebuild itself sustainably after the Covid-19 crisis, it will face painful disruption again in the future as its part in the climate emergency has to be addressed."

A new investigation by Unearthed revealed that the airline industry is coordinating efforts around the world to push governments and airports around the world to roll back environmental taxes. Furthermore, the papers Unearthed found are a strategy to lobby for public money to be poured into funds to restart or maintain air travel and for any planned tax increases to be delayed for up to a year.

Emirates, America's largest international airline, has gone one step further than the IATA recommended and asked the New York Port Authority to defer any tax obligations until 2022, according to a letter from the CEO of Emirates, as reported by Unearthed.
Jo Dardenne, aviation manager at campaign group Transport and Environment, told Unearthed, "We fear that this list of demands is a way for airlines to reduce charges not only now but also once things go back to 'normal'.
"Any financial aid to the sector should be conditional on them paying their taxes and committing to governments' plans to regulate the climate impact of the sector. Given the current climate emergency, governments can't afford to be bailing out polluting sectors without strict green conditions."

IATA's director general, Alexandre de Juniac, told The Guardian that the industry was not relinquishing its responsibilities.

"We haven't given up our environmental goals … After the recovery we will continue to reduce emissions and noise footprints – that hasn't changed," he said. "This crisis is a matter of survival for the industry … We are asking governments for urgent help. Of course we will comply with our environmental obligations. Before that, we have to survive – or there will be no issue with the environment, the industry will have disappeared."

Greenpeace, however, is appalled by what the industry is asking for and takes issue with carbon offsets as responsible environmental stewardship. "At the same time as they're asking for huge government bailouts, airlines are also lobbying furiously to dodge their obligations towards cutting carbon emissions," said John Sauven, Greenpeace UK's executive director, as The Guardian reported. "Offsetting schemes have always been big polluters' favorite excuse to carry on polluting while shifting responsibility for their emissions to someone else. The industry's current proposal would only make the buck-passing easier."

Mars Mystery: Curiosity Rover Makes Big Discovery ?

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has apparently made a discovery "for the history books," but we'll have to wait a few weeks to learn what the new Red Planet find may be, media reports suggest.

The discovery was made by Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars instrument, NPR reported today (Nov. 20). SAM is the rover's onboard chemistry lab, and it's capable of identifying organic compounds — the carbon-containing building blocks of life as we know it.

SAM apparently spotted something interesting in a soil sample Curiosity's huge robotic arm delivered to the instrument recently.

"This data is gonna be one for the history books," Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger, of Caltech in Pasadena, told NPR. "It's looking really good."

The rover team won't be ready to announce just what SAM found for several weeks, NPR reported, as scientists want to check and double-check the results. Indeed, Grotzinger confirmed to SPACE.com that the news will come out at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, which takes place Dec. 3-7 in San Francisco.

The $2.5 billion Curiosity rover landed inside Mars' huge Gale Crater on Aug. 5, kicking off a two-year mission to determine if Mars has ever been capable of supporting microbial life.....

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International Space Station Opens Launch Pad for Tiny Satellites

Astronauts on the International Space Station have transformed their high-flying laboratory into a new kind of launch pad for tiny satellites in a bid to boost student interest and access to space.

This month, the space station's Expedition 33 crew launched five tiny Cubesats, each only a few inches wide, using a small satellite orbital deployer from Japan's space agency JAXA. They were the first Cubesat satellites ever launched from the International Space Station, coming 2 1/2 years after NASA announced the CubeSat program.

"This was a learning experience for everyone," said Andres Martinez, the NASA Ames project manager for one of the satellites.

The cubesats were launched from the station's Japanese Kibo laboratory on Oct. 4, which also marked the 55th anniversary of the world's first satellite launch in 1957 that placed Russia's Sputnik 1 in orbit and ushered in the Space Age. [Photos: Tiny Satellites Launch from Space Station]

"Fifty-five  years ago we launched the first satellite from Earth. Today we launched them from a spacecraft," space station commander Sunita Williams of NASA said on launch day to mark the moment. "Fifty years from now, I wonder where we'll be launching them from."

The JAXA satellite-deploying device arrived at the station aboard a Japanese cargo ship in July. Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide placed the deployer, which is about the size of a small rabbit cage, into a small airlock in the Kibo lab. Then, the astronaut sealed the airlock, opened it up to space, and commanded the station's Kibo robotic armto pick up the deployer and bring it outside for satellite deployment.

All told, the procedure took only four hours of astronaut time – with no spacewalk required.

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Regional Dust Storm Dissipating

A regional dust storm visible in the southern hemisphere of Mars in this nearly global mosaic of observations made by the Mars Color Imager on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Nov. 25, 2012, has contracted from its size a week earlier (http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA16450). 
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

PASADENA, Calif. -- A regional dust storm on Mars, tracked from orbit since Nov. 10, appears to be abating rather than going global.

"During the past week, the regional storm weakened and contracted significantly," said Bruce Cantor of Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. Cantor uses the Mars Color Imager camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to monitor storms on the Red Planet.

Effects of the storm on global air-pressure patterns have been detected at ground level by the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity.

"We are getting lots of good data about this storm," said Mark Richardson of Ashima Research, Pasadena, Calif. He is a co-investigator both on REMS and on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's Mars Climate Sounder instrument, which has been detecting widespread effects of the current storm on atmospheric temperatures.

Researchers anticipate that the unprecedented combination of a near-equatorial weather station at ground level, and daily orbital observations during Mars' dust-storm season, may provide information about why some dust storms grow larger than others.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project and the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Spain provided the REMS weather station for the Mars Science Laboratory mission's rover, Curiosity.....

For more information about the missions of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, visit http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/ .

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Global Sea Level Resumes Long Term Upward Climb

A new NASA study finds that global sea level, which dipped sharply in 2010-11 due to a strong La Nina event, has recovered and resumed its long-term upward climb. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/CNES

            For most of the past two decades, the NASA and European Topex/Poseidon, Jason-1 and Jason-2 satellites have tracked the gradual rise of the world's ocean in response to global warming. In August 2011, scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and the University of Colorado in Boulder reported that global sea level rise had hit a speed bump (see "NASA Satellites Detect Pothole on Road to Higher Seas,": http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2011-262 ).

The researchers found that between early 2010 and summer 2011, global sea level fell sharply, by about a quarter of an inch, or half a centimeter. Using data from the NASA/German Aerospace Center's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) spacecraft, they showed that the drop was caused by the very strong La Nina that began in late 2010. This periodic Pacific Ocean climate phenomenon changed rainfall patterns all over our planet, moving huge amounts of Earth's water from the ocean to the continents, primarily to Australia, northern South America and Southeast Asia.

Now, a new paper published recently in the journal Geophysical Research Letters documents the effects of the 2010-11 La Nina on global sea level and updates the measurements. The result: as predicted, by mid-2012, global mean sea level had not only recovered from the more than 0.2 inches (5 millimeters) it dropped in 2010-11, but had resumed its long-term mean annual rise of 0.13 inches (3.2 millimeters) per year. Results of the new study are presented graphically at: http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA16294 .

"The water the ocean 'lost' was compensated for rather quickly," said lead study author Carmen Boening of JPL. "The newest data clearly indicate that the drop in 2010-11 was only temporary."

JPL co-author Josh Willis added that, like clockwork, the long-term rise of the ocean marches on. "The dip in global sea levels, brought to us courtesy of a major La Nina event, was little more than a pothole in the long road toward a rising ocean and shrinking coastlines," he said.

"In 2011, we detected a lot of water that was temporarily stored over land, causing severe flooding in some regions," said JPL co-author Felix Landerer. "In 2012, we have seen much of this water find its way back into the ocean."

For more information on NASA's satellite altimetry missions, visit: http://sealevel.jpl.nasa.gov/ . For more on GRACE, visit: http://www.csr.utexas.edu/grace/ .

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A Smog-Fighting Billboard

A Smog-Fighting Billboard For Los Angeles?

           Vermont may have helped to protect the aesthetics of its natural landscapes through its state-wide billboard ban. But in Los Angeles — and possibly cities all over the world — billboards may actually become part of the natural landscape, and help to improve urban air quality as well.

The Architect’s Newspaper reports that a group of architects and engineers called Urban Air has developed a technique for transforming existing urban billboards to living, suspended bamboo gardens. Embedded with intelligent technology — i.e., sensors and water misters that ensure the plants are properly hydrated, should rain prove scarce — the UrbanAir billboard creates an open space in the urban skyline, and a place set aside for nature, even in heavily developed areas.

The billboard becomes both a work of art and a symbol of the integration of the natural and built environment  – as well as, of course, a practical tool for scrubbing dirty urban air. While the collective’s ambitions are global in scope, they aim to start with a billboard adjacent to LA’s 10 Freeway. That project is seeking crowdfunding via Kickstarter, giving Los Angelenos tired of both billboards and smog (as well as interested parties all over the world) the unique opportunity to fight the latter using the former.

As of Nov. 21, the group had raised around $34,of its $100,000 goal, with 20 days left in its campaign.

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Imagine floating, globally connected urban forests growing where billboards stand. Artist Stephen Glassman and his team are doing it.


     UrbanAir transforms existing urban billboards to living, suspended bamboo gardens. Embedded with intelligent technology, UrbanAir becomes a global node - an open space in the urban skyline… An artwork, symbol, and instrument for a green future.
Urban Air has been designed, engineered, and has secured the billboard to carry the flagship project. With your help, Urban Air will be towering above the Los Angeles freeways in the new year.

The vision doesn’t stop there. Upon a successful launch, it’s our plan and intention to transform the steel and wood of outdoor advertising into the infrastructure of urban sustainability in cities around the globe – actively, publicly, and collectively generating a green global future.

What has been done so far

        Urban Air was born as an artwork in the LA studio of artist Stephen Glassman. The image immediately sparked the interest of key vanguard professionals in related fields – engineering, technology, advertising, planning and business – and the Urban Air development team was born.

Urban Air garnered its first international recognition when it received the 2011 London International Creativity Award. Summit Media – a Los Angeles based billboard company - then volunteered to lend their support and donate prominent billboards along major LA thoroughfares to provide the launch pad for the first Urban Air prototype.

Since then we’ve been working intensely with structural and environmental engineers, planners, technologists, billboard fabricators, bamboo growers, plumbers and outdoor advertising specialists to design and produce a full scale working prototype that assures not only a successful single prototype, but also generates a system “kit” that enables any standard billboard to be easily transformed to a green, linked, urban forest.


         Working creatively on a large scale in the public realm is always a challenge. Lead Artist Stephen Glassman has a long history and substantial portfolio creating and producing high concept, large scale, structural artworks in the public domain. He understands navigating this frontier.

Billboards are a unique territory. We are fortunate to have the support and partnership of Summit Media. Through Summit, we have been working closely with licensed billboard fabricators and engineers that are specifically equipped to engineer, permit, and install custom billboards. Their expertise will be augmented by structural engineer Bruce Danziger of Arup – a premier global engineering firm that has engineered break through architectural landmarks around the world – from the Beijing Olympic Stadium to Seattle's Public Library. Stephen has collaborated with Buce and Arup on a half dozen prior projects.

The environmental sensors and intelligent technology is also a cutting edge territory, and for this Arup’s participation is again invaluable. Russell Fortmeyer is Arup’s senior sustainability and technology consultant. The technology we will be incorporating is all existing – it is only the context that is unique. Russell and Arup have many colleagues in this field that are excited to contribute. UrbanAir producer Steve Reiss and advisor Deborah Marton have long histories in environmental charitable development, and have worked with several technology companies who are excited to participate.

Like any authentic and vital artwork, the greatest risk and challenge UrbanAir faces is to create something that has never before existed – to embrace the unknown and create something from nothing. The key to UrbanAir’s success is its remarkable team – years of experience and proven expertise in cutting edge, civic scale projects. They are vanguard professionals inspired by bold challenges, and committed to creating a better world.

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80,000 Person Colony On Mars

SpaceX Founder Elon Musk Hopes to Establish 80,000 Person Colony On Mars

Newt Gingrich may have been decried as a lunatic when he declared his intent, if elected, to establish a colony on the moon — but he didn’t have the astronautical chops of SpaceX founder Elon Musk. At a recent presentation to London’s Royal Aeronautical Society, Musk stated that he envisions a “future 80,000-person colony as a public-private enterprise” on Mars. Previously Musk—also the billionaire brains behind Paypal, Tesla and the proposed solar-powered Hyperloop train—has said that he hopes for flights to Mars to be available through his private space travel company at a cost of around $500,000 per person.

Earlier this year, Musk’s SpaceX company set a milestone in space exploration when it sent the first private unmanned spacecraft to the International Space Station. With cut-backs in government spending on space exploration, SpaceX has a sizable niche to fill – and in the past Musk made no secret of his intent to send craft (and people) to Mars.

He elaborated on these ideas in his lecture to the Royal Aeronautical Society. In a summary of his plans he suggested that early flights would consist of 10 people or less, carrying larger amounts of supplies. But once a colony and flights are established there would be the possibility of transporting 100 people or more at any given time—and he believes that there would be enough individuals interested in selling their earthly possessions and moving to Mars to make a reasonable business case for the missions......

A Practical Detonation Engine.

Exploding Engine Could Reduce Fuel Consumption
The military and GE have made strides toward a practical detonation engine.

          A new kind of engine under development, called a detonation engine, could save the military hundreds of millions of dollars in fuel costs every year. The technology, which military researchers are working on together with scientists at GE and other companies, could reduce fuel consumption at power plants, in ships, and on airplanes by as much as 25 percent. The Navy alone estimates that retrofitting its ships with the technology would reduce annual fuel costs by $300 to $400 million.

It could be over a decade before such engines are put to practical use. But DARPA, having finished detailed plans, is now in the middle of a $62 million program aimed at building the first full-scale demonstration of one version of the technology. (GE is involved in the project: see “GE’s Risky Research.”) Meanwhile, Navy researchers are using sophisticated simulations to advance a version of the concept that could make it far more practical.

Detonation engines would replace jet engines in airplanes and the gas turbines that run power plants and Navy ships. A set of rotating blades at the front of those engines compresses air, which is then mixed with fuel and combusted in a steady flame. That produces hot gases that do the work an engine is designed to do, whether it’s turning a propeller, propelling a jet, or spinning a generator to produce electricity.

Improving the efficiency of conventional jet engines has involved finding ways to increase air compression. But the cost and complexity of that approach is making it harder to realize improvements. Detonation engines offer another way to achieve high pressures. In a detonation engine, fuel combustion generates a shock wave that raises pressures to levels 10 times those inside a conventional engine. “It’s like an explosion or a bomb,” says Kazhikathra Kailasanath, a researcher at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC. “If you burn something in an open flame, the pressure stays the same as the surrounding pressure. The big difference with a detonation engine is going from that to a confined type of combustion, where the pressure goes up and the combustion occurs more rapidly.”

The most highly developed form of detonation engine, which has been in the works for many years, is the pulse detonation engine, the type GE is developing. Whereas combustion occurs continuously in a conventional jet engine, pulse detonation involves setting off a series of detonations—say, 60 to 100 per minute.....

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Rotating Detonation Engines Could Replace Turbines in US Navy

Making Concentrated Solar Photo Voltaic More Attractive & Cost Effective

One Step Forward, One Step Back for Concentrated PV

CPV company SolFocus is up for sale, a reflection of rapidly falling solar power prices, while startup Semprius moves ahead on demo CPV system.

Solar collectors from Semprius use hundreds of very small solar cells with optics to concentrate light, a break with traditional CPV design. Credit: Semprius.

Many analysts and entrepreneurs foresee a healthy future for concentrated solar photovoltaic technology, but a massive oversupply of commodity solar panels is giving some investors cold feet.

Pioneering concentrated PV company SolFocus yesterday said it has restructured itself for a sale in the next few months and laid off most of its employees. The company, which has raised about $200 million, has a healthy pipeline of projects behind the 15 megawatts already installed. But its venture capital investors are unwilling to continue putting money into the company, which is not profitable.

A number of CPV companies have had to shut down or restructure because of severe downward price pressure for solar power. Startup GreenVolts said in September one of its investors, ABB, decided to pull out, which led to a sale of GreenVolts’ assets. Long-time CPV supplier Amonix earlier this year shut down a planned factory in Nevada because of soft demand.

But it hasn’t been all bad news for CPV. Startup Semprius said yesterday that Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne will install 200 kilowatts worth of its solar collectors at the Edwards Air Base in California for a demonstration program, a sign of confidence in Semprius’ novel technology

CPV panels traditionally use lenses and mirrors to concentrate sunlight to create the equivalent of several hundred “suns.” The light is focused onto high-efficiency triple junction cells, getting more electricity per area than conventional solar panels which have an efficiency of about 20 percent. Amonix last month said it achieved 33.5 percent conversion of sunlight to electricity. But these CPV systems, which only work in very sunny areas and require trackers to follow the sun, are more complex and costly to make.

The largest CPV plant in the U.S. is a 30-megawatt plant operated by Cogentrix in Colorado and analysts say the technology has advantages. IMS Research recently came out with a report predicting 1.2 gigawatts of CPV installed by 2016 because the technology has the potential to deliver a lower cost of energy than flat-plate solar panels.....

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Friction May Someday Charge Your Cell Phone

A nanogenerator made from inexpensive materials harvests mechanical energy and produces enough power to charge personal electronics.

The phenomenon that causes a painful shock when you touch metal after dragging your shoes on the carpet could someday be harnessed to charge personal electronics.

Researchers at Georgia Tech have created a device that takes advantage of static electricity to convert movement—like a phone bouncing around in your pocket—into enough power to charge a cell phone battery. It is the first demonstration that these kinds of materials have enough oomph to power personal electronics.

Excess energy produced when you walk, fidget, or even breathe can, in theory, be scavenged to power medical implants and other electronics. However, taking advantage of the energy in these small motions is challenging.

Zhong Lin Wang, a professor of materials science at Georgia Tech, has been working on the problem for several years, mostly focusing on piezoelectric materials that generate an electrical voltage under mechanical stress. Wang and others have amplified the piezoelectric effect by making materials structured at the nanoscale. So far, though, piezoelectric nanogenerators have not had very impressive power output.

Now Wang’s group has demonstrated that a different approach may be more promising: static electricity and friction. This is the effect at work when you run a plastic comb through your hair on a dry day, and it stands on end. The Georgia Tech researchers demonstrated that this static charge phenomenon, called the triboelectric effect, can be harnessed to produce power using a type of plastic, polyethylene terephthalate, and a metal. When thin films of these materials come into contact with one another, they become charged. And when the two films are flexed, a current flows between them, which can be harnessed to charge a battery. When the two surfaces are patterned with nanoscale structures, their surface area is much greater, and so is the friction between the materials—and the power they can produce.

The Georgia Tech nanogenerator can convert 10 to 15 percent of the energy in mechanical motions into electricity, and thinner materials should be able to convert as much as 40 percent, Wang says. A fingernail-sized square of the triboelectric nanomaterial can produce eight milliwatts when flexed, enough power to run a pacemaker. A patch that’s five by five centimeters can light up 600 LEDs at once, or charge a lithium-ion battery that can then power a commercial cell phone. Wang’s group described these results online in the journal Nano Letters.....

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