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NASA astronauts will test new SpaceX capsule, execute spacewalks



ORLANDO, Fla., May 25 (UPI) — Astronauts heading to space from U.S. soil for the first time in nine years will test SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule and perform spacewalks on the International Space Station.

The spacecraft, which will carry people for the first time, is scheduled to lift off at 4:33 p.m. EDT Wednesday and fly for 19 hours before docking at the space station.

Weather remains an uncertainty that day, however, with rain and a heavy cloud cover predicted. If the launch is postponed, NASA has said the next opportunity would come Saturday.

The capsule could make it to the space station quicker than in 19 hours, but astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are to conduct several tests, including flying Crew Dragon manually with its unique, high-tech touchscreen panel.

“This is a test flight. There are checkouts that we’re doing along the way,” said Kathy Leuders, NASA’s manager of the Commercial Crew Program. “So we picked a day and time when we can do that on the way to the ISS. This is a really, really important flight for us, and we’ve got two great test pilots.”

The first manual test will occur on the evening of the launch. Astronauts are to conduct another manual test briefly as they approach the space station for docking the next morning.

Astronauts also will try out various life-support features on the capsule, including meals — unheated, according to NASA.

“Bob and Doug are gonna get the chance to try sleeping in the Dragon, also,” said Benjamin Reed, SpaceX’s director of crew mission management.

Upon return, the astronauts will pack the capsule with a few space experiments that have been aboard the space station, and then experience the first splashdown of a capsule carrying humans since the Apollo era, in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.

The mission originally called for only a few days aboard the space station, but NASA announced that would be extended due to necessary space station maintenance. Behnken and Hurley will be there for one to four months, depending on how quickly the work is accomplished.

Behnken is set to participate in five spacewalks with astronaut Chris Cassidy, who already is on the space station with two Russian cosmonauts. Hurley will support the two by controlling robotic systems while inside orbiting laboratory.

Four of the spacewalks are required to replace the space station’s nickel-hydrogen batteries, which are charged by immense solar panels.

Cassidy and Behnken also are to install new equipment onto the European Space Agency’s module, preparing it for a new platform that will host scientific experiments.

A fifth spacewalk will install new communications upgrades on the European module.

A sixth spacewalk is possible later in the summer, NASA said.

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‘Invisible’ words reveal common structure among famous stories



Aug. 7 (UPI) — Storytelling requires a narrative arc, but the trajectory of a dramatic arc isn’t always obvious.

By tracing the abundance of “invisible” words — pronouns, articles and other short words — researchers were able to identify patterns shared by a diversity of stories, from Shakespeare to Spielberg, according to a study published Friday in Science Advances.

“Over the years, these ‘invisible’ words have been found to be related to a whole mess of psychological processes — how people use small words like articles and pronouns tell us about a person’s mental health, thinking style, their social status, and even how well they get along with other people,” study lead author Ryan Boyd told UPI.

“In many ways, it was a natural progression to look at what these words can tell us how the nature of stories,” said Boyd, a lecturer in behavioral analytics at the University of Leeds.

For the study, Boyd and his colleagues used a range of statistical techniques to analyze the abundance and distribution of invisible words in 40,000 fictional texts, including short stories, novels and movie scripts.

The analysis revealed a common structure — a so-called narrative curve — featuring three distinct phases.

During the “staging” phase, authors use prepositions and articles in greater abundance, peppering their prose with “a” and “the.” These words are more useful at the beginning, when authors must set the scene and provide the audience with basic information.

The middle phase is defined by plot progression, which is revealed by a greater abundance of auxiliary verbs, adverbs and pronouns — or interactional language. During this phase, “the house” from the staging phase becomes “her home” or “it.”

During the third phase, cognitive tension is ramped up as the narrative arc reaches a climax. As the author guides the reader or viewer through the process of conflict resolution, cognitive-processing words like “think,” “believe,” “understand” and “cause” begin to crop up in greater numbers.

Researchers found this three-phase narrative shape remained consistent, regardless of a stories length.

“A 25,000 word story has the same shape as a 250 word story,” said Boyd, lead author of the new study. “It seems, then, that we are able to do a good job of structuring our stories in an optimal way regardless of how much space we have to do it in.”

The researchers set up a website showing the shapes of staging, plot progression and cognitive tension in eight texts at The Arc of Narrative website.

The patterns left by invisible words proved both good and bad stories — tales spun by amateurs, as well as professionals — utilize similar structures.

“Our results confirm what people have long believed about stories,” Boyd said. “Like DNA, we knew about it long before we could actually see it and measure it. With these new methods, we are able to see and measure the ‘DNA’ of stories and understand them in more objective, scientific ways.”

According to Boyd, studying the patterns of stories can offer insights into cognitive processes unique to humans.

“What these story shapes seem to tell us is that we have, to some degree, evolved to process information in certain ways,” he said. “We need to understand the ‘who’ and ‘what’ in order to understand the ‘why’ of our everyday lives and the lives of others.”

The authors of the latest story are already mining text for other language patterns that might help researchers determine whether a story-teller is telling the truth, or perhaps reveal the secrets to a “good” story.

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Florida Current study confirms decline in strength of Gulf Stream



Aug. 7 (UPI) — New research suggests the strength of the Florida Current, which forms the beginning of the Gulf Stream, has weakened considerably over the last century.

The findings, published Friday in the journal Nature Climate Change, corroborate the predictions of several models that suggest the Gulf Stream has slowed over the last several decades.

The Florida Current is a thermal ocean current that flows from west to east around the tip of Florida, joining the Gulf Stream off Florida’s east coast.

Scientists have been tracking the strength of the Florida Current since the early 1980s — not long enough to identify multi-decadal or centennial trends.

To better understand the current’s historical changes, Christopher Piecuch, researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, decided to study the relationship between coastal sea level and the strength of near-shore currents.

While researchers have only been measuring the Florida Current for a few decades, scientists have been recording sea level data since the early 1900s. Piecuch was able to use the data to predict historic changes in the strength of near-shore currents.

“In the ocean, almost everything is connected,” Christopher Piecuch, sole author of the new study, said in a news release. “We can use those connections to look at things in the past or far from shore, giving us a more complete view of the ocean and how it changes across space and time.”

The statistical analysis performed by Piecuch showed the Florida Current and Gulf Stream are the weakest they’ve been during the last 110 years.

The findings are in agreement with ocean current models that suggest climate change has caused a slowdown of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, of which the Gulf Stream is a part.

Piecuch said he hopes his research will help other scientists use coastal current data to study changes in bigger currents like the Gulf Stream.

“If we can monitor something over the horizon by making measurements from shore, then that’s a win for science and potentially for society,” he said.

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SpaceX, ULA win large government launch contracts



Astronauts make round trip to space station from U.S. soil

NASA astronaut Douglas Hurley (C) waves to onlookers as he boards a plane at Naval Air Station Pensacola to return him and NASA astronaut Robert Behnken home to Houston a few hours after the duo landed in their SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft off the coast of Pensacola, Fla,, on August 2, 2020. Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA | License Photo

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