Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

By webdesk@voanews.com (Henry Ridgwell) Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a “mafia state.” Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.

Via:: Voice of America

NASA’s advanced soil moisture mapper launched into orbit (VIDEO)


The Delta II lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on California’s central coast, boosting SMAP into the Earth’s orbit at 9:22 a.m. EST (14:22 GMT) on Saturday.

“SMAP spacecraft is in excellent health,” SMAP project manager Kent Kellogg said during a post-launch press conference.

“We’re in contact with SMAP and everything looks good right now,” said NASA launch manager Tim Dunn.

The spacecraft has deployed its solar panels and begun generating power. During the next few weeks, SMAP is expected to reach its operational orbit, which is 685 kilometers (426 miles) high at an inclination of 98.1 degrees.

The instruments on the spacecraft will be turned on in 11 days, according to the mission’s timeline. Another three months will be spent on calibration and preparation for routine data collection. The first verified scientific results are expected to be released in about 15 months – the period needed to validate the measurements.

Some 45 participants of the Early Adopter program will get access to the mission’s raw data to test how it could be better integrated into their workflow. The program includes the US Department of Agriculture, US Geological Survey, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UN World Food Programme, and various international weather forecasters and researchers.

SMAP is a three-year mission to study the Earth’s surface and “produce the highest-resolution maps of soil moisture ever obtained from space,” according to the US space agency.

The new data obtained by the space observatory will allow scientists to “better predict natural hazards of extreme weather, climate change, floods and droughts,” NASA said.

Currently, the US government issues drought maps and flash flood guidance which are based on computer modeling. SMAP will take real-time measurements that can be incorporated into forecasts, said Dara Entekhabi, the mission’s science team leader from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the $916 million SMAP mission, with participation from the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Delta II’s launch was initially scheduled for January 29; however, it was delayed by unfavorable weather conditions.

Via:: RT.com

Tens of Thousands Rally in Madrid for Anti-Austerity Party

By webdesk@voanews.com (VOA News) Tens of thousands of people marched Saturday through the streets of Madrid in the biggest show of support yet for new anti-austerity party Podemos, which has been drawing comparisons to Greece’s new ruling party, Syriza.

The crowds chanted, “Yes, we can!” as they converged on the central Puerta del Sol square. Many waved Greek flags and signs reading, “The change is now.”

Podemos, which means “we can,” emerged just a year ago but is already poised to shake up the country’s traditional two-party system. In May, it produced a major shock by winning five seats in elections for the European Parliament.

Opinion polls show it could take the top spot in Spain’s general election later this year.

Led by political science professor Pablo Iglesias, 36, Podemos aims to emulate Syriza’s success in the Greek elections this past Sunday.

Both Spain and Greece have suffered devastating economic crises, resulting in massive unemployment and public spending cuts. Numerous political corruption scandals have only furthered public anger.

Spaniards frustrated with corruption and the political elite have flocked to Podemos and its message of change.

Critics of the party, meanwhile, have accused it of supporting left-wing governments in Latin America, including in Venezuela.

Via:: Voice of America