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Feds, tech fall short on watching extremists, Senate says

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The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are failing to adequately monitor domestic extremists, according to a new Senate report that also faulted social media platforms for encouraging the spread of violent and antigovernment content.

The report, issued Wednesday by the Senate Homeland Security panel, called on federal law enforcement to reassess its overall response to the threat of homegrown terrorism and extremism.

The report recommends creating new definitions for extremism that are shared between agencies, improved reporting on crimes linked to white supremacy and antigovernment groups, and better use of social media in an effort to prevent violence, said Sen. Gary Peters, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the committee.

Growing domestic extremism has been linked to the country’s widening political divide and a rise in distrust of institutions. Critics of social media’s role in radicalizing extremists say that misinformation and hate speech spread online is fueling the problem, and in some cases encouraging acts of real-world violence like the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

“Folks who were looking at what was happening on social media should have known that something very bad could potentially go down on Jan. 6 here at the Capitol,” Peters said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters.

The FBI emailed a statement to The Associated Press defending its handling of domestic terrorism in response to the report. The agency has provided comprehensive reports to Congress on the threat of domestic extremism motivated by racism or antigovernment views and tracks it carefully, the agency said.

“They are among the FBI’s top threat priorities,” the agency said.

A DHS spokesperson responded similarly Wednesday, saying the agency uses a “community-based approach to prevent terrorism and targeted violence, and does so in ways that protect privacy, civil rights and civil liberties.”

The leaders of both agencies are scheduled to testify before Peters’ committee on Thursday, part of its annual hearing on domestic threats.

Efforts by federal law enforcement to use social media to track domestic extremism have prompted questions about civil liberties and the targeting of communities of color. Republicans have accused tech platforms, meanwhile, of using content moderation to censor conservative opinions.

Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube were all singled out in the report for encouraging harmful content by using algorithms designed to increase user engagement. Those algorithms often prioritize clicks over quality, potentially sending users down a rabbit hole of increasingly provocative material.

The report noted that tech companies often use content moderation tools to remove or flag extremist content after it’s already spread. They should change their algorithms and products to ensure they aren’t encouraging the content in the first place, the report recommended.

“The rise in domestic terrorism can be partially attributed to the proliferation of extremist content on social media platforms and the failure of companies to effectively limit it in favor of action that increase engagement on their platforms,” the report concluded.

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NASA Administrator Names New Head of Space Technology

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Dr. Kurt “Spuds” Vogel will serve as the new associate administrator of the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced Tuesday. His appointment is effective immediately.

Vogel succeeds James Reuter, who retired from the agency in June 2023. Dr. Prasun Desai has served as the acting associate administrator since and now will return to his previous role as deputy associate administrator for STMD.

“With more than three decades of public service, including his most recent role as NASA’s director of Space Architecture, Spuds brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate,” said Nelson. “I am confident his leadership will help NASA continue pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with space technologies and advancing American leadership in space.”

In this role, Vogel is responsible for executive leadership, overall strategic planning and direction, and effective management for all elements of the Space Technology Programs executed under STMD’s $1.2 billion budget. He plans, directs, coordinates, and evaluates the full range of space technology programs and activities including budget formulation and execution, and represents the program to appropriate officials within and outside the agency.

Previously, Vogel was appointed as the director of space architectures within the Office of the Administrator at NASA Headquarters, a role he has served since July 19, 2021.

He joined the agency with 34 years of government experience, primarily in the Department of Defense.

Prior to his NASA appointment, Vogel served for six years at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), leading innovative research in stealth technology, electronic warfare, air-space integration, and space control systems. He managed a portfolio of classified, state-of-the-art, high-risk programs that spanned multiple DARPA offices.

Before joining DARPA, Vogel led research and development efforts at the Air Force Research Lab’s Systems Technology Office where he directed a Defense Department science and technology portfolio. He also served as the acting chief technologist for the National Reconnaissance Office’s Survivability Assurance Office. He retired from active duty in 2010 after serving more than 21 years in the U.S. Air Force in both the air and space domains.

Vogel holds a Doctor of Philosophy and Master of Science in Astronautical Engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology and a Bachelor of Science in Astronautical Engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy. He is a member of the national honor societies for both engineering and aerospace engineering.

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New Rocket, New Mission, New Doors to Open

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (FNN) – United Launch Alliance has long since planned to take the next leap in their ability to transport material to space for clients in more efficient and flexible ways than ever before. Ultimately with more demand than ever before for missions to low earth orbit and beyond, a new high yield workhorse vehicle needed to be made. Enter Vulcan, the first of a new generation for ULA.

Slated for it’s first launch on January 8th, 2024, the Vulcan CERT-1 mission is a test certification mission carrying two payloads, marking it’s first full flight demonstration.

The two payloads include the Astrobotic Peregrine commercial lunar lander and Celestis Memorial Spaceflight Payload. The lunar lander part of the mission will open new doors for private industry to assist with delivering scientific instruments and tools to the lunar surface ahead of future manned missions to our closest celestial neighbor. NASA and it’s International partners have long planned for Humans to return to The Moon for long term missions, and have more recently valued the idea of partnering with private industry partners to assist with missions that will speed up progress towards their mission goals.

 

The Peregrine Lander will be the first of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. We’ve already seen how useful private industry partners can be when looking at SpaceX’s commercial crew program which is set to launch it’s eighth crew of astronauts to The International Space Station later in the year.

Private industry partnerships are becoming more prevalent and important as time goes on, and expanding opportunities for new technologies to be developed and utilized is a larger focus for NASA other organizations. This mission will be an important first step in developing this idea.

The second payload contains cremated remains (ashes), DNA samples, and messages of greetings from clients worldwide into deep space. This second payload will continue it’s mission after the lunar lander has separated from the second stage towards it’s Trans-Lunar Insertion orbit.

Notable names who will be remembered on this memorial mission include Gene Roddenberry, his wife Majel Barrett Roddenberry (Gene being the original creator of the Star Trek television series), Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, and samples of past presidents of the United States (including John F. Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower).

Why is this rocket special compared to others previously launched with ULA?

Built for multiple configuration options utilizing up to 6 solid rocket boosters if needed for a flight profile, the Vulcan Rocket will offer clients a transport solution that is more powerful, efficient and cost effective than ever before with ULA. The primary stage uses two BE-4 engines, manufactured by Blue Origin, with an upper “Centaur” stage using two RL10C engines, which have been used in over 400 successful flights for other missions.

The first stage has a nominal sea level thrust of 550,000 lbs, with the upper stage at 24,000 lbs. All together with flexible fairing options to deliver more satellites to space, Vulcan will expand ULA’s ability to successfully launch multiple missions at more cost effective levels. Again, similar to missions that we have seen with SpaceX and their Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy Rockets, having the ability to provide services to multiple clients on single missions is proving to be of great importance for spaceflight companies.

More interested parties, means more launches, means more opportunities for business and competition.

Innovation and efficiency are the name of the game, and ULA is taking a great leap forward for their future.

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Tesla recalls over 2 million vehicles to fix defective system that monitors drivers using Autopilot

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FILE - The Tesla company logo shines off the rear deck of an unsold 2020 Model X at a Tesla dealership, April 26, 2020, in Littleton, Colo. Tesla is recalling more than 2 million vehicles across its model lineup to fix a defective system that’s supposed to ensure drivers are paying attention when they use Autopilot. Documents posted by U.S. safety regulators say the company will send out a software update to fix the problems. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

DETROIT (AP) — Tesla is recalling more than 2 million vehicles across its model lineup to fix a defective system that’s supposed to ensure drivers are paying attention when they use Autopilot.

Documents posted Wednesday by by U.S. safety regulators say the company will send out a software update to fix the problems.

The recall comes after a two-year investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration into a series of crashes that happened while the Autopilot partially automated driving system was in use. Some were deadly.

The agency says its investigation found Autopilot’s method of ensuring that drivers are paying attention can be inadequate and “can lead to foreseeable misuse of the system.”

The recall covers nearly all of the vehicles Tesla sold in the U.S. and includes those produced between Oct. 5, 2012, and Dec. 7 of this year.

Autopilot includes features called Autosteer and Traffic Aware Cruise Control, with Autosteer intended for use on limited access freeways when it’s not operating with a more sophisticated feature called Autosteer on City Streets.

The software update apparently will limit where Autosteer can be used.

“If the driver attempts to engage Autosteer when conditions are not met for engagement, the feature will alert the driver it is unavailable through visual and audible alerts, and Autosteer will not engage,” the recall documents said.

Recall documents say that agency investigators met with Tesla starting in October to explain “tentative conclusions” about the fixing the monitoring system. Tesla, it said, did not agree with the agency’s analysis but agreed to the recall on Dec. 5 in an effort to resolve the investigation.

Auto safety advocates for years have been calling for stronger regulation of the driver monitoring system, which mainly detects whether a driver’s hands are on the steering wheel.

The software update includes additional controls and alerts “to further encourage the driver to adhere to their continuous driving responsibility,” the documents said.

The software update was sent to certain affected vehicles on Tuesday, with the rest getting it at a later date, the documents said.

Autopilot can steer, accelerate and brake automatically in its lane, but is a driver-assist system and cannot drive itself despite its name. Independent tests have found that the monitoring system is easy to fool, so much that drivers have been caught while driving drunk or even sitting in the back seat.

In its defect report filed with the safety agency, Tesla said Autopilot’s controls “may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse.”

A message was left early Wednesday seeking further comment from the Austin, Texas, company.

Tesla says on its website that Autopilot and a more sophisticated Full Self Driving system cannot drive autonomously and are meant to help drivers who have to be ready to intervene at all times. Full Self Driving is being tested by Tesla owners on public roads.

In a statement posted Monday on X, formerly Twitter, Tesla said safety is stronger when Autopilot is engaged.

NHTSA has dispatched investigators to 35 Tesla crashes since 2016 in which the agency suspects the vehicles were running on an automated system. At least 17 people have been killed.

The investigations are part of a larger probe by the NHTSA into multiple instances of Teslas using Autopilot crashing into parked emergency vehicles that are tending to other crashes. NHTSA has become more aggressive in pursuing safety problems with Teslas in the past year, announcing multiple recalls and investigations, including a recall of Full Self Driving software.

In May, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, whose department includes NHTSA, said Tesla shouldn’t be calling the system Autopilot because it can’t drive itself.

In its statement Wednesday, NHTSA said the Tesla investigation remains open “as we monitor the efficacy of Tesla’s remedies and continue to work with the automaker to ensure the highest level of safety.”

 

 

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