US opts to not rebuild renowned Puerto Rico telescope
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The National Science Foundation announced Thursday that it will not rebuild a renowned radio telescope in Puerto Rico, which was one of the world’s largest until it collapsed nearly two years ago.
Instead, the agency issued a solicitation for the creation of a $5 million education center at the site that would promote programs and partnerships related to science, technology, engineering and math. It also seeks the implementation of a research and workforce development program, with the center slated to open next year in the northern mountain town of Arecibo where the telescope was once located.
The solicitation does not include operational support for current infrastructure at the site that is still in use, including a 12-meter radio telescope or the Lidar facility, which is used to study the upper atmosphere and ionosphere to analyze cloud cover and precipitation data.
The reflector dish and the 900-ton platform hanging 450 feet above it previously allowed scientists to track asteroids headed to Earth, conduct research that led to a Nobel Prize and determine if a planet is potentially habitable.
“We understand how much the site has meant to the community,” said Sean Jones, assistant director for directorate of mathematical and physical sciences at NSF. “If you’re a radio astronomer, you’ve probably spent some time of your career at Arecibo.”
But all research abruptly ended when an auxiliary cable snapped in August 2020, tearing a 100-foot hole in the dish and damaging the dome above it. A main cable broke three months later, prompting the NSF to announce in November 2020 that it was closing the telescope because the structure was too unstable.
Experts suspect that a possible manufacturing error caused the cable to snap, but NSF officials said Thursday that the investigation is still ongoing.
Jones said in a phone interview that the decision to not rebuild the telescope comes in part because the U.S. government has other radar facilities that can do part of the mission that Arecibo once did. He added that the NSF also envisions a five-year maintenance contract to keep the site open, which would cost at least $1 million a year.
He said by phone that one of the agency’s priorities is to make STEM more accessible and inclusive and that the proposed education center would fill that need.
“It’s a way to augment some of the things that young people are getting in their schools or not getting,” he said.
Biden sending 1,500 troops for Mexico border migrant surge
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration will send 1,500 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border ahead of an expected migrant surge following the end of coronavirus pandemic-era restrictions.
Military personnel will do data entry, warehouse support and other administrative tasks so that U.S. Customs and Border Protection can focus on fieldwork, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday.
The troops “will not be performing law enforcement functions or interacting with immigrants, or migrants,” Jean-Pierre said. “This will free up Border Patrol agents to perform their critical law enforcement duties.”
The troops will carry out this support for 90 days, said Pentagon spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, “until CBP can address these needs through contracted support.”
It’s unclear when the troops would be deployed.
The COVID-19 restrictions allowed U.S. officials to turn away tens of thousands of migrants crossing the southern border, but those restrictions will lift May 11, and border officials are bracing for an expected surge of migrants. Even amid the restrictions, the administration has seen record numbers of people crossing the border, and President Joe Biden has responded by cracking down on those who cross illegally and by creating new pathways meant to offer alternatives to a dangerous and often deadly journey.
Biden’s actions follow similar moves by then-President Donald Trump, who deployed active duty troops to the border to assist border patrol personnel in processing large migrant caravans, on top of National Guard forces that were already working in that capacity. There are already 2,500 National Guard members at the border, the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement.
The Pentagon on Tuesday approved the request for troops by DHS, which manages the border, one of the officials said.
But the deployments have a catch: As a condition for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s previous approval of National Guard troops to support the border mission throughout fiscal year 2023, which ends this Oct. 1, DHS had to agree to work with the White House and Congress “to develop a plan and implement solutions to staffing and funding shortfalls to maintain border security and the safe, orderly, and humane processing of migrants that do not involve the continued use of DOD personnel and resources after FY2023,” said Pentagon spokesman Air Force Lt. Col. Devin Robinson.
As part of the agreement, DOD requested quarterly updates from DHS on how it would staff its border mission without service members throughout this fiscal year; it was not immediately clear if those updates have happened or if DHS will be able to meet its terms of the agreement — particularly under the strain of another migrant surge.
DHS said the request for a temporary surge of extra troops is part of their effort to get ready to fully assume the border mission, including their effort to enact measures to reduce migration, improve processing and speed removal of illegal immigrants.
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection is investing in technology and personnel to reduce its need for DOD support in coming years, and we continue to call on Congress to support us in this task,” the agency said in a statement.
For Biden, who announced his Democratic reelection campaign a week ago, the decision signals his administration is taking seriously an effort to tamp down the number of illegal crossings, a potent source of Republican attacks, and sends a message to potential border crossers not to attempt the journey. But it also draws potentially unwelcome comparisons to Biden’s Republican predecessor, whose policies Biden frequently criticized. Congress, meanwhile, has refused to take any substantial immigration-related actions.
Jean-Pierre downplayed any similarity to how Biden is handling the migrant surge compared to Trump’s use of troops during his term.
“DOD personnel have been supporting CBP at the border for almost two decades now,” Jean-Pierre said. “So this is a common practice.”
Governor Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis Meet with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan
US Senate leaders demand Russia release American journalist
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate’s top two leaders demanded on Friday that Russia immediately release Evan Gershkovich in a rare bipartisan statement that condemned the detention of the Wall Street Journal reporter and declared that “journalism is not a crime.”
The statement from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., comes as the United States is working to swiftly end what it calls the unlawful detention of Gershkovich, the first journalist to be held on alleged espionage since the Cold War.
“We strongly condemn the wrongful detention of U.S. citizen and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, and demand the immediate release of this internationally known and respected independent journalist,” Schumer and McConnell said.
They said Gershkovich was accredited by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to work as a journalist in Russia and “Russian authorities have failed to present any credible evidence to justify their fabricated charges.”
Schumer and McConnell wrote: “Let there be no mistake: journalism is not a crime.”
U.S. officials are working for the release of Gershkovich, 31, who was arrested late last month and was being held in a Moscow prison. The son of immigrants from the Soviet Union, he grew up speaking Russian at home in Princeton, New Jersey. Russia’s top security agency said Gershkovich was trying to obtain classified information about a Russian arms factory.
Gershkovich has been formally charged with espionage in Russia and has entered his official denial, Russian state news agency Tass reported Friday.
President Joe Biden told reporters last Friday that his message to Russia was: “Let him go.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday he has “no doubt” that Russia has wrongfully detained Gershkovich.
On Thursday, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Lynne T. Tracy, and Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, met to discuss the situation.
The Wall Street Journal has adamantly denied the allegations against Gershkovich and demanded his release.
The Senate leaders said the U.S. Embassy has been denied consular access “against standard diplomatic practice and likely in violation of international law.”
Schumer and McConnell also said that Russia has a long history of unjustly detaining U.S. citizens, and called for the release of another American, Paul Whelan.
Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive, has been imprisoned in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges that his family and the U.S. government have said are baseless. He is serving a 16-year sentence.
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