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Endeavour astronauts make Geneva landing

The team of astronauts from the last flight of the US space shuttle Endeavour touched down in Geneva on Tuesday.

Endeavour astronauts make Geneva landing
Photo: United States Mission Geneva

The six-man team, led by commander Mark Kelly, touted the “cosmic particle detector” — developed in the Swiss canton — that the shuttle carried to the International Space Station in May 2011.

The detector, called an Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), was assembled at the Geneva-based Centre for European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

Part of a particle physics experiment that is probing outer space for unusual matter by measuring cosmic rays,the spectrometer is “the most significant scientific thing the space station will do,” Kelly said.

Speaking to a gathering of the American International Club near CERN’s headquarters, Kelly underlined the importance of the sophisticated machine, which is beaming back information to physicists in Geneva.

Costing around two billion dollars, the AMS is already collecting “19 billion cosmic rays that are being analysed just down the street from here,” the former US Navy captain said.  

Michael Fincke, a member of the Endeavour team who spent a year on the International Space Station — more time than any other American — said the spectrometer “over time is going to tell us what the universe is about”.

The AMS, developed with the involvement of the University of Geneva’s physics department, will collect data until at least 2020.

Kelly told The Local that funding for the International Space Station, built by 15 countries, is only guaranteed for the next eight years.

A decision whether to “de-orbit” the station has yet to be made, he said.

The American International Club event was held at the European headquarters of technology firm HP (Hewlett Packard) in Meyrin, just blocks away from CERN.

The Endeavour team, including five NASA astronauts and Italian Roberto Vittori from the European Space Agency, presented a video and each spoke of their experiences from the final mission.

They wowed the audience with anecdotes of tackling zero gravity and making space walks to repair the space station.

“I was scared to death,” admitted astronaut Andrew Feustel, when asked how it felt to walk in space for the first time.

Feustel described opening a hatch to exit the space station and seeing the earth as “the only thing below”.

Once you get beyond the fear of falling, he said, “you get back in training mode and you only have six and a half hours to get the work done and you don’t have time to be scared.”

The astronauts spent two years training in preparation for Endeavour’s last mission, which ended after 16 days when the craft landed for the final time on June 1st 2011.

NASA sent one more space shuttle to the space station using the orbiter Atlantis in July last year.

A decision made earlier by the administration of former president George W. Bush ended funding for the programme.

President Barack Obama’s administration has approved a “commercialization” plan that gives smaller amounts of money to several companies to see what technologies they can develop to send craft into space.

SpaceX, a California company, has succeeded in sending cargo to the International Space Station with its unmanned Dragon spacecraft.

But Kelly said such craft are a “long way off” the capabilities of NASA’s space shuttles.

The astronauts, who visited Mont Blanc in nearby France on Monday, later appeared on Tuesday night at a Geneva theatre in an event organized by the University of Geneva and a non-profit foundation.

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Switzerland: CERN lab drops Facebook due to data concerns

Europe's physics lab CERN on Wednesday said it had stopped using a Facebook team-chat application because of concerns about handing over data to the US tech giant.

Switzerland: CERN lab drops Facebook due to data concerns
Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

CERN said it wound up its Facebook Workplace account on January 31 after the US firm gave it the choice of either paying to use the service or sharing data. “Losing control of our data was unacceptable,” CERN said in a blog on January 28, confirmed to AFP by spokeswoman Anais Rassat on Wednesday.

CERN said it started using Workplace when it was offered the service for free in 2016. It said some 1,000 members of the CERN community had created accounts and there were around 150 active users each week.

READ: How media diversity is shrinking in Switzerland

“Reactions were not always positive. Many people preferred not to use a tool from a company that they did not trust in terms of data privacy,” the laboratory said.

CERN said its staff would now instead use two open-source chat services: Mattermost and Discourse.

CERN is home to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) — a giant lab in a tunnel straddling the French-Swiss border that is the world's most powerful proton smasher.

Workplace is an enterprise-oriented version of Facebook that, instead of distracting workers, is intended to let them connect and collaborate.

It claims to have around three million paying users. Facebook has faced a series of privacy scandals in recent years, including over the hijacking of personal data on millions of users by a British consultancy developing voter profiles for Donald Trump's 2016 campaign.

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