Future

Dragon, PayPal And Scotty's Ashes: Falcon 9 Fun Facts

Private company Space X successfully launched its unmanned Falcon 9 rocket into space early Tuesday morning from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, U.S.A. Though not quite Apollo 11, it is space flight history. Here's what you should know.

1. SpaceX is the first private company to successfully launch a vessel to the International Space Station (ISS). Only governments had previously been able to achieve such a feat, but the White House welcomed Falcon 9's launch as an opportunity for government-run NASA. John P. Holdren, Assistant to President Barack Obama for Science and Technology said in a statement that "This expanded role for the private sector will free up more of NASA's resources to do what NASA does best -- tackle the most demanding technological challenges in space, including those of human space flight beyond low Earth orbit." NASA hopes the private sector will be able to provide trips to the ISS for American astronauts, who have to hop on board Russian vessels ever since NASA recently retired the last two shuttles.

2. This wasn't the first attempt to launch a private vessel into space. SpaceX had already successfully launched and retrived a spacecraft in orbit in December 2010. Falcon 9's take-off was delayed three times since February, and had to be cancelled at the last minute last Saturday because of a faulty engine valve. The video below shows today's launch.

3. SpaceX was created by the co-founder of PayPal. Elon Musk is a South African-born 40-year-old multi-millionaire who co-founded PayPal in 2000 and founded SpaceX in 2002. His entrepreneurship focuses on new technologies, and Musk is also the co-founder of Tesla Motors, an electric car company. Musk celebrated the Falcon 9 launch on Twitter.

4. Falcon 9 is unmaned and carries a capsule called Dragon. Dragon contains 1,000 pounds of provisions for the ISS and was released into orbit nine minutes into the rocket's flight. The capsule is expected to dock with the ISS on Thursday.

5. Falcon 9 contains the ashes of 306 deceased people. Space services company Celestis sends ashes of deceased family members into orbit, for a fee. The ashes of "Star Trek" actor James Doohan, aka "Scotty," astronaut Gordon Cooper and skydiver Brady Watson Kane were among the celebrity remains launched this morning. Celestis had already collaborated with SpaceX for a first unsuccessful launch in 2008 - but the company holds back a portion of the ashes in case something goes wrong. Prices run from $1000 (suborbital flight) to $13,000 (deep space).

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Society

Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.


The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.

Hollandse-Hoogte/ZUMA

Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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