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Jeff Bezos will blast into space on rocket’s 1st crew flight

Associated Press

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Jeff Bezos will blast into space

Outdoing his fellow billionaires in daredevilry, Jeff Bezos will blast into space next month when his Blue Origin company makes its first flight with a crew.

The 57-year-old Amazon founder and richest person in the world by Forbes’ estimate will become the first person to ride his own rocket to space.

Bezos announced his intentions Monday and, in an even bolder show of confidence, said he will share the adventure with his younger brother and best friend, Mark, an investor and volunteer firefighter. He said that will make it more meaningful.

Blue Origin’s debut flight with people aboard — after 15 successful test flights of its reusable New Shepard rockets — will take place on July 20, a date selected because it is the 52nd anniversary of the first moon landing by Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

The Bezos brothers will launch from remote West Texas alongside the winner of an online charity auction. There’s no word yet on who else might fill the six-person capsule during the 10-minute flight that will take its passengers to an altitude of about 65 miles (105 kilometers), just beyond the edge of space, and then return to Earth without going into orbit.

Bezos said he has dreamed of traveling to space since he was 5.

“To see the Earth from space, it changes you. It changes your relationship with this planet, with humanity. It’s one Earth,” Bezos said in an Instagram post. “I want to go on this flight because it’s a thing I’ve wanted to do all my life. It’s an adventure. It’s a big deal for me.”

Added his brother: “I wasn’t even expecting him to say that he was going to be on the first flight, and then when he asked me to go along, I was just awestruck.”

Bezos will step down as Amazon’s CEO 15 days before liftoff. He announced months ago that he wants to spend more time on his rocket company as well as his newspaper, The Washington Post.

His stake in Amazon stands at $164 billion, which will make him by far the wealthiest person to fly to space.

Until now, thrill-seeking billionaires have had to buy capsule seats from the Russian space program or, more recently, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which plans its first private flight in September. These orbital trips, generally lasting several days, with visits to the International Space Station, have cost tens of millions of dollars per person.

The flight by Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule, named for Alan Shepard, the first American in space, will last five minutes less than Shepard’s history-marking suborbital ride aboard a Mercury capsule in 1961.

But Blue Origin’s capsule is 10 times roomier with a huge window at every seat — the biggest windows ever built for a spacecraft, in fact.

The company, based in Kent, Washington, is working to develop an orbital rocket named after John Glenn, the first American to circle the Earth.

The Bezos flight will officially kick off the company’s space tourism business. The company has yet to start selling seats to the public or even to announce a ticket price for the short trips, which provide about three minutes of weightlessness.

Blue Origin’s launch and landing site is 120 miles southeast of El Paso, close to the Mexican border. After the capsule separates, the rocket returns to Earth and lands upright, to be used again. The capsule, also reusable, descends under parachutes.

Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson — a “tie-loathing,” mountain-climbing, hot-air-ballooning daredevil — also plans to ride into space aboard his own airplane-launched rocketship later this year after one more test flight over New Mexico. Virgin Galactic completed its third test flight into space with a crew two weeks ago; the company doesn’t want him climbing aboard until the craft is thoroughly proven.

The 70-year-old Branson on Monday offered congratulations to Bezos, a tame, bookish Wall Streeter by comparison. Branson tweeted that their two companies “are opening up access to space — how extraordinary!”

Like Blue Origin, Branson’s company will send paying customers to the lower reaches of space on up-and-down flights, not Earth-orbiting rides.

Musk’s SpaceX already has transported 10 astronauts to the space station for NASA and sold several seats on private flights. Musk himself has yet to commit to going into space, though he has repeatedly said he wants to die on Mars, just not on impact.

Until recently, Blue Origin had been criticized by some for proceeding too slowly, especially when compared with SpaceX. Bezos adopted as the company’s motto “Gradatim ferociter,” Latin for “Step by step, ferociously,” and had it emblazoned on the so-called lucky cowboy boots he wears to his company’s space launches.

“Blue Origin, admirably, has gone about it carefully and has built a reliable and less ambitious vehicle and is likely to succeed,” the director of Vanderbilt University’s aerospace design lab, Amrutur Anilkumar, said in an email Monday. “It is noteworthy that Bezos feels comfortable taking his brother for a ride; that is probably the best exclamation for safety and reliability.”

While Blue Origin’s and SpaceX’s capsules are fully automated, Virgin Galactic has two pilots in the cockpit for every spaceflight. A 2014 accident left one pilot dead and the other seriously injured.

As for the seat that is being auctioned off, Blue Origin opened online bidding on May 5, the 60th anniversary of Shepard’s flight. It’s up to $2.8 million.

The auction will conclude Saturday, with the winning amount donated to Club for the Future, Blue Origin’s education foundation, which encourages youngsters to pursue careers in science. Nearly 6,000 people from 143 countries have taken part in the auction.

In an Instagram video posted by Bezos, Mark Bezos’ reaction when his brother invited him on the flight was: “Are you serious? … Seriously? My God!”

“What a remarkable opportunity not only to have this adventure, but to be able to do it with my best friend,” the younger brother said.


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — By MARCIA DUNN AP Aerospace Writer

AP business writer Michelle Chapman contributed to this story.

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US to seek automated braking requirement for heavy trucks

Associated Press

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automated braking requirement

In a reversal from Trump administration policies, U.S. auto safety regulators say they will move to require or set standards for automatic emergency braking systems on new heavy trucks.

The Department of Transportation, which includes the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, announced the change Friday when it released its spring regulatory agenda.

It also will require what it said are rigorous testing standards for autonomous vehicles, and set up a national database to document automated-vehicle crashes.

The moves by the administration of President Joe Biden run counter to the agency’s stance under President Donald Trump. NHTSA had resisted regulation of automated-vehicle systems, saying it didn’t want to stand in the way of potential life-saving developments. Instead it relied on voluntary safety plans from manufacturers.

NHTSA had proposed a regulation on automatic emergency braking in 2015 before Trump took office, but it languished in the regulatory process. The agency says it has been studying use of the electronic systems, and it plans to publish a proposed rule in the Federal Register in April of next year. When a regulation is published, it opens the door to public comment.

“We are glad to see NHTSA finally take the next step in making large trucks safer by mandating AEB,” said Jason Levine, director of the Center for Auto Safety, which was among the groups that petitioned for the requirement in 2015. “Unfortunately, at this rate, it will still be years until the technology that could help stop the 5,000 truck crash deaths on our roads is required,” he said in an email.

A trade group representing independent big rig drivers says the technology isn’t ready for heavy vehicles and can unexpectedly activate without reason.

“Our members have also reported difficulties operating vehicles in inclement weather when the system is engaged, which has created safety concerns,” the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said in a statement.

The association says that while the technology is still being perfected, legislators and regulators shouldn’t set time frames for requiring it on all trucks.

However, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a research group supported by auto insurers, found in a study last year that automatic emergency braking and forward collision warnings could prevent more than 40% of crashes in which semis rear-end other vehicles. A study by the group found that when rear crashes happened, the systems cut speeds by more than half, reducing damage and injuries.

Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, another group that sought the regulation from NHTSA in 2015, said the agency is moving too slowly by not publishing the regulation until next year.

“I don’t understand the delay,” she said. “I know that might sound impatient, but when people are dying on the roads, 5,000 people are dying on the roads each year, and we have proven solutions, we would like to see more immediate action,” she said.

In 2016, NHTSA brokered a deal with 20 automakers representing 99% of U.S. new passenger vehicle sales to voluntarily make automatic emergency braking standard on all models by Sept. 1, 2022. But that deal did not apply to big rigs.

The announcement of the requirements comes two days after four people were killed when a milk tanker going too fast collided with seven passenger vehicles on a Phoenix freeway. At least nine people were injured.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates crashes and makes recommendations to stop them from happening, said Thursday it would send a nine-person team to investigate the Phoenix crash. The agency said it would look at whether automatic emergency braking in the truck would have mitigated or prevented the crash.

Since at least 2015 the NTSB has recommended automatic emergency braking or collision alerts be standard on vehicles.

At present, there are no federal requirements that semis have forward collision warning or automatic emergency braking, even though the systems are becoming common on smaller passenger vehicles.

The systems use cameras and sometimes radar to see objects in front of a vehicle, and they either warn the driver or slow and even stop the vehicle if it’s about to hit something.


DETROIT (AP) — By TOM KRISHER AP Auto Writer

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Google pledges to resolve ad privacy probe with UK watchdog

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Google has promised to give U.K. regulators a role overseeing its plan to phase out existing ad-tracking technology from its Chrome browser as part of a competition investigation into the tech giant.

The U.K. competition watchdog has been investigating Google’s proposals to remove so-called third-party cookies over concerns they would undermine digital ad competition and entrench the company’s market power.

To address the concerns, Google on Friday offered a set of commitments including giving the Competition and Markets Authority an oversight role as the company designs and develops a replacement technology.

“The emergence of tech giants such as Google has presented competition authorities around the world with new challenges that require a new approach,” Andrea Coscelli, the watchdog’s chief executive, said.

The Competition and Markets Authority will work with tech companies to “shape their behaviour and protect competition to the benefit of consumers,” he said.

The promises also include “substantial limits” on how Google will use and combine individual user data for digital ad purposes and a pledge not to discriminate against rivals in favor of its own ad businesses with the new technology.

If Google’s commitments are accepted, they will be applied globally, the company said in a blog post.

Third-party cookies – snippets of code that log user info – are used to help businesses more effectively target advertising and fund free online content such as newspapers. However, they’ve also been a longstanding source of privacy concerns because they can be used to track users across the internet.

Google shook up the digital ad industry with its plan to do away with third-party cookies, which raised fears newer technology would leave even less room for online ad rivals.


LONDON (AP).

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Amazon now says remote work OK 2 days a week

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Amazon now says remote work OK 2 days a week

Corporate and tech employees at Amazon won’t have to work in offices full time after coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

The Seattle Times reports the online retail giant said in a company blog post Thursday that those workers can work remotely two days a week. In addition, the employees can work remotely from a domestic location for four full weeks each year.

Amazon’s work policy update follows backlash from some employees to what they interpreted as the expectation they would have to return to the office full time once states reopen.

Some tech companies had launched recruiting campaigns that seemed targeted in part at Amazon workers’ dismay over an end to remote work.

Most Amazon employees will start heading back to offices as soon as local jurisdictions fully reopen — July 1 in Washington state — with the majority of workers in offices by autumn, the company said previously.

Amazon has about 75,000 employees in the greater Seattle area. The company’s new remote-work plan is similar to other large tech companies.

Google said last month that it expected roughly 60% of its workforce to come into the office a few days a week, and for 20% to work from home full time. Google also gave all employees the option to work remotely full time four weeks per year. Facebook and Microsoft have both said most workers can choose to stay remote.

Amazon’s new policy could add to the challenges faced by Seattle’s traditional business core. In pre-pandemic times, tens of thousands of Amazon workers commuted into the South Lake Union neighborhood north of downtown every day. Most haven’t returned.

More than 450 downtown retailers, restaurants and other street-level business locations have closed permanently in the 16 months since the pandemic sent office workers home, according to a Downtown Seattle Association survey.

Of the roughly 175,000 people who worked in downtown offices before the pandemic, 80% continue to work remotely, according to association data.


SEATTLE (AP)

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