The Pardee Perspective: March 29th, 2018

NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field

Asia

China: This weekend, some global citizens could have the chance to witness a satellite reentry and impact. Tiangong-1, China’s first space station, was launched in 2011. However, contact with the space station was lost in 2016, and Tiangong-1 was later confirmed to be falling back to Earth in uncontrolled reentry. Currently, reentry is expected to take place in a window from the morning of March 31 to the afternoon of April 1. The station’s uncontrolled reentry will likely not burn up the station, and some debris is expected to make impact. However, since the reentry is uncontrolled, the exact time and location of the impact is difficult to predict, and leaves a large swath of the Earth in the zone of possible impact, including a significant portion of the populated world. Internationally, astronomers and space agencies have worked to monitor Tiangong-1 in case the reentry seems to point towards an impact in a populated region. They have also used the event as an opportunity to utilize advanced monitoring tool sets at some observatories. Thankfully, the odds of the nine-ton station’s debris impacting and hitting a person are essentially zero (there is only one instance of someone supposedly being hit by spaceship debris). If there is an impact that does damage to a person or property, the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects could be applied, though it has never been used in formal court case..

India: Documents released on Wednesday, March 28th show that the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm, was working on Indian political campaigns for several years. Strategic Communications Limited (SCL) evidently conducted behavior research and polling for several state elections from 2003 to 2012, including the 2009 national election. Further information has shown that SCL employed nearly two thousand people as consultants and staff before the 2014 general election, and that SCL pitched their extensive data and research abilities to the major political parties. This information follows the revelation that Cambridge Analytica had secretly retained copies of private data from about 50 million Facebook users. These new documents have raised concerns about privacy issues, specifically voter privacy, and have caused the Indian government to formally ask both Facebook and SCL/Cambridge Analytica about their use of Indian citizen data along with a request for reply by April 7.

Europe

Poland: On March 28th, Poland signed a $4.75 billion deal to purchase Raytheon’s Patriot missile defense system. Since the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, Poland has been focused on modernizing its armed forces. This sale comes amid high tensions between Russia and Poland’s NATO allies following a nerve toxin attack on a former Russian spy in the UK. According to the Polish defense ministry, the system would be used to counter threats such as aerial attacks, short-range ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles. The first deliveries are scheduled for 2022.

Latin America
Venezuela: On March 28th, a prison fire killed 68 people in Valencia, Venezuela as families were waiting for visiting hours to begin. The jail was vastly over capacity, holding over 200 prisoners in a structure built for 60. A fight between guards and inmates triggered the blaze, which left rescuers unable to effectively evacuate the building. Mostly peaceful protests ensued after information about those lost was withheld from their families. In response, local security forces used tear gas against the protesters who were demanding to know what had happened. The UN Human Rights Office condemned this use of force and called for an investigation into the event, which it states is part of the larger issue of “widespread overcrowding and dire conditions in Venezuela’s prisons.”