Chinese astronauts reach orbiting lab

BEIJING (AFP): Two Chinese astronauts entered the country’s new orbiting space laboratory for the first time on Wednesday, state media reported, as Beijing works towards having its own space station. Mission commander Jing Haipeng was first to float into the Tiangong-2 (“Heavenly Palace”) lab, the official Xinhua news agency said, followed by Chen Dong. The pair “extended greetings to all the people of the nation”, it said. Their Shenzhou-11 (“Divine Vessel”) mission is scheduled to see them stay on board for 30 days - the longest stay thus far by Chinese astronauts - carrying out experiments before returning to Earth. The Tiangong-2 lab, which was launched in September, is in orbit 393 kilometres (244 miles) above Earth, Xinhua said previously, and has two cabins - an hermetically sealed experiment chamber that doubles as the living quarters, and a resources store. China is pouring billions into its military-run space programme and working to catch up to the US and Europe, with hopes to have a crewed outpost by 2022.

After Monday’s launch from the Gobi desert, Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a message of congratulations, urging the mission to work to contribute “to the building of China into a space power”.

Beijing sees the programme as symbolising the country’s progress and as a marker of its rising global stature, but so far China has largely replicated activities that the US and Soviet Union pioneered decades ago.




Rat race: Jakarta offers rewards to catch rodents

JAKARTA (AFP): The Indonesian capital Jakarta, one of the world’s most overcrowded and polluted megacities, has launched a new bid to rid its streets of vermin - by offering residents $1.50 for every rat they catch. Authorities hope the Rat Eradication Movement will help clean up the teeming city of about 10 million where enormous vermin are a common sight on rubbish-strewn roads and in poor slum areas. “There are many rats here, and big ones,” Jakarta Deputy Governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat was quoted as saying on a government news website, as he announced the plan recently. He said a recent encounter with a large rat had inspired him to start the programme, adding that the vermin were dangerous and could spread disease. “For each rat, we will pay 20,000 rupiah (about $1.50),” he added. The deputy governor did not say how residents should catch rats and whether they should be dead or alive when handed over to authorities - but urged people to refrain from using firearms. “If possible, please do not use guns,” he was quoted as saying by the Jakarta Post newspaper.

“If you miss your shot, the bullets could hit other people.”

The captured rats will be handed over to local officials, who would dole out the money and pass the animals to Jakarta’s sanitation agency for burial, the paper added.

There is no guarantee the plan will work - a similar scheme in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi during French colonial rule backfired.

Rat catchers were required to present the tails as evidence they had caught the animals, but in many cases they simply cut off the tail and then released the rats. The released animals would return to the sewers and breed, meaning the population of the creatures did not fall as intended.





Malaysia halts kids boot camp

over python pool fright

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP): Malaysia has halted a team-building programme for school children after the trainers forced students to wade across a muddy pool that had a blood python in it, a senior official said Wednesday. “We have also suspended four trainers and their six assistants. An investigation is underway into the blood python incident. It is not part of the training programme,” Colonel Mohamad Noor Hassan, the head of the local Civil Defence Force, told AFP. The incident, which took place last Saturday in northern Perak state, involved students aged between 10 to 12 years old and has sparked outrage among Malaysians after a video of the training was shared on social media. The three-minute-long video shows a group of six girls screaming and struggling to get out of the pool with a python inside while a male trainer sprays water on them to prevent them from coming out. “It is not our aim to traumatise the children.

Having the python in the pool was never part of the programme. It is a mistake. I am sorry it... happened,” Hassan said.

The blood python is a non-venomous snake found in Southeast Asia, where it is often bred for sale as an exotic pet or farmed for use in the leather industry.

A total of 45 students - 17 boys and 28 girls - participated in the programme which was aiming to build courage and encourage bonding.

Chiam Heng Keng, child psychologist and former human rights commissioner of Malaysia told AFP that those who were involved in the incident must be “psychologically off their mind”.

“I condemn their action. It definitely would have traumatised the children who will probably be experiencing nightmares,” she said.




Laos’ Plain of Jars recreated in virtual reality

SYDNEY (AFP): Australian archaeologists announced plans Wednesday to recreate Laos’ mysterious Plain of Jars as a three-dimensional virtual reality experience, that could one day see museum visitors walk through remote dig sites. The Plain of Jars, in Laos’ central Xieng Khouang province, is scattered with thousands of stone vessels but scientists have yet to discover their original purpose. Archaeologists have struggled to access the jar sites, many of which have yet to be cleared of unexploded mines and bombs dropped on the country during the Vietnam War. But Australian researchers now say that their use of drones which capture 3D images every 10 centimetres (3.9 inches) would allow them to explore sites like these that cannot be assessed in traditional ways.


“The potential especially for places like Laos where there’s a serious UXO (Unexploded Ordnance) problem is that using remote technology to explore and map archaeological sites is incredibly useful,” Dougald O’Reilly from the Australian National University’s (ANU) school of archaeology told AFP.

“It decreases the danger of working in these places.”

Besides deploying drones to capture 3D images, O’Reilly said archaeologists were looking at using multispectral cameras which can capture light from invisible frequencies such as infrared radiation, and airborne laser scanning technology known as lidar to create centimetre-accurate maps.

The data collected by researchers from ANU and Melbourne’s Monash University will feed into the virtual visualisation of the Plain of Jars landscape, allowing archaeologists to virtually revisit the site as well as re-excavate it.

Such maps could also be used to monitor changes in heritage sites over time.

The technology could ultimately be used for museums, allowing visitors to wear a headset and walk around the site, or even be adapted for smartphones so anyone can visit a 3D map of a dig site from anywhere.

“For museum applications, this is an amazing tool especially remote museums that are not at the site. So you can create this environment where people feel they are walking among the monuments in that three-dimensional context,” O’Reilly said.

“It’s pretty amazing in that regard. When you are in the facility... it’s absolutely breathtaking actually. The experience is quite overwhelming.”

Researchers from ANU and Monash University earlier this year uncovered ancient human remains and various burial practices at the Plain of Jars as part of the first major effort since the 1930s to try to understand the purpose of the vessels and who created them.

About 90 sites make up the intriguing area in the Southeast Asian nation, with the carved jars ranging in size from one to three metres tall (three to 10 feet).





Japan dollmakers spooked by Universal Studios haunted house

TOKYO (AFP): Makers of traditional Japanese dolls have taken fright over the use the kimono-clad figurines in a haunted house at the Universal Studios theme park in Osaka. With Halloween just around the corner, the group sent a protest letter this week to Universal Studios Japan, which runs the amusement park in the southern city, saying it made the dolls seem cursed. “This really undermines the image of Japanese dolls,” said the statement from the Association of Japanese Dolls. “They’re placed in the haunted house with stage blood and other special makeup.” Some Japanese dolls do have a history of being linked to ghosts and the supernatural, and the US-based amusement park operator has reportedly refused to remove hundreds of the dolls from its spooky exhibit. The company did confirm that it had leased the dolls - which have white faces and jet black hair - from a shrine in western Japan. People who don’t want their dolls anymore often bring them to the shrine for a memorial service.

In Japan, many people believe that inanimate objects, such as dolls or chopsticks, have a soul like humans and animals.