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So now Jeff Bezos has been to space, he’s an astronaut, right? Er, maybe not

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Say you’re Jeff Bezos. You’re the richest person in the world. You’ve spent billions of dollars starting a rocket company that has just launched you and three others high enough that everyone agrees you reached outer space, even if just for a few minutes. Are you now an astronaut? The answer appears to be no, at least in the eyes of the US Federal Aviation Administration, which last week revised its definitions on whom it considers to be an astronaut. But for Richard Branson, the billionaire who went to space a week earlier, on a rocket plane operated by Virgin Galactic, a company he founded, the answer might be yes.

The advent of the age of space tourism brings along a question of semantics: does the word “astronaut” describe where someone has been – outer space – or is it a job description, like pilot or sailor? After all, Nasa employs astronauts who are still waiting for their first trip off Earth. And flying in economy class from New York to Los Angeles does not qualify you as a pilot.

The New Shepard spacecraft is entirely automated, and all the passengers had to do is enjoy the up-and-down ride, which lasted not much more than 10 minutes

The FAA established its commercial astronaut wings programme in 2004, spurred by the X Prize. That competition offered $10 million for the first nongovernmental entity to launch a reusable spacecraft to space with people on board – defined as reaching an altitude of 100km, the international definition of where space begins – and then do it again within two weeks.

The winning design was a space plane called SpaceShipOne, and the FAA bestowed the first commercial astronaut wings on Michael Melvill and Brian Binnie, the pilots who flew the two winning SpaceShipOne flights. To qualify for the FAA’s distinction, a person had to reach an altitude of 80km – reflecting the earlier US air-force practice – and one had to be considered part of the flight crew, which the agency defines as “any employee or independent contractor of a licensee, transferee, or permittee, or of a contractor or subcontractor of a licensee, transferee, or permittee, who performs activities in the course of that employment or contract directly relating to the launch, re-entry, or other operation of or in a launch vehicle or re-entry vehicle that carries human beings”.

Everyone else who goes to space is, in the FAA’s view, just a “spaceflight participant”, not an astronaut. After the wings were awarded to Melvill and Binnie, the FAA did not award any other commercial astronaut wings until 2019, to Mark Stucky and Frederick Sturckow, the two pilots of Virgin Galactic’s larger successor of SpaceShipOne, aptly named SpaceShipTwo. Two other Virgin Galactic pilots received wings on the next SpaceShipTwo flight, as did Beth Moses, the company’s chief astronaut instructor, who evaluated the crew cabin.

A Blue Origin astronaut’s pin on Jeff Bezos’s flight suit. Photograph: Blue Origin via New York Times
A Blue Origin astronaut’s pin on Jeff Bezos’s flight suit. Photograph: Blue Origin via New York Times

By contrast, the New Shepard spacecraft built by Bezos’s company, Blue Origin, is entirely automated, and all that the passengers had to do is enjoy the up-and-down ride last Tuesday, which lasted not much more than 10 minutes. So Bezos and the other three passengers – his brother Mark; Mary Wallace Funk, an 82-year-old aviation pioneer; and Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old Dutch student – appear to fall short of the criteria to be classified as flight crew and may not be eligible for the FAA astronaut wings. (That didn’t stop the foursome from having custom astronaut wings pinned to their flight suits last Tuesday.)

The crew definition, however, was vague enough that one could wonder whether a passenger could qualify as a contractor, and whether some of what they did could fall under the “other operation” part of the definition of crew. On the same day that Bezos made his trip to space, the FAA added a new requirement for the astronaut wings: “Demonstrated activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to human spaceflight safety.” A statement from the agency explains: “The FAA has now changed the focus to recognise flight crew who demonstrate activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to human spaceflight safety, among other criteria. This change aligns more directly to the FAA’s role to protect public safety during commercial space operations.”

Virgin Galactic has started the paperwork to obtain FAA commercial astronaut wings for Richard Branson and the other two first-time space flyers on the July 11th flight

The New Shepard passengers do not appear to have performed such activities. A Blue Origin spokeswoman declined to say whether the company would nominate Bezos and the other passengers for the FAA commercial astronaut wings. A Virgin Galactic spokesman said the company has started the paperwork to obtain FAA commercial astronaut wings for Branson and the other two first-time space flyers on the July 11th Virgin Galactic flight. Virgin Galactic is making the case that they were crew members, performing tasks to evaluate how the spacecraft experience will feel for future customers, although the company is still assessing the implications of the revised criteria.

The revised FAA criteria also, for the first time, creates honorary commercial astronaut wings “to individuals who demonstrated extraordinary contribution or beneficial service to the commercial human spaceflight industry”. The honorary awardees would not have to meet all of the usual requirements. In the end it may not matter what the United States government thinks. Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have each created their own astronaut pins to bestow on customers, who are likely to pay at least hundreds of thousands of dollars per flight. In addition, an international organisation of past and present astronauts, the Association of Space Explorers, has created pins to recognize everyone who goes to space. One design – an up-and-down chevron topped with a five-pointed star – is for people who go on short suborbital flights. For those who reach orbit, there’s a variation, adding a circle that indicates they have been around the planet.– New York Times

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Lori Loughlin and fashion designer husband drop $13M on Palm Desert vacation home

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Former Full House actress, Lori Loughlin, and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, have dropped $13million on a gated Palm Desert, California, oasis, following their release from prison for their involvement in the college-admissions scandal.  

Loughlin, who was released from prison in December, with her husband following in April, appear to be celebrating their newfound freedom with the purchase of their vacation getaway in the La Quinta community.

The five-bedroom, 5.5 bathroom home, situated in the guard-gated exclusive Madison Club, comes lavished with several amenities, including a wine cellar, movie theater, two pools, two spas, a wet bar and an outdoor projector-theater.  

Former Full House actress, Lori Loughlin, and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, have dropped $13million on a gated Palm Desert, California, oasis, following their release from prison for their involvement in the college-admissions scandal.

Former Full House actress, Lori Loughlin, and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, have dropped $13million on a gated Palm Desert, California, oasis, following their release from prison for their involvement in the college-admissions scandal.

The open dining and living room area is perfect for watching L.A sunsets

The open dining and living room area is perfect for watching L.A sunsets 

The home comes equipped with several outdoor fireplaces, perfect for entertaining guests on chilly evenings

The home comes equipped with several outdoor fireplaces, perfect for entertaining guests on chilly evenings 

Opulent swimming pools encompass the outdoor area, in addition to an outdoor projector for watching films

Opulent swimming pools encompass the outdoor area, in addition to an outdoor projector for watching films 

The home comes lavished with several amenities, including a wine cellar, movie theater, two pools, outdoor fireplaces, two spas, a wet bar and an outdoor projector-theater

The home comes lavished with several amenities, including a wine cellar, movie theater, two pools, outdoor fireplaces, two spas, a wet bar and an outdoor projector-theater 

Former 'Full House' actress, Lori Loughlin, (right) and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, (left) have dropped $13 million on a gated Palm Desert, California, oasis

Former ‘Full House’ actress, Lori Loughlin, (right) and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, (left) have dropped $13 million on a gated Palm Desert, California, oasis

Built in 2019, the home was formally owned by Assurance co-founder Michael Rowell and his wife, Alexis, who purchased it for only $9.5 million. 

A few of their neighbors include Kris Jenner, Kourtney Kardashian, Nike’s Phil Knight, Cindy Crawford and Scooter Braun. 

The purchase comes a year after Loughlin and Giannulli bought a $9.5 million modern farmhouse in the Hidden Hills area of Los Angeles.      

A federal judge in Boston recently granted Loughlin ‘expedited’ permission to travel to Canada to possibly rekindle her career. The request was necessary as she remains on probation.

The five-bedroom, 5.5 bathroom home is situated in the guard-gated exclusive Madison Club in the La Quinta community

The five-bedroom, 5.5 bathroom home is situated in the guard-gated exclusive Madison Club in the La Quinta community

Built in 2019, the home was formally owned by Assurance co-founder Michael Rowell and his wife, Alexis, who purchased it for only $9.5 million

Built in 2019, the home was formally owned by Assurance co-founder Michael Rowell and his wife, Alexis, who purchased it for only $9.5 million

An large dining area opens out onto the terrace, as an intricate chandelier hangs from the ceiling

An large dining area opens out onto the terrace, as an intricate chandelier hangs from the ceiling

Also featured in the amenities is a chic, oversized wine cellar

Also featured in the amenities is a chic, oversized wine cellar 

Loughlin was unable to travel due to her prison sentence and ensuing community service commitments stemming from her involvement in the ‘Operation Varsity Blues’ scheme, which involved wealthy parents paying large sums of money to get their kids into elite universities.    

‘Ms. Loughlin anticipates she will be traveling for about one week’ and is ‘being offered a filming production project’ if granted permission, her initial request sent by a probation official stated.   

It emerged in 2019 that Lori and Giannulli bribed their daughters Olivia and Isabella’s way into University Of Southern California.

Lori and her fashion designer husband paid $500,000 to falsely pass the girls off as potential college rowers on USC’s rowing team.

Although they initially claimed to be innocent, Mossimo pled guilty last May to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and honest services and mail fraud, while Lori pled guilty to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud.  

Giannulli was sentenced to five months, while Loughlin served two months behind bars.

It emerged in 2019 that Lori and Giannulli bribed their daughters Olivia and Isabella's way into University Of Southern California

It emerged in 2019 that Lori and Giannulli bribed their daughters Olivia and Isabella’s way into University Of Southern California

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Tenor fails to rent home as work in Covid-hit sector deemed precarious

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An Irish tenor, who has performed for presidents and emperors and been shortlisted for a Grammy award, is struggling to rent a home in Dublin because of a perception that working in the Covid-19-hit entertainment industry makes him a risk.

Paul Byrom said he was “knocked for six” last week after a potential landlord refused to even meet him on the grounds that the pandemic had made his profession singularly unsuitable for the rental market.

Byrom has earned his living as a musician for more than 20 years and has performed for Emperor Akihito of Japan, former Irish presidents Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson and former US president Barack Obama.

He was one of the original soloists in the Celtic Thunder show that toured the world and had number one albums on the World Billboard Chart. A solo album, This is the Moment, debuted at number one on the same chart and was shortlisted for a Grammy nomination.

Byrom has continued to work online during the pandemic and is looking forward to restarting his live career soon. “I am no Bono, but I am not starting out in the game,” he said.

However, none of his achievements appear to have been good enough for one Dublin landlord. Byrom said he and his girlfriend were keen to move to a bigger home and found a two-bedroom house in south county Dublin advertised at a rent of €2,000 a month.

‘Exemplary tenant’

It was being let by the estate agent which manages the property the couple currently live in and he was assured that, as an “exemplary tenant” for more than three years, his application would most likely be considered favourably.

“The estate agents said that while it was looking after the letting, it wouldn’t be the management company and the guy who owned it would be the point of contact,” Byrom said. “I was told that the landlord would want to meet me and I had no problem with any of that – I thought that made sense.”

He and his girlfriend assembled all the paperwork including her payslips and details of his earnings from his accountant. “I had moved in in my head but then I got a phone call saying the application had been rejected,” he said.

His mother joked that he had been turned down “because the landlord didn’t want you practising your Ave Maria’s at 10 in the morning.”

But that was not the reason. It emerged that the “landlord thought that because Covid had hit my industry hard he would be too nervous to take me on. He simply didn’t want anyone from the entertainment industry,” Byrom said.

Mortgage

He said struggling to rent or get a mortgage were not the only issues entertainers encounter.

“Try and look for car insurance as a singer and the companies don’t want to know. So I can’t drive a car or rent a home or even take advantage of the bike to work tax scheme because I am self employed.

“And this is a country that claims to be the land of the bards and the poets. The amount of roadblocks put in an entertainer’s way are just crazy, but then they will say get out there and sing Danny Boy and represent the country. You’d have to wonder if Ireland wants artists to be here at all.”


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Inside the tiny ‘smart home’ that will be sold in London for less than £300k

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Making homes affordable for first-time buyers is a problem that does not have one easy solution.  

With house prices having risen rapidly since the start of the pandemic, many are finding themselves priced out – especially in inner cities. 

But major housebuilder Barratt Homes thinks it has found a way for young people to climb on to the housing ladder without breaking the bank. 

The living area in Barratt's 'SMRT' home. The apartment comes in at just 37 square metres

The living area in Barratt’s ‘SMRT’ home. The apartment comes in at just 37 square metres

At its Eastman Village development in Harrow, North London,  it has built a tiny home measuring just 37 square metres or 400 sq ft. 

It may have the smallest floor plan that can be built under the Government’s minimum space standards, but Barratt describes the flat as ‘a forward-thinking luxury product that is perfectly proportioned’. 

Although the apartments might charitably be described as ‘cosy,’ the price is right, with homes starting at £290,000. This is £40,000 cheaper than the standard Barratt home in London. 

It says the tiny homes are designed to ‘help ease the squeeze experienced by London’s “generation rent”, who face ever-rising property prices and rental costs’. 

According to Halifax’s latest house price index, the average house price in London is currently £508,000; a figure which has increased by around £25,000 since the start of the pandemic. 

Barratt is calling the new design a ‘SMRT’ home, and launched off-plan sales at the development in Harrow at the weekend. 

If it is successful, it could roll out the pocket-sized apartments across the country – and prices outside of London would likely be even lower.  

This is Money went on a tour of the show apartment, and spoke to Barratt’s senior sales manager Joseph Antoniazzi about whether this is really what first-time buyers want. 

The flats have been designed by Barratt’s in-house design team, BD Living, and Blocc Interiors.  

They have aimed to make the most of what little space is available, for example by adding a built-in storage unit with shelves and cupboards around the bed, and a kitchen storage cupboard that houses the washer dryer but also has room for other bulky items such as a hoover or ironing board. 

According to Barratt, small is beautiful. Its marketing material for the apartments says: 

‘While the square footage may be smaller on paper, the illusion of space created by wide balconies, floor-to-ceiling windows, and clever interior layouts, means the apartments feel open, optimised, and modern. 

‘Storage in every nook and cranny means there is no need for clunky furniture like wardrobes, sideboards, and drawers.’ 

The bedroom in the SMRT home has storage for clothes built all the way around it

The bedroom in the SMRT home has storage for clothes built all the way around it 

The kitchen cupboards have pull-out shelves to store canned food and spices, and the worktops are slimmer than average to maximise the floor space, as is the dishwasher. 

‘We have maximised every inch and made sure the space is really functional,’ said Antoniazzi. 

There is space for a small dining table in between the kitchen area and living room. Antoniazzi says they initially installed a table that folded out from the wall, but that potential buyers did not respond well to it so it was changed.  

For those working from home, there is the option to have an ‘office niche’ which consists of a desk and storage in the living room, side-by-side with the television. 

The 'office niche' in the living area provides a small space in which to work from home

The ‘office niche’ in the living area provides a small space in which to work from home

Although this may work for a single person, it could present a challenge for a couple that were both working at home.

There is also the option to have a small dressing table in the bedroom, though this would need to sit behind the door. 

In the bathroom, there is a well-sized shower cubicle, which Antoniazzi said buyers preferred to a bath.  

The outdoor terrace is small, with room for two chairs and a small table, but it backs on to a larger shared garden which gives the illusion of space. 

The apartment comes with a small terrace which backs on to a larger shared garden

The apartment comes with a small terrace which backs on to a larger shared garden

For flats on upper floors, there would instead be a balcony.

Antoniazzi said the homes were designed for first-time buyers, key workers and students, and acknowledged that they would not be suitable for a family. 

‘It is very much first-time buyer driven,’ he said, adding that lifestyle changes during the pandemic had seen families move out of locations like Harrow to the countryside, and be replaced by renters from central London – as people from across the spectrum sought to move up a level in terms of space. 

‘Post-lockdown, we saw a change in the type of buyer that was coming to view our apartments in Harrow. 

‘Whereas previously it was couples and young families, we saw the profile change towards people who had previously been renting in central London and didn’t want to waste money on rent any more.’

The storage cupboard in the kitchen provides some space for household essentials

The storage cupboard in the kitchen provides some space for household essentials

He said the idea for the micro-apartments came from the fact that many of these potential buyers had saved up during the pandemic and were keen to get on the housing ladder, but needed something more affordable than the market average. 

Antoniazzi also said the small homes could become a more popular way of getting on the housing ladder when the Government’s Help to Buy scheme ends in 2023.  

Barratt has said that, if buyers respond well to these micro-apartments, they could build more in cities across the country. 

The apartments could work well for single occupiers, who often struggle to get a large enough mortgage because of salary requirements. 

Living there as a couple could be a squeeze – but the success of the SMRT homes will reveal whether first-time buyers think that is a price worth paying to get on the ladder.

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