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Cavers escape floodwaters

Gary Russell was a mile deep in a Kentucky cave Thursday afternoon, leading a group of geology students on a five-hour tour, when he turned a corner and saw water rushing by where water wasn't supposed to be.

He had no way to communicate with the outside world. He had no idea that a flash flood was pouring through the cave's passages toward them, or that dozens of rescuers were already gathering at the entrance to begin a perilous hours-long journey to rescue them.

All he knew was that water wasn't supposed to be this deep in the cave, and that meant trouble.

Russell and his group were among 19 people who escaped the flooded Hidden River Cave on Thursday afternoon. They navigated neck-deep water, rushing currents and mud so thick it sucked off the police chief's boot. It was pitch black.

"It was shooting waterfalls out of the ceiling. The walls were thundering, there was so much water moving through it," said David Foster, the executive director of the American Cave Museum at Horse Cave and a guide for 30 years, who rushed into the darkness to help with the rescue. "You just don't know what Mother Nature is capable of. There's only so much cave, and there's way more water."

The group that spent more than six hours inside the cave included Clemson University students, four tour guides and two police officers who got trapped when they tried to rescue the group, Kentucky State Police Trooper B.J. Eaton said.

There was no communication between the stranded cavers and the more than 150 emergency personnel at the scene. Authorities didn't know exactly where the missing cavers were underground, and the only light the group had came from headlamps they wore.

Heavy rains began pouring down hours after the group ventured inside, Foster said. The storm hit earlier and harder than expected, and Foster grew so worried that he decided to call authorities and trek inside to get them.

The cavers were a group of college students from Clemson University in South Carolina on a field trip to explore the water system in the cave. Russell led four of them on what was supposed to be a five-hour trip beginning at 10 a.m., and another guide had a dozen. Until Russell noticed the water, they were unaware of the rising waters threatening to block the cave's entrance, which is the lowest point and first to flood.

Hidden River Cave begins at a sinkhole, 150-feet deep, in the centre of downtown Horse Cave. It has two subterranean rivers that flow more than 100 feet below ground.

As Russell tried to lead his group out, the mist grew so thick it kept fogging up one student's glasses. He could barely see and kept stumbling.

"Just imagine going hiking in the mountains at night during a rainstorm and a mudslide," Russell said. "That's what this feels like. The water was so loud, it was like a jetliner; it was roaring."

Russell and his group were surprised to find the rescuers at the cave's mouth. But the other guide's group was still unaccounted for.

Foster and Police Chief Sean Henry began working their way deeper into the cave. The water was waist high in places and rising. There's only one way out, and they knew they'd have to come back out the way they came in. At one point, Henry said he saw the water closing in behind him and wondered if he'd ever leave. He held his flashlight in one hand and radio in the other, though his radio stopped picking up a signal shortly after they entered.

They could hear nothing over the roar of the water. Foster started to doubt he'd come down the right passage. He said anxiety built like a rock in his stomach. Then they heard it: "We're here. We're OK!" The students had shouted after seeing their flashlights.

The way out was the most precarious, when they had to wade and swim through high water, Foster said. But they all made it through. They emerged about 4:30 p.m. Everyone lost was accounted for and uninjured.

"When they came out of the cave, they were neck-deep in water," Hart County Emergency Management Director Kerry McDaniel said.

"I've never been more happy to see the sunlight," Foster said. "It's such a good feeling when you get around the corner and you see the light, and you know you're going to make it out. What a relief."



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45-90 for kidnap, rape

A man who kidnapped a 14-year-old girl when she accepted his offer of a ride home from school because her feet were sore, held her captive for nine months and raped her repeatedly at his trailer acknowledged his crimes on Thursday and apologized. The girl, who was in court to hear his admission, thanked him for eventually letting her go.

Nathaniel Kibby pleaded guilty to seven counts including kidnapping, aggravated felonious sex assault and criminal threatening. He was sentenced to 45 to 90 years in prison.

Kibby, who had pleaded not guilty after his arrest, had been scheduled to go on trial next month on nearly 200 felony charges related to the girl's October 2013 disappearance and the months that followed. But he changed his pleas to guilty at a hearing on Thursday.

Before the 35-year-old Kibby entered his new pleas, a prosecutor said Kibby had kidnapped the girl by offering her a ride home from her school and then brandishing a gun when she tried to get out of his car.

Prosecutor Jane Young said the girl and Kibby didn't know each other and she accepted the ride because she'd worn boots to school that day and her feet were blistered. Young said when the girl tried to get out of the car in a parking lot Kibby pulled out the gun and threatened to "blow her brains out" and slit her throat.

Last week, a judge ruled Kibby's lawyers could not question the girl before his trial about her exposure to media coverage of the case and the amount of freedom she was given to move about his trailer in Gorham, where prosecutors say he used a stun gun, zip ties and a shock collar to control her.

Kibby was charged with kidnapping the girl on Oct. 9, 2013, as she walked home from her high school in Conway. The girl returned to her home in North Conway the night of July 20, 2014.

Young said Kibby released the girl because he was convinced he'd "terrorized her enough" that she wouldn't reveal his identity.

The girl waited until a week after she was home to reveal Kibby's name, which she had seen inside a cookbook in his home.

The girl, who is now 17 years old, told a packed courtroom she thinks daily about the crimes Kibby committed against her. But she also thanked him for freeing her in July 2014.

"I want you to know that I appreciate my freedom because of you and I enjoy my life because of you," she said. "I just want to thank you for giving me my freedom back."

Kibby apologized for the decisions he made and said he didn't want to discuss his feelings in front of the journalists in the courtroom.

Young said that early in the girl's captivity Kibby instructed her to write a misleading letter home in an effort to throw off authorities, who'd launched a massive search for her. The girl still had fake nails at the time and carved his identity and vehicle information into the letter, but he caught on, zapped her with a stun gun as punishment and made her write a new letter.

Lawyers hired by the girl's family said she had suffered "numerous acts of unspeakable violence" during her months of captivity. Their statement was largely a plea for privacy and did not elaborate on what she endured.



Liquor store loader chase

Alaska police say a man used a stolen front-end loader to break into a liquor store and then led officers on a low-speed chase early Thursday.

A witness flagged down Anchorage police about 3:20 a.m. to report a front-loader with forklift attachments had ripped off most of the front entrance to a Brown Jug, an Alaska liquor store chain.

The witness saw the driver go inside, take bottles, then hope back on the front-loader and drive east.

During a 15-mph chase, police followed the driver into a recreational vehicle park and blocked the only exit with patrol cars.

Police say alcohol bottles were found inside the front-loader, which had been stolen from a construction site.

Joseph Martin is being held on suspicion of criminal mischief, burglary, felony driving while intoxicated and other counts. His bail is set at $30,000.





You're worried? Good

The prospect of a Donald Trump presidency is apparently sending eyebrow-furrowing ripples of consternation across the globe.

There's statistical evidence, and anecdotal.

New surveys show that people in Canada and elsewhere are, by an overwhelming majority, concerned about the populist billionaire becoming the so-called leader of the free world.

Actual world leaders are apparently concerned too.

Trump came up in conversation at a G7 summit Thursday — the press pool following the leaders overheard his name being mentioned. President Barack Obama later said some of his peers are worried.

"The world pays attention to U.S. elections," Obama told a news conference. "I think it's fair to say that they are surprised by the Republican nominee. They are not sure how seriously to take some of his pronouncements.

"But they're rattled by him — and for good reason — because a lot of the proposals that he's made display either ignorance of world affairs, or a cavalier attitude, or an interest in getting tweets and headlines instead of actually thinking through (solutions to problems)."

Evidence of such foreign rattling appears in new polls.

— In Canada, an Abacus Data survey suggested Trump would get clobbered in the country — with Hillary Clinton beating him 74 per cent to 26 per cent among Canadian respondents, winning clear majorities in every province. Eighty-four per cent said Trump would make the world less safe.

— Sixty-seven per cent of Canadians hated or disliked his views, compared to 20 per cent who liked or loved them according to a multi-country survey for the liberal group Avaaz. Sixty-nine per cent said he'd make the world less safe, versus 19 per cent who said he'd make it safer.

He was even less popular in the other countries surveyed — the UK, France, Germany, Japan and Mexico. The poll was conducted by YouGov, which found in another survey that Trump was popular in only one G20 country: Russia.

Trump apparently revels in the rattling.

He was asked about Obama's remarks.

He used them to support his basic campaign message: that the U.S. currently loses, because its leaders are losers, and America winds up with bad trade deals, climate regulations, and heavy military spending to defend other countries, because it's suckered into giving other countries such sweet deals.

So if you're mortified by Donald Trump, world, he embraces your mortification.

"When you rattle someone, that's good," Trump told reporters in North Dakota, where he was attending an energy conference.

"Many of the countries in our world — our beautiful world — have been absolutely abusing us and taking advantage of us. ... If they’re rattled in a friendly way, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing."

He offered an example of his promised toughness during the same news conference.

It involved the Keystone XL oil pipeline to Canada.

Trump said he'd approve the pipeline, which Obama has rejected. But he'd apparently drive a tougher bargain. He suggested he'd demand a larger slice of the profits for the U.S.

"I would absolutely approve it, 100 per cent. But I would want a better deal," he said.

"But give us a piece... a significant piece of the profits."

Trump's narrative notwithstanding, the original project arguably did provide that so-called significant piece.

Up to 12 per cent of the pipeline's contents would have been U.S. oil, added through an on-ramp in Montana. Much of it would have come from oil extracted by American companies in Alberta's oilsands. It would then have been shipped into the United States to be refined by American companies in Texas and Louisiana.



Rising waters trap 19 in cave

Authorities say rising water from heavy rains has trapped 19 people in a Kentucky cave.

Horse Cave Fire Chief Donnie Parker says Thursday that two tour groups are trapped in Hidden River Cave in south-central Kentucky.

Parker says two local police officers who tried to rescue the tourists are among those still inside. He says the tour groups have been in the cave for several hours.

He says authorities have not been in communication with the trapped people and are unsure where they are in the cave. Parker says four people were able to escape.

He says a dive team and other rescue groups are at the scene.



4,000 rescued in one day

More than 4,000 would-be refugees were rescued at sea Thursday in one of the busiest days of the Mediterranean migrant crisis, and at least 20 died trying to reach Europe as Libyan-based smugglers took advantage of calmer seas to send desperate migrants north.

The death toll was likely to grow far higher, however, as the Libyan coast guard also reported two overturned boats between the coastal cities of Sabratha and Zwara. Only four bodies were found, raising fears that the rest of those on board had perished.

Overall, the Italian coast guard said it had co-ordinated 22 separate rescue operations Thursday that saved more than 4,000 lives.

"That probably is a record," said coast guard spokesman Cmdr. Cosimo Nicastro, noting that previous highs have been in the range of 5,000 to 6,000 over two days.

One 5-year-old boy got special treatment: He was airlifted from his rescue vessel to the island of Lampedusa, suffering from hypothermia, Nicastro said.

At least one smugglers' boat sank off Libya's coast, and 20 bodies were spotted floating in the sea, said Navy Lt. Rino Gentile, a spokesman for the EU's Mediterranean mission. Photos tweeted by the mission showed a bright blue dinghy submerged under the weight of migrants waving their arms in hope of rescue as an EU aircraft flew overhead.

None had a life jacket.

Two Italian coast guard ships and the Spanish frigate Reina Sofia responded to the scene. Nicastro said 96 people were rescued.

Barbara Molinario, spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency in Italy, said favourable weather conditions in May to October often encourage migrant crossings. She said prior to the recent rescues, some 40,000 people had been rescued so far this year, compared to 47,500 over the same period in 2015.

Among those coming ashore Thursday in Sicily were the survivors of a dramatic capsizing a day earlier off Libya's coast. Footage provided by the Italian navy showed the steel-hulled smuggler ship rocked under the weight of its passengers and finally flipped, sending migrants into the water or clambering up the side.

The Italian navy vessel Bettica brought the survivors and five bodies ashore in Porto Empedocle, Sicily. Red Cross workers took at least one migrant away in a stretcher, while rescue teams in white hazmat suits carried children down the plank to shore.

In other rescues, a Libyan navy spokesman said a total of 766 migrants were rescued by the Libyan coast guard on Thursday.

Col. Ayoub Gassim said they were found in two groups: one of 550 near the western coastal city of Sabratha and the second of 216 off Zwara.

He said two other capsized boats were found empty in waters between the two cities and only four bodies were retrieved, with the rest of those aboard feared dead. He said he had no other details, including how many migrants had been aboard the boats.

Before this week's deaths, the International Organization for Migration said only 13 people had drowned in the month of May, compared with 95 last May and 330 in May 2014. It said the figures "indicate that migrant fatalities may at last be declining" thanks to beefed-up coast guard monitoring along the North African coast.

However, improved weather conditions appear to have led to an increase in the number of migrants risking the crossing.



Obama is house hunting

Real estate circles buzzed Wednesday over reports that President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, have decided to lease a nine-bedroom mansion in one of Washington's poshest neighbourhoods when he leaves office in January.

With a sprawling terrace and a castle-like exterior, the home sits on a quarter-acre lot just down the road from the Naval Observatory, the vice-president's official residence, in the wealthy Kalorama neighbourhood near Embassy Row. A 2011 remodel brought the total number of bathrooms to eight-and-a-half, along with three fireplaces and an "au pair suite," spread out over roughly 8,200 square feet, according to real estate data. It features parking for up to 10 cars.

Peg Mancuso, the president of the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors, called the area "clearly one of the best neighbourhoods in the Washington Metropolitan area." She said if the reports are true, "He couldn't have picked a better neighbourhood for his family."

"It seemed like the perfect choice," Manusco said.

The mansion's owners, President Bill Clinton's former White House press secretary Joe Lockhart and his wife, live in New York, where he works for the NFL. The White House declined to comment on the possibility of the Obamas renting the property, first reported by Politico.

An individual familiar with the Obamas' plans said they had started their housing search and were currently looking at rental properties in a number of Washington neighbourhoods, including Kalorama. The individual wasn't authorized to discuss the issue publicly and requested anonymity.

It was unclear whether the Obamas had settled on the Kalorama property and formally leased it or whether they were still considering other options. Obama's aides and friends have been reluctant to discuss his plans in light of the intense security preparations the U.S. Secret Service must undertake to ensure the first family can be adequately protected while living in a private home.

Obama has said publicly that he and his family plan to stay in Washington after leaving the White House until their youngest daughter, 14-year-old Sasha Obama, graduates from high school. Sasha's older sister, Malia Obama, graduates from high school this year and plans to attend Harvard University after taking a year off.

"Transferring someone in the middle of high school — tough," Obama said earlier this year in Milwaukee.

Built in the 1920s, the mansion last sold in 2013 for about $5.3 million — a drop from the list price of about $6 million, according to real estate records. It was put on the market in 2012 for just under $8 million but later removed.

For years, Obama has complained publicly about the lack of privacy that comes with life in the White House, and has said he's eagerly awaiting the day he can recapture some of the anonymity and freedom of movement he enjoyed before becoming president. Though his decision to remain temporarily in Washington may delay that, Obama is expected to spend considerable time in the coming years in Chicago, where his family owns a home and where his presidential library will be built, as well as in New York and in Hawaii, where Obama was born.



Fighter jets collide

Two Navy jet fighters collided off the coast of North Carolina during a routine training mission on Thursday, sending four people to the hospital, officials said.

The F/A-18 Super Hornet jet fighters, based in Virginia Beach, collided about 10:40 a.m. off the coast of Cape Hatteras, said Navy spokesman Ensign Mark Rockwellpate. Four crew members were taken to a hospital in Norfolk, but Rockwellpate said he didn't have information about the extent of their injuries.

A safety investigation will be carried out to determine the cause of the accident, he said.

The four survivors were plucked off a commercial fishing ship that pulled them out of the Atlantic Ocean and flown by Coast Guard helicopter to a hospital in Norfolk, Virginia, said Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer 3rd Class Joshua Canup.

The helicopter was dispatched from the Coast Guard's air station in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The station's helicopters perform ocean search-and-rescue operations off North Carolina and Virginia as far east as Bermuda.



Spielberg speaks to Harvard

Filmmaker Steven Spielberg is scheduled to deliver the commencement speech at Harvard University.

The three-time Academy Award winner will address graduates at a ceremony Thursday afternoon.

Harvard President Drew Faust has praised Spielberg as an extraordinary storyteller, adding that "through his art, Mr. Spielberg has challenged us to dream and to see the world anew."

Spielberg has won Oscars for best picture and best director for "Schindler's List" and best director for "Saving Private Ryan." One of his earliest hits, "Jaws," was filmed primarily on the Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard.

He earned a degree from California State University, Long Beach, in 2002, after dropping out of the school in the 1960s.

Harvard officials say Spielberg is not being paid for his appearance.



Miss transgender Israel

Contenders in Israel's first transgender pageant have been polishing their moves this week ahead of Friday's competition.

The 12 finalists are aiming to become Israel's first "Miss Trans Israel." They have spent long hours this week practicing their routines, strutting in stiletto heels and modeling evening gowns and swim wear.

The competition is more than a show of beauty and pride.

It also is a display of coexistence and tolerance, bringing together contestants from Israel's Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities. The contestants describe themselves as a family of sorts, saying they find strength in one another.

"I'm happy that the competition is bringing together all of the ethnic groups, and together they are a model of coexistence," said Israela Stephanie Lev, the pageant's organizer. "I hope this model can be an example for our society, for the Middle East and the world."

Judges said they are looking for the contestant that best embodies "the transgender look." Top prize is a $15,000 voucher for a renowned plastic surgeon in Thailand. The winner will represent Israel at the Miss Trans Star International pageant to be held in Spain in August.

The pageant will be held at HaBima, Israel's national theatre, in Tel Aviv on Friday.

Israel is generally tolerant of gays, and Tel Aviv has emerged as one of the world's most gay-friendly travel destinations. The Israeli city stands in sharp contrast to most of the rest of the Middle East, where gays are persecuted or even killed in some places.

Gay and transgender soldiers openly serve in Israel's military, and in 1998, a transgender singer, Dana International, won the popular Eurovision song contest.

But homosexuality is often shunned in religiously observant Jewish and Muslim communities. Last year, an extremist ultra-Orthodox Jew stabbed a teenage girl to death at a Jerusalem Pride parade.



Trump clinches nomination

Donald Trump reached the number of delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination for president Thursday, completing an unlikely rise that has upended the political landscape and set the stage for a bitter fall campaign.

Trump was put over the top in the Associated Press delegate count by a small number of the party's unbound delegates who told the AP they would support him at the national convention in July. Among them is Oklahoma GOP chairwoman Pam Pollard.

"I think he has touched a part of our electorate that doesn't like where our country is," Pollard said. "I have no problem supporting Mr. Trump."

It takes 1,237 delegates to win the Republican nomination. Trump has reached 1,238. With 303 delegates at stake in five state primaries on June 7, Trump will easily pad his total, avoiding a contested convention in Cleveland.

Trump, a political neophyte who for years delivered caustic commentary on the state of the nation from the sidelines but had never run for office, fought off 16 other Republican contenders in an often ugly primary race.

Many on the right have been slow to warm to Trump, wary of his conservative bona fides. Others worry about his crass personality and the lewd comments he's made about women.

But millions of grass-roots activists, many of them outsiders to the political process, have embraced Trump as a plain-speaking populist who is not afraid to offend.

Steve House, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party and an unbound delegate who confirmed his support of Trump to the AP, said he likes the billionaire's background as a businessman.

"Leadership is leadership," House said. "If he can surround himself with the political talent, I think he will be fine."

Trump's pivotal moment comes amid a new sign of internal problems.

Hours before clinching the nomination, he announced the abrupt departure of political director Rick Wiley, who was in the midst of leading the campaign's push to hire staff in key battleground states. In a statement, Trump's campaign said Wiley had been hired only on a short-term basis until the candidate's organization "was running full steam."

His hiring about six weeks ago was seen as a sign that party veterans were embracing Trump's campaign. A person familiar with Wiley's ouster said the operative clashed with others in Trump's operation and didn't want to put longtime Trump allies in key jobs. The person insisted on anonymity because the person was not authorized to publicly discuss the internal campaign dynamics.

Some delegates who confirmed their decisions to back Trump were tepid at best, saying they are supporting him out of a sense of obligation because he won their state's primary.

Cameron Linton of Pittsburgh said he will back Trump on the first ballot since he won the presidential primary vote in Linton's congressional district.

"If there's a second ballot I won't vote for Donald Trump," Linton said. "He's ridiculous. There's no other way to say it."

Trump's path to the Republican presidential nomination began with an escalator ride.

Trump and his wife, Melania, descended an escalator into the basement lobby of the Trump Tower on June 16, 2015, for an announcement many observers had said would never come: The celebrity real estate developer had flirted with running for office in the past.

His speech then set the tone for the candidate's ability to dominate the headlines with provocative statements, insults and hyperbole. He called Mexicans "rapists," promised to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and proposed banning most Muslims from the U.S. for an indeterminate time.

He criticized women for their looks. And he unleashed an uncanny marketing ability in which he deduced his critics' weak points and distilled them to nicknames that stuck. "Little Marco" Rubio, "Weak" Jeb Bush and "Lyin' Ted" Cruz, among others, all were forced into reacting to Trump. They fell one-by-one — leaving Trump the sole survivor of a riotous Republican primary.

His rallies became magnets for free publicity. Onstage, he dispensed populism that drew thousands of supporters, many wearing his trademark "Make America Great Again" hats and chanting, "Build the wall!"

The events drew protests too— with demonstrators sometimes forcibly ejected from the proceedings. One rally in Chicago was cancelled after thousands of demonstrators surrounded the venue and the Secret Service could no longer vouch for the candidate's safety.

When voting started, Trump was not so fast out of the gate.

He lost the Iowa caucuses in February, falling behind Cruz and barely edging Rubio for second. He recovered in New Hampshire. From there he and Cruz fiercely engaged, with Trump winning some and losing some but one way or another dominating the rest of the primary season — in votes or at least in attention — and ultimately in delegates.

Republican leaders declared themselves appalled by Trump's rise. Conservatives called the onetime Democrat a fraud. But many slowly, warily, began meeting with Trump and his staff. And he began winning endorsements from a few members of Congress.

As with other aspects of his campaign, Trump upended the traditional role of money in the race.

He incurred relatively low campaign costs — just $57 million through the end of April. He covered most of it with at least $43 million of his own money loaned to the campaign. He spent less than $21 million on paid television and radio commercials. That's about one-quarter of what Jeb Bush and his allies spent on TV.

Trump entered a new phase of his campaign Tuesday night by holding his first major campaign fundraiser: a $25,000-per-ticket dinner in Los Angeles.

Trump, 69, the son of a New York City real estate magnate, had risen to fame in the 1980s and 1990s, overseeing major real estate deals, watching his financial fortunes rise, then fall, hosting "The Apprentice" TV show and authoring more than a dozen books.



NASA inflatable hits snag

NASA hit a snag while releasing air into an experimental inflatable room at the International Space Station on Thursday and put everything on hold for at least a day.

Mission Control ordered astronaut Jeffrey Williams to call it quits after the operation had dragged on for more than two hours, with the compartment expanding just a few inches. The inflation process could resume as early as Friday, depending on what engineers learn.

"Thanks for all your patience today, and we'll hope for better luck tomorrow," Mission Control radioed.

"That's space business," Williams replied.

It was supposed to take barely an hour for the commercial test chamber known as BEAM — the world's first inflatable room for astronauts — to swell four times in volume.

Everything went smoothly at first as Williams opened a valve, allowing air to slowly flow into BEAM, short for Bigelow Expandable Activity Module.

Williams kept the valve open for just a few seconds, then closed it as ground controllers monitored the increasing pressure inside the chamber. He did that four more times before Mission Control told him to stop because of out-of-spec pressure readings. He started up again following the lengthy delay, but once again was urged to pause, this time because of a lack of noticeable size increases. Soon afterward, NASA called the whole thing off.

The operation must be conducted in daylight, with solid communications with Mission Control.

BEAM is the creation of Bigelow Aerospace, founded by hotel entrepreneur Robert Bigelow. NASA paid the North Las Vegas company $17.8 million to test the inflatable-habitat concept at the space station.

The soft-sided, multi-layered Beam measured 7 feet long and nearly 8 feet in diameter when delivered to the station by SpaceX last month. It had grown just a few inches when Thursday's operation was halted. When fully expanded, the compartment should exceed 13 feet in length and 10 1/2 feet in diameter. That's the beauty of inflatable spacecraft; they can be packed tightly for launch, then expand and provide lots of room once aloft.

Bigelow Aerospace hopes to launch even bigger inflatable habitats in the future for use by tourists orbiting Earth, as well as professional astronauts bound for Mars.

Williams and his five crewmates are forbidden from venturing inside the empty BEAM until a week after it is fully inflated, so ground controllers can check for leaks. Except for when astronauts go in to take measurements every few months, the hatch will remain sealed.

BEAM is supposed to stay attached to the space station for two years.



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