By Joey Roulette
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – NASA is considering approving by next April up to two planetary science missions from four proposals under review, including one to Venus that scientists involved in the project said could help determine whether or not that planet harbors life.
An international research team on Monday described evidence of potential microbes residing in the harshly acidic Venusian clouds: traces of phosphine, a gas that on Earth is produced by bacteria inhabiting oxygen-free environments. It provided strong potential evidence of life beyond Earth.
The U.S. space agency in February shortlisted four proposed missions that are now being reviewed by a NASA panel, two of which would involve robotic probes to Venus. One of those, called DAVINCI+, would send a probe into the Venusian atmosphere.
“Davinci is the logical one to choose if you’re motivated in part by wanting to follow this up – because the way to follow this up is to actually go there and see what’s going on in the atmosphere,” David Grinspoon, an astrobiologist working on the DAVINCI+ proposal, told Reuters on Tuesday.
The three other proposals include: IVO, a mission to Jupiter’s volcanically active moon Io; Trident, a fly-by trek to map Neptune’s icy moon Triton; and VERITAS, the second of the proposed Venus missions that instead would focus on understanding the planet’s geological history. NASA has said it may choose one or two of the missions.
The search for life elsewhere in the solar system has until now not focused on Venus. In fact, NASA in July launched a next-generation rover to look for traces of potential past life on Mars.
In light of Monday’s findings, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said that is “time to prioritize Venus.” In a statement, Bridenstine said the selection process for the new potential missions will be tough “but I know the process will be fair and unbiased.”
Grinspoon, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, said the selection process should be responsive to recent scientific discoveries.
“If there was a mission to Triton as a finalist, and then somebody with a telescope observed, you know, a soccer stadium on Triton, then arguably yeah, we should send a mission there,” Grinspoon said.
(Reporting by Joey Roulette; Editing by Will Dunham)
Kenya anti-graft agency slams procurement of COVID-19 equipment
By Humphrey Malalo
NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya’s anti-corruption agency has documented evidence of “criminal” behaviour by officials over the procurement of COVID-19 emergency equipment, said a report presented to the Senate.
The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission began investigating allegations of graft in June over the procurement and supply of COVID-19 equipment by the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority. The commission said there was “irregular expenditure” of 7.8 billion Kenyan shillings ($71.96 million).
The revelations come at a time when medical staff in the East African nation have gone on a series of strikes over low pay and poor-quality protective equipment to treat COVID-19 patients. [nL4N2FN1WR]
“The investigation established criminal culpability on the part of public officials in the purchase and supply of COVID-19 emergency commodities at Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (KEMSA) that led to irregular expenditure of public funds,” the commission said in a report it sent to lawmakers on Wednesday.
The watchdog shared its preliminary findings with the Director of Public Prosecutions and has recommended charges against some officials and a system-wide review at the procurement authority to “seal corruption loopholes in future.”
A spokeswoman from the Health Ministry was unavailable for comment. KEMSA is a state-run agency which comes under the ministry.
The head of KEMSA was suspended last month over allegations that it had procured low quality items and inflated prices of others.
In a separate report seen by Reuters on Thursday, the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority catalogued instances of alleged inflation of prices for products procured by KEMSA.
Paracetamol tablets sold at 40 shillings per pack were bought for 66.50 shillings during the pandemic, while alcohol-based sanitizers priced at 313 shillings were purchased at 495 shillings, the report said.
“There was no evidence of indicative price indices obtained through market survey,” the report said.
It also alleged that most “tenders were retrospectively negotiated and evaluated after the deliveries” and “some of the negotiated prices were not as per the prices as proposed.”
Last month, police teargassed protesters in Nairobi during a demonstration against alleged corruption in the procurement of protective gear meant for defence against COVID-19.
Health workers in Kenya have posted images on social media showing what they claim is inadequate protective equipment provided to them, such as porous dust overalls that would not prevent the spread of the virus.
($1 = 108.4000 Kenyan shillings)
(writing by Omar Mohammed; editing by Katharine Houreld and Alexandra Hudson)
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Costco Wholesale beats Q4, says it was impacted by covid-19 premium wage expenses and sanitation costs
Costco Wholesale released its fourth quarter earnings report after hours on Thursday, beating investor expectations on both revenue and earnings per share. The company said that it was negatively affected by coronavirus premium wage expenses and new sanitation costs. Yahoo Finance’s Myles Udland breaks down the company’s earnings report on The Final Round.
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