Disney has debuted the first look at The Mandalorian’s second season just days after announcing the show will return on October 30th.
The trailer seems to pick up where the first season of The Mandalorian left off, with the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda (or “the Child”) traveling across the galaxy. A voice over ominously talks about “stories of eons past” describing great battles between the Mandalorian and “an orderer of sorcerers known as Jedi.” Exciting!
Fans of The Star Wars live-action series have been concerned the show wouldn’t hit its previously announced October release date. The coronavirus pandemic shut down production on a plethora of TV shows and films around the world. But Disney CEO Bob Chapek has reiterated multiple times over the last few months that The Mandalorian was still on schedule, thanks to editing and post-production work that could be done remotely.
The Mandalorian is having a big moment. The series helped land most of Disney Plus’ 18 Emmy nominations, including a nomination for Taika Waititi (looking to follow up his recent Oscar win) for his voiceover work as IG-11. Giancarlo Esposito also landed a Best Guest Actor in a Drama Series nomination for his performance as Moff Gideon.
It’s a good time for Disney to remind fans The Mandalorian is coming. Disney has faced criticism for not adding new and exciting titles at a fast enough clip — especially compared to its streaming rival Netflix, which releases new titles every week. Earlier this year, Disney also confirmed that one of its most anticipated Disney Plus live-action titles, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier from Marvel Studios, is delayed.
Part of that is timing: Disney Plus launched only a few months before the pandemic really settled in. Another factor is that Disney doesn’t necessarily want to compete with the quantity of Netflix’s output. If Disney can have one or two big shows and original films from its tentpole franchises every quarter, subscribers could be happy to stick around and keep paying the monthly fee. It’s not like Disney Plus is hurting, either. The service hit 60 million subscribers last month — a milestone Disney predicted it wouldn’t hit until 2024.
Still, having The Mandalorian’s second season should give Star Wars fans something to look forward to, while also energizing people who haven’t touched Disney Plus since the first season premiered in November 2019 to open the app and perhaps resume a lapsed subscription.
US slaps trade restrictions on China’s top chipmaker
The Department didn’t directly comment on SMIC, but told Reuters it was “constantly monitoring and assessing” possible threats to US security and foreign policy.
SMIC, meanwhile, appeared to have been caught by surprise. A spokesperson said the chip giant hadn’t received any official word of restrictions and reiterated denials of any military link. The company offers chips and services “solely for civilian and commercial end-users and end-uses,” according to the representative.
The semiconductor producer is just the second top-tier company added to the entity list after Huawei. While the effect of the ban won’t be clear until the Commerce Department decides who (if anyone) gets a license, it could represent a significant blow to Chinese tech as a whole. SMIC may have to turn to non-US technology whenever it wants to upgrade its manufacturing or maintain hardware, and there’s no guarantee it will find what it needs. It could find itself trailing behind rivals that have access to a wider range of equipment.
This could have a knock-on effect for companies that depend on SMIC. Huawei needs SMIC to make some of the Kirin chips in its phones, especially after losing access to partners like TSMC — it might have further trouble if SMIC can’t meet demands under the new restrictions. It won’t be surprising if the Chinese government retaliates with comparable restrictions on American companies.
Hitting the Books: The invisible threat that every ISS astronaut fears
Excerpted from How to Astronaut: An Insider’s Guide to Leaving Planet Earth by Terry Virts (Workman). © 2020.
For all the emergency training I went through as an astronaut, I never expected to be holed up in the Russian segment of the ISS, the hatch to the US segment sealed, with my crew waiting and wondering—would the space station be destroyed? Was this the end? As we floated there and pondered our predicament, I felt a bit like the guy in the Alanis Morissette song “Ironic,” who was going down in an airplane crash, thinking to himself, “Now isn’t this ironic?” This is how we ended up in that situation.
Every space station crew trains for all types of emergencies—computer failures, electrical shorts, equipment malfunctions, and more serious fire and air leak scenarios. However, on the International Space Station, the most dangerous of all is an ammonia leak. In fact, our NASA trainers used to tell us, “If you smell ammonia, don’t worry about running the procedure, because you’re going to die anyway.” That sure instilled confidence.
A few months after arriving in space, we were having a typical day. My crewmate Samantha Cristoforetti and I were each in our own crew quarters, going through email and catching up with administrative work, when the alarm went off. The sound of the ISS alarm is exactly what you would think a proper space alarm should sound like—a cross between a Star Trek alarm and a sci-fi B-movie klaxon. When it goes off, there is no doubt that something significant is happening. Sam and I both popped our heads out of our respective quarters and glanced at the alarm panel.
When I saw the ATM alarm lit up, my first thought was, “Atmosphere— there must be an atmosphere leak.” The ISS had occasionally had an air leak false alarm over its fifteen-year history, and I thought it must be one of those. However, that is not what ATM means—it stands for toxic atmosphere, most probably from an ammonia leak. Significantly, this alarm was going off for the first time in ISS history. My brain couldn’t believe it, so I said to Samantha, “This is an air leak, right?” To which she immediately responded “NO—ammonia leak!”
Jolted back to reality, we jumped into action. Gas masks on. Account for everyone; we didn’t want anyone left behind. Float down to the Russian segment ASAP and close the hatch between the US and Russian segments. The US segment uses ammonia as a coolant, but the Russian segment doesn’t, so the air should be safe there. Remove all clothes in case they’re contaminated. Nobody smelled ammonia, so we skipped this step! Close a second hatch to
keep any residual ammonia vapors on the American segment. Get out the ammonia “sniffer” device to make sure there isn’t any of that deadly chemical in the atmosphere on the Russian segment. All clear. Then, await word from Houston. . . .
Fifteen long, suspense-filled minutes later, we got the news—it was a false alarm. We let out a collective sigh of relief; the station wouldn’t be dying today! Whew. Similar to frequent fire alarms and rare air leaks, ammonia leak was just added to the collection of ISS false alarms. We put away the ammonia detector, floated back to the US segment, and started to clean up the mess that we had left floating in midair when that alarm went off.
Then we received an urgent call. “Station, Houston, execute ammonia leak emergency response, I say again, execute emergency response, ammonia leak, this is not a drill!” Pretty unambiguous. Only this time the warning had come via a radio call, not via electronic alarm. After the false alarm I knew that an army of NASA engineers were in mission control, poring over every piece of data they had, trying to determine if this had been a false alarm or the real thing. Now that mission control had confirmed that it was an actual leak, there was no doubt in my mind that this thing was real. No way all those NASA engineers got this call wrong. Having worked in mission control for nearly a decade myself, I had complete confidence in our flight director and flight control team. When they said, “Execute ammonia response,” I put the mask on, shut the hatch, and asked questions later.
It was like a scene out of European Vacation—“Look kids! Big Ben!”—or maybe Groundhog Day. Oxygen masks activated—check. US segment evacuated with nobody left behind—check. Hatch between US and Russian segments closed and sealed—check. Get naked—nope. No ammonia in the Russian atmosphere—check.
By this point, we had run the ISS ammonia leak procedures twice within an hour of each other. We had a quick debrief as a crew to discuss how we handled the emergency, what checklist steps were missed, what could have been done better, and what we needed to report to Houston. By this point, it was very obvious that there would be a lot of meetings happening in Houston and Moscow and that everybody in the NASA chain of command would be aware of our predicament.
Very quickly the gravity (pun intended) of the situation hit us. Using ammonia as the coolant for the American half of the ISS had worked well for decades, but we were acutely aware of its danger. Thankfully, the engineers who designed the station did a great job making a leak extremely unlikely, but the possibility was always there. On the other hand, the Russian glycol-based coolant is not dangerous, which is why the whole station crew would safe haven there in the event of an ammonia leak.
Besides the danger of the crew breathing in toxic fumes, there was a risk to equipment. The ISS has two ammonia loops, a series of tanks and pipes that carry heat from the station’s internal water loops to the external radiators. If one leaked out to space, there would still be a second available to cool equipment. It would be a serious loss of redundancy for the station, especially given that there is no longer a space shuttle to restock the station with the massive ammonia tanks needed to fill a loop. It would be ugly, but survivable.
What is not survivable, however, is having that ammonia leak to the inside of the American segment. First of all, if the entire contents of an ammonia loop came inside the station, it would probably overpressurize and pop the aluminum structure of one or more of the modules, like a balloon being overfilled with air. Mission control could avert this problem by venting the ammonia to space—we would lose the cooling loop, but it would prevent the station from popping. Months after returning to Earth, I learned that Houston had been seriously considering that option during our emergency, and it was only averted because of a tough—and ultimately correct—call by our flight director. That’s why those guys get paid the big bucks—they are some of the smartest and most competent people I have ever worked with. However, even if you averted a catastrophic “popping” of structure, there would still be the problem of ammonia in the US segment.
If even a small amount of ammonia were present in the atmosphere, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to remove. The only scrubber we had was our ammonia masks, so theoretically you could have an astronaut sit in a contaminated module, breathing the contaminant out of the air and into the mask filter, and over time enough of this scrubbing would lower the ammonia concentration, but as the poor astronaut sat there cleaning the air he would also be covered in ammonia, and convincing his fellow crewmates on the Russian segment to allow him back to their clean air would be problematic, to say the least. There would need to be some sort of shower and cleaning system to completely clean him up, which of course doesn’t exist in space. It would be a similar situation to soldiers in a chemical warfare environment, or the Soviet soldiers in the recent miniseries Chernobyl. Dealing with a toxic environment on Earth is difficult enough, but in space it would be nearly impossible. The reality is that an actual leak into the American segment would make a significant portion of the ISS uninhabitable, and if there were no crew there when the equipment broke down, there would be nobody to fix it.
A real ammonia leak would eventually lead to the slow death of the US half of the ISS, which would then lead to the end of the entire station. We knew this and spent our afternoon staring at each other, wondering out loud how long it would be before they sent us home, leaving the space station uninhabited and awaiting an untimely death.
Later that evening, we received a call from Houston. “Just kidding, it was a false alarm.” That was a huge false alarm. It turned out that some cosmic radiation had hit a computer, causing it to kick out bad data regarding the cooling system, and it took Houston hours to sort out what was really happening. Because that call from Houston had told us that it was a real leak, we all believed it—we knew that the folks in mission control were some of the best engineers in the world and that they would be 100 percent sure before making a call like that. So we were very relieved to get that call.
The coronavirus pandemic by the numbers
I’m dwelling on numbers because this week, the US officially counted 200,000 COVID-19 deaths. Words like “grim milestone” just don’t seem adequate in the face of that toll.
Numbers are valuable. Case counts help scientists track the infection’s spread. Death tolls help policy makers figure out where things are going right — or horribly wrong. They’re utilitarian.
They can also hit like a derailed train.
Since I started this column two months ago, more than 345,470 people have died of COVID-19 around the world. 57,993 of those deaths were in the US.
That’s 345,470 people, each with families and friends and coworkers and enemies and cats and dogs and people who just saw them on the street while walking to the bus. They’re gone. Their desks and armchairs and beds are empty. The people who loved them are red-eyed and sorting through the stuff they left behind. Each human lost cuts deep into communities, and the US has etched a wound into itself that is deeper than any other covid-wound on Earth.
I’ve stopped looking at the numbers every hour, like I was doing this spring. But every Friday, when I look at the numbers on Johns Hopkins’ dashboard, it’s still a shock. I know I’m not alone.
“Shocked — that would be the word that I would say captures my response to our current death numbers from the vantage point of February,” David Celentano, the head of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health’s epidemiology department, told Vox this week.
In February, the first US death was alarming. Now, around 800 people in the country are dying of the disease every day, and the sirens and alarm bells have blurred into the background of a horrible year.
When it comes to death, numbers like 200,000 are no more tragic than numbers like 145,763, or 12 or one. But the roundness of the number does help to turn up the volume on that incomprehensible din. Visuals that compare the national death toll to our neighborhoods and cities, like The Washington Post’s brutal new interactive map, can help us understand the volume of death — body by body and block by block. Comparisons to other death tolls can help us reckon with just how unprecedented this is.
“The number of dead is equivalent to a 9/11 attack every day for 67 days. It is roughly equal to the population of Salt Lake City or Huntsville, Alabama,” Carla K. Johnson wrote for The Associated Press.
Thinking beyond the US’s borders — more than 985,748 people have died of this disease. There are 74 different countries and territories around the world with populations smaller than that number.
Wrestling with the loss of a nation’s worth of people is not something that any one of us thought we’d be dealing with this year. Every single death, every single case, ever since the pandemic roared into public consciousness in January, is one too many.
These numbers are the subject of all the science we talk about every week — they provide the data that researchers use to study this disease. But the climb of these numbers is also an urgent motivation behind this research. Whether researchers are trying to find a vaccine, or a treatment, or figure out how the virus moves between us, or how it wrecks our bodies — the goal is the same. No one can make those numbers go down — but it is still possible to keep them from going up.
Here’s what else happened this week.
Child deaths tied to covid-19 remain remarkably low, months into U.S. pandemic
While the COVID-19 death toll in the United States remained the highest in the world, the fatality rate for people under 20 remained extraordinarily low. Experts are still trying to understand how the disease affects younger people.
(Lenny Bernstein/The Washington Post)
The Core Lesson of the COVID-19 Heart Debate
There has been a lot of effort put into understanding some of the damage that COVID-19 can do to the heart. Many studies have poured out of labs, as a flood of data has rushed into them — but many conclusions in the heart debate remain out of reach. Over at The Atlantic, Ed Yong discusses why, and finds that “as pandemics get wider, they feel weirder.”
(Ed Yong/The Atlantic)
What Do Two New Studies Really Tell Us About Coronavirus Transmission on Planes?
This is a good breakdown of some of the limitations behind two case studies that looked at coronavirus transmission on planes.
(Jane C. Hu/Slate)
Johnson & Johnson Starts Phase 3 Trial for Single-Dose Coronavirus Vaccine
This week, Johnson & Johnson started its large-scale trials for it’s vaccine in the US. Unlike many of the other candidates, this one is designed to only require a single dose — potentially making is easier to distribute. A different company, Novavax, also entered phase three trials this week in the UK.
Here come the tortoises: In the race for a Covid-19 vaccine, slow starters could still win out
At STAT there’s a good update on some of the other vaccine candidates. Pharma companies Merck and Sanofi are both moving more slowly and methodically, but are still very much making progress towards a vaccine.
A Covid-19 Vaccine for Children May Not Arrive Before Fall 2021
As vaccine development pushes ahead, one group is noticeably not represented in any of the vaccine trials underway in the US — kids. “Vaccine developers are keenly aware that children are not simply miniature adults.” Carl Zimmer writes in The New York Times. Creating a vaccine that is safe and effective for children will likely take a lot more work, and a lot more time.
(Carl Zimmer/The New York Times)
156 countries are teaming up for a Covid-19 vaccine. But not the US or China.
How will a vaccine get distributed when we finally have a good candidate? Manufacturing and shipping issues aside, it’s going to be a massive political undertaking too. For a look at the international relations side of vaccine distribution, read up on Covax, an initiative that aims to distribute billions of doses worldwide by the end of next year.
Averting a COVID-19 vaccination crisis will take careful communication
In order for a vaccine to work, people have to be willing to take it. The Sports Grind Entertainment’s Nicole Wetsman talked with a vaccine hesitancy researcher about this vaccine, and what concerns public health experts will have to overcome. (For more expert opinions on a similar topic, check out Maggie Koerth’s `How To Know When You Can Trust A COVID-19 Vaccine` at Five Thirty Eight.)
(Nicole Wetsman/The Sports Grind Entertainment)
The code: How genetic science helped expose a secret coronavirus outbreak
This is a great feature that dives deep into how researchers uncovered a single outbreak at a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa.
(Sarah Kaplan, Desmond Butler, Juliet Eilperin, Chris Mooney and Luis Velarde/The Washington Post)
More than Numbers
To the more than 32,397,479 people worldwide who have tested positive, may your road to recovery be smooth.
To the families and friends of the 985,748 people who have died worldwide — 203,549 of those in the US — your loved ones are not forgotten.
Stay safe, everyone.
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