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Working in space doesn’t seem to shorten astronauts’ lives

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Space travel exposes astronauts to forms of radiation that are uncommon on Earth, and that are linked to cancers and heart problems, but a U.S. study suggests this doesn’t significantly shorten their lives.
 
Researchers compared nearly 60 years of data on U.S. male astronauts and a group of men who are similarly extra fit, affluent and receive elite health care — pro athletes. They found that neither group has higher rates than the other of death overall or of early deaths. Both groups do tend to outlast the rest of us, however.
 
Astronauts are generally well educated, more affluent and more physically fit than the typical American, and some previous research has linked this career to a lower risk of premature death, the study team notes in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.
 
But much of the previous research on mortality rates in astronauts hasn’t accounted for the mental and physical demands of this career, or the so-called “healthy worker effect” that leads people with employment of any kind to typically have fewer medical issues than individuals who are unable to work, said study co-author Robert Reynolds of Mortality Research & Consulting, Inc. in City of Industry in California.
 
“The challenge has always been to understand if astronauts are as healthy as they would be had they been otherwise comparably employed but had never gone to space at all,” Reynolds said by email. “To do this, we needed to find a group that is comparable on several important factors, but has never been to space.”

The researchers compared mortality rates for male U.S. astronauts to professional athletes from Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Basketball Association (NBA) between 1960 and mid-2018.
 
Both athletes and astronauts had a lower risk of premature death than the general population, the study found. And there was no meaningful mortality difference between NBA and MLB players.

We cannot be sure from the data we have, but we speculate that cardiovascular fitness in particular is the most important factor in astronaut longevity.– Robert Reynolds

 
Astronauts were more likely to die of accidents and other external causes, and less likely to die from heart disease and all other natural causes, the study also found.
 
“We cannot be sure from the data we have, but we speculate that cardiovascular fitness in particular is the most important factor in astronaut longevity,” Reynolds said.

More radiation on Mars missions

The results suggest that radiation exposure in space might not lead to premature death for astronauts due to heart problems or certain cancers, the study authors conclude. In fact, astronauts had a lower rate of death from heart disease than the NBA and MLB players, and had cancer mortality similar to the athletes’ rates.

The study wasn’t designed to prove whether or how space travel may directly impact human health. It also didn’t examine mortality among female astronauts or athletes.

Japanese Space Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi greets Houston Astro Norichicka Aoki after throwing out the first pitch in May 2017 in Houston. Both MLB players and astronauts had a lower risk of premature death than the general population, researchers found. (Richard Carson/Associated Press)
 
Radiation exposure may also have been much lower during early missions to the moon and not reflect what would happen with the current generation of astronauts, said Francis Cucinotta, a researcher at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who wasn’t involved in the study.
 
“The missions in the past were low dose, while in the future the dose would be 50 to 100 times higher for a Mars mission,” Cucinotta said by email.
 
Astronauts have typically never smoked, leading to a lower risk of heart disease than the general population, Cucinotta said.
 
Diet and exercise also set astronauts and professional athletes apart from the rest of the population, said Michael Delp, a researcher at Florida State University in Tallahassee who wasn’t involved in the study.
 
“When physical fitness is a requisite part of a job, such as with astronauts and professional athletes, this is a major determinant of the healthy worker effect,” Delp said by email.
 
Even for the rest of us, “remaining or becoming physically active and maintaining a well-balanced diet greatly improve overall health and well-being, and can enhance successful aging,” Delp advised.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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