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Jeff Bezos, world’s richest man, carries out inaugural space voyage

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(Last Updated On: July 20, 2021)

Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, and three crewmates soared high above the Texas desert aboard his space venture Blue Origin‘s New Shepard launch vehicle on Tuesday and returned safely to Earth, a historic suborbital flight that helps to inaugurate a new era of private commercial space tourism.

The spacecraft ignited its BE-3 engines for a liftoff from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One facility about 20 miles (32 km) outside the rural town of Van Horn, flying about 66.5 miles (107 km) above the planet’s surface. There were generally clear skies with a few patchy clouds on a cool morning for the launch.

The 57-year-old American billionaire flew on a voyage lasting about 10 minutes and 20 seconds to the edge of space, nine days after Briton Richard Branson was aboard his competing space tourism company Virgin Galactic’s successful inaugural suborbital flight from New Mexico.

New Shepard was designed to hurtle at speeds upwards of 2,200 miles (3,540 km) per hour to an altitude beyond the so-called Kármán line – 62 miles (100 km) – set by an international aeronautics body as defining the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space.

After the capsule separates from the booster, the crew was due to have unbuckled for a few minutes of weightlessness. Then the capsule returned to Earth under parachutes, using a last-minute retro-thrust system that expelled a “pillow of air” for a soft landing in the Texas desert.

Bezos gave a thumbs-up sign from inside the capsule after landing on the desert floor before stepping out, wearing a cowboy hat and blue flight suit, and giving company employees high fives.

The mission was part of a fiercely competitive battle between Bezos’ Blue Origin and fellow billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic to tap a potentially lucrative space tourism market the Swiss bank UBS estimates will be worth $3 billion annually in a decade.

Bezos and the other passengers climbed into an SUV vehicle for a short drive to the launch pad before walking up a tower and getting aboard the gleaming white spacecraft, with a blue feather design on its side. Each passenger rang a shiny bell before boarding the craft’s capsule.

Branson got to space first, but Bezos was due to fly higher – 62 miles (100 km) for Blue Origin compared to 53 miles (86 km) for Virgin Galactic – in what experts call the world’s first unpiloted space flight with an all-civilian crew. It represents Blue Origin’s first crewed flight to space.

Bezos, founder of ecommerce company Amazon.com Inc, and his brother Mark Bezos, a private equity executive, were joined by two others. Pioneering female aviator Wally Funk, 82, and recent high school graduate Oliver Daemen, 18, become the oldest and youngest people to reach space.

Bezos embraced Funk after the landing.

The flight coincides with the anniversary of Americans Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin becoming the first humans to walk on the moon, on July 20, 1969. New Shepard is named for Alan Shepard, who in 1961 became the first American in space.

Funk was one of the so-called Mercury 13 group of women who trained to become NASA astronauts in the early 1960s but was passed over because of her gender. Daemen, Blue Origin’s first paying customer, is set to study physics and innovation management in the Netherlands. His father, who heads investment management firm Somerset Capital Partners, was on site to watch his son fly to space.

The launch was witnessed by members of the Bezos family and Blue Origin employees, and a few spectators gathered along the highway before dawn. Spectators applauded during the flight.

MINUTES OF WEIGHTLESSNESS

New Shepard is a 60-foot-tall (18.3-meters-tall) and fully autonomous rocket-and-capsule combo that cannot be piloted from inside the spacecraft. It is completely computer-flown and had none of Blue Origin’s staff astronauts or trained personnel onboard.

Virgin Galactic used a spaceplane with a pair of pilots on board.

The reusable Blue Origin booster had previously flown twice to space.

The launch represented another step in the race to establish a space tourism sector that Swiss investment bank UBS estimates will reach $3 billion annually in a decade. Another billionaire tech mogul, Elon Musk, plans to send an all-civilian crew on a several-day orbital mission on his Crew Dragon capsule in September.

On Twitter, Musk wished the Blue Origin crew “best of luck” hours before the launch.

Blue Origin aims for the first of two more passenger flights this year to happen in September or October.

Blue Origin appears to have a reservoir of future customers. More than 6,000 people from at least 143 countries entered an auction to become the first paying customer. The auction winner, who made a $28 million bid, dropped out of Tuesday’s flight, opening the way for Daemen. Virgin Galactic has said 600 people have booked reservations, priced at about $250,000 per ticket.

Branson has said he aims ultimately to lower the price to about $40,000 per seat.

Bezos has a net worth of $206 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires. He stepped down this month as Amazon CEO but remains its executive chairman.

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ANDSF to launch offensives in north to retake fallen districts

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(Last Updated On: July 27, 2021)

The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) are expected to start offensives in Balkh province and across the country to retake fallen districts and areas, said Bismillah Mohammadi, acting minister of defense on Tuesday during a trip to Balkh.

According to Mohammadi, if the Taliban think they can win militarily, they are wrong.

“Hopefully we will witness our offensives across Afghanistan and we will recapture areas one after another,” said Mohammadi.

He also praised ANDSF for their achievements in Balkh, Samangan and Herat provinces.

“It is our obligation to defend the country until our last breath. We assure people that yesterday Kaldar was recaptured and earlier one district in Herat was recaptured,” said Mohammadi.

The acting minister of defense said that people, especially youths, stand by the ANDSF to defend the country.

“When I assessed the situation in Mazar, I saw that most people who stand by ANDSF were youths. Not only in the north but in all Afghanistan, uprising forces were established to defend people,” added Mohammadi.

During his visit to Balkh, Mohammadi also met Afghan army soldiers.

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Well known Afghan comedian gunned down in Kandahar

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(Last Updated On: July 27, 2021)

A well-known local comedian, Nazar Mohammad, who was known as Khasha Jawan, was gunned down on Tuesday, allegedly by the Taliban, in Kandahar, sparking widespread condemnation.

According to sources, Khasha Jawan was assaulted by the militants before being killed.

He was allegedly then dragged out of his house, with his hands tied behind his back and his body dumped in the Dand district of Kandahar.

A video doing its rounds on social media shows the militants assaulting Khasha Jawan before killing him.

Vice President Amrullah Saleh wrote on his Facebook page that Khasha Jawan was executed by the Taliban in a “kangaroo court.”

“Footage of the moments before the execution of Khasha Jawan Kandahari in a kangaroo court shows that the Taliban does not abide by Sharia; they have no court, no law, and no humanity,” Saleh said.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Culture and Information stated that Khasha Jawan sent out strong messages through “art and allegory” to the people.

Waheed Omer, Director General at the Office of Public and Strategic Affairs of the Afghan government, stated: “Footage of Taliban killing a bound local comedian in Kandahar is a drop [in the ocean compared to] the massacre campaign that the Taliban has waged across Afghanistan.”

“Please don’t look the other way. Raise your voice on whatever stage that you have access to. These savages are after rooting our people out,” Omer tweeted.

The Taliban, however, stated that Nazar Mohammad was a member of the Afghan security forces.

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Taliban negotiating team member’s son killed in clashes in Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: July 27, 2021)

Anas Haqqani, a member of the Taliban’s negotiating team, confirmed Tuesday that the son of Mohammad Nabi Omari, a member of the Taliban leadership and negotiating team, was killed in a battle with government forces.

In a tweet, Haqqani confirmed the killing of Omari. But he did not give any further details.

The Afghan government also confirmed that Abdul Haq Omari, who was the deputy chief of the Taliban military wing in Paktia province, was killed in a clash with Special Forces.

Meanwhile, Shaheen 209th Military Corps claims that a Pakistani army officer Javed was killed by NDS forces.

According to the Corps, he was a serving Pakistani army officer and was leading the Taliban in Logar, Paktia, and Paktika provinces and was killed on Tuesday morning in an operation by NDS 01 unit.

The Corps also said that a commander of tactical training and head of the Taliban Red Unit in Faryab province, along with seven of his fighters was killed.

“Qari Hayatullah, known as Osama, the head of the Taliban’s red unit and commander of the Taliban’s tactical and terrorist training for Faryab province, was killed Monday afternoon in a joint operation by defense and security forces in the village of Deh Azizan in the Sabz area of Pashtun Kot district,” read the statement.

During the operation nine other members of the group were wounded, the Corps added.

The Taliban has not commented yet.

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