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Russian actors board rocket to attempt a world first: a movie in space

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(Last Updated On: October 5, 2021)

A Russian crew of two cosmonauts, a movie director and an actress is poised to take off for the International Space Station (ISS) later on Tuesday to shoot the first movie in space, the latest twist in decades of Russia-U.S. space rivalry.

The four are scheduled to be launched on a Soyuz MS-19 craft at 0855 GMT and dock hours later at the station, which orbits Earth at an altitude of around 354 km.

Russian state media have been providing blanket and patriotic coverage of the event in the run-up, with a countdown clock running on Channel One and news anchors framing the development as a significant breakthrough by Russia that the rest of the world is watching closely.

The fanfare contrasts with the mixed fortunes of Russia’s own space industry which has in recent years been dogged by delays, accidents and corruption scandals as U.S.-based private firms backed by rich businessmen have developed new spaceships.

The 12-day Russian mission follows the launch of the first all-civilian crew aboard a rocket and capsule developed by SpaceX, which was founded by businessman Elon Musk.

The Russian mission is designed to get in first before a Hollywood project announced earlier this year by actor Tom Cruise together with NASA and SpaceX.

Russia, first as the Soviet Union, and the United States have competed fiercely to reach various space exploration milestones: Russia launched the first satellite and put the first man and woman in space, but NASA beat it to the Moon landing.

The Russian movie titled “The challenge” focuses on a story of a doctor, portrayed by actress Yulia Peresild, who is asked to travel to the space station to save a cosmonaut’s life. Cosmonaut crew members are also set to appear in the film.

Director Klim Shipenko, whose height of 1.9 metres makes the flight in a small capsule especially challenging, has already said he was looking forward to a Mars-based sequel.

Reflecting the Soviet roots of Russia’s space industry, the crew will be launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in the steppes of Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia. Russia leases the cosmodrome.

Russia’s own, newer Vostochny cosmodrome is years away from serving manned aircraft, officials say.

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Afghanistan leads world in negative experiences

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(Last Updated On: June 28, 2022)

Afghanistan in 2021 displaced Iraq from the top spot on the Negative Experience Index that the latter had occupied for the two previous years, Gallup said in a survey report released Tuesday.

According to the report, worry, stress and sadness soared to record levels in Afghanistan in 2021: 80% of Afghans were worried, 74% were stressed and 61% felt sadness much of the day.

No other population in Gallup’s 16 year trend has ever reported feeling this much worry, the reported noted.

Gallup said Afghans’ lives were already in a tailspin before the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) returned to power in 2021. Most Afghans were struggling to afford food and shelter, few felt safe, and they saw their lives getting worse with every passing year, it said.

Gallup surveys conducted in August and September — as the U.S. withdrew and IEA took control — reveal Afghans were losing the remaining joy that they had, the report said.

Afghanistan’s score of 59 on the Negative Experience Index was the highest score on record for the country and the highest score in the world in 2021. However, Afghanistan falls short of having the highest score on record for any country: The Central African Republic posted a score of 61 in 2017.

Bilal Karimi, deputy spokesman of IEA, rejected the report as “propaganda.”

“The reality is that after IEA’s takeover most citizens are feeling safe and have a sense of ownership and they are happy,” Karimi said on Twitter.

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UN appeals for $110 million to help Afghan earthquake victims

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(Last Updated On: June 28, 2022)

The United Nations on Monday launched an emergency appeal for $110 million to provide lifesaving assistance to more than 360,000 Afghans who were affected by last week’s earthquake in Paktika and Khost provinces.

The funding is required over the next three months.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said that the new appeal is part of this year’s Humanitarian Response plan, which calls for $4.4 billion, but is massively underfunded at just over one third.

“We and our partners are borrowing supplies, personnel, and resources from other humanitarian programmes,” UNOCHA said in a statement.

Wednesday’s earthquake killed over a thousand people and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes in Paktika and Khost provinces.

“I’m appealing to the world — please help. We need money. We need funding. We need support to resolve this tragedy,” Ramiz Alakbarov, UN resident relief coordinator for Afghanistan, said in a video message while visiting an area in Paktika province.

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Chinese FM talks with Muttaqi, reaffirms support for quake victims

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(Last Updated On: June 28, 2022)

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke with his Afghan counterpart Amir Khan Muttaqi on Monday in a phone conversation and reaffirmed support for the victims of last week’s devastating earthquake.

Wang expressed condolences over the tragedy and said China stands ready to provide more timely assistance to Afghanistan based on its needs and expects the country to stay united to overcome the disaster and rebuild homes as soon as possible, according to China’s foreign ministry.

He said various forces in China, from the central and local governments to social organizations and enterprises, have worked overtime to deliver emergency humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan and help the Afghan people.

According to Wang, the first batch of tents, blankets and other supplies are being delivered by chartered planes, and cash and other relief supplies will follow as soon as possible.

For his part, Muttaqi thanked the Chinese foreign minister and said that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) has delivered timely food and medical assistance to quake victims. He said that now there is urgent need for shelter, according to a statement from the Afghan foreign ministry.

The statement said that the sides also discussed political relations. Wang said he was opposed to sanctions against Afghanistan and added that the Afghan embassy in Beijing is operating well and is playing a good role in bilateral relations.

Wang said that China will soon start issuing visas to Afghan traders and will facilitate the return of Afghan students to China.

He also said that the air link between Afghanistan and China will be operational soon.

Muttaqi welcomed China’s ‘positive policy’ on Afghanistan and expressed hope it would boost trade between the two countries, especially on dried fruits.

A magnitude-6.1 earthquake hit eastern Afghanistan last Wednesday, leaving over a thousand people dead and 3,000 homes destroyed.

The Chinese government has decided to provide about $7.5 million worth of humanitarian aid to the victims.

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