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Teen girls prepare for space launch

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They are part of a team of high school girls from Cape Town, South Africa, who have designed and built payloads for a satellite that will orbit over the earth’s poles scanning Africa’s surface.
Once in space, the satellite will collect information on agriculture, and food security within the continent.
Using the data transmitted, “we can try to determine and predict the problems Africa will be facing in the future”, explains Bull, a student at Pelican Park High School.
South Africa's program aims to encourage girls into STEM, particularly astronomy. Less than 10% of young women are interested in STEM subjects.

“Where our food is growing, where we can plant more trees and vegetation and also how we can monitor remote areas,” she says. “We have a lot of forest fires and floods but we don’t always get out there in time.”
Information received twice a day will go towards disaster prevention.
It’s part of a project by South Africa’s Meta Economic Development Organization (MEDO) working with Morehead State University in the US.

Ambitious first

The girls (14 in total) are being trained by satellite engineers from Cape Peninsula University of Technology, in a bid to encourage more African women into STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).
If the launch is successful, it will make MEDO the first private company in Africa to build a satellite and send it into orbit.
“We expect to receive a good signal, which will allow us to receive reliable data,” declares an enthusiastic Mngqengqiswa, of Philippi High School. “In South Africa we have experienced some of the worst floods and droughts and it has really affected the farmers very badly.”
By 2020 80% of jobs will be related to STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics), MEDO predicts, but currently only 14% of the STEM workforce globally are women.

By 2020 80% of jobs will be related to STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics), MEDO predicts, but currently only 14% of the STEM workforce globally are women.

Drought and environmental effects from climate change have continued to plague the country in recent years. An El Niño induced drought led to a shortfall of 9.3 million tons in southern Africa’s April 2016 maize production, according to a UN report.
“It has caused our economy to drop … This is a way of looking at how we can boost our economy,” says the young Mngqengqiswa.

Inspiring girls

The girls' satellite will have a detailed vantage point of South Africa's drought crisis which led to a shortfall of 9.3 million tons in southern Africa's April 2016 maize production.

The girls' satellite will have a detailed vantage point of South Africa's drought crisis which led to a shortfall of 9.3 million tons in southern Africa's April 2016 maize production.

Initial trials involved the girls programming and launching small CricketSat satellites using high-altitude weather balloons, before eventually helping to configure the satellite payloads.
The girls learning science in defiance of Boko Haram

The girls learning science in defiance of Boko Haram

Small format satellites are low cost ways of gathering data on the planet quickly. Tests so far have involved collecting thermal imaging data which is then interpreted for early flood or drought detection.
“It’s a new field for us [in Africa] but I think with it we would be able to make positive changes to our economy,” says Mngqengqiswa.
Ultimately, it is hoped the project will include girls from Namibia, Malawi, Kenya, and Rwanda.
Mngqengqiswa comes from a single parent household. Her mother is a domestic worker. By becoming a space engineer or astronaut, the teenager hopes to make her mother proud.
“Discovering space and seeing the Earth’s atmosphere, it’s not something many black Africans have been able to do, or do not get the opportunity to look at,” says Mngqengqiswa.
The schoolgirl is right; in half a century of space travel, no black African has journeyed to outer space. “I want to see these things for myself,” says Mngqengqiswa, “I want to be able to experience these things.”
Her team mate, Bull agrees: “I want to show to fellow girls that we don’t need to sit around or limit ourselves. Any career is possible — even aerospace.”

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Driverless 'Roborace' car makes street track debut

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The autonomous “DevBot #1” took a giant leap forward in Morocco recently, making its debut on a street track at the Formula E Marrakech ePrix.
The battery-powered prototype is being tested for Roborace — a proposed race series where driverless cars will compete on temporary city circuits.
“It’s the first time we’ve run the Devbot in driverless mode on a Formula E track in the middle of a city street,” Roborace’s Justin Cooke told CNN.
“It’s so exciting for the team who put hours and hours of work in. These guys were up to 1-2 a.m. in the morning developing a technology that no one else in the world is able to do at this speed and in these complicated environments.”
Using a variety of sensors — including GPS, radar and ultrasonics — allied to sophisticated computer programs, the car learns how to navigate a track at speed avoiding all obstacles.
“What we are doing is at the forefront of technology right now,” says Cooke, who is also CMO of Kinetik — an investment company founded by Russian businessman Denis Sverdlov which is providing financial backing for the project.
“There are two or three kinds of space races, if you will — some people are going to Mars, we’re developing robotic cars and I think it’s probably one of the most, if not the most exciting space in the world right now.”
After the successful 30-minute test in Marrakech — this year’s host city for the United Nations climate change conference (COP22) — Cooke say the company will next try racing two cars together on track with the eventual aim of having up to 10 cars competing at every Formula E ePrix weekend.
“To be here at COP22 when we are celebrating an electric future, a driverless future — it’s the perfect time for Roborace,” Cooke enthuses.
“More than anything we want people to be excited about the technology because it’s going to change our lives, it’s going to transform our cities.”
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Flying a sports car with wings

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Tampa, Florida (CNN) — When it comes to piloting a plane, I have zero experience.

In fact, I’ve never even considered attempting it.

Nevertheless, as we swoop over Florida’s Tampa Bay on a gorgeous November morning, I enthusiastically take over the controls of the ICON A5, a two-seater amphibious plane that looks like a sports car, maneuvers like a jet ski and is so intuitive, the company says that even a novice can learn to fly it in less than 30 hours.

At 23 feet long and weighing in a 1,510 pounds, it’s known as a sea light-sport aircraft.

Designed to help you focus on the freedom of flying without worrying if the plane will react unpredictably, there’s nothing else quite like it on the market.

Now that I’m in control, my whole body tenses for a good five minutes. Am I really ready to pilot this shiny new machine all by myself? I’m not entirely sure.

However, I take comfort in the fact that the A5 was built specifically for people like me, and it was designed to drive like a car.

Plus, the fact that Icon’s CEO and founder, Kirk Hawkins, is next to me in the cockpit doesn’t hurt either. He can take over the controls at any time.

So far, so good.

We glide smoothly through the air at about 1,000 feet, and I’m comfortable enough to take in the sights. Lovely Fort De Soto Park doesn’t disappoint.

Squiggles of dreamy white dunes are surrounded by water that looks like it should be in the Caribbean.

The Sunshine Skyway Bridge, with its series of long-spanning cables, is equally impressive.

The adrenaline is still racing. And as most surreal experiences go, it just keeps getting better.

For starters, there’s another ICON A5 to my left, which is thrilling in itself. We are flying in formation, and my job is to mimic its movements. You’d think this would be intimidating, but it’s not.

It’s just plain fun.

That’s music to Hawkins’ ears. He’s the brains behind this newfangled plane, an idea 10 years in the making.

As a former Air Force F-16 pilot and a Stanford Business School grad, he has focused most of his adult life on making sport flying available to the masses.

“The idea for us was to create an airplane where the average human being can go out and experience the world without having the burden of becoming a professional pilot,” he says.

So it makes sense that the dashboard looks like what you see in your car. There are only a few gauges that I don’t recognize.

“It’s the Apple approach to things,” he says. “You humanize it, and make it intuitive and easy and cool.”

He’s so confident people will want to fly (and buy) his planes that he just opened a flight-training facility at Peter O. Knight Airport.

Located on Davis Island, five minutes from downtown Tampa, it’s a place where both beauty and sailboats abound.

The company’s other training center is in Vacaville, California, where ICON is headquartered.

Wide eyes and open windows

By 9 a.m., it’s time for a brief water-landing pitstop.

Hawkins takes over the controls. I’ve been too busy learning to fly in formation (not something non-pilots get to try very often) and interviewing Hawkins to even think about learning to do a water landing myself. It’s something Hawkins tells me most people can master in about 30 minutes.

A few negative-Gs and 360-degree turns later and it becomes a fun roller-coaster ride in the sky. Plus, it’s an open-air flight, so I occasionally flop my arms out. Just because I can.

At a few hundred feet above the water, it’s easy to spot a boater waving at us, a flock of pelicans and even stingrays.

“We’re gonna pull over here and stop and get out for a second,” he says.

Surely he’s kidding, right? But after landing the plane on the water, he takes off his seatbelt, and I realize he’s not.

Seconds later, he pops the roof and we climb onto the wings, which could easily double as diving boards. Suddenly, this feels less like a plane outing and more like I’m on a boat sunbathing.

Everything is drenched in a mesmerizing golden hue. I can imagine picnicking on the beach nearby. Or taking the plane somewhere for a remote weekend camping trip.

Because the plane has a range of about 430 miles on a full tank, it’s made for short getaways.

“This entire thing is about inspiring people,” he explains. “Once you learn to fly, you will never be the same. You will look at the sky different, you will look at the planet different.”

Designed to make flying simple

“The primary motor skills for operating a plane are pretty easy,” Hawkins tells me. “We have people landing by themselves with an instructor on their very first day, within 30 minutes.”

That said, they’ve painstakingly taken the time to design it for safety. The goal of the spin-resistant airframe feature is that if the pilot makes mistakes, the airplane doesn’t lose control.

As a backup, there’s a complete airplane parachute.

“The spin resistance feature is a big deal as it’s the first airplane that the FAA has deemed spin-resistant,” says Chris Dupin, a flight instructor and US Air Force officer. “A significant number of general aviation fatalities are from loss of control accidents that involve an unrecovered spin on the base to final turn.”

Plus, there’s the angle of attack indicator, something you don’t typically see in a light aircraft. It shows you where the wing is happy (in the green) or where it could stall (in the red).

The pilot’s job is to keep the wing within the green or yellow section of the gauge. This is part of what makes water takeoffs and landings so easy to learn.

Becoming a barnstormer

“Kirk Hawkins has an extremely creative and innovative idea for pilot training that is more intuitive; teaching the feel of flight first and the principals and structure later, not unlike how people learn to drive,” says Christine Negroni, veteran aviation journalist and author of “The Crash Detectives.”

“The world is facing a pilot shortage, so the idea of teaching differently, so that different learning styles can be accommodated could very well expand the pool of pilot candidates.”

On that note, about 40% of the folks who’ve put down deposits for the ICON A5 are not pilots, which means this plane is drawing aviation newbies.

After an hour and a half of flying time, Hawkins lands us on the airport runway, a maneuver that you can tackle after you’ve mastered several water landings. It’s a bit trickier since it requires more precision and knowledge about crosswinds.

At this point, if I owned this plane, I’d hook it up to a trailer, fold the wings up, drive it home, and park it in the garage.

Get some air time

If you want your own ICON A5, get in line. More than 1,800 customers have put deposits down.

For those who aren’t ready to shell out $207,000 to buy one, there’s the option of stopping by ICON’s training facility in Tampa, or the facility in Vacaville, California, to fly for the day.

The Sport Flying Introduction class is 1.5 hours for $595. To snag your Sport Pilot License, you will need to spend 20-plus hours and pricing varies.

Sarah Sekula is an Orlando-based travel writer and video host. Follow her adventures @wordzilla and @wordzillapics.

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Revealed: Winners of the 'Oscars of watches'

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The winners of this year’s “Oscars of watchmaking” have been chosen, with a wide range of time pieces recognized for their engineering perfection and eye-catching design.

An industry jury chose the world’s best watches in fifteen different categories including sports, jewellery and travel time watch, with the awards presented by the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) in Geneva earlier this month.

The grand prize for the world’s best watch, the Aiguille d’Or Grand Prix, was awarded to the Chronomètre Ferdinand Berthoud FB 1 from Ferdinand Berthoud.

This limited-edition white gold and titanium time piece, which retails for more than $200,000, has a leather strap and is powered by a hand-wound movement comprised of more than 1,120 components.

The Public Prize, chosen by votes submitted internationally online and at select international watch exhibitions, was awarded to the 33 bis Quai des Bergues by Czapek Genève.

The winning watches were shown in Seoul, Rome and Geneva before they arrived in Dubai on November 15 for their final hurrah at Dubai Watch Week.

Watches from Audemars Piguet, Montblanc, MB&F, Piaget, TAG Heuer and Tudor brands, along with Chanel, Eberhard & Co, Fabergé and Grönefeld, were also honored by this year’s 27-person international jury.

Check out the gallery above to see the full list of this years winners.

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