Space is a dangerous place. That message resonated again on Monday, when the Russian Federal Space Agency — Roscosmos — announced that a team of experimental geckos tasked with copulating while in orbit did not survive their journey.
"All geckos, unfortunately, died," the space agency said in a terse statement.
Roscosmos is launching an investigation into the exact circumstances surrounding the geckos' deaths, but the mission seemed star-crossed from the start.
The star experiment was "Gecko-F4," which according to a Google translation of the agency's website was designed to "create conditions for sexual behavior, copulation and reproduction of geckos in the orbital experiment." Video cameras were set up to capture the geckos in the act, along with any eggs that resulted.
But shortly after launch, ground control said the Foton-M4 stopped responding to commands. Controllers spent several days battling to reconnect with the spacecraft. During that time the status of the geckos, and their sexual activity, remained unclear. Nor was it clear whether the Foton-M spacecraft was capable of safely returning to Earth. The scenario was a little like the ill-fated flight of Apollo 13 in 1970 (except in most respects it was completely different).
Eventually contact was re-established with the spacecraft, and it did travel back to Earth. But the geckos appear to have died somewhere along the way. Ria Novosti quotes the head of the experiment, Sergei Savelyev, as saying the geckos very likely died just two days before landing. It appears that part of the capsule's life-support system had quit working.
Not all life aboard perished, however. Roscosmos reports that some fruit flies appeared to have survived the journey. What's more, they successfully reproduced.
To learn more about the recent celebrity photo hack, Melissa Block speaks with Matthew Green of Johns Hopkins University. They discuss how the photos might have been obtained, as well as how you can protect your own material saved to the cloud.
Amid widespread criticism of the deployment of military-grade weapons and vehicles by police officers in Ferguson, Mo., President Obama recently ordered a review of federal efforts supplying equipment to local law enforcement agencies across the country.
So, we decided to take a look at what the president might find.
NPR obtained data from the Pentagon on every military item sent to local, state and federal agencies through the Pentagon's Law Enforcement Support Office — known as the 1033 program — from 2006 through April 23, 2014. The Department of Defense does not publicly report which agencies receive each piece of equipment, but they have identified the counties that the items were shipped to, a description of each, and the amount the Pentagon initially paid for them.
We took the raw data, analyzed it and have organized it to make it more accessible. We are making that data set available to the public today.
Here's what we found:
1. Gear: MRAPs, Bayonets And Grenade Launchers
The 1033 program is the key source of the most visible, big-ticket, military item being sent to local law enforcement: mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs. Designed to withstand bullets, grenades and roadside bombs on the front lines of war, more than 600 of them have been sent to local law enforcement agencies in almost every state in the U.S., mostly within the past year. Los Angeles County, for example, has nine of these vehicles, six of which were obtained just this past March.
But the program is a conduit for much more than just MRAPs. Since 2006, through the 1033 program, the Pentagon has also distributed:
- 79,288 assault rifles
- 205 grenade launchers
- 11,959 bayonets
- 3,972 combat knives
- $124 million worth of night-vision equipment, including night-vision sniper scopes
- 479 bomb detonator robots
- 50 airplanes, including 27 cargo transport airplanes
- 422 helicopters
- More than $3.6 million worth of camouflage gear and other "deception equipment"
2. More Than Just Combat Gear
It turns out that weapons are a relatively small part of the 1033 program.
Each item in the database has a National Stock Number (NSN), which NPR used to determine the general category of each item and gain a broader understanding of what types of equipment have been made available through the 1033 program. The list includes building materials, musical instruments and even toiletries. (We've added those categories to the data we're publishing today.)
Actual weaponry, not including vehicles of any kind, account for just over 3 percent of the total value of all goods sent out by the Pentagon between 2006 and April.
3. What The Data Don't Tell Us: Why?
Congress authorized the 1033 program in 1989 to equip local, state and federal agencies in the war on drugs. In 1996, Congress widened the program's scope to include counterterrorism. But the data do not confirm whether either of those public safety goals are, in fact, driving decisions about the distribution of equipment. Areas with large populations or high crime rates aren't necessarily receiving more or less than their share of the items. Nor is a greater amount of equipment being sent to areas along the U.S. borders or coasts, places more likely to be drug trafficking corridors or terrorist targets.
Looking exclusively at who is getting what, the data don't clearly point to why certain agencies are receiving more surplus items than others.
Here's how it works: Equipment is posted to LESO's (the 1033 program office) website, and then local agencies can request it. Only state coordinators to the Defense Logistics Agency are tasked with approving or denying those requests.
We did see trends in the data over time that show patterns of military overstocking and surplus.
What The Data Don't Tell Us: The Local Story
Our analysis of the data only took us so far. Many questions remain.
The data are merely a starting point for further exploration into why certain overstocked and surplus items are — and aren't — being requested. Questions remain about how and why they are being used, and the benefit, if any, to local law enforcement.
We've provided NPR member stations with the tools to begin asking these and other questions. With reporting at the national and local levels, we will continue to follow this story.
A newly released video shows health workers in Liberia attempting to capture a suspected Ebola patient, who had allegedly escaped from a treatment center on Sept. 1.
Clad in a red shirt, the man was wearing a badge indicating that he was being treated for Ebola at the ELWA hospital in the Paynesville neighborhood of Monrovia, the capital city. The Ebola wards at ELWA have been so overcrowded that at times they've had to turn away people suspected of being infected with the deadly virus.
More women are choosing to have bilateral mastectomies when they are diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, even though there's little evidence that removing both breasts improves their survival compared with more conservative treatments.
The biggest study yet on the question has found no survival benefit with bilateral mastectomy compared with breast-conserving surgery with radiation.
The study, published Tuesday in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association, looked at the records of all women in California who were diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer from 1998 to 2011 — 189,734 women, all told.
Women who had breast-conserving surgery had an 83.2 percent survival rate at 10 years, compared with 81.2 percent for those who had a double mastectomy. But women who had a single mastectomy fared worse, with a 79.9 percent survival rate, enough to be statistically significant.
"We think that poorer survival in this group may be due to other factors that we weren't able to account for," says Scarlett Gomez, a research scientist at the Cancer Prevention Institute of California and the senior author of the study.
The women who had single mastectomies tended to be minority, especially Filipina or Hispanic, to be lower income and to be uninsured.
One factor affecting these women could be lack of access to medical care, Gomez says. For instance, a woman who has breast-conserving surgery typically has to go for radiation every day for six weeks to kill remaining cancer cells. Lower-income women may have a hard time doing that, Gomez says. "The only option available to them may be unilateral mastectomy."
And if women having single mastectomies tended to be poorer and minority, women who chose bilateral mastectomies tended to be younger, white and better off.
By 2011, the last year of the study, 33 percent of the women under 40 were choosing bilateral mastectomy, even though most of them had Stage zero or 1 cancer, a very early, very treatable form.
Those women also were more likely to be treated at an academic medical center, which, along with their youth and low-risk cancer, should make it more likely that they would survive. So why are they not doing any better than women who have lumpectomies and radiation?
"I don't think we know," Gomez told Shots. "This is complete conjecture at this point. A bilateral mastectomy is major surgery, and just like any major surgery there are complications, side effects. So any advantage that comes from lowering your risk of cancer in the [healthy] breast could be offset by the fact that you're having major surgery."
Doing a randomized trial that directly compares the various treatments could help figure that out, but Gomez and others say it would be pretty much impossible to recruit lots of women in a trial that wouldn't give them a choice of treatments.
"Given the vast size of our data set, I think these findings may be as good as it's going to get in terms of giving us clues," Gomez says.
Doctors have been increasingly concerned that women are choosing bilateral mastectomy in the mistaken belief that it eliminates their future risk of cancer.
Double mastectomies made headlines in 2013, when actress Angelina Jolie had a prophylactic double mastectomy after being diagnosed with a BRCA gene mutation that vastly increases cancer risk.
But 95 percent of breast cancers aren't caused by BRCA mutations. And most of the women who are choosing double mastectomies haven't been diagnosed with a BRCA mutation.
"Bilateral mastectomy surgery maximally reduces the risk of a breast cancer patient developing a completely new breast cancer, but it does not affect the potentially life-threatening risk of the known first cancer damaging other organs in the body through metatastic spread," Dr. Lisa Newman, director of the University of Michigan Breast Care Center, told Shots via email. She wrote an editorial in Tuesday's JAMA on the issue.
And since tiny bits of breast tissue can remain in the chest after surgery, a woman who has had a double mastectomy can still get breast cancer again.
Gomez hopes that these new numbers will shift the focus to better understanding women's decision-making process and to educating physicians in better communications.
Doctors can't presume to dictate which choice will give a woman the best quality of life, Newman says. But doctors do have to counsel patients to have realistic expectations about their treatment choices.
"We are trying to understand he factors that might be motivating this trend, since there is no definitive survival advantage that has been demonstrated," Newman adds.