Hospital gives book to each baby in NICU to help bonding, brain development

When Brad and Kara Curran’s twin sons were admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at a Pittsburgh hospital earlier this month, the Currans said they had no idea what to expect.

Their sons, Aiden and Eli — born around eight weeks early and each weighing just over five pounds — had difficulty breathing and relied on feeding tubes to survive.

Brad Curran has taken to arriving at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Magee-Womens Hospital at 5:30 each morning to see his sons before he goes to work. Kara Curran arrives at the hospital after dropping her 2-year-old daughter at daycare.

While the Currans struggle to find a sense of normalcy in their situation, they are relying on a unique program at Magee-Womens Hospital in which each NICU family receives a free children’s book.

PHOTO: Brad and Kara Curran read to their twin sons in the neo-natal intensive care unit at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital.UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital
Brad and Kara Curran read to their twin sons in the neo-natal intensive care unit at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital.

“I try to read every morning when I’m in there with them,” Brad Curran told ABC News. “It lets you bond with them because you feel pretty helpless when you’re sitting there.”

“You’re just staring at babies with a bunch of monitors and tubes and it’s scary,” he continued. “Reading to them lets you pass the time and is a bond when there’s not much else.”

PHOTO: Brad Curran reads a donated book to his son in the neo-natal intensive care unit at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital.UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital
Brad Curran reads a donated book to his son in the neo-natal intensive care unit at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital.

For Kara Curran, getting new books for her sons makes her feel like she is reading to them at home, like she did with her daughter. She also believes the books serve a deeper purpose.

“When you’re at home, alone with your new babies, they only hear your voice, but now they’re hearing doctors and nurses and staff,” she said. “So I feel like we need to talk to them a lot so they know we’re important in their lives.”

Suzy Guess, the director of the hospital’s NICU, started the book donation program and is now leading a campaign to keep it going.

PHOTO: Suzy Guess stands by a book cart in the neo-natal intensive care unit at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital.UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital
Suzy Guess stands by a book cart in the neo-natal intensive care unit at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital.

“Giving parents the simplest thing as a book, it gives them that family space and family time that is so important,” she said. “It gives them the parenting back.”

She added, “It also shares their voice with the baby and the sense of presence and, for babies, that’s the big piece.”

Guess started collecting children’s books for NICU families when she noticed parents reading to their newborns while holding them or through the portholes of the incubator.

“One dad was reading through a porthole, with a tiny, tiny baby on the vent, and he was reading a chapter book. It was so sweet,” she said. “He was a teacher and knew the importance of reading.”

PHOTO: Suzy Guess reads a childrens book alongside Brad and Kara Curran and their newborn sons.
UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital
Suzy Guess reads a children’s book alongside Brad and Kara Curran and their newborn sons.

The NICU book program received a crucial boost last summer from “NICU grads,” as former patients are affectionately called. One graduate led a community service project to gather books, while two other graduates asked for books instead of birthday presents, according to Guess.

The hospital requires new books for the NICU families to reduce the risk of infection. With approximately 2,000 babies admitted to the NICU each year, the hospital is now in need of more books.

PHOTO: Suzy Guess and Brad and Kara Curran look at childrens books at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital.UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital
Suzy Guess and Brad and Kara Curran look at children’s books at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital.

“There’s a lot of positive that comes out of a simple book,” said Guess, adding that March is National Reading Month. “Babies learn the familiarity of their parents, it is soothing to them and it also stimulates future language development.”

The books are also a sign of hope for the parents. Books donated by NICU graduates are noted with a sticker, a reminder for parents that their newborns have the chance for a limitless future.

“We’ll take [the books] home so it’ll be a little memory of our time here,” said Kara Curran.

Donations of new books can be sent to the hospital here: UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, ATTN: NICU, 300 Halket Street, Pittsburgh PA, 15213.

Dolly Parton says original ‘9 to 5’ cast are all in for reboot

Dolly Parton has some great news for fans of the 1980 comedy “9 to 5.”

According to Parton, she and movie co-stars Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda have decided they “are going to do another one.”

PHOTO: Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in a publicity portrait for the film Nine To Five, 1980.20th Century-Fox/Getty Images, FILE
Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in a publicity portrait for the film “Nine To Five,” 1980.

The iconic country singer told ABC News’ “Nightline” that a reboot of the film made sense now more than ever in light of recent movements surrounding equal pay and harassment in the workplace.

“I’ve been talking to Lily and Jane … Actually all these years, we’ve talked about doing a sequel to ‘9 to 5’ and it never made any real sense until just recently,” she said. “We’re trying to get the script and all that. Everybody is very interested and we’ve all agreed that we’d love to do it if it’s right.”

PHOTO: Actors Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, and Jane Fonda speak onstage during the 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater, Sept. 17, 2017, in Los Angeles.Lester Cohen/WireImage via Getty Images,FILE
Actors Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, and Jane Fonda speak onstage during the 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater, Sept. 17, 2017, in Los Angeles.

20th Century Fox has not yet officially confirmed the film’s release, but Parton said it had been discussed.

“They presented me with an idea the other day and I said, ‘Yes,'” she said.

Parton said the premise for the new movie will focus on younger women who seek out and look to the original cast for advice.

“We’ve all come up with a business of our own,” Parton said about the characters played by herself, Fonda and Tomlin. “So they come to find us to get some input on how they should help run” their own business.

Chinese space station set to plummet uncontrolled back to Earth

What goes up, must come down.

Simply put, that’s why there’s so much interest in Tiangong-1, China’s first space station, which was launched in 2011 and has been in decreasing orbit ever since. China admitted last year it no longer had control of the space station –– and now it’s getting close to plummeting back to Earth.

Most of it will burn up on re-entry, but there’s always a chance some of it will survive and hit Earth. That said, most of our planet is covered by water so the odds are overwhelming it will splash down in an ocean someplace.

PHOTO: Chinas latest manned space capsule docked with the space lab, Tiangong-1 is seen in space in this June 13, 2013 TV grab.Li junfeng/Imaginechina via AP, FILE
China’s latest manned space capsule docked with the space lab, Tiangong-1 is seen in space in this June 13, 2013 TV grab.

China is already building another more ambitious space station — Tiangong-2 was launched in 2016 — as well as a lunar base, and is ramping up its space program dramatically. The European Space Agency is now sending its astronauts to train in China, since there is so little opportunity with NASA these days. NASA shut down its Space Shuttle Program following the launch of Atlantis in July 2011 and has sent astronauts up to the International Space Station on Russian launches ever since.

The last manned mission to Tiangong-1 was in 2013.

When will it crash back to Earth?

Much depends on angle, velocity and atmospheric density –- but current predictions have it re-entering as early as March 29 and as late as April 2.

What are the odds someone will get hit?

Aerospace Corporation, which tracks space junk for NASA and Space Command, says the odds you will be hit — even if you are in the highest-probability zones — are about 1 million times smaller than the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot. The only known person to have been hit by space junk is Lottie Williams of Tulsa, Oklahoma. She was hit, and uninjured, when a used Delta II rocket burned up on re-entry in January 1997.

Who has the highest risk?

The yellow regions show the parts of the world where the space station would be most likely to re-enter, while the green area is possible and the blue area is impossible.Aerospace Corp.
The yellow regions show the parts of the world where the space station would be most likely to re-enter, while the green area is possible and the blue area is impossible.

In the U.S., the highest probability of debris impact is located on a narrow horizontal band bisecting the country — marked in yellow on the map. These areas include Oregon, northern California, parts of Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Even then, the risk isn’t that high at all.

In Europe, it tracks across Spain, southern France, Italy and onward to China.

How Greatest Showman album equalled Adele chart run

The Greatest Showman soundtrack has been number one in the UK charts for the same time as Adele’s record-breaking album 21.

The cast recording of the film has topped the charts for 11 weeks, beating Madonna’s The Immaculate collection and Ed Sheeran’s Divide.

But how did an album of showtunes beat some of the world’s most successful artists over the past three decades?

For those who have not seen it, the film is about 19th Century circus entrepreneur PT Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman, gathering together a host of outcasts who wow the crowds to earn him the big bucks.

The film itself was not the box office success its producers had hoped for on its opening weekend, raking in a relatively moderate $8.8m (£6.2m) in the US just before Christmas and £2.5m after Christmas in the UK.

However, like PT Barnum’s circus, it was a slow burner and ticket sales increased over its first three weeks in cinemas and, unusually, managed to stay steady after that – even grabbing the UK’s top spot in its sixth week, in February.

The only other December release to top the chart in February is Titanic, the second highest grossing film of all time.

Zac Efron, Zendaya and Hugh Jackman all sing on the album.
Zac Efron, Zendaya and Hugh Jackman all sing on the album

The soundtrack was an immediate success, shooting straight to number one on iTunes in 75 countries, including the UK, the US and Australia.

This Is Me, sung by Broadway artist Keala Settle, who plays a bearded lady, is one of the album’s big hitters.

Written by La La Land songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, as all the songs are, This Is Me won best original song at the Golden Globes and was nominated for an Oscar.

Disney graduates Zac Efron and Zendaya have also been drawing listeners in with their powerful duet, Rewrite the Stars.

Music critics have put the album’s success down to the feel-good, uplifting pop tunes which are also old school at the same time.

It is also the first original musical film in 20 years.

George Simpson, entertainment reporter at, said the introduction of sing-along showings has really boosted the album’s popularity.

Keala Settle is the main singer on Golden Globe winning song This Is Me
Keala Settle is the main singer on Golden Globe winning song This Is Me

He told Sky News: “The film came out on Boxing Day and it had a terrible opening week. I went along as I thought it looked fun in the limbo period – it was ok, reviews weren’t very good.

“I thought it was a solid three star and kind of just forgot about it but suddenly it exploded at the box office in the UK and the US because of word of mouth, the good old fashioned way.

“One of the reasons its been so successful is because it’s winter, people have the January blues, and all that’s on are Oscar-type dramas. People need to take the kids to something.

“It keeps being successful because they introduced sing-along – my mum’s cleaner told me she’s seen it nine times.”

BBC film critic Mark Kermode said the film was “very very poor” but admitted he went to see it again with his children in half term to a sing-along version and everybody loved it.

Facebook: More data abuses will be discovered

Mark Zuckerberg said he expects there are other companies alongside Cambridge Analytica which may have abused their access to large amounts of Facebook user data.

The company’s chief executive made the admission as Facebook claimed it was currently investigating “every single app that had access to large amounts of data” belonging to its users.

Mr Zuckerberg’s admission came in full-page advertisements which the company took out on the back pages of several Sunday newspapers as it attempts to address the growing scandal.

He said: “We expect there are others. And when we find them, we will ban them and tell everyone affected.”

:: Academics refused ‘unethical’ Cambridge Analytica research

The advertisements were run on the back pages of many Sunday papers
The advertisements were run on the back pages of many Sunday papers

The admission was written beneath the headline: “We have a responsibility to protect your information. If we can’t, we don’t deserve it.”

Despite acknowledging that Facebook did indeed fail to protect its users’ information on at least one occasion – with more incidents expected to be discovered – the advert does not make reference to whether the company should continue to possess data.

While the letter also contains the word “sorry” it is not really an apology nor a direct recognition of Facebook’s culpability for the data incident between itself and consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is seen on stage during a town hall at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California September 27, 2015

Zuckerberg: ‘This was a major breach of trust’

Mr Zuckerberg continues: “You may have heard about a quiz app built by a university researcher that leaked Facebook data of millions of people in 2014. This was a breach of trust, and I’m sorry we didn’t do more at the time.”

The university researcher referenced, Aleksandr Kogan, allegedly developed This Is Your Digital Life which allowed Cambridge Analytica to potentially unlawfully collect the data of up to 50 million Facebook users.

This is now being investigated by the Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK, the data protection regulator, and has prompted statements of concern from senior politicians.

:: Who are the key players in the Cambridge Analytica scandal?

The full text of the advertisement on the back pages of Sunday's papers
The full text of the advertisement on the back pages of Sunday’s papers

The letter does not significantly differ from a statement published on Mr Zuckerberg’s Facebook page, shortly before he said he was “open” to testifying before Congress in the US.

Both that statement and this letter suggests Facebook will restrict access to users’ data for third-parties – a move which has contributed to the company shedding tens of billions of dollars off its value as the scandal continues.

The ads were also run in three national newspapers in the US as a poll by Reuters and Ipsos Mori revealed that fewer than half of Americans trusted Facebook to obey privacy laws.

It found that Facebook was even less trusted than Yahoo, which lost the personal data, including passwords, of more than three billion people who used its services, and did not inform them for more than three years.

Can Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook survive?

Debra Williamson, a market analyst, said that it was too early to say whether this distrust would cause any significant interruption to Facebook’s user count, however.

“It’s psychologically harder to let go of a platform like Facebook that’s become pretty well ingrained into people’s lives,” Ms Williamson explained.

A social media campaign to #DeleteFacebook has continued to attract support.

Celebrities including Elon Musk – certainly no stranger to clashing with Mr Zuckerberg – have removed their personal and business pages from the site.

Nonfiction: Andrew Lloyd Webber, Hotheaded Perfectionist

Not exactly the promise of a page-turner to come.

Still, he soldiers on. And so must I.

Andrew Lloyd Webber, who turns 70 today, was born in London’s Westminster Hospital to a father who was a talented but unambitious composer who turned instead to the academic world, and a mother who poured her own dreams into Andrew and his younger brother.


From the beginning, Lloyd Webber showed a distinct musical talent. And he was an early fan of musical theater — seeing the London productions of “My Fair Lady” and “West Side Story” while still a child, beginning to write school theatricals when he was 11 and finding that his satirical portraits of the teachers suddenly made him popular with his peers. “Boys were shouting ‘Lloydy, Lloydy!’” he recalls.

The turning point in his career came in 1965 when he met Tim Rice, whom his agent had recommended as a potential lyricist for a project the precocious 17-year-old was beginning to work on. The meeting seemed to go well: “Awe-struck might be a better way of describing my first encounter with Timothy Miles Bindon Rice,” Lloyd Webber says. The two later went on to write “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Evita,” parting ways around the time that “Cats” was coming together (as a lyricist, Rice was replaced by a long-dead T. S. Eliot).

One recurring theme of Lloyd Webber’s memoir is his increasingly fractious relationship with Rice. The two seem to have fallen out sometime around “Evita,” their collaboration apparently complicated by Rice’s affair with Elaine Paige, the leading lady in the original London production, and by tensions over which of the two men was getting more credit for their growing fame. A final break came when Rice was called in on “Cats” to help write the lyrics for what would eventually become “Memory,” but his work never made it into the final product. “We had a great 10 years,” Rice later told an interviewer. “Very few artistic partnerships last more than 10 years, and if they do they tend to go down the tubes.”

Lloyd Webber frequently drops hints that all was not well between the two — at one point quoting his father saying, “You won’t have a long-term partnership with Tim” — but he never states what exactly went wrong or demonstrates that he ever confronted Rice about what he apparently saw as his undermining and occasionally deceitful ways. The closest he comes is when he seems to suspect that Rice was trying to undercut the forthcoming production of “Phantom” by attempting to “hijack” its director, Hal Prince, for a show of his own.

The other main character in Lloyd Webber’s life, at least in the period covered in this book, is the singer Sarah Brightman, his second wife, with whom he had an affair while still married to his first wife (also named Sarah), and whom he later cast in “The Phantom of the Opera.”

Even if you knew nothing of Lloyd Webber’s personal life, and that this union did not last, the author certainly foreshadows the fact that the marriage was doomed. While describing her otherworldly singing voice and delicate beauty, Lloyd Webber casually says that during their affair, Brightman was married to a man no one ever seems to have seen, and insinuates that she had a reputation for becoming romantically entangled with colleagues. Sure enough, when their split finally comes, Lloyd Webber mentions in passing that Brightman was apparently having an affair with a keyboard player in the “Phantom” orchestra. (Lloyd Webber seems to have found marital bliss with his third wife, Madeleine, to whom he has been married for 27 years.)

The one revelation in the book has nothing to do with Lloyd Webber’s music or his romantic affairs. It is the surprising assertion that in 1981, Milos Forman approached him about playing Mozart in his film version of “Amadeus.” Lloyd Webber was appalled, telling Forman that he was “a hopeless actor.” But the director was undeterred. “You are a hotheaded perfectionist who can be extremely obnoxious,” Lloyd Webber quotes him saying. “I want you to play yourself.” Lloyd Webber writes that Forman pursued him off and on for the next couple of years and that he managed to wriggle out of the director’s grasp only when he insisted (jokingly, he says) in a meeting with Forman and some of the producers that Mozart’s music be replaced by his own. Startlingly, the producers seemed willing to go along, until Forman stepped in and stated the obvious: “I think Andrew is saying he doesn’t want to play the role.” (The film, with Tom Hulce taking on the role of Mozart, went on to win eight Oscars.)

My suspicion is that Lloyd Webber might have had a similar conversation with his book editor, arguing that he really didn’t want to write a memoir. If so, readers may finish this book wishing the editor had agreed.

Continue reading the main story

When the Elderly Call for Help, a ‘Chain’ Immigrant Often Answers

But economists do not necessarily agree.

Those who study immigration and labor patterns have questioned the wisdom of restricting family-based immigration, a crucial source of low-skilled workers, many of whom hail from countries like Mexico and the Philippines, where Ms. Mangayan, 47, is from.

“In any plausible future scenario, the U.S. needs far more new low-skilled workers than high-skilled workers,” said Michael Clemens, an economist at the Center for Global Development, a Washington think tank, “so many that it will be impossible for native labor to fill all those jobs, even if native workers wanted to.”

According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis, among the 10 occupations expected to grow the most through 2026, only three require university degrees, all of them digital or data-focused: software developers, statisticians and mathematicians.

The two that will require the most new workers: personal care and home health aides, with 1.2 million new positions between them.

About 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day, and more than half will need long-term care, according to the Pew Research Center. Already, home-care agencies and elderly-care facilities are struggling to recruit.

“If one of our aides is sick or has an emergency, it’s very difficult to find a backup,” said Kevin Smith, the president of Best of Care in the Boston area, who taps into the large Haitian and Brazilian communities in Massachusetts.


Ms. Mangayan, who married an American and is now a citizen, earns $29,000 a year taking care of elderly residents.

Jenna Schoenefeld for The New York Times

In 2017, 26 percent of personal care aides and home health aides were foreign born, a high, according to an analysis of official data by Brian Schaitkin, a senior economist at the Conference Board. In New York, 62 percent of home aides were foreign born. In California, Massachusetts and New Jersey, foreigners represented nearly half of them.

Lupe Mercado, a Mexican immigrant who works for an agency called 24Hr HomeCare in Los Angeles, has endeared herself to clients with dementia who initially cursed and flung food at her. One of them recently died holding her hand, Ms. Mercado noted, brandishing a picture of the woman on her cellphone.

On a recent afternoon, she doted on Olive Tanaka, 92. “I’m spoiled by her,” said Ms. Tanaka, a line dancer in her day who is now widowed, blind in one eye and needs round-the-clock care since suffering a fall.

Having entered the United States illegally, Ms. Mercado benefited from a 1986 amnesty law signed by President Ronald Reagan, obtaining a green card and eventually becoming a citizen.

“It doesn’t pay so much but I love my job,” said Ms. Mercado, who earns $12 an hour, and supplements her pay by taking private clients on her days off.

Proponents of restricting immigration say the low wages in her field — and in other workplaces where immigrants have a foothold, like construction, farms, and restaurant kitchens — are a prime reason immigrants have begun to supplant American workers in the jobs.

Some of those other professions, too, face worker shortages. A survey in September by the Associated General Contractors of America found that 70 percent of construction firms were having difficulty finding bricklayers, roofers and electricians, among others. Last August, the restaurant and accommodation sector had 742,000 vacancies, a historic high, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Stemming the flow of low-skilled immigrants could put pressure on employers to raise wages, compelling many Americans, including millions who are chronically unemployed, to get back to work. “It may draw all these people, or some fraction of these people, into the labor force,” posited Steven Camarota, research director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports curbs on immigration.

Indeed, more people would do blue-collar work they now shun if wages were higher — but not enough of them would, according to Chris Tilly, a labor economist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“Wage is not the main issue. There are also expectations and status,” he said. “Not everybody wants to work with their hands touching people; not everybody will do dirty work.”

Supporters of an immigration overhaul cite other reasons the country should be choosier about whom it lets in. The Trump administration has also framed it as a national security issue, noting several cases where terror suspects came to the United States through family connections. Immigrants are also more likely to use welfare programs than native-born Americans, owing largely to their comparatively low skill levels upon arrival, the Center for Immigration Studies says, citing Census Bureau data.

Under a House bill introduced by Representative Bob Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia, and supported by the White House, citizens and permanent residents, or green card holders, could continue to bring spouses and children under 18 into the United States. But they would no longer be able to sponsor parents, adult children, siblings, nephews and nieces.


Lupe Mercado, a caregiver originally from Mexico, helps Olive Tanaka during a walk near Ms. Tanaka’s home in Gardena, Calif.

Jenna Schoenefeld for The New York Times

The bill would also create a point system for admission based on factors including education, English skills, and job offers in the United States, and it would cut the overall number of green cards awarded each year by half, to 500,000.

Employers who rely on immigrant labor are anxious about what will happen in Washington. Senior-care agencies in particular are worried because many are dependent on Medicaid and Medicare and so cannot, they say, easily raise wages to make their jobs more attractive to native-born workers.

If Congress makes it harder for relatives to immigrate, “Where are all these workers going to come from?” asked Patricia Will, the founder of Belmont Village, a Houston-based network of upscale facilities that employs 4,000 people in several states.

Ms. Mangayan, who makes $29,000 a year plus benefits at Belmont Village in Burbank, came to the United States in 1997 after marrying an American citizen, and she is now a citizen herself. She would have been able to immigrate under the proposed rules, though many of her co-workers would not.

Ms. Mangayan and her husband, a customer-service representative at the airport, earn enough to afford a $1,200-a-month two-bedroom apartment; their 23-year-old son’s college tuition; and occasional travel to the Philippines. Ms. Mangayan does hair to make extra money on the side.

Ms. Mangayan, who also has a 14-year-old daughter, said that one day, “I would like to have at least a condo.”

Not long after arriving for her 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift one recent afternoon, she was already darting from room to room.

In room 411, she improvised sign language to communicate with Bernard Bragg, an 89-year-old who achieved fame decades ago as a deaf-mute actor.

Mr. Bragg, asked what he thought of Ms. Mangayan, pointed to her, placed his hands over his heart and smiled lovingly. He then flapped his arms to suggest she was an angel.

Velma Vincent, in room 406, credited Ms. Mangayan with restoring her will to live and ability to walk after her husband died.

“I was a goner,” recalled Ms. Vincent, 88, who was resplendent in a bright-red blouse and white slacks with matching red necklace, earrings and nail polish. “Irma came in and encouraged me.”

Ms. Mangayan had coaxed Ms. Vincent to get out of her wheelchair, practice baby steps down the hall, going farther and farther each time. Soon, Ms. Vincent was mobile — and independent — with her walker, playing blackjack and Bingo, attending church and visiting Belmont Village’s beauty salon.

“My family will be forever grateful,” said her son, Bob Vincent. “that Irma emigrated from the Philippines to the United States, giving my mom a quality of life that she would not enjoy were it not for Irma.”

Continue reading the main story

Chinese space station to crash to Earth on Easter

China’s first prototype space station is to crash to Earth over Easter scientists expect, amid rumours that the Chinese space agency has lost control of the craft.

Known as Tiangong-1 – meaning “heavenly palace” in Chinese – the craft is expected to drop out of orbit over the next week and plummet through Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of seven kilometres per second.

Although the bus-sized spacecraft is most likely to burn up upon re-entry, some scientists fear that debris could survive the atmosphere and land anywhere 43 degrees either side of the equator.

Reseachers have warned that a number of the spacecraft’s parts – including its dense rocket engines – would be unlikely to burn up, leaving chunks of the craft to crash towards the planet’s surface.

The not-for-profit Aerospace Corporation predicts that Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere on 1 April, Easter Sunday – or three days either side of that date.

Tiangong-1's potential re-entry areas. Pic: ESA
Tiangong-1’s potential re-entry areas. Pic: ESA

It assessed that it was most likely for the debris to fall within the extreme edges of the 43 degree bands, leaving the US, southern Europe and the Balkans as the most densely populated areas which could be hit.

On its southern band, the debris could fall on cities in Argentina and New Zealand, although the vast majority of the potential surface where debris could land are covered by ocean.

The craft – which is operated by the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSE) – has reached the end of its life-cycle in space.

It was launched by China’s National Space Administration (CNSA) in 2011 as a prototype ahead of the Chinese large modular space station, the core module of which is expected to launch next year.

A spacecraft crumbling and burning up on re-entry. Pic: European Space Agency
A spacecraft crumbling and burning up on re-entry. Pic: European Space Agency

Predicting exactly where any impact locations could occur is beyond astronomer’s current technical capabilities, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).

ESA stated: “Given the uncontrolled nature of this re-entry event, the zone over which fragments might fall stretches over a curved ellipsoid that is thousands of kilometres in length and tens of kilometres wide.

“While a wide area could be affected, it is important to point out that a large part of the Earth is covered by water or is uninhabited.

“Hence the personal probability of being hit by a piece of debris from the Tiangong-1 is actually 10 million times smaller than the yearly chance of being hit by lightning.

“In the history of spaceflight, no casualties due to falling space debris have ever been confirmed.”

Tory MP cleared of 'scurrilous' allegations

A Conservative MP has been cleared of “false and scurrilous” claims of inappropriate behaviour.

Dan Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, was investigated after a formal complaint was made his Tory colleague Andrew Bridgen.

Dr Poulter, who was first elected in 2010, said the five months since the claims were made had been “incredibly difficult for me and have at times taken a considerable toll on my health”.

He said: “I am pleased although entirely unsurprised that, after five months, I have finally been exonerated of any misconduct or inappropriate behaviour.

“The allegations brought against me were false and scurrilous.

“I have no idea why a fellow Conservative MP should have irresponsibly sought publicity by attaching his name to these claims in a newspaper article.”

Dr Poulter said his lawyers were pursuing legal action against the Sunday Times over the allegations.

Andrew Bridgen
The investigation was sparked after fellow MP Andrew Bridgen made a formal complaint

He also called for the way the Conservative Party investigates such claims to be reformed, saying the process should be able to separate “smears” from valid complaints.

Dr Poulter said: “I appreciate that the committee left no stone unturned in investigating these unsubstantiated complaints against me.

“It is absolutely right that the Conservative Party wants an exemplary complaints process.

“Such a process is plainly vital in any modern workplace and I know the system constructed in haste by the Conservative Party last year, is already under regular review.

“That review process must ensure that the system evolves to become able to separate unsubstantiated hearsay or smears, from valid complaint which genuinely require investigations.

“I believe this needs to be addressed in the interests of everyone working in Parliament and for the Conservative Party.”

A Conservative Party spokesman said: “A thorough and impartial investigation of a complaint took place and a panel chaired by an independent QC found there was insufficient evidence to support the complaint.

“We will thoroughly investigate all allegations of code of conduct breaches and encourage complainants to come forward, on a strictly confidential basis.”

Tesco chair to get nod for CBI presidency

Tesco’s chairman will this week be nominated as the next head of Britain’s biggest employers’ group, with a mandate to help steer it through the UK’s exit from the European Union (EU).

Sky News has learnt that a meeting of the CBI’s chairs’ committee, scheduled to take place on Tuesday, is expected to formally propose John Allan as the lobbying group’s next president.

If ratified by CBI members at its annual meeting in June, Mr Allan would take over from Paul Drechsler for a two-year term expiring in the summer of 2020.

The Tesco chairman, who also chairs housebuilder Barratt Developments‎, became the CBI’s vice-president last year.

London First, the capital’s business lobbying group, is in the process of identifying Mr Allan’s successor as its chairman.

Sources said that Mr Drechsler is expected to revert to the CBI’s vice-presidency when Mr Allan takes over, re-establishing the organisation’s traditional governance structure.

Mr Drechsler is serving an unprecedented third year at the business lobby group, arranged last year as the CBI sought to ensure a degree of continuity through the first phase of the Brexit negotiations.

The CBI has consistently opposed the UK’s departure from the EU, but is not seeking a second referendum, instead focusing its efforts on avoiding a hard Brexit.

Last week, Carolyn Fairbairn, its director-general, called the transition deal agreed between Britain and the EU27 “a victory for common sense that will help protect living standards, jobs and growth”.

However, she warned that a continued willingness to compromise was essential, “as tough choices lie ahead on the route to a final deal”.

The‎ CBI, which has 190,000 members encompassing businesses of all sizes, found itself at the centre of a political storm when it lobbied strongly in favour of the Remain campaign.

Its domestic agenda is also critically important to its membership, however, with CBI executives recently urging radical reform of the Government’s Apprenticeship Levy.

The CBI declined to comment on Sunday.