POSTSCRIPT / June 2, 2020 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Philippines tweets SpaceX: ‘Mabuhay!’

WHILE protesters were rioting in several cities to dramatize grievances that were raked up with the May 25 killing of a black American by a police officer in Minneapolis, a commercial US capsule was docking Sunday at the international space station orbiting around our troubled Earth.

It was kind of weird. I was in New Jersey viewing live on my iPhone the historic space linkup at 10:16 a.m. ET via Twitter’s streaming of the public service coverage of C-SPAN.

I watched Elon Musk’s SpaceX capsule carrying a pair of veteran US astronauts glide closer to the station… three meters, two, one… When it connected, I clapped, then quickly tweeted congratulations to the crew and everybody involved: “From the Philippines: MABUHAY!!!”

I added “Deo gratias!” to acknowledge Him who makes possible such triumphs. The exuberance of the moment lightened my spirit to message minutes later: “If you guys up there need any help, just holler!” As if…

Confetti of tweets showed on one side of the screen: Bravo!!!. So cool! Will they quarantine? Is any riot up there? Why spend so much on this circus? So fake looking, damn. Call home. God bless America, God bless President Trump. Giant leap for Musk.

Nitpickers zeroed in on the spacecraft being called “Dragon”: Very interesting that NASA chose a very Chinese name “dragon”. SpaceX named the Dragon, not NASA. Hope China doesn’t start a riot in space. (I butted in: Never mind whatever it’s called. They did it. And that’s it!)

One who is used to the Stone Age telecom signals in Manila marvels at the crisp clarity of the voice exchange between the mission control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and the space station 250 miles (400 km) away.

The spacecraft launched Saturday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida was the first to be flown by Americans from US soil since the final flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2011. The flight ended the reliance of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Russian spacecraft to ferry astronauts to and from the lab complex.

Onboard were commander Douglas Hurley and astronaut Robert Behnken. A former Marine fighter pilot, Hurley was on two previous space missions, piloting the last space shuttle in 2011. Behnken, an ex-Air Force test pilot, was on two shuttle missions and had done six spacewalks.

Hurley’s wife, Karen Nyberg, recently retired from NASA after two space missions, including a long stay on the station. Behnken’s wife, Megan McArthur, is also an astronaut. She helped repair the Hubble space telescope during a final shuttle servicing mission in 2009.

The duo’s two-stage flight took a total of 19 hours. They joined at the space station commander Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner who have been doing scientific research in microgravity.

I felt uncomfortable seeing the Russians largely ignored by officials led by Sen. Ted Cruz who talked to the US astronauts from the control center. I was half-expecting them to mention the November elections, but thank God, they made a pitch for unity amid the riots rending the US.

 Red flags in Metro Manila under GCQ

THE EASING to General Community Quarantine in Metro Manila and other places draws attention to (1) the possible spiking of coronavirus cases, (2) the deprivation of cash “ayuda” (assistance) for some poor families, and (3) a return of the EDSA traffic nightmare.

* An increase in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) incidents has already been noted, but the Department of Health explained that the new cases are merely old ones that had not been properly reported.

A number of observers expressed concern, however, that the updated statistics that are coming out just now may have been hidden either to dampen the figures or as a result of faulty testing or careless reporting. This has impugned DoH data.

There is still confusion over what “mass testing” is, or how it must be conducted to be a reliable indicator of the extent, severity and direction of COVID infection. The government has admitted its lack of enough reliable testing kits and trained personnel.

* On the depriving or delay in the distribution of the second tranche of ayuda, the Department of Social Welfare and Development is pressing local governments to speed up their liquidation reports on the first tranche doled out recently.

The second tranche cannot be released unless the money given under the first tranche is properly accounted for. This assumes the government has not run out of subsidy funds.

There is also the problem of some poor families having been excluded from the first distribution because they were not on the lists. It is not clear which agency (DSWD or local governments) is responsible for making a complete and honest list.

Deserving beneficiaries of ayuda may fail to get the second tranche if the liquidation or the drawing up of a complete and reliable list of qualified recipients is delayed.

* On the new EDSA traffic experiment launched yesterday transferring buses from curbside to dedicated inner lanes beside the median, reader Rene S. Santiago, said in an email:

An experiment haphazardly put together — and the result will be bad. The questions you curated from readers (in Sunday’s Postscript) are valid. See:

The flow capacity of EDSA buses (per their reckless scheme) would be no higher than 4,000 passengers per hour per direction (pphpd). With the GCQ protocol, the best it could get is 1,000 pphpd.

In a study we conducted years ago, EDSA buses were achieving more than 10,000 pphpd.

For context, the 22 trains of MRT-3 have capacity for 26,000 pphpd. It only has about 16 operational trains. With the GCQ restriction, that equates to about 1,000 pphpd.

It would be more prudent for me to comment on your column after a few days. But that is not how I was trained as a professional engineer.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 2, 2020)

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