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Russian crew return to Earth after filming first movie in space

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A Russian actress and a film director returned to Earth Sunday after spending 12 days on the International Space Station (ISS) shooting scenes for the first movie in orbit.

Yulia Peresild and Klim Shipenko landed as scheduled on Kazakhstan’s steppe at 0436 GMT, according to footage broadcast live by the Russian space agency. 

They were ferried back to terra firma by cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky, who had been on the space station for the past six months.

“The descent vehicle of the crewed spacecraft Soyuz MS-18 is standing upright and is secure. The crew are feeling good!” Russian space agency Roscosmos tweeted.

The filmmakers had blasted off from the Russia-leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in ex-Soviet Kazakhstan earlier this month, travelling to the ISS with veteran cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov to film scenes for “The Challenge”. 

If the project stays on track, the Russian crew will beat a Hollywood project announced last year by “Mission Impossible” star Tom Cruise together with NASA and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

The movie’s plot, which has been mostly kept under wraps along with its budget, centres around a surgeon who is dispatched to the ISS to save a cosmonaut.

Shkaplerov, 49, along with the two Russian cosmonauts who were already aboard the ISS are said to have cameo roles in the film.

The mission was not without small hitches.

As the film crew docked at the ISS earlier this month, Shkaplerov had to switch to manual control. 

And when Russian flight controllers on Friday conducted a test on the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft the ship’s thruster fired unexpectedly and destabilised the ISS for 30 minutes, a NASA spokesman told the Russian news agency TASS.

But the spokesman confirmed their departure would go ahead as scheduled.

– 21st-century space race -Their landing, which was documented by a film crew, will also feature in the movie, Konstantin Ernst, the head of the Kremlin-friendly Channel One TV network and a co-producer of “The Challenge”, told AFP.

The mission will add to a long list of firsts for Russia’s space industry.

The Soviets launched the first satellite Sputnik, and sent into orbit the first animal, a dog named Laika, the first man, Yuri Gagarin and the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova.

But compared with the Soviet era, modern Russia has struggled to innovate and its space industry is fighting to secure state funding with the Kremlin prioritising military spending.

Its space agency is still reliant on Soviet-designed technology and has faced a number of setbacks, including corruption scandals and botched launches.

Russia is also falling behind in the global space race, facing tough competition from the United States and China, with Beijing showing growing ambitions in the industry.

Russia’s Roscosmos was also dealt a blow after SpaceX last year successfully delivered astronauts to the ISS, ending Moscow’s monopoly for journeys to the orbital station.

In a bid to spruce up its image and diversify its revenue, Russia’s space programme revealed this year that it will be reviving its tourism plan to ferry fee-paying adventurers to the ISS.

After a decade-long pause, Russia will send two Japanese tourists — including billionaire Yusaku Maezawa — to the ISS in December, capping a year that has been a milestone for amateur space travel.

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Fuel Subsidy Removal: Don’t paralyse Nigeria’s economy – PFN warns Buhari government

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President of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), Bishop Francis Wale Oke has cautioned the Nigerian Government against further aggravating the suffering of Nigerians through the proposed fuel subsidy removal.

He said the removal of fuel subsidy will lead to hikes in the prices of petroleum products.

In a release issued on Sunday by his Media Office, Oke warned that the implementation of such a policy could increase the hardship currently being experienced by the people of the country.

He lamented that prices of consumables and other items were increasingly getting out of reach of the people, noting that if the proposed subsidy removal is done, it would worsen the hardship of the people of the nation.

“Everybody will feel it, particularly the underprivileged. The negative effects will surely outweigh the positive. The cost of transportation for humans and goods across the country will skyrocket and other things connected which will have a spiral effect on the general living standard of the populace; the suffering will be multi-dimensional. Please, let all stakeholders be sensitive to this avoidable path and do the needful,” he said.

Oke said the situation has become worrisome due to the reduction in the purchasing power of Nigerians caused by the continuous fall in the value of the nation’s currency at the exchange market.

The PFN president, therefore, admonished the government to do all it could to revive the four ailing refineries in the country, with a view to ensuring they operate at an optimal level for a lasting benefit for the country and its people.

“By whatever means, let the Federal Government put its heart into ensuring that our refineries are back to life. In addition, in order to stem the rising cost of living, farmers and others connected to them should be encouraged. This is what can help our economy,” the cleric said.

While maintaining that the Christian body would always support policies that would enhance good governance, he urged the government to put in place tangible palliative measures that could ameliorate the hardship being experienced.

“Without begging the issue, there should be well-defined palliative measures in place that can cushion the effect of the hardship being experienced by Nigerians, especially the commoners. One is not talking about political palliatives that never last. We have seen enough of such,” he said.

Continuing, the bishop pointed out that “an increase in the price of petroleum from its present N165 to N340 per litre can trigger tension and crises in the country which in turn can paralyse our economy if not handled with utmost care”.

On the proposed N5,000 to be paid to about 40 million poor Nigerians by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government to ameliorate the effects of the planned fuel subsidy removal, Oke asserted that “Again, the planned introduction of N5,000 for 40 million poor Nigerians is to create a cesspool of corruption. How do you define ‘the poor’? They, mostly, don’t use telephones. They, mostly, don’t have bank accounts. How will the money get to them?”

The renowned cleric advised the government to be wary of policies that could jeopardise the conduct of the 2023 general elections, insisting that all hands must be geared towards steering the wheel of the country to a better place.

As a panacea to the rising cost of food items, the PFN President advised that farmers and relevant stakeholders should be empowered with relevant tools and funds through loans with little interest.

Meanwhile, Oke who is also the presiding Bishop of The Sword of the Spirit Ministries implored the government not to relent in its efforts at ensuring that security challenges in the country become a thing of the past.

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New COVID-19 strain: Planned visit of Ramaphosa to Nigeria raises concern

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Following the outbreak of a new strain of COVID-19 in South Africa and the travel restrictions imposed on Southern African countries by several countries, concerns have been raised over the proposed visit of the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, to Nigeria.

Barring any last-minute change, President Muhammadu Buhari is expected to receive Ramaphosa and other top government functionaries of his administration, who are scheduled to undertake a three-day visit to Nigeria between November 29 and December 1.

South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases had revealed that there were 22 positive cases linked to the new strain of COVID-19, adding that the percentage testing positive was “increasing quickly”.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) had declared the strain identified as B.1.1.529 as a “variant of concern” and named it “Omicron.”
The heavily-mutated new variant has so far been detected in South Africa, Botswana, and Hong Kong.

This development has prompted the ban of travellers from Southern African countries by the 27-member European Union (EU), and the United States, Britain, Canada, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and UAE.

The EU’s executive “will propose, in close coordination with member states, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region due to the variant of concern B.1.1.529,” EU chief, Ursula Von der Leyen, had tweeted on Friday.

The EU countries are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden.

The US announced on Friday that it would be restricting travel from eight southern African countries over fears of the new variant, which some had expected to be named Nu but which has now been dubbed Omicron.

Travel would be mostly banned starting Monday (tomorrow) from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi, a senior official in President Joe Biden’s administration, had reportedly said
However, only US citizens and permanent residents will still be able to travel from the eight countries.

Canada also banned travellers from seven African countries – Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe – over concerns about the variant.
The United Kingdom had also placed South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini, and Zimbabwe on its red list, which means that direct flights from the six countries were banned from Friday until Sunday (today) at 4 am.

Passengers arriving from these countries from today, at 4 am, would have to book and pay for a government-approved hotel quarantine facility for 10 days.

Ramaphosa’s planned visit has raised concerns in Nigeria following the new strain of COVID-19.
“What is the federal government’s dilemma over the visit? Is Nigeria going to receive the South African President and other officials when other countries are banning travellers from South Africa? Is the federal government going to tell them not to come? Under what structure are they going to come?” a top official of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) queried.

The visit will be President Ramaphosa’s first visit to Nigeria in his official capacity as the substantive president since he was elected some three years ago.

He had visited Nigeria in 2018, as the acting president, following the exit of former President Jacob Zuma from office.
There are about 120 South African firms in Nigeria, including the telecommunication giant, MTN, DSTV whose parent company, Multichoice, remains the number one leading player in the cable TV ecosystem in the country.
However, only a few Nigerian firms are operating in South Africa.

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COVID-19: FG directs all civil servants to resume, get vaccinated

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The Federal government has directed civil servants from Grade Level 12 and below to resume work effective Wednesday, December 1, 2021.

Recall that federal civil service workers from Grade Level 12 and below had been working from home following a spike in COVID-19 cases across the country.

In the now-viral circular , the directive, signed by the Head of Service of the Federation, Folasade Yemi-Esan, noted that beginning December 1, all Federal Government workers are requested “to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or present a negative COVID-19 PCR test result done within 72 hours.”

“It will be recalled that as part of the measures to curtail the spread of COVID-19 pandemic, Officers on GL 12 and below were directed to work from home. Following the advice of the PSC on COVID-19, this category of officers are expected to resume duties on Wednesday, 1st December 2021,” the circular reads in part

Recall that the chairman of the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, had earlier announced that beginning December 1, 2021 all Federal Government employees will be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or present a negative PCR result to gain access to their offices.

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