Europe for sale and China is cashing in

Matthew 24:6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.

Important Takeaways:

  • China: Buying Up Europe
  • For more than a decade, China has been stealthily buying up European companies in strategic sectors, particularly in technology and energy.
  • China has been covering up its European purchases by passing them off as ostensibly commercial investments. It has been hiding the state-owned companies involved in the investments behind “layers of ownership, complex shareholding structures and deals executed via European subsidiaries,” according to Datenna, a Dutch company that monitors Chinese investments in Europe
  • A staggering 40% out of 650 Chinese investments in Europe in the years 2010-2020, had “high or moderate involvement by state-owned or state-controlled companies, including some in advanced technologies”.
  • What appears to be urgently needed in Europe now is a deeper understanding of the threat that China poses, as well as the political will to act on it. Action is urgently needed to block investments that serve up Europe’s strategic assets on a silver platter to China’s state-owned companies, which the Chinese Communist Party then use to advance its expansionist ends.

Read the original article by clicking here.

G7 criticizes nations who undermine global trade in rallying cry for reform

By William James

LONDON (Reuters) -Trade ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) wealthy nations criticized countries who undermine the global trading system and called for democratic states to rally behind reforms of the international trade rulebook.

Following a virtual meeting, the G7 members said they were concerned about “increased use of non-market policies and practices” and took aim at those who use heavy subsidies, mask the state’s involvement in the economy, and steal technology.

“These distort competition and reduce fairness and trust in the system,” they said in a communique issued by Britain, which holds the rotating presidency of the G7 this year.

“Fundamentally, we note that they are a threat to the integrity and sustainability of the rules-based multilateral trading system.”

The communique did not refer to China directly, but members like Britain have accused Beijing of undermining the system by using all the policies mentioned.

China, a World Trade Organization member since 2001, has denied criticism that it steals intellectual property, unfairly hurts the environment or improperly trades goods made with forced labor.

In another indirect reference to China, the communique also called on countries which use World Trade Organization rules designed for developing economies to their advantage, and called for the rules to be changed to prevent that.

Britain and other WTO members have previously argued that China benefits from exceptions to the rules which were made decades ago and no longer reflect its status as an economic superpower.

“We call on advanced WTO Members claiming developing country status to undertake full commitments in ongoing and future WTO negotiations,” the communique said.

The group held “frank and constructive” discussions regarding reform of the WTO dispute resolution system – parts of which were paralyzed in recent years by former U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration.

They said those discussion would continue at a further meeting in October, and more broadly expressed support for WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s efforts to reform the organization.

(Reporting by William James; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Toby Chopra and Nick Macfie)

Sticking with remote work? Businesses are betting on it

By Ann Saphir

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – U.S. businesses have been spending more on technology than on bricks and mortar for more than a decade now, but the trend has accelerated during the pandemic, one more sign that working from home is here to stay.

As spending on home-building has risen, spending on nonresidential construction has dropped, with that on commercial, manufacturing and office space slumping to under 15% of total construction outlays in March, Commerce Department data showed Monday.

Business spending on structures fell in the first quarter, data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis showed last week. It was the sixth straight quarterly decline, showcasing one of the few weak spots in the economy as it regains steam amid a receding pandemic.

Meanwhile, spending on technology rose, with investments in software and information processing equipment contributing more than 1 percentage point to the economy’s overall 6.4% annualized rise in economic output in the quarter, the BEA data showed. Technology spending has added to growth in all but two of the past 32 quarters, back to 2013. Spending on structures has pulled GDP downward in 14 of those quarters.

The implications of the shift are broad: the economy emerging from the depths of the pandemic will be more technology-driven and less reliant on in-person transactions, leaving jobs permanently changed and potentially fewer in number.

Accelerated by the pandemic, the divergence between the two types of business spending is here to stay, says Stanford economics professor Nicholas Bloom.

“This is the surge in (work-from-home) which is leading firms to spend heavily on connectivity,” Bloom said.

He and colleagues have been surveying 5,000 U.S. residents monthly, and found that from May to December about half of paid work hours were done from home.

Workers’ own spending to equip their home offices with computer connectivity, desks and other necessities comes to the equivalent of 0.7% of GDP, their surveys found, suggesting the business investment data likely underestimates what’s actually being spent on technology.

Those sunk costs are one reason that on average Americans will work one day a week from home even after the pandemic, up from about one day a month before, Bloom says.

American firms’ reliance on hybrid working should continue to lift business spending on technology for the foreseeable future, said ING chief international economist James Knightley.

Spending on office buildings particularly will likely remain weak at least until the end of the summer, he predicted, when the return of most kids to school should allow more parents to return to work.

Even then, he said, businesses will need to continue to spend more than ever on connectivity and computers to support the remote, or partially remote, workforce.

“I think there’s still a lot more to do there,” he said.

(Reporting by Ann Saphir, Howard Schneider, Dan Burns; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

‘Digital twins’ can help create healthier cities after coronavirus

By Rina Chandran

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The use of new technologies, such as virtual reality, by planners to help design more sustainable and healthier cities has accelerated during the coronavirus pandemic, urban experts said on Friday.

The respiratory disease, which has infected more than 5 million people worldwide, has already triggered the widespread use of robots, drones and artificial intelligence to track the virus and deliver services.

Now, planners and authorities are also turning to new technologies – including so-called Digital Twins of cities, or virtual three-dimensional replicas – to tackle future health crises, said Michael Jansen, chief executive of Cityzenith, a Chicago-based technology firm.

“A Digital Twin that could track the progress of the virus in real-time is the perfect platform for aggregating and distributing information at scale in a crisis,” he said.

“Digital Twins would also help assess and implement economic recovery plans for affected cities and urban regions,” he said.

Virtual Singapore, a digital twin of the island city, models and simulates climate change, infrastructure planning and public health studies, and can be used in crisis management, a spokesman at the Government Technology Agency said.

Modeling a city’s street grids, transport networks, buildings and population can help planners predict how design changes would affect them, said Fabian Dembski, a researcher at the High-Performance Computing Center Stuttgart (HLRS).

“Cities are complex. But if we can simulate factors such as climate, air quality, traffic flow and movement of people, then planning decisions can be more efficient, equitable, and inclusive,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“But even these models and simulations do not capture human emotions, which play a big role in the success of urban design.”

EMOTIONAL RESPONSE

Dembski and other researchers built a digital twin of Herrenberg, a small city near Stuttgart in Germany.

They then invited residents to use an app to record their emotional responses to simulated scenarios in public spaces.

Using virtual reality, about 1,000 residents noted whether they felt comfortable, happy or unsafe in those areas.

“The idea was to see what they thought made a good public space, and use that data to support planners and architects to improve spaces where residents didn’t feel happy – like areas with heavy traffic or poor lighting,” Dembski said.

“As a planner, you don’t have that kind of information beforehand, and this is a democratic way to do it,” he said, adding that respondents included women, older people, migrants and people with disabilities who are otherwise excluded.

Digital Twins are particularly helpful for cities that are vulnerable to climate change, or are in environmentally fragile areas, as problems can be simulated to find solutions, he said.

Researchers are now modeling pandemics – which have affected urban planning decisions in the past – and also hope to simulate the effects of factors such as regional migration and gentrification on cities, Dembski said.

Technological tools such as Digital Twins “offer the possibility of testing a variety of different concepts,” said Thomas Sprissler, the mayor of Herrenberg.

“Considerably more innovative ideas can be tried out that might otherwise never be tested in reality,” he said.

(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran; Editing by Michael Taylor. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

European coronavirus app platform gains traction with governments

By Douglas Busvine

BERLIN (Reuters) – A European technology platform to support smartphone apps that can help trace people at risk of infection by the new coronavirus is gaining support from governments, one of its prime movers said on Friday.

Seven countries have either formally supported the Pan-European Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT https://www.pepp-pt.org) initiative or tasked one of its members with developing a national app, German tech entrepreneur Chris Boos told Reuters.

PEPP-PT has emerged as a leading proponent of the use of Bluetooth short-range communications between personal devices as a proxy for measuring the risk that a person infected with coronavirus can pass it on.

“A lot of larger countries have dedicated their app teams to build on top of what we’re supplying,” Boos, a co-initiator of PEPP-PT and founder of business automation startup Arago, said in an interview.

He listed Austria, Germany, France, Italy, Malta, Spain and Switzerland, adding that another 40 countries had registered and were in the process of being brought onboard.

More than 200 scientists and technologists are collaborating on PEPP-PT, conceived as the backbone for national apps that would comply with Europe’s strict privacy rules and be able to “talk” to each other across borders.

Technologists are rushing to devise digital methods to fight a disease that has infected more than 2 million people worldwide, 150,000 of whom have died.

Automating the assessment of who is at risk and telling them to see a doctor, get tested or self isolate, is seen by advocates as a way to speed up a painstaking task that typically entails phone calls and door knocks.

DATA PRIVACY

The approach is based on work https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/04/09/science.abb6936 by researchers at Oxford University’s Big Data Institute who argue that if 60% of a population uses such an app that would be enough to suppress the pandemic.

This would be tough to reach if apps are voluntary. But even with lower takeup one infection can be prevented by every 1 or 2 people using an app, Oxford’s Christophe Fraser told a separate video briefing.

A schism has however opened up among technologists around issues of data privacy, with some favouring decentralized approaches that do not host sensitive data on a main server over more centralized systems.

Boos said PEPP-PT could work in either setting. “Both models have their pros and cons … A country has to pick which system it needs.”

Italy has backed a contact tracing app developed by Milan startup Bending Spoons, a member of PEPP-PT, while Germany plans to roll out an app under development by the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute, another participant.

In France, the INRIA digital research institute is also working to develop an app based on PEPP-PT. “We are fully committed to make this pan-European initiative a success,” said INRIA head Bruno Sportisse.

PEPP-PT has faced criticism from supporters of a decentralized protocol called DP-3T , with early backer Marcel Salathe of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne publicly dissociating himself from it on Friday.

Boos said DP-3T still had a role to play. He also responded to criticism that PEPP-PT was too secretive, promising to publish its documentation for public review on Friday.

Friday’s briefing on video conferencing app Zoom was hacked by someone who posted racist comments. The case of so-called Zoom-bombing, Boos conceded, was a reminder of the need to make sure the PEPP-PT platform safe and secure.

(Reporting by Douglas Busvine; Editing by David Holmes)

‘Wild West’: Caution urged on facial recognition rollout in U.S. schools

Reuters
By Matthew Lavietes

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A lack of regulation about the use of facial recognition technology at U.S. schools has alarmed education officials and lawmakers who say more research is needed before rolling it out widely.

Schools are fertile territory for the technology as high-profile profile shootings in recent years have exacerbated officials’ and parents’ fears about safety, security experts said.

“Right now, it’s like the Wild West (when it comes to facial recognition technology),” said Mike Matranga, executive director of security at Texas City Independent School District, which has installed facial recognition software at all of its schools.

“Any tool in the hands of the wrong person, is bad. That’s why we have to have good policies in place,” Matranga told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The rise of cloud computing and AI technologies have popularised the use of facial recognition globally, from tracking criminals to unlocking smartphones.

But as cameras appear at unlikely spots across the globe, activists raise fears about lost privacy and say society might be on the doorstep of a dystopia where Big Brother sees all.

Two U.S. Democratic senators introduced a bill in February that would place a moratorium on federal use of facial recognition until lawmakers regulate it.

But regulation has yet to be introduced for its use in schools.

Proponents say the technology can enhance school security by identifying individuals deemed by schools or law enforcement as potential threats.

The software takes statistical measurements of people’s facial features.

It then compares them to databases of faces that schools have created – which typically include local sexual predators, students who have been expelled, parents who have lost custody of their children.

But critics argue facial recognition cameras have potential for abuse and should be thoroughly researched before rolling out the technology on minors.

“We shouldn’t be using our kids as guinea pigs,” said Monica Wallace, a New York state Democratic legislator.

Wallace introduced a bill late last year that would force schools in her state’s government to halt the use of facial recognition for a year. During that time, the bill proposes the State Education Department should study the technology thoroughly.

“Let’s not just take the vendors’ word that this is the best system in the world and that it’s going to keep our children safe. We have to look deeper into it,” said Wallace in a phone interview.

Schools should be investing in methods that have already been proven to promote safer environments, like promoting social and emotive learning, or hiring mental health counselors and security officers, she said.

ROLLOUT

But as state lawmakers weigh a vote on the bill, some schools in Wallace’s district have already implemented the technology.

Lockport City School District adopted facial recognition-equipped cameras early this year for safety reasons.

School district officials did not reply to several requests for comment.

Some school districts go further, using facial recognition to enforce disciplinary action.

When students are suspended at one of Texas City Independent School District’s, they are added to the system. If they are on school property during their suspension, the software alerts security officials.

Technology companies say it is beyond their control how schools use their products once a sale is completed.

“It’s really up to the schools to create the policy framework around how they’re going to use the technology,” said Mike Vance, senior director of product management at RealNetworks, one of the firms selling AI software to U.S. schools.

“The schools own all of the data and rules,” he added.

CONCERNS

Data privacy is a bone of contention for critics of schools using the technology, who warn that schools may not be equipped to stave off sophisticated hackers from stealing sensitive information.

“If someone steals your social security number, you can get a new one. You can’t get a new face,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, a digital rights advocacy group.

While acknowledging potential risks, proponents say incorporating facial recognition for safety takes precedent while school officials wait for the U.S. government’s input.

“It may be years before they act,” said Matranga, referring to legislators. “By that time there could be several mass shootings that have taken place.”

There have been over 1,500 shootings at U.S. schools between 1970 and 2019, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database maintained by the Naval Postgraduate School, which is operated by the U.S. Navy.

School shootings in 2019 and 2018 were nearly four times as high as the average rate per year since researchers began collecting the information.

In one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history, 26 people, including 20 children, were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012.

HOSTILE ENVIRONMENTS?

Jason Nance, a law professor at the University of Florida, has researched links between high-profile shootings and a trend of intensifying security at U.S. schools.

Increased surveillance can foster hostile environments that may lead to even more disorder, according to a report he published in 2016.

The report said strict security measures send a clear signal to students they are “dangerous, violent and prone to illegal activity”.

These practices also create a “school-to-prison pipeline” for students with a prior history of disobedience, Nance said in an interview.

“If that student misbehaves in some type of a slight manner because he or she is being watched very carefully, that student could be suspended again, expelled, or introduced to the justice system.”

U.S. college campuses are more reluctant than schools to introduce facial recognition technology, according to Fight for the Future.

The group got more than 50 prominent U.S. universities to commit to rule out facial recognition for surveillance on their campuses.

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) announced last month it had abandoned plans to install facial recognition surveillance systems on its campus, following a backlash by students.

Greer said the use of facial recognition technology should not be up to school officials alone.

“This should not be decided by some school official who maybe has their students’ best interest in mind, but might not have the expertise to know the potential harms of using technology like this,” said Greer.

“If left up to companies that make and sell this technology it would be everywhere,” Greer added.

(Reporting by Matthew Lavietes, Editing by Astrid Zweynert and Zoe Tabary. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

South Korean mother given tearful VR reunion with deceased daughter

By Minwoo Park

SEOUL (Reuters) – Wearing virtual reality goggles, Jang Ji-sung burst into tears as her 7-year-old daughter, Na-yeon, emerged from behind piles of wood in a neighborhood park, her playground until she died from blood-related diseases three years ago.

“Mom, where have you been? Have you been thinking of me?” Na-yeon said, prompting a choked-up Jang to reply: “Always.”

Jang tried to reach closer, only to see her hands penetrate the virtual figure wearing her daughter’s favorite violet dress and carrying a pink purse featuring Elsa and Anna, sisters from Disney’s animated musical “Frozen”.

“I really want to touch you just once,” Jang said, her voice and hands quivering. “I really missed you.”

The tearful reunion, aired last week in a documentary by South Korean broadcaster MBC, was made possible by virtual reality (VR) technology which embodied Na-yeon in a digital avatar modeled upon a child actor using photos and memories from her mother.

The documentary, entitled “Meeting You”, struck a chord with many South Koreans while highlighting the growing scope of the new technology beyond gaming.

“People would often think that technology is something that’s cold. We decided to participate to see if technology can comfort and warm your heart when it is used for people,” said Lee Hyun-suk, director of the Seoul-based VIVE Studios, who led the project.

Kim Jong-woo, who produced the documentary, said he focused on “remembering” Na-yeon instead of recreating her, so Jang and her family would feel as if her daughter had lived on.

For Jang, her last wish was to tell Na-yeon she loved her and has never forgotten her.

“It’s heartbreaking that her time has stopped at the age of 7,” Jang said, with a faint smile. “But I was so happy to see her that way.”

(Reporting by Minwoo Park and Dogyun Kim; Writing by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Older of two Colorado teens charged in deadly shooting rampage pleads not guilty

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) – The older of two Colorado teens accused of a cocaine-fueled shooting spree that killed one classmate and wounded eight others at a Denver-area charter school, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to murder and attempted murder charges, prosecutors said.

Devon Erickson, 19, jailed without bond since the May 7 rampage, entered his plea in Douglas County District Court to all 44 felony counts against him, including conspiracy, weapons offenses and theft, a spokeswoman for District Attorney George Brauchler said in a statement.

Erickson’s lawyers also gave the court notice they will pursue a “mental health defense,” and the judge ruled the defendant must cooperate with any psychiatric examination ordered in the case, spokeswoman Vikki Migoya said in an email.

The judge ruled in September there was sufficient evidence for Erickson to stand trial in the attack.

Erickson is accused along with Alec McKinney, 16, of bursting into the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) School they attended in Highlands Ranch, south of Denver, and opening fire with guns they stole from Erickson’s parents.

The pair were arrested after several fellow students tried to fight back, including 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo, who was killed. Eight students were wounded, one of them struck by errant gunfire from a private security guard.

Police say the two suspects had used an ax and crowbar to break into a safe containing the firearms they stole – three pistols and a .22-caliber rifle – and consumed cocaine before storming the school.

According to an arrest warrant affidavit, Erickson later told police he “didn’t want anyone to get shot” but the handgun he was carrying discharged when he was hit by the other students rushing him.

McKinney, who was born female but identifies as male, is alleged to have told investigators he was bullied at school for his transgender status and planned the attack out of revenge, enlisting Erickson to help him carry out the plot.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Erickson faces a life sentence without the possibility of parole, or the death penalty should prosecutors seek capital punishment.

McKinney, although charged as an adult, would face a maximum punishment of 40 years in prison because he was a juvenile when the crime was committed.

The attack occurred less than a month after the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in nearby Littleton, Colorado, where two students shot and killed 13 people before committing suicide.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Steve Gorman and Tom Brown)

U.S. companies facing worker shortage race to automate

U.S. companies facing worker shortage race to automate
By David Randall

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. companies are responding to the lowest unemployment rate in almost 50 years by increasing their focus on automation in order to maintain healthy margins as labor costs tick higher, a Reuters analysis of corporate earnings transcripts shows.

The attempt to save money through technology does not come down to just installing more robots in factories. Instead, companies appear to be confronting the lack of low-cost workers by investing in software and machines that can perform tasks ranging from human resources management to filling prescriptions.

Citigroup Inc, for instance, said that it is expanding its cloud infrastructure to replace routine tasks that used to require human labor. Health insurance company UnitedHealth Group told investors that its automation efforts should save the company over $1 billion next year. And Corona beer brewer Constellation Brands Inc said that its spending on automation should increase the efficiency in which it packs bottles in a variety pack, shaving costs.

Those investments are helping keep wage growth in line despite historically-low unemployment. Average hourly earnings were unchanged in October despite the unemployment rate falling to 3.5% from 3.7%, while the annual increase in wages fell slightly to 2.9%.

“I’m not at all worried about margin pressure from wages” because of increased productivity due to corporate spending on automation, said Jonathan Golub, chief U.S. equities strategist at Credit Suisse Securities.

Overall, companies have discussed automation on quarterly earnings calls more than 1,110 times since the beginning of the year, a 15% increase from this time last year and nearly double the mentions by this time in October, 2016, according to Refinitiv data. Corporate orders of robotics alone rose 7.2% over the first half of this year compared with 2018, totaling $869 million in spending, according to the Association for Advancing Automation.

Fund managers and analysts say that corporate spending on automation is contributing to positive earnings surprises. Nearly 83% of companies in the S&P 500 that have release third quarter earnings so far have reported earnings above expectations, compared with an average 65% beat rate since 1994, according to I/B/E/S data from Refinitiv.

“You’re seeing companies benefit in ways that aren’t easy to see when you look at the balance sheet, and all those investments start to add up and help protect margins,” said Matt Watson, a portfolio manager at James Investment Research.

Watson said that he is now buying companies that are benefiting from the use of automation because they trade at much more attractive valuations than the companies that provide it, which he is steering clear of.

FedEx Corp, for example, is investing in systems to both automate its shipping facilities and is testing robots that can handle some deliveries, he said. He is also buying shares of broker-dealer LPL Financial Holdings Inc, which is automating more of its client-relations platform to increase efficiency, he said.

“You don’t need to get into the nitty gritty when it’s back-of-the-napkin obvious that these companies are saving money” through increased productivity, Watson said.

The fastest-growing sectors of automation are in logistics and healthcare, said Jeremie Capron, head of research at ROBO Global, the company behind the $1.2-billion Robo Global Robotics & Automation ETF <ROBO.P>. The firm’s ETF is up nearly 20% for the year to date, in line with the performance of the benchmark S&P 500 index.

Capron sees the greatest opportunity in companies like Zebra Technologies Corp <ZBRA.O>, which makes radio-frequency identification device readers and real-time location systems that are used in hospitals and e-commerce fulfillment centers, he said. Shares of the company are up nearly 30% for the year to date.

Declining costs and a new generation of smaller systems should continue to push revenue growth in the sector, he said.

“We’ve hit the level where you don’t need great engineering skills to deploy automation because the software has made it so much easier to use,” he said. “You’re seeing not only large multi-national groups automate, but those technologies are increasingly available to smaller and mid-sized businesses.”

(Reporting by David Randall; Editing by Alden Bentley and Nick Zieminski)

Explainer: NASA aims to build on moon as a way station for Mars

FILE PHOTO: Tourists take pictures of a NASA sign at the Kennedy Space Center visitors complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida April 14, 2010. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

By Joey Roulette

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) – Unlike the Apollo program that put astronauts on the moon 50 years ago, NASA is gearing up for a long term presence on Earth’s satellite that the agency says will eventually enable humans to reach Mars.

“Now, NASA is working to build a sustainable, open architecture that returns humanity to our nearest neighbor,” Jim Bridenstine, the administrator of the U.S. space agency, said in a statement to a Senate committee on Wednesday.

“We are building for the long term, going to the Moon to stay, and moving beyond to Mars.”

The next manned mission to the moon will require leaps in robotic technologies and a plan for NASA to work with private companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX or Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin to help cut the cost of space travel.

Using NASA’s Space Launch System, a heavy-lift rocket being built for a debut flight in late 2020, the agency is aiming to return humans to the moon by 2024 in an accelerated timeline set in March by the Trump administration.

No humans have launched from U.S. soil since the space shuttle program ended in 2011.

NASA officials say exploration of the moon and Mars are intertwined, with the moon becoming a testbed for Mars and providing an opportunity to demonstrate new technologies that could help build self-sustaining extraterrestrial outposts.

We are working right now, in fact, to put together a comprehensive plan on how we would conduct a Mars mission using the technologies that we will be proving at the moon,” Bridenstine told reporters on Monday, adding that a mission to the Red Planet could come as soon as 2033.

Technologies that can mine the moon’s subsurface water ice to sustain astronaut crews, but also to be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen for use as a rocket propellant, could be crucial for missions to Mars. The planet is reachable in months-long missions when at its closest orbital approach of 35.8 million miles from Earth’s utilization versus curiosity,” said roboticist and research professor at Carnegie Mellon University William Whittaker, comparing the Artemis program, as the new lunar mission has been dubbed, with Apollo. Artemis is the twin sister of Apollo and goddess of the moon in Greek mythology.

POLITICAL PRIORITIES

The last manned mission to the moon was almost a half-century ago in 1972, when Cold War-era tensions underscored President John F. Kennedy’s push to prove technologies that landed the first humans on the lunar surface.

“That’s 50 years of non-progress; I think we all ought to be a little ashamed that we can’t do better than that,” said Buzz Aldrin, who joined Neil Armstrong in walking on the moon on July 20, 1969.

Bridenstine said shifting political priorities were the key reason NASA had not returned to the surface of Earth’s natural satellite since then. “If it wasn’t for the political risk, we would be on the moon right now,” said the NASA chief, who is working to woo Republican and Democratic lawmakers to approve additional taxpayer funds for the program.

Development of NASA’s flagship rocket, Space Launch System, whose main contractor is Boeing Co, is taking years longer than expected with cost overruns of nearly $2 billion, a federal audit released in June found. Those delays could push the rocket&rsquo;s first launch to June 2021, potentially endangering NASA’s plan to reach the moon by 2024.

“Cost and schedule matter,” Bridenstine said. &ldquo;So we are working rapidly to put together a team that can assess the cost and schedule of these programs and create a realistic baseline that we can work toward.&rdquo;

Bridenstine, under mounting pressure to meet the White House’s 2024 deadline, demoted two longtime heads of NASA’s human exploration division last week in a slew of administrative shakeups amid dwindling congressional support for the lunar initiative.

Charlie Duke, who piloted the lunar-landing module during the last lunar mission, Apollo 16, said leadership in the Apollo missions was “bold without being careless.”

“Don’t be so risk-averse that you don’t fly,” he said.

He added that the decision to put astronauts on top of a massive Saturn V rocket, the launch vehicle used by NASA for the Apollo program, “was a very gutsy call. They went through it carefully and they determined it was OK.”

(Reporting by Joey Roulette; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Tom Brown)