OUR PICKSIs the U.S. Ready for Extraterrestrials? Not If They’re Microbes | Outdated ridge Safety Standards | Cyberattacks Caused One Texas Water System to Overflow, and more

Published 20 April 2024

·  Is the U.S. Ready for Extraterrestrials? Not If They’re Microbes.
As fantastical as it may sound, astrobiodefense is neither hypothetical nor fictional

·  The Next Pandemic Threat Demands Action Now
Governments should act now to deploy the capacities at their disposal to guard against the uncontrolled spread of the H5N1 bird flu virus

·  H5N1 Bird Flu in U.S. Cattle: A Wake-Up Call to Action
This evolutionary leap, if confirmed, underscores the adaptability of the H5N1 virus and raises concerns about the next step required for a pandemic

·  Baltimore Bridge Collapse Highlights Outdated Safety Standards, Experts Say
Engineers say the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge shows how U.S. system hasn’t evolved to keep up with modern challenges

·  A Toxic Grass That Threatens a Quarter of U.S. Cows Is Spreading Because of Climate Change
Fescue toxicosis costs the livestock industry up to $2 billion a year in lost production

·  Rural Texas Towns Report Cyberattacks That Caused One Water System to Overflow
Local officials said the public was not put in any danger and the attempts were reported to federal authorities

Is the U.S. Ready for Extraterrestrials? Not If They’re Microbes.  (Donna Shalala and Susan Brooks, Houston Chronicle)
Astrobiodefense is the defense against biological threats in space and on Earth that result from space exploration. It represents the next frontier — another form of preparedness as we move toward the middle half of the 21st century.
There are two goals: to prevent the contamination of extraterrestrial environments with Earth organisms; and to prevent extraterrestrial or mutated terrestrial microbes from harming Earth’s inhabitants.
As fantastical as it may sound, astrobiodefense is neither hypothetical nor fictional. It is a real challenge that requires urgent attention and action. For the United States, NASA has already started programs to prevent forward and backward contamination, ensure the health and safety of astronauts, and identify and control biological hazards. The Federal Aviation Administration is also responsible for monitoring the payloads of commercial spaceflight and how they might affect public health.
But now, with more missions into space, the potential dangers are mounting. Recent missions, for example, brought specimens back from asteroid Bennu and aimed to drop human remains on the moon. We need to do more and soon.
The U.S. needs to invest in research and development of new technologies and medical countermeasures to detect, diagnose, treat and prevent diseases in space and on Earth. We need to enhance our biosurveillance and symptom monitoring to track and analyze space-related biological threats in real time. We need to strengthen our coordination and collaboration between agencies and partners, both nationally and internationally, to share information and resources without compromising the kind of competition that results in scientific advances and economic gains.

The Next Pandemic Threat Demands Action Now  (Jaime M. Yassif, CNN)
While we face uncertainty about what will happen next, many scientists say stepped-up government action is warranted because of the risk that bird flu could turn into a pandemic. Many researchers believe that Covid-19 may have started in a similar way — spreading from animals to humans by first gaining the ability to spread among mammals that came into contact with humans, and then evolving to transmit directly between humans. (Cont.)