Netscape and the web browsers time forgot


Netscape Navio is 25 today! It was intended as a Windows rival and a way of counteracting Microsoft’s bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows operating system. Hearing about Netscape again brings to mind some of the long-forgotten browsers from the early days of the internet. Get ready for some nostalgia as we take a look at the browsers that time forgot.

Netscape Navigator
Released: December 1996

Netscape Navigator was the original browser for Netscape, once the most popular browser on the planet. It was full of great features, including one certainly taken for granted now: text and images would appear on the page as it loaded; every other web browser at the time would display nothing until everything was loaded, which meant a lot of staring at blank screens.

AOL Explorer
Released: July 2005

AOL Explorer, previously known as AOL Browser, provided some interesting features for its time including support for tabs, desktop widgets and visual themes. Yet Explorer was short-lived; it was discontinued less than a year after its release, with the last version released in 2006.

NetSurf
Released: May 2007

NetSurf was a free, open source web browser, with its own layout. While it may lack some features that we now expect from modern browsers, it’s lightweight and can run on any PC. Still in existence, its latest release NetSurf 3.0 launched May 2020.

Flock
Released: April 2005

Flock specialised in social networking (part of the web 2.0 development of the internet,) allowing users to interact and collaborate. Short-lived, Flock was acquired by Zynga later that year and the browser was discontinued, with support ending in 2011.

GreenBrowser
Released: 2010

Green Browser was based on Internet Explorer’s Trident rendering engine, optimised for low memory so it could work on any older PC. It has since been discontinued.

Internet Explorer
Released: August 1995

The big one. Developed by Microsoft, Internet Explorer was once the world’s most used browser. It was the default browser on Windows operating systems for many years until a series of antitrust cases forced Microsoft to change its ways. First released in 1995 on Windows 95, Internet Explorer was officially discontinued at the launch of Microsoft Edge in 2015. Its demise will be complete in 2022 when Microsoft support will end. In the web development community. Few tears will be shed.

K-Meleon
Released: August 2000

The K-Meleon browser was designed with the Gecko layout engine (an open source web browser layout engine) with the goal to provide a fast and reliable web browser with an interface that could be highly customised. K-Meleon was offered within Microsoft Windows in 2010, and although it only has a tiny market share, it’s still around today.

Maxthon/MyIE2
Released: 2002

Maxthon is a cross-platform browser (supporting desktop and mobile.) It’s a good choice if you like the feel and user experience of Internet Explorer but have a Windows 10 operating system where Explorer isn’t an option. Warning: This internet browser isn’t very effective at stopping malware downloads or blocking phishing schemes, so use a third-party antivirus program with it to stay safe.

Check out Defenders of Digital series, meeting people are defending our online world.

Marcus Hutchins’ WannaCry heroics led him here


If you could stop a devastating cyberattack, would you think about yourself first, or just act? This is the uncensored story of the WannaCry ransomware attack, how Marcus Hutchins went from cyber celebrity to wanted cyber criminal overnight and where he is now.

The story of WannaCry and hacker Marcus Hutchins

“I was shaking, I think I sweated through my T-shirt and blazer. I did not know how to feel – it just felt like everything was coming to an end, but not in a good way…”

For Marcus Hutchins, a dream that turned into a nightmare ended in July 2019 with a compassionate sentence by a Milwaukee judge. “I just got out of my court hearing for the sentencing. I wasn’t sure how it would go down. I was very, very nervous,” he told us after leaving the courtroom. “But the judge took a broad view of the entire circumstances. He weighed up my past work helping security. He ended up ruling ‘time served,’ which was a big surprise to me. But it does make sense, when you weigh in that I’ve been forced to stay in a foreign country for two years.”

Marcus’s story starts with what strangely became his downfall – stopping a catastrophic ransomware attack called WannaCry.

What is the WannaCry ransomware attack?

Hutchins became an overnight cybersecurity celebrity in 2017. “I came back from lunch, saw all the news about something targeting the NHS and decided to dig a little deeper, which was when I noticed an unregistered domain inside the code.” He registered the domain and the infection count went down. He had found the ‘kill switch’ for the WannaCry epidemic.

WannaCry cyberhero or Marcus Hutchins, cybercriminal?

It changed his life. He became a hero, then fell to zero a few weeks later.

“I woke up to see my face over a two-page spread of the Daily Mail. Media had posted my address in the paper, which meant the bad guys I am fighting know where I live.”

Marcus Hutchins arrested at Defcon 2017

After saving the world from the worst ransomware attack in history, Hutchins became a cyber hero. The pinnacle of his fame was global hacker conference Defcon 2017. Marcus had become a demi-god among cyber researchers, journalists and the public before the event. After a week in the Las Vegas sun, partying and rubbing shoulders with the industry’s biggest names, everything would come crashing down.

Big Mac to banged up – WannaCry ransomware attack continued

That week, Marcus Hutchins had shared a mansion with his friends – think huge pool, all-night parties and legal marijuana. Allegedly, while picking up a McDonalds delivery outside the mansion one morning, he noticed an unmarked FBI vehicle.

At the airport, his suspicions were confirmed.

“I’m completely exhausted. I have no idea what’s going on and I’m just relaxing waiting for my flight. And a man and two other people in uniform approached me and asked, “Are you Marcus Hutchins?” I said yes, and they asked me to come with them. It turned out the guy was an FBI agent and that’s when they arrested me.”

At this point, Hutchins is in a sleep-deprived state of shock. Things aren’t looking good. The FBI showed a warrant for his arrest on conspiracy to commit computer fraud and abuse. It wasn’t for his role in WannaCry, but for a cyber ghost from his past: malware called Kronos, created on the sunny shores of Devon, UK, was of critical importance to the FBI.

Marcus Hutchins’ arrest – a global phenomenon

When the world got hold of Hutchins’ arrest, social media was awash with support and slander. One cybersecurity researcher suggested Hutchins created WannaCry himself only to stop it as it spiraled out of control. But as supporters who raised the alarm on the FBI’s treatment of Hutchins, Twitter bulged with support for Marcus’ character.

Eventually, Hutchins was bailed to a halfway house with a curfew and GPS monitoring. The Twitter community again came to his aid and two lawyers took Hutchins’ case for free. They were able to overturn the curfew and GPS monitoring.

Would prosecutors persuade Hutchins to squeal?

The FBI said if Hutchins called out other hackers he knew of, they’d let him off. On principle, Marcus opposed snitching. Instead, he set his sights on a criminal trial. Hutchins’ cybersecurity background, diligence and good heart played in his favor when the day came.

Much to Hutchins’ surprise, the judge ruled his hero status could almost warrant a full pardon, but that was out of the question. Rather than a 10-year prison sentence and a 500,000 US dollar fine, Marcus stepped out of the courtroom with one year supervised release.

Wait, what? After months of anxiety, Marcus was a free-ish man. The judge smiled on him that day, understanding Hutchins had already served a type of sentence being kept in the US without the right to go home.

Where is Marcus Hutchins now?

Hutchins has retreated from the public spotlight for now. Keep an eye on his Twitter, @MalwareTechBlog, for updates on what he’ll do next. From a recent interview in WIRED, it sounds like a return to his childhood love, surfing:

“Someday, I’d like to be able to live in a house by the ocean like this, where I can look out the window and if the waves are good, go right out and surf.”

The WannaCry documentary – Marcus Hutchins’ untold story

There’s much more to Marcus Hutchins’ story, in his own words. The cybersecurity hero who stopped WannaCry turned cybercrime defendant speaks in our exclusive documentary.

Explore more of history’s craziest and most mysterious cybercrime with our hacker:HUNTER series.

7 of the world’s best sites for World Geocaching Day


August 21: World Geocaching Day. The perfect opportunity to celebrate this relatively new high-tech sport and some of the beautiful locations you can explore while hunting for treasure. Grab your GPS and join us on a journey around the world as we showcase some of the best geocaching sites on Earth.

1. Oregon, United States

This is where it all began. On May 3, 2000, a five-gallon bucket was placed at this spot by Dave Ulmer, a GPS enthusiast. He wanted to test the accuracy of GPS by hiding a navigational target in the woods. The original cache container was damaged but many recognized the importance of the event and dedicated an Original Stash Tribute Plaque on behalf of cachers everywhere.

GC Code: GCGV0P

Difficulty: 1

Terrain: 1.5

2. Ojamo Mine, Finland

An abandoned mine sounds like an interesting place for a geocache. Or a horror movie. But the Ojamo mine in southern Finland is more than that. It’s completely submerged in water and still contains tracks, elevators, tools, test samples and drilling equipment systems. Don’t go in alone.

GC Code: GC4Q81K

Difficulty: 5

Terrain: 5

3. Norfolk Broads, England

A definite cache for the detectives among us. There is no direct route to this geocache on land, it can only be reached by a shallow-draft boat or kayak. To make it even harder, the coordinates are NOT those of the cache, just the general area. To get the main cache you first have to reach four ‘virtual’ caches, each providing 1 number of the final coordinates (A, B, C or D.)

GC Code: GCD182

Difficulty: 4

Terrain: 4

4. Cape Nosappu, Japan

Cape Nosappu is the easternmost point of the Hokkaidō, Japan, and the most easterly point in Japan which is open to the public. Here you’ll find the Cape Nosappu Lighthouse which is the oldest in Hokkaido, built in 1872. The cache is around the lighthouse. Experienced geocachers say the most important gadget you can bring on this trip is a pen!

GC Code: GC3KJW5

Difficulty: 1.5

Terrain: 1.5

5. Ayung River, Bali, Indonesia

Take your treasure hunt to the next level with a stunning walk in the beautiful valley of the holy river. The Ayung River is the longest river on the Indonesian island of Bali. As well as holding geocaching treasure it’s also a white water rafting hotspot, making this a trip with potential for plenty of thrills and spills.

GC Code: GC4HJ0K

Difficulty: 2

Terrain: 3

6. Berlin, Germany

You will not find the cache at the given coordinates, but the place of residence of a man who was wanted by law enforcement until his death. He was not only a geodesist (someone who computes geodetic distances) but also the founder of an international organization that, among other things, ensured we can now clearly “address” caches worldwide.

GC Code: GCM6B5

Difficulty: 3

Terrain: 2

7. Leinster, Ireland

In June 2000, geocaching reached Europe in the form of a plastic container hidden along the Irish coastline. It was only one month after the world’s first geocache was placed in the US, so this site is included in our rundown as the first known geocache site in Europe. Sup a Guinness and enjoy the craic while you search for your bounty among the beautifully rugged Irish landscape.

GC Code: GC43

Difficulty: 1.5

Terrain: 3

That’s our pick. Why not share your favourite Geocaching spot?

Disabled athletes’ assistive tech at Paralympics


The 2020 Paralympics held in 2021 will be a global window on assistive tech. Every four years new technology brings extra excitement to the arena and goes on to change disabled people’s lives. We could see these recent assistive tech innovations at this year’s Paralympics.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) uses the Paralympics to raise the profile of assistive tech: Any tech that gives people with disabilities more independence. Assistive tech can improve access to any part of life where disabled people face barriers, from eating to travel, sport to work. Alongside funding research into anything that can improve access for people with disabilities, the IPC funds research into assistive tech.

Several tech innovations in recent years have potential for use by this year’s Paralympians. Here are some you could see.

Affordable artificial limbs

Assistive tech can be a game-changer, if you can afford it. For many with disabilities, getting hold of the technology is a bigger barrier than speed of innovation.

Motorica is one company emphasizing affordability in developing prostheses. They think all people living without limbs should be able to access start-of-the-art artificial limbs – body-powered and bionic arms and legs designed for individual need.

With the level of technology they employ, it’s great that Motorica builds cybersecurity into all their products.

More on Motorica’s limbs and other emerging assistive tech

Technologies that debuted at Cybathlon

Multi-sport assistive tech championship Cybathlon is a four-yearly event that sees many new assistive technologies burst onto the scene. It aims to encourage innovation with the latest materials and developments in areas like AI and robotics.

Cybathlon sees disabled people using assistive tech to compete in events designed to mimic everyday challenges. It’s this ‘everyday’ angle that’s made Cybathlon the birthplace of assistive tech from the futuristic to the home-made.

More on Cybathlon

High-performance Para-badminton chairs

Badminton enters the Paralympics for the first time at Japan 2020. High-performance para-badminton brings unique challenges for sports wheelchair design. Chairs must perform a wide range of pulls, quick pivots and have backward-bend stability. Although basic para-badminton only needs a chair with front and back stabilizers, IPC expects to see some exciting chair designs on the courts.

IPC’s predictions for assistive tech at Japan 2020

New assistive tech adds another angle to para-sport, but it also raises questions about financial access to technology. These questions aren’t unique to the Paralympics. What does winning mean when your competitor can’t afford the best kit? How do we make competition fair in an unequal world?

Disrupting the world’s most dangerous malware


Described by Europol as “one of most significant botnets of the past decade,” Emotet left a trail of destruction in its wake as it rampaged across the world. Here’s everything you need to know about this devastating malware.

Spread by spam emails, Emotet’s goal was to compromise devices and networks and sell back-door access to anyone.

Emotet was much more than just malware. The cybercriminals behind it behaved like a commercial business, offering their weapon for hire to other cybercriminals. This allowed these third parties to install all kinds of malicious software – like banking trojans, ransomware, botnets and cryptocurrency miners – onto their victims’ networks.

The scale of the damage.

With an estimated clean up cost of $1m per attack, the US Department of Homeland Security concluded Emotet had enormous destructive power. Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security called Emotet the “king of malware.”

There’s no question Emotet is one of the most complex and dangerous malware ever. It left a trail of expensive attacks in its wake, partly because it’s polymorphic, which means its code changes a little bit every time it’s accessed. This made it almost impossible for antivirus software to defeat.

Like their code, the cybercriminals behind Emotet were constantly on the move. Because of this dynamic and nebulous strategy, a coordinated effort by eight law enforcement agencies was needed to finally take Emotet down.

The victims of Emotet.

After being infected with Emotet, German hospital Fuerstenfeldbruck shut down almost 500 computers and had to resort to paper based documentation in the rescue control center to control the infection. Unconfirmed reports claimed this led to lives being put in danger, the attack was considered by many to be the lowest point of Emotet’s regime of destruction.

In 2019, the Berlin Court of Appeal and the University of Giessen were attacked and suffered major disruption. The Medical University of Hannover and the city administration of Frankfurt am Main also fell victim to Emotet, with countless other organisations likely to have been attacked.

The king of malware.

Nobody truly knows who is behind Emotet. As you’ll see in hacker:HUNTER, the group was eventually traced to Ukraine but speculation remains that those arrested were not the only perpetrators and that Emotet could morph and rise again to cause carnage around the world.

Watch the episode now and see the full story for yourself.

Taylor Rees: The story of the nature filmmaker


Taylor Rees is one of the most exciting filmmakers around, making documentaries from forgotten volcanic archipelagos to red-hot reflections on the American civil war. Who is Taylor Rees and what other documentaries has she made that you must see?

Who is Taylor Rees?

Director. Adventurer. Photographer. Environmental documentary filmmaker. The list goes on, but this description gives you an idea of her versatility and talent.

Taylor Rees’ work focuses on environmental and humanitarian issues, exploring stories beneath the surface with insatiable curiosity, deepening public understanding of natural resource conflicts, climate change and human rights. Her middle name is Freesolo: No moniker but a lasting reminder of her parents’ love of free climbing.

Where did Taylor Rees start making films?

Her career dates back to a Masters’s degree from Yale in environmental management and anthropology. This is the foundation for her stories, giving them a rigorous scientific and social justice approach.

Taylor Rees’ filmmaking style

Stylistically, Taylor’s work uses the power of landscape – skies, mountain ranges and large expanses. She also looks at a landscape’s story – the intricacies of its beauty, connection and how life interacts within different places. For storytellers out there, her TED talk is a must.

Taylor Rees said in a recent interview with culture and adventure journalist Simon Schreyer, “The love of what’s beautiful to me is deeply personal and it gives me a lot of intention, desire and drive to find aspects of beauty within a human life, or in a landscape, or in a way to incorporate that beauty in my own life. It’s like an indescribable phenomenon, that we don’t even know how to talk about rationally.”

Taylor Rees films

Down To Nothing (2015)

Her first film Down To Nothing follows a five-person team who set out on an ambitious trek to find out whether Burmese peak Hkakabo Razi is really Southeast Asia’s highest point.

Life Coach (2017)

Alaska’s Ruth Glacier is a climber’s dream. When director Taylor Rees and climbers Renan Ozturk and Alex Honnold choose a specific route to the top, unfortunately – or perhaps, fortunately – the weather puts a swift stop to their expectations. What follows is remarkable.

Watch Taylor Rees’ film Life Coach

Mentors: Hilaree Nelson (2018)

Is there room for glamour in the testosterone-filled world of ski mountaineering? Taylor and her team ask big questions as they follow ski mountaineer Hilaree Nelson in a stunning depiction of masculinity and femininity in sport.

Watch Taylor Rees’ film Mentors: Hilaree Nelson

Ashes To Ashes (2019)

Both Black history and US history, Ashes to Ashes is one of Taylor Rees’ more poignant and at times horrific explorations of humanity. She follows Winfred Rembert, an artist and rare survivor of a Jim Crow-era attempted lynching, as he explains a dark past.

From Kurils With Love (2020)

When the guardian of an almost unreachable archipelago in the Far East of Russia hitched a ride with Taylor and her team, no one expected the result. From Kurils With Love’s team includes Rees’ spouse and fellow filmmaker Renan Ozturk. They set out to make a classic adventure story but what they got was something far more powerful.

The Ghosts Above (2020)

Taylor’s most recent work is set on Mount Everest and narrated by Renan Ozturk. The big question: Who was the first to reach the summit? Rees directs this gripping and sometimes strained look at the history of Everest expeditions, the fraught relationship between indigenous guides and the commercialization of a sacred mountain.

What will Taylor Rees do next?

If her previous work is anything to go by, the future is bright. To make sure you don’t miss her next project, keep up to date with Taylor’s adventures on her Instagram or the Taylor Freesolo Rees website.

Documentary maker Hugo Berkeley is at it again


From the history of struggling jazz musicians to the intricacies of wartime friendship, award-winning documentary filmmaker Hugo Berkeley’s storytelling knows no bounds. Here’s why he’s found recognition as a director and about his next unmissable projects.

Who is Hugo Berkeley?

Intriguing characters and compromising situations are the driving factors behind English-American director Hugo Berkeley documentary filmmaking. Berkeley is drawn towards stories that challenge common narratives and let us see the world in new ways.

Also a producer, writer and editor, Hugo has been at the helm of presenting stories as diverse as great jazz musicians’ struggles against racism to complex murder investigations.

Hugo Berkeley’s filmmaking style

Berkeley’s films follow strong characters navigating challenging personal journeys. Never judging and presenting multiple viewpoints, he gives audiences insight on a subject’s struggles but leaves us to make up our own minds.

Hugo Berkeley films

A Normal Life (2003)

A Normal Life from Chai Vasarhelyi on Vimeo.

Hugo Berkeley burst onto the scene with this film following the social intricacies of seven young friends during the chaos of the Kosovo War. This intimate story of trauma, despair and recovery typifies Berkeley’s filmmaking ability.

Watch Hugo Berkeley’s A Normal Life

The Market Maker (2009)

A stunning portrayal of Ethiopian economist Eleni Ghabi-Madhin’s battle to end the country’s famine. She designed the nation’s first commodities exchange, revolutionizing the ancient market system behind Ethiopia’s food shortages.

Watch Hugo Berkeley’s The Market Maker

Land Rush (2012)

Who owns Africa? Berkeley sets out to answer this question, centering on a US agro-developer who wants to “do well by doing good” and struggles to build a massive sugar cane business in Mali, West Africa. Contradiction? You decide.

Watch Hugo Berkeley’s Land Rush

Unknown Male Number 1 (2017)

Inside one of the most high profile, shocking murder investigations in Italian history, Unknown Male Number 1 follows Italian prosecutor Letizia Ruggeri’s painstaking journey to find a 13-year-old girl’s murderer.

Watch Hugo Berkeley’s Unknown Male Number 1

The Jazz Ambassadors (2018)

This artistic portrayal of struggle follows musical titans Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Dave Brubeck as they travel the world as cultural ambassadors, in the face of 1950s racism and Cold War tensions.

Watch Hugo Berkeley’s The Jazz Ambassadors

hacker: HUNTER Wannacry: The Marcus Hutchins Story (2019)

Berkeley created Tomorrow Unlocked’s hacker:HUNTER series covering notorious cybercrimes with a focus on strong characters and their journeys. This story follows a cybersecurity researcher who stopped a worldwide cyberattack, only to find he was the one on trial.

hacker:HUNTER “Cashing In”, Episode 1: Jackpotting

Berkeley also directed Cashing In as part of the hacker:HUNTER series, following the infamous Carbanak gang’s stealthy, high-profile ATM robbery.

What’s next for Hugo Berkeley?

He’s been working on TV documentary series Veleno for Amazon Italy, featuring the balmy Italian countryside, missing children and Satanism. Veleno goes back 20 years to reexamine a case of 16 missing children removed from their families in rural Italy. Not for the faint-hearted.

Are you living in Italy? Watch Veleno right now.

Fans of our hacker: HUNTER series will be glad to know there’s another Hugo Berkeley-directed episode in the pipeline. Keep your eyes on Berkeley’s Twitter for the latest, and see the Hugo Berkeley website and Normal Life Pictures Vimeo channel for his full back catalog.

Game-changing assistive tech for disabled people


Independence has no price. For disabled people, new assistive technology can make all the difference. These recent examples show what’s possible and set a standard for tech with a purpose far beyond speed and convenience.

Assistive technologies change lives

For some people with disabilities, doing daily tasks independently can be a challenge. Assistive tech (also known as adaptive technology) is any device or other means that means a disabled person can do more without support from for example, a care assistant.

Assistive tech itself isn’t new. Magnifying glasses for people with low vision date back to around 1250 and Braille came along in 1820. Technologies range from the relatively straightforward, like this text-to-speech app for people with dyslexia to more affordable high-tech artificial limbs like Motorica‘s:

What if everyone who needed it could use assistive tech?

A billion people or 15 percent of the world’s population has some form of disability. But only 1 in 10 can access assistive technologies. While Motorica sets its sights on making prosthetics affordable for everyone, assistive technology is often expensive. With widespread adoption, how could these assistive technologies change lives for the better?

With more companies starting to understand the importance of assistive tech and disabled people increasingly spearheading its development, affordability can only improve in future.

Here are some compelling examples of assistive tech that’s on the horizon or already here.

1. KOMP: The one-button computer

Computers can be challenging for people with some kinds of visual and motor impairments. Norwegian start-up No Isolation has stepped up to make computing more accessible with its one-button computer, KOMP. Here’s how it works.

No Isolation also offers a rent-a-KOMP model as a way to make their assistive tech more accessible.

2. WeTalk: Smart map-connected cane

This smart cane uses ultrasonic sensors to identify obstructions like street signs and tree branches, sending out vibrations to warn its user. WeWalk also connects to a smartphone app, giving voice-activated directions and alerts to help find a misplaced or moved cane. There’s even talk of connecting the cane to autonomous vehicles in future.

3. Fridai: Voice-activated gaming AI

Could voice-activated AI for billions of gamers with disabilities be the future of gaming? See for yourself in Tomorrow Unlocked’s Defenders of Digital series:

4.  The Dot – More than just a Braille smartwatch

For people with visual impairments, The Dot is a Braille smartwatch that gives users the time and date in Braille, and includes alarms, a Braille dictionary and the ability to answer or reject phone calls. On top of all that, a five-day battery life makes it all the more usable.

5. Open Sesame: Hands-free smartphone control

Useful for people with conditions like lateral sclerosis, spinal cord injury or multiple sclerosis (MS,) Open Sesame lets you control smartphones, tablets and computers with head movements. Like so:

6. Munevo DRIVE: Smart glasses for electric wheelchair users

Another piece of genius hands-free engineering, this time for people using electric wheelchairs. Munevo DRIVE is a pair of smart glasses that lets users manipulate their wheelchair using head movements. See for yourself:

7. Earswitch: Ear-controlled speech

One device theoretical physicist and author Stephen Hawking used to communicate involved him tensing a muscle in his cheek. Earswitch lets users operate it with a tiny, hidden muscle in the ear:

8. OrCam MyEye 2: AI-powered smart glasses that recognize faces

OrCam MyEye2 is a voice-activated, wearable assistive vision device that can read out any text and even tell you people’s names using facial recognition, designed for people with vision impairment and reading difficulties. Here’s how it works:

9. Claro: Affordable assistive tech for web

With widely known problems around affording assistive tech, freeware like ClaroRead for Chrome is more than welcome. ClaroRead speaks aloud the text of any web page. Download ClaroRead.

Cybathlon: Assistive tech’s ultimate showcase

With the pace of assistive technology development speeding up, Cybathlon is a great way to see the latest in assistive tech, with a competitive edge. At Cybathlon, people with disabilities compete against each other using their assistive tech to perform everyday tasks and more. We even made a film about it:

As with all new technologies that can improve lives, assistive tech needs regulation to make sure people’s personal and sensitive data stays safe. What are your thoughts? Tell us how you see the future of assistive technologies on Twitter and Facebook.

How space law fights Moon trash and space junk


Law protects orbit from space cowboys, gold rushes and rogue satellite launches, but making it work for today’s space exploration realities is challenging. I chat with International Institute of Air and Space Law’s Tanja Masson-Zwaan (@tanjamasson) about the ins and outs of space law, as part of Tomorrow Unlocked’s audio series Fast Forward.

Ken: What have been the biggest changes in space exploration since the Moon landings 50 years ago?

Tanja: Nowadays, it’s not two superpowers – the US and the Soviet Union – but many more countries and start-ups, companies, even universities. That change raises legal issues because space law is based on states rather than corporations or entities. Under the many space treaties, resolutions and so on, states are responsible and liable, and must perform their activities in certain ways.

Companies becoming involved, maybe becoming the main actors, stresses the system. That’s why we see new national legislation: States are making sure their companies and entities don’t break the principles they signed up to.

Ken: So if I launch a satellite that damages someone else’s satellite, my government is liable, rather than me?

Tanja: When a private entity launches and operates a satellite, it first needs state authorization and supervision – for instance, through a license from the government. If their satellite crashed into a satellite owned by another state, the state that launched the object is liable, not the private entity.

That’s different from aviation. If you lose your suitcase, you can sue the airline. If your satellite is damaged, you will go to your Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who would present a claim to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the state that launched the satellite that caused the damage.

Ken: What’s the legal position on mining in space?

Tanja: Extracting and commercially using space resources is essential for establishing a semi-permanent human presence on the Moon or Mars, or for using the Moon as a stepping stone to Mars. You wouldn’t have to bring all the water you need from Earth – you could use water on the Moon and transform it into fuel to go to Mars. But whether you can use those resources or commercialize them is a legal question not addressed in space treaties.

Companies are asking, are we allowed to own and commercialize these resources? There is growing consensus that it’s not illegal, but how do you make sure it happens in a regulated way and doesn’t become a gold rush? The treaties also have a principle that benefits from space must be for all countries. Many conditions must be guaranteed. But how? That’s the debate.

Ken: When the US planted its flag on the Moon in 1969, was that legally valid? Did they claim anything?

Tanja: The US explicitly said putting their flag on the Moon was an expression of pride about being the first nation to the Moon, not claiming to own the Moon. To claim the Moon is contrary to a cardinal principle of space law: You cannot own any part of outer space – but owning a part of space isn’t needed to use it and its resources.

Ken: Growing up with the space race, I don’t think many thought about the environmental impact. It seems like laws are needed in that area now.

Tanja: When the space era started, it really was a space race – neither side worried about what was going up. Scientists were excited just to be launching things into space. But space is getting polluted. There are also concerns about going to another celestial body and spoiling its pristine environment with bacteria. There are rules about what level of protection you must apply depending on the mission and where you’re going.

We need clear environmental protection rules and enforcement, for example, obliging parties to do an environmental impact assessment. If we have a settlement on the Moon, we’ll have to think about managing waste. The Apollo landings left bags of garbage on the Moon. If there will be a sustained human presence, will we have a landfill on the Moon? Are we going to put garbage into orbit? We’ll need ways to keep it sustainable because we depend on space.

Ken: Is there a fundamental question around our right as a species to go into space? Some people feel passionately that we have no business on Mars because it’s not our planet.

Tanja: And some cultures have special connections with the Moon and other celestial bodies. It’s important to respect that. But humankind is driven to push frontiers and to discover. I like Russian rocket scientist Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky‘s quote, “Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot remain in the cradle forever.” We should go out and explore, but show respect for other beliefs and the environments of other planets.

Ken: What is possible within the law to restrain corporate buccaneers from taking advantage of space?

Tanja: There are some space cowboys out there doing things that may raise concerns. Is that what we want?

I think we should appreciate the good being done alongside issues it raises. Elon Musk now operates a third of all satellites, and that happened in a year. If he launches the planned 42,000 satellites, how will we deal with that? He also says he will provide broadband to places on Earth that don’t have it, and that’s good. And he’s developed reusable rockets, so he’s contributing to space sustainability.

I think there needs to be a regulatory counterweight. The US authorities should ask those in Elon Musk’s position to do environmental impact assessments and find ways to develop their plans without disrupting science and astronomy. It’s give and take, but you have to appreciate what these people are doing – they have the money states never will.

Ken: What’s next in your space law work?

Tanja: I’ve just started a big EU project researching the European position on space traffic management. We don’t yet have rules on space traffic management nor space security and safety, like retrieving objects from outer space.

Ken: Could there be money in space salvage – bringing satellite components back to Earth?

Tanja: An analogy is salvaging wrecks on the sea. A shipowner can abandon a ship, and a salvage company can salvage it, selling the scrap metal. We have an extra problem in space because space object ownership is eternal – you can’t abandon anything.

We need to get a space debris-removal industry going, but they’ll need approval for every piece they retrieve. The state that launched it will be eternally liable if something else is damaged during space salvage.

We also need to make it possible to refuel or repair in space. So as well as space salvage, space sustainability may mean a new industry of in-orbit servicing.

Ken: So there are wider benefits to a focus on sustainability in space. Thanks for filling us in on space law, Tanja.

Tanja: You’re welcome.

Tanja Masson-Zwaan features in the Tomorrow Unlocked audio series Fast Forward, Episode 6. Listen to Fast Forward and explore more interviews with featured experts.

How more of us could see Earth from space


Space engineer Vinita Marwaha Madill (@Rocket_Woman1) believes more people need to experience the ‘overview effect’ – the life-changing feeling of seeing Earth from space, to realize our interconnectedness and the planet’s fragility. And as we push the boundaries of human space exploration, we’ll need the best possible talent on board – that’s why Vinita started Rocket Women, an initiative inspiring diverse young talent to pursue a career in space.

I talk to Vinita as part of Tomorrow Unlocked’s audio series Fast Forward about what future space exploration will look like.

Ken: Tell us about the Rocket Women initiative.

Vinita: Rocket Women is a global initiative founded in 2012 that aims to empower diverse young women to choose a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM.)

In the UK only 12 percent of engineers are women and less than 8 percent are from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. The goal of Rocket Women is to reverse this trend by giving inspirational women worldwide a platform to share advice and have their voices heard.

We want Rocket Women to show diverse young women and girls globally they can be astronauts, scientists, engineers or whatever they aim to be. We need diversity in space and technology so the professions reflect more of society. Now more than ever, we need all available talent to solve the hard problems facing the world.

Ken: Relatively few women seemed to have been involved in the Apollo space program, and their contributions were not fully acknowledged at the time. But now there is a larger number and diversity of backgrounds. What’s changed?

Vinita: Much has changed since Sally Ride became the first US woman in space in 1983. Many women contribute to the space career program today. In 2016 NASA had its first 50 percent female astronaut class.

But there are still social and cultural barriers girls experience from a young age that society needs to overcome. One is equal access to education. We have more work to do there, but it’s more equal than it was a few years ago.

Ken: In Rocket Women’s mission statement, you talk about trying to prevent unconscious bias. What kind of unconscious bias is influencing space exploration?

Vinita: Language represents biases that have been there from the early days of the space program. NASA has made some changes to their publications and language, like changing ‘manned’ to ‘crewed.’

We’re still using space suits designed in the 1970s on the International Space Station (ISS.) We saw repercussions in 2019 with suit design delaying the first all-female spacewalk. NASA has been working on a new suit design that can provide for everyone, from the smallest female to the largest male.

Ken: If you think of the old space race – cold war era – versus the new space race, what attitudes and pathways have changed?

Vinita: The role of global space agencies is shifting. Working with business has been a great step, such as getting astronauts to and from the space station through Elon Musk’s space transportation company SpaceX. We’re looking at how the commercial sector will be part of space exploration in future.

We’re making space accessible to many more people. I look forward to the day everyone can see Earth from space. It encourages people to see Earth without divisions – astronauts call it the overview effect. It reinforces our interconnectedness and shows how fragile Earth is.

Ken: Space still feels like the rich people’s game: Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Richard Branson. It seems you need a few billion in the bank before you can start making space plans.

Vinita: It mustn’t be just wealthy people who get the chance to see Earth from space.

When aviation first started, only people with funds could access it. With space exploration, we need backers and investors to support it now so more people can access space exploration down the line.

For the first all-civilian space mission, Inspiration4, an investor can buy a flight and pay for a member of the public to be aboard too. As a starting point for space tourism, it’s not a bad place.

Ken: Why are we going back to the Moon?

Vinita: We’re seeing a ramping up of interest in lunar orbiting and landing from space agencies, governments and the private sector. Business is looking at providing infrastructure to go back to the Moon, like human landing systems.

The interest in returning to the Moon is driven by science, engineering, technological development and preparing for future exploration. NASA is developing the Gateway – a new mini space station in lunar orbit – with other space agencies, building on the international cooperation that built the ISS.

The Moon is also a science destination and port for future space transportation if we want to, for example, go to Mars. The lunar surface has valuable resources – Helium-3, for example. It’s only three days from Earth, and its low gravity and resources make it ideal for preparing to go further into space.

Ken: There’s a challenge in how to live in an environment our bodies aren’t designed for. The further we go out into space, the more it becomes clear what it means to be human.

Vinita: The further we go out, the more we learn and develop more technology that could help on Earth. Many technologies we use today came from the space program.

We need to develop ways to communicate with astronauts in deep space and telehealth systems for medical emergencies. That technology could help people on Earth who live in remote communities.

If we want to go to Mars, we’ll need a way to provide nutrition for a couple of years. How do we develop nutrition for astronauts that will let them live on the Moon? That may help us find sustainable solutions for feeding a growing population on Earth.

Ken: What do we want from Mars? Why are we going there?

Vinita: We need to go to Mars because humans are innate explorers. The benefits we get from space exploration are altruistic compared to many industries. With the ISS, many countries are working together in space. We want to use that cooperation to go back to the Moon and eventually to Mars. It must be a global effort.

Ken: What factors have brought going to the Moon back into our orbit?

Vinita: NASA, the European and Canadian space agencies have committed funding. Private companies internationally developing robotic technology to go back to the Moon has ignited people’s imaginations. We have political support for the program in the US.

Space exploration needs ongoing, sustained effort. We build up our technology over decades. It’s succeeding now because everyone is working together.

Ken: We have space initiatives in China, India and Israel. What about Russia – one of the original space racers?

Vinita: I was lucky to work with Russian colleagues at the European Space Agency (ESA.) We worked on the European Robotic Arm for the Russian segment of the ISS. It will be launched alongside a new Russian scientific module.

The robotic arm and the new scientific module will mean increased scientific research capacity on the ISS and help them develop new technology, as well as developing the ISS and supporting cosmonaut spacewalks.

Ken: What does the new robotic arm do that previous technology couldn’t?

Vinita: The European Robotic Arm is around 11 meters (36 feet.) It will be launched from Baikonur in Kazakhstan. It can be operated from both inside and outside the space station. It has an operational console that we’ve trained cosmonauts and instructors to use, which was part of my role.

The robotic arm will build the new modules on the Russian segment of the space station, and it also has more autonomy.

Ken: What’s one thing about the new space race you most want to emphasise?

Vinita: The importance of making sure role models are tangible and visible. I can’t wait for the day the first woman steps foot on the Moon. It will inspire young men and women everywhere.

Vinita Marwaha Madill features in the Tomorrow Unlocked audio series Fast Forward, Episode 6. Listen to Fast Forward and explore more interviews with featured experts.