Points of Progress: All-women spacewalk, new land for bison, and more

Lauren Littell

Outer space

For the first time in 50 years of spacewalking, women conducted a spacewalk without a male crew member. On Oct. 18, NASA’s Christina Koch and Jessica Meir emerged from the hatch of the International Space Station to repair the power network. An all-women mission had been delayed several months because there weren’t enough medium-sized spacesuits aboard the space station, but more suits have since been sent. NASA unveiled newly designed suits on Oct. 15 that are made to accommodate astronauts of different sizes. Tracy Caldwell Dyson, a three-time spacewalker who observed from Mission Control, told The Associated Press, “Hopefully, [all-women spacewalks] will now be considered normal.” (NASA)

Bolivia

An app is helping Bolivian firefighters in the Amazon. In an effort to identify fires in real time, researchers from the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project developed an app that uses aerosol-emissions data, combined with recent satellite images, to plot the location of fires. This will enable authorities to respond more quickly and keep firefighters better informed. The app pulls in data on pollutants in the air above a fire and combines it with satellite pictures. Using such images alone is less effective because they are often distorted by smoke. (Mongabay)

Malaysia

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is pushing companies to invest in sustainable production. According to the major industry watchdog based in Kuala Lumpur, typical slash-and-burn palm oil production has led to rapid deforestation in Southeast Asia and resulted in smog enveloping major cities. Sustainable palm oil producers meet higher standards of forest protection, workers’ rights, and transparency. While member companies such as Unilever and PepsiCo are using sustainable options in European products, they still lean on cheaper, traditional palm oil for products sold in China and India. Under the group’s new regulations, member companies must increase the proportion of their sustainable purchases by 15% every year or face penalties, including fines and suspension. (Reuters)

Tanzania

Lion monitors are finding a way for people and predators to coexist in the Masai steppe. According to 2015 data, lion populations across Africa have dropped by more than 40% in 20 years, and are considered vulnerable to extinction. Tanzania is home to more than one-third of the 22,500 remaining African lions. In traditional Masai culture, killing lions exhibited strength. ”Revenge killings” also occurred if livestock were harmed. But 50 lion monitors are trying to change people’s perspectives by educating locals on how to avoid conflicts and the importance of protecting the species. Monitors have helped more than 1,000 households update their fencing to prevent lions from killing livestock. If monitors see fresh tracks during their patrol, they help shepherds redirect their flocks. Since hitting a record low in 2011, lion numbers have begun rebounding. (The Associated Press)

United States

Bison can now range across an additional 22,553 acres in Badlands National Park – land they haven’t roamed since 1877. A 2014 land swap removed a parcel of private property blocking expansion within the South Dakota park, and since then various wildlife agencies have worked with donors to build a new 43-mile fence around the bison habitat, bringing the entire range to 80,193 acres. Park officials released four bison into the snowy plains on Oct. 11, a major step in preserving the iconic animal. Next, the World Wildlife Fund is working to establish five bison herds in the Northern Great Plains to improve the species’ health. (World Wildlife Fund and CNN)

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