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Twitter-owner Musk seeks new CEO, but casts big shadow

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Exiting day to day operations would allow Musk -- who paid $44 billion for Twitter -- to deflect criticism that he is neglecting his other ventures, especially car company Tesla, which has seen its share price plummet
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Twitter boss Elon Musk is looking for a new CEO, but the winner will have to live in the shadow of the mercurial billionaire, who says the platform avoided certain ruin thanks to his leadership.

After days of unusual silence on the matter, Musk on Tuesday finally said that he will stand by a Twitter poll that asked if he should stand down as CEO.

In a result that Musk said he would abide by, 57 percent of votes said that he should go.

“The question is not finding a CEO, the question is finding a CEO who can keep Twitter alive,” Musk tweeted.

Exiting day to day operations would allow Musk — who paid $44 billion for his favorite social platform — to deflect criticism that he is neglecting his other ventures, especially car company Tesla, which has seen its share price plummet since he took over Twitter.

Musk has given few clues to what type of leader he is looking for, saying only that he would limit his own duties to software and server engineering once “someone foolish enough” had taken his place as CEO.

The latest developments left many experts doubtful on how committed Musk was to handing over power, especially given his track record of following his whims.

“Musk obviously has very strong opinions about how Twitter should be run – and he uses Twitter a lot personally – so any CEO might have trouble implementing their own vision,” said law professor Ann Lipton of Tulane University.

“I can imagine Twitter users complaining directly to Musk – on Twitter – and now the CEO is operating with Musk watching over his or her shoulder,” she said.

The eight weeks that Musk has officially owned Twitter have been riven by chaos, with mass layoffs, the return of banned accounts and the suspension of journalists critical of the South African-born billionaire.

Musk’s takeover also saw a surge in racist or hateful tweets, drawing in scrutiny from regulators and chasing away big advertisers, Twitter’s main source of revenue.

The succession of mishaps, including a failed relaunch of the Twitter Blue subscription service, will challenge any new CEO.

“He’s looking for a clone of himself and that’s exactly what they don’t need,” said Yale School of Management professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld.

Musk “hasn’t completely destroyed (Twitter) but it is circling the drain,” he warned.

– ‘Must like pain’ –

Musk’s rumored successors are, for now, very much members of his inner circle.

US media reports pointed to Jason Calacanis, an investor and podcaster, and former PayPal executive David Sacks. 

Both men are staunch defenders of Musk and have been part of the team that advised on his takeover and the decision to cut Twitter’s 7,500-strong staff in half.

Former T-Mobile CEO John Legere, a corporate turnaround specialist, volunteered his services earlier in Musk’s tumultuous ownership, but the billionaire tweeted that he was not interested.

Other analysts pointed to former Facebook honcho Sheryl Sandberg or former Yahoo chief Marissa Mayer, though few feel they would easily accept to enter Musk’s unpredictable orbit.

And when Musk was spotted at the World Cup final in Doha with Jared Kushner , the advisor and son-in-law of former president Donald Trump, comments on Twitter quickly saw a sign that he too could be in the running.

In one Twitter exchange, AI researcher and podcaster Lex Fridman offered to take the job for free, earning a cold shoulder from Musk.

“You must like pain a lot,” Musk tweeted. “One catch: you have to invest your life savings in Twitter and it has been in the fast lane to bankruptcy since May. Still want the job?”

Since that tweet, Musk said that the painful work at Twitter has been done and that his shock and awe spending cuts saved the company.

Analysts, however, warned that time was running out and that someone needed to swiftly woo back advertisers.

“He’s shattered trust and people aren’t going to do commerce on a site that they think has security and reputation problems,” said Sonnenfeld of Yale’s School of Management.

“Twitter’s value is diminishing rapidly. It is a highly perishable asset.”

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Man Utd’s Ratcliffe unveils electric Ineos car

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A model of the Ineos Fusilier 4x4 electric vehicle
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Manchester United’s new co-owner Jim Ratcliffe unveiled Friday his Ineos group’s latest 4×4 vehicle, which will come in two electric versions as the British billionaire criticised range limits on ‘green’ cars.

The Ineos Fusilier, whose production should start at a facility in Austria in 2027, rather than 2026 as earlier planned, will be a slightly smaller version of the Ineos Grenadier.

It comes as the group works on a second model also with a military name — the Grenadier Quartermaster pickup truck.

Ratcliffe, 71, earlier this week completed a deal to become co-owner of Manchester United, with a pledge to drive the English football giants to renewed success.

Asked by AFP at Friday’s launch about his off-pitch plans at United, including a stadium rebuild, Ratcliffe replied: “The focus with Manchester United is really simple, that’s performance on the field.”

One of Britain’s richest men thanks to Ineos’ core chemicals business, Ratcliffe has in recent years turned the group into a conglomerate, with ownership of football and cycling teams — and production of vehicles.

On Friday, he noted that a desire by subsidiary Ineos Automotive to produce zero-carbon cars was hampered by how far they could travel without a recharge.

– ‘Huge electric car failings’ –

The Fusilier would come in two versions, Ratcliffe announced — an all-electric model and the other a range-extender type which would carry a generator-powered battery and fuel tank.

Ratcliffe told a press conference gathered at a central London pub that his personal preference was the latter version.

“The big problem I have with the (all-) electric vehicle… it has two huge failings,” he said shortly after the blue car’s unveiling outside The Grenadier pub renamed The Fusilier for the event.

“It doesn’t get you from A to B if you want to go on a decent journey. It does the urban stuff very well… (but) you can’t fill it up. Those are two major drawbacks of an electric car.”

Ratcliffe added: “My personal strong preference is the same electric vehicle but with a range extender.”

– ‘Industry in flux’ –

Ineos said the new model would be developed with automotive supplier, Magna, which will manufacture the vehicle at its Graz facility in Austria.

It was originally thought that the car would be produced in France.

Car enthusiast Ratcliffe, who was a leading business voice in favour of Britain’s Brexit divorce from the European Union, began producing cars after he identified a gap in the market for a rugged new 4×4.

This after the final Land Rover Defender was produced in 2016.

Ratcliffe on Friday said the world’s auto industry was “in flux”.

“People know what the objectives are, which is to reduce the carbon footprint of the world’s automotive fleet,” he told reporters.

“If you’re a car producer in Europe, you have to have a ‘green’ offering, you can’t survive as a large car company without that because the regulations won’t allow you to.

“We have to have this offering if we like it or not. We do like it because it’s a good thing for the world,” Ratcliffe said of his new car, adding that he thought the United States was more flexible than Europe on switching to electric vehicles.

Friday’s unveiling came at the end of a week in which the tycoon finalised a minority stake in United — the team he supports — giving him almost 28 percent of the club which has struggled for on-field success in recent seasons.

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What to know about the NASA-funded commercial Moon fleet

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NASA's thinking behind CLPS is to delegate the delivery of its lunar science hardware to the private sector, reducing costs to taxpayers as it prepares to return astronauts to the Moon under the flagship Artemis program later this decade
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The year 2024 promises to be a busy one for American Moon landings, all under a new partnership between NASA and the space industry.

A first attempt under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative ended in disappointing failure last month, but a second, led by Houston-based Intuitive Machines, will attempt on Thursday to return the United States to Moon for the first time in five decades.

NASA’s thinking behind CLPS is to delegate the delivery of its science hardware to the private sector, reducing costs to taxpayers as it prepares to return astronauts to the surface under the flagship Artemis program later this decade.

– Purchasing services –

Established in 2018, CLPS operates on the principle of purchasing services from commercial partners, rather than buying their hardware.

Joel Kearns, a senior NASA official involved with CLPS, said it would allow the agency to be more cost effective and do more frequent trips, even if “we don’t know how many of the early attempts will be successful.”

But the space agency is offsetting that risk by contracting with multiple companies offering different technical solutions.

It also hopes those companies will in turn build up their own clientele, for example research institutions and others wanting to ship gear to the Moon, creating a wider lunar economy in which NASA is just one of many customers.

The approach is completely different from that used during the Apollo era, when NASA dictated its industrial contracts down to the last bolt.

“When you have unlimited funds, like in the Apollo days, yes, you can do incredible things,” said Trent Martin of Intuitive Machines. “Now, can we find a way to do it for a lower cost? Can we find a way to do it, where there’s a marketplace that is not driven solely by government funds?”

– Fledgling companies –

Fourteen companies have been pre-selected to be in the running for contracts, with eight firm missions so far planned.

Many of the companies involved are considered fledging, rather than legacy aerospace giants, reflecting the initiative’s experimental nature.

The first attempt, led by Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic, failed to reach the Moon in January after developing an in-flight fuel leak shortly after separating from its rocket.

It could get another shot later this year, to carry an important water-seeking NASA rover to the south pole, but the green light will depend on the outcome of a detailed review of its first mission.

Intuitive Machines, founded in 2013, is also targeting a region near the south pole. It has two more missions set for this year.

Another Texas company, Firefly Aerospace, has two missions, including one in 2024, with its Blue Ghost lander.

Finally, Massachusetts-based Draper, which built the computer that ran the Apollo spaceships, will attempt to land on the far side of the Moon in 2025.

NASA paid both Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines around $100 million each for their respective first missions.

– Lasting presence –

CLPS deliveries serve the bigger goal of better understanding the environmental risks — from radiation to lunar dust — that face American astronauts when they touch down on the surface no sooner than 2026.

Unlike during Apollo, when the United States was driven by the Cold War to act fast and chose near the equator for five short  trips, NASA is now taking its time to build a “sustained presence,” involving habitats, on the south pole.

Here, it hopes to harvest ice for drinking water and rocket fuel, with an eye on using our cosmic neighbor as a waypoint for crewed missions to Mars.

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In a doughnut in Japan, unlocking the power of the Sun

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To the untrained eye, the JT-60SA looks like a contraption from 1970s sci-fi
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With its tangle of pipes and pumps leading to a metal pot the size of a five-storey building, Japan’s JT-60SA machine looks to the untrained eye like a contraption from 1970s sci-fi.

But inside it is a doughnut-shaped vessel where experiments done at millions of degrees could help unlock a carbon-free, inexhaustible and safe power source for the future: nuclear fusion.

“Fusion energy, the power behind the Sun and the stars, has been a great prize for energy research for decades, ever since it was first attempted in the 1950s and 60s to find some way to reproduce this power of the Sun here on Earth,” project leader Sam Davis told AFP on a recent tour.

“Not only is (fusion) free from greenhouse gases and free from long-lived nuclear waste, but it’s compact, doesn’t cover the whole landscape, and can generate industrially useful quantities of power,” the British-German engineer said.

Unlike fission, the technique currently used in nuclear power plants, fusion involves combining two atomic nuclei instead of splitting one, generating vast amounts of energy.

The process is safe and there are no nasty by-products like fissile material for a nuclear weapon or hazardous radioactive waste that takes thousands of years to degrade, its proponents say.

– Swirling plasma –

Taking 15 years to build in Naka, northeast of Tokyo, the JT-60SA is 15.5 metres (51 feet) tall and 13.7 metres (45 feet) wide, comprising a so-called tokamak vessel able to contain swirling plasma heated to millions of degrees.

Inside the facility, which was inaugurated in December, the aim is to get nuclei of hydrogen isotopes to fuse into an atom of helium, releasing energy, and mimicking the process that takes place inside the Sun and stars.

“With only one gram (0.04 ounces) of a mixed fuel… we can obtain an energy equivalent to eight tonnes of oil,” said Takahiro Suzuki, deputy project manager for the Japan side of the joint project with the European Union.

But despite decades of efforts, the technology remains in its infancy and is very expensive.

Currently the largest such facility in operation, the JT-60SA is the little brother and guinea pig of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) being built in France.

According to media reports, ITER — a project run by six countries and the European Union — is years behind schedule and could end up costing as much as 40 billion euros ($42.3 billion), far more than first projected.

The holy grail of both projects, as well as others around the world, is to develop technology that releases more energy than is needed to fuel it — and at a large scale and for a sustained period.

The feat of “net energy gain” was managed in December 2022 at the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the United States, home to the world’s largest laser.

– ‘Flash in a can’ –

But the US facility uses a different method from ITER and the JT-60SA known as inertial confinement fusion, in which high-energy lasers are directed simultaneously into a thimble-sized cylinder containing hydrogen.

“Magnetic confinement, and in particular, tokamaks, of the kind that JT-60SA is, are much more applicable to running a steady state power plant, to steady energy production as we would need,” Davis said.

“This is not just a flash in a can.”

But with the world record set by China for heating plasma to the required temperature — 120 million degrees Celsius (216 million degrees Fahrenheit) — currently just 101 seconds, there is still a long path ahead.

“Nuclear fusion can certainly contribute to a future energy mix. Exactly on what timescale is very hard to say. It will come down ultimately to how much is invested in the field (and) how much society wants to pursue this as a solution,” Davis said.

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