It was the second attempt, after a scheduled liftoff last week was postponed because of technical issues....

The news: India’s Chandrayaan-2 mission to the moon launched at 04.13 EDT today from the Sriharikota space station in the country’s southeastern coastal state of Andhra Pradesh.

Second go: The launch was due to take place exactly a week ago on July 15, but it had to be postponed just 56 minutes before launch because of a leak from a helium gas bottle in the rocket’s engine, according to the Times of India. It was simple to fix, but left unresolved, it could have resulted in total failure, a source from the Indian space agency Isro told the BBC.  

Two firsts: If successful, it would be the first Indian spacecraft to land on the moon, and the first ever to land on the moon’s south pole. It would join a club of just three countries so far to land on the moon (the US, China, and the Soviet Union). The lander (named Vikram, after Isro’s founder) is scheduled to touch down on September 6 or 7 between two of the moon’s craters, Simpelius N and Manzinus C. 

The mission: There are three components: the orbiter, the lander, and the rover. The lander will search for water and minerals, and measure moonquakes, while the orbiter will spend a year taking images of the moon’s surface. The rover, which has a life span of just 14 days, will roam up to half a kilometer from the lander, taking pictures and collecting data to send back to Earth. Chandrayaan-1, the country’s first moon mission in 2008, contained only an orbiter and impactor designed to slam into the lunar surface.

Plummeting costs: The budget for the mission is just $141 million, indicating just how cheap it has become to send things into space. 

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Computing

The new president of Kazakhstan is now proving that he will keep the old, oppressive systems alive for the 21st century, using advanced technical tools....

The man in the middle: Beginning last week, Kazakhstan’s government is intercepting all HTTPS traffic inside the country, ZDNet reports. HTTPS is a protocol meant to offer encryption, security, and privacy to users, but now the nation’s internet service providers are forcing all users to install certificates that enable pervasive interception and surveillance.

On Wednesday, Kazakh internet users were redirected to web pages instructing them to install the government’s root certificate in their web browser, which enables what’s called “man in the middle” interception of internet traffic, decryption, and surveillance.

We reached out to browser developers and certificate authorities Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla to ask how they will deal with Kazakhstan re-encrypting internet traffic for surveillance. Mozilla, which previously denied the root inclusion request from the Kazakh government in 2016, is currently discussing whether to block Kazakhstan's root certificate, spokeswoman Janette Ciborowski said.

How dictators work in the 21st century: Most Americans likely couldn’t find Kazakhstan on a map. Yet the recent actions have wide implications.

Kazakhstan sits in a region ruled by dictators steadily marching into the 21st century. Just next door is the repressive dictatorship of Turkmenistan, which, like its neighbors, has been steadily increasing internet surveillance as a means to control the population.

This man-in-the-middle scheme is not the Kazakhstan government’s only move to increase control of the country through the internet. The government is also a known customer of NSO Group, an Israeli company that sells hacking technology to governments around the world, including dictatorships that use it to squash dissidents. NSO Group’s technology typically targets one person at a time. Now the government’s technological ambitions have clearly grown.

Upskilling the dictator: From the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 until 2019, Kazakhstan had the same strongman in charge: Nursultan Nazarbayev. A new president came to power in 2019, but this is hardly a meaningful changing of the guard.

The victory of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in the 2019 presidential election began with the detention of hundreds of dissidents.

Just months after the election, Tokayev’s attempts to take even greater control over the country through technology mean it’ll be a seamless transition from an old-fashioned dictatorship to a 21st-century autocrat able and willing to bend the day’s technology to his will.

Update, 7/21/19: We added Mozilla's response.

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TR 35

Innovators Under 35 | 2019

It’s part of our ethos that technology can and should be a force for good. In these profiles you’ll find people employing innovative methods to treat disease, to fight online harassment, and to create the next big battery breakthrough.