Posted May. 8, 2017 at 5:47 a.m.

Tech wrap: Spaceplane returns; new ALS drug; China's Wikipedia; FBI $900K hack tool; Google $335M tax deal

Published: 2017-05-08 05:47:00
Updated: 2017-05-08 05:47:00

US spaceplane Boeing X-37B (USAF photo) Image 1 of 2 · Next Image…

In today's Bulldog wrapup of space, technology and life science news:

  • Military orbiter's landing rattles Florida with sonic boom
  • FDA approves first new drug to treat ALS in 20 Years
  • China compiles its own Wikipedia, but public can't edit it
  • Senator says FBI paid $900K for iPhone hacking tool
  • Google agrees to pay $335 million in Italy tax dispute

The details:

  • Military orbiter's landing rattles Florida with sonic boom

U.S. military officials say an unmanned spacecraft orbiting Earth since May 2015 has landed in Florida.

The Air Force posted tweets that the X37B spacecraft landed Sunday morning at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral after 718 days in orbit.

BulldogMultiple media outlets reported that the 29-foot-long spacecraft's return caused a sonic boom that rattled central Florida and could be heard as far away as Tampa and Fort Myers.

It's the spacecraft's first landing in Florida. Previous X37B missions have landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

In a statement , officials said the X37B spacecraft is "an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force." Another mission is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral later this year.

  • FDA approves first new drug to treat ALS in 20 Years

The Food and Drug Administration said Friday it had approved the first new drug in 20 years to treat the paralyzing disease ALS.

The drug is not a cure but can slow down the inexorable worsening of the disease, which gradually paralyzes patients completely. It's always fatal and there is no cure.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), sometimes known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is rare and affects between 12,000 and 15,000 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new drug, called Radicava or edaravone, was developed in Japan, where it was approved to treat strokes.

"After learning about the use of edaravone to treat ALS in Japan, we rapidly engaged with the drug developer about filing a marketing application in the United States," said Dr. Eric Bastings, deputy director of the Division of Neurology Products at FDA.

"This is the first new treatment approved by the FDA for ALS in many years, and we are pleased that people with ALS will now have an additional option," he said.

It's in fact the first new drug approved for ALs since 1995, when riluzole, sold under the brand name Rilutek, was approved.

  • China compiles its own Wikipedia, but public can't edit it

It'll be free. It'll be uniquely Chinese. It'll be an online encyclopedia to rival Wikipedia — but without the participation of the public. And don't expect entries on "Tiananmen Square 1989" or "Falun Gong spiritual group" to come up in your searches, either.

Scholars and experts hand-picked by Beijing to work on the project say only they will be able to make entries — the latest example of the Chinese government's efforts to control information available on the internet.

The scholars say truth is their guiding light, and their editing and review process is a rigorous one. If there is a difference of opinion, a committee should figure it out, said Zhang Baichun, chief editor of the history of science and technology section.

"Of course, science does not come from democratic votes, to convince others you will have to present the most convincing proof," he told The Associated Press.

The effort to compile 300,000 entries that span science, literature, politics and history is being led by the ruling Communist Party's Central Propaganda Department, which guides public opinion through instructions to China's media, internet companies and publishing industry as well as overseeing the education sector. It has instructed the Encyclopedia of China Publishing House, known for its offline Chinese Encyclopedia, to produce it.

The ruling party has struggled to manage public opinion in the internet age, when citizens can comment on news and topics of outrage and post photos of protests on social media — at least until such messages are scrubbed away or rendered unsearchable by censors. China also regularly blocks overseas sites including Facebook and Twitter, and has periodically blocked Wikipedia's English and Chinese versions. Currently, the Chinese Wikipedia is inaccessible on the mainland.

  • Senator says FBI paid $900K for iPhone hacking tool

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate committee that oversees the FBI, said publicly this week that the government paid $900,000 to break into the locked iPhone of a gunman in the San Bernardino, California, shootings.

The FBI considers the figure to be classified information. It also has protected the identity of the vendor it paid to do the work. Both pieces of information are the subject of a federal lawsuit by The Associated Press and other news organizations that have sued to force the FBI to reveal them.

An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment Friday.

Feinstein cited the amount while questioning FBI Director James Comey at a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing Wednesday.

"I was so struck when San Bernardino happened and you made overtures to allow that device to be opened, and then the FBI had to spend $900,000 to hack it open," said Feinstein, D-Calif. "And as I subsequently learned of some of the reason for it, there were good reasons to get into that device."

Comey hinted at a ballpark range last year, saying the government paid more than he would earn in his remaining seven years on the job, an amount that would have been more than $1 million. He has called the sum "worth it."

The federal government paid the money as it cut short an extraordinary court fight with Apple Inc., which was resisting a magistrate judge's order to help the Justice Department hack into the phone of Syed Rizwan Farook, who along with his wife killed 14 people in a San Bernardino attack in December 2015. The work phone was found after the shooting.

  • Google agrees to pay $335 million in Italy tax dispute

Italian tax officials say Google has agreed to pay 306 million euros ($335 million) to settle an ongoing tax dispute.

Google has been under investigation by Milan prosecutors for the tax years 2009-2013, one of several European probes looking into the tax practices of international companies. Tax officials said the settlement announced Thursday also launches a process to determine the tech company's proper taxation level in Italy going forward. The agreement covers the period under investigation, as well as 2014-2015 and 2002-2006.

Google acknowledged the settlement, saying 303 million euros were attributed to Google Italy and the remainder to Google Ireland and was "in addition to the corporate tax already paid in Italy for these years."

Google said it remained committed to Italy.

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