Globetrotting: news from around the world — December 2015

NASA announces the requirements for the next generation of astronauts, while research shows that the world’s urban populations will grow by more than two billion people in the next 35 years.


The new Right Stuff

As NASA prepares for a new era in spaceflight, including a journey to Mars, it recently announced that it is accepting applications for the next generation of astronauts. But according to The Guardian, the required profile is somewhat different from those of previous generations.

The first seven astronauts, hired at the end of the 1950s, were from the military. At the time, the ability to fly jet aircraft was a must. But by 1964 the requirements had changed dramatically. The Right Stuff now needed to be “scientist-astronauts” with doctorate degrees. Now, a doctorate is no longer required; a bachelor’s degree in engineering, biological science, physics or mathematics is enough. Experience in teaching or scuba diving doesn’t hurt, either.


Urban innovations

Urban innovations

In the next 35 years, more than two billion people will be added to the world’s urban populations, says a report by the World Economic Forum. That’s the equivalent of creating a city the size of London every month for the next two decades.

To house, feed and employ these populations, the report says, cities will have to “be smarter, greener and more efficient.” Accordingly, it chronicles 10 innovations from around the world that can be used in areas such as infrastructure and space management. For example, next-generation LED street lights can act as a platform for sensors that collect and manage data on everything from weather to traffic. In cities where pipe leakage causes water depletion (in some cases, the estimated losses can be as high as 50%), sensors can be added to network pipes to improve water management.


Buyback mirage

Stock market

The massive share buybacks that corporations have performed in the past few years are supposed to have been profitable for investors. But that’s an illusion, finds a study by Research Affiliates.

In 2014, corporations repurchased US$696 billion worth of their own stock, but they also issued US$1.2 trillion in stock, largely to compensate management through stock options. This wiped out the 4.8% buyback dividend that investors would normally have earned.

But there are also other costs, according to economics professor William Lazonick. He found that from 2003 to 2012, 449 companies listed in the S&P 500 used 54% of their earnings to repurchase their own stock. In a 2014 Harvard Business Review article, Lazonick pointed out that this would have been much better spent on innovation and job creation.


Karaoke, anyone?

“Practice makes perfect,” as the saying goes. But when it comes to musical ability, personality also plays a key role, according to a University of Cambridge study.

The study found that the personality trait of “openness,” especially “openness to aesthetic,” is a predictor of musical ability and sophistication, even in people who do not play a musical instrument. People who receive high scores in openness are imaginative and receptive to new ways of thinking. It now looks like they just might be musical, too.