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Tech wrap: Last Saturn adventure; BD's $24B buy; Syngenta seed suits; PC pioneer dies; hacker gets 27 years

Bulldog

Apr, 24 2017, 6:10 AM

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

The details:

NASA's Cassini spacecraft faces one last perilous adventure around Saturn.

Cassini swings past Saturn's mega moon Titan early Saturday for a gravity-assisted, orbit-tweaking nudge.

"That last kiss goodbye," as project manager Earl Maize calls it, will push Cassini onto a path no spacecraft has gone before — into the gap between Saturn and its rings. It's treacherous territory. A particle from the rings — even as small as a speck of sand — could cripple Cassini, given its velocity.

Cassini will make its first pass through the relatively narrow gap Wednesday. Twenty-two crossings are planned, about one a week, until September, when Cassini goes in and never comes out, vaporizing in Saturn's atmosphere.

Launched in 1997, Cassini reached Saturn in 2004 and has been exploring it from orbit ever since. Its European traveling companion, Huygens, landed on Titan in 2005. Cassini's fuel tank is practically empty, so with little left to lose, NASA has opted for a risky, but science-rich grand finale.

"What a spectacular end to a spectacular mission," said Jim Green, NASA's planetary science division director. "I feel a little sad in many ways that Cassini's discoveries will end. But I'm also quite optimistic that we're going to discover some new and really exciting science as we probe the region we've never probed before."

There's no turning back once Cassini flies past Titan, Maize said. The spacecraft on Wednesday will hurtle through the 1,200-mile-wide gap (1,900 kilometers) between Saturn's atmosphere and its rings, at a breakneck 70,000-plus mph (113,000 kph).

Medical technology firm Becton, Dickinson and Co. says it has reached an agreement to buy competitor C.R. Bard Inc. in a cash-and-stock deal worth $24 billion.

The deal announced Sunday was approved by both companies' boards but still needs regulatory and Bard shareholder approvals. It's expected to close in the fall.

The companies say that for every Bard share, stockholders will get nearly $223 in cash and just over one-half share of BD stock for a total value of $317. Bard stock closed Friday at $253.07.

BD will fund the deal with $1.7 billion in cash, about $10 billion of debt, $4.5 billion of equity and securities and $8 billion in BD stock.

Bard's products include central catheters and drug delivery ports while BD provides intravenous drug dispensing and delivery.

The first of tens of thousands of U.S. lawsuits is about to go to trial against Swiss agribusiness giant Syngenta over its decision to introduce a genetically engineered corn seed variety to the U.S. market before China had approved it for imports.

The lawsuits allege that Syngenta's move wrecked an increasingly important export market for U.S. corn, and that the resulting price drops hurt all producers. Court filings show that Syngenta aggressively marketed the seeds even when it knew that Chinese approval was going to be a problem.

Plaintiffs' experts estimate the economic damage to be about $5 billion, while Syngenta denies its actions caused any losses for farmers.

The first test case goes to trial Monday in state court in Minneapolis. The second goes to trial in federal court in Kansas City, Kansas, on June 5. The two cases are meant to provide guidance for how the complex web of litigation in state and federal courts could be resolved.

Syngenta attorney Mike Jones said the company sold a legal product fully approved for sale in the U.S. and other key importing countries, and that it complied with industry standards for international marketing. The company also argues that China's rejection had no meaningful impact on U.S. corn prices.

Syngenta points to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures showing that China was just a small market for U.S. corn in 2010 when Syngenta launched Viptera. The company says it was larger market forces, and not China's decision, that drove prices down.

Jones said corn prices fell sharply in 2013, even before China rejected its first shipment, because of a bumper U.S. crop that brought prices down from record highs. Jurors will see evidence that the rejections conveniently let the Chinese walk away from contracts they signed when prices were much higher, he said.

One of the last surviving members of the team that created the pioneering ENIAC computer in the 1940s has died. Harry Huskey was 101.

The University of California-Santa Cruz says Huskey died April 9 at his home in the city. Huskey was a professor emeritus at the university.

Huskey was teaching mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1940s when he joined the ENIAC team. ENIAC made its public debut in Philadelphia in 1946 as one of the world's first electronic computers. It weighed 30 tons and was 150 feet long.

Huskey later designed the Bendix G15 in the 1950s, which was billed as the first personal computer.

He taught at the University of California from 1954 to his retirement in 1986 at the age of 70.

A federal judge on Friday handed down the longest sentence ever imposed in the U.S. for a cybercrime case to the son of a member of the Russian Parliament convicted of hacking into more than 500 U.S. businesses and stealing millions of credit card numbers, which he then sold on special websites.

Roman Seleznev was sentenced to 27 years in prison and ordered to pay nearly $170 million in restitution to the business and banks that were the victims of his multiyear scheme.

Prior to his sentencing, Seleznev asked U.S. District Judge Richard Jones for leniency. He apologized to his victims and said he was remorseful for his crimes, but he urged the judge to consider his medical problems, the result of being caught in a terrorist bombing in 2011, in deciding his prison term.

"I plead, pray and beg your honor for mercy," he said.

But Jones told Seleznev that the bombing in Morroco "was an invitation to right your wrongs and recognize you were given a second chance in life." But instead, Jones said Seleznev "amassed a fortune" at the expense of hundreds of small business.

"You were driven by one goal: greed," Jones said.





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