NASA’s Perseverance ‘Percy’ Rover Lands On Mars To Begin Hunt For Signs Of Ancient Life

The car-sized Perseverance, the most advanced robot ever sent to the Red Planet, aced its “seven minutes of terror” touchdown this afternoon (Feb. 18), alighting gently on an ancient lakebed inside the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater shortly before 4 p.m. EST (2100 GMT).

After a series of instrument and hardware checkouts, Perseverance will start doing what it crossed interplanetary space to do: hunt for signs of ancient Mars life, collect and cache rock samples for future return to Earth and demonstrate some shiny new exploration technologies, among other things.

“I don’t think we’ve had a mission that is going to contribute so much to both science and technology,” NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk told Space.com earlier this week . “It’s going to be truly amazing.”

Perseverance, the heart of NASA’s $2.7 billion Mars 2020 mission, lifted off from Florida’s Space Coast atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on July 30, 2020.

That was about halfway through Perseverance’s month-long launch window, which closed in mid-August. Such windows come along just once every 26 months for Mars missions, so NASA was determined to get the rover off the ground on time — a challenging task made even tougher by the coronavirus pandemic, which forced a rethink of assembly and testing protocols and made it harder for the team to travel.

“In March and early April, we weren’t sure we were going to be able to make it,” Jurczyk said. (Back then, the NASA chief was Jim Bridenstine, and Jurczyk led the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.) 

The rover’s name is a testament to the spirit that got the mission off the ground and on its way to Mars, agency officials have said.

“Perseverance is a strong word,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in March 2020 during the rover’s naming ceremony. “It’s about making progress despite obstacles.”

Like NASA’s other Mars rovers, Perseverance got its name via a nationwide student competition. The winning moniker was submitted by Alex Mather, at the time a seventh grader at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia.

The six-wheeled Perseverance is modeled heavily after its predecessor, NASA’s Curiosity rover, which touched down inside Mars’ huge Gale Crater in August 2012 and is still going strong today.

Perseverance is a few inches longer than Curiosity and, with a weight of 2,260 lbs. (1,025 kilograms), nearly 300 lbs. (136 kg) heavier. Some of their scientific instruments are also quite different. But the two rovers share the same basic body plan and the same type of nuclear power source, and they used the same strategy to land safely on the Red Planet.

That strategy, which Curiosity pioneered, sounds like something out of science fiction. Perseverance hit the Martian atmosphere at about 12,100 mph (19,500 kph) and deployed a 70.5-foot-wide (20.5 meters) parachute a few minutes later, while still traveling faster than the speed of sound. 

But Mars’ air is just 1% as thick as that of Earth, so a chute couldn’t slow the rover down enough for a safe landing. Mars 2020 therefore employed a rocket-powered sky crane, which lowered the Mars car to the red dirt on cables, then flew off to crash-land intentionally a safe distance away.

NASA received word that Perseverance had gotten down safely at 3:55 p.m. EST (2055 GMT) today, about 11 minutes after the landing actually took place. (It currently takes that long for signals to travel from the Red Planet to Earth.) The news prompted wild celebrations at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, which manages the Mars 2020 mission.

There was doubtless a decent dose of relief mixed in with the excitement, for success today was far from guaranteed. Over the decades, only about half of Mars surface missions have touched down safely. And Perseverance’s landing site on Jezero’s floor, which features hazards such as cliffs, sand dunes and boulder fields, was the toughest ever targeted by a Mars mission, NASA officials have said.

Indeed, this dangerous terrain required Perseverance to make the most precise Red Planet touchdown ever. The rover’s landing ellipse was just 4.8 miles long by 4.1 miles wide (7.7 by 6.6 kilometers), compared to 4 miles by 12 miles (7 by 12 km) for Curiosity.

Perseverance hit that target today with the aid of two new entry, descent and landing (EDL) technologies that Curiosity didn’t have at its disposal. One, called “range trigger,” allowed the mission to deploy its supersonic parachute at just the right moment. The other, “terrain-relative navigation,” enabled Perseverance’s sky crane to assess the Jezero landscape and navigate autonomously around potential hazards during the descent.

These landing technologies worked exactly as planned, guiding Perseverance to a picture-perfect touchdown on a safe, flat part of Jezero’s floor, mission team members said during a post-landing news conference this afternoon.   

And the rover seems to have made it through EDL in fine shape. Perseverance has already beamed home its first images of its new surroundings, and initial health checks revealed no causes for concern.

“The power system looks good,” Mars 2020 deputy project manager Jennifer Trosper, also of JPL, said during today’s briefing. “The batteries are charged at 95%, and everything looks great.” 

Curiosity is a habitability-assessing mission, and that rover has found plenty of evidence that Gale Crater could have supported Earth-like life billions of years ago. Perseverance will take the next step, actively searching for signs of past organisms in the first life hunt conducted on the Martian surface since NASA’s twin Viking landers ceased operations in the early 1980s. (The Vikings looked for present-day Mars life, however, whereas Perseverance is focused on the distant past.)

Jezero is a great place to do such work, mission team members have said. The crater, which lies about 18 degrees north of the Martian equator, hosted a lake the size of Lake Tahoe long ago and also sports an ancient river delta. In addition, Mars orbiters have spied on Jezero’s floor clay minerals, which form in the presence of liquid water.

Perseverance will scrutinize Martian dirt and rock with a variety of high-tech science gear, including multiple spectrometers, high-resolution cameras and ground-penetrating radar. One of the rover’s seven instruments, called SuperCam, will zap rocks with a laser and gauge the composition of the resulting vapor.

Such observations could potentially identify a convincing sign of ancient Mars life — perhaps something akin to stromatolites, structures created here on Earth by dirt-trapping microbial mats. But that’s a tall order for a lonely robot far from home. A positive ID of Martian life, if it ever existed, will likely require analyses by advanced equipment in laboratories here on Earth, NASA officials have said. And Mars 2020 aims to help make that happen.

Using the drill at the end of its long robotic arm, Perseverance will collect about 40 samples from especially promising sites and seal them inside special tubes. This material will then be brought back to Earth by a joint NASA-European Space Agency campaign, perhaps as early as 2031

Once here, the samples will be studied in countless ways by hundreds of scientists for decades to come. Researchers are still poring over the moon rocks hauled home by NASA’s Apollo astronauts half a century ago, after all, and that material has no serious astrobiological potential.

“Mars sample return is the planetary science endeavor of our generation,” Bobby Braun, director of solar system exploration at JPL, said during a pre-landing news conference yesterday (Feb. 17). 

“It’s ambitious. It’s challenging. It’s a scientifically compelling goal that, over decades, we have been working toward,” Braun said. “And it’s right there. It’s just within our reach.”

Mars 2020 will also pave the way for more ambitious exploration of the Red Planet in the future, if all goes according to plan.

For example, one of Perseverance’s instruments, called MOXIE (“Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment”), is designed to generate oxygen from the Red Planet’s atmosphere, which is 95% carbon dioxide by volume. Such equipment, if scaled up, could help humanity get a foothold on Mars down the road, NASA officials have said. (“ISRU,” by the way, is short for “in situ resource utilization,” a fancy term for living off the land.)

And attached to Perseverance’s belly is a 4-lb. (1.8 kg) helicopter named Ingenuity, which will attempt to become the first rotorcraft ever to fly in the skies of a world beyond Earth. If Ingenuity succeeds, helicopters could soon become an important part of the Mars-exploration toolkit.

“We could put sensors on them and use them as science platforms, and also as scouts,” Jurczyk said. Aerial reconnaissance by rotorcraft could allow rovers to “drive more autonomously, and drive faster and longer on the surface,” he added.

Source: Space

Philadelphia City Council Takes Steps To Formally Apologize For Deadly 1985 Bombing Of A Black Neighborhood

Philadelphia City Council voted Thursday to apologize for the MOVE bombing 35 years ago that left 11 people dead, including five children, and burned 61 homes in West Philadelphia.

The resolution, approved almost unanimously (Councilmember Brian O’Neill said he opposed it), represents the first formal apology offered by the city for the May 13, 1985, bombing. It also establishes the anniversary of the bombing as “an annual day of observation, reflection and recommitment.”

Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, whose West Philadelphia district includes the neighborhood destroyed by the bombing, sponsored the resolution. She introduced it days after the fatal police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. less than a mile away from the site of the bombing. She linked the two events in a speech to City Council last month.

“We can draw a straight line from the unresolved pain and trauma of that day to Walter Wallace Jr.’s killing earlier this week in the very same neighborhood,” Gauthier said. “Because what’s lying under the surface here is a lack of recognition of the humanity of Black people from law enforcement.”

In 1985, police dropped an explosive device on the roof of 6221 Osage Ave. after a daylong confrontation with the Black radical and naturalist group MOVE, as officers attempted to evict them from their compound. The majority of the victims were Black.

W. Wilson Goode Sr., who was mayor at the time, called on the city to issue a formal apology in an op-ed published by The Guardian before the 35th anniversary. “The event will remain on my conscience for the rest of my life,” he wrote.

Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer

Jemele Hill: Athletes Go Broke by Feeling Guilty for Winning “Lottery Ticket” in Life

In this clip, Jemele Hill speaks about athletes going broke after their sports career ends, and she starts out by explaining that a lot of Black athletes have never had a model for managing generational wealth. She went on to speak about athletes being “depreciating assets” from the time they start their sports career, and she added that most NFL careers last less than 5 years. Jemele then addressed the large entourages of some players, and she explained that some of them feel a sense of guilt for winning the “lottery ticket” in life, which you can hear more about above.

For the first time since the Great Depression, a majority of young adults (ages 18-29) in the U.S. now live with their parents — Report

As COVID-19 swept the country this year, millions of young adults retreated to familiar territory: living at home with mom and dad.

A majority of young Americans ages 18 to 29 are now living with at least one of their parents, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Current Population Survey data. About 52% of this age group, 26.6 million people in total, were living with their parents in July, compared to 47% at the same time last year. This number surpassed the previous record of 48%, which was set in 1940, during the Great Depression.

Since the proportion of 18 to 29 year olds living at home hit a low of 29% in 1960, the number has risen over the decades, jumping to 36% in 1990, to 38% in 2000 and 44% in 2010. However, the increase this year is notably sharp, and tracks with the trajectory of the pandemic; while about 46% or 47% of young adults lived at home through 2019, in 2020 the number jumped to 49% in March, 51% in April and 52% from May through July.

Source: Time

Aspiring Model Victoria Hoynes Gets 20 Months in Jail For Falsely Accusing Asian Cab Drivers of Rape

Prosecutor Shaun Dodds said: ‘On the camera she can be seen approaching the taxi and exiting it. A reflection shows the driver looking at his mobile phone and she gets out unaided. There is clearly no contact whatsoever and the rape simply did not take place.

Adam Birkby, for Hoynes, said: ‘She accepted full responsibility for the false allegations and wishes to make it clear through me that the two drivers are totally innocent and apologises to them and their families. She offers a sincere public apology and she is extremely remorseful.’

Both suspected drivers spoke of the effect it had on their livelihood and family life, while the lead investigator said Hoynes’ actions may deter future rape victims from reporting crimes.

Jailing her for 20 months, Judge James Adkin said: ‘This type of offence can affect the prospects at trial of cases where it may be finely balanced as to whether women get the justice they deserve.’

Source: Daily Mail

Investment firm Franklin Templeton Investments fires employee Amy Cooper over video of her taking advantage of the system by calling the police on a black man who asked her to put her dog on a leash

“When I think about the police, I’m such a blessed person,” she said. “I’ve come to realize especially today that I think of [the police] as a protection agency, and unfortunately, this has caused me to realize that there are so many people in this country that don’t have that luxury.”

She later told CNN that she was “scared” when Christian Cooper tried to offer her dog a treat.

Source: Business Insider

The powerful symbolism of memorializing Kobe (24) and Gigi Bryant (2) on 2/24 at Staples Center

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There was no immediate information about how many total tickets will be for sale to the public. The tickets will be priced in three tiers: $224 for one, $224 for two or $24.02 for one. (Kobe played wearing the jersey No. 24 for the last 10 years of his career; Gianna, who also played basketball, wore the No. 2.) The rest of the tickets are reserved for friends, family and members of the N.B.A. community.

Source: LA Times