Connect with us

Living

NASA rover attempting most difficult Martian touchdown yet

Published

on

NASA rover attempting most difficult Martian touchdown yet

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.— Spacecraft aiming to land on Mars have skipped past the planet, burned up on entry, smashed into the surface, and made it down amid a fierce dust storm only to spit out a single fuzzy gray picture before dying.

Almost 50 years after the first casualty at Mars, NASA is attempting its hardest Martian touchdown yet.

The rover named Perseverance is headed Thursday for a compact 5-mile-by-4-mile patch on the edge of an ancient river delta. It’s filled with cliffs, pits, sand dunes and fields of rocks, any of which could doom the $3 billion mission. The once submerged terrain also could hold evidence of past life, all the more reason to gather samples at this spot for return to Earth 10 years from now.

While NASA has done everything possible to ensure success, “there’s always this fear that it won’t work well, it won’t go well,” Erisa Stilley, a landing team engineer, said Tuesday. “We’ve had a pretty good run of successful missions recently and you never want to be the next one that isn’t. It’s heartbreaking when it happens.”

A look at NASA’s latest mission:

MARS MASTER

NASA has nailed eight of nine landing attempts, making the U.S. the only country to achieve a successful touchdown. China hopes to become the second nation in late spring with its own life-seeking rover; its vessel entered orbit around Mars last week along with a United Arab Emirates spacecraft. The red planet’s extremely thin atmosphere makes it hard to get down safely. Russia has piled up the most lander losses at Mars and moon Phobos, beginning in the early 1970s. The European Space Agency also has tried and failed. Two NASA landers are still humming along: 2012′s Curiosity rover and 2018′s InSight. Launched last July, Perseverance will set down some 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) away at Jezero Crater, descending by parachute, rocket engines and sky crane. The millions of lines of software code and hundreds of thousands of electric parts have to work with precision. “There’s no go-backs. There’s no retries,” deputy project manager Matt Wallace said Wednesday.

TOUGHEST LANDING YET

NASA has equipped the 1-ton Perseverance — a beefier version of Curiosity — with the latest landing tech to ace this touchdown. A new autopilot tool will calculate the descending rover’s distance to the targeted location and release the massive parachute at the precise moment. Then another system will scan the surface, comparing observations with on-board maps. The rover could detour up to 2,000 feet (600 meters) while seeking somewhere safe, Neil Armstrong style. Without these gizmos, Jezero Crater would be too risky to attempt. Once down, the six-wheeled Perseverance should be the best driver Mars has ever seen, with more autonomy and range than Curiosity. “Percy’s got a new set of kicks,” explained chief engineer Adam Steltzner, “and she is ready for trouble on this Martian surface with her new wheels.”

LOOKING FOR SIGNS OF LIFE

Where there was water, there may have been life. That’s why NASA wants Perseverance snooping around Jezero Crater, once home to a lake fed by a river. It’s now bone dry, but 3.5 billion years ago, this Martian lake was as big and wet as Nevada and California’s Lake Tahoe. Perseverance will shoot lasers at rocks judged most likely to contain evidence of past microscopic life, analyzing the emitted vapor, and drill into the best candidates. A few dozen core samples — about a pound’s worth (one-half kilogram) of rock and dust — will be set aside in sealed titanium tubes for future pickup.

ROUND-TRIP TICKET

Scientists have wanted to get hold of Mars rocks ever since NASA’s Mariners provided the first close pictures a half-century ago. NASA is teaming up with the European Space Agency to do just that. The bold plan calls for a rover and return rocket to launch to Mars in 2026, to retrieve Perseverance’s stash of samples. NASA expects to bring back the rocks as early as 2031, several years before the first astronauts might arrive on the scene. The rover’s super sterilized sample tubes are the cleanest components ever sent into space, according to NASA, to avoid any contaminating traces of Earth.

COVID-19 PRECAUTIONS

Speaking of clean, NASA’s Mars Mission Control has never been so spotless. Instead of passing around jars of peanuts right before Perseverance’s landing — a good luck tradition going back decades — masked flight controllers will get their own individual bags. It’s one of many COVID-19 precautions at California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The landing team will be spread over multiple rooms, with NASA bigwigs and journalists watching remotely. Launched last July, the aptly named Perseverance bears a plaque honoring health care workers battling the virus over the past year.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Living

Tourism groups in Thailand petition to reopen country to international travelers

Published

on

By

Tourism groups in Thailand petition to reopen country to international travelers

Thailand’s tourism sector wants to reopen the country to visitors this summer. 

On Tuesday, tourism groups in Thailand launched the #OpenThailandSafely campaign, asking the country to allow travelers with proof of a COVID-19 vaccine into the country without quarantine requirements by July 1. 

“As Thailand is starting to vaccinate its most vulnerable and its healthcare workers, we believe that now is the time to announce a firm and irreversible date to reopen its borders,” a petition to the Thai government says. “This will give confidence to international travelers and encourage them to book a trip to Thailand.”

“Thai tourism operators, especially those reliant on international travel, would then be able to start business planning, accept forward bookings, start to rehire staff, and conduct training programs,” the petition adds. “Without a firm commitment to reopening made now, Thailand may lose all of 2021 as travelers will make plans for alternative destinations.”

The petition – which is seeking 100,000 signatures to be sent to the Thai Prime Minister, the Minister of Tourism and Sports and the Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand – has 2,268 supporters as of Tuesday night.

According to a letter published with the campaign, Thailand tourism and related industries have been “decimated” by the closure of international travel into the country because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“The financial, social, physical and psychological health of Thai people has been adversely affected,” the letter said. “The disruption of travel has not just impacted tourism, but also torn families apart and greatly reduced international trade.”

“The current situation is unsustainable,” the letter added.

Campaign organizers believe that by July 1, vaccines will be widely available “in many source markets,” according to the letter. 

Organizers also believe that if the government makes a commitment now to opening its borders for travelers by July 1, that will give people enough time to plan and book their travel, it will give tourism companies enough time to prepare to restart operations and it will give the Thai government enough time to vaccinated front line health care workers and vulnerable citizens.

“It will take Thailand at least a year, and maybe a lot longer, to return to the large numbers of international visitors that it had before the Covid-19 crisis,” the letter said.

In the letter, campaign organizers also suggested several potential “safeguards” that international travelers could be asked to follow in order to visit the country, including “showing officially recognized proof of a Covid-19 vaccination from their home country, purchasing health insurance, showing proof of a negative Covid test within 72 hours of departure, and so on,” the letter said.

“The 1 July reopening would be a strategic opportunity for Thailand to show a leadership role among Asian countries and prepare the way for a solid recovery of the Thai economy in 2022,” the letter added.

Continue Reading

Living

US halts plasma study to treat mild COVID-19, citing ‘unlikely benefit’

Published

on

By

US halts plasma study to treat mild COVID-19, citing ‘unlikely benefit’

The National Institutes of Health announced Tuesday it stopped a clinical trial testing convalescent plasma in mild to moderate COVID-19 patients after an independent board found no difference in hospitalizations, deaths or in preventing progression to severe illness.

An independent data and safety monitoring board convened on Feb. 25 to assess trial data, and concluded that while the plasma “caused no harm, it was unlikely to benefit this group of patients,” per a news release. The board recommended to stop enrolling new patients in the study, and this was done “immediately,” according to the release.

“The recent data analysis from the study indicated no significant difference in the proportion of participants who experienced any one of these outcomes [hospitalization, additional care or death within two weeks],” reads the release. “Even if enrollment continued, this trial was highly unlikely to demonstrate that COVID-19 convalescent plasma prevents progression from mild to severe illness in at-risk emergency department non-hospitalized participants.”

The study launched in August 2020, and aimed to reach 900 patients across 47 hospital emergency departments (EDs) in the US, but only enrolled 511 patients. These patients presented to the ED with mild to moderate COVID-19 and had at least one underlying condition that would heighten the risk for a severe course of COVID-19 disease, like heart disease or obesity. The patients had symptoms for several days to a week, but weren’t sick enough to require hospitalization.

The concept behind the treatment is that antibodies in the plasma from recovered patients could be infused into ill patients in a bid to improve conditions. Plasma was also used during the 1918 influenza pandemic, the SARS-CoV-1 outbreak in 2003, and the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009, the NIH says.

Trial participants received one unit of plasma or a placebo, and researchers studied whether patients went on to require hospital care, sought additional care or died within 15 days of starting the trial. 

The NIH noted over 100,000 people in the US have already been treated with plasma since the beginning of the pandemic, and the American Red Cross is actively seeking plasma donations. Some doctors voiced some cautious optimism over the treatment last spring, though they had uncertainties, specifically whether patients’ improved conditions were due to plasma or another factor.

Continue Reading

Living

New poll shows 50% drop in fear of dying from COVID-19

Published

on

By

New poll shows 50% drop in fear of dying from COVID-19

Americans are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new survey.

The national Harris Poll conducted over the weekend found a significant uptick in positive sentiment about the pandemic — and a drop in fears of the virus.

“The last year has certainly been difficult for many Americans and their families, but in the face of all the hardships and social distancing efforts, many have remained optimistic and resilient when it comes to their mental health,” John Gerzema, CEO of The Harris Poll, said in a statement.

More than half, or 52 percent, of the 2,000 adults surveyed said they are not afraid of dying as a result of catching COVID-19, the highest mark since July 2020.

For most of the year, the number of people who said they were frightened of being killed by the virus outnumbered the alternative.

More than 516,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, but both deaths and cases have recently been on the decline.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 20 percent of the adult population is now vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The poll found a 15 percent increase in how many Americans approve of how the COVID-19 vaccines are being distributed.

About 66 percent gave the nation’s inoculation efforts the thumbs up, compared to 51 percent just one month ago.

The findings came as President Biden on Tuesday said the US will have enough vaccines for every US adult by the end of May, two months earlier than previously anticipated.

Despite the stepped-up pace of vaccine production, the massive effort to get every American jabbed could extend well into the summer, officials said.

Biden said he hoped that the nation would be back to normal sometime before “this time next year.”

Still, when asked if they currently think there is light at the end of the tunnel of the pandemic, nearly 6 in 10 respondents said yes, according to the poll.

They were also more optimistic about the effects of the pandemic, with 66 percent overall saying their mental health has been affected in a positive way.

About 30 percent of those respondents said they’ve found more things to be grateful for during the crisis; 28 percent said they’ve taken more “me time” to do things for themselves; and 25 percent said they’ve been praying more.

“While Americans remain vigilant over the pandemic,” Gerzema said, “it is an encouraging sign to see greater acceptance of the vaccine, a belief that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and a declining sentiment in fear of dying from the virus.”

Continue Reading

Trending