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The Latest Science, Technical, and Medical News – from a variety of sources

10 September 2021

Perseverance rover takes first sample from drilled rock

NASA's Mars rover Perseverance has drilled and encapsulated the first rock sample ever taken on another planet, while the accompanying helicopter Ingenuity has completed its 13th flight.

NASA plans to take up to 40 rock samples and deposit them in batches on the surface, where future missions are planned to retrieve them, launch them into space and return them to Earth.

The rover took the sample, slightly thicker than a pencil, from a ridge in Jezero Crater that may contain the oldest rocks in the area.  That sample could help scientists understand the history of the crater, which NASA has determined was an ancient lake.

Flying ahead of Perseverance, the helicopter Ingenuity toon detailed photos of ridges and sand dunes to identify hazards and science targets.  The rover is not capable of navigating large sand dunes.  Ingenuity's 13th flight was about 690 feet, lasting a little over 2 1/2 minutes.  Cameras on the 4-pound helicopter took images of a ridge scientists are interested in as the rover's next target.

6 September 2021

Successful Flight Extends Ingenuity's Mars 2020 Mission; Helicopter Not Yet Ready to Retire – NASA

Ingenuity's Lucky 13 Flight – NASA shared a photo of Ingenuity on Twitter conducting its 13th flight on Mars.  The U.S. space agency wrote on their website that Flight 13 is a journey built on the information gathered by Flight 12.

However, instead of focusing on South Séítah, they concentrated on a particular ridgeline and its outcrops by flying at a lower altitude of about 26 feet (8 meters) as opposed to Flight 12's 33 feet (10 meters).

Now, it has to survive the approaching Martian winter as it continues its mission.  NASA is already working on its next-generation successors with the information they gathered via over a dozen flights on the Red Planet.

5 September 2021

Ingenuity's 13th flight to fly lower for more detailed images

Ingenuity will again be venturing into the geologically intriguing South Séítah region to scout an area of outcrops glimpsed in Flight 12 imagery.

The flight will be at 26 feet (8 meters), as opposed to the 33 feet (10 meters) of Flight 12.  Ingenuity will cover about 690 feet (210 meters) in around 161 seconds and take 10 pictures.  The helocopter's speed will be 7.3 mph (3.3 meters per second), versus 10 mph (4.3 meters per second) during Flight 12.

For Flight 13, Ingenuity will be capturing images pointing southwest.  When combined with Flight 12’s northeast perspectives, the overlapping images from a lower altitude should provide valuable insight for Perseverance scientists and rover drive planners.

  Ingenuity
Flight Totals
Since Deployment
(April 3, 2021
/ Sol 43)
In Tech Demo In Ops Demo % Above
Tech Demo
Sols Achieved 141 31 111 358 %
Flights 12 5 7 140 %
Distance Flown (m) 2671 m
(~1.44 nm)
499 m 2172 m 435 %
Time Flown (sec) 1308 s
(21 min 48 sec)
396 sec 912 sec 230 %

23 August 2021

FDA grants Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine full approval

The Pfizer vaccine is the first COVID-19 shot to receive full approval, beyond emergency use authorization.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday granted full approval to Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for individuals 16 years and older.

COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have all previously been granted emergency use authorization (EUA) after meeting the FDA's safety and efficacy requirements.  The full licensure announced Monday stems from a so-called biologics license application, building on previously-submitted pre-clinical and clinical data, information relating to the manufacturing process, vaccine quality data and site inspections.

The approval on Monday also paves the way for the Pentagon to mandate the vaccine among 1.3 million active-duty service members.

18 August 2021

Plans for Ingenuity's 12th flight

Flight 12 will be similar to Flight 10, where Ingenuity performed some location scouting for the Perseverance team of a surface feature called “Raised Ridges.”  Flight 12 has the potential to have more impactful results.  Thanks to its newly enabled AutoNav capability, Perseverance is quickly moving northwest across the southern ridge of Séítah (white path) and will meet Ingenuity in the coming days.  As a result, the timing of Ingenuity’s Flight 12 is critical.

The plan for Ingenuity is to climb to an altitude of 10 meters and fly approximately 235 meters east-northeast toward the area of interest in Séítah.  Once there, the helicopter will make a 5-meter “sidestep” in order to get side-by-side images of the surface terrain suitable to construct a stereo, or 3D, image.  Then, while keeping the camera in the same direction, Ingenuity will backtrack, returning to the same area from where it took off.  Over the course of the flight, Ingenuity will capture 10 color images that we hope will help the Perseverance science team determine which of all the boulders, rocky outcrops and other geologic features in South Séítah may be worthy of further scrutiny by the rover.

Flying over Séítah South carries substantial risk because of the varied terrain.  Ingenuity’s navigation system – which was originally intended to support a short technology demonstration – works on the assumption that it is flying across flat (or nearly flat) terrain.  Deviations from this assumption can introduce errors that can lead both to temporary tilting back and forth in an oscillating pattern, as well as long-term errors in the helicopter’s knowledge of its position.

A couple of the things we like to keep an eye on in our logbook entries:  Ingenuity has logged 19 minutes and approximately 1.2 nautical miles in the Martian skies (so far).  We are happy to report all systems are green and that the helicopter is ready for continued flight operations.

Mars helicopter Ingenuity soars through challenging 12th flight on Red Planet

NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity made its 12th Red Planet flight on Monday (Aug. 16), during which the little chopper served as eyes in the sky for its larger companion, the Perseverance rover.

The flight was designed to serve as reconnaissance for the rover's continuing explorations of a region dubbed South Séítah.

Unlike most of its recent flights, this sortie saw Ingenuity make a round trip.  That choice matched the flight's purpose. While the helicopter had been focused on keeping ahead of Perseverance, this time Ingenuity was gathering detailed scouting information for the rover.

While flying over South Séítah is risky for the little chopper, driving through the region is also dangerous for the Perseverance rover.  But the region is also full of intriguing rocks that Perseverance's science team would love to study up close.

During its first 11 flights, Ingenuity had flown a total of about 1.4 miles (2.2 kilometers) and spent nearly 19 minutes in the Martian skies, according to tallies provided by NASA.  The 12th flight added nearly 1,500 feet (450 meters) and 169 seconds to that total.

Ingenuity has vastly exceeded its original directive, to make five flights around its initial deployment site over the course of a month to prove that flying a rotorcraft on Mars is possible.

A photograph from Ingenuity's 12th flight, conducted on Aug. 16, 2021, shows the silhouette of the helicopter on the rippled surface of Mars.  (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

15 August 2021

Ivermectin – Why Is the FDA Attacking a Safe, Effective Drug?

Earlier this year the FDA put out a special warning that “you should not use ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19.”  The FDA’s statement included words and phrases such as “serious harm,” “hospitalized,” “dangerous,” “very dangerous,” “seizures,” “coma and even death” and “highly toxic.”  Any reader would think the FDA was warning against poison pills.

In fact, the drug is FDA-approved as a safe and effective antiparasitic.  Ivermectin was developed and marketed years ago by Merck.  The 2015 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine was awarded for discovering and developing avermectin, which was modified to create ivermectin.  Ivermectin is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines.

Ivermectin fights 21 viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the cause of Covid-19.  A single dose reduced the viral load of SARS-CoV-2 in cells by 99.8% in 24 hours and 99.98% in 48 hours, according to a June 2020 study published in the journal Antiviral Research.

Ivermectin works for both treating and preventing COVID-19.  In one study, less than 8% became infected, versus 58.4% of those untreated.

Despite the FDA’s claims, ivermectin is safe at approved doses.  Out of four billion doses administered since 1998, only 28 cases of serious neurological adverse events have occurred.

If the FDA were driven by science and evidence, it would give an emergency-use authorization for ivermectin for Covid-19.  Instead, the FDA asserts without evidence that ivermectin is dangerous.

The FDA states that the effective ways to limit the spread of COVID-19 continue to be to "wear your mask, stay at least 6 feet from others who don’t live with you, wash hands frequently, and avoid crowds.”  But this approach has not been based on the kinds of double-blind studies that the FDA requires for drug approvals.

The government against the people?  What special-interests are bending the FDA's responsibilities to Americans in support of their own interests?

SpaceX boss Elon Musk says Starship will land humans on moon ‘probably sooner’ than 2024

The Twitter account "Everything Artemis" asked Musk whether he expected to have Starship ready to land humans on the moon by 2024.

"Probably sooner," Musk replied just two minutes later.

China's Zhurong Mars rover completing mission

The primary mission life of China’s Zhurong Mars rover comes to an end this weekend, although the vehicle could operate well beyond that.  Zhurong was designed with a life-expectancy of three months.  Its primary mission was searching for signs of water-ice, monitoring weather, and studying surface composition.

The Tianwen-1 orbiter, which provides the mission's telecom link, is now scheduled to alter its orbit to begin remote sensing of the surface and assessing the Mars atmosphere.  Its mission life-expectancy is at least a year.

China's Yutu-2 rover on the far side of the Moon had a similar three-month life-expectancy.  It has been operating for more than two and a half years.

5 August 2021

Mars helicopter Ingenuity scores 11th safe flight on Red Planet

The flight was designed to see the helicopter climb to an altitude of 39 feet (12 m) and reach speeds of 11 mph (18 kph).

The flight, which saw the little chopper travel 1,250 feet (380 meters), was designed to get Ingenuity to a set location that the helicopter will now make its base for one or more geology reconnaissance flights of South Séítah, a rugged patch of ground on the floor of Mars' Jezero Crater.

The flight is part of an ongoing campaign to use Ingenuity as a scout for its much larger companion, NASA's Perseverance rover.  While the rover carries much more sophisticated scientific equipment than Ingenuity does, it's not nearly as agile, and its drivers need to monitor the terrain it tackles closely.

The little helicopter's next excursion should be a reconnaissance flight of South Séítah.

NASA's Mars helicopter snaps a picture of Perseverance from above

NASA's Ingenuity helicopter captured a stunning view of the Martin landscape, and hidden in the image searching for life on Mars is the Perseverance rover.

Ingenuity has been helping the rover in its mission, having recently completed its 11th flight on the Red Planet where it captured images of rocks and sand dunes.

Along with capturing the boulders, sand dunes, and rocky outcrops prevalent in the 'South Séítah' region of Jezero Crater, a few of the images capture NASA's Perseverance rover amid its first science campaign.

Despite being over 9ft long and weighing more than a tonne, the rover fades into the background of the image, hidden among massive rocks when seen from 39ft up.

3 August 2021

NASA's Mars helicopter soars past 1-mile mark in 10th flight over Red Planet

The small chopper surpassed the 1-mile (1.6 km) mark of its total flight distance on Saturday (July 24) when soared over a rocky region called "Raised Ridges" at its Jezero Crater home. The sortie was the 10th and highest trip yet for Ingenuity.

China's Zhurong Mars rover scopes out dunes on journey south

The rover used its surface composition detectors, multi-spectral cameras and other science payloads to analyze the formation

Zhurong landed on Mars in May and rolled onto the surface a week later, making China just the second country after the United States to land and operate a rover on Mars.

The rover's first feat was driving away from the lander, dropping a small, remote camera, and returning to pose with the lander for an epic selfie.  The solar-powered rover has since been making its way south of the landing site.

China's Zhurong rover has quietly clocked up 1,900 feet (585 meters) of driving on Mars and has been using its science instruments to check out nearby geologic features in Utopia Planitia.

27 July 2021

Where on Mars are Perseverance and Ingenuity?

26 July 2021

NASA hands SpaceX contract for first mission to Jupiter's moon Europa

The "Europa Clipper" mission is set for October 2024 and NASA said in a Friday release that the spacecraft will launch on a Falcon Heavy rocket from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

20 July 2021

Blue Origin crew, Jeff Bezos land safely after spaceflight

Jeff Bezos, the Amazon and Blue Origin founder, successfully launched into space and landed back on Earth Tuesday, all before 10 a.m. EST. 

Accompanying Bezos on the manned flight were 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, who replaces the anonymous winner of a live auction who bid $28 million; 82-year-old "Mercury 13" aerospace pioneer Wally Funk; and Bezos' brother, Mark Bezos.

Tuesday's launch marked Blue Origin's first manned flight into space and the second historic space mission this month after Virgin Galactic's founder Richard Branson successfully completed the flight.

The full flight:

19 July 2021

NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter Soars 2,000 Feet Through Martian Atmosphere in Its Ninth Successful Test Flight

Ingenuity set new records for speed and distance, as well as stretching the capabilities of its navigation system.

Crossing sandy soil challenged Ingenuity’s navigation algorithm.  Ingenuity’s algorithm sets the helicopter’s flight path for a flat landscape, so it hadn’t been tested on complex, rippling topographies — until now.                           Ingenuity's flight 9 photo of its shadow

On July 5, Ingenuity flew for 166.4 seconds, long enough to traverse a total distance of 2,050 feet.  Ingenuity even broke its speed record by clocking in at 15 feet per second, the equivalent of a brisk run.

In its ninth flight, Ingenuity leveled up from an accompaniment role to a solo mission.  It flew over the sandy Séítah terrain, where no rover has gone — nor can go.  The undulating sands and high slopes covering this stretch of land would hamper any wheeled vehicle daring to cross—but not a flying one.

Ingenuity took a shortcut straight across Séítah toward a safer plain in the south.  Along the way, it snapped close-up images of Séítah’s terrain for further scientific study.  Ingenuity’s latest flight demonstrates the benefits of having an aerial vehicle around.  It can work with Perseverance to divide-and-conquer different types of Martian terrains to cover more ground.

Séítah’s bumpy landscape could have caused Ingenuity to bob up and down in altitude and potentially confuse the chopper’s camera to the extent that it may miss its intended destination altogether.  To compensate, the engineers flew Ingenuity slowly at higher altitudes over particularly tricky sections of its route.

Ingenuity will hand off its data to Perseverance, which will transmit the data to scientists back on Earth.

A powerful jet emerges from a black hole in unprecedented detail in new images

New images show a black hole jet at 16 times sharper resolution than previously possible.  The image of the jet emitted by the black hole at the center of the Centaurus A galaxy is ten times higher accuracy and sixteen times sharper resolution than was possible before.

"This allows us for the first time to see and study an extragalactic radio jet on scales smaller than the distance light travels in one day."

The Centaurus A galaxy, also known as NGC 5128 or Caldwell 77, is one of the brightest and largest objects in the night sky when observed at radio wavelengths.

In 1949, the galaxy, located in the constellation Centaurus, was identified as the first known source of radio waves outside of our galaxy, the Milky Way.  the black hole at the center of Centaurus A appears very different from the one at the center of the Milky Way

11 July 2021

Richard Branson reaches space on Virgin Galactic flight

Sir Richard Branson, after nearly 17 years of Virgin Galactic development, achieved his dream and reached space on Sunday.

“I have dreamt of this moment since I was a kid, and honestly nothing could prepare you for the view of Earth from space,” Branson said after landing.

The company’s spacecraft VSS Unity launched above the skies of New Mexico on Sunday, with two pilots guiding the vehicle carrying the billionaire founder and three Virgin Galactic employees.

Branson is the first of the billionaire space company founders to ride his own spacecraft.

30 June 2021

Ingenuity's 8th flight longer than thought possible

The flight took place on Monday, 21 June and lasted a total of 77.4 seconds.  At launch, it climbed ten meters into the air, and traveled 160 meters from its starting point.

Ingenuity landed about 135 metres away from the Perseverance rover, which is vital for sending programming information from the Earth to the rotorcraft.

Ingenuity’s has surpassed its creators' expectations that the helicopter would not continue to function past its fifth test flight.

25 June 2021

Virgin Galactic cleared by FAA to fly passengers into space

The adjustment to Virgin Galactic’s operator’s license, which the company has held since 2016, marks the first time the FAA has licensed a spaceline to fly customers.

17 June 2021

What We’re Learning About Ingenuity’s Flight Control and Aerodynamic Performance

by Håvard Grip, Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Chief Pilot at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

11 June 2021

Ingenuity aces 7th flight on the Red Planet

The 4-lb. (1.8 kilograms) chopper took to the Martian skies again on Sunday (June 6), making its first sortie since battling through an in-flight anomaly on May 22.  And there were no problems this time around.

Ingenuity traveled 348 feet (106 meters) south from its previous location on the floor of Mars' Jezero Crater as planned on Sunday, staying aloft for nearly 63 seconds.  The solar-powered rotorcraft set down at a new airfield, the fourth one it has reached since landing on the Red Planet with NASA's Perseverance rover on Feb. 18.

5 June 2021

Coming up:  Ingenuity's Seventh Flight

The seventh flight will send Ingenuity about 350 feet south of its current location, where it will touch down at its new base of operations.  This will mark the second time the helicopter will land at an airfield that it did not survey from the air during a previous flight.

1 June 2021

May 22nd – Surviving an in-flight anomaly:  what happened on Ingenuity’s sixth flight

The flight uncovered a timing vulnerability that will now have to be addressed.  But it also confirmed the robustness of the system in multiple ways.

May 7th – Ingenuity's fifth flight

The helicopter ascended to a new height record of 33 feet (10 meters), and flew 424 feet (129 meters) to a new landing site.

This was the first time the helicopter made a one-way flight.

29 May 2021

NASA releases stunning new pic of Milky Way’s 'downtown'

The picture is of our galaxy’s violent, super-energized “downtown.”  It is a composite of 370 observations over the past two decades by the orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory, depicting billions of stars and countless black holes in the center, or heart, of the Milky Way. A radio telescope in South Africa also contributed to the image, for contrast.

“What we see in the picture is a violent or energetic ecosystem in our galaxy’s downtown.  There are a lot of supernova remnants, black holes, and neutron stars there. Each X-ray dot or feature represents an energetic source, most of which are in the center.”

This busy, high-energy galactic center is 26,000 light years away.

Launched in 1999, Chandra is in an extreme oval orbit around Earth.

2 May 2021

Ingenuity Completes Its Fourth Flight

Ingenuity successfully completed its fourth flight April 30th.  The helicopter took off at 10:49 a.m. EDT (7:49 a.m. PDT, or 12:33 local Mars time), climbing to an altitude of 16 feet (5 meters) before flying south approximately 436 feet (133 meters) and then back, for an 872-foot (266-meter) round trip.  In total, Ingenuity was in the air for 117 seconds.  That’s another set of records for the helicopter.

Ingenuity also captured numerous images during the flight with the color camera and with Ingenuity’s black-and-white navigation camera.  During this flight, Ingenuity saved about 60 photos during the last 164 feet (50 meters) before the helicopter returned to its landing site.

Images like that provide an aerial perspective of Mars that humanity has never seen before.  The images will be used to study the surface features of the terrain.

"Ingenuity’s performance on Mars has been letter-perfect."

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter to Begin New Demonstration Phase

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has a new mission.  Having proven that powered, controlled flight is possible on the Red Planet, the Ingenuity experiment will soon embark on a new operations demonstration phase, exploring how aerial scouting and other functions could benefit future exploration of Mars and other worlds.

The decision to add an operations demonstration is a result of the Perseverance rover being ahead of schedule with the thorough checkout of all vehicle systems.  With the Mars Helicopter’s energy, telecommunications, and in-flight navigation systems performing beyond expectation, an opportunity arose to allow the helicopter to continue exploring its capabilities with an operations demonstration, without significantly impacting rover scheduling.  “Since Ingenuity remains in excellent health, we plan to use it to benefit future aerial platforms."

Ingenuity’s transition from conducting a technology demonstration to an operations demonstration brings with it a new flight envelope.  Along with those one-way flights, there will be more precision maneuvering, greater use of its aerial-observation capabilities, and more risk overall.

With short drives expected for Perseverance in the near term, Ingenuity may execute flights that land near the rover’s current location or its next anticipated parking spot.  The helicopter can use these opportunities to perform aerial observations of rover science targets, potential rover routes, and inaccessible features while also capturing stereo images for digital elevation maps.

Flight operations will be completed no later than the end of August.

26 April 2021

Third flight made by Ingenuity

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter continues to set records, flying faster and farther on Sunday, April 25, 2021 than in any tests it went through on Earth.  The helicopter took off at 4:31 a.m. EDT (1:31 a.m. PDT), or 12:33 p.m. local Mars time, rising 16 feet (5 meters) – the same altitude as its second flight.  Then it zipped downrange 164 feet (50 meters), just over half the length of a football field, reaching a top speed of 6.6 feet per second (2 meters per second, or 4.5 mph) and a total flight distance of 328 feet.

“Today’s flight was what we planned for, and yet it was nothing short of amazing.  With this flight, we are demonstrating critical capabilities that will enable the addition of an aerial dimension to future Mars missions.”

The Ingenuity team has been pushing the helicopter’s limits by adding instructions to capture more photos of its own – including from the color camera, which captured its first images on Flight Two. As with everything else about these flights, the additional steps are meant to provide insights that could be used by future aerial missions.

The Third Color Image Taken by Ingenuity:  This is the third color image taken by NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter. It was snapped on the helicopter’s second flight, April 22, 2021, from an altitude of about 17 feet (5.2 meters).  Tracks made by NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover can be seen as well.

From Popular Science:  “We want to push against the wind, we want to push against the speed.  We expect it will meet its limit.  We want to know what the limits are.”  No helicopter has ever flown higher than about 7.5 miles.  But you’d have to fly to an altitude of 28 miles to find as little atmosphere as what Ingenuity dealt with on Monday morning.

23 April 2021

Second flight made by Ingenuity

Lasting 51.9 seconds, the flight added several new challenges to the first, including a higher maximum altitude, longer duration, and sideways movement.  Ingenuity climbed to 16 feet (5 meters) this time.  After the helicopter hovered briefly, its flight control system performed a slight (5-degree) tilt, allowing some of the thrust from the counter-rotating rotors to accelerate the craft sideways for 7 feet (2 meters).

“The flight met expectations and our prior computer modeling has been accurate.  The helicopter came to a stop, hovered in place, and made turns to point its camera in different directions.  Then it headed back to the center of the airfield to land.  It sounds simple, but there are many unknowns regarding how to fly a helicopter on Mars.  That’s why we’re here – to make these unknowns known.”

The Ingenuity team is considering how best to expand the profiles of its next flights to acquire additional aeronautical data from the first successful flight tests on another world.

Ingenuity Pilot's Logbook

19 April 2021

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Succeeds in Historic First Flight

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter became the first aircraft in history to make a powered, controlled flight on another planet.  The Ingenuity team at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California confirmed the flight succeeded after receiving data from the helicopter via NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover at 6:46 a.m. EDT , 19 April 2021.

The solar-powered helicopter first became airborne at 3:34 a.m. EDT (12:34 a.m. PDT) – 12:33 Local Mean Solar Time (Mars time) – a time the Ingenuity team determined would have optimal energy and flight conditions.  Altimeter data indicate Ingenuity climbed to its prescribed maximum altitude of 10 feet (3 meters) and maintained a stable hover for 30 seconds.  It then descended, touching back down on the surface of Mars after logging a total of 39.1 seconds of flight.

"This first of many airfields on other worlds will now be known as Wright Brothers Field."  The location of the flight has also been given the ceremonial location designation JZRO for Jezero Crater.  Ingenuity’s chief pilot, Håvard Grip, announced that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) – the United Nations’ civil aviation agency – presented NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration with official ICAO designator IGY, call-sign INGENUITY.

Additional details on the test are expected in upcoming downlinks.  Parked about 211 feet (64.3 meters) away at Van Zyl Overlook during Ingenuity’s historic first flight, the Perseverance rover not only acted as a communications relay between the helicopter and Earth, but also chronicled the flight operations with its cameras.  The pictures from the rover’s Mastcam-Z and Navcam imagers will provide additional data on the helicopter’s flight.

15 April 2021

Work Progresses Toward Ingenuity’s First Flight on Mars

The Ingenuity team has identified a software solution for the command sequence issue identified on Sol 49 (April 9) during a planned high-speed spin-up test of the helicopter’s rotors.  This software update will modify the process by which the two flight controllers boot up, allowing the hardware and software to safely transition to the flight state.

The process of updating Ingenuity’s flight control software will follow established processes for validation with careful and deliberate steps to move the new software through the rover to the base station and then to the helicopter.

A flight date will be set next week.

11 April 2021

NASA's Mars Helicopter Ingenuity's historic flight delayed until the 14th

"During a high-speed spin test of the rotors on Friday, the command sequence controlling the test ended early due to a 'watchdog' timer expiration.  This occurred as it was trying to transition the flight computer from ‘Pre-Flight’ to ‘Flight’ mode.  The helicopter team is reviewing telemetry to diagnose and understand the issue. Following that, they will reschedule the full-speed test."

10 April 2021

NASA’s Mars Helicopter to Make First Flight Attempt Sunday

If all proceeds as planned, the 4-pound (1.8-kg) rotorcraft is expected to take off from Mars’ Jezero Crater Sunday, April 11, at 10:54 p.m. EDT, hovering 10 feet (3 meters) above the surface for up to 30 seconds.  Mission control specialists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California expect to receive the first data from the first flight attempt the following morning at around 4:15 a.m. EDT.  NASA TV will air live coverage of the team as they receive the data, with commentary beginning at 3:30 a.m. EDT.

“While Ingenuity carries no science instruments, the little helicopter is already making its presence felt across the world, as future leaders follow its progress toward an unprecedented first flight,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters.  “We do tech demos like this to push the envelope of our experience and provide something on which the next missions and the next generation can build.  Just as Ingenuity was inspired by the Wright brothers, future explorers will take off using both the data and inspiration from this mission.”

Flying in a controlled manner on Mars is far more difficult than flying on Earth.  Even though gravity on Mars is about one-third that of Earth’s, the helicopter must fly with the assistance of an atmosphere whose pressure at the surface is only 1% that of Earth.  If successful, engineers will gain invaluable in-flight data at Mars for comparison to the modeling, simulations, and tests performed back here on Earth.

Sunday’s flight will be autonomous, with Ingenuity’s guidance, navigation, and control systems doing the piloting.  That’s mostly because radio signals will take 15 minutes, 27 seconds to bridge the 173-million-mile (278-million-kilometer) gap between Mars and Earth.

Events leading up to the first flight test begin when the Perseverance rover, which serves as a communications base station for Ingenuity, receives that day’s instructions from Earth.  Those commands will have travelled from mission controllers at JPL through NASA’s Deep Space Network to a receiving antenna aboard Perseverance.  Parked at “Van Zyl Overlook,” some 215 feet (65 meters) away, the rover will transmit the commands to the helicopter about an hour later.

At 10:53 p.m. EDT, Ingenuity will begin its preflight checks.  The helicopter will repeat the blade-wiggle test it performed three sols prior.  If the algorithms running the guidance, navigation, and control systems deem the test results acceptable, they will turn on the inertial measurement unit (an electronic device that measures a vehicle’s orientation and rotation) and inclinometer (which measures slopes).  If everything checks out, the helicopter will again adjust the pitch of its rotor blades, configuring them so they don’t produce lift during the early portion of the spin-up.

The spin-up of the rotor blades will take about 12 seconds to go from 0 to 2,537 rpm, the optimal speed for the first flight.  After a final systems check, the pitch of the rotor blades will be commanded to change yet again, and the first experimental flight test on another planet will begin.

While hovering, the helicopter’s navigation camera and laser altimeter will feed information into the navigation computer to ensure Ingenuity remains not only level, but in the middle of its 33-by-33-foot (10-by-10-meter) airfield – a patch of Martian real estate chosen for its flatness and lack of obstructions.  Then, the Mars Helicopter will descend and touch back down on the surface of Jezero Crater, sending data back to Earth via Perseverance to confirm the flight.

Perseverance is expected to obtain imagery of the flight using its Navcam and Mastcam-Z imagers, with the pictures expected to come down that evening.  The helicopter will also document the flight from its perspective, with a color image and several lower-resolution black-and-white navigation pictures possibly being available by the next morning.

6 April 2021

NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity has survived its first Martian night alone as first test flight looms

The Perseverance rover has been carrying Ingenuity in its belly as mission teams prepare for the craft's first flight, which is set to take place no sooner than April 11.  On April 3 the rover dropped Ingenuity onto the surface of Mars, where it would have to survive temperatures as low as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius).  Indications are that the 4-lbs. (1.8-kilograms) helicopter survived its first night on its own.

There are still a number of tasks that the mission team will have to accomplish before Ingenuity is ready to fly.  First, the team will charge the craft using its solar array and ensure that it is collecting and using energy and power as they anticipate.  This is critical, as energy from the craft's solar array will both keep it warm overnight and power it for flight.

Next, the helicopter's blades will be unlocked.  The team will then actually spin the rotor blades for the first time, slowly at just about 50 revolutions per minute, and then at full speed, about 2,400 rpm.

After the successful completion of these steps, the team will have Ingenuity lift up and fly for the first time, hover autonomously for about 30 seconds and then land.  The helicopter will reach about 15 feet (4.6 meters) in the sky with this flight.

With the success of its inaugural flight, the Ingenuity mission team will fly the craft four more times within the 30 sols, or Mars days, (about 31 Earth days) anticipated for the mission.  The average flight length will be about 90 seconds.

26 March 2021

Remains of impact that created the Moon may lie deep within Earth

Scientists have long agreed that the Moon formed when a protoplanet, called Theia, struck Earth in its infancy some 4.5 billion years ago.  Now, a team of scientists has a provocative new proposal: Theia’s remains can be found in two continent-size layers of rock buried deep in Earth’s mantle.

Evidence from Iceland and Samoa suggests the large low-shear velocity provinces (LLSVPs) have existed since the time of the Moon-forming impact.  Seismic imaging has traced plumes of magma that feed volcanoes on both islands all the way down to the LLSVPs.  Over the past decade, lavas on the islands were discovered that contain an isotopic record of radioactive elements that formed only during the first 100 million years of Earth history.

The impact theory was developed in the 1970s to explain why the Moon is dry and doesn’t have much of an iron core:  In a cataclysmic impact, volatiles like water would have vaporized and escaped, while a ring of less dense rocks thrown up in the collision would have eventually coalesced into the Moon.  In studies of Apollo Moon rocks, Desch and his colleagues measured the ratios of hydrogen to deuterium, a heavier hydrogen isotope.  Light hydrogen was far more abundant in some of the Moon samples than in Earth rocks.  To capture and hold onto so much light hydrogen, Theia must have been massive.

The model suggests that after the collision, Theia’s core would have quickly merged with Earth’s.  Simulations consistently showed that mantle rocks 1.5% to 3.5% denser than Earth’s would survive and end up as piles near the core.  The result lined up perfectly with the deuterium evidence.

If Theia’s remnants do lie deep in Earth’s mantle, they may not be alone.  Seismologists are increasingly seeing small, ultradense pockets of material in the deep mantle, only a few hundred kilometers across, often near the edges of the LLSVPs.  They may be the sunken remnants of iron-rich cores from other miniature planets that hit early Earth.  Theia, in might be just one grave in a planetary cemetery.

25 March 2021

NASA previews first Mars helicopter flights:  Every step taken is 'uncharted territory'

NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter is targeting no earlier than April 8 for the first-ever attempt at power and controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet.

"Once we start the deployment there is no turning back.  All activities are closely coordinated, irreversible, and dependent on each other."

Before Ingenuity can even try to fly in the Martian atmosphere, the 4-pound rotorcraft must first be deployed.  On Mar. 21, the Perseverance Mars rover – which carried Ingenuity to the red planet – dropped its debris shield that protected the helicopter and is currently en route to the 33-by-33-foot "airfield" where Ingenuity will attempt its first flight.  Once the rover reaches its flight zone, it will take about a week to get the helicopter up and running.   The Mars Helicopter Delivery System will rotate and release the helicopter about 5 inches above the surface.  Perseverance then has 25 hours to move away to its "rover observation location."

Ingenuity – which will be autonomous and charged by its own solar panel – has a month-long window for up to five test flights.  Once the rover is charged, has survived a frigid Martian night, and is ready to try to fly, Perseverance will receive and relay flight instructions to the helicopter.

"Several factors will determine the precise time for the flight, including modeling of local wind patterns plus measurements taken by the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) aboard Perseverance.  Ingenuity will run its rotors to 2,537 rpm and, if all final self-checks look good, lift off.  After climbing at a rate of about 3 feet per second...the helicopter will hover at 10 feet...above the surface for up to 30 seconds.  Then, the Mars Helicopter will descend and touch back down on the Martian surface."

Several hours later, Perseverance will pass data and possibly images and video from its cameras to the JPL team to determine whether or not their first flight was a success.  Using what is provided to them, the engineers will then understand how best to proceed.

In recognition of Ingenuity's historic flight, a small amount of the material that covered one of the wings of the Wright brothers' Flyer is aboard Ingenuity – adhered beneath the helicopter's solar panel with an insulative tape.  Similarl, the Apollo 11 NASA crew flew a different piece of the material and a splinter of wood from the Wright Flyer during the July 1969 Moon Landing.

17 March 2021

When will the Ingenuity Mars helicopter fly?

Ingenuity is a small helicopter on the Martian surface that landed alongside NASA’s Perseverance rover.  While initially stored within the rover, the solar-powered vehicle will be deployed onto the Martian surface.  To launch, Ingenuity will use a small helipad, also stowed in Perseverance.  While Ingenuity weighs 1.8kg on Earth, this drops to 0.68kg on Mars due to the planet’s lower gravity.  The craft is equipped with two cameras, one colour with a horizon-facing view for terrain images, and one black-and-white for navigation.

Ingenuity's specifications:
  Mass: 1.8kg = 4lbs;
  Height: 50cm = 20";
  Rotor span: 1.2m = 47";
  Batteries:  6x Sony Li-ion,
    delivering 220W power;
  Max flight time: 90s;
  Max flights per day: 1

By comparison, the Perseverance rover is 9'6" long, 7'3" high, weighs 2260lbs., and has 110 watts of power.  Its wheels are 20.5" in diameter.

The Ingenuity Mars helicopter was originally scheduled for its first flight in April 2021.  However, while possible flight zones are examined, an exact date is yet to be confirmed.  The vehicle will remain attached to the Perseverance rover between 30 and 60 days after its 18 February landing.  Once deployed, Ingenuity will have to successfully charge itself through solar power before attempting up to five test flights within a 31-day period.

Fitted with two cameras, the helicopter is expected to transmit images back to Earth (via the Perseverance rover and Deep Space Network) of its flight.

To make more than one flight, Ingenuity must survive the extremely low temperatures of the planet’s surface (which plummets to -90°C at night outside of Perseverance’s belly).  Tests on Earth indicate the helicopter should survive this chill, but this doesn’t guarantee the craft won’t encounter problems.

The Martian helicopter’s first flight will be a basic one: a simple 20-30 second low-altitude hover.  Ingenuity will be tasked with climbing at a speed of 1m/s to an altitude of about 3m, where it should hover for 20 seconds before descending back to ground.  If successful, later flights will attempt further distances and higher altitudes.  Ingenuity is capable of flying up to 90 seconds, managing 50 metres at a time (at a maximum height of 4.5m).  Such a trip would use 8.75 watt-hours of power, less energy than is stored by an iPhone 12 battery.

See also the related article in Nature magazine:

A month on Mars: what NASA's Perseverance rover has found so far

Mystery of the ‘world’s first computer’ may have been solved

See the original article in Nature magazine:
A Model of the Cosmos in the ancient Greek Antikythera Mechanism
Don't miss the fascinating included animations of the Antikythera's assembly and operation.

See also this earlier article,
The Antikythera Mechanism: the ancient Greek computer that mapped the stars

14 March 2021

COVID – 36,929,777 fully vaccinated, 68,884,011 one dose in U.S.

27 February 2021

See the landing of NASA's Perseverance on Mars

26 February 2021

NASA’s Perseverance Rover Gives High-Definition Panoramic View of Landing Site

A key objective of Perseverance's mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life.  The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).

Traversing Mars' Jezero Crater — This image depicts a possible area through which the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover could traverse across Jezero Crater.

18 February 2021

Pfizer says South African variant could significantly reduce COVID-19 vaccine protection

Drug giant is talking to regulators about developing an updated version of their vaccine or a booster shot

Even if the concerning variant significantly reduces effectiveness, the vaccine should still help protect against severe disease and death.

8 February 2021

New era of Mars exploration begins as UAE, Chinese, and American craft

The UAE probe will near Mars late Monday, and the mission will make a final, 27-minute orbital insertion burn, or correction, starting at 10:30 a.m. EST Tuesday.  The Hope probe's two-year mission is to gain the most complete data about Mars' atmosphere ever, including Mars summers and winters, day and night, at all locations around the planet.  The Emirati government chose a Mars mission to ignite space research and industry there, according to the UAE space agency.  If successful, the UAE would become the fifth nation to reach Mars, following the United States, Russia, China and India.

Studying the atmosphere also is part of the Chinese Tianwen-1 orbiter's mission, which also carries a rover.  The exact time of arrival at the Red Planet on Wednesday hasn't been disclosed by the China National Space Administration.  The Chinese spacecraft conducted its fourth flight-path correction Friday, the agency reported.

NASA's Perseverance rover will make a brief automated trip through the atmosphere to land in a crater filled with boulders and fields of sand.  Perseverance is due to make fiery entry into the Mars atmosphere at roughly 12:30 p.m. EST on Feb 18.  Perseverance's quest will be to find signs of ancient life in Mars' Jezero Crater, thought to be an ancient lakebed and river delta.

The first helicopter to fly on another planet -- Ingenuity -- is riding underneath Perseverance.  NASA expects to test the helicopter after the rover drops it on the surface, sometime in the next few months.

5 February 2021

Video:  watch the last billion years of tectonic plate movement

From an article in ScienceDirect.  This reconstruction will soon to be published in the journal Earth Science Reviews.

"This is going to help us understand how complex life began.  It's only in the last billion years of the Earth's 4.5-billion-year history that life worked out how to form cells, combine them, and make complicated creatures.  We have a million hypotheses of why this happened, but absolutely none of them are scientific at the moment.  We have no models for what the world looked like.?

it's extremely difficult to figure out what the world looked like in the past, particularly because the seafloor doesn't last very long: it's always being recycled into the deep Earth at subduction zones.  "That means we don't actually have any plates as old as a billion years – nothing more than about 200 million years – everything is gone five times over!  So there is a lot of indirect evidence strung together to make this possible."

16 January 2021

J&J COVID-19 vaccine on track for March rollout, still aims for 1 billion doses this year

Johnson & Johnson JNJ.N is on track to roll out its single-shot coronavirus vaccine in March, and plans to have clear data on how effective it is by the end of this month or early February.

J&J expects to meet its stated target of delivering 1 billion doses of its vaccine by the end of this year.  The vaccine is being produced in the United States, Europe, South Africa and India.

"We are aiming for 1 billion doses in 2021.  If it is a single dose, that means 1 billion people.  But it will be in a ramp-up throughout the year."

9 January 2021

Vaccine Goes Unused or Is Even Thrown Out Due to Restrictions

Under increasing pressure to relieve a backlog of hundreds of thousands of unused coronavirus vaccine doses, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Friday expanded the eligibility groups to include three million more people, including those 75 and older.

In the weeks since vaccinations began in mid-December, stories of doses sitting in freezers for weeks or being discarded have emerged, offering a glimpse of what public health experts have characterized as a troubled rollout in New York.

Mr. Cuomo had stuck to rigid guidelines that prioritized health care workers, and residents and staff of nursing homes and group homes.  But on Friday, after repeated criticism from Mayor Bill de Blasio and local officials around the state, the governor announced that this new group – which also includes many essential workers – could begin scheduling vaccinations as soon as Monday, one month after New York City received its first doses.

Clinics have been unable to give out doses because of the strict rules – or even had to throw some out.

6 January 2021

Prostate cancer breakthrough – Researchers find possible prostate cancer blocker

As well as being common and commonly lethal, prostate cancers are also pretty cunning, with an ability to resist hormone therapy that's made treatments more difficult.  Now, insights gained from new research into how cancers evolve might help prevent prostate cancer from resisting therapy.  The work has been published in Cell Reports.

A common hormone treatment for prostate cancer involves decreasing the activity of the androgen receptor, which is responsible for binding hormones like testosterone and transporting them deep into a cell.  Prostate cancers depend on these hormones, and so are starved when the receptors are blocked.

However, cancers can change very quickly to resist hormone therapy and grow into a new, aggressive subtype called neuroendocrine prostate cancer.  This occurs in up to 15% of patients.  There's currently no effective treatment for these types of potentially lethal prostate cancers.  Now, Australian researchers have found that this type of tumour adaptation is enhanced by a microRNA called miR-194, which can lead to the development of neuroendocrine prostate cancers in patients after therapy.  Blocking miR-194 may slow down, and even prevent, the growth of these new cancer cells.

"While this reality is sobering, we hope that our study and lots of other research going on around the world will eventually lead to smarter, more targeted ways to treat neuroendocrine prostate cancer or even prevent its emergence."

Science Tech Medical News Archive - from 2020

Science Tech Medical News Archive - from 2019 and earlier

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