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

6 July 2022

‘Watershed moment’:  Doctors finding new hope in treatments for deadly pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of only around 10%.  Pancreatic cancer is poised to pass lung cancer as the deadliest tumor type, already surpassing colon, breast and prostate cancer.

A new treatment is in an early stage of development, but it is one of a handful of advances that is providing hope to what has long been one of the most hopeless forms of cancer.

A few cutting-edge advances and some seemingly small changes have given doctors reasons for optimism.  One is the realization that a gene called KRAS, mutated in many pancreatic tumors, could be "druggable."  Targeting KRAS by manipulating the immune system, and many tumors can be controlled.

Pancreatic cancer comes in many forms, and treating a patient's specific tumor can make a big difference.

Another improvement comes from a deeper understanding of the immune system and how to manipulate it to fight cancer, said Dr. Vinod P. Balachandran, at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Finding genetic mutations like KRAS, as well as the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations better known for their link to breast cancers, can help identify patients who will respond to treatments targeting those mutations.

These insights come on top of advances in surgery and the sequencing of treatments that have improved and extended patients' lives.

"The best way to cure a cancer is to prevent it from forming."

6 May 2022

New drug cures cancer for 100% of patients in trial

Doctors have successfully cured rectal cancer in patients thanks to an experimental drug trial.  Oncologists at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) in New York found that the latest tests of patients showed no evidence of cancer.

The treatment uses immuno- therapy which harnesses the body’s own immune system as an ally against cancer.

For the first time, the MSK clinical trial was investigating if immunotherapy alone could beat rectal cancer that had not spread to other tissues, in a subset of patients whose tumour contained a specific genetic mutation.

As the first patient to enroll in the trial, the research team was anxious that Roth’s experience might prove to be an outlier but the same remarkable result was repeated in all 14 people in the trial.

In every case, the rectal cancer disappeared after immunotherapy — without the need for the standard treatments of radiation, surgery, or chemotherapy — and cancer has not returned in any of the patients, who have been cancer-free for up to two years.

The patients in the study had tumours with a specific genetic makeup known as mismatch repair-deficient (MMRd) or microsatellite instability (MSI).  There are 45,000 Americans diagnosed a year with rectal cancer.  Between 5% and 10% of all rectal cancer patients are thought to have MMRd tumours.

‘Immunotherapy has proven successful in treating a subset of patients with colon and rectal cancer that has metastasized, meaning spread to other tissues.’

The clinical trial also focused on avoiding the toxicity often associated with treatment for rectal cancer as the standard treatment for rectal cancer with surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy can be particularly hard on people because of the location of the tumour.  ‘They can suffer life-altering bowel and bladder dysfunction, incontinence, infertility, sexual dysfunction, and more,’

All patients in the trial must have stage 2 or 3 rectal tumors that are MMRd making their cancer particularly sensitive to immunotherapy.  The patients were given a drug intravenously every three weeks, for six months.

‘The immunotherapy shrank the tumours much faster than I expected.’

“The patient has only received one treatment and already they’re not bleeding anymore and their terrible pain has gone away.”

'They have preserved normal bowel function, bladder function, sexual function, fertility.  Women have their uterus and ovaries.  It’s remarkable.'

Most people diagnosed with it are over the age of 60.  However, there has been a disturbing rise in the number of people under 50 who are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, particularly rectal cancer.  ‘We are seeing more and more young people with rectal cancer, including people in their 20s in our trial.  Immunotherapy might be an important new option for them.’

8 May 2022

Ingenuity helicopter takes photos of debris field on Mars

The Ingenuity helicopter has captured a unique bird's-eye perspective of the gear that helped land the Perseverance rover on Mars.  During its one-year anniversary flight 26 on April 19, the little chopper took photos of the striped parachute used during Perseverance's landing -- often referred to as "7 minutes of terror" because it happens faster than radio signals can reach Earth from Mars -- on February 18, 2021.  It was the biggest parachute used on Mars to date, at 70.5 feet (21.5 meters) wide.  It also spotted the cone-shaped backshell that helped protect the rover and Ingenuity on the trip from Earth to Mars and during its fiery, plunging descent to the Martian surface.

"NASA extended Ingenuity flight operations to perform pioneering flights such as this.  Every time we're airborne, Ingenuity covers new ground and offers a perspective no previous planetary mission could achieve.  Mars Sample Return's reconnaissance request is a perfect example of the utility of aerial platforms on Mars."

During entry, descent and landing, the spacecraft faces scorching temperatures and gravitational forces as it plunges into the Martian atmosphere at almost 12,500 miles per hour (20,000 kilometers per hour).

Previously, we've only seen images of the discarded landing gear from a rover's perspective, like an image taken by Perseverance showing the parachute and backshell from a distance.  Aerial images, captured for the first time by Ingenuity from 26 feet (8 meters) in the air, provide more detail.

"Ingenuity's images offer a different vantage point.  If they either reinforce that our systems worked as we think they worked or provide even one dataset of engineering information we can use for Mars Sample Return planning, it will be amazing."  The backshell can be seen among a debris field it created after hitting the Martian surface while moving at about 78 miles per hour (126 kilometers per hour).  But the backshell's protective coating appears to be intact, as are the 80 suspension lines connecting it to the parachute.

"To get the shots we needed, Ingenuity did a lot of maneuvering, but we were confident because there was complicated maneuvering on flights 10, 12, and 13."

The helicopter and rover have arrived at an ancient river delta where water once flowed into Jezero Crater millions of years ago.  The imposing delta rises more than 130 feet (40 meters) above the crater floor and is riddled with boulders, pockets of sand and jagged cliffs -- and it could be the best place to search for signs of ancient life if it ever existed on Mars.  Ingenuity has the crucial task of surveying two dry river channels to see which one Perseverance should use to climb to the top of the delta.  It can also share images of features that could become potential science targets for the rover.

'Floating Sensors' Spread Like Dandelion Seeds

Dropped by a drone, the battery-free devices hover 100 meters in the air.

Dandelions have evolved to disperse their seeds more than a kilometer in the air.  Researchers from the University of Washington want to give sensors that kind of distance, in a way that supports agricultural and environmental-monitoring applications.  Like dandelion seeds, the sensors float in the breeze.  The device, about 30 times as heavy as a 1-milligram dandelion seed, can travel up to 100 meters on a windy day.  To keep the devices light and to ensure that the sensors landed with the solar panels facing skyward, the UW engineers needed to mimic the dandelion's shape.

Sensor data like temperature, humidity, pressure, and light can be shared from a distance of 60 meters.  The engineers designed the lightweight, flexible circuits and electronics to include a capacitor, a device that stores some charge overnight.

Princeton Plasma Physics Lab

PPPL is developing advanced low-temperature plasma applications ranging from nanofabrication for micro- electronics to plasma thrusters for space travel.

The team developing the spherical NSTX-U, PPPL's flagship fusion device, is advancing the physics and engineering basis for a next-step fusion reactor based on the spherical design.

The Princeton Collaborative Low Temperature Plasma Research Facility is a joint venture involving PPPL and Princeton University providing researchers with access to world-class diagnostics and computational tools for measuring and experimenting with low-temperature plasmas.

A new type of rocket thruster that could take humankind to Mars and beyond has been proposed.  The device would apply magnetic fields to cause particles of plasma, electrically charged gas also known as the fourth state of matter, to shoot out the back of a rocket and, because of the conservation of momentum, propel the craft forward.  Current space-proven plasma thrusters use electric fields to propel the particles.

The new concept would accelerate the particles using magnetic reconnection, a process found throughout the universe, including the surface of the sun, in which magnetic field lines converge, suddenly separate, and then join again, producing lots of energy.

In this new type of magnet, metal acts as insulation, and therefore, would not be damaged by particles.  In addition, it would operate at higher temperatures than current superconducting electromagnets do, making it easier to maintain.

PPPL scientists have achieved a break-through in the conceptual design of twisty stellarators, experimental magnetic facilities that could reproduce on Earth the fusion energy that powers the sun and stars.  The breakthrough shows how to more precisely shape the enclosing magnetic fields in stellarators to create an unprecedented ability to hold the fusion fuel together.

21 April 2022

Mars rover Perseverance rumbles by crashed artifacts in the Martian desert

NASA's Perseverance rover is on a mission to sleuth out past evidence of life on Mars.  Along the way, it found evidence of Earthlings.

This week, the space agency posted an image of two objects the rover passed while traversing the Martian desert:  a discarded parachute and a metal capsule.  Both played vital roles in helping the car-sized exploration rover land safely on Mars.

Note the objects in the middle of the image. On left is the collapsed orange
and white parachute; on right is a conspicuous part of the shell that housed
the rover as it plunged through Mars' atmosphere in February 2021.

Landing the 2,260-pound, $2.7 billion rover on Mars was an impressive feat, dubbed the "seven minutes of terror."  The plummeting spacecraft, traveling at some 1,000 mph, deployed a supersonic parachute to slow down.  It ditched its heavy heat shield.  Before choosing a safe landing spot (free of boulders, pits, or dangerous rocks), it abandoned the parachute; then a rocket-powered apparatus fired up and hovered in the air while carefully lowering the rover down to the ground.  Everything must work swimmingly — and it did.

The rover is now on its way to a dried-up delta in Mars' Jezero Crater, a place planetary scientists believe once hosted a lake.  "This delta is one of the best locations on Mars for the rover to look for signs of past microscopic life."

19 April 2022

Photo from 30 September 2021

In the past year, Ingenuity has made 25 flights, with a total of 46.5 minutes in the air to travel 5,824 meters, with a maximum height of twelve meters, on a mission that was intended only as a technological demonstration that you could fly on Mars, but that has gone much further.

After the five scheduled flights, the helicopter would have been left behind, while Perseverance continued on its way, as it was thought that “it would be unable to keep up with its pace”.

But with each flight, they have learned that it can follow the rover, maintain communication with it, charge its batteries, spend the frosty nights without being damaged.  Little by little they have widened the limits to “fly farther, faster, take pictures and add to the scientific value of the mission”.

In fact, Ingenuity has become a kind of helper.  “We no longer have to send Perseverance somewhere that could possibly be dangerous, such as sandy ground where its wheels can fit.”  The helicopter goes and takes photos, which help scientists understand the geochemical components of an area, without “worrying about whether Perserverance has to arrive or not.”

Ingenuity opens up the possibility that, “in five or ten years”, instead of a rover, a series of drones can be sent to Mars with different scientific instruments; this one is only provided with cameras.

14 April 2022

Ingenuity 25th flight sets records for speed, distance

NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity just flew farther and faster than it ever has before.  Ingenuity "broke its distance and ground speed records, traveling 704 meters [2,310 feet] at 5.5 meters per second while flying for 161.3 seconds."

According to Ingenuity's flight log, the greatest distance covered by the helicopter had been 2,051 feet (625 meters), achieved during a flight in July 2021.  Its previous speed record was 5 meters per second, which it reached on multiple flights. (5 meters per second is about 11.2 mph, or 18 kph. 5.5 meters per second is roughly 12.3 mph, or 19.8 kph.  Friday's sortie didn't set a duration record, however; that mark is 169.5 seconds, set during an August 2021 flight.

Ingenuity landed on the floor of Mars' Jezero Crater in February 2021 with NASA's life-hunting, sample-caching Perseverance rover.  The little chopper deployed from the rover's belly that April and embarked upon a five-flight, one-month mission designed to show that aerial exploration is possible on Mars despite the planet's thin atmosphere.

Ingenuity quickly left that initial campaign in the dust.  It's now flying on an extended mission, performing reconnaissance for Perseverance, which is making its way to an accessible remnant of the ancient river delta that once existed within Jezero.  Friday's flight was the second in five days for Ingenuity and its fifth sortie in the last month.  Perseverance has been making serious tracks on its drive to the delta, and Ingenuity needs to keep up.  In fact, the mission team wants the helicopter to get to the delta first.

"Ingenuity only communicates with the helicopter base station on Perseverance, so it needs to stay close enough to have a good connection."

7 April 2022

Ingenuity completes its 24th flight on Mars

Ingenuity completed its 24th flight on Mars, traveling a short 33 feet for 69.5 seconds in order to place it in a good position for an upcoming record-setting 25th flight.

The red dot on the map to the right indicates Perseverance’s present position.  The green dot shows where Ingenuity landed today.  The tan dashed lines indicate the planned routes for both.

Ingenuity’s next flight will take it out of the rough terrain of Seitah and much closer to Three Forks.

With Flight 24 in the log book, it is now time to look forward to the upcoming effort that charts a course out of Séítah.  Flight 25 – which was uplinked yesterday – will send Ingenuity 704 meters to the northwest (almost 80 meters longer than the current record – Flight 9).  The helicopter’s ground speed will be about 5.5 meters per second (another record) and we expect to be in the rarefied Martian air for about 161.5 seconds.

30 March 2022

Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Completes 23rd Flight – total distance flown is over 5,000 meters

NASA's Mars Ingenuity helicopter recently completed its 23rd excursion, flying for 129.1 seconds across 358 meters.

The latest milestone—which brings the copter's total distance flown to more than 5,000 meters – more than 3.1 miles.

The autonomous chopper has survived almost a year on the Red Planet – well beyond the 31-day original technology demonstration mission for which it was designed.

Ingenuity's mission has been extended through September 2022, allowing it to continue testing its limits in order to support the design of future Mars air vehicles.  To enhance the chances of success, NASA's JPL is making software updates to improve operational flexibility and flight safety.

24 March 2022

Mars helicopter Ingenuity flight 22 successful

"The trip lasted 101.4 seconds and Ingenuity got up to 33 feet in the air.  The team is planning another flight perhaps as early as later this week."

Ingenuity has been scouting possible routes and destinations for Perseverance as the rover hunts for signs of ancient life on Mars.

19 March 2022

Mars helicopter Ingenuity flight 21 another success

"Ingenuity successfully completed its 21st flight on the Red Planet.  The small rotorcraft traveled 370 meters [1,214 feet] at a speed of 3.85 meters per second [8.61 mph] and stayed aloft for 129.2 seconds."

NASA helicopter captures stunning view of the Martian desert

NASA's trusty helicopter will soon enter some precarious terrain.  The aerial craft Ingenuity is headed to a dried-up river delta in the Jezero Crater, a land filled "with jagged cliffs, angled surfaces, projecting boulders, and sand-filled pockets that could stop a rover in its tracks (or upend a helicopter upon landing)."

The image shows windswept sand in the foreground, and hilly, even mountainous terrain beyond. You can also spot the helicopter's shadow on the bottom of the frame, and a glimpse of the ball-like end of one of its legs on the upper left side of the image.

Over a series of at least three flights, NASA will send Ingenuity across an expanse of desert dubbed "Séítah".  its next journey is expected to span some 1,150 feet — while avoiding a hill.

The chopper will accompany the car-sized Perseverance rover on a journey through the dry river delta, a place planetary scientists suspect once teemed with water.

10 March 2022

Mars helicopter Ingenuity aces 20th flight; passes anniversary of first flight

The 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) Ingenuity landed on the floor of Jezero Crater with NASA's life-hunting, sample-caching Perseverance rover on Feb. 18, 2021.  Pn Friday, February 25, Ingenuity notched yet another milestone, this one of the round-number variety — its 20th Martian sortie.

"Flight 20 was a success! In its 130.3 seconds of flight, the #MarsHelicopter covered 391 meters [1,283 feet] at a speed of 4.4 meters per second [9.8 mph], bringing it closer to @NASAPersevere's landing location."

Ingenuity and Perseverance spent their first (Earth) year on Mars exploring locales to the south and west of their touchdown zone.  The duo are now heading back toward the landing site, on their way to more exciting real estate beyond.

"The delta in Jezero Crater is the reason we chose the landing site, and we hope to get to it later this spring."  Ingenuity is helping Perseverance get there, capturing airborne imagery that allows the rover's handlers to choose the safest and most efficient route toward the delta region.

26 Febuary 2022

When we saw one of the James Webb Space Telescope's first images earlier this month, it was made up of 18 versions of the same star coming from 18 different mirrors.  On Friday, NASA shared a view of that star again, but this time as a single, shining object.

The Webb team will continue to fine-tune the mirrors to "make the single dot of starlight progressively sharper and more focused in the coming weeks."  The mirror-alignment process started in early February and is expected to last three months. Each successful step brings Webb closer to full operation.

Thought for the Day

On this day, 26 February in 1616, the Roman Catholic Church banned Galileo Galilei from teaching or defending the view that the Earth orbits the Sun.

To put this in context, the Magellan expedition had completed the first recorded circumnavigation of the Earth in 1522 – 94 years prior.

Later, in 1633, Galileo, under threat of torture and facing his inquisitors, recanted.  But as he left the courtroom, he is said to have muttered, ‘all the same, it moves’.

It took the Church until 1822 to admit its mistake, and it was only in November of 1992 that the Vatican admitted Galileo was right.  At a ceremony in Rome, before the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope John Paul II officially declared that Galileo was right.

17 Febuary 2022

Mars helicopter Ingenuity aces 19th flight after historic Red Planet weather delay

The dust storm couldn't keep NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity grounded forever.  The 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) Ingenuity aced a 100-second sortie on February 8th, its 19th Red Planet flight overall but its first since December 15.

The flight had originally been targeted for January 5.  But on New Year's Day, a big dust storm kicked up near the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater, which Ingenuity and its robotic partner, NASA's Perseverance rover, have been exploring since February 2021.

The Ingenuity team decided to stand down until the dust storm passed, making Ingenuity the first aircraft ever to have a flight delayed by inclement weather on another planet.

Two main factors underlay the decision to delay.  First, Ingenuity is solar powered, so lots of dust in the air could affect its ability to recharge its batteries.  Second, airborne dust absorbs solar radiation and heats up the surrounding atmosphere, thinning it out slightly.  That may not sound like a big deal, but Mars' air is just 1% as dense as that of Earth at sea level, so flying there is tricky even in the best of circumstances. The delay turned out to be the right call.  The dust storm did indeed roll over Jezero Crater, and the effects were observed by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the weather station aboard Perseverance, and Ingenuity's sensors.

About a 7% ddrop in air density was observed, which put density below the lower threshold of safe flight and would have imparted undue risk to the spacecraft.

The dust also reduced the amount of sunlight absorbed by Ingenuity's solar array, which fell about 18% below normal 'clear sky' levels.

The flight took Ingenuity out of a rugged patch of Jezero's floor known as South Séítah, over a ridge and onto a plateau.  Ingenuity stayed aloft for 99.98 seconds and covered about 205 feet (62 meters).

3 Febuary 2022

Dust storm grounded Mars helicopter, but it's ready to fly again

One of the Red Planet's famous dust storms has kept the Mars helicopter Ingenuity grounded for two weeks, but the aircraft is scheduled for its 19th flight as early as Sunday, according to NASA.

Around the first of the year, NASA planned Flight 19 of the tiny, 4-pound helicopter on Jan. 5. But weather forecasters on Ingenuity's team in California noticed signs of the approaching dust storm.

Ingenuity is holding up much better than anyone expected.  NASA designed the aerial drone to demonstrate powered, controlled flight on another planet for the first time in a 30-day mission.  But Ingenuity has been functioning nominally for over nine months.  "We do not see significant signs of wear to any components.  However ... the Mars helicopter has numerous off-the-shelf parts that were not designed for space exploration."

"A strong regional dust storm appeared on the first day of the new year, encompassing Jezero crater just as we scheduled Flight 19.  We have never seen a storm of this strength so early in the Mars year before."  Instruments on the nearby Perseverance rover and on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that circles Mars indicated the storm could arrive just as Flight 19 took off.  Dust storms have two negative impacts on Ingenuity.  First, they obscure sunlight needed for the aircraft's solar panels.  Secondly, suspended dust particles are heated by sunlight which makes the air less dense -- a problem for the helicopter's rotors.  The dust storm resulted in an 18% drop in the amount of power flowing to Ingenuity's batteries from its solar panels, and air density dropped below safe thresholds.

Ingenuity is due to fly about 207 feet on Flight 19, heading north back toward its original landing field, in preparation for it to scout further northern pathways for Perseverance, ahead of an approach to an ancient river delta that is still 1.5 miles away.

20 January 2022

Tonga volcano helping space scientists understand Mars

NASA scientists say that the eruption of a submarine volcano in Tonga is helping them to understand how features formed on the surfaces of Mars and Venus.

The explosion has been calculated at more than 500 times the force of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.

The volcanic island, which began to form from ash and lava expelled from an undersea volcano in early 2015, piqued the interest of researchers because of its similarity to structures on Mars and possibly also Venus.  “We don’t normally get to see islands form.”  But this one offered “a front-row seat”.

Submarine eruptions differ significantly from those that occur on land, and can produce different landforms.  The presence of large quantities of sea water can make the explosions more violent, while also rapidly cooling the lava and restricting the amount of gas emitted from it.

16 January 2022

Device Diagnoses COVID-19 from Saliva

Engineers at MIT and Harvard University have designed a small tabletop device that can detect SARS-CoV-2 from a saliva sample in about an hour.  In a new study, they showed that the diagnostic is just as accurate as the PCR tests now used.

The device can also be used to detect specific viral mutations linked to some of the SARS-CoV-2 variants that are now circulating.

The device produces a fluorescent readout that can be seen with the naked eye, and the researchers also designed a smartphone app that can read the results and send them to public health departments for easier tracking.

The new diagnostic can be assembled for about $15, but those costs could come down to a cost as low as $2 to $3 per device if the devices were produced at large scale.

13 January 2022

Ingenuity's 19th flight – may have had a problem attempting takeoff

Red supergiant star's death witnessed by astronomers for the first time

Researchers had detected bright radiation from the red supergiant for the last year, and it was under observation during the last 130 days before it collapsed into a Type II supernova.

"Direct detection of pre-supernova activity in a red supergiant star has never been observed before in an ordinary type II supernova.  For the first time, we watched a red supergiant star explode."

The observational data suggests that at least some stars must undergo significant changes in their internal structure, leading to the ejection of gas ahead of their collapse.  The data revealed evidence of dense circumstellar material around the star at the time of the explosion.

Further monitoring post-explosion and additional data helped researchers to determine that the red supergiant star was 10 times more massive than the sun.

"I am most excited by all of the new ‘unknowns’ that have been unlocked by this discovery."

James Webb Space Telescope is fully deployed

"#NASAWebb is fully deployed!  With the successful deployment & latching of our last mirror wing, that's: 50 major deployments, complete.  178 pins, released.  20+ years of work, realized," the agency tweeted.  "Next to #UnfoldTheUniverse:  traveling out to our orbital destination of Lagrange point 2!"

"This is the last of the major deployments on the observatory, and its completion will set the stage for the remaining five and a half months of commissioning, which consist of settling into stable operating temperature, aligning the mirrors and calibrating the science instruments."

There are another five-and-a-half months of set-up activities on the docket before Webb will be ready to deliver its first images.  The next step will be a multi-day, multi-step mission to activate and move each of Webb's 18 primary mirror segments out of their launch configuration.

Webb has a million-mile journey to reach its destination – in another two weeks – where it can orbit the sun in line with the Earth.  The trip takes the JWST to the second Lagrange (L2) point, a point that enables continuous communications with Webb through the Deep Space Network.

The telescope will "explore every phase of cosmic history," according to NASA, peering back 13.7 billion years.  "Webb will reveal new and unexpected discoveries and help humanity understand the origins of the universe and our place in it.  The promise of Webb is not what we know we will discover; it’s what we don’t yet understand or can’t yet fathom about our universe."

China to complete major space station in 2022

China has recommitted itself to completing its orbiting space station by the end of the year and says it is planning more than 40 launches for 2022, putting it roughly level with the United States.  Launches would include those of two Shenzhou crewed missions, two Tianzhou cargo spacecraft and the station’s additional two modules.  Named Mengtian and Wentian, the science modules will join the Tianhe core module that is currently home to a three-person crew.

Among the most anticipated is the launch expected around March of the Space Launch System — a 1,010-meter (332-foot-) rocket slated for future lunar missions.

The current six-month mission Shenzhou-13 by the crew aboard Tianhe is China’s longest since it first put a human in space in 2003, becoming only the third country to do so after Russia and the U.S.

Upon completion, the station will weigh about 66 tons, about a quarter the size of the International Space Station.  The ISS launched its first module in 1998 and weighs around 450 tons.

2 January 2022

Cloth masks do not protect against Omicron

Single-layer cloth masks may not provide adequate protection against the very infectious omicron variant of COVID-19.  Cloth masks can only block larger droplets of COVID-19, not smaller aerosols or particles that can also carry the virus.

N95 masks protect against Omicron.  Surgical masks block the COVID-19 virus through its polypropylene electrostatic charge characteristics, while N95 masks have a tighter mesh of fibers than surgical or cloth masks with also electrostatic charge characteristics, which allows the mask to be most efficient at blocking inhaled and exhaled particles.

However, more research is needed to know if surgical masks will protect against the very contagious omicron variant.  "If everyone is just wearing a cloth mask or just a surgical mask, it won’t make any difference" against the omicron variant.

28 December 2021

Pfizer antiviral pills may be risky with other medications

Many people prescribed Pfizer’s or Merck’s new medications will require careful monitoring by doctors and pharmacists, and the antivirals may not be safe for everyone.

One of the two drugs in the antiviral cocktail could cause severe or life-threatening interactions with widely used medications, including statins, blood thinners and some antidepressants.  People with severe kidney or liver disease should also not take the drug.

26 December 2021

NASA Picks Orbital Reef to Develop New Space Station

NASA has selected Orbital Reef as the successor to the International Space Station (ISS).  The goal of Orbital Reef is to create a “mixed-use business park” in space. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, alongside Sierra Space, were picked by NASA to design a commercially owned and operated space station in low-Earth orbit (LEO). The move comes as NASA hopes to stimulate research and exploration before the retirement of the ISS, expected in 2030.

Boeing, Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering Solutions, and Arizona State University will all be included on the Orbital Reef team.  Each member of the Orbital Reef team will have a substantial role to play in its development.

Orbital Reef will operate as a “mixed-used business park” that will provide the first opportunity to visit space for smaller countries, companies, and organizations.  Blue Origin says the Orbital Reef station will be able to house 10 occupants.

“Blue Origin and Sierra Space are committed to the realization of our vision of enabling humanity to build civilizations in space while enhancing life here on Earth.  The commercialization of low Earth orbit is an important first step in this journey.  We look forward to working with NASA on this important program that will advance humanity’s settlement of space.”

25 December 2021

NASA launches $10 billion telescope into space, marking new era of discovery

It was the best Christmas present NASA could have asked for.  The agency’s James Webb Space Telescope ("JWST"), the world’s largest and most powerful telescope built to date, successfully blasted into orbit Saturday.  The launch marked the long-awaited start of the Webb telescope’s mission, after more than 30 years of development and countless delays.

The $10-billion observatory, billed as the successor to the iconic Hubble Space Telescope, is designed to study the early days of the universe, roughly 100 million years after the Big Bang, when the first stars flickered on in the cosmos.

It was launched atop an Ariane 5 rocket at 7:20 a.m. ET from a European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.  Now in space, the telescope begins a monthlong journey to its designated orbit around the sun, more than a million miles away from Earth at the Lagrange point L2.

The Webb telescope’s primary mirror measures more than 21 feet across, making it the largest to fly in space.  The mirror’s size, which dwarfs that of Hubble and other existing space telescopes, gives Webb the sensitivity to see celestial objects that were previously undetectable.

If all goes well, the sunshield will be opened three days after liftoff, taking at least five days to unfold and lock into place. Next, the mirror segments should open up like the leaves of a drop-leaf table, 12 days or so into the flight.

Telescopes essentially function as time machines because it takes time for light to travel through space.  This means that when Webb studies light from the most distant galaxies in the cosmos, the telescope is actually observing how the universe was billions of years ago.

Before Webb begins collecting any science or snapping any photos of the cosmos, the telescope will undergo a rigorous six-month commissioning period to calibrate its instruments and assess the health of its various components. NASA is shooting for 10 years of operational life from Webb. Engineers deliberately left the fuel tank accessible for a top-off by visiting spacecraft, if and when such technology becomes available.

When Hubble was released, "I never would have believed that it would still be going strong almost 32 years later,” Retired astronaut-astronomer Steven Hawley, now professor emeritus at the University of Kansas, said. “I hope that in 32 years we’ll be able to say that JWST did as well.”

20 December 2021

Mars helicopter Ingenuity aces 18th Red Planet flight

Ingenuity just keeps going.

NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter acquired the image at right of its own shadow with its navigation camera on Dec. 15, 2021, during the robot’s 18th Red Planet flight.  (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Ingenuity successfully completed its 18th flight, adding 124.3 seconds to its overall time aloft on the Red Planet.

Ingenuity covered 754 feet (230 meters) of ground while cruising at 5.6 mph (9.0 kph) during the flight, which took place on Wednesday, December 15th.

Ingenuity has now spent nearly 33 minutes aloft in the Martian air and visited 10 different Red Planet airfields.

"Few thought we would make it to flight one, fewer still to five.  And no one thought we would make it this far."

17 December 2021

Full vaccination against COVID-19 and a breakthrough infection builds 'super immunity'

People fully vaccinated against COVID-19 who have a breakthrough infection end up with "super immunity."

"The bottom line of the study is that vaccine provides you with foundational immunity for whatever comes next."

The people who were vaccinated and then got COVID-19 showed a substantial increase in antibody levels.  "The increases were substantial, up to a 1,000% increase and sometimes up to 2,000%, so it's really high immunity."

Multiple other studies have shown that infection with COVID-19 followed by one dose of the vaccine is very protective against re-infection.

“This is one of the first that shows a breakthrough infection following vaccination generates stronger immunity than prior infection or vaccination alone.”

As the highly contagious omicron variant continues to spread in the United States, the findings will be of interest to many, and "is likely what the future will hold for most vaccinated individuals."  Omicron appears to be able to infect even fully vaccinated people, though they so far appear to come down with mild or even asymptomatic cases of COVID-19.

16 December 2021

NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity passes 30 minutes of total air time

After a 117-second Mars sortie on Dec. 5, the total flight time for the Ingenuity helicopter is 30 minutes and 48 seconds after 17 total flights.

"Ingenuity is in excellent condition," JPL stated, which put the little drone at a go for making its 18th flight this week.

The flight plan for No. 18 will see Ingenuity fly 754 feet (230 meters) and reach a top speed of 5.6 mph (9 kph) over 125 seconds.  This will bring the helicopter to a new airfield, near the northern boundary of a region named Séítah.

Ingenuity's radio range and performance will be tested to an extreme degree on this flight, and as such, engineers decided to have the helicopter communicate back to the Perseverance rover using a low data-rate mode.

"If we do lose radio link on landing, it may be several days or weeks until the line-of-sight between Ingenuity and Perseverance improves enough to attempt a communication session," Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity team lead, said in the same statement.

10 December 2021

Ingenuity's Technical Specifications
and Flight Log

See also images and videos.

8 December 2021

Ingenuity's Flight 17 – Discovering Limits

Topography Between Mars Helicopter and Rover for Flight 17:  In this annotated image, Ingenuity’s flight path is depicted in yellow.  Perseverance’s location is indicated in the upper left, with the blue line depicting its line of sight to the helicopter’s Flight 17 landing spot.  The topographic map below it indicates the altitude of surface features between the rover and helicopter.  Credits:  NASA/JPL-Caltech.  Download image.

Ingenuity flew for the 17th time at Mars on Sunday, Dec. 5. After the helicopter executed the planned 614-foot (187-meter) traverse to the northeast, the radio communications link between Ingenuity and the Perseverance Mars rover was disrupted during the final descent phase of the flight.  Approximately 15 minutes later, Perseverance received several packets of additional Ingenuity telemetry indicating that the flight electronics and battery were healthy.

Ingenuity was tasked with flying to a landing site which placed a 13-foot (4 meter) hill called “Bras” (named after a commune in France) in the Line OfSight between the two antennas.  With a cruise altitude of 33-feet (10 meters), Bras presented little obstruction to our radio link during the majority of the flight.  But as Ingenuity began to descend, the line of sight between the rover and helicopter antennas began to become obstructed/shadowed by Bras.

When Flight 17 was originally planned, the rover Perseverance was expected to be parked in a specific location and oriented in a certain direction.  However, Perseverance’s plans change day to day to maximize overall science return.  By the time Flight 17 was ready for execution, Perseverance had driven to a new location and parked along a challenging heading for radio communications.

Since the start of the helicopters operations demonstration, the potential for radio loss on landing has been expected due to the nature of our more challenging flights.  Ingenuity was designed to handle these situations by automatically powering down after a flight and awaiting further instructions on subsequent sols, which is expected to be the case following Flight 17.  These challenges are part of the lessons learned in integrating aerial exploration activities within the complexity of daily rover operations.

We believe the flight was a success because nothing in what we see from the available helicopter suggests otherwise.  Telemetry is nominal leading right up to the moment that the radio link halted.  Even more telling are the data packets received 15 minutes after the time landing should have occurred.  These packets included samples of our battery voltage indicating a +76 millivolts, or a +1.2% state-of-charge increase over 15 minutes.  In other words, the battery was being charged by the helicopter’s solar array. This high level of battery charging could only be possible with an upright vehicle, with its solar array pointing to the Martian sky.

The first opportunity to downlink the missing data from Flight 17 will be no earlier than Wednesday, after which the team will finalize its health assessment.  Temporary loss of radio link is a natural part of helicopter operations at the Red Planet.

5 December 2021

Antarctica's last 6 months were the coldest on record

"For the polar darkness period, from April through September, the average temperature was -60.9 degrees Celsius (-77.6 degrees Fahrenheit), a record for those months," the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said.

25 November 2021

Ingenuity's 16th flight another success

The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory said the helicopter captured color images of Mars' surface during the flight, which saw it travel 116 meters northeast for 109 seconds.

The 16th flight over seven months far exceeds NASA's original plans to send the helicopter on just five flights in 30 days on Mars.

"Mars helicopter continues to thrive!" the lab wrote on Twitter.

22 November 2021

Video by Perseverance of Ingenuity's 13th flight

19 November 2021

Planning for Ingenuity's 16th flight

Flight 16 will be a shorter, 109-second flight.  Ingenuity will climb up to 33 feet (10 meters), glide over the “Raised Ridges” at 3 mph (1.5 meters per second), then land near the edge of “South Séítah,” covering a distance of 380 feet (116 meters).  We plan to capture a series of nine color Return-to-Earth (RTE) camera images evenly spaced throughout the flight, oriented to the southwest and opposite the flight path.

If we could fly all the way across Séítah on Flight 9, why are we breaking the return path into multiple segments?  As discussed in the Flight 9 retrospective post, the terrain of Séítah is particularly challenging for Ingenuity’s navigation algorithm.  Because the navigation algorithm assumes flat terrain, any changes to the terrain height introduces heading error.  On Flight 9, Ingenuity landed 154 feet (47 meters) away from the center of our 164-foot-(50-meter)-radius target airfield.  The heading error on Flight 9 was less of a concern because the terrain of South Séítah was benign and allowed a large degree of uncertainty in our landed position.  However, the terrain on the north side of Séítah is rockier.  As a result, we have to be more precise in our landing location on the return path.  Flight 16 will tackle the tricky terrain of the Raised Ridges.  By doing a short flight over these ridges, we reduce accumulated heading error that can build up over longer flights.

Flight 16 will set up Ingenuity for a Séítah crossing on Flight 17, getting us closer to the current goal of Wright Brothers Field.

18 November 2021

Ingenuity technical report after 15th flight

Ingenuity has been dealing with declining atmospheric pressure for some weeks, as the Martian seasons roll ahead.  As if it wasn’t tough enough piloting a space helicopter on Mars, a mystery wobble is forcing NASA to decide whether to patch Ingenuity’s flight software.

Just after flight 13, telemetry reported a mechanical wobble in the swash plate atop Ingenuity’s rotor shaft.  Eventually, it was traced to a minute oscillation that appeared to come from two of the six flight control servos.  Thanks to the infuriating nature of intermittent problems, it showed up once and then vanished, and so far the problem isn’t easily repeatable.  Mission scientists have tested the helicopter with a series of “servo wiggles,” but have been unable to reproduce the same deviation.

After more than a dozen successful outbound flights, the helicopter turned and began to make its way toward home base with a two-minute flight, the first of perhaps half a dozen that Ingenuity will make before it reaches Perseverance.  These high-RPM test flights are critical because they allow mission control to test its models for flight in an extremely low-pressure environment.

Mars’ northern hemisphere is in the middle of summer, which means that its already delicate surface pressure drops by a third, settling at a wispy one percent of the sea-level pressure here on Earth.  With fewer air molecules to push around, Ingenuity has to spin its rotor up to higher and higher speeds in order to stay aloft.  But these more demanding flights also generate data on critical high-RPM motor performance, which the team will use to design and tailor upcoming low-density flights in the months ahead.

The space copter’s current mission is to rendezvous with Perseverance, scouting its path for a northward sortie along the eastern edge of the Seitah region.

11 November 2021

Ingenuity completes 15th flight

The flight covered 1,332 feet (406 meters), traveling at 11.1 mph (17.9 kph), and flew about 39 feet (12 m) above the ground.

Ingenuity has recently been studying a patch of Jezero called South Séítah, but flight 15 began a journey back toward Wright Brothers Field, the site of the rotorcraft's first-ever Martian flight.

It will take a total of four to seven flights to return to Wright Brothers Field.  "Along the way, the project is considering preparing a flight software upgrade for our helicopter which will potentially enable new navigation capabilities onboard, and better prepare Ingenuity for the challenges ahead."

Perseverance will do some similar backtracking.  After getting to Wright Brothers Field, the two robotic explorers will travel north together up the east side of the Seitah region.  They'll then head west toward the edge of the ancient river delta that made Jezero such an attractive landing spot for the life-hunting Perseverance.

Flight 15 was Ingenuity's second since solar conjunction, a two-week stretch during which the sun comes between Mars and Earth.  NASA stops commanding its Red Planet robots during this time, because our star can corrupt interplanetary communications.

The recent flight was also the second in which Ingenuity spun its rotors at 2,700 revolutions per minute (RPM), compared to about 2,500 RPM on the first 13 flights.  The increase was necessitated by a seasonal shift on Jezero's floor;  it's summer there now, and the air is less dense than it was before.

10 November 2021

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket blasts off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

The Crew Dragon capsule, sitting atop the Falcon 9 rocket, will take the Crew-3 expedition to the International Space Station, replacing the Crew-2 of NASA, European, and Japanese astronauts who returned to earth Monday.

The crew is expected to arrive at the ISS roughly 24 hours after liftoff.  Their mission, which will include science experiments, maintaining the ISS, and spacewalks, will last six months.

Below:  the International Space Station is seen as astronauts in the SpaceX Dragon capsule undock on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021.

27 October 2021

Ingenuity completes 14th flight

NASA announced Monday that the Mars helicopter Ingenuity has successfully performed a short Martian flight to test summer weather conditions.  As weather at Jezero Crater gets warmer, the aircraft's rotors must turn faster to achieve flight, so engineers have programmeded a quick hop to test the helicopter's performance.

"This test also leaves the team room for an rpm increase if needed for future flights."

Ingenuity and the rover Perseverance emerged from an almost-complete blackout in communication Thursday after Earth and Mars moved out of Solar conjunction.

Images sent by the Perseverance rover:

22 October 2021

"Gain of Function" - Research Beyond Sensible

What is Gain-of-Function Research & Who is at High Risk?

“Gain-of-function” is the euphemism for biological research aimed at increasing the virulence and lethality of pathogens and viruses. GoF research is government funded.

In 1992, Meryl Nass, MD, analyzed the characteristics of an anthrax epidemic in Zimbabwe, Rhodesia in 1978-1980, that was claimed to be a natural occurrence.  Dr. Nass demonstrated that the pattern of the epidemic, the spread, and weather conditions, could not have occurred due to a natural event; it must, therefore, have been triggered as a bioweapon.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has headed the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984, has played a major role in promoting and funding gain-of-function research, both in the US and China.  Newsweek reported: “He argued that the research was worth the risk it entailed because it enables scientists to make preparations [ ] that could be useful if and when a pandemic occurred.”

Those claims are belied by the empirical evidence.  GoF experiments have neither prevented a pandemic, nor provided useful information about safe and effective pandemic countermeasures.  Numerous prominent scientists argue that these experiments deviate from morally justifiable research, and the experimentally altered pathogens have put the entire human species at risk.

Critics cite the Nuremberg Code prohibition against conducting experiments that pose a risk to human life.

Dr. Marc Lipsitch, director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at Harvard School of Public Health stated that recent disease-enhancing experiments “have given us modest scientific knowledge and done almost nothing to improve our preparedness for pandemics, and yet [these experiments] risked creating an accidental pandemic.”

Investigative reporter Sam Husseini, the communications director of the non-profit, Institute for Public Accuracy, who has closely followed this line of research, states there are probably hundreds of high containment biosafety (BSL-3 and BSL-4) laboratories. As of 2017, at least 263 laboratories were registered in the US as level BSL-3 and level BSL-4.

The journal SCIENCE reported that multiple laboratory accidents at CDC’s highest security laboratories released smallpox vials, anthrax samples, H5N1 influenza samples, and H9N2 avian influenza pathogen.  The lapses, Science reported, “at the world-renowned infectious disease research agency, are sure to raise questions about safety at other labs studying highly pathogenic agents, including university labs that are modifying influenza strains to make them more virulent."

A New York Times editorial in 2012, dubbed an experiment to develop a more-contagious flu “An Engineered Doomsday.”

Remember when Doctors' moral code was, "Do no harm." ??

19 October 2021

The FDA’s War Against the Truth on Ivermectin

On July 28, the Wall Street Journal ran the article “Why Is the FDA Attacking a Safe, Effective Drug?”  In it was outlined the potential value of the antiparasitic drug ivermectin for Covid-19.  The FDA’s vigorous attack on ivermectin was questioned.

Ivermectin is a promising Covid treatment and prophylaxis, but the agency is denigrating it, and the FDA’s warning on ivermectin was exagerated.  The agency changed its website after the article was published, seemingly to reflect the points being made.

Ivermectin was developed and marketed by Merck & Co.  Dr. William C. Campbell and Professor Satoshi Omura were awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, for discovering and developing avermectin.  Later Campbell and some associates modified avermectin to create ivermectin.  Merck & Co. has donated four billion doses of ivermectin to prevent river blindness and other diseases in areas of the world, such as Africa, where parasites are common.  The ten doctors who are in the Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance call ivermectin “one of the safest, low-cost, and widely available drugs in the history of medicine.”  Ivermectin is on the WHO’s List of Essential Medicines and ivermectin has been used safely in pregnant women, children, and infants.

Ivermectin is an antiparasitic, but it has shown, in cell cultures in laboratories, the ability to destroy 21 viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the cause of Covid-19.  Further, ivermectin has demonstrated its potential in clinical trials for the treatment of Covid-19 and in large-scale population studies for the prevention of Covid-19.

Contradicting these positive results, the FDA issued a special statement warning that “you should not use ivermectin to treat or prevent Covid-19.” The FDA’s warning, which included language such as, “serious harm,” “hospitalized,” “dangerous,” “very dangerous,” “seizures,” “coma and even death,” and “highly toxic,” might suggest that the FDA was warning against pills laced with poison.  In fact, the FDA had already approved the drug years ago as a safe and effective anti-parasitic.  Why would it suddenly become dangerous if used to treat Covid-19?  Further, the FDA claimed, with no scientific basis, that ivermectin is not an antiviral, notwithstanding its proven antiviral activity.

At the bottom of the FDA’s strong warning against ivermectin was this statement:  “Meanwhile, 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.”  Was this based on the kinds of double-blind studies that the FDA requires for drug approvals?  No.

he FDA judges all drugs as guilty until proven, to the FDA’s satisfaction, both safe and efficacious.  By what process does this happen?  The FDA waits for a deep-pocketed sponsor to present a comprehensive package that justifies the approval of a new drug or a new use of an existing drug.  For a drug like ivermectin, long since generic, a sponsor may never show up.  The reason is not that the drug is ineffective; rather, the reason is that any expenditures used to secure approval for that new use will help other generic manufacturers that haven’t invested a dime.  Due to generic drug substitution rules at pharmacies, Merck could spend millions of dollars to get a Covid-19 indication for ivermectin and then effectively get zero return.  What company would ever make that investment?

Was the FDA’s warning against ivermectin based on science?  No.  It was based on process.  Like a typical bureaucrat, the FDA won’t recommend the use of ivermectin because, while it might help patients, such a recommendation would violate its processes.

We should realize that the FDA’s rules give companies an incentive to focus on newer drugs while ignoring older ones.  Ivermectin may or may not be a miracle drug for Covid-19.  The FDA doesn’t want us to learn the truth.

12 October 2021

University of Georgia scientists confirm first North American record of East Asian Joro spider

At almost 3 inches across when their legs are fully extended, they’re hard to miss.  While they’re roughly the same size as banana spiders and yellow garden spiders, the distinctive yellow and blue-black stripes on their backs and bright red markings on their undersides are unique.  Their enormous three-dimensional webs are a striking golden color and tend to be located higher off the ground than those of other spiders.

Joro spiders have spread widely since they were first spotted in Hoschton, Georgia, in 2013.  They probably arrived by hitching a ride in a shipping container from China or Japan.  Now, five years later, Joro spiders appear to have successfully established themselves in the area, with recent confirmed reports from as far afield as Blairsville, Georgia, and Greenville, South Carolina.

Joro spiders also appear to be able to capture and feed on at least one insect that other local spiders are not:  adult brown marmorated stink bugs, an invasive pest that can infest houses and damage crops.  In turn, Joro spiders are vulnerable to predators like mud dauber wasps and birds.  Also, dewdrop spiders, a kleptoparasite—as the name implies, which steal food from others,—have been spotted in Joro webs.

Joro spiders do not pose a threat to people.  “All spiders have venom that they use to subdue prey.  If you put your hand in front of one and try to make it bite you, it probably will.  But they run if you disturb their web.  They’re trying to get out of the way.”  Joros can be shooed away with a broom if they’re in a location that puts them too close for comfort.  “Should you try to get rid of them?  You can, but at this point, they’re here to stay.”

Original story:  University of Georgia scientists confirm first North American record of East Asian Joro spider.

8 October 2021

Scientists say that eating chocolate every day is good for your brain

At the University of L’Aquila, Italy, researchers discovered that regularly eating chocolate protects your brain from cognitive impairment.

Chocolate is full of antioxidants and iron.

7 October 2021

Map of Pangea With Modern-Day Borders

This video shows the expected drift of the Eart's continents over the next 250 million years.

6 October 2021

2,800 RPM Spin a Success, but Flight 14 Delayed to Post Conjunction

We were getting ready to begin flying with a higher rotor speed to compensate for decreasing atmospheric density caused by seasonal changes on Mars.  The high-speed spin test was completed successfully on Sept. 15th.

A test flight was scheduled to take place on Sept. 18, 2021 (Sol 206) and was supposed to be a brief hover flight at 16 feet (5 meters) altitude with a 2,700 rpm rotor speed.  It turned out to be an uneventful flight, because Ingenuity decided to not take off.  Ingenuity detected an anomaly in two of the small flight-control servo motors during its automatic pre-flight checkout and did exactly what it was supposed to do:  it canceled the flight.

Ingenuity performs an automated check on the servos before every flight.  This self-test drives the six servos through a sequence of steps over their range of motion and verifies that they reach their commanded positions after each step.

The data from the anomalous pre-flight servo wiggle shows that two of the upper rotor swashplate servos – servos 1 and 2 – began to oscillate with an amplitude of approximately 1 degree about their commanded positions just after the second step of the sequence.  Ingenuity’s software detected this oscillation and promptly canceled the self-test and flight.  Two additional wiggle tests ran successfully, so the issue isn’t entirely repeatable.

One theory for what is happening is that moving parts in the servo gearboxes and swashplate linkages are beginning to show some wear now that Ingenuity has flown well over twice as many flights (13) as originally planned (5).  Wear in these moving parts would cause increased clearances and increased looseness, and could explain servo oscillation.

Mars will be in solar conjunction until mid-October, and we won’t be uplinking any command sequences to Ingenuity during that time.  Conjunction is a special period in which Mars moves behind the Sun (as seen from Earth), making communications with spacecraft on Mars unreliable.  Ingenuity will not be completely idle during this time, however; Ingenuity and Perseverance will be configured to keep each other company by communicating roughly once a week, with Ingenuity sending basic system health information to its base station on Perseverance.  We will receive this data on Earth once we come out of conjunction, and will learn how Ingenuity performs over an extended period of relative inactivity on Mars.

4 October 2021

China Purchased Mass Quantity of PCR Tests Months Before First Reported Case of COVID

Chinese labs in Wuhan purchased an increased quantity of coronavirus testing equipment several months before the first virus case was reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) in December 2019.

Data procured by the Australian-U.S. cyber security firm Internet 2.0 found that there was a buy-up of polymerase chain reaction testing equipment (PCR) by nearly 50 percent throughout 2019.  PCR tests are widely used to determine if an individual is infected with COVID-19 as it allows scientists to amplify DNA samples to check for disease or other genetic material.

The increase in purchases began in May 2019, but became most significant in July—five months before the nation identified its first COVID-19 case to the WHO.

In 2019, there were 135 contracts containing PCR equipment issued by Wuhan laboratories, up from 89 in 2018 and 72 in 2017.  Financial investment on PCR equipment increased by nearly 600 percent from 2015 to 2019 in Wuhan.

"It also shows there's a significant amount of procurement from the government level, the PLA and the Centre for Disease Control, as well as sensitive laboratories that are in the Hubei province."

The origins of the COVID-19 pandemic have become a hotly contested issue since it was first discovered as an unknown pneumonia-like disease in late 2019.  Since then, the virus has spread to virtually every corner of the world, infecting over 235 million people and killing more than 4.8 million.

26 September 2021

Natural immunity emerges as potential legal challenge to federal COVID-19 vaccination mandates

The argument that natural immunity against COVID-19 is an alternative to vaccination is emerging as a potential legal challenge to federally mandated vaccination policies.

“I think that a judge might reject a rule that's been issued by a body, like the U.S. Department of Labor or by a state, that has not been sufficiently thought through as it relates to the science.”

Some recent research, which looks at hundreds of thousands of cases in Israel and has yet to undergo peer review, indicates that natural immunity might be at least as effective as vaccination in certain people.

Monoclonal Antibodies for High-risk COVID-19 Positive Patients

Monoclonal antibody (mAb) treatment can reduce the amount of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19) in a person's system.  This amount is known as viral load.  Having a lower viral load means you may have milder symptoms thereby decreasing the likelihood of you needing to stay in the hospital.

10 September 2021

NASA:  Flying the Mars Ingenuity helicopter is 'getting harder and harder'

Mars is throwing some obstacles into Ingenuity's flight path.  The density of the atmosphere in the Jezero Crater is dropping, a factor which has "a significant impact on Ingenuity's ability to fly."

Atmospheric density -- which can fluctuate over time and with seasonal changes -- affects how much thrust Ingenuity needs to get off the ground and climb through the air.  Lower density makes it more difficult to do these tasks.

Ingenuity was optimized to work in an atmosphere on Mars that is about 1.2-1.5% of Earth's at sea level, but the rotorcraft has stuck around long enough to experience a change in conditions.

Ingenuity "did a rotor spin test at 2,800 rpm.  Next up – flight 14 – will be a short hop to confirm rpm settings for future scouting efforts that could take place in lower atmospheric densities.  The motors will need to spin faster, the electrical system will need to deliver more power, and the entire rotor system will need to withstand the higher loads that come with increased rotor speeds."

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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