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After an antenna repair on Earth, NASA is now able to command Voyager 2 again – CTV News

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Election Day may have us tied up in anxious knots today. But we can also take solace in the fact that nearly 12 billion miles away, one of humanity’s greatest achievements is twinkling back at us, and our understanding of the mysteries of the universe continues to unfold.

After a seven-month hiatus without being able to command Voyager 2, NASA is now able to communicate new directions and procedures to the craft, the agency announced.

The Voyager 2 space probe, launched in August 1977, has been traveling outward for more than 43 years visiting Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Repairs and upgrades by the team at NASA have been underway since mid-March at Deep Space Station 43 in Canberra, Australia. That station is the only antenna in the world capable of communicating with the probe. That’s due to Voyager 2’s position in deep space, the antenna’s location in the Southern Hemisphere and the fact that the antenna can interface with the probe’s 1970s technology.

Operators were making needed repairs to its dish, which measures 70 meters, or 230 feet across. One of its two radio transmitters hadn’t been upgraded in 47 years.

Mission operators on Thursday night sent a test signal to Voyager 2, which is now in interstellar space. The craft pinged back on Monday morning. Voyager 2 acknowledged the signal and executed the command that mission controllers had sent.

“What makes this task unique is that we’re doing work at all levels of the antenna, from the pedestal at ground level all the way up to the feedcones (which house portions of the antenna receivers) at the center of the dish that extend above the rim,” said Brad Arnold, project manager for the Deep Space Network at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“This test communication with Voyager 2 definitely tells us that things are on track with the work we’re doing,” he added in the news release.

The upgrades are expected to be fully completed in February 2021.

 

In interstellar space

 

Voyager 2 became the second human-made craft to cross into interstellar space in 2018, after its twin Voyager 1 accomplished that feat in 2012.

Though mission operators couldn’t issue commands to Voyager 2 for a time period about as long as the coronavirus pandemic, they have continued to receive sensor data from the probe. Both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are just outside the heliosphere, a bubble of magnetic fields and particles created by the sun.

“We’ve always been talking to the spacecraft. We’ve been doing that daily,” said Suzanne Dodd, the director of JPL’s Interplanetary Network Directorate, and project manager for the Voyager Interstellar Mission. “We can see the health of it. If it wasn’t healthy, we would have known.”

However, during the repairs, if there had been an issue with the craft, NASA didn’t have a way to tell it quickly to adjust course.

Because Voyager 1 and 2’s onboard systems are so old, they have 200,000 times less memory than a smartphone, she explained. That primitive technology, with less complexity, could be a boon to the probe’s longevity, more than four decades strong.

“That’s probably one of the reasons they’ve lasted this long, just because they’re so simple,” she said. “The Voyagers have an excellent track record. The spacecrafts are remarkably resilient.”

That resilience enables humanity to keep getting new information about the outer edges of our solar system. And that data is a reminder that beyond tribe and class and ideology and political party, we’re all part of something infinitely magnificent.

From Voyager 2’s perspective looking back on us, all of our struggles are infinitesimal as we wait for election results.

“There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world,” legendary astronomer Carl Sagan wrote in his book “Pale Blue Dot” in 1994.

“To me it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

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NASA Mars scientists spur girls to 'reach for the stars' – National Post

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Article content

* More women are training to become space engineers

* U.S. space agency is on a diversity push

* Role models seen vital in spurring girls to study STEM

By Emma Batha

LONDON, March 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – With “one of the coolest jobs in the world,” NASA rover operator Vandi Verma hopes women’s high profile in the latest Mars mission will inspire a new generation to pursue careers in a sector traditionally dominated by men.

Verma’s colleague Swati Mohan made headlines around the world when she narrated the nail-biting landing of the Perseverance rover on the Red Planet following its perilous descent through the Martian atmosphere.

“It’s definitely inspired girls everywhere. It’s opened people’s perceptions of who can be a space engineer,” Verma told the Thomson Reuters Foundation ahead of International Women’s Day on Monday.

The space roboticist is operating the Perseverance – the most advanced astrobiology lab ever sent to another world – as it roams Mars looking for signs of ancient microbial life.

“I really think I have one of the coolest jobs in the world,” said Verma, whose interest in space – like Mohan’s – was fueled by a childhood love of the TV series Star Trek.

“When Mars is visible in the sky you look at that little dot and you think right now there’s a robot out there doing commands that I told it to do. That’s pretty wild.”

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Verma, who has been driving rovers on Mars since 2008, said the latest mission would help answer questions “that change what we know about our place in the universe.”

Born in India, Verma studied electrical engineering at Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh before moving to the United States, where she gaining a PhD in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University.

When she joined NASA in 2004, female engineers often found themselves the only woman in the room, she said. But things are changing.

NASA, which aims to land the first woman on the moon by 2024, is on a mission to boost diversity. Women made up 34% of the workforce in 2019, holding 18% of senior scientific posts, about treble the figure for 2009, according to the agency.

Verma said it was very exciting to see an increasing number of applications from women, adding that diverse teams led to more “creative, out-of-the-box thinking.”

But she said there was a long way to go to encourage more women into the STEM professions – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

ROLE MODELS

British space engineer Vinita Marwaha Madill – founder of Rocket Women, which aims to inspire women to choose STEM careers – said role models were vital.

“You can’t be what you can’t see,” she said, quoting astronaut Sally Ride, the first U.S. woman in space.

“Seeing someone that looks like you allows you to believe that it’s possible to achieve your goals,” said Marwaha Madill, whose own passion took flight after watching Helen Sharman become the first British astronaut in space in 1991.

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Women like Mohan, the Mars mission’s guidance and operations lead, will “inspire the next generation to reach for the stars,” she said.

In Britain, women make up about a quarter of people working in STEM subjects, excluding medicine and related fields where women outnumber men, according to WISE, an organization campaigning to increase the number of women in STEM professions.

For engineering, the ratio is even more skewed with women accounting for just over 10% of the workforce.

Marwaha Madill, a project manager at a space exploration and robotics company in Ottawa, Canada, said it was crucial to change stereotypes as many girls decided to move away from science as young as 11 years of age.

One way to get more girls into STEM subjects was to tap into their desire to change the world for the better.

“There seems to be a disconnect between young women … wanting to make a difference in the world, and knowing that they could make a really big positive impact through a career in science and engineering,” she added.

WISE spokeswoman Ruth Blanco said images of “men in hard hats and high-visibility clothing” may be putting some girls off engineering and did not reflect the breadth of jobs out there.

NASA’s Verma, who juggles driving the rover with raising one-year-old twins – a boy and a girl, said unconscious bias was also a factor in shaping aspirations.

“Don’t make assumptions about what a child may be interested in because of their gender or race,” she said. “Don’t buy the Lego just for the boy.” (Reporting by Emma Batha //news.trust.org)

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Cochrane company making Virtual Reality for astronauts – CTV Toronto

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TIMMINS —
Stardust Technologies is on a mission to take virtual reality where it’s never been before.

The Cochrane-based tech company is researching how simulating Earth-bound activities can help improve astronauts’ mental health while on board the International Space Station (ISS) — and eventually during long-distance space travel.

“It’s a very important thing that astronauts feel like they are on Earth,” said the company’s chief technology office, Jawad El Houssine.

“VR technology will be very, very useful for this.”

Testing VR zero gravity

The team is the first to use Facebook’s Oculus Quest VR headset in this way and is collaborating with the Canadian Space Agency and the National Research Council of Canada to test out how to make it work outside of Earth — since the technology was first created to work with this planet’s gravity.

Shy of going to space themselves to research this, Stardust has been conducting test flights in Ottawa, using an airplane that can mimic gravity in space, on the moon and on Mars.

“We succeeded to make the Oculus Quest work 100 per cent in zero gravity,” Jawad said, after conducting only a couple test flights so far.

Simulating Earth… in space

This is part of what the company calls ‘Project EDEN,’ with the goal being to create a fully-simulated Earth experience in space — using a combination of virtual reality, artificial intelligence and a haptic feedback suit that can simulate sensations like wind, rain and touch.

The company’s CEO, Jason Michaud, said the project is intended to help astronauts with feelings of homesickness, loneliness, isolation, and stress. He compares it to feelings many people on Earth have been experiencing during the pandemic.

“Our EDEN project is going to be targeted at doing simulations where you’ll be able to play, let’s say golf in microgravity, for the astronauts,” Michaud said.

“If you like, you could play hockey, do some meditation with other people on Earth that could be, potentially, with the astronauts while they’re on the International Space Station.”

(Out-of-this) world of possibilities

Michaud has high ambitions for the project. He sees it being used on the moon, when NASA builds its lunar base planned for 2024 — and even on an eventual human mission to Mars.

The need for engaging entertainment on long voyages is not a new concept for humanity, said El Houssine, thinking all the way back to the 15th century, when Spaniards would play games and sing songs on their voyage to the New World.

It stands to reason that people will need more advanced and immersive entertainment as we travel through space, he said. And so the work continues to make sure ‘Project EDEN’ will be ready for work on the ISS and future space voyages.

“We are hoping to be able to (have an astronaut) test that next year on the International Space Station directly,” said Michaud.

Though many more microgravity test flights are needed to get to that point, he said.

‘I believe you can achieve anything’

As for researching the technology’s ability to help with mental health, particularly isolation, Michaud said he is planning to send El Houssine on his own journey to test the technology alone — in Antarctica.

Reflecting on the progress of ‘Project EDEN’ and his company — which also services the mining and medicine industries — Michaud credits it to his upbringing in northern Ontario.

He hopes to inspire young people in the region with the possibilities of technology — and hopes more entrepreneurs arise in the region.

“As long as you have the drive for it and the community to support you, I believe you can achieve anything.”

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COVID-19 outbreak that infected 133, killed 31 at New West care home has ended, Fraser Health says – CTV News Vancouver

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VANCOUVER —
One of B.C.’s largest care home outbreaks of COVID-19 is now officially over.

The outbreak at Royal City Manor, a long-term care home in New Westminster, began on Jan. 3 and quickly grew to include dozens of residents and staff members.

As of March 3, the outbreak was responsible for 133 cases of the coronavirus. A total of 102 residents were infected, and 31 died, according to data from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

On Sunday night, Fraser Health announced in a news release that the outbreak had been declared over.

“With the implementation of comprehensive strategies to prevent and respond to COVID-19 in care facilities, there are no longer any COVID-19 cases at this location,” the health authority said in its release.

The end of the Royal City Manor outbreak means there are no longer any active outbreaks involving more than 100 cases of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities in B.C.

The largest ongoing outbreak in a long-term care home in the province is now the one at Acropolis Manor in Prince Rupert, where 57 people had tested positive and 14 residents had died, as of the latest BCCDC update.

Health officials have attributed the decline in the number and severity of outbreaks in care homes in the province in recent months to the proliferation of COVID-19 vaccines in the system. As of mid-February, some 91 per cent of residents in long-term care had received at least one dose of a vaccine.  

Outbreaks in hospitals, meanwhile, have not noticeably declined in frequency in 2021.

On Saturday, an outbreak was declared at Kelowna General Hospital, where a separate, unrelated outbreak was already ongoing in a different unit. 

On Sunday, Interior Health announced that the earlier outbreak, in unit 4B, had ended. A total of seven people – six patients and one staff member – tested positive for COVID-19 in association with that outbreak. Two of the patients died.

“I would like to thank the team at KGH for their efforts in containing this outbreak and preventing further spread throughout the hospital,” said Interior Health president and CEO Susan Brown in a news release Sunday.

“We send our condolences to the families of the two patients who passed away and will work equally as hard to contain the second outbreak declared on March 6,” Brown added. 

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