It was “seven minutes of terror” that had a big payoff: NASA’s Mars Perseverance safely landed on the surface of the red planet last Thursday. And, for the first time, the edge-of-your-seat descent was captured by high-definition video cameras, which NASA released on Monday.
“Now we finally have a front-row view to what we call ‘the seven minutes of terror’ while landing on Mars,” Michael Watkins, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, which manages the mission for the agency, said in a press release.
Getting spacecraft to Mars is no easy feat. About half of missions to the red planet have ended in failure. And getting a rover safely on the surface is even more challenging. In the past, NASA used airbags that protected the rover as it bounced safely to its final resting spot.
But in 2012, its Curiosity rover used an innovative — and complicated — landing procedure that involved using a rocket-powered crane to gently lower the rover to the surface. It was a success, and this method was once again used with Perseverance.
WATCH | NASA release video of different perspectives of Mars Perseverance landing:
“I think you will feel like you are getting a glimpse as to what it would be like to land in Jezero Crater with Perseverance,” Matt Wallace, Perseverance deputy project manager at JPL, said during NASA’s press conference ahead of the video release on Monday.
And the cameras do indeed provide an incredible glimpse into the series of all the things that needed to happen with incredible precision to deliver Perseverance to the surface.
The video picks up after the rover entered the thin Martian atmosphere at a breakneck speed of 19,000 km/h after which its supersonic parachute deployed, further slowing it to 320 km/h.
The heat shield is then released and is seen falling to the surface as the rover’s eight descent-stage rockets took over, reducing the speed to about 2.6 km/h. That’s when the tricky “skycrane” maneouvre initiated.
The dusty descent
Roughly 12 seconds before touchdown, the descent stage lowered the rover from a set of 6.4-metre long cables. Dust is seen being kicked up from the surface as the rover unfurled its legs and wheels into landing position. Once the rover sensed that it had touched the ground, the cables were quickly cut with the descent stage flying off safely away from the rover.
All of this had to go off without a hitch. And fortunately, it did, with video to prove it.
Nominal = millions of things went right and we managed to get a rover off Earth, into space, travel millions of miles, arrive at Mars, slow down through a transformers like landing, and then communicate with orbiters and a deep space network
The rover collected 23,000 images of the descent and 30 gigabytes of information with cameras looking both upward as the descent stage lowered Perseverance to the ground and downward as dust was kicked up by the rockets.
“I can and have watched those videos for hours,” Al Chen, Perseverance entry, descent, and landing (EDL) lead at JPL, said at the press conference. “I keep seeing new stuff every time.”
The microphone didn’t pick up the descent due to what engineers believe may have been a communication error, though it is now working on the surface and has sent back audio.
LISTEN | Sounds from the Mars Perseverance Rover (with rover noise filtered out):
Along with the video, NASA also released several new images.
“I had no idea that it would be this amazing,” said Justin Maki, Perseverance imaging scientist and instrument operations team chief. “When I saw these images come down I have to say, I was truly amazed. I know it’s been a tough year for everybody, and we’re hoping these images will brighten peoples’ day.”
And there are even “Easter eggs” hidden on Perseverance.
Did you all find the easter egg on the deck? The family car sticker with Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity, Perseverance and Ingenuity! <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/CountdownToMars?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#CountdownToMars</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Mars2020?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Mars2020</a> <a href=”https://t.co/C0GzJPxnPr”>pic.twitter.com/C0GzJPxnPr</a>
The new 20 megapixel colour cameras are higher-resolution than any of those before it, with wide angle lenses that are used as the rover drives.
“This is it. This is Mars. It really is the surface of an alien world.”
Now, as more of the rover comes online, the scientists and engineers said more — and better — is yet to come.
Perseverance will also begin to find a suitable location where it will deploy Ingenuity, a helicopter that will be a test for future missions to the red planet.
“We’re just beginning to do amazing things on the surface of Mars,” said Dave Gruel, Perseverance EDL camera lead.
For raw images released by NASA’s Perseverance rover, you can visit their multimedia site.
New species of crested dinosaur identified in Mexico
A team of palaeontologists in Mexico have identified a new species of dinosaur after finding its 72 million-year-old fossilized remains almost a decade ago, Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) said on Thursday.
The new species, named Tlatolophus galorum, was identified as a crested dinosaur after 80% of its skull was recovered, allowing experts to compare it to other dinosaurs of that type, INAH said.
The investigation, which also included specialists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, began in 2013 with the discovery of an articulated tail in the north-central Mexican state of Coahuila, where other discoveries have been made.
“Once we recovered the tail, we continued digging below where it was located. The surprise was that we began to find bones such as the femur, the scapula and other elements,” said Alejandro Ramírez, a scientist involved in the discovery.
Later, the scientists were able to collect, clean and analyze other bone fragments from the front part of the dinosaur’s body.
The palaeontologists had in their possession the crest of the dinosaur, which was 1.32 meters long, as well as other parts of the skull: lower and upper jaws, palate and even a part known as the neurocranium, where the brain was housed, INAH said.
The Mexican anthropology body also explained the meaning of the name – Tlatolophus galorum – for the new species of dinosaur.
Tlatolophus is a mixture of two words, putting together a term from the indigenous Mexican language of Nahuatl that means “word” with the Greek term meaning “crest”. Galorum refers to the people linked to the research, INAH said.
(Reporting by Abraham Gonzalez; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)
Alberta family searches for answers in teen's sudden death after COVID exposure, negative tests – CBC.ca
A southern Alberta mother and father are grappling with the sudden, unexplained death of their 17-year-old daughter, and with few answers, they’re left wondering if she could be the province’s youngest victim of COVID-19.
Sarah Strate — a healthy, active Grade 12 student at Magrath High School who loved singing, dancing and being outdoors — died on Monday, less than a week after being notified she’d been exposed to COVID-19.
While two tests came back negative, her parents say other signs point to the coronavirus, and they’re waiting for more answers.
“It was so fast. It’s all still such a shock,” said Sarah’s mother, Kristine Strate. “She never even coughed. She had a sore throat and her ears were sore for a while, and [she had] swollen neck glands.”
Kristine said Sarah developed mild symptoms shortly after her older sister — who later tested positive for COVID-19 — visited from Lethbridge, one of Alberta’s current hot spots for the virus.
The family went into isolation at their home in Magrath on Tuesday, April 20. They were swabbed the next day and the results were negative.
‘Everything went south, super-fast’
By Friday night, Sarah had developed fever and chills. On Saturday, she started vomiting and Kristine, a public health nurse, tried to keep her hydrated.
“She woke up feeling a bit more off on Monday morning,” Kristine said. “And everything went south, super-fast.”
Sarah had grown very weak and her parents decided to call 911 when she appeared to become delirious.
“She had her blanket on and I was talking to her and, in an instant, she was unresponsive,” said Kristine, who immediately started performing CPR on her daughter.
When paramedics arrived 20 minutes later, they were able to restore a heartbeat and rushed Sarah to hospital in Lethbridge, where she died.
“I thought there was hope once we got her heart rate back. I really did,” recalled Sarah’s father, Ron.
“He was praying for a miracle, and sometimes miracles don’t come,” said Kristine.
Searching for answers
At the hospital, the family was told Sarah’s lungs were severely infected and that she may have ended up with blood clots in both her heart and lungs, a condition that can be a complication of COVID-19.
But a second test at the hospital came back negative for COVID-19.
“There really is no other answer,” Ron said. “When a healthy 17-year-old girl, who was sitting up in her bed and was able to talk, and within 10 minutes is unconscious on our floor — there was no reason [for it].”
The province currently has no record of any Albertans under the age of 20 who have died of COVID-19.
According to the Strate family, the medical examiner is running additional blood and tissue tests, in an effort to uncover the cause of Sarah’s death.
‘Unusual but not impossible’
University of Alberta infectious disease specialist Dr. Lynora Saxinger, who was not involved in Sarah’s treatment, says it is conceivable that further testing could uncover evidence of a COVID-19 infection, despite two negative test results.
However, she hasn’t seen a similar case in Alberta.
“It would be unusual but not impossible because no test is perfect. We have had cases where an initial test is negative and then if you keep on thinking it’s COVID and you re-test, you then can find COVID,” she said.
According to Saxinger, the rate of false negatives is believed to be very low. But it can happen if there are problems with the testing or specimen collection.
She says people are more likely to test positive after symptoms develop.
“The best sensitivity of the test is around day four or five of having symptoms,” she said. “So you can miss things if you test very, very early. And with new development of symptoms, it’s always a good time to re-test because then the likelihood of getting a positive test is a little higher. But again, no test is perfect.”
Sarah deteriorated so quickly — dying five days after she first developed symptoms — she didn’t live long enough to make it to her follow-up COVID-19 test. Instead, it was done at the hospital.
‘An amazing kid’
The Strate family now faces an agonizing wait for answers — one that will likely take months — about what caused Sarah’s death.
But Ron, who teaches at the school where Sarah attended Grade 12, wants his daughter to be remembered for the life she lived, not her death.
Sarah was one of five children. Ron says she was strong, active and vibrant and had plans to become a massage therapist after graduating from high school.
She played several sports and loved to sing and dance as part of a show choir. She was a leader in the school’s suicide prevention group and would stand up for other students who were facing bullying.
“She’s one of the leaders in our Hope Squad … which goes out and helps kids to not be scared,” he father said.
“She’s an amazing kid.”
Sarah would often spend hours helping struggling classmates, and her parents hope her kindness is not forgotten.
“She’d done so many good things. Honestly, I’ve got so many messages from parents saying, ‘You have no idea how much your daughter helped our kid,'” said Ron.
“This 17-year-old girl probably lived more of a life in 17 years than most adults will live in their whole lives. She was so special. I love her so much.”
China launches key module of space station planned for 2022
BEIJING (Reuters) -China launched an unmanned module on Thursday containing what will become living quarters for three crew on a permanent space station that it plans to complete by the end of 2022, state media reported.
The module, named “Tianhe”, or “Harmony of the Heavens”, was launched on the Long March 5B, China’s largest carrier rocket, at 11:23 a.m. (0323 GMT) from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre on the southern island of Hainan.
Tianhe is one of three main components of what would be China’s first self-developed space station, rivalling the only other station in service – the International Space Station (ISS).
The ISS is backed by the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada. China was barred from participating by the United States.
“(Tianhe) is an important pilot project in the building of a powerful nation in both technology and in space,” state media quoted President Xi Jinping as saying in a congratulatory speech.
Tianhe forms the main living quarters for three crew members in the Chinese space station, which will have a life span of at least 10 years.
The Tianhe launch was the first of 11 missions needed to complete the space station, which will orbit Earth at an altitude of 340 to 450 km (211-280 miles).
In the later missions, China will launch the two other core modules, four manned spacecraft and four cargo spacecraft.
Work on the space station programme began a decade ago with the launch of a space lab Tiangong-1 in 2011, and later, Tiangong-2 in 2016.
Both helped China test the programme’s space rendezvous and docking capabilities.
China aims to become a major space power by 2030. It has ramped up its space programme with visits to the moon, the launch of an uncrewed probe to Mars and the construction of its own space station.
In contrast, the fate of the ageing ISS – in orbit for more than two decades – remains uncertain.
The project is set to expire in 2024, barring funding from its partners. Russia said this month that it would quit the project from 2025.
Russia is deepening ties with China in space as tensions with Washington rise.
Moscow has slammed the U.S.-led Artemis moon exploration programme and instead chosen to join Beijing in setting up a lunar research outpost in the coming years.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo and Liangping Gao; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Simon Cameron-Moore and Lincoln Feast.)