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Nasa set to launch Perseverance rover and mini helicopter on Mars – Financial Times



The largest and most sophisticated vehicle ever sent to Mars will land on the red planet next week, beginning a two-year mission that will search for signs of life and prepare the way for future human visits.

All being well, on Thursday the $2.7bn Perseverance rover will touch down on Jezero Crater near the Martian equator to explore the planet’s surface and collect samples to be sent back to Earth. An ultralight on-board helicopter will also be launched in what would be the first powered flight on another planet. 

“Perseverance is a huge upgrade on all the previous landers and rovers we’ve sent to the planet,” said Professor Andrew Coates, a University College London space scientist who has been involved in Mars missions for 20 years.

But the car-sized Perseverance must first survive what Nasa engineers famously called “seven minutes of terror” when the previous Curiosity rover landed in 2012. That is the time it takes to decelerate from the entry speed of 20,000kph, when the craft reaches the Martian atmosphere, to a touchdown that is slower than walking pace.

The technology deployed will be an upgraded version of that on Curiosity, with added safety features including a “range trigger” to guide the opening of the craft’s parachute and maximise the chance of a gentle touchdown.

To do so, Perseverance will have to cut itself free from its parachute and begin a rocket-powered descent — “a kind of jetpack with eight engines pointed down at the ground”, as Al Chen, the engineer responsible for descent and landing, put it.

The final phase will involve a “sky crane” lowering the rover to the surface on a set of cables. When the lander senses that its wheels have touched the ground, it cuts the cables connecting it to the descent vehicle, which flies off to crash-land a safe distance away.

Descent may only take seven minutes but mission controllers at Jet Propulsion Lab in California will not know for 11 minutes — the time taken for radio signals to travel 200m km back to Earth — whether Perseverance has landed safely.

Jezero Crater has been chosen as the drop site because the Nasa scientists believe it is one of the best places on Mars to search for signs of ancient microbial life. More than 3bn years ago, when water flowed on Mars, it was a lake, fed by a river with a delta.

Graphic highlighting the scientific instruments that will be carried by the Perseverance rover on Mars

Perseverance will journey around the ancient and now desiccated terrain, armed with instruments to dig and probe the rocks and soil — physically and chemically — for fossilised signs of ancient life. Scientists do not expect to find living organisms.

An aerial view of the crater will be provided by the Ingenuity helicopter, weighting just 1.8kg, which is scheduled to make five test flights. It is not part of the primary science mission but what Nasa calls a technology demonstration, to show how well a rotorcraft can perform in the Martian atmosphere which is just 1 per cent as dense as Earth’s.

Another forward-looking technology experiment is the toaster-sized Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or Moxie, which will make oxygen out of Mars’ thin air by electrochemically breaking down carbon dioxide. If astronauts are ever to land and live on the red planet they would need locally generated oxygen to breathe and an ingredient for fuel.

Perseverance will also leave a legacy on the Martian surface for future missions. Its Sample Caching System will put broken rock and dust into metal canisters and leave them behind to be collected and brought to Earth by future missions that Nasa is planning in collaboration with the European Space Agency.

Some time in the early 2030s, they hope, scientists will be able to analyse these samples in terrestrial labs using equipment far too large and complex to send to another planet. 

Graphic illustrating how the Ingenuity helicopter will be launched from the Perseverance rover on Mars and highlighting some of its components

It is possible that Perseverance — or the Rosalind Franklin rover due for launch next year as part of Europe’s ExoMars mission — will by then have found signs of past or even present life on Mars. Perseverance is looking among other things for geological evidence of stromatolites, layered deposits built up by microbes in the ancient Jezero lake. 

But confirmation might have to wait a few years for laboratory examination of the samples to return to Earth. “Even if we find no evidence at all of life, that would be important,” said Ken Farley, Perseverance project scientist. “We would have done a deep exploration of a habitable environment and shown it has not been inhabited.”

If, on the other hand, unmistakable evidence for biological activity was found on the one habitable planet that has been investigated beyond Earth, scientists could draw only one conclusion: the universe is teeming with life.


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Lambton public health warns of COVID-19 vaccine scams – The Beacon Herald



Public health officials are cautioning residents to be wary of COVID-19 vaccine-related scams circulating throughout the Sarnia area.

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Public health officials are cautioning residents to be wary of COVID-19 vaccine-related scams circulating throughout the Sarnia area.

Lambton public health officials said Friday they’ve heard “several reports” of seniors being contacted since the local online booking system and call centre opened Thursday to residents age 90 and older.

Donna Schmidtmeyer, the health unit’s supervisor of health promotion, said they don’t charge fees to register or to get the vaccine.

“We will not ask you for any financial information whatsoever,” she said in a statement. “And, unless you have called (public health) to pre-register for the vaccine directly or signed up for the pre-registration using our online platform, no one should contact you and ask for any personal information.”

The health unit urged people to check the source of COVID-19 information they’re receiving.

“If you’re unsure or your gut is telling you something is off, it probably is,” the health unit said.

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People are encouraged to call Lambton public health at 519-383-8331 for accurate information.

The warning came amid the province releasing details Friday on the second phase of its vaccine distribution plan. A larger list of Ontarians – people between the ages of 60 and 79 and those with specific health conditions or who can’t work from home – will be included as officials aim to vaccinate nine-million residents between April and July.

More than 4,300 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been distributed to Sarnia-area residents – mainly into the arms of seniors and front-line health-care workers and caregivers – as of Wednesday. That figure is expected to climb as fixed-site clinics and mobile teams continue to distribute doses.

The number of COVID-19 cases also climbed Friday, with 122 considered active – nearly double from two days ago – while the overall caseload climbed 24 to 2,187.

A recent spread of the virus at Kettle and Stony Point has contributed to the sudden spike as the community had 26 active cases as of Thursday. Lambton public health’s top medical official said they’re working closely with the First Nation to trace close contacts and to set up a vaccine clinic there.

But a health unit spokesperson said Friday via email the situation is not officially classified as an outbreak. An emergency shelter, the jail, a retirement home and a long-term care facility in Sarnia as well as an unidentified local business and a retirement home in Lambton Shores were all dealing with official outbreaks. The number of cases connected to those facilities has held steady in recent days.

Eight Lambton Kent District and five St. Clair Catholic District school board schools had at least one case linked to them Friday, but they were all still open.

Ontario said Friday it will shift some health units to different colours in its colour-coded restriction system starting next week, but Lambton will stay in red.

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Mars rover travels 6.5 metres in ‘flawless’ first drive – Al Jazeera English



Perseverance rover can travel 200 metres a day, but scientists need to conduct tests and safety checks before it ventures further.

NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance has taken its first, short drive on the surface of the red planet, two weeks after the robot science lab’s picture-perfect touchdown on the floor of an enormous crater, mission managers said on Friday.

The Perseverance rover first ventured from its landing position Thursday, two weeks after landing on the Red Planet to seek signs of past life.

Taking directions from mission managers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles, the rover rolled four metres (13.1 feet) forward, turned about 150 degrees to its left and then drove backwards another 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) for a total of 6.5 metres (21.3 feet) during its half-hour test within Jezero Crater, site of an ancient, long-vanished lake bed and river delta on Mars.

“It went incredibly well,” Anais Zarifian, a JPL mobility test engineer for Perseverance, said during a teleconference briefing with reporters, calling it a “huge milestone” for the mission.

The roundabout, back and forth drive lasted just 33 minutes and went so well that the six-wheeled rover was back on the move Friday.

Perseverance is capable of averaging 200 metres of driving a day.

The surface of Mars directly below NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover is seen using the Rover Down-Look Camera in an image acquired February 22, 2021 [File: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout via Reuters]

NASA displayed a photo taken by the rover showing the wheel tread marks left in the reddish, sandy Martian soil after its first drive.

Another vivid image of the surrounding landscape shows a rugged, ruddy terrain littered with large, dark boulders in the foreground and a tall outcropping of rocky, layered deposits in the distance – marking the edge of the river delta.

So far, Perseverance and its hardware, including its main robot arm, appear to be operating flawlessly, according to Robert Hogg, deputy mission manager.

But JPL engineers still have additional equipment checks to run on the rover’s many instruments before they will be ready to send the robot on a more ambitious journey as part of its primary mission to search for traces of fossilised microbial life.

The team has yet to conduct post-landing tests of the rover’s sophisticated system to drill and collect rock samples for return to Earth via future Mars missions.

The deck of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover, featuring Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry, one of the instruments on its stowed arm, is seen in an image taken by the rover’s navigation cameras on Mars February 20, 2021 [File: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout via Reuters]

As soon as the system checks on Perseverance are complete, the rover will head for an ancient river delta to collect rocks for return to Earth a decade from now.

Scientists are debating whether to take the smoother route to get to the nearby delta or a possibly tougher way with intriguing remnants from that once-watery time three to four billion years ago.

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NASA's Perseverance rover makes 1st test drive on Mars –



NASA’s newest Mars rover hit the dusty red road this week, putting 6.5 metres on the odometer in its first test drive.

The Perseverance rover ventured from its landing position Thursday, two weeks after landing on the Red Planet to seek signs of past life.

The roundabout, back-and-forth drive lasted 33 minutes and went so well that more driving was on tap Friday and Saturday for the six-wheeled rover.

“This is really the start of our journey here,” said Rich Rieber, the NASA engineer who plotted the route. “This is going to be like the Odyssey, adventures along the way, hopefully no Cyclops, and I’m sure there will be stories aplenty written about it.”

In its first drive, Perseverance went forward four metres, took a 150-degree left turn, then backed up 2.5 metres. During a news conference Friday, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., shared photos of its tracks over and around small rocks.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to see wheel tracks and I’ve seen a lot of them,” said engineer Anais Zarafian. “This is just a huge milestone for the mission.”

Flight controllers are still checking all of Perseverance’s systems. So far, everything is looking good. The rover’s two-metre robot arm, for instance, flexed its muscles for the first time Tuesday.

Before the car-size rover can head for an ancient river delta to collect rocks for eventual return to Earth, it must drop its so-called protective “belly pan” and release an experimental helicopter named Ingenuity.

As it turns out, Perseverance landed right on the edge of a potential helicopter landing strip — a nice, flat spot, according to Rieber. So the plan is to drive out of this landing strip, ditch the pan, then return for Ingenuity’s highly anticipated test flight. All this should be accomplished by late spring.

WATCH | NASA videos show Perseverance landing on Mars:

NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover safely landed on the surface of the Red Planet last week and, for the first time, the edge-of-your-seat descent was captured in footage from high-definition video cameras, which was released on Monday. The University of Alberta’s Chris Herd walks us through the incredible images. 9:02

Scientists are debating whether to take the smoother route to get to the nearby delta or a possibly tougher way with intriguing remnants from that once-watery time three billion to four billion years ago.

Perseverance — NASA’s biggest and most elaborate rover yet — became the ninth U.S. spacecraft to successfully land on Mars on Feb. 18. China hopes to land its smaller rover — currently orbiting the red planet — in another few months.

NASA scientists, meanwhile, announced Friday that they’ve named Perseverance’s touchdown site in honour of the late science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler, who grew up next door to JPL in Pasadena. She was one of the first Black people to receive mainstream attention for science fiction. Her works included Bloodchild and Other Stories and Parable of the Sower.

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