WINNIPEG – The quest to discover if life ever existed on Mars is marking a major milestone.
The Mars Perseverance rover is set to touch down on the red planet sometime in the next 24 hours and could help finally answer a burning question: has there ever been life on Mars before?
According to NASA, the mission entails the rover touching down successfully to search for ancient microbial life on the planet.
The landing site is a 3.5 billion-year-old crater specifically selected by scientists because it once was an ancient lake.
“And there is a river that is running into it you can see the ancient channel running into it and where the river meets the lake there is a delta that formed so sediment-water and on Earth, that type of environment is actually teeming with life,” explained Dr. Cassandra Marion with the Science Advisory Canada Aviation and Space Museum.
Marion says the hope is to find evidence of microbial fossils and organic compounds in the extremely old sediment.
The rover will also collect samples for a future return to Earth and help pave the way for further human exploration.
Onboard the rover is also a helicopter that will attempt the first powered flight on another planet and a device that will test our ability to create oxygen from Mars’ carbon-dioxide-filled atmosphere.
“And we need oxygen for two main reasons. First, for the astronauts to breathe so, life support, and the second is rocket fuel. Oxygen is one of the main components in rocket fuel so if we want to get our astronauts back we’re going to need a lot of oxygen,” said Marion.
The NASA-led mission has been assisted by Canadians along the way.
Congratulations to French Canadian aerospace engineer @FarahAlibay, who will be remotely piloting @NASAPersevere on Mars tomorrow. ???? All Canadians & Québécois are proud of you. https://t.co/oPY6RnTyAc
— Harjit Sajjan (@HarjitSajjan) February 17, 2021
Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan tweeted his support for Canadian aerospace engineer Farah Alibay, who will be remotely piloting the lander on Friday.
Alibay spoke with CityNews about the experience shortly after the rover was launched in July.
Dr. Raymond Francis trained the mission science team on how to use the new rover and explore the planet.
“You know NASA is doing projects like this that are of global significance to the scientific community and they go find the best experts they can,” said Francis, a science operations engineer who was born in Sudbury, Ont., and now works out of NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory.
After touchdown, Francis will help operate the rovers’ onboard laser systems.
“So, we fire a powerful laser at usually a rock and we vaporize it, turn it into plasma,” he said. “And then using a spectrometer that looks through the same telescope that focused the laser we can look at the glowing plasma and it emits characteristic wavelengths of light that tell us what the rock was made of.”
The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is the third space probe to arrive at Mars in a little over a week. The United Arab Emirates and China also have space probs in Mars orbit.
Perseverance is expected to touch down on Thursday.
SpaceX Starlink 17 launch pushed to March 4 – SlashGear
SpaceX plans to launch its latest set of Starlink internet satellites on March 4, having pushed back the newest mission due to ongoing weather concerns. Starlink 17, as the payload is known, was intended to fly on February 28 as SpaceX further fills in its constellation of internet-beaming satellites.
That constellation has been building out in earnest over recent months, as SpaceX adds more users to its growing Starlink internet beta. The system relies on a cluster of satellites and an auto-adjusting dish on the ground, with users able to get online at cable-like rates without needing to worry about whether they’re in the service area of a 5G network or a traditional DSL/cable connection.
For that to happen, of course, Starlink needs more satellites. The company is now taking reservations for the expanded beta – having announced it had around 10,000 customers in the early, invitation-only beta in 2020 – though new users will only be onboarded as the coverage spreads. That’s where SpaceX and the Falcon 9 comes in.
The mission will launch from LC-39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. An auto-abort scrubbed the late-February launch less than 90 seconds before the rocket was due to lift off. Poor weather conditions in the recovery area, SpaceX said, along with needing “to allow additional time for pre-launch checks,” delayed the rescheduled launch on March 1. Weather, though, has continued to be a concern.
“Now targeting no earlier than Thursday, March 4 for launch of Starlink due to a Range conflict and unfavorable launch and recovery weather,” SpaceX said yesterday.
If everything goes according to plan, Starlink 17 will see its first stage recovered by the autonomous drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You,” on which it has previously landed and been prepared for reuse. The fairings will have a wetter landing, being designed to hit the Atlantic Ocean whereupon SpaceX will try to collect them.
Still, that’s better than the fate of the previous Starlink launch booster. That had a fiery ending rather than a safe recovery, though the primary mission was unaffected.
Assuming all goes to plan this time around, 60 new Starlink satellites will be making their way into orbit. As well as building out coverage, the company has been working on improving speed and latency through a variety of tweaks and refinements. Musk has recently said that he expects Starlink to hit 300 MB/s and trim latency to around 20ms; currently, the beta suggests speeds along the lines of 50-150 MB/s are likely, and latency around 40ms, though at times customers are warned that service may cut out completely.
University of Alberta students call for end to online exam monitoring – CBC.ca
Some University of Alberta students are calling for an end to the use of online monitoring services meant to prevent cheating, as final exams approach.
This year, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the university to use remote learning, many U of A classes have used online proctoring services like Smart Exam Monitoring and Exam Lock.
They run in the background of students’ computers while they write tests, monitoring movement to flag anything that could be a sign the student is cheating.
“Fundamentally, what this software does is it tries to prevent cheating. But all it does instead is make it so that you’re more scared and the assessments themselves are less effective,” said David Draper, University of Alberta Students’ Union vice-president academic.
Student representatives have raised concerns about e-proctoring since May.
Draper said the type of suspicious activity it flags include things as simple as students reading questions aloud, going to the bathroom or people walking in the background of the camera’s view, a problem for people living with roommates or family.
They also have led to equity issues, Draper said.
He’s heard from students of colour who say the programs sometimes don’t recognize their face, asking them to move to rooms with better lighting.
He’s also heard from students with disabilities about e-proctoring not working with accessibility programs that are provided by the university, such as screen readers.
“It sends a message to students about who is welcome within a university and who this university caters to,” Draper said.
“Online proctoring, in my opinion, does more to enforce compliance and does more to enforce structural and systemic views of what somebody should look like, rather than actually enforcing academic integrity.”
Some also see it as invasive.
Inaara Kanji, a second-year criminology student, has had to use online proctoring in many of her classes this year. Privacy is often the main concern for her and other students, she said, with many questioning the security of the video recording them writing tests in their home.
“Online proctoring really just feels like you’re trying to avoid getting caught for something that you didn’t even do,” Kanji said.
University strikes task force
A blog post by University of Alberta president Bill Flanagan on Jan. 28 announced a task force on remote teaching and learning that would include students and instructors, with a goal to reduce online proctoring in the spring and summer term.
“We know that this is a challenging time for everyone and continue to remind members of our teaching and learning community to reach out if they are experiencing added challenges or barriers because of the COVID-19 emergency,” said deputy provost Wendy Rodgers on Tuesday.
Lucas Marques, vice-president external at the U of A’s International Students’ Association, said he’s frustrated the university hasn’t acted more swiftly.
Marques spent the fall semester studying from home in Brazil. The four-hour time difference was enough for him to sometimes be awake past midnight writing tests.
With some students having to do this while living in a timezone more than 10 hours away, Marques said more students are feeling fatigued and burned out this year, especially as they see the high price of their university tuition come with a seemingly declining quality of education.
“Students need help now,” Marques said. “They have midterms around this time of the year; this semester is almost ending, and just now we are starting to get some sort of talks into it.”
Some schools were worried last summer that studying from home could lead to more academic dishonesty. But Draper says from what the students’ union has gathered, students aren’t cheating more often, but are instead are getting more confused over what is and isn’t cheating.
Other schools have rejected using it. The University of Calgary opted not to use online proctoring for exams this semester, citing privacy issues with technology that records people in their homes.
Increasing burden on instructors
Tim Mills, vice-president of the Association of Academic Staff of the University of Alberta, has been teaching online for several years. He said he’s used remote proctoring in the past, but finds it too awkward and invasive.
Last fall, Mills worked in a support role to help staff use e-proctoring programs. He said the burden on instructors this year has been difficult after provincial budget cuts led to larger classes and an increased workload.
On top of this, Mills says, it’s been hard for professors to find the best way to assess their students to the same standard as the structure of their in-person courses.
“We don’t have that substantial training or the time to build up the experience to deliver these alternative formats the way we would want, or even, I think, to really understand all the ins and outs of remote proctoring,” Mills said.
Draper is happy to see more students and staff raising concerns to the university, but he said the onus should be on administration to restrict use of online proctoring and promote alternatives.
And while the university’s task force is a positive step, it can only offer recommendations or guidelines, but students need to see more action, Draper said.
“It’s been eight months more or less since we started talking about these issues and we know the issues,” Draper said.
“We know the problems, we don’t need to scope them out anymore. We don’t need to do the research on it, it’s already been done.”
Cause of missed Falcon 9 landing announced; Starlink 17 expected to fly Thursday – SpaceFlight Insider
SpaceX has announced their intention to launch the next batch of 60 Starlink satellites on March 4, 2021 – possibly as early as at 3:24 a.m. EST. The mission will fly from the historic LC-39A at NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where an auto-abort occurred with less than 2 minutes in the countdown during […]
March 2nd, 2021
SpaceX has announced their intention to launch the next batch of 60 Starlink satellites on March 4, 2021 – possibly as early as at 3:24 a.m. EST. The mission will fly from the historic LC-39A at NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where an auto-abort occurred with less than 2 minutes in the countdown during an earlier attempt at lofting the Starlink 17 payload, on February 28, 2021.
While the cause of that final-moments abort is unknown, it does not appear to be related to the February 15 in-flight anomaly which affected a Falcon 9 first stage, ultimately denying the recovery of the rocket but not impacting the primary mission of Starlink satellite deployment.
Starlink 17 will be the eighth flight for Falcon 9 booster serial number B1049, after an approximate ninety day turnaround. The SpaceX drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” is already staged 633 KM downrange in support of the first stage recovery, to be assisted by Tug Hawk and support ship GO Quest. Go Navigator and Go Searcher will attempt to recover the fairings, which are planned to splash down and be collected from the Atlantic Ocean.
The prior Falcon 9 which attempted to land on the SpaceX drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You”, failed due to a “hot gas breach” on a worn boot cover for one of the Merlin engines. An unintended gap meant that “a little bit of hot gas got to where it’s not supposed to be, and it caused that engine to shut down,” according to Benji Reed, Senior Director for Human Spaceflight Programs at SpaceX.
Reed was speaking during a NASA press conference on March 1, 2021, during which Steve Stitch, Manager of NASA’s commercial crew program, stated that the company will continue to follow SpaceX’s investigations into the Falcon 9 rocket ahead of the Crew-2 mission. Crew-2, scheduled for lift off from Florida’s space coast no earlier than (NET) April 20, 2021, is scheduled to fly with the same Falcon 9 first stage booster as was used for the Crew-1 launch.
Theresa Cross grew up on the Space Coast. It’s only natural that she would develop a passion for anything “Space” and its exploration. During these formative years, she also discovered that she possessed a talent and love for defining the unique quirks and intricacies that exist in mankind, nature, and machines.
Hailing from a family of photographers—including her father and her son, Theresa herself started documenting her world through pictures at a very early age. As an adult, she now exhibits an innate photographic ability to combine what appeals to her heart and her love of technology to deliver a diversified approach to her work and artistic presentations.
Theresa has a background in water chemistry, fluid dynamics, and industrial utility.
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