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NASA Releases Mars Perseverance Rover Landing Video: ‘Stuff of Our Dreams’

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By Associated Press | Updated: 23 February 2021

NASA on Monday released the first high-quality video of a spacecraft landing on Mars, a three-minute trailer showing the enormous orange and white parachute hurtling open and the red dust kicking up as rocket engines lowered the rover to the surface.

The footage was so good — and the images so breathtaking — that members of the rover team said they felt like they were riding along.

“It gives me goose bumps every time I see it, just amazing,” said Dave Gruel, head of the entry and descent camera team.

The Perseverance rover landed last Thursday near an ancient river delta in Jezero Crater to search for signs of ancient microscopic life. After spending the weekend binge-watching the descent and landing video, the team at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, shared the video at a news conference.

“These videos and these images are the stuff of our dreams,” said Al Chen, who was in charge of the landing team.

Six off-the-shelf colour cameras were devoted to entry, descent, and landing, looking up and down from different perspectives. All but one camera worked. The lone microphone turned on for landing failed, but NASA got some snippets of sound after touchdown: the whirring of the rover’s systems and wind gusts.

Flight controllers were thrilled with the thousands of images beamed back — and also with the remarkably good condition of NASA’s biggest and most capable rover yet. It will spend the next two years exploring the dry river delta and drilling into rocks that may hold evidence of life 3 billion to 4 billion years ago. The core samples will be set aside for return to Earth in a decade.

NASA added 25 cameras to the $3 billion (roughly Rs. 21,710 crores) mission — the most ever sent to Mars. The space agency’s previous rover, 2012’s Curiosity, managed only jerky, grainy stop-motion images, mostly of terrain. Curiosity is still working. So is NASA’s InSight lander, although it’s hampered by dusty solar panels.

They may have company in late spring, when China attempts to land its own rover, which went into orbit around Mars two weeks ago.

Deputy project manager Matt Wallace said he was inspired several years ago to film Perseverance’s harrowing descent when his young gymnast daughter wore a camera while performing a backflip.

Some of the spacecraft systems — like the sky crane used to lower the rover onto the Martian surface — could not be tested on Earth.

“So this is the first time we’ve had a chance as engineers to actually see what we designed,” Wallace told reporters.

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s science mission chief, said the video and also the panoramic views following touchdown “are the closest you can get to landing on Mars without putting on a pressure suit.”

The images will help NASA prepare for astronaut flights to Mars in the decades ahead, according to the engineers.

There’s a more immediate benefit.

“I know it’s been a tough year for everybody,” said imaging scientist Justin Maki, “and we’re hoping that maybe these images will help brighten people’s days.”

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Mars Perseverance Rover Landing Video, Audio From Red Planet Released by NASA: ‘Stuff of Our Dreams’

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By Associated Press | Updated: 23 February 2021

NASA on Monday released the first high-quality video of a spacecraft landing on Mars, a three-minute trailer showing the enormous orange and white parachute hurtling open and the red dust kicking up as rocket engines lowered the rover to the surface.

The US space agency also released an audio clip from the Red Planet. You can hear a faint sound of crackling wind recorded by the probe.

The footage was so good — and the images so breathtaking — that members of the rover team said they felt like they were riding along.

“It gives me goose bumps every time I see it, just amazing,” said Dave Gruel, head of the entry and descent camera team.

The Perseverance rover landed last Thursday near an ancient river delta in Jezero Crater to search for signs of ancient microscopic life. After spending the weekend binge-watching the descent and landing video, the team at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, shared the video at a news conference.

“These videos and these images are the stuff of our dreams,” said Al Chen, who was in charge of the landing team.

Six off-the-shelf colour cameras were devoted to entry, descent, and landing, looking up and down from different perspectives. All but one camera worked. The lone microphone turned on for landing failed, but NASA got some snippets of sound after touchdown: the whirring of the rover’s systems and wind gusts.

Flight controllers were thrilled with the thousands of images beamed back — and also with the remarkably good condition of NASA’s biggest and most capable rover yet. It will spend the next two years exploring the dry river delta and drilling into rocks that may hold evidence of life 3 billion to 4 billion years ago. The core samples will be set aside for return to Earth in a decade.

NASA added 25 cameras to the $3 billion (roughly Rs. 21,710 crores) mission — the most ever sent to Mars. The space agency’s previous rover, 2012’s Curiosity, managed only jerky, grainy stop-motion images, mostly of terrain. Curiosity is still working. So is NASA’s InSight lander, although it’s hampered by dusty solar panels.

They may have company in late spring, when China attempts to land its own rover, which went into orbit around Mars two weeks ago.

Deputy project manager Matt Wallace said he was inspired several years ago to film Perseverance’s harrowing descent when his young gymnast daughter wore a camera while performing a backflip.

Some of the spacecraft systems — like the sky crane used to lower the rover onto the Martian surface — could not be tested on Earth.

“So this is the first time we’ve had a chance as engineers to actually see what we designed,” Wallace told reporters.

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s science mission chief, said the video and also the panoramic views following touchdown “are the closest you can get to landing on Mars without putting on a pressure suit.”

The images will help NASA prepare for astronaut flights to Mars in the decades ahead, according to the engineers.

There’s a more immediate benefit.

“I know it’s been a tough year for everybody,” said imaging scientist Justin Maki, “and we’re hoping that maybe these images will help brighten people’s days.”

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Mars Rover Perseverance Beams Back Selfie from Moment Before Landing

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By Reuters | Updated: 20 February 2021

NASA scientists on Friday presented striking early images from the picture-perfect landing of the Mars rover Perseverance, including a selfie of the six-wheeled vehicle dangling just above the surface of the Red Planet moments before touchdown.

The color photograph, likely to become an instant classic among memorable images from the history of spaceflight, was snapped by a camera mounted on the rocket-powered “sky crane” descent-stage just above the rover as the car-sized space vehicle was being lowered on Thursday to Martian soil.

The image was unveiled by mission managers during an online news briefing webcast from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles less than 24 hours after the landing.

The picture, looking down on the rover, shows the entire vehicle suspended from three cables unspooled from the sky crane, along with an “umbilical” communications cord. Swirls of dust kicked up by the crane’s rocket thrusters are also visible.

Seconds later, the rover was gently planted on its wheels, its tethers were severed, and the sky crane – its job completed – flew off to crash a safe distance away, though not before photos and other data collected during the descent were transmitted to the rover for safekeeping.

The image of the dangling science lab, striking for its clarity and sense of motion, marks the first such close-up photo of a spacecraft landing on Mars, or any planet beyond Earth.

“This is something we’ve never seen before,” Aaron Stehura, a deputy lead for the mission’s descent and landing team, describing himself and colleagues as “awe-struck” when first viewing the image.

Instantly Iconic

Adam Steltzner, chief engineer for the Perseverance project at JPL, said he found the image instantly iconic, comparable to the shot of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin standing on the moon in 1969, or the Voyager 1 probe’s images of Saturn in 1980.

He said the viewer is connected with a landmark moment representing years of work by thousands of individuals.

“You are brought to the surface of Mars. You’re sitting there, seven meters off the surface of the rover looking down,” he said. “It’s absolutely exhilarating, and it is evocative of those other images from our experience as human beings moving out into our solar system.”

The image was taken at the very end of the so-called “seven-minutes-of-terror” descent sequence that brought Perseverance from the top of Mars’ atmosphere, traveling at 12,000 miles per hour, to a gentle touchdown on the floor of a vast basin called the Jezero Crater.

Next week, NASA hopes to present more photos and video – some possibly with audio – taken by all six cameras affixed to the descending spacecraft, showing more of the sky crane maneuvers, as well as the supersonic parachute deployment that preceded it.

Pauline Hwang, strategic mission manager, said the rover itself “is doing great and is healthy on the surface of Mars, and continues to be highly functional and awesome.”

The vehicle landed about two kilometers from tall cliffs at the base of a ancient river delta carved into the corner of the crater billions of years ago, when Mars was warmer, wetter and presumably hospitable to life.

Scientists say the site is ideal for pursuing Perseverance’s primary objective – searching for fossilized traces of microbial life preserved in sediments believed to have been deposited around the delta and the long-vanished lake it once fed.

Samples of rock drilled from the Martian soil are to be stored on the surface for eventual retrieval and delivery to Earth by two future robotic missions to the Red Planet, as early as 2031.

Another color photo published on Friday, captured moments after the rover’s arrival, shows a rocky expanse of terrain around the landing site and what appear to be the delta cliffs in the distance.

The mission’s surface team will spend the coming days and weeks unfastening, unfurling and testing the vehicle’s robot arm, communication antennae and other equipment, aligning instruments and upgrading the rover’s software, Hwang said.

She said it would be about nine “sols,” or Martian days, before the rover is ready for its first test spin.

One of Perseverance’s tasks before embarking on its search for signs of microbial life will be to deploy a miniature helicopter it carried to Mars for an unprecedented extraterrestrial test flight. But Hwang said that effort was still about two months away.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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New Look at First Black Hole Detected Shows It Is 50 Percent Bigger Than Expected

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By Reuters | Updated: 19 February 2021

A fresh examination has revealed new details about the first black hole ever detected – which was spotted in 1964 and became the subject of a friendly wager between renowned scientists – including that it is bigger than previously known.

Researchers said on Thursday that new observations of the Cygnus X-1 black hole, orbiting in a stellar marriage with a large and luminous star, showed it is 21 times our sun’s mass, about 50 percent more massive than previously believed.

While it is still one of the closest-known black holes, they found it is somewhat farther away than previously calculated, at 7,200 light years – the distance light travels in a year, 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion km) – from Earth.

Black holes are extremely dense, with gravitational pulls so ferocious not even light escapes. Some – the “supermassive” black holes – are immense, like the one at our Milky Way galaxy’s centre 4 million times the sun’s mass. Smaller “stellar-mass” black holes possess the mass of a single star.

Cygnus X-1 is the Milky Way’s largest-known stellar-mass black hole and among the strongest X-ray sources seen from Earth, said astronomer James Miller-Jones of Curtin University and the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research in Australia, who led the study published in the journal Science.

This black hole spins so rapidly, nearly light speed, that it approaches the maximum rate envisioned under physicist Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, Miller-Jones added.

It devours material blowing from the surface of the companion star it tightly orbits, a “blue supergiant” about 40 times our sun’s mass. It started its existence 4 million to 5 million years ago as a star up to 75 times the sun’s mass and collapsed into a black hole a few tens of thousands of years ago.

The research included data from the Very Long Baseline Array radio telescope comprising 10 US observation stations.

After Cygnus X-1 was first tabbed as a black hole, a wager was made between physicists Stephen Hawking, who bet against it being one, and Kip Thorne, who bet it was. Hawking eventually conceded, owing Thorne a Penthouse magazine subscription.

“Indeed, I did not have any wagers riding on these findings,” Miller-Jones said.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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NASA Mars Rover Perseverance Makes Historic Landing, to Look for Signs of Ancient Microbial Life

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By Reuters | Updated: 19 February 2021

NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance, the most advanced astrobiology lab ever sent to another world, streaked through the Martian atmosphere on Thursday and landed safely inside a vast crater, the first stop on a search for traces of ancient microbial life on the Red Planet.

Mission managers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles burst into applause, cheers and fist-bumps as radio beacons signaled that the rover had survived its perilous descent and arrived as planned on the floor of Jezero Crater, site of a long-vanished Martian lake bed.

The six-wheeled vehicle came to rest about 2 kilometres from towering cliffs at the foot of a remnant fan-shaped river delta etched into a corner of the crater billions of years ago and considered a prime spot for geo-biological study on Mars.

“Touchdown confirmed,” Swati Mohan, the lead guidance and operations specialist announced from the control room. “Perseverance safely on the surface of Mars.”

The robotic vehicle sailed through space for nearly seven months, covering 293 million miles (472 million km) before piercing the Martian atmosphere at 12,000 miles per hour (19,000 km per hour) to begin its descent to the planet’s surface.

Moments after touchdown, Perseverance beamed back its first black-and-white images from the Martian surface, one of them showing the rover’s shadow cast on the desolate, rocky landing site.

Because it takes radio waves 11 minutes to travel from Mars to Earth, the SUV-sized rover had already reached Martian soil by the time its arrival was confirmed by signals relayed to Earth from one of several satellites orbiting Mars.

The spacecraft’s self-guided descent and landing during a complex series of maneuvers that NASA dubbed “the seven minutes of terror” stands as the most elaborate and challenging feat in the annals of robotic spaceflight.

Acting NASA chief Steve Jurczyk called it an “amazing accomplishment,” adding, “I cannot tell you how overcome with emotion I was.”

Deputy Project Manager for the rover, Matt Wallace, said the descent and landing systems “performed flawlessly.”

The landing represented the riskiest part of two-year, $2.7 billion (roughly Rs. 19,620 crores) endeavour whose primary aim is to search for possible fossilised signs of microbes that may have flourished on Mars some 3 billion years ago, when the fourth planet from the sun was warmer, wetter, and potentially hospitable to life.

Scientists hope to find biosignatures embedded in samples of ancient sediments that Perseverance is designed to extract from Martian rock for future analysis back on Earth – the first such specimens ever collected by humankind from another planet.

Two subsequent Mars missions are planned to retrieve the samples and return them to NASA in the next decade, in collaboration with the European Space Agency.

Thursday’s landing also came as a triumph for a pandemic-weary United States, still gripped by economic and social upheaval from the COVID-19 pandemic. The public health crisis emerged in the months before the rover was launched in July and complicated execution of the Mars mission.

US President Joe Biden, watching NASA coverage of the event at the White House, tweeted his congratulations, saying, “Today proved once again that with the power of science and American ingenuity, nothing is beyond the realm of possibility.”

In a special salute in keeping with virtual communications emblematic of the era, the JPL webcast included a Zoom-like video collage flashing the faces of hundreds of Perseverance team members from home offices where many worked remotely through the pandemic.

Search for ancient life

NASA scientists have described Perseverance as the most ambitious of nearly 20 US missions to Mars dating back to the Mariner spacecraft’s 1965 fly-by.

Larger and packed with more instruments than the four Mars rovers preceding it, Perseverance is set to build on previous findings that liquid water once flowed on the Martian surface and that carbon and other minerals altered by water and considered precursors to the evolution of life were present.

Perseverance’s payload also includes demonstration projects that could help pave the way for eventual human exploration of Mars, including a device to convert the carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere into pure oxygen.

The box-shaped tool, the first built to extract a natural resource of direct use to humans from an extraterrestrial environment, could prove invaluable for future human life support on Mars and for producing rocket propellant to fly astronauts home.

Another experimental prototype carried by Perseverance is a miniature helicopter designed to test the first powered, controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet. If successful, the 4-pound (1.8-kg) helicopter could lead to low-altitude aerial surveillance of distant worlds, officials said.

The daredevil nature of the rover’s descent to the Martian surface, at a site that NASA described as both tantalising to scientists and especially hazardous for landing, was a momentous achievement in itself.

The multi-stage spacecraft carrying the rover soared into the top of Martian atmosphere at nearly 16 times the speed of sound on Earth, angled to produce aerodynamic lift while jet thrusters adjusted its trajectory.

A jarring, supersonic parachute inflation further slowed the descent, giving way to deployment of a rocket-powered “sky crane” vehicle that flew to a safe landing spot, lowered the rover on tethers, then flew off to crash a safe distance away.

Extra cameras designed to shoot video of Perseverance as it plunged toward the surface are believed to have captured the first footage ever recorded of a spacecraft descending onto another planet, JPL officials said. That video may be ready to show the world as early as next week, Wallace said.

Perseverance’s immediate predecessor, the rover Curiosity, landed in 2012 and remains in operation, as does the stationary lander InSight, which arrived in 2018 to study the deep interior of Mars.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Mars Rover Perseverance From NASA Attempting Most Difficult Touchdown Yet

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By Associated Press | Updated: 18 February 2021

Spacecraft aiming to land on Mars have skipped past the planet, burned up on entry, smashed into the surface, and made it down amid a fierce dust storm only to spit out a single fuzzy gray picture before dying.

Almost 50 years after the first casualty at Mars, NASA is attempting its hardest Martian touchdown yet.

The rover named Perseverance is headed Thursday for a compact 5-mile-by-4-mile (8-kilometre-by-6.4-kilometre) patch on the edge of an ancient river delta. It’s filled with cliffs, pits, sand dunes, and fields of rocks, any of which could doom the $3 billion (roughly Rs. 21,800 crores) mission. The once submerged terrain also could hold evidence of past life, all the more reason to gather samples at this spot for return to Earth 10 years from now.

While NASA has done everything possible to ensure success, “there’s always this fear that it won’t work well, it won’t go well,” Erisa Stilley, a landing team engineer, said Tuesday. “We’ve had a pretty good run of successful missions recently and you never want to be the next one that isn’t. It’s heartbreaking when it happens.”

A look at NASA’s latest mission:

Mars master

NASA has nailed eight of nine landing attempts, making the US the only country to achieve a successful touchdown. China hopes to become the second nation in late spring with its own life-seeking rover; its vessel entered orbit around Mars last week along with a United Arab Emirates spacecraft. The red planet’s extremely thin atmosphere makes it hard to get down safely. Russia has piled up the most lander losses at Mars and moon Phobos, beginning in the early 1970s. The European Space Agency also has tried and failed. Two NASA landers are still humming along: 2012′s Curiosity rover and 2018′s InSight. Launched last July, Perseverance will set down some 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometres) away at Jezero Crater, descending by parachute, rocket engines, and sky crane. The millions of lines of software code and hundreds of thousands of electric parts have to work with precision. “There’s no go-backs. There’s no retries,” deputy project manager Matt Wallace said Wednesday.

Toughest landing yet

NASA has equipped the 1-ton Perseverance — a beefier version of Curiosity — with the latest landing tech to ace this touchdown. A new autopilot tool will calculate the descending rover’s distance to the targeted location and release the massive parachute at the precise moment. Then another system will scan the surface, comparing observations with on-board maps. The rover could detour up to 2,000 feet (600 meters) while seeking somewhere safe, Neil Armstrong style. Without these gizmos, Jezero Crater would be too risky to attempt. Once down, the six-wheeled Perseverance should be the best driver Mars has ever seen, with more autonomy and range than Curiosity. “Percy’s got a new set of kicks,” explained chief engineer Adam Steltzner, “and she is ready for trouble on this Martian surface with her new wheels.”

Looking for signs of life

Where there was water, there may have been life. That’s why NASA wants Perseverance snooping around Jezero Crater, once home to a lake fed by a river. It’s now bone dry, but 3.5 billion years ago, this Martian lake was as big and wet as Nevada and California’s Lake Tahoe. Perseverance will shoot lasers at rocks judged most likely to contain evidence of past microscopic life, analysing the emitted vapour, and drill into the best candidates. A few dozen core samples — about a pound’s worth (one-half kilogram) of rock and dust — will be set aside in sealed titanium tubes for future pickup.

Round-trip ticket

Scientists have wanted to get hold of Mars rocks ever since NASA’s Mariners provided the first close pictures a half-century ago. NASA is teaming up with the European Space Agency to do just that. The bold plan calls for a rover and return rocket to launch to Mars in 2026, to retrieve Perseverance’s stash of samples. NASA expects to bring back the rocks as early as 2031, several years before the first astronauts might arrive on the scene. The rover’s super sterilised sample tubes are the cleanest components ever sent into space, according to NASA, to avoid any contaminating traces of Earth.

COVID-19 precautions

Speaking of clean, NASA’s Mars Mission Control has never been so spotless. Instead of passing around jars of peanuts right before Perseverance’s landing — a good luck tradition going back decades — masked flight controllers will get their own individual bags. It’s one of many COVID-19 precautions at California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The landing team will be spread over multiple rooms, with NASA bigwigs and journalists watching remotely. Launched last July, the aptly named Perseverance bears a plaque honoring health care workers battling the virus over the past year.

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Miniature Moon Rover From Hungary to Join Search for Water on Lunar Surface

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By Reuters | Updated: 17 February 2021

A miniature rover being developed to explore the Moon’s surface is on track to join the search for water there, its Hungarian inventors believe – using a device that weighs less than a bag of sugar.

Named after a Hungarian breed of dog, the Puli rover is a low-cost platform designed to carry different payloads, including the ice water snooper, which won the 2020 “Honey, I Shrunk the NASA Payload” challenge, a competition organised by the US space agency.

Weighing less than 400 grams (14 oz), its purpose is to probe for water ice by identifying and mapping the subsurface hydrogen content of the lunar soil.

“It looks for background radiation and then the background radiation induces a secondary radiation coming out of the Moon,” said Matyas Hazadi, head of technical engineering at Budapest-based Puli Space Technologies, which developed both it and the rover.

“It is comparing the different energy of the background radiation spectrum to find water.”

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) last year confirmed the existence of water – and hence a potential source of rocket fuel, rehydration and oxygen – on the Moon for the first time.

The rover has four independently steerable wheels formed of foot-like rubberised spokes and can scale 40-45 degrees slopes, and its prototypes have been tested on lunar-like terrain in Hawaii and Morocco.

Backed by NASA development funds, the firm expects it to be ready to deploy on a lunar mission from next year.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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