NASA Mars rover to collect rock with robotic arm, lasers

Science

Business Insider 22 July, 2021 - 05:47am 34 views

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Since the Mars rover landed on the red planet in February, it has explored the Martian surface, photographed its surroundings, and helped with the helicopter Ingenuity's test flights.

In June, Perseverance began its first scientific mission, setting off on a three-mile road trip to reach the Jezero Crater. Now it's there, the rover will pick up its first ever Mars rock sample with its 7-foot robotic arm, NASA said in a statement.

Instruments on the end of Perseverance's robotic arm will scan the Martian surface where it plans to extract the rock, NASA said. The arm will scrape off the top layers of rock and dust to expose an unweathered surface, the space agency added.

One of the instruments will fire a laser onto the surface to cut out a piece of the rock, according to NASA. The rover will stop for a Martian day to recharge its batteries for the next day, NASA said.

Perseverance will then lift out a chalk-sized rock sample and put it in a sealed tube, NASA said. A spacecraft will later pick up the tube and bring it back to Earth for scientific observation, the agency said.

The rock collection mission, which will begin within the next two weeks, will take Perseverance 11 days to complete, NASA said.

"While the rocks located in this geologic unit are not great time capsules for organics, we believe they have been around since the formation of Jezero Crater and incredibly valuable to fill gaps in our geologic understanding of this region," Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley said in the statement.

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The billionaire space race epitomizes capitalism’s destructive obsession with growth

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Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids, laments the Rocket Man in Elton John’s timeless classic. In fact, it’s cold as hell, but that doesn’t seem to worry a new generation of space entrepreneurs intent on colonizing the “final frontier” as fast as possible.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no sullen technophobe. As lockdown projects go, NASA’s landing of the Perseverance rover on the surface of the red planet earlier this year was a hell of a blast. Watching it reminded me that I once led a high school debate defending the motion: this house believes that humanity should reach for the stars.

It must have been around the time that Caspar Weinberger was trying to persuade President Nixon not to cancel the Apollo space program. My brothers and I watched the monochrome triumph of the Apollo 11 landing avidly in 1969. We witnessed the near disaster of Apollo 13 – immortalized in a 1995 Hollywood film – when Jim Lovell (played by Tom Hanks) and two rookie astronauts narrowly escaped with their lives by using the Lunar Module as an emergency life raft. We knew it was exciting up there.

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I remember later going to see Apollo 13 (the film) with a friend who wasn’t born when the mission itself took place. “What did you think?” I asked as we came out of the cinema. “It was OK,” said my friend. “Just not very believable.”

But we kids were glued to our black-and-white TV sets the entire week of the original mission. We watched in horror as CO₂ levels rose in the Lunar Module, we endured the endless blackout as the returning astronauts plunged perilously back to Earth, and we held our breath with the rest of the world as the expected four minutes stretched to five and hope began to fade. It was a full six minutes before the camera finally came into focus on the command module’s parachutes – safely deployed above the Pacific Ocean. We felt the endorphin rush. We knew it was believable.

That was 1970. This is now. And here I am again on the edge of another sofa, in the lingering uncertainty of the time of COVID-19, waiting for signs of arrival from another re-entry blackout on another barren rock, devoid of breathable atmosphere, 200 million miles away. When the Perseverance Rover finally touches down on the surface of Mars: that same exhilaration, that same endorphin rush. It’s quite difficult to witness the jubilation behind the masks at NASA’s mission control without feeling a glimmer of vicarious joy.

But NASA’s clever science experiment is just the tip of an expansionary iceberg. A teaser, if you will, for an ambitious dream that is being driven faster and faster by huge commercial interests. A curious twist in a debate that has been raging now for almost half a century.

Ever since 1972, when a team of MIT scientists published a massively influential report on the Limits to Growth, economists have been fighting about whether it’s possible for the economy to expand forever. Those who believe it can appeal to the power of technology to “decouple” economic activity from its effects on the planet. Those (like me) who believe it can’t point to the limited evidence for decoupling at anything like the pace that’s needed to avoid a climate emergency or prevent a catastrophic decline in biodiversity.

The growth debate often hangs on the power you attribute to technology to save us. Usually, it’s the technophiles arguing for infinite growth on a finite planet – sometimes putting their hopes in speculative technologies such as direct air capture or dangerous ones like nuclear power. And usually, it’s the skeptics arguing for a post-growth economy. But the simple division between technophiles and technophobes has never been particularly helpful. Very few growth skeptics reject technology completely, no one at all is asking humanity to return to the cave.

My own research teams at the University of Surrey have been exploring the vital role of sustainable technology in transforming the economy for almost three decades now. But we’ve also shown how the dynamics of capitalism – in particular its relentless pursuit of productivity growth – continually push society towards materialistic goals, and undermine those parts of the economy such as care, craft, and creativity, which are essential to our quality of life.

And now suddenly, along comes a group of self-confessed technology lovers finally admitting that the planet is too small for us. Yes, you were right, they imply: the Earth cannot sustain infinite growth. That’s why we have to expand into space.

Before it spends trillions of dollars littering its techno-junk around the solar system, this house believes that humanity should pay a little more attention to what’s happening right here and now on this planet. What just happened? Did somebody move the goalposts? Something is wrong. Maybe it’s me. One thing I know for sure. I’m no longer the same kid I was – the one from the debating society. This house believes that humanity should grow the fuck up.

Perhaps ironically, it was from space that we saw it first. In October 1957, the Soviets sent an unmanned orbital satellite called Sputnik into space. It was one of those odd moments in history (like the coronavirus) that dramatically reshapes our social world. Sputnik kicked off the space race, intensified the arms race, and heightened the cold war. It was a huge blow to US self-esteem not to be the first nation to reach space and it was the jolt it used to kickstart the Apollo Moon shot. No one likes coming second, especially the most powerful people on the planet.

Sputnik also signaled the beginning of a new relationship between humanity and its earthly home. As the political philosopher, Hannah Arendt remarked in the prologue to her 1958 masterpiece, The Human Condition, going into space allowed us to grasp our planetary predicament for the first time in history. It was a reminder that “the Earth is the quintessence of the human condition”.  And nature itself, “for all we know, may be unique in providing human beings with a habitat in which they can move and breathe without effort and without artifice”.

Fair point. And nothing we’ve learned in the intervening years has changed that prognosis. Mars may be the most habitable planet in the solar system, outside our own. But it’s still a very far cry from the beauty of home – whose fragility we only truly learned to appreciate fully from the images sent back to us from space.

Nature photographer Galen Rowell once called William Anders’ iconic photo Earthrise – taken from the Apollo 8 module in lunar orbit – “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken”. Earthrise brought home to us, in one astonishing image, the stark reality that this shining orb was – and still is – humanity’s best chance for anything that might meaningfully be called the “good life”.

Its beauty is our beauty. Its fragility is our fragility. And its peril is our peril.

In the very same year that Arendt published The Human Condition, a Shell executive named Charles Jones presented a paper to the fossil fuel industry’s trade group, the American Petroleum Institute, warning of the impact of carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion on the atmosphere. It was early evidence of climate change.

It was also evidence, according to lawsuits now being filed by cities and states in the US, that companies like Shell knew it was happening more than 60 years ago – three decades before James Hansen’s scientific testimony to Congress in 1988 brought global warming to public attention. And they did nothing about it. Worse, argue plaintiffs like the state of Delaware, lied over and again to cover up this “inconvenient truth”.

Why such a thing could happen is now clear. Evidence of their impact was a direct threat to the profits of some of the most powerful corporations on the planet. Profit is the bedrock of capitalism. And as I argue in my new book, we have allowed capitalism to trump everything: work, life, hope – even good governance. The most enlightened governments in the world have turned a blind eye to the need for urgent action. Now we’re on the verge of being too late to fix it. Achieving net-zero by 2050 is no longer enough. We need much more, much faster to avoid ending up in an unliveable hothouse.

Even as I write, record-breaking temperatures, 10-20℃ above the seasonal average, have forced citizens on the west coast of North America into underground shelters to avoid the searing heat. Wildfires are raging in California’s Death Valley, where temperatures have reached an astonishing 54℃. On the storm-struck east coast, floodwaters have inundated the New York subway system. Thousands remain homeless and hundreds are still missing, meanwhile, as historic flooding across central Europe has left almost 200 people dead.

In the face of the blindingly obvious, even recalcitrant presidents and politicians are at last beginning to acknowledge the scale of the peril in which our relentless pursuit of economic growth has placed the planet. In principle, they still have time to do something about it.

As I and many colleagues have argued, the pandemic offers us a unique opportunity to fashion a different kind of economy. The 26th Conference of the Parties to the UN Climate Change Convention (COP26) in Glasgow in November 2021 could well be the place to do that. Whether that happens or not will depend as much on vision as it does on science. And on our courage to confront the inequalities of power that led us to this point.

It will also depend on us going back to the first principles and asking ourselves: how exactly should we aim to live in the only habitable world in the known universe? What is the nature of the good life available to us here? What can prosperity possibly mean for a promiscuous species on a finite planet?

The question is almost as old as the hills. But the contemporary answer to it is paralyzingly narrow. Cast in the garb of late capitalism, prosperity has been captured by the ideology of “growth at all costs”: an insistence that more is always better. Despite overwhelming evidence that relentless expansion is undermining nature and driving us towards a devastating climate emergency, the “fairytales of eternal growth” still reign supreme.

It’s an ironic twist in the tale of the debate society kid I used to be that I’ve spent most of my professional life confronting those fairytales of growth. Don’t ask me how that happened. By accident mostly.

I toyed with the idea of studying astrophysics. But I ended up studying Maths at Cambridge, where I confess to being baffled by the complexity of it all until I realized that even math is just a trick. Quite literally a formula. Believe in it and you can travel to the stars and back. In your mind, at least.

And there I was wandering around in zero-G, when I woke up one day (in April 1986) to find that the Number four reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine had suffered a catastrophic meltdown. I suddenly realized that the very same skills I’d spent my life developing were leading humanity not towards the stars but away from the paradise we already inhabit.

So yes. I changed my mind. The next day I walked into the Greenpeace office in London and asked what I could do to help. They set me working on the economics of renewable energy I became, accidentally, an economist. (Economics needs more accidental economists.) And that’s when it began to dawn on me that learning how to live well on this fragile planet is far more important than dreaming about the next one.

Not so the space race billionaires. A handful of unbelievably powerful men, whose wealth has exploded massively throughout the pandemic, are now busy trying to persuade us that the future lies not here on Earth but out there among the stars.

Tesla founder and serial entrepreneur, Elon Musk is one of these new rocket men. “Those who attack space,” he tweeted recently, “maybe don’t realize that space represents hope for so many people”. That may be true of course in a world where huge inequalities of wealth and privilege strip hope from the lives of billions of people. But, as the spouse of a Nasa flight controller pointed out, it obscures the extraordinary demands of escaping from Mother Earth, in terms of energy materials, people and time.

Undeterred, the rocket men gaze starward. If resources are the problem, then space must be the answer. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is pretty explicit about his own expansionary vision. “We can have a trillion humans in the solar system,” he once declared. “Which means we’d have a thousand Mozarts and a thousand Einsteins. This would be an incredible civilization.”

Bezos and Musk have spent their lockdown contesting the top two places on the Forbes rich list. They’ve also been playing “mine is bigger than yours” in their own private space race for a couple of decades now. Bezos’s personal wealth almost doubled during the course of a pandemic that destroyed the lives and livelihoods of millions. He’s now stepping down to spend more time on Blue Origin, the company he hopes will deliver vast human colonies across the solar system.

The declared aim of Musk’s rival company, SpaceX, is “to make humanity multi-planetary”. Just like Kim Stanley Robinson’s science fiction trilogy back in the 1990s, Musk aims to establish a permanent human colony on Mars. To get there, he reasons, we need very big rockets – or, in the original terminology of SpaceX, Big Fucking Rockets (BFRs) – eventually capable of transporting scores of people and hundreds of tonnes of equipment millions of miles across the solar system.

The BFRs have now given way to a series of (more sedately named) Starships. And to prove his green credentials, Musk desperately wants these starships to be reusable. So much so that SpaceX conspired to blow up four consecutive Starship prototypes in quick succession during the first four months of 2021 trying unsuccessfully to re-land them.

Move fast and break things is the Silicon Valley motto of course, but eventually, you’ve got to bring the goods home. Starship SN15 finally achieved that on May 5 – three weeks after SpaceX had landed a massive US$2.9 billion contract from NASA, nudging Blue Origin into the space race shadows.

Not wanting to be outdone, Bezos came up with what he must have hoped was the ultimate comeback. When Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket – which is also reusable – made its first manned space flight on July 20, he and his brother Mark would be two of the first few passengers on board. Wow, Jeff! Kudos man! Now you really show us your cojones! Nobody likes coming second. Least of all the most powerful people on the planet.

But sometimes you get no choice. Out of the blue, without so much as a by-your-leave, Virgin boss, Richard Branson swooped in to steal everyone’s thunder. On July 11, nine days before Bezos’s big day, Branson became the first ever billionaire to launch himself into space.

And for a cool US$250,000, he promised that you too can be one of Virgin Galactic’s 600 or so breathless customers, waiting to enjoy three or four weightless minutes gazing back in rapture at the planet you’ve left behind. Apparently, Musk has already signed up. Bezos doesn’t need to. He’s made his own virgin space flight now.

The space rhetoric of the super-rich betrays a mentality that may once have served humanity well. Some would say it’s a quintessential feature of capitalism. Innovation upon innovation. A driving ambition to expand and explore. A primal urge to escape our origins and reach for the next horizon. Space travel is a natural extension of our obsession with economic growth. It’s the crowning jewel of capitalism. Further and faster is its frontier creed.

I’ve spent much of my professional life as a critic of that creed, not just for environmental reasons but on social grounds as well. The seven years I spent as economics commissioner on the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission and my subsequent research at the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity revealed something fundamental about our aspirations for the good life. Something that has been underlined by the experience of the pandemic.

Prosperity is as much about health as it is about wealth. Ask people what matters most in their lives and the chances are that this will come out somewhere near the top of the list. Health for themselves. Health for their friends and their families. Health too – sometimes – for the fragile planet on which we live and on whose health we ourselves depend.

There’s something fascinating about this idea. Because it confronts the obsession with growth head on. As Aristotle pointed out in Nicomachean Ethics (a book named after his physician father), the good life is not a relentless search for more, but a continual process of finding a “virtuous” balance between too little and too much.

Population health provides an obvious example of this idea. Too little food and we’re struggling with diseases of malnutrition. Too much and we’re tipped into the “diseases of affluence” that now kill more people than under-nutrition does. Good health depends on us finding and nurturing this balance.

This task is always tricky of course, even at the individual level. Just think about the challenge of keeping your exercise, your diet, and your appetites in line with the outcome of a healthy body weight. But as I’ve argued, living inside a system that has its sights continually focused on more makes the task near impossible. Obesity has tripled since 1975. Almost two-fifths of adults over 18 are overweight. Capitalism not only fails to recognize the point where the balance lies. It has absolutely no idea how to stop when it gets there.

You’d think our brush with mortality through the pandemic would have brought some of this home to us. You’d think it would give us pause for thought about what really matters to us: the kind of world we want for our children; the kind of society we want to live in. And for many people it has. In a survey carried out during lockdown in the UK, 85% of respondents found something in their changed conditions they felt worth keeping and fewer than 10% wanted a complete return to normal.

When life and health are at stake, the ungodly scramble for wealth and status feels less and less attractive. Even the lure of technology pales. Family, conviviality, and a sense of purpose come to the fore. These are the things that many people found they lacked most throughout the pandemic. But their importance in our lives was not a COVID accident: they are the most fundamental elements of  sustainable prosperity.

Something even more surprising has emerged during my three decades of research. Behind consumer capitalism, behind the frontier mentality, beyond the urge to expand forever lies a deep-seated and pervasive anxiety.

What does day two look like, Bezos once asked a crowd of the faithful, referring to his famous maxim about the need to innovate. “Day two is stasis, followed by irrelevance, followed by an excruciatingly painful decline, followed by death,” he said. “And that. Is why. It is always. Day one!” His audience loved it.

Musk plays out his own inner demons just as disarmingly. “I’m not trying to be anyone’s savior,” he once told TED’s head curator, Chris Anderton. “I’m just trying to think about the future – and not be sad.” Again, the applause was deafening.

A well-trained therapist could have a field day with all of this. Take that miraculous day a few weeks after the Perseverance rover started sending home the most amazing selfies in the universe when the Ingenuity helicopter made its virgin flight in the wafer thin atmosphere of Mars. It was the kind of outcome that could have intelligence agencies drooling over far less benign uses of the technology. But there was also something pretty existential going on.

The faint whispering of the Martian wind relayed faithfully across the solar system, doesn’t just confirm the possibilities for aerial flight on an alien planet. It’s grist to the mill of an essential belief that human beings are endlessly creative and fiendishly clever.

Our visceral response to these momentary triumphs speaks to a branch of psychology called terror management theory drawn from the work of cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker. It was explored in particular in his astonishing 1973 book The Denial of Death. In it, Becker argues that modern society has lost its way, precisely because we’ve become terrified of confronting the inevitability of our own demise.

Terror management theory tells us that, when mortality becomes “salient”, instead of addressing the underlying fear, we turn for comfort to the things which make us feel good. Capitalism itself is a massive comfort blanket, designed to help us never confront the mortality that awaits us all. So too are the dreams of the rocket men.

When Sputnik kickstarted the first “space race” six decades ago, a US newspaper headline called it “one step toward [our] escape from imprisonment to the Earth”. Arendt read those words with astonishment. She saw there a deep-seated “rebellion against human existence”. It isn’t just the pandemic that locks us down, the implication is. It’s the entire human condition.

The anxiety we feel is nothing new. The choice between confronting our fears and running away from them has always been a profound one. It’s exactly the choice we’re facing now. As vaccine roll-out brings a glimmer of light at the end of COVID-19, the temptation to rush into wild escapism is massive.

But for all its glamour, the “final frontier” is at best an amusement and at worst a fatal distraction from the urgent task of rebuilding a society ravaged by social injustice, climate change, and a loss of faith in the future.

With most of us still reeling from what the World Health Organisation has called a shadow pandemic in mental health, any kind of escape plan at all looks remarkably like paradise. And emigrating to Mars is one hell of an escape plan.

Let’s dream of some “final frontier” by all means. But let’s focus our minds too on some quintessentially earthly priorities. Affordable healthcare. Decent homes for the poorest in society. A solid education for our kids. Reversing the decades-long precarity in the livelihoods of the frontline workers – the ones who saved our lives. Regenerating the devastating loss of the natural world. Replacing frenetic consumerism with an economy of care and relationship and meaning.

Never have these things made so much sense to so many. Never has there been a better time to turn them into a reality. Not just for the handful of billionaires dreaming of unbridled wealth on the red planet, but for the eight billion mere mortals living out their far less brazen dreams on the blue one.

TNW is a Financial Times company.

Perseverance rover prepares to collect Martian samples that will be sent to Earth

CNN 22 July, 2021 - 11:00am

Updated 4:58 PM ET, Wed July 21, 2021

Major Milestone: NASA Perseverance Mars Rover To Acquire First Sample

SciTechDaily 22 July, 2021 - 04:27am

Perseverance Scouts First Sampling Location: A light-colored “paver stone” like the ones seen in this mosaic will be the likely target for first sampling by the Perseverance rover. The image was taken on July 8, 2021, in the “Cratered Floor Fractured Rough” geologic unit at Jezero Crater. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

NASA is making final preparations for its Perseverance Mars rover to collect its first-ever sample of Martian rock, which future planned missions will transport to Earth. The six-wheeled geologist is searching for a scientifically interesting target in a part of Jezero Crater called the “Cratered Floor Fractured Rough.”

Perseverance’s First Road Trip: This annotated image of Jezero Crater depicts the routes for Perseverance’s first science campaign (yellow hash marks) as well as its second (light-yellow hash marks). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

This important mission milestone is expected to begin within the next two weeks. Perseverance landed in Jezero Crater February 18, and NASA kicked off the rover mission’s science phase June 1, exploring a 1.5-square-mile (4-square-kilometer) patch of crater floor that may contain Jezero’s deepest and most ancient layers of exposed bedrock.

“When Neil Armstrong took the first sample from the Sea of Tranquility 52 years ago, he began a process that would rewrite what humanity knew about the Moon,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters. “I have every expectation that Perseverance’s first sample from Jezero Crater, and those that come after, will do the same for Mars. We are on the threshold of a new era of planetary science and discovery.”

Perseverance Rover Location: This map shows the landing site for NASA’s Perseverance rover within Jezero Crater. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

It took Armstrong 3 minutes and 35 seconds to collect that first Moon sample. Perseverance will require about 11 days to complete its first sampling, as it must receive its instructions from hundreds of millions of miles away while relying on the most complex and capable, as well as the cleanest, mechanism ever to be sent into space – the Sampling and Caching System.

The sampling sequence begins with the rover placing everything necessary for sampling within reach of its 7-foot-long (2-meter-long) robotic arm. It will then perform an imagery survey, so NASA’s science team can determine the exact location for taking the first sample and a separate target site in the same area for “proximity science.”

“The idea is to get valuable data on the rock we are about to sample by finding its geologic twin and performing detailed in-situ analysis,” said science campaign colead Vivian Sun, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “On the geologic double, first we use an abrading bit to scrape off the top layers of rock and dust to expose fresh, unweathered surfaces, blow it clean with our Gas Dust Removal Tool, and then get up close and personal with our turret-mounted proximity science instruments SHERLOC, PIXL, and WATSON.”

Perseverance First Sample Location: This annotated image depicts the area within the “Cratered Floor Fractured Rough” geologic unit that Perseverance rover will hunt for a suitable first sample target. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals), PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry), and the WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) camera will provide mineral and chemical analysis of the abraded target.

Perseverance’s SuperCam and Mastcam-Z instruments, both located on the rover’s mast, will also participate. While SuperCam fires its laser at the abraded surface, spectroscopically measuring the resulting plume and collecting other data, Mastcam-Z will capture high-resolution imagery.

Working together, these five instruments will enable unprecedented analysis of geological materials at the worksite.

“After our pre-coring science is complete, we will limit rover tasks for a sol, or a Martian day,” said Sun. “This will allow the rover to fully charge its battery for the events of the following day.”

Sampling day kicks off with the sample-handling arm within the Adaptive Caching Assembly retrieving a sample tube, heating it, and then inserting it into a coring bit. A device called the bit carousel transports the tube and bit to a rotary-percussive drill on Perseverance’s robotic arm, which will then drill the untouched geologic “twin” of the rock studied the previous sol, filling the tube with a core sample roughly the size of a piece of chalk.

Perseverance’s arm will then move the bit-and-tube combination back into bit carousel, which will transfer it back into the Adaptive Caching Assembly, where the sample will be measured for volume, photographed, hermetically sealed, and stored. The next time the sample tube contents are seen, they will be in a clean room facility on Earth, for analysis using scientific instruments much too large to send to Mars.

“Not every sample Perseverance is collecting will be done in the quest for ancient life, and we don’t expect this first sample to provide definitive proof one way or the other,” said Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley, of Caltech. “While the rocks located in this geologic unit are not great time capsules for organics, we believe they have been around since the formation of Jezero Crater and incredibly valuable to fill gaps in our geologic understanding of this region – things we’ll desperately need to know if we find life once existed on Mars.”

A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is the first step in NASA’s Mars Sample Return Campaign. Subsequent NASA missions, now in development in cooperation with the European Space Agency, would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.

JPL is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California.

A remarkable technological achievement. But one unlikely to add much to the search for life in rocks that are billions of years old. The chemistry and mineralogy of these indurated sediments will not change when studied back on Earth. The critical point will be the finding of fossil organic carbon, the preserved remains from microbes. The odds are very long on these light-colored oxidized rocks. A dark colored shale or mudstone would be a better choice. So far, none have been seen.

In 1976 NASA threw there own Scientist and lab experiment under the bus. The very first try and proof of life existed. Except it didn’t because NASA and the Jet Propulsion Lab realized their mistake. No more money! Gotta milk that cow..So they harpooned and hid the evidence behind the time honored tradition of ruining a scientist career. All true, but no one cares because the media told them not to.

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NASA warns Mars: We're about to laser your rocks and start stealing them

The Register 22 July, 2021 - 01:00am

NASA's Perseverance Mars rover has started the process of acquiring its first sample of Martian rock.

The space agency on Thursday gave Martian authorities fair warning of the imminent heist, which will see the rover move to a spot named "Cratered Floor Fractured Rough" that offers geology of sufficient interest that it's worth bringing bits of it home.

NASA's plan is to find two patches of similar rock and subject one to the tender embrace of an "abrading bit to scrape off the top layers of rock and dust to expose fresh, unweathered surfaces". Next, NASA will "blow it clean with our Gas Dust Removal Tool".

An area of Mars similar to that NASA expects to sample. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS. Click to enlarge

Three instruments – named Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals, Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering, and Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (SHERLOC, WATSON and PIXL) – will then analyse the abraded sample.

Another instrument – the mast-mounted SuperCam, which lacks a clever acronym – will fire a laser at the rock and analyse the resulting plume of heated Mars stuff that it will photograph and analyse.

Once the laser-packing space tank has got all that business done, it'll wheel out a rotary-percussive drill, connect it to a robotic arm, and drill the untouched geologic 'twin' of the rock that was previously subjected to abrading and lasering.

The rover will fill a tube with "a core sample roughly the size of a piece of chalk".

Perseverance carries 43 sample tubes, and the rover is expected to collect at least 20 samples during its working life.

NASA currently has no firm plan to retrieve the samples. Indeed its mission description page mentions only a "potential return to Earth". A concept for the return mission does exist, and suggests a mission leaving in 2026 could do the job and bring samples back to Earth in 2031. The Register has previously spoken to the designer of the "fetch rover" to be used on that mission.

If that's too long to wait, or even contemplate, NASA says acquisition of the first sample "is expected to begin within the next two weeks". ®

Russia's latest contribution to the International Space Station (ISS), successfully launched yesterday, but appears to have run into problems on orbit.

Dubbed "Nauka" (meaning "Science"), the Multipurpose Laboratory Module predates the ISS itself. Construction started in the late 1990s, and continued in stops and starts during the 21st century.

Launch dates for the lab came and went over subsequent decades. The European Space Agency (ESA) provided a robot arm for the module, which sat in storage as the years passed and the delays piled up. Problems with the propulsion system, contamination in the tanks, and expiration of components all contributed to the arrival date at the ISS moving further into the future.

A new initiative aims to make it easier to report personal abuse and harassment within the information security industry – without the involvement of social media mobs.

Respect in Security, launched today with support from Trend Micro's veep of security research Rik Ferguson, Lisa Forte, a partner at Red Goat Cyber Security and other notable folk from the UK infosec scene, aims to set up a "vulnerability style" reporting scheme for infosec professionals to flag up harassment and abuse to abusers' employers.

Research commissioned by Respect in Security said about a third of 302 industry professionals had experienced harassment at work while online and in-person, with a significant amount of in-person harassment occurring at industry events and during work socials.

Mike Lynch, former chief exec of Autonomy, has reportedly lost in London's Westminster Magistrates' Court an early stage of his fight against extradition from the UK to the US.

District Judge Michael Snow is said to have announced his decision at a virtual hearing earlier this afternoon, also handing down a written judgment.

One of Lynch's public relations advisers confirmed the news to The Register, which is also being reported on subscription-only legal newswire Law360.

Texas Instruments is flexing its chip-making muscles, boasting of impressive foresight in avoiding the worst of the component shortages and its progress in bringing two new fabs online – but admits it could be years before either begin producing in volume.

"We are investing for the long-term," Dave Pahl, head of investor relations, claimed during the company's earnings call. "Some of the obvious things that you can see are the new manufacturing investments in RFAB2. If you're down here in Texas, you will see cranes up over the building. I think I counted six or seven at the max that were up over that."

Pahl confirmed the company is investing in all its fabrication facilities to bring supply closer to meeting demand, increasing its output at the RFAB1 facility and continuing work to bring RFAB2, its third 300mm wafer facility, online.

The UK’s consumer guardian for the financial services sector looks set to chop 38 jobs from its IT department in favour of buying Workday cloud-based HR and hiring an external service provider to support its compute plans.

Just week ago, the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) launched a tender for an IT services partner capable of supporting and developing its new data warehouse and CRM systems in a deal that could be worth up to £22m. It is also set to go live in September on Workday’s SaaS finance and HR system under a £6m, five-year contract awarded in November 2020.

In a communication to the IT department - seen by The Reg - CIO Nicola Wadham said the “organisation change journey” was not over, and the team would “need to respond to changes the technology roadmap brings”.

Netgear has blamed a noticeable slump in one market sector on a surprising cause: the COVID-19 vaccination programme in the UK and US.

In results published late yesterday, the computer networking outfit boasted of double-digit revenue growth and a 58 per cent boost in products aimed at small and medium-sized businesses year-on-year. The company's numbers were pushed down, however, by ongoing component shortages affecting the whole industry and an admitted misstep in forecasts following the unexpected success of the ongoing vaccination programme.

"We were planning that it would be a 50 per cent growth over 2019 first half," chief exec Patrick Lo told folk on the earnings call regarding its projections for the lucrative connected home product market – revenue from which ended the quarter down 12.6 per cent sequentially and flat year-on-year.

Salesforce has completed its long-awaited mega-slurp of Slack Technologies, Inc for an eye-watering $27.7bn.

The intention to buy was made public back in December 2020, when the business run by Marc Benioff said: "Slack will be deeply integrated into every Salesforce Cloud."

The CRM firm said Slack, which at the time had listed just 18 months before on the NYSE with a valuation of $16bn+, would also become the interface to Salesforce's CRM platform.

A post on why using Kubernetes to scale would mean "doing mostly the same things but in a more complicated way" was so popular that the site hosting the article went down due to the sheer volume of traffic.

Maik Zumstrull is writer of code at Ably, a company which runs pub/sub (publish and subscribe) messaging services. He wrote a post titled "No, we don't use Kubernetes" stating that the Google-invented container orchestration software is "very much at the peak of its hype cycle."

However, he added that for what Ably does – "run a large scale production infrastructure that powers our customers' real-time messaging applications around the world" – using Kubernetes would not help. His post appears to have been prompted by the fact that some customers and potential new recruits see this non-adoption as a problem. "We have even had interesting candidates walk away from job offers citing the fact that we don't use Kubernetes as the reason," Zumstrull said.

"Software research is a train wreck," says Hillel Wayne, a Chicago-based software consultant who specialises in formal methods, instancing the received wisdom that bugs are way more expensive to fix once software is deployed.

Wayne did some research, noting that "if you Google 'cost of a software bug' you will get tons of articles that say 'bugs found in requirements are 100x cheaper than bugs found in implementations.' They all use this chart from the 'IBM Systems Sciences Institute'... There's one tiny problem with the IBM Systems Sciences Institute study: it doesn't exist."

Laurent Bossavit, an Agile methodology expert and technical advisor at software consultancy CodeWorks in Paris, has dedicated some time to this matter, and has a post on GitHub called "Degrees of intellectual dishonesty". Bossavit referenced a successful 1987 book by Roger S Pressman called Software Engineering: a Practitioner's Approach, which states: "To illustrate the cost impact of early error detection, we consider a series of relative costs that are based on actual cost data collected for large software projects [IBM81]."

Feature Terry Wogan has a lot to answer for. From 1982 to 1992, he presented an eponymous chat show on BBC1 where he would often interview celebrities via satellite in front of an unconvincing backdrop of the Hollywood sign.

Back then, everyone had a single word to describe satellite communications: slow. The interviewer would ask a question, two or three seconds later you would see the interviewee's eyebrows twitch as they heard the first word, and then a few more seconds later the mouth would begin to move and the words spouted forth.

Satellite communications in the late '80s and early '90s were cumbersome, but they worked, and they were pretty much the best you could get for TV-quality video communication. The first transatlantic fibre cable, TAT-8, didn't exist until 1988, with a princely 280Mbit/sec bandwidth, so flinging TV over wires hadn't yet been done.

Thales has announced what it claims is the "world's first" payment card to include an onboard fingerprint sensor, promising improved security and usability – and an end to contactless payment limits.

The Thales Gemalto Biometric Sensor Payment card (BSPC), the company explained, replaces the traditional PIN with an on-card fingerprint sensor and requires no modifications to existing point-of-sale (POS) payment terminals. Banks signing up to use it, though, will need to implement a procedure for enrolling users' fingerprints onto the card's secure element.

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NASA's Perseverance Mars rover begins hunt for signs of past life

Fox News 21 July, 2021 - 11:43am

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Mechanical engineering professor Mike Massimino discusses the complex mission to the Red Planet on 'Your World'

NASA's Perseverance Mars rover has begun its hunt for evidence of ancient microbial life

The spacecraft, which landed on the red planet in February, has tested an array of instruments on its 7-foot robotic arm. 

In a Monday release, NASA said that Perseverance had commenced its probe of Martian rocks and sediment, testing detectors and capturing its first science readings.

The rover will use X-rays and ultraviolet light to examine rocks in addition to zooming for "closeups" of surfaces.

The agency said that Perseverance's PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry) – an X-ray instrument – had already shown "unexpectedly strong science results" during its testing, including determining the composition of Martian dust clinging to a small calibration target aboard Perseverance

"We got our best-ever composition analysis of Martian dust before it even looked at rock," Abigail Allwood, PIXL’s principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said.

Perseverance remains in the area around Jezero Crater – NASA's initial landing site and a crater lake billions of years ago.

Working with the SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals) spectrometer – which uses an ultraviolet laser to map mineralogy and organic compounds – and its WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and Engineering) camera, NASA scientists combined mineral maps from the three instruments. 

Early images from WATSON have already provided data from Martian rocks, according to NASA, including information regarding colors, sizes of grains and the presence of "cement" between the grains. 

Eventually, the Perseverance rover will collect and cache the rock and regolith to be returned in a joint mission with the ESA (European Space Agency).

However, any geological insights discovered before then will be critical to understanding the history of the crater and "place any indication of possible life in context."

"Mars 2020, in my view, is the best opportunity we will have in our lifetime to address that question," said Kenneth Williford, the deputy project scientist for Perseverance.

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Perseverance rover has started to hunt for signs of life on Mars

Daily Mail 21 July, 2021 - 09:03am

By Chris Ciaccia For Dailymail.Com

NASA's Perseverance rover has officially started its search for ancient life on Mars and the US space agency will share the initial findings on Wednesday.

According to a NASA statement, the $2.7 billion rover is using its seven-foot mechanical arm to analyze Martian rocks with X-rays and ultraviolet light.

This allows the rover to 'zoom in for closeups' of tiny segments of rock that may show signs of microbial activity in the past.

Known as PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry), the X-ray instrument on the arm 'delivered unexpectedly strong science results' while it was still being tested, a period that lasted 90 sols (Martian days), according to Abigail Allwood, PIXL's principal investigator at NASA JPL.

NASA's Perseverance rover has started its search for ancient life on Mars. A news conference will be held on Wednesday at 1 p.m. EST to discuss the results

PIXL, one of seven instruments aboard NASA's Perseverance Mars rover, is equipped with light diodes circling its opening to take pictures of rock targets in the dark

Scroll down for video 

'We got our best-ever composition analysis of Martian dust before it even looked at rock,' Allwood said.

Along with PIXL, all of the tools on Perseverance's arm are designed to look at the rocks in the 28 mile-wide Jezero Crater, which many scientists believe was home to a lake billions of years ago. 

PIXL 'delivered unexpectedly strong ... results' while still testing, NASA said in a statement

'If life was there in Jezero Crater, the evidence of that life could be there,' Allwood added.  

NASA will hold a news conference on Wednesday, starting at 1 p.m. EST to discuss the early results, the US agency said in a separate statement.   

One of the other tools on Perseverance's robotic arm, known as SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals), uses an ultraviolet laser to identify the minerals in the rock.

Its partner, the aptly named WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and Engineering) camera, snaps closeup images (including an image of a rock known as 'Foux' on July 11) which allows scientists to get granular detail, such as grain size, texture and how round the rocks are.

These details can all help determine when the rock was formed and give additional context on the crater itself.

'What is the crater floor made out of? What were the conditions like on the crater floor?' Luther Beegle of JPL, SHERLOC's principal investigator asked. 

'That does tell us a lot about the early days of Mars, and potentially how Mars formed. If we have an idea of what the history of Mars is like, we'll be able to understand the potential for finding evidence of life.'

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover took this close-up of a rock nicknamed 'Foux' using its WATSON camera on July 11

Perseverance's shift to science missions started on June 1 as it moved away from its touchdown zone, known as the Octavia E. Butler landing site, in the 28 mile-wide crater, where it landed on February 18.

As part of its science mission, expected to last 'hundreds of sols' or Martian days, it will study two unique geologic areas in the 1.5 mile-wide area of Jezero's floor: the 'Crater Floor Fractured Rough' and 'Séítah.' 

The Perseverance rover will explore two regions in Mars' Jezero Crater:  the 'Crater Floor Fractured Rough' and 'Séítah' (pictured)

This image of Jezero Crater depicts the routes for Perseverance’s first science campaign (yellow hash marks) and its second as well as its second (light-yellow hash marks) 

In addition to searching for signs of ancient microscopic life, the rover will study the Crater's geology and look for signs of past habitability.

It will also collect rock and sediment samples, which the US space agency said it will discuss on Wednesday as to how it intends to bring these samples back to Earth for further study.

In March, scientists suggested that a significant portion of the water on Mars, perhaps as much as 99 percent, could be hiding in the planet's crust.  

Once the first science mission is complete, Perseverance will go back to its landing site, driving up to more than 3 miles.

From there, it will head north to Jezero's delta region, an area that could have a plethora of organic minerals that could show fossilized signs of ancient life. 

In June, Perseverance celebrated its 100th Martian day, celebrating its biggest achievements including making oxygen 'out of thin air' and capturing Ingenuity's flights. 

NASA's Mars 2020 mission will search for signs of ancient life on the Red Planet in a bid to help scientists better understand how life evolved on Earth. 

Named Perseverance, the main car-sized rover is explore an ancient river delta within the Jezero Crater, which was once filled with a 1,600ft deep lake.

It is believed that the region hosted microbial life some 3.5 to 3.9 billion years ago and the rover will examine soil samples to hunt for evidence of the life.

Nasa's Mars 2020 rover (artist's impression) is searching for signs of ancient life on Mars in a bid to help scientists better understand how life evolved on our own planet

The $2.5 billion (£1.95 billion) Mars 2020 spaceship launched on July 30 with the rover and helicopter inside - and landed successfully on February 18, 2021.

Perseverance landed inside the crater and will collect samples that will eventually be returned to Earth for further analysis.

A second mission will fly to the planet and return the samples, perhaps by the later 2020s in partnership with the European Space Agency.

This concept art shows the Mars 2020 rover landing on the red planet via NASA's 'sky-crane' system

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