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NASA is about to send the ultimate valentine to Mars with Perseverance rover landing

NASA is about to send the ultimate valentine to Mars with Perseverance rover landing By Elizabeth Howell

Artist’s illustration of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission approaching the Red Planet. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA has a very special Valentine’s Day delivery en route to the Red Planet — one that could deliver presents to us in person, in a few years.

About once every decade, the agency sends out a seminal Mars landing mission to learn more about our potentially habitable neighbor. Its latest effort is the powerful Perseverance rover, ready for touchdown on Thursday, Feb. 18. (Bonus Valentine for you: You can watch the landing live here at Space.com, courtesy of NASA TV, and participate in a virtual NASA Social event as well.)

Perseverance has a unique role from every Martian mission before it. This Mars rover will wrap presents for delivery back to Earth — that would be, cached samples of rocks showing promising signs of habitability on Mars. Once NASA and the European Space Agency are ready, the two agencies plan to deliver the rover’s precious rocky gifts back to us in about a decade, as part of a larger Mars sample-return mission.

Long-distance messages will flow back to us from the surface, however, as soon as the daring “seven minutes of terror”-type landing completes. If all goes to plan, Perseverance will begin deploying its instruments quickly to scan the environment with high-definition cameras, lasers, microphones and scientific equipment, and it will radio what it finds back to Earth. Evidence of water activity and organic molecules at the landing site, in Jezero Crater, could be in scientists’ inboxes in a few more weeks or months.

A bonus gift from Perseverance’s mission will be the Ingenuity helicopter, a little test vehicle that will show us whether flight is possible on Mars given our current understanding of its thin atmosphere. Ingenuity could show us the path for future drones to scout ahead on landing missions, and to assist robots and humans alike by patrolling difficult-to-climb environments.

Perseverance’s landing follows on from NASA’s big Curiosity rover landing in 2012 — that rover is still running while picking up further evidence of organics and molecules on Mount Sharp — and the two seminal Mars Exploration Rovers (Opportunity and Spirit) that outlasted their 90-day warranties for many years after landing on Mars in 2004. 

Happily, smaller Mars mission landings are fairly frequent, and other spacecraft have popped safely on the surface in between the big missions; the last successful one was the still-active InSight Mars lander in 2018. We also can’t forget that Perseverance’s entry comes days after two other countries safely arrived at Mars: the Emirati Hope orbiter and the Chinese lander-orbiter-rover trio that makes up the Tianwen-1 mission.

You can celebrate the special Valentine’s Day-era Perseverance mission safely and social distance-style at various cities in the United States, who will light their buildings red to celebrate the Red Planet landing, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.https://5973bcc6a46bc1dab299f4fc9aec6d88.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html?n=0

  • The Empire State Building in New York City plans to light the tower red between sunset Tuesday, Feb. 16 and 2 a.m. EST the following morning (Wednesday, Feb. 17).
  • The Los Angeles International Airport gateway pylons will glow red from sundown Wednesday (Feb. 17) through sunrise Friday (Feb. 19). JPL, where rover operations are centered, is located in nearby Pasadena.
  • Residents of downtown Chicago should see the Adler Planetarium lighting up, along with other downtown buildings. (No exact timing was available in JPL’s release.)

NASA added that cities around the country and the world should feel free to light their own town red if they want.

You can find out how to virtually join the Perseverance Mars rover landing by signing up for NASA’s social media event here. NASA also has a “virtual guest experience” available for the public to participate in as well.

Visit Space.com Thursday for complete coverage of the Perseverance Mars rover’s landing on the Red Planet.

China’s Tianwen-1 Mars mission snaps its 1st photo of Red Planet

China’s Tianwen-1 Mars mission snaps its 1st photo of Red Planet By Andrew Jones via Space.com

China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft snapped its first image of Mars as the mission makes its final approach; the probe will enter orbit around the Red Planet in less than a week.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) released the image Feb. 5, demonstrating that the powerful, high-resolution camera on the Tianwen-1 spacecraft is working properly.

The greyscale image was captured at a distance of 1.36 million miles (2.2 million kilometers) from Mars, according to CNSA.

A supplemental image indicating notable features in the Tianwen-1 image of Mars.  (Image credit: CNSA/PEC (Planetary Exploration of China))

A labeled version of the image indicates the location of notable features on display, namely Acidalia Planitia (1), Chryse Planitia (2), Meridiani Planum (3), Schiaparelli Crater (4) and Valles Marineris (5).

Tianwen-1, a combined orbiter and rover, has since closed in on the Red Planet and was 683,000 miles (1.1 million km) away on Friday. The spacecraft is expected to enter Mars orbit on Wednesday (Feb. 10). The five-ton spacecraft will burn of its engines to slow the vehicle down enough to be captured by Mars’ gravitational pull. 

CNSA also stated that Tianwen-1 completed a fourth trajectory correction maneuver Feb. 5 at 7 a.m. EST (1200 GMT, 8 p.m. Beijing time) to ensure the spacecraft is on course for entering Mars orbit.

The spacecraft has traveled 289 million miles (465 million km) during its 197 days in space and was about 114 million miles (184 million km) from Earth at the time of the trajectory correction maneuver. All of the spacecraft’s systems are in good working condition, CNSA said.

The great distance between Earth and Tianwen-1 means a communications delay of around 10 minutes. This means the spacecraft will need to carry out commands to start the braking burn by itself, with instructions sent in advance from the Beijing Aerospace Control Center.

The first image of Mars returned by China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft. (Image credit: CNSA/PEC (Planetary Exploration of China))

After entering orbit, Tianwen-1 will begin to prepare for a landing attempt of the mission’s rover. The orbiter will begin imaging the main candidate landing site within the huge impact basin Utopia Planitia, to the south of NASA’s Viking 2 landing site, ready for a landing attempt around May.

China is currently holding a 40-day public vote to select the name for its Mars rover. The three most popular names will be sent to a committee for the final choice.

If the roughly 530-lb. (240 kilograms) solar-powered rover lands safely, it will investigate the surface soil characteristics and potential water-ice distribution with its Subsurface Exploration Radar instrument. The rover also carries panoramic and multispectral cameras and instruments to analyze the composition of rocks.

Meanwhile, the Tianwen-1 orbiter will study the Red Planet’s surface with medium- and high-resolution cameras and a sounding radar, and make other detections with a magnetometer and particle detectors.

Tianwen-1 launched in July and will arrive at Mars a day after the United Arab Emirates’ Hope mission and a week before NASA’s Perseverance rover.

UAE’s Hope Probe enters orbit in first Arab Mars mission

UAE’s Hope Probe enters orbit in first Arab Mars mission by Lisa Barrington via DUBAI (Reuters)

The United Arab Emirates’ first mission to Mars reached the red planet and entered orbit on Tuesday after a seven-month, 494 million-km (307 million-mile) journey, allowing it to start sending data about the Martian atmosphere and climate.

The Mars programme is part of the UAE’s efforts to develop its scientific and technological capabilities and reduce its reliance on oil. The UAE Space Agency, the fifth globally to reach the planet, even has a plan for a Mars settlement by 2117.

“Contact with #HopeProbe has been established again. The Mars Orbit Insertion is now complete,” said the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre, where the ruler of Dubai and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi were present to receive the news.ADVERTISEMENThttps://95ccbcf9569022762fd02a6ae3b61408.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html?n=0

The attempt had a 50% chance of failing, Dubai’s ruler and UAE Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum had said. To enter Mars’ orbit, the probe needed to burn around half its 800 kg (1,760 lbs) of onboard fuel to slow down enough not to overshoot, the most dangerous part of the journey.

“Today is the start of a new chapter in Arab history … of trust in our capability to compete with other nations and people,” Sheikh Mohammed tweeted after the probe entered orbit. “The UAE will celebrate its Golden Jubilee with science, culture and inspiration because we aim to build a model of development.”

This year marks 50 years since independence from Britain and the founding of the UAE federation, which groups seven emirates, including Dubai. Mars probes launched by China and NASA just after the UAE’s lift-off in July are also set to reach the planet this month.

We knew a major storm was coming. Why did we leave the homeless to suffer in the cold?

We knew a major storm was coming. Why did we leave the homeless to suffer in the cold?

City and county officials did not open warming centers Tuesday night to shelter the homeless. BY RENÉE C. BYER

Homeless communities across Sacramento were ravaged Tuesday night and Sacramento leaders left them out in the elements even though virtually everyone knew one of the worst storms in years was bearing down on our region.

Downtown warming centers couldn’t be used to protect people from 60 mph winds due to useless Sacramento County rules enforced by useless Sacramento County officials. Mayor Darrell Steinberg and his Sacramento City Council colleagues were either too polite or too afraid they would be scolded by their county colleagues. So a stupid rule was followed while the homeless spent a night of terror bordering on cruelty.

This was so Sacramento, where no politician wanted to say anything remotely impolitic and no one was moved or had the guts to break the rules to prevent human suffering. By the time Steinberg lost his temper during a council meeting Tuesday night, it was too late.

Talk was cheap and so was human life.

People died.

People in makeshift tents and lean-tos were left to huddle behind fragile tents that were no match for destructive elements that swamped encampments as if they were on the fringes of Third World capitals. But they weren’t. They were in the heart of the capital of the most prosperous state of the U.S.

“(They were) scared to death,” said homeless activist Crystal Sanchez told The Sacramento Bee. Sanchez spoke of groups of homeless people sending her frantic messages from Tuesday night to dawn on Wednesday.

“I don’t know even how we are going to help them all.”

Half-naked people reportedly shivered and trembled in the cold. Entire camps were blown away or inundated by water and falling debris as the wind howled like an animal seeking prey.

Thanks to Sacramento’s inaction and everlasting shame, Tuesday’s storms found easy prey, helpless prey, and no one did a damned thing until too late.

So let’s get it straight: Tuesday Jan. 26, 2021 should be remembered as a day of utter shame for our city and county. These two entities share a large portion of the blame for a comprehensive collapse in leadership. It resulted in the capital of California, the nerve center of state politics, proving it had no bloody clue how to protect the most vulnerable among us on the worst night in years.

But this was no one-off catastrophe. It didn’t happen by accident and responsibility does not rest solely with the with the city and county. It also belongs to every suburban city in the county. It belongs to us, the residents of Sacramento, who have proved time and again that we don’t care as much about homelessness as we say we do.


I can point fingers, and I will, but I must hold myself accountable first.

In years past, I wrote ignorant columns on homelessness because I was moved by a pervasive feeling shared widely by my Sacramento neighbors. It’s a feeling about homelessness that can be distilled down to simple phrases:

Get it out of my face. I don’t want to see it. Make the cops deal with it.

Those feelings lead Sacramento residents fiercely to oppose any and all shelters proposed by city leaders. It’s always a fight. It always takes longer than it should. The costs of shelters and supportive housing are obscene. And even when you get people housed, more homeless people proliferate.

Based on 30 years of living here and writing extensively about homelessness, I’m left with the sinking feeling that too many of us don’t really care about the issue until it becomes a nuisance for us or until we can point a finger at someone else for the problem.

Every NIMBY and ignorant bystander who simply wants the problem gone shares some blame for what happened. If we could have moved faster to build more shelters before the COVID-19 pandemic, when Sacramento was booming, fewer people would have suffered Tuesday night.

We should all be ashamed.


And the government entity that should feel the most shame is the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, along with the bureaucrats in Sacramento County. The county oversees the largest pots of money for housing and mental health funding and yet the discussion on homelessness always centers on the city.

The county badly handled how to spend $181 million federal COVID-19 relief money. The county is currently led by Supervisor Sue Frost, who is a champ at voting against relief for distressed renters whenever she can. The county government is the entity recently run by people such as CEO Nav Gill, who appeared to undermine the efforts of Supervisors Phil Serna and Patrick Kennedy when they tried to cooperate with the city on homelessness in 2017.

Serna and Kennedy excoriated Gill and his staff for seemingly slow-walking their efforts to forge a multi-million dollar partnership on homelessness. Yet despite this, when it came time to let Gill go, Kennedy was the decisive third vote to keep him around until he was placed on paid leave last November amid misconduct allegations levied against him by several leading women in county health departments.

All this has been evident and publicized. And yet only recently, after so much damage has been done, did advocates turn attention toward demanding more of Sacramento County officials who have so much more to say about homelessness, housing, mental health and drug treatment.

For example: Where is the scrutiny of county officials approving bloated budgets for Sheriff Scott Jones when health services don’t get enough? Where is the public in holding Frost and all the supervisors accountable for their role in creating conditions that led to Tuesday’s shameful abandonment of homeless people in such wretched conditions?

The city cannot be the only answer to homelessness in Sacramento.

And even then, with the exception of Sacramento City Councilmen Jay Schenirer, Jeff Harris and former Councilman Steve Hansen, not enough of the longtime council members have done enough before now. By Wednesday, everyone was scurrying around as if what happened on Tuesday was a terrible surprise. It couldn’t have been.


Steinberg can be faulted for not declaring a state of emergency to open downtown warming centers as he did Wednesday, after the damage had been done. That’s on him and everyone else on the council.

To be fair, Steinberg has done more on homelessness than any other politician in Sacramento in recent years. He was never able to forge a regional effort on homelessness. He said he couldn’t find willing partners. Others said he was too hard to work with.

OK, but Steinberg’s predecessor, Kevin Johnson, wasn’t able to do it either. The urgency on homelessness is felt most acutely in the city and by people such as Steinberg. Leaders in other cities seem fine with having the City of Sacramento deal with it.

Steinberg also doesn’t have as much power as people think he does.

Steinberg tried to strengthen the power of his office last November via Measure A, the initiative that would have given him authority currently in the hands of City Manager Howard Chan. It was roundly defeated, including with the help of many progressives.

Ask yourself this: How did this old system of government work in Sacramento on Tuesday?

Chan, who is not elected, runs the city government and reports to all nine council members.

How did that work? It didn’t. Am I saying passing Measure A would have prevented Tuesday night? No. I’m saying, people in Sacramento don’t want anyone to have too much power. Getting things done takes time in Sacramento and people like that.

But that contributed to leaving homeless people exposed on Tuesday. It did. It was one element in an across-the-board failure.

“I haven’t stopped crying,” said newly elected City Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela, . “A woman died here last night and we knew for five days that this storm is coming.”

To her credit, and in a sign that Valenzuela could prove to be a heartfelt and welcome addition to the council, she held herself accountable.

“I don’t know if I can blame any one person, “ she said. “I wish I had pushed harder for a meeting before Tuesday. We have plenty of folks who could have helped us get in contact with people (on the streets).”

I’m with Valenzuela. I wish I had done more a lot sooner.

Steinberg says he hopes Tuesday will be a turning point, a shock that will change attitudes in our community.

“Maybe the fever is broken,” he said.

Maybe people will stop fighting shelters and realize we have to do more on permanent supportive housing, safe camping, safe parking lots. If they can’t open Golden 1 Center to the un-housed, maybe big Sacramento businesses such as the Kings can use their money and influence to help more people get housing.

Maybe citizens will start demanding that Sacramento County and other communities do much more on homelessness.

Maybe our community will act in order to prevent more suffering made possible by our inaction.

Puget Sound and West regions advance to Phase 2

Woot! Now this is how you reopen safely: Puget Sound and West regions advance to Phase 2 of Washington’s reopening plan on Monday

Seven counties in the Puget Sound and West regions can move to Phase 2 of the “Healthy Washington” plan. Counties need to meet three out of four metrics to qualify. Author: KING 5 Staff

SEATTLE — The criteria for regions in Washington state to move from Phase 1 to 2 of the COVID-19 reopening plan is becoming less stringent, allowing for two regions to move to Phase 2 on Monday, Feb. 1.

Counties in the West and Puget Sound regions will move to Phase 2 on Monday. That includes King, Pierce and Snohomish counties in Puget Sound and Grays Harbor, Lewis, Pacific and Thurston counties in the West region.https://1d52d4be94e98912817c230f2cad6cac.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html?n=0

These counties represent about half of the state’s population, according to Gov. Jay Inslee.

In Phase 2, a maximum of five people from outside of a person’s household can gather indoors and indoor dining is available at 25% capacity until 11 p.m., among other changes. Indoor fitness centers can also open at 25% capacity.

RELATED: Don’t cross state lines for COVID-19 vaccine, Washington health officials say

Under the revised plan, regions will be required to meet three of four health metrics to progress, instead of all four.

The changes follow conversations with public health leaders and the state’s increasing vaccination rates