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NASA has made history by successfully flying the mini helicopter Ingenuity on Mars, the first powered flight on another planet.
Here are some key things to know.
- Proof of concept -
The rotorcraft's first flight lasted 39.1 seconds as Ingenuity lifted itself to a height of 10 feet (three meters) and then returned to the Martian surface.
While it does have the capacity to fly for 90 seconds and cover a distance of up to 980 feet (300 meters), its test runs are intentionally of limited scope as they are meant to prove only that the technology works.
Ingenuity is not gathering scientific data about Mars or aiding in the search for past microbial life.
Previous technology demonstrations include the Mars Pathfinder rover, Sojourner, which was the first ever rover to explore another planet in 1997.
It is hoped that one day, future aircraft can help revolutionize exploration of celestial bodies by going further and faster than rovers, and reaching areas hard to access by land.
NASA is already preparing to send Dragonfly, a much larger rotorcraft-lander, to Saturn's icy moon Titan where it will fly multiple sorties in search of extraterrestrial life.
Dragonfly launches in 2026 and should reach its destination by 2034.
- Engineering marvel -
Tucked under the belly of the Perseverance rover, Ingenuity's first goal was to withstand launch from Earth, the cruise through space, and landing on Mars.
Next, it had to be unlocked and deployed on the Martian surface while Perseverance drove away fast enough to ensure it didn't cast a shadow over Ingenuity that would have prevented the aircraft's solar panels charging up.
That was necessary so Ingenuity could run its internal heaters to survive in the chilling Martian night.
Temperatures at the Jezero Crater, just north of the equator, plunge to minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius), which would have cracked the chopper's exposed electronics.
Achieving lift in Mars' rarefied atmosphere -- which is just one percent the density of Earth's, was a major technological challenge.
Engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory spent six years developing a craft that is ultra light yet still powerful enough to accomplish the feat.
Its rotors, which span four feet (1.2 meters), spin at 2,400 rpm -- about five times more than a helicopter on Earth. The structure stands 19 inches (0.49 meters) high and weighs just four pounds (1.8 kilograms).
Ingenuity does get a helping hand from Mars' weak gravity, which is just one-third of Earth's.
- Software glitch -
Ingenuity's first flight was planned for April 11, however, it was postponed after the chopper failed to successfully execute a planned high-speed spin-up test of the rotors on April 9.
NASA identified a software issue -- namely a problem with the aircraft's "watchdog timer" which alerts Ingenuity to potential problems and pauses its processes if it thinks it has detected an error.
Engineers made a coding tweak that allowed Ingenuity to overcome the problem and transition to "flight mode" correctly.
But the Ingenuity team, led by Burmese-American engineer MiMi Aung, were only 85 percent sure this solution would work.
They had another idea -- familiar to IT managers everywhere -- in case it did not: reinstalling the flight software and rebooting.
Since it is so far from Earth and cannot be piloted by a human, Ingenuity is pre-programmed with certain parameters, and then it also makes key decisions by itself during the flight, using sensor and camera data.
- A (literal) piece of history -
More than a month after Ingenuity reached Mars, NASA announced a surprise: wrapped around a cable under the helicopter's solar panel is a small swatch of fabric that was once part of the wing of the Wright brothers' 1903 flyer.
This aircraft traveled 120 feet (36 meters) in a 12 second hop over the sand-covered Outer Banks of North Carolina, ushering in the era of powered flight on Earth.
"As an homage to the two innovative bicycle makers from Dayton, this first of many airfields on other worlds will now be known as Wright Brothers Field," announced NASA Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen after Ingenuity's maiden voyage.
© 2021 AFP
Senior Justice Department official refused to appear for inspector general investigation — then abruptly quit
A Justice Department Inspector General investigation had a strange moment when a senior official refused to speak to the IG and then abruptly resigned.
According to the report, a "non-career member of the Senior Executive Service" refused to appear for a compelled interview with the IG, which then triggered a misconduct finding.
"During the course of an ongoing administrative misconduct investigation, the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) informed a then senior DOJ official ... that the senior DOJ official was a subject in the investigation and that the OIG sought to interview the senior DOJ official in connection with the investigation," said a statement on the incident.
The report describes "several unsuccessful attempts to schedule a voluntary interview" and specifically told the official that "neither the answers the senior DOJ official provided nor any evidence gained by reason of those answers could be used against the senior DOJ official in a criminal proceeding."
Still, however, the official refused to appear before abruptly resigning.
"The OIG concluded that the senior DOJ official violated both federal regulations and DOJ policy by failing to appear for a compelled OIG interview while still a DOJ employee," the statement also explained. "The OIG offered the senior DOJ official the opportunity to cure that violation by participating in a voluntary interview after leaving the Department, but the senior DOJ official, through counsel, declined to do so. The OIG has the authority to compel testimony from current Department employees upon informing them that their statements will not be used to incriminate them in a criminal proceeding."
The office of the inspector general doesn't have the power to subpoena former staffers from the DOJ for internal investigations. So the resignation of the staffer made the attempts at an interview moot.
Legal expert Marcy Wheeler speculated that the investigation possibly had to do with Andrew McCabe or Peter Strzok and inside officials attempting to attack the two men who ultimately were forced out of the FBI.
The chances this person had a role in beating up on Andrew McCabe or Peter Strzok are non-zero. https://t.co/WeLJKkFUQz— emptywheel (@emptywheel)1618842273.0
A Massachusetts man has been charged with assault and battery and four counts each of assault with a dangerous weapon, a civil rights violation, and assault with the intent to intimidate based on race after he allegedly tried to run over a group of Black children in the wake of a "racially charged" playground fight with a group of white children, KIRO7 reports.
Police responded to the incident on April 10, when someone called 9-11 saying Shane Belleville, 36, tried to run over him and a group of friends.
"I was extremely dismayed to learn the details of this incident, from the children being racially divisive toward each other to the abhorrent behavior and alleged hate crimes committed by the suspect in this case," Holbrook police Chief William Smith said in a statement. "This type of behavior has no place in our community, and I am calling for our community members in Holbrook to come together to recognize the gravity of what took place in our town."
Police say the incident began that afternoon with an argument between two children, ages 7 and 8, on a school playground.
"The incident escalated, with racial epithets being used, and the altercation became physical, though no serious injuries were reported," police officials said. "At one point, one of the juveniles called a relative and asked a man, later identified as Belleville, to come assist them."
Belleville reportedly arrived after the dispute settled down. When a group of Black children were leaving the scene, he allegedly drove his truck onto the paved path and confronted them, resulting in shouting match where a teenage girl allegedly spat on him, prompting to retaliate by slapping her in the face. He then allegedly got back in his truck and drove in reverse towards the group, spewing racial epithets in the process.
He was arrested five days later. He was later released from jail after posting $750 bail.
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