LOS ANGELES — NASA scientists on Monday unveiled first-of-a-kind home movies of last week’s’ daredevil Mars rover landing, vividly showing its supersonic parachute inflation over the red planet and a rocket-powered hovercraft lowering the science lab on wheels to the surface.
The footage was recorded on Thursday by a series of cameras mounted at different angles of the multi-stage spacecraft as it carried the rover, named Perseverance, through the thin Martian atmosphere to a gentle touchdown inside a vast basin called Jezero Crater.
Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, called seeing the footage “the closest you can get to landing on Mars without putting on a pressure suit.”
The video montage was played for reporters tuning in to a news briefing webcast from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles four days after the historic landing of the most advanced astrobiology probe ever sent to another world.
NASA also presented a brief audio clip captured by microphones on the rover after its arrival that included the murmur of a light wind gust – the first ever recorded on the fourth planet from the sun.
JPL imaging scientist Justin Maki said NASA’s stationary landing craft InSight, which arrived on Mars in 2018 to study its deep interior, previously measured seismic signals on the planet that were “acoustically driven” and then “rendered as audio.”
|A portion of a panorama made up of individual images taken by the Navigation Cameras, or Navcams, aboard NASA?s Perseverance Mars rover shows the Martian landscape February 20, 2021. Images taken February 20, 2021. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout via Reuters|
But mission deputy project manager Matt Wallace said he believed the Martian breeze represented the first ambient sound directly recorded on the surface of Mars and played back for humans.
The spacecraft’s mics failed to collect useable audio during descent to the crater floor. But they did pick up a mechanical whirring from the rover after its arrival. Wallace said he hoped to record other sounds, such as the rover’s wheels crunching over the surface and its robotic arm drilling for samples of Martian rock.
‘The stuff of our dreams’
But it was film footage from the spacecraft’s perilous, self-guided ride through Martian skies to touchdown – an interval NASA has dubbed “the seven minutes of terror” – that JPL’s team found particularly striking.
“These videos, and these images are the stuff of our dreams,” Al Chen, head of the descent and landing team, told reporters. JPL Director Mike Watkins said engineers spent much of the weekend “binge-watching” the footage.
The video, filmed in color at 75 frames a second, shows action in fluid, vivid motion from several angles, the first such imagery ever recorded of a spacecraft landing on another planet, Wallace said.
One of the most dramatic moments is of the red-and-white parachute being shot from a canon-like launch device into the sky above the rover as the spacecraft is hurtling toward the ground at nearly two times the speed of sound.
|The surface of Mars directly below NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover is seen using the Rover Down-Look Camera in an image acquired February 22, 2021. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout via Reuters|
The chute springs upward, unfurls and fully inflates in less than two seconds, with no evidence of tangling within its 2 miles (3.2 km) of tether lines, Chen said.
A downward-pointing camera shows the heat shield falling away and a sweeping vista of the butterscotch-colored Martian terrain, appearing to shift back and forth as the spacecraft sways under the parachute.
Seconds later, an upward-pointed camera captures the rocket-powered “sky-crane” vehicle, newly jettisoned from the parachute, its thrusters firing but the propellant plumes invisible to the human eye while lowering the rover to a safe landing spot on a harness of tethers.
A separate camera shows the lowering of the six-wheeled rover from the vantage point of the sky crane, looking downward as Perseverance dangles from its cable harness just over the surface with streams of dust billowing around it at touchdown. The sky crane is then seen flying up and away from the landing site after the harness cables are cut.
A single still photo of the rover suspended from the sky crane moments before landing was released by NASA on Friday amid much fanfare as a precursor to the video shown on Monday.
The only previous moving footage produced of a spacecraft during a Mars landing was a comparatively crude video shot from beneath the previous rover, Curiosity, during its descent to the planet’s surface in 2012. That stop-motion-like sequence was shot at 3.5 frames per second from a single angle that showed the ground gradually getting closer but included no images of the parachute or sky-crane maneuvers.
Girl in 6th grade detained after Idaho school shooting; 3 injured
A sixth-grade girl pulled a handgun from a backpack at her eastern Idaho school on Thursday and opened fire, hitting two fellow students and a member of school staff and inflicting non-life-threatening injuries on them, officials said.
The girl was disarmed by a teacher at Rigby Middle School in Rigby, Idaho, a remote community about 270 miles (435 km) east of Boise, and held until law enforcement arrived, Jefferson County Sheriff Steve Anderson said. Her name and exact age weren’t immediately released.
“She fired multiple rounds inside of the school and out,” Anderson said at a news conference. “We don’t have a lot of details of why. That is being investigated.”
Students were sent home with their parents immediately after the shootings and classes will be canceled on Friday, Jefferson School District Superintendent Chad Martin said.
“This is the worst nightmare any school district could ever face,” said Martin. “We prepare for it and we’re never truly ready for it.”
Several law enforcement agencies are involved in the investigation of the shooting, which happened shortly after 9 a.m. local time, Jefferson County Sheriff Anderson said. Local media had previously reported that a male student was taken into custody after the shooting.
Depending on the outcome of the investigation, Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Taylor said charges against the girl could include three counts of attempted murder.
None of the gunshot wounds were life-threatening, Michael Lemon, trauma director at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center said.
“They could be so much worse,” Lemon said. “We feel absolutely blessed.”
The school staff member was treated and released for his injury, while the two students were being kept overnight for observation, he said.
Idaho Governor Brad Little issued a brief statement shortly after the incident.
“Thank you to our law enforcement agencies and school leaders for their efforts in responding to the incident,” Little said on Twitter. “I am staying updated on the situation.”
Pleas for help in India as COVID-19 leaves children without carers
When an Indian children’s rights group tracked down two boys aged 6 and 8 after it was told that their parents were both severely ill with COVID-19 and unable to care for them, the children had not eaten for days.
The case, reported by the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) group which located the boys in a small town in India’s rural heartland, was one of a growing number of emergencies involving children affected by India’s devastating coronavirus crisis.
The exponential rise in infections and deaths has left some children, particularly in poor communities, without a carer because their parents or other relatives are too ill to cope or have died.
“Because the number of deaths has increased, the crisis is that either children are losing their parents, or their caregivers are hospitalised, and there is no one to take care of them,” said Dhananjay Tingal, executive director of BBA.
India’s underfunded social services are struggling to cope, and in certain parts of the country there is still stigma surrounding people who contract the virus, leaving some children isolated.
“Neighbours and extended family do not want to help because they are afraid of infection, treating these families almost like outcasts,” said Tingal.
He did not share further details of the two boys because of concern for their privacy.
Tingal said BBA, which is headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kailash Sayarthi, started receiving calls about children in dire situations linked to the COVID-19 outbreak in early April. The volume of calls increased after Sayarthi posted a helpline number on Twitter on April 29.
BBA now receives about 70 calls a day seeking help for children whose parents are dead or seriously ill, and a greater number of calls from parents who have tested positive and want to know if the group can take care of their children if their health fails.
“Need a breast milk donor”
With 3.57 million active cases of COVID-19, India recorded more than 400,000 new infections over the last 24 hours – the highest daily tally reported globally – while deaths rose by a record 3,980.
Experts say actual numbers could be five to 10 times higher. Citizens across the country, the world’s second most populous, are struggling to find beds, oxygen, or medicines needed for treatment, and many are dying for lack of treatment.
Desperate pleas to help children have been appearing on social media.
“Need a breast milk donor for a one-day-old baby in Delhi. Her mother passed away due to COVID,” read one Tweet. The person later said help had been found.
Protsahan India Foundation, a children’s rights NGO, said its frontline workers recently attended to children who had gone without food for days after their mother, the main caregiver, passed away.
“The father is a daily wage worker and is in a state of shock and trauma himself. We are helping with food and immediate care, education and protection needs of those kids,” said Sonal Kapoor, founder-director at Protsahan.
In the state of Karnataka, home to the tech city of Bengaluru and an epicentre of the second wave, the government has appointed an official to identify children orphaned by COVID-19 ensure they receive appropriate support.
The state this week also ramped up messaging around children’s safety and appealed to citizens not to seek help online from unknown groups.
In the capital New Delhi, the city-state’s child protection arm this week wrote to the police asking them to investigate posts on social media calling for urgent adoptions.
“They may also be cases of trafficking and sale-purchase of the children,” the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights warned.
WTO vaccine waiver could take months to negotiate, faces opposition: experts
World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations on a waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines could take months – provided they can overcome significant opposition from some member countries, trade experts say.
The talks also are likely to focus on a waiver that is significantly narrower in scope and shorter in duration than the one initially proposed by India and South Africa last October.
Prior to U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision on Wednesday to back talks for a vaccine waiver, the two countries confirmed their intention to draft a new proposal after seven months of opposition.
WTO Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala welcomed Biden’s move on Thursday and urged talks on the new plan to start as soon as possible. “The world is watching and people are dying,” she added.
“At a minimum, it’s going to be a month or two,” Clete Willems, a former Trump White House trade official who previously worked at the U.S. trade mission to the WTO in Geneva, said of any possible agreement.
“Right now, there is no proposal on the table that would waive the TRIPS agreement simply for vaccines,” he said, referring to the WTO’s agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights that governs the transfer of property like movie rights or vaccine-manufacturing specifics.
A more realistic goal may be completion of the agreement in time for the WTO’s next ministerial conference, scheduled for Nov. 30 through Dec. 3, said Willems, now a trade partner at the Akin Gump law firm in Washington.
That would give vaccine producers more time to boost global supplies which could help contain the virus and ease pressure for the waiver.
The initial IP waiver proposal by India and South Africa last October included vaccines, treatments, diagnostic kits, ventilators, protective gear and other products needed to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Haggling over words
U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai said on Wednesday that she will pursue “text-based negotiations” on the WTO waiver, the standard but tedious process for trade deal talks.
Negotiators trade texts with their preferred wording, then try to find common ground, sometimes leaving blank spaces for thorny differences to be settled by politicians.
All 164 WTO member countries must reach consent on such decisions, with any one member able to block them.
“Those negotiations will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved,” Tai said in a statement that tamped down expectations for a quick deal.
While Biden’s backing adds political impetus to get a deal done, Germany, home to Pfizer’s vaccine partner BioNTech, on Thursday rejected the waiver proposal.
A German government spokeswoman said that manufacturing capacity was the main constraint on supplies, not intellectual property.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said only that she was willing to discuss Biden’s plans.
U.S. companies, which strive to influence the USTR’s trade negotiations, are already mobilizing to try to ensure the WTO talks lead to a waiver that is as narrowly targeted as possible.
“This is a mitigation effort. We’re aiming to make it less bad than it otherwise would be,” one industry source said.
Some Republican lawmakers are pushing the argument that the decision will hand American technology to China.
“What this decision will do, if it goes forward, is benefit countries like China that are aggressively trying to obtain U.S. technology to bolster their own domestic champions,” Republican Senator Mike Crapo said in a statement.
On the plus side, a successful waiver negotiation would “improve the atmospherics” at the WTO, which has been marked by failure to reach agreement on substantive new trade policy since its inception in 1995, said Harry Broadman, a former Clinton administration trade official who helped negotiate the trade body’s creation.
“It’s good that the WTO hopefully can actually think about a consensus,” Broadman said, adding that he sees slim prospects that a vaccine deal could revive prospects for broader WTO negotiations.
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