Mars Helicopter Flight Test Promises Wright Brothers Moment for NASA

NASA hopes to score a 21st-century Wright Brothers moment on Monday as it attempts to send a miniature helicopter buzzing over the surface of Mars in what would be the first powered, controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet.Landmark achievements in science and technology can seem humble by conventional measurements. The Wright Brothers’ first controlled flight in the world of a motor-driven airplane, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903 covered just 120 feet (37 meters) in 12 seconds.A modest debut is likewise in store for NASA’s twin-rotor, solar-powered helicopter Ingenuity.If all goes to plan, the 4-pound (1.8-kg) whirligig will slowly ascend straight up to an altitude of 10 feet (3 meters) above the Martian surface, hover in place for 30 seconds, then rotate before descending to a gentle landing on all four legs.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline.Download File360p | 0 MB480p | 0 MB540p | 0 MB720p | 0 MBOriginal | 0 MB Embed” />CopyNASA’s Ingenuity helicopter begins a Slow spin test of its blades, April 8, 2021, the 48th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. (Credit: NASA)While the mere metrics may seem less than ambitious, the “air field” for the interplanetary test flight is 173 million miles from Earth, on the floor of a vast Martian basin called Jezero Crater. Success hinges on Ingenuity executing the pre-programmed flight instructions using an autonomous pilot and navigation system.“The moment our team has been waiting for is almost here,” Ingenuity project manager MiMi Aung said at a recent briefing at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles.NASA itself is likening the experiment to the Wright Brothers’ feat 117 years ago, paying tribute to that modest but monumental first flight by having affixed a tiny swath of wing fabric from the original Wright flyer under Ingenuity’s solar panel.The robot rotorcraft was carried to the red planet strapped to the belly of NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance, a mobile astrobiology lab that touched down on Feb. 18 in Jezero Crater after a nearly seven-month journey through space. Although Ingenuity’s flight test is set to begin around 3:30 a.m. Eastern Time on Monday (0730 GMT Monday), data confirming its outcome is not expected to reach JPL’s mission control until around 6:15 a.m. ET on Monday.NASA also expects to receive images and video of the flight that mission engineers hope to capture using cameras mounted on the helicopter and the Perseverance rover, which will be parked 250 feet (76 meters) away from Ingenuity’s flight zone.If the test succeeds, Ingenuity will undertake several additional, lengthier flights in the weeks ahead, though it will need to rest four to five days in between each to recharge its batteries. Prospects for future flights rest largely on a safe, four-point touchdown the first time.“It doesn’t have a self-righting system, so if we do have a bad landing, that will be the end of the mission,” Aung said. An unexpectedly strong wind gust is one potential peril that could spoil the flight.NASA hopes Ingenuity — a technology demonstration separate from Perseverance’s primary mission to search for traces of ancient microorganisms — paves the way for aerial surveillance of Mars and other destinations in the solar system, such as Venus or Saturn’s moon Titan.While Mars possesses much less gravity to overcome than Earth, its atmosphere is just 1% as dense, presenting a special challenge for aerodynamic lift. To compensate, engineers equipped Ingenuity with rotor blades that are larger (4-feet-long) and spin more rapidly than would be needed on Earth for an aircraft of its size.The design was successfully tested in vacuum chambers built at JPL to simulate Martian conditions, but it remains to be seen whether Ingenuity will fly on the red planet.The small, lightweight aircraft already passed an early crucial test by demonstrating it could withstand punishing cold, with nighttime temperatures dropping as low as 130 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius), using solar power alone to recharge and keep internal components properly heated.The planned flight was delayed for a week by a technical glitch during a test spin of the aircraft’s rotors on April 9. NASA said that issue has since been resolved. 

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Israel Lifts Its Mask Mandate on Sunday

With nearly 60% of its population receiving the first COVID-19 vaccine, Israel is lifting its requirement Sunday to wear masks outdoors. The mask mandate remains in place, however, for enclosed spaces.Beginning April 24, France will require all travelers from Brazil to quarantine for 10 days.Brazil has 13.9 million COVID cases, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Only the U.S. and India have more cases, at 31.6 million and 14.5 million, respectively.More than 371,000 people have died in Brazil from COVID, Johns Hopkins reported. The U.S. is the only place that has more COVID deaths, at 566,893.On Sunday, India reported 261,500 new coronavirus cases in the previous 24-hour period.On Saturday, the worldwide COVID death toll surpassed 3 million.World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week the weekly number of new cases has more than doubled over the past two months, approaching the highest infection rate seen since the pandemic began.He said the infection numbers began to rise steadily in February, following six consecutive weeks of decline.

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Nearly 700 Patients Evacuated in Johannesburg Hospital Fire

Nearly 700 patients were evacuated Saturday from Johannesburg’s Charlotte Maxeke Hospital, where a fire blazed through parts of the facility in South Africa’s largest city.No injuries or casualties have been reported. The fire has been contained but the hospital has been closed for seven days, said David Makhura, premier of Gauteng province where Johannesburg is located.Early Saturday morning the fire caused the third floor of the hospital’s parking garage to collapse.Sixty firefighters battled the blaze through the night. The fire started Friday morning and had been doused by the afternoon but then it reignited in the evening and continued burning overnight.The fire has caused extensive damage to the hospital, which has more than 1,000 beds and serves Johannesburg, a city of 6 million people, and the surrounding Gauteng province. It is one of the biggest public hospitals in the country.It is also a designated treatment center for COVID-19 in Gauteng. According to Makhura, the hospital had 13 COVID-19 patients, two in ICU and 11 in general wards at the time of the fire. They have all been transferred to other hospitals.”The fire has been contained into some areas. We are shutting down the hospital as a precautionary measure because there is a lot of smoke that went into other areas, including wards,” said Makhura.The fire started in a storeroom for dry surgical supplies, according to officials.Firefighters reported that the blaze re-started from smoldering medical supplies, including supplies of personal protective equipment used by staff treating patients with COVID-19, Makhura said. An investigation into the fire will be launched, he said.”Our firefighters have been receiving help from others in neighboring municipalities. It has been a tedious process trying to move patients. At first, we moved them to wards that were far away from the fire but we started to evacuate them,” said Gauteng health spokesperson Kwara Kekana. “That is still a process that is ongoing, we are now referring all patients to other hospitals.”

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US, China ‘Committed to Cooperating’ on Climate Crisis: Joint Statement

The United States and China are “committed to cooperating” on the pressing issue of climate change, the two sides said in a joint statement Saturday, following a visit to Shanghai by U.S. climate envoy John Kerry.”The United States and China are committed to cooperating with each other and with other countries to tackle the climate crisis, which must be addressed with the seriousness and urgency that it demands,” said the statement from Kerry and China’s special envoy for climate change Xie Zhenhua.Kerry, the former U.S. secretary of state, was the first official from President Joe Biden’s administration to visit China, signaling hopes the two sides could work together on the global challenge despite sky-high tensions on multiple other fronts.The joint statement listed multiple avenues of cooperation between the United States and China, the world’s top two economies, which together account for nearly half of the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.It stressed “enhancing their respective actions and cooperating in multilateral processes, including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement.”Biden has made climate a top priority, turning the page from his predecessor Donald Trump, who was closely aligned with the fossil fuel industry.Biden has rejoined the 2015 Paris accord, which Kerry negotiated when he was secretary of state and committed nations to taking action to keep temperature rises at no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

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‘Godzilla’ Shark Discovered in New Mexico Gets Formal Name

The 300-million-year-old shark’s teeth were the first sign that it might be a distinct species.The ancient chompers looked less like the spearlike rows of teeth of related species. They were squatter and shorter, less than an inch long, around 2 centimeters.”Great for grasping and crushing prey rather than piercing prey,” said discoverer John-Paul Hodnett, who was a graduate student when he unearthed the first fossils of the shark at a dig east of Albuquerque in 2013.This week, Hodnett and a slew of other researchers published their findings in a bulletin of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science identifying the shark as a separate species.He named the 6.7-foot (2-meter) monster Dracopristis hoffmanorum, or Hoffman’s Dragon Shark, in honor of the New Mexico family that owns the land in the Manzano Mountains where the fossils were found. Hodnett said the area is rife with fossils and easy to access because of a quarry and other commercial digging operations.The name also harkens to the dragonlike jawline and 2.5-foot (0.75-meter) fin spines that inspired the discovery’s initial nickname, “Godzilla Shark.”Seven years of workThe formal naming announcement followed seven years of excavation, preservation and study.The 12 rows of teeth on the shark’s lower jaw, for example, were still obscured by layers of sediment after excavation. Hodnett saw them only by using an angled light technique that illuminates objects below.Hodnett is now the paleontologist and program coordinator for the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission’s Dinosaur Park in Laurel, Maryland. His fellow researchers come from the New Mexico museum, as well as St. Joseph’s University in Pennsylvania, Northern Arizona University and Idaho State University.The recovered fossil skeleton is considered the most complete of its evolutionary branch — ctenacanth — that split from modern sharks and rays around 390 million years ago and went extinct around 60 million years later.Back then, eastern New Mexico was covered by a seaway that extended deep into North America. Hodnett and his colleagues believe that Hoffman’s dragon shark most likely lived in the shallows along the coast, stalking prey like crustaceans, fish and other sharks.New Mexico’s high desert plateaus have also yielded many dinosaur fossils, including various species of tyrannosaurus that roamed the land millions of years ago when it was a tropical rainforest. 

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Nigeria Steps Up Vaccination Efforts After Slow Rollout Blamed on Misinformation

Nigerian authorities are stepping up efforts to vaccinate more people against COVID-19 after a slow rollout blamed on misinformation. Authorities aim to vaccinate over 80 million Nigerians by year’s end but are running far behind schedule. 
An Abuja vaccination center, which opened March 16, one week after Nigeria’s official vaccine rollout, vaccinates between 50 and 100 people daily. It is one of many vaccination locations in the Nigerian capital. Abuja resident Olu Agunbiade visited the center to get his first shot and says receiving the vaccine makes him feel safer.  “I can venture out into the world with a form of protection,” he told VOA. “I know that doesn’t mean I can’t still contract COVID, but at least I have antibodies, I can fight it.”  Nigeria received about 4 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine early last month.  Authorities say they will vaccine around 80 million people by the end of the year, but so far, only about 1 million have received shots. Although authorities say more Nigerians are now getting vaccinated, Abuja Primary Healthcare Board Executive Secretary Ndeyo Iwot says vaccine hesitancy and misinformation about the coronavirus are to blame for the low numbers.  “There’s a very big problem. Now start from the beginning, how many people even believed that we have the pandemic here? And now you want to bring vaccine for what they did not believe in the first instance? We have a lot of work to do,” Iwot says.    Dr Ngong Cyprian receives his first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine from Dr Faisal Shuaib, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, in Abuja.As workaround, authorities are trying to increase vaccine awareness in communities, villages, and marketplaces.   Despite this, though, citizens like Richard Uka insist they will not get the vaccine. “To be sincere, I don’t think this is necessary, to me it’s not necessary,” Uka told VOA. “And I believe that in Nigeria nothing works. How do you think that that vaccine works or how do we know that it works?” Nigeria needs to vaccinate about 150 million citizens by next year to attain herd immunity.  Iwot, though, says getting adequate doses of vaccines may prove difficult.  “Looking at the pandemic situation in Europe, India and the U.S.A. and the U.K., some of them are experiencing the third and fourth spikes now and India that was giving us is also having spikes now. So many of the dosages they have will be consumed there,” Iwot told VOA.Very few African countries are able to manufacture the coronavirus vaccines, creating heavy dependence on foreign manufacturers.  The World Health Organization says the continent has so far received less than 2% of the global 690 million doses of the coronavirus vaccines. 

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Global COVID-19 Infection Rate Approaches Record High, WHO Warns

The World Health Organization said Friday that COVID-19 cases are increasing globally at a worrying rate, with the number of new cases doubling each week, a pace approaching the highest rate of infection since the pandemic began.The WHO said Friday there were 541,960 new cases in the past week. On February 22 — the week new cases began to tick up after six weeks of decline – 194,469 new cases were reported.  At a virtual briefing at the agency’s headquarters in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said countries that had avoided widespread infections are now seeing steep increases.  He pointed to Papua New Guinea, which, until the beginning of this year, had reported less than 900 cases and only nine deaths. The nation has now reported more than 9,300 cases and 82 deaths.  FILE – Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, speaks in Geneva, Jan. 21, 2021.Tedros said that while that is a small number relative to other countries, the dramatic rate of new infections has the WHO very concerned about the potential for a larger epidemic in Papua New Guinea. He said the WHO began a vaccine rollout in the nation late last month and three emergency medical teams had arrived in the country this week from Australia, the United States and Germany.The WHO chief said Papua New Guinea is an excellent example of why vaccine equity is so important. The small south Pacific nation, just north of Australia, was able to keep the pandemic at bay for a long time, but eventually rising infections hit at a time of social restriction fatigue and low levels of immunity among the population and began to overwhelm a fragile health care system.Tedros said Papua New Guinea has relied on vaccine donations from Australia and the WHO-supported vaccine cooperative COVAX initiative for support.To date, COVAX has shipped about 40 million doses to more than 100 countries, or enough to protect about 0.25% of the world’s population.
 

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India Records More Than 200,000 New COVID Cases Thursday

Health officials in India said they counted more than 200,000 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, an all-time daily high for the South Asian nation.The surge in cases has India scrambling to find hospital beds and oxygen. The escalating tally has also forced India, a major vaccine producer, to delay global shipments of COVID vaccines and instead redirect them for use at home.New Delhi health official S.K. Sarin, told the Associated Press that the case surge is “alarming.”Some public health officials also say they believe a Hindu festival at which hundreds of worshippers bathed in the Ganges, as well as recent political rallies, may have contributed to the landmark surge.More than 30% of U.S. adults, about 78.5 million, are fully vaccinated for COVID-19, according to new data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The CDC said 48% of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, as have 80% of seniors, who are the most vulnerable to the harmful effects of the virus. Sixty-four percent of seniors are fully vaccinated.The CDC also reported about 5,800 so-called breakthrough cases of people who have been vaccinated but still contracted the virus.”All of the available vaccines have been proven effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths,” the agency said in a statement. “However, [as] with other vaccines, we expect thousands of vaccine breakthrough cases will occur, even though the vaccine is working as expected.”The CDC data come amid a temporary halt in administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.An independent panel of U.S. health experts is delaying a final decision about Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 vaccine as they get more information about the vaccine and possible links to a rare but dangerous blood clot.The CDC’s immunization advisory committee held an emergency meeting Wednesday, one day after the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration issued a joint statement recommending a pause after six women between 18 and 48 years of age developed blood clots known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis within six to 13 days after being inoculated. One of the women died, while another has been hospitalized in critical condition.The six cases are among more than 7 million Johnson & Johnson inoculations nationwide.Dr. Beth Bell, a global health expert at the University of Washington, was one of the members who argued in favor of gaining more information. But Bell called the blood-clotting incidents “a very rare event” and insisted she didn’t want to send a message “that there is something fundamentally wrong with this vaccine.”But the reports prompted the U.S. pharmaceutical giant Tuesday to announce it was delaying rollout of the vaccine in Europe, where vaccination efforts have been plagued by a shortage of vaccines and logistical problems, as well as the troubled rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has also been linked to cases of rare blood clots.Both the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines were developed by using so-called adenoviruses to carry DNA into human cells that generates the body’s immune system to ward off the coronavirus.The issues with the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines led the European Union to announce Wednesday that 50 million doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine that it was initially slated to receive by the end of the year will be delivered by June, adding to the 200 million doses it was already expecting to receive by then.Despite the problems, there was some good news in Europe.COVID-19 cases are declining among Europeans 80 and older, and death rates in the age group are at the lowest level since the pandemic began, according to a World Health Organization official.Speaking Thursday during a virtual news briefing in Athens, WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge credited the improving trend to vaccination programs across the continent, which prioritized the elderly.But Kluge said that was the only silver lining to the otherwise serious COVID-19 situation facing Europe. He said the region is averaging 1.6 million new cases a week and more than 9,500 new cases per hour. Last week, Europe surpassed 1 million deaths since the pandemic began.The world is nearing 3 million deaths from COVID-19 out of 138.8 million confirmed total cases, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Many nations are seeing a new surge of the virus, which is throwing doubt and confusion over numerous planned events, including the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said Thursday during a televised interview the Olympics should be canceled if the current wave of new infections grows out of control. His remarks came 99 days before the July 23 opening ceremony.With Tokyo and other parts of Japan under a state of emergency to quell a surge of new infections, public opinion polls show an overwhelming majority of Japanese believe the games should be postponed again or canceled.

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2.5 Billion T. Rex Roamed Earth, but Not All at Once, Study Says

One Tyrannosaurus rex seems scary enough. Now picture 2.5 billion of them. That’s how many of the fierce dinosaur king probably roamed Earth over the course of a couple million years, a new study finds.Using calculations based on body size, sexual maturity and the creatures’ energy needs, a team at the University of California, Berkeley figured out just how many T. rex lived over 127,000 generations, according to a study in Thursday’s journal Science. It’s a first-of-its-kind number, but just an estimate with a margin of error that is the size of a T. rex.“That’s a lot of jaws,” said study lead author Charles Marshall, director of the University of California Museum of Paleontology. “That’s a lot of teeth. That’s a lot of claws.”The species roamed North America for about 1.2 million to 3.6 million years, meaning the T. rex population density was small at any one moment. There would be about two in a place the size of the Washington, D.C., or 3,800 in California, the study said.“Probably like a lot of people, I literally did a double-take to make sure that my eyes hadn’t deceived me when I first read that 2.5 billion T. rexes have ever lived,” said Macalester College paleobiologist Kristi Curry Rogers, who wasn’t part of the study.Marshall said the estimate helps scientists figure the preservation rate of T. rex fossils and underscores how lucky the world is to know about them at all. About 100 or so T. rex fossils have been found — 32 of them with enough material to figure they are adults.If there were 2.5 million T. rex instead of 2.5 billion, we would probably have never known they existed, he said.Marshall’s team calculated the population by using a general biology rule of thumb that says the bigger the animal, the less dense its population. Then they added estimates of how much energy the carnivorous T. rex needed to stay alive — somewhere between a Komodo dragon and a lion. The more energy required, the less dense the population.They also factored in that the T. rex reached sexual maturity somewhere around 14 to 17 years old and lived at most 28 years.Given uncertainties in the creatures’ generation length, range and how long they roamed, the Berkeley team said the total population could be as little as 140 million or as much as 42 billion with 2.4 billion as the middle value.The science about the biggest land-living carnivores of all time is important, “but the truth, as I see it, is that this kind of thing is just very cool,” said Purdue University geology professor James Farlow.

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US Water Managers Warn of Dismal Year Along the Rio Grande

It has been 30 years or so since residents in New Mexico’s largest city last saw their stretch of the Rio Grande go dry. There’s a possibility it could happen again this summer. Federal water managers released their annual operating plan for the Rio Grande on Thursday, and it doesn’t look good. Flows have been meager so far this year because of below-average snowpack in the mountains along the Colorado-New Mexico border that feed the river. Spring precipitation has done little to fill the void. Reservoirs are at a fraction of their capacity and continue to shrink. There is no opportunity to replenish them because the provisions of a water-sharing agreement with Texas prevent New Mexico from storing water upstream. That means the drought-stricken state has no extra water in the bank to fall back on, as it has had in previous years. Matters are further complicated because of extremely low soil moisture levels. That, along with warm temperatures, means much of the melting snow will be absorbed or evaporate before it reaches the river. The Rio Grande flows just south of Bernalillo, N.M., April 13, 2021.”Just low dismal numbers all around,” Ed Kandl, a hydrologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said during a virtual meeting that included representatives from municipalities, tribal governments, irrigation districts, state agencies and a rafting company.  The Rio Grande is one of North America’s longest rivers and a major water source for millions of people and thousands of square miles of farmland in New Mexico, Texas and Mexico. The Bureau of Reclamation warned Thursday that a stellar monsoon season would be the only saving grace, but the odds of that happening are slim.  The Pecos River, which delivers water to parts of eastern New Mexico and West Texas, is in a similar situation, and federal officials recently issued a report indicating that releases on the Colorado River — which feeds several Western states — will continue to be limited because of the lack of water flowing into Lake Powell. So aside from residents in Albuquerque seeing sandbars take over the Rio Grande, farmers in central and southern New Mexico will have a shorter growing season with less water for crops.  It also means less water for the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow. Plans already are being made for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to rescue fish from drying portions of the river. The rescue missions have become a regular practice in recent years. Near the small agricultural community of San Acacia, officials predicted that river drying would start in June and likely last through November, barring any relief from summer rains.  Last year was also tough, but officials said 2021 will likely mark one of the worst since the 1950s. They said the state’s largest reservoir — Elephant Butte in southern New Mexico — could drop to just 3% of capacity. Carolyn Donnelly, the bureau’s water operations supervisor for the area, said contractors will be monitoring the river for drying as far north as Albuquerque, and managers will try to stretch what little water they have as far as it can go. 

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