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2020 Mars rover will land near Jezero Crater

Brandon Moseley

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Monday, NASA announced that it has chosen Jezero Crater as the landing site for its upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission. The site was selected after a five year search, during which every available detail of more than 60 candidate locations on the Red Planet were scrutinized and debated by the mission team and the planetary science community.

“The landing site in Jezero Crater offers geologically rich terrain, with landforms reaching as far back as 3.6 billion years old, that could potentially answer important questions in planetary evolution and astrobiology,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Getting samples from this unique area will revolutionize how we think about Mars and its ability to harbor life.”

The rover mission is scheduled to launch in July 2020 as NASA’s next step in exploration of the Red Planet. It will search for signs of not ancient habitable conditions, including past microbial life. The rover will collect rock and soil samples and store them in a cache on the planet’s surface. NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) are studying future mission concepts to retrieve the samples and return them to Earth, so this landing site sets the stage for the next decade of Mars exploration.

Jezero Crater is located on the western edge of Isidis Planitia, a giant impact basin just north of the Martian equator. Western Isidis presents some of the oldest and most scientifically interesting landscapes Mars has to offer. Mission scientists believe the 28-mile-wide crater was once home to an ancient river delta and could have collected and preserved ancient organic molecules and other potential signs of microbial life from the water and sediments that flowed into the crater billions of years ago. Jezero Crater’s ancient lake-delta system offers many promising sampling targets of at least five different kinds of rock, including clays and carbonates that have high potential to preserve signatures of past life. In addition, the material carried into the delta from a large watershed may contain a wide variety of minerals from inside and outside the crater. That geologic diversity is what makes the Jezero Crater so appealing to Mars 2020 scientists.

“The Mars community has long coveted the scientific value of sites such as Jezero Crater, and a previous mission contemplated going there, but the challenges with safely landing were considered prohibitive,” said Ken Farley, project scientist for Mars 2020 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “But what was once out of reach is now conceivable, thanks to the 2020 engineering team and advances in Mars entry, descent and landing technologies.”

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Landing a rover at Jezero crater presents a challenge for the team’s entry, descent and landing (EDL) engineers. Along with the massive nearby river delta and small crater impacts, the site contains numerous boulders and rocks to the east, cliffs to the west, and depressions filled with aeolian bedforms (wind-derived ripples in sand that could trap a rover) in several locations.

The mission engineers have refined the landing system such that they were able to reduce the Mars 2020 landing zone to an area 50 percent smaller than that for the landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover at Gale Crater in 2012. This allowed the science community to consider more challenging landing sites like Jezero Crater. The sites of greatest scientific interest led NASA to add a new capability called Terrain Relative Navigation (TRN). TRN will enable the “sky crane” descent stage, the rocket-powered system that carries the rover down to the surface, to avoid hazardous areas.

“Nothing has been more difficult in robotic planetary exploration than landing on Mars,” said Zurbuchen. “The Mars 2020 engineering team has done a tremendous amount of work to prepare us for this decision. The team will continue their work to truly understand the TRN system and the risks involved, and we will review the findings independently to reassure we have maximized our chances for success.”

A final report will be presented to an independent review board and NASA Headquarters in the fall of 2019.

Mars 2020 will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Scientists believe that Mars is 4.6 billion years old (~slightly older than Earth) and that early Mars had seas, an atmosphere, and perhaps life; but Mars is smaller than Earth so over time its molten iron core cooled off. Without the internal core rotation, Mars lost its magnetic field. Without a magnetic field it began losing it’s atmosphere to outer space. Water that evaporated was lost to space instead of returning to the surface as rain or snow and slowly most of the planet’s surface water dried up and Martian life either went extinct or is relegated to some minor habitat we have not yet discovered. It is an intriguing theory; but scientists are still trying to prove that all of that happened. Mars Rover 2020 hopes to add to our knowledge of Mars.

Huntsville is the home of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.  Thousands of Alabama workers are employed by NASA and the American aerospace industry.

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Shelby, Jones vote for passage of the Farm Bill

Brandon Moseley

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The U.S. Senate voted in favor of passage of the conference committee version of H.R. 2, the 2018 Farm Bill. Both Sens. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) and Doug Jones (D-Alabama) voted in favor of passage of the bipartisan legislation.

“This bipartisan legislation provides much-needed predictability that will significantly benefit our state’s farmers and the entire agriculture industry,” said Senator Shelby. “I look forward to the lasting positive impact this bill with have on rural areas throughout Alabama and the nation.”

“This is a Farm Bill for rural Alabama and rural America,” said Senator Jones. “I’m proud that the final legislation ensures that our farmers have the support and resources they need to continue to do their important work. It also addresses several urgent issues for our state, particularly the need for expanded rural health care and broadband access. Since I arrived in the Senate in January, I’ve worked closely with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, as well as farmers from across Alabama, to advocate for a strong Farm Bill for all of our rural communities. This bill reflects the priorities we share for a brighter and more secure future for Alabama.”

Shelby’s office said that the 2018 Farm Bill improves the crop insurance program, helps expand rural broadband initiatives, and includes many of the cotton industry’s priorities such as the continuation of the Seed Cotton program.

U.S. Senator Doug Jones today supported passage of a final Farm Bill that includes several key priorities for Alabama that he championed. The bill is the result of months of bipartisan negotiations in the Senate and House.

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The Congress passes a Farm Bill and is only once every five years.

Jones’ office says that it strengthens important commodity safety net programs and other protections for farmers who take on this risky and costly venture. It also provides increased funding for communities across the country and addresses issues from rural development to conservation to food assistance and more.

The Farm Bill includes several specific provisions that were championed by Senator Jones for Alabama’s rural communities.

These include: The Rural Health Liaison Act (S. 2894) which establishes a rural health liaison at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to better coordinate federal resources and expand health care access to Americans who have for too long struggled to receive quality, affordable care in their own communities.

The Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act (S.2772) expands the USDA’s Household Water Well System Grant Program to provide grants of up to $15,000 to low- and moderate-income households in rural areas for installing or maintaining individually-owned decentralized wastewater systems.

The Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Program Act (S. 1676) which increases the authorization from $25 million to $350 million annually for the USDA to provide loans and loan guarantees for broadband services in rural communities.

The Community Connect Grant Program Act (S. 2654) which authorizes $50 million annually for the USDA Community Connect Program, which provides broadband grants targeted to the most rural, unserved, and high-poverty communities in the country. The program expands high-speed internet by providing new grants that will connect unserved households and businesses with modern internet access and streamlines broadband application process.

The Fair Access for Farmers and Ranchers Act (S. 3117) requires the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) to provide farm numbers to farmers with certain documentation, including in concert with Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Laws in some states. The bill also authorizes FSA to make loans to qualified intermediaries to re-lend to families seeking to resolve heirs’ property issues.

The Assist Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Act (S.2839) and the Next Generation in Agriculture Act (S. 2762). These two bills were combined to create permanent, mandatory baseline funding to educate the next generation of farmers and reach more minority farmers.

Agriculture is Alabama’s top revenue-producing industry, generating an annual impact of over $70 billion. With over nine million acres of farmland and more than 48,500 farms, the state is a national leader in food production and a global competitor in the poultry, catfish, timber, cotton, and livestock industries.

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Rod Rosenstein tours Huntsville

Brandon Moseley

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Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein visited Huntsville Tuesday to tour facilities at Redstone Arsenal including the FBI’s Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center (TEDAC), the ATF’s National Center for Explosives Training and Research (NCETR) and NASA. The visit was announced by U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town.

“It was an honor to receive Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein today and tour the many impressive facilities aboard the Redstone Arsenal campus”, Town said. “It comes as no surprise that the DAG was impressed by the growth and capabilities here. We began the day touring NASA, a remarkable ambassador to the 40,000+ employees that serve aboard the Redstone Arsenal each day. Touring NASA is always impressive. The FBI’s Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center and ATF’s National Center for Explosives Training and Research and National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) facilities truly reminds us of the impressive advancement that law enforcement has made in order to stay ahead of criminal threats to the public. We were fortunate to be joined by ATF Director Tom Brandon as well. Our federal law enforcement capacities are tremendous but are only successful due to the hard work, dedication, and bravery of the men and women of all of our federal law enforcement agencies.”

Rod Rosenstein was appointed Deputy Attorney General by President Donald J. Trump (R). When it was revealed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had met with the Russian Ambassador twice during the 2016 election campaign, Sessions recused himself from the Russian collusion investigation. Sessions’ decision to recuse himself meant that he could not be a part of the decision on how to investigate the charges that the Trump presidential campaign had colluded with Russian intelligence to discredit Trump’s opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton (D).

Rosenstein made the decision to appoint former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate the collusion allegations against the President and his campaign.

Rosenstein has been criticized by the President and by many conservatives for his decisions in the Mueller investigation, which has continued to this day. While some Democrats have suggested that Mueller has found compelling evidence to impeach the President, Trump himself has said that he has been vindicated by the investigation.

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Trump recently asked for and accepted Jeff Sessions’s resignation. Chief of Staff John Kelly has also announced that he is leaving the administration. Rosenstein, however, remains as Deputy Attorney General.

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NASA: OSIRIS-Rex has discovered water on Asteroid Bennu

Brandon Moseley

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NASA announced Monday that its Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft has already discovered water locked inside the clays that make up its scientific target, the asteroid Bennu.

During the mission’s approach phase, between mid-August and early December, the spacecraft traveled 1.4 million miles on its journey from Earth to arrive at a location 12 miles from Bennu last week. During this time, the science team on Earth aimed three of the spacecraft’s instruments towards Bennu and began making the mission’s first scientific observations of the asteroid.

NASA announced that data obtained from the spacecraft’s two spectrometers, the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) and the OSIRIS-REx

Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES) reveals that the presence of molecules that contain oxygen and hydrogen atoms bonded together, known as “hydroxyls.” The team suspects that these hydroxyl groups exist globally across the asteroid in water-bearing clay minerals, meaning that at some point, Bennu’s rocky material interacted with water. While Bennu itself is too small to have ever hosted liquid water, the finding does indicate that liquid water was present at some time on Bennu’s parent body, a much larger asteroid.

“The presence of hydrated minerals across the asteroid confirms that Bennu, a remnant from early in the formation of the solar system, is an excellent specimen for the OSIRIS-REx mission to study the composition of primitive volatiles and organics,” said OVIRS deputy instrument scientist Amy Simon at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “When samples of this material are returned by the mission to Earth in 2023, scientists will receive a treasure trove of new information about the history and evolution of our solar system.”

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Additionally, data obtained from the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS) corroborate ground-based telescopic observations of Bennu and confirm the original model developed in 2013 by OSIRIS-REx Science Team Chief Michael Nolan and collaborators. That model closely predicted the asteroid’s actual shape, with Bennu’s diameter, rotation rate, inclination, and overall shape presented almost exactly as projected.

One outlier from the predicted shape model is the size of the large boulder near Bennu’s south pole. The ground-based shape model calculated this boulder to be at least 33 feet (10 meters) in height. Preliminary calculations from OCAMS observations show that the boulder is closer to 164 feet (50 meters) in height, with a width of approximately 180 feet (55 meters).

Bennu’s surface material is a mix of very rocky, boulder-filled regions and a few relatively smooth regions that lack boulders. However, the quantity of boulders on the surface is higher than expected. The team will make further observations at closer ranges to more accurately assess where a sample can be taken on Bennu to later be returned to Earth. OSIRIS-REx is NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission.

Space exploration and rocket manufacturing and design are major Alabama industries. The Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville employs thousands of Alabamians.

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Jones introduces bipartisan legislation forbidding mailed unsolicited “live” loan checks

Brandon Moseley

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Monday U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) joined Senators Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), and Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) in introduced legislation that would end the practice of mailing high-interest loans to consumers in the form of “live” checks.

When consumers receive these loan checks, many unknowingly believe they have received money from their bank or financial institution, not realizing that the check is often a high-interest loan.

The Unsolicited Loan Act of 2018 would prohibit this practice and ensure that consumers access loans only when they proactively apply for them. This legislation mirrors the decades-old prohibition on the mailing of live credit cards.

“As working Americans look to make ends meet, lenders will often target cash-strapped families with these mailings,” Senator Jones said. “It is unconscionable that someone would take advantage of another person’s dire financial situation to make a quick buck for themselves. We need to end this predatory lending tactic and pass this legislation to protect consumers and their pocketbooks.”

“People should understand clearly when they are taking on debt,” Senator Cotton said. “But because ‘live’ checks mailed directly to consumers don’t require an application or any previous relationship with the consumer, many individuals don’t realize that these checks are actually high-interest loans until it’s too late. Just like Congress ended the practice of mailing ‘live’ credit cards nearly 50 years ago, Congress should pass our bill now to stop this underhanded practice.”

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“When you receive a check in the mail, it’s natural to assume that depositing it will help—not hurt—your bottom line,” Sen. Merkley said. “But these checks don’t pad consumers’ pocketbooks; instead, they send them into a vortex of debt. The practice of mailing high-interest loans disguised as checks is unconscionable and clearly predatory. Today, we’re sending a bipartisan message that this unacceptable practice must end.”

The sponsors said that it has been long recognized by Congress that consumer loans should require an application by a customer. In fact, Congress banned the mailing of unsolicited live credit cards nearly 50 years ago. In modern lending, a formal loan application can often take just minutes. The bill does not prohibit the direct marketing or mailing of a loan application. The sponsors say that this legislation would provide common-sense consumer protections without limiting access to credit for consumers who willingly apply and seek lending products.

The bill would also ensure that companies cannot shift from the mailing of live checks to other forms of transfer, such as a gift card or an “e-check.” In addition, it would ensure that customers are not liable for debt incurred from an illegal, unsolicited live check loan. The National Consumer Law Center has endorsed this legislation on behalf of its low-income clients.

According to usdebtclock.org the average American is carrying $58,849 in debt. American families owe over $19,371,000,000. Almost $15,374,000,000 of this is mortgage debt; but Americans also carry nearly $1,580,000,000 in student loan debt and almost $1,050,000,000 in credit card debt. According to the American Bankruptcy Institute, through November 703,130 Americans have already filed for bankruptcy in 2018, including 24,676 in Alabama.

Senator Jones was elected a year ago in a special election for the seat vacated by Senator Jeff Sessions (R) when he accepted President Donald J. Trump’s (R) nomination to be U.S. Attorney General. Jones is the only Democratic candidate to win a statewide election in Alabama since 2008.

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2020 Mars rover will land near Jezero Crater

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 4 min
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