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NASA lands InSight Mars lander

Brandon Moseley

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NASA’s InSight Mars lander landed on the planet’s surface Monday. Mars’ newest robotic visitor is NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander. The ship successfully landed on the Red Planet after almost seven months in space and traveling 300-million-miles from Earth.

InSight has been tasked with a two-year mission to study the deep interior of Mars in an attempt to learn how all celestial bodies with rocky surfaces, including Earth and the Moon, formed.

InSight launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on May 5. The lander touched down near Mars’ equator on the western side of a flat, smooth expanse of lava called Elysium Planitia.

“Today, we successfully landed on Mars for the eighth time in human history,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “InSight will study the interior of Mars, and will teach us valuable science as we prepare to send astronauts to the Moon and later to Mars. This accomplishment represents the ingenuity of America and our international partners and it serves as a testament to the dedication and perseverance of our team. The best of NASA is yet to come, and it is coming soon.”

“We hit the Martian atmosphere at 12,300 mph (19,800 kilometers per hour), and the whole sequence to touching down on the surface took only six-and-a-half minutes,” said InSight project manager Tom Hoffman at JPL. “During that short span of time, InSight had to autonomously perform dozens of operations and do them flawlessly — and by all indications that is exactly what our spacecraft did.”

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The landing signal was relayed to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, via one of NASA’s two small experimental Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats, which launched on the same rocket as InSight and followed the lander to Mars. They are the first CubeSats sent into deep space. After successfully carrying out a number of communications and in-flight navigation experiments, the twin MarCOs were set in position to receive transmissions during InSight’s entry, descent and landing.

“We are solar powered, so getting the arrays out and operating is a big deal,” said Hoffman. “With the arrays providing the energy we need to start the cool science operations, we are well on our way to thoroughly investigate what’s inside of Mars for the very first time.”

InSight will begin to collect science data within the first week after landing, though the teams will focus mainly on preparing to set InSight’s instruments on the Martian ground. At least two days after touchdown, the engineering team will begin to deploy InSight’s 5.9-foot-long (1.8-meter-long) robotic arm so that it can take images of the landscape.

“Landing was thrilling, but I’m looking forward to the drilling,” said InSight principal investigator Bruce Banerdt of JPL. “When the first images come down, our engineering and science teams will hit the ground running, beginning to plan where to deploy our science instruments. Within two or three months, the arm will deploy the mission’s main science instruments, the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) and Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instruments.”

InSight will operate on the surface for one Martian year, plus 40 Martian days, or sols, until Nov. 24, 2020. The mission objectives of the two small MarCOs which relayed InSight’s telemetry was completed after their Martian flyby.

“That’s one giant leap for our intrepid, briefcase-sized robotic explorers,” said Joel Krajewski, MarCOproject manager at JPL. “I think CubeSats have a big future beyond Earth’s orbit, and the MarCO team is happy to trailblaze the way.”

InSight’s landing at Elysium Planitia, is NASA’s eighth successful soft-landing of a vehicle on Mars.

“Every Mars landing is daunting, but now with InSight safely on the surface we get to do a unique kind of science on Mars,” said JPL director Michael Watkins. “The experimental MarCO CubeSats have also opened a new door to smaller planetary spacecraft. The success of these two unique missions is a tribute to the hundreds of talented engineers and scientists who put their genius and labor into making this a great day.”

JPL manages InSight for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. The MarCO CubeSats were built and managed by JPL. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the InSight spacecraft, including its cruise stage and lander, and supports spacecraft operations for the mission.

“The lander was launched from Vandenberg Air force Base in California on May 5th of this year aboard United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V 401 rocket,” Congressman Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) said on social media. “I hope InSight’s landing is successful, and I look forward to the wealth of data expected from the spacecraft as it roams the Red Planet.”

A number of European partners have made important contributions to the mission. These include: France’s Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. CNES, and the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP), provided the SEIS instrument, with significant contributions from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany, the Swiss Institute of Technology (ETH) in Switzerland, Imperial College and Oxford University in the United Kingdom, and JPL. DLR provided the HP3 instrument, with significant contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) supplied the wind sensors.

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Brooks lauds November jobs report

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, made a point to laud the good Bureau of Labor Statistics November jobs report Friday.

“The November Jobs Report is very good in the context of two troubling events: the threatened return of socialist, anti-growth policies of Democrats who have captured the House of Representatives and rising interest rates (caused by Federal Reserve hikes coupled with America’s dangerous deficits straining credit markets),” Brooks said. “These combined threats undermine the economic confidence of job creators which, in turn, risk causing adverse impacts on America’s economy.”

“Despite threatened socialist policies and rising interest rates, in November, America’s economy added 155,000 new jobs, average hourly income continued to grow at a 3.1% annualized rate, and unemployment remained steady at the 50-year low rate of 3.7%— all welcome news for American workers,” Brooks said. “I am very pleased that Americans are personally benefitting from the tax cuts and deregulation policies that spurred 2018 to be America’s strongest growth rate in over a decade!”

Brooks said that the key takeaways from the Bureau of Labor Statistics October jobs report are: America’s economy added 155,000 new, nonfarm payroll jobs in November 2018; America’s November unemployment rate was 3.7 percent, a year-to-year improvement of 0.4 percentage points over the 4.1 percent unemployment rate of November 2017; and over the past year, the average weekly earnings for all non-farm American workers increased by 0.2%, or six cents (to $27.35/hour). That is an 81 cent improvement in hourly wages over the past year.

Brooks said that African-American unemployment fell by 0.3 percentage points, to 5.9 percent, which is the all-time record low unemployment rate for African-Americans. Asian-American unemployment fell from 3.2 percent to 2.7 percent. The Caucasian-American unemployment rate actually rose from 3.3 percent to 3.4 percent. The Hispanic-American unemployment rate rose from 4.4 percent to 4.5 percent. The labor participation rate remained unchanged at 62.9 percent. The long-term unemployed (those unemployed for 27 weeks or more), declined by 120,000 to just 1.3 million.

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This is the lowest the unemployment rate since December 1969, and this is the fifth consecutive month that the unemployment rate has been below 4 percent. There have only been 12 months since 1970 that the unemployment rate has fallen below 4 percent. Seven of those months occurred this year.

More than 73 percent of adults entering employment are coming out of the labor force rather than from unemployment.

The gains were apparent in most industries. The biggest gains this month were in transportation and warehousing (25,000) and in manufacturing (27,000). Overall manufacturing has added 468,000 jobs since the election.

Brooks represents Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District.

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Jones calls on Birmingham-based for-profit college CEO to assist student after sudden closure

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Alabama, sent a letter in response to news that Education Corporation of America (ECA) would be abruptly closing its campuses in Alabama and across the country to CEO Stu Reed today calling for ECA to help students navigate their options and understand the resources available to them.

ECA represents Brightwood Career Institute, Brightwood College, Ecotech Institute, Golf Academy of America, and Virginia College throughout the country. ECA is based in Birmingham and operates for-profit Virginia College campuses in Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile, and Montgomery. 3,800 Alabama students are affected by the closures. Of those students, 670 are using their GI Bill benefits.

“I am writing on behalf of the students in Alabama and across the country who are enrolled in one of Education Corporation of America’s colleges, including Brightwood Career Institute, Brightwood College, Ecotech Institute, Golf Academy of America, and Virginia College,” Jones said. “When the news broke yesterday regarding your decision to abruptly close these colleges, I was immediately concerned about the futures of 20,000 students enrolled nationwide in 20 states, including 4,000 veterans and military service members using the G.I. Bill.”

“In Alabama, Education Corporation of America’s Virginia College campuses will close in Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile, and Montgomery, leaving a combined total of more than 3,800 students in my state, including 670 student veterans who have been using the G.I. Bill benefits they have earned, left scrambling to figure out their educational future,” Jones continued. “According to your company’s website, there will be information for students regarding transcript retrieval, transfer, and contact information that you “expect to start loading” on or around December 17, 2018.”

“After abruptly closing the doors, your decision to make students and families wait nearly two weeks to receive any information about their next steps is simply unacceptable,” Jones concluded. “You have a responsibility to these students, including our veterans and service members, to ensure they have all of the tools and information they need to move forward, including the choice between receiving a discharge of their federal student loans or transferring to a similar program if they can find an institution willing to accept their credits. Veteran students also need to understand the impact of the closure on their G.I. Bill benefit eligibility. I am deeply troubled by reports that many Education Corporation of America colleges have not been informing students of their right to seek a “closed school discharge” of their federal loan as is required by federal law under the 2016 “borrower defense” rule. Additionally, students who are encouraged to transfer should understand the limitations of fully transferring credits, and the impact on their eligibility for a loan discharge. I urge you to do all you can to inform these students of their options. They have invested thousands of dollars into your institution and could potentially lose everything.”

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The closures were announced on Wednesday and are effective this Friday.

Stu Reed was previously the Chief Executive Officer at Motorola but was forced out in 2008 due to that company falling on down times. He became CEO of Education Corporation of America less than four years ago.

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Alabama joins other states in effort to stop pesky robocalls

Chip Brownlee

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Alabama is joining a multistate coalition to stop or reduce annoying robocalls.

Attorney General Steve Marshall announced Thursday that Alabama will participate in a bipartisan group of 39 attorneys general who are working to find a solution to stop malicious robocalls by focusing on the technology that major telecom companies are pursuing to stop the illegal calls.

“Robocalls are not simply annoying but have become a persistent harassment that is disrupting the lives of our citizens and can be a means for scammers to steal their hard-earned money and savings,” Marshall said. “We are committed to working together to find a constructive way to combat this growing problem. Robocalls, as well as spoofing which is often done to make it appear the calls are coming from someone known and reputable, will require technological solutions. We support the efforts of telecom companies to address this and urge them to reach and implement solutions as soon as possible.”

The multistate group has had in-depth meetings with several major telecom companies.

Marshall and the other state attorneys general say they are working to develop a “detailed understanding” of what technology could feasibly minimize the number of unwanted robocalls and illegal telemarketing. They’re also planning to press major companies to expedite the process to protect consumers and determine whether states could make further recommendations to the Federal Communications Commission.

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Other states in the group include Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

 

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President George H. W. Bush laid to rest in Texas

Brandon Moseley

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On Thursday, President George Herbert Walker Bush (R) was laid to rest in Texas next to his wife, Barbara, who had died earlier this year. He was 94. On Wednesday a state funeral was held for the 41st President at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. Presidents Jimmy Carter (D), William J. “Bill” Clinton (D), Barack H. Obama (D), Donald J. Trump (R), and George W. Bush (R) all attended, as did members of the Alabama Congressional delegation.

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) said, “Today Annette and I joined Americans across the nation to pay respects to our friend and former President, George H.W. Bush. It was a beautiful service honoring the life of a distinguished, admirable, and impactful leader. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the entire Bush family.‬”

Congressman ‬Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) said, “It was truly an honor to be on hand today at the state funeral of President George H.W. Bush.” “It is a privilege to be in attendance this morning at the National Cathedral here in Washington today as we honor the legacy of a great American.”

Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) said, “I am humbled to be present at the National Cathedral this morning as we honor the remarkable life and legacy of George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President of the United States.”

U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) said, “President George H.W. Bush acted with civility and grace. His legacy will not soon be forgotten.”

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“Even with all he accomplished in service to our Nation, President Bush remained humble,” President Trump said. “He never believed that government — even when under his own leadership — could be the source of our Nation’s strength or its greatness. America, he rightly told us, is illuminated by “a thousand points of light,” “ethnic, religious, social, business, labor union, neighborhood, regional and other organizations, all of them varied, voluntary and unique” in which Americans serve Americans to build and maintain the greatest Nation on the face of the Earth. President Bush recognized that these communities of people are the true source of America’s strength and vitality.”

After the state funeral in Washington, Bush’s body was flown to Houston, Texas where a memorial service was held at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church. His body was then transported to College Station on a locomotive, adorned with the colors of Air Force One and named 4141 in honor of him 13 years ago. Pres. Bush, who grew up riding trains, requested that his last ride be on that train. The locomotive was made by Electro-Motive Diesel, a subsidiary of Albertville based Progress Rail.

Congressman Byrne said, “What a cool story! Progress Rail, an Alabama-based company, created a special locomotive just for the 41st President. It will now be used to carry President George H.W. Bush to his final resting place. Glad to see Alabama playing a special role in recognizing this great American.”

The CEO of Progress Rail is Billy Ainsworth, the father of Alabama Lieutenant Governor-elect Will Ainsworth (R).

“Proud of Dad and the entire Progress Rail team,” Lt. Gov. elect Ainsworth said. “What a great story.”

Pres. Bush was buried next to his wife and daughter at his Presidential Library on the campus of Texas A&M University.

(Original reporting by Fox News and the Yellowhammer News contributed to this report.)

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