Saturday, August 06, 2022

Curiosity, ten years on Mars

The last post was  "Aridification" and, on this topic, I want to note Robert Hunziker (COUNTERPUNCH) on the same topic:

Hoover Dam’s Lake Mead is dangerously close to dead pool status for the first time since construction in the mid 1930s. A vicious hammering drought sequence for over two decades throughout the West threatens to bring America’s biggest water reservoir to its knees.

In a word, the implications are unspeakable.

America’s monuments, the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, the Lincoln Memorial, and Hoover Dam are the foundations of Americana, the essence of America, its character, and its culture. Hoover Dam, one of the greatest engineering feats of all time, 96 lives lost during construction, defines America’s true grit during a bygone era that had to overcome great challenges tagged with the Great Depression, soup kitchens & breadlines (NYC 82 breadlines by 1932), the Dust Bowl, incipient fascism in Europe, and a brewing world war.

Yet, in the face of those overwhelming challenges, similar to a phoenix miraculously rising out of the ashes, in 1934 Hoover Dam’s Lake Mead commenced water filling in celebration of an engineering marvel. Seven years later (1941) Hoover Dam’s Lake Mead stood tall at maximum capacity of 1,220 feet elevation with sparkling blue water that shone for all to behold, becoming the most-visited dam in the world with 7 million annual visitors.

In a twist of climate change fate and echoing the 1930s, America once again is challenged by drought, irreconcilable political squabbling, 42 million SNAPs (electronic food stamps), festering homegrown armed fascism, and entanglement in a European war, as Lake Mead returns to its beginnings of 88 years ago. Today’s 1,041 feet elevation is the same as 1937, as it was then filling. But, in sharp contrast to the outlook for Lake Mead when completed in 1934 full of hope and promise, the outlook today is decidedly negative. What’s changed?

Answer: The climate system has turned upside down, whether it’s gushing massive flash floods or hard-hitting severe parched droughts there’s little middle ground. It’s behaving like the Mad Hatter gone off the deep end.

But, this time is vastly different from the past. Severe drought is now a worldwide phenomenon like never before. It’s hitting everywhere. According to SPEI Global Drought Monitor, no continent is spared the ravages of severe drought, except for Antarctica. Major urban centers in South America (Santiago) and China (Guangzhou and Shenzhen) and Europe (100 Po Valley towns) are already rationing or instituting forced reduction of water usage.

From Earth to Mars, Curiosity has been on Mars now for 10 years.  

Pop-Landiversary Quiz! 🎉 I’ve hit quite a few milestones in this decade. Let's see who's been paying attention: How many miles have I trekked on Mars?
5,329 votes15 hours left

Part of my mission is to study Martian rock and soil samples to form a deeper understanding of Mars’ ancient past. How many have I analyzed?
3,798 votes15 hours left
I landed in Gale Crater, and I’ve been exploring the foothills of Mount Sharp within it. It’s been a journey. How far up have I climbed Mount Sharp?
3,686 votes15 hours left

NASA notes:

Ten years ago today, a jetpack lowered NASA’s Curiosity rover onto the Red Planet, beginning the SUV-size explorer’s pursuit of evidence that, billions of years ago, Mars had the conditions needed to support microscopic life.

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Turns 10: NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover set out to answer a big question when it landed on the Red Planet 10 years ago: Could Mars have supported ancient life? Scientists have discovered the answer is yes and have been working to learn more about the planet’s past habitable environment. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS/JHU-APL. Download video ›

Since then, Curiosity has driven nearly 18 miles (29 kilometers) and ascended 2,050 feet (625 meters) as it explores Gale Crater and the foothills of Mount Sharp within it. The rover has analyzed 41 rock and soil samples, relying on a suite of science instruments to learn what they reveal about Earth’s rocky sibling. And it’s pushed a team of engineers to devise ways to minimize wear and tear and keep the rover rolling: In fact, Curiosity’s mission was recently extended for another three years, allowing it to continue among NASA’s fleet of important astrobiological missions.

Stay curious with NASA and celebrate the agency’s Curiosity Mars rover’s 10th anniversary on the Red Planet with a two-sided poster that lists some of the intrepid explorer’s inspiring accomplishments.
Curiosity 10th Anniversary Poster: Stay curious with NASA and celebrate the agency’s Curiosity Mars rover’s 10th anniversary on the Red Planet with a two-sided poster that lists some of the intrepid explorer’s inspiring accomplishments. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download poster ›

A Bounty of Science

It’s been a busy decade. Curiosity has studied the Red Planet’s skies, capturing images of shining clouds and drifting moons. The rover’s radiation sensor lets scientists measure the amount of high-energy radiation future astronauts would be exposed to on the Martian surface, helping NASA figure out how to keep them safe.

But most important, Curiosity has determined that liquid water as well as the chemical building blocks and nutrients needed for supporting life were present for at least tens of millions of years in Gale Crater. The crater once held a lake, the size of which waxed and waned over time. Each layer higher up on Mount Sharp serves as a record of a more recent era of Mars’ environment.

Now, the intrepid rover is driving through a canyon that marks the transition to a new region, one thought to have formed as water was drying out, leaving behind salty minerals called sulfates.

“We’re seeing evidence of dramatic changes in the ancient Martian climate,” said Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “The question now is whether the habitable conditions that Curiosity has found up to now persisted through these changes. Did they disappear, never to return, or did they come and go over millions of years?”

Curiosity has made striking progress up the mountain. Back in 2015, the team captured a “postcard” image of distant buttes. A mere speck within that image is a Curiosity-size boulder nicknamed “Ilha Novo Destino” – and, nearly seven years later, the rover trundled by it last month on the way to the sulfate-bearing region.

The team plans to spend the next few years exploring the sulfate-rich area. Within it, they have targets in mind like the Gediz Vallis channel, which may have formed during a flood late in Mount Sharp’s history, and large cemented fractures that show the effects of groundwater higher up the mountain.

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used its Mast Camera, or Mastcam, to take this 360-degree panorama of at the “Avanavero” drill site.
'Paraitepuy Pass' From a Distance: This scene was captured by Curiosity on Sept. 9, 2015, when NASA’s Mars rover was many miles from its current location. The circle indicates the location of a Curiosity-size boulder that the rover recently drove past. To the left of that is “Paraitepuy Pass,” which Curiosity is now traveling through. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

How to Keep a Rover on a Roll

What’s Curiosity’s secret to maintaining an active lifestyle at the ripe old age of 10? A team of hundreds of dedicated engineers, of course, working both in person at JPL and remotely from home.

They catalog each and every crack in the wheels, test every line of computer code before it’s beamed into space, and drill into endless rock samples in JPL’s Mars Yard, ensuring Curiosity can safely do the same.

“As soon as you land on Mars, everything you do is based on the fact that there’s no one around to repair it for 100 million miles,” said Andy Mishkin, Curiosity’s acting project manager at JPL. “It’s all about making intelligent use of what’s already on your rover.”

Curiosity’s robotic drilling process, for example, has been reinvented multiple times since landing. At one point, the drill was offline for more than a year as engineers redesigned its use to be more like a handheld drill. More recently, a set of braking mechanisms that allow the robotic arm to move or stay in place stopped working. Although the arm has been operating as usual since engineers engaged a set of spares, the team has also learned to drill more gently to preserve the new brakes.

To minimize damage to the wheels, engineers keep an eye out for treacherous spots like the knife-edged “gator-back” terrain they recently discovered, and they developed a traction-control algorithm to help as well.

The team has taken a similar approach to managing the rover’s slowly diminishing power. Curiosity relies on a long-lived nuclear-powered battery rather than solar panels to keep on rolling. As the plutonium pellets in the battery decay, they generate heat that the rover converts into power. Because of the pellets’ gradual decay, the rover can’t do quite as much in a day as it did during its first year.

Mishkin said the team is continuing to budget how much energy the rover uses each day, and has figured out which activities can be done in parallel to optimize the energy available to the rover. “Curiosity is definitely doing more multitasking where it’s safe to do so,” Mishkin added.

Through careful planning and engineering hacks, the team has every expectation the plucky rover still has years of exploring to ahead of it.

More About the Mission

JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, built Curiosity for NASA and leads the mission on behalf of the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more about Curiosity, visit: and

News Media Contacts

Andrew Good
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Karen Fox / Alana Johnson
NASA Headquarters, Washington
301-286-6284 / 202-358-1501 /

"Iraq snapshot" (THE COMMON ILLS):

 Friday, August 5, 2022.  In the words of the Mamas and the Papas, "Man, can't they see the world's on fire?"

Speaker of the House and political gadfly Nancy Pelosi remains in the news as her latest antics have global repercussions.  John Stauber Tweets:

.#Pelosi is an arrogant super rich warmongering megalomaniac. She knows ⁦⁩ will lose the House. Here she risks war for a demented thrill before her Speakership is over. #Sick

Jeffrey St. Clair (COUNTERPUNCH) observes:

I suppose there are more risible politicians on the scene today than Nancy Pelosi, but few come clad in her power accessories or with as much potential to inflict carnage on a global scale. Even the banshee of the backwoods Marjorie Taylor Greene is a mere pipsqueak compared to the malevolent lunacy we’ve seen lately from Pelosi.

Some may say that Pelosi, now  82, has entered her second childhood. If so, it’s a delinquent one. Certainly her political inhibitions have dissolved, allowing her natural inclination to foment trouble to run rampant. One looks in vain for a rational motivation behind her ad hoc trip to Taiwan, an act of belligerency that might have sparked a war with another nuclear power. But to what end? China is not going to relinquish its entirely legitimate claims to Taiwan. Far from a model democracy, Taiwan is a former gangster state, whose repressive government was shaped by Chiang Kai-Shek, who retreated there in 1949 with his battered gang of CIA-financed KMT thugs, where he promptly instituted a violent crackdown on leftists known as the White Terror, a vicious form of martial law that lasted for the next 45 years.

Sure Pelosi represents many rich Chinese exiles, who have made fortunes in San Francisco and now fantasize about sticking it to the CCP from the safety of their Nob Hill mansions. But Pelosi doesn’t need their money or support. She’s well beyond that now. (Though her husband Paul is surely watching with avaricious eyes the reaction of the markets to this junket of the damned.) Pelosi’s trip seems more personal, an almost pathological assertion of her autonomy. It’s the act of a playground bully and the Mad-Eyed Lady from Pac Heights has come to see the world as her playground–provocation for the sake of provocation. Damn the consequences.

The Speaker’s hubris has been accreting rapidly in the last decade. Once a capable, if not very creative, machine politician, she has now become baked by her own sense of power and runs the House like her own private autocracy, the leadership ranks stacked with her claque of senescent loyalists.

Now the second most powerful figurehead in the US government has gone rogue, enacting her very own Asian Pivot, flouting decades of US policy and even ignoring the requests of the increasingly feeble Joe Biden to scrub Taipei from her inflammatory itinerary. Nancy is the “Karen” of global geopolitics, a loose cannon intoxicated by her own self-righteousness. Like RGB, Pelosi apparently sees herself as an indispensable figure in American politics, even as a trapdoor slides open beneath her feet and that those of her party and country.

Why Pelosi picked China as her target du jour is no mystery. Like Biden (and Bernie Sanders, for that matter), Pelosi has always been a Cold Warrior. It’s the way she chooses to understand the world, even if it’s a world that no longer quite exists. The political economy Pelosi has done much to help engineer over the last 35 years needs perpetual enemies to justify the trillions sunk into the weapons-and-surveillance complex. And not ephemeral scrub units like Al Qaeda and ISIS. Big ones like Russia and China. But more sophisticated politicians, from Nixon to Obama, have understood that the trick is to keep the threat elevated without actually risking a war. Pelosi seems to have lost this inhibition, as well.

Thus the brazenness–one is tempted to say, desperation–of her Taiwan excursion is a pretty clear sign of imperial (as well as mental) slippage. Far from a show of strength, Pelosi’s antics in Taipei revealed the frailty of the US hegemon in the Pacific. Sure, China postured a bit in response with naval exercises encircling Taiwan, but Beijing, a much more reflective (if equally lethal) government than our own, must have viewed Pelosi’s frantic finger-wagging as little more than a parody of power, a shrill manifestation of America’s political decrepitude.

Andre Damon (WSWS) notes:

Following U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, which deliberately provoked the greatest crisis in the region in a quarter century, the United States has announced plans for its next provocation: sending aircraft and warships through the Taiwan Strait.

The US will conduct “air and maritime transits through the Taiwan Strait in the next few weeks,” White House spokesperson John Kirby said.

In June, Fortune reported that Beijing told US officials that China sees the Taiwan Strait as its territorial waters, leading to the possibility Chinese military forces could seek to block a transit by a US warship, potentially leading to a military clash.

Kirby announced that the USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike group, which is operating in the waters outside Taiwan, will extend its deployment in the area.

The US announcement came amid a military standoff over Taiwan. After Pelosi’s visit, China carried out live-fire exercises in the waters on all sides of Taiwan, forcing the cancellation of flights and the re-routing of ships.

China deployed over 100 aircraft and over 10 warships in its largest-ever military drills in the Taiwan Strait. China fired at least 11 ballistic missiles, some flying directly over mainland Taiwan, and deployed drones that flew over Taiwan’s Kinmen Islands.


And Dave DeCamp offers:

Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan was nothing other than a purposeful provocation that was intended to evoke the response that the PLA has given to justify more US military expansion in the region. Her trip didn’t benefit Taiwan, and it certainly didn’t defend democracy as she claimed it would.

Just as the US backing the removal of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was a pivotal moment, so too is Pelosi’s provocation. Beijing has warned over and over again that Taiwan is a "red line" and that US support for the island’s "independence forces" will lead to war. But Pelosi, and the rest of the blob, didn’t listen, just as they didn’t listen to Russia’s warnings over Ukraine, and now Ukrainians are dying by the thousands.

We may still be a long way away from a hot war, but China will not back down, and there’s no sign the US is going to change course. Ultra-hawks in Congress are cranking out legislation to fundamentally change US policy toward Taiwan by sending them billions in military aid and requiring sanctions on China in response to a Chinese attack on the island, which would change the decades-old policy of "strategic ambiguity."

Where’s the opposition to all this madness? There is none, at least in Washington. Ro Khanna, the progressive House Democrat from California, who is so good on the wars in the Middle East, morphed into a neocon before our eyes when asked if he thinks Pelosi should go to Taiwan.

"We’re not going to let the Chinese Communist Party dictate where the Speaker of the House should go," Khanna puffed to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. "We shouldn’t allow them to bluff and dictate to America, the greatest nation in the world, where our Speaker of the House should travel."

Pelosi’s provocation also gained backing from her Republican colleagues as escalating tensions with Beijing has strong bipartisan support. 

What's going on in Iraq?  The western media can't get the basic facts right.  That's about the most consistent thing regarding in Iraq.  John Davison has covered Iraq for REUTERS for many years.  Yet he offers garbage like this, "Tens of thousands of followers of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr prayed on Friday at an iconic Baghdad military parade ground built by the late President Saddam Hussein, in yet another symbolic display of Sadr's sway over much of the Iraqi people."

There are two main problems with that sentence.  Lets deal with "tens of thousands of followers" first.  Friday is the day of worship in Iraq.  People went to religious services and then went to the mmilitary parade ground on a day where even the Iraqi government sent workers home.  "Hundreds" that's the number of Moqtada's cult that occupies Parliament.  Are we not able to do comparisons -- are we cognitively challenged?  He has a mission he wants his followers to take part in and he can only muster "hundreds."  After worship, he calls for prayer and "tens of thousands" turn out.  

You're not seeing the problem?  Which is that the media has consistently overestimated him.  Condi Rice made the same mistake too and, as we pointed out in real time, if she hadn't overreacted every time he might have faded away.  She inflated his image and gave him the illusion of power that he really didn't have and the media bought into it and has continued to buy into it.

"Sadar's sway over much of the Iraqi people."  Just stop lying.  The whoring should leave John with a nasty rash.

Iraq has three main population groupings -- Shia, Kurds and Sunnis.

Sunnis loathe Moqtada al-Sadr and that will never change.  Kurds do not follow Moqtada and approximately 60% see him as a threat to the country.  So that leaves out two main groupings.

B-b-b-but the Shia love him, he's a Shi'ite cleric!!!!!!

He's not Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.  He's not beloved by most Shi'ites or even liked by them.  His father was famous.  Moqtada is a killer.  He's killed Americans, of course, but he's also killed Iraqis.  He's popular in the slum of Baghdad that is Sadr City and he has some popularity in Basra.  That's really his reach.  He's not mentioned as a successor to Sistani.  There are many Shi'ite leaders who are popular.  Moqtada's tiny cult is not that impressive nor is it reflective of the bulk of Shi'ites.  

And, most importantly, the Shi'ite youth rejected him.  That's what The October Revolution was about.  He tried to co-opt it, couldn't, so he turned on it.  And it didn't bother them one bit.  They mocked him and made fun of him.

Iraq is a young country with a median age of 21.  

The Myth of Moqtada is very popular with the media.  Most popular people, however, don't have to repeatedly flee their own country and hide out in Iran.

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert is the special envoy to Iraq for the United Nations Secretary-General.

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. SRSG Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert was received today by Sayyid Muqtada Al-Sadr at his office in al-Hanana, Najaf. SRSG said: “It was a great honour to speak with him again in person; and to discuss the importance of finding solutions to the many challenges facing #Iraq.”

SRSG Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert met today in Baghdad with the leader of the Fateh Alliance, Hadi Al-Amiri. They discussed the political situation in the country, including the need for all actors to prioritize the national interest and find solutions to the ongoing crisis.

SRSG Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert was received today in Baghdad by the President of the Republic of #Iraq, Barham Salih. They discussed the protracted political crisis in the country, and the urgent need to find solutions through an all-inclusive dialogue. 📸

She is meeting with various leaders -- including Moqtada -- to help a dialogue get started.  

The US has an ambassador in Iraq, Alina L. Romanowski  She finally made it to Iraq in June.  No rush, apparently.  She was confirmed in March.  But she's there now.  And addressing pressing issues, right?

Thrilled to meet Minister of Culture Dr. Hassan Nadhem and tour the Iraqi National Museum. U.S. partners with Iraq on the return of Iraqi antiquities – great to see the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet from 3,500 years ago, on display in the museum.

Kudos to our Deputy Chief of Mission Greg LoGerfo for celebrating American cars with the Iraqi Dodge Chargers club . Watch the video of his experience here:
U.S. Embassy Baghdad - السيد غريغوري لوجيرفو عن سعادته بلقاء مجموعة...
227K views, 825 likes, 69 loves, 105 comments, 25 shares, Facebook Watch Videos from U.S. Embassy Baghdad: أعرب نائب رئيس البعثة السيد غريغوري لوجيرفو عن سعادته بلقاء مجموعة من عشاق السيارات...

Thoroughly enjoyed my tour of American University of Iraq-Baghdad () - gorgeous campus and wonderful hosts! Pleased to meet current students of U.S.-funded English language classes – best of luck with your studies!

It's a shame the US ambassador can't work on a dialogue.  Some appear ready to make concessions:

Following rival Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s call, the Coordination Framework coalition has voiced support for any constitutional path to address Iraq’s political crisis, including early elections.

However, the coalition wants a government to first be formed under Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, its nominee for the post of prime minister, which will make the necessary preparations for early polls, Iraq’s Shafaq News agency reported.

The coalition, a collection of Iran-back groups, held an emergency meeting on Thursday, a day after al-Sadr called for the dissolution of parliament and early elections, demands that could prolong a deadlock that has left Iraq without an elected government since last October.


Iraqi Shia Muslim leader Moqtada Sadr is calling for elections, months after polls failed to lead to an agreement on a new government, prime minister and president.

As Sadr's supporters occupy parliament for a sixth day, is the powerful cleric bluffing? Or could his call see a negotiated end to months of political deadlock in the oil-rich but impoverished country?

In multi-confessional and multi-ethnic Iraq, government formation has involved complex negotiations since a 2003 US-led invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

Sadr's bloc emerged from elections in October as the biggest parliamentary faction, but still far short of a majority.

In June, his 73 lawmakers quit in a bid to break a logjam over establishment of a new government.

That led to a rival Shiite bloc, the pro-Iran Coordination Framework, becoming the largest in parliament.

Its nomination of former cabinet minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani as prime minister angered the Sadrists and triggered their occupation of parliament.

"Sadr expects to be the senior partner in any new government. Otherwise, he will continue to block government formation," said assistant professor Fanar Haddad of the University of Copenhagen.

"Likewise, he cannot allow parliament to reconvene without his MPs."

Parliament can only be dissolved by a majority vote, according to the constitution. Such a vote can take place at the request of a third of lawmakers, or by the prime minister with the president's agreement.

According to Ihsan al-Shammari, a political scientist at the University of Baghdad, Sadr's call for early elections aims to ensure "his return to parliament with more seats than before".

The following sites updated: