Monday, May 26, 2008

Phoenix Mars Mission Lands Successfully

Radio signals received at 4:53:44 p.m. Pacific Time (7:53:44 p.m. Eastern Time) confirmed that the Phoenix Mars Lander had survived its difficult final descent and touchdown 15 minutes earlier. In the intervening time, those signals crossed the distance from Mars to Earth at the speed of light. The confirmation ignited cheers by mission team members at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.; Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver; and the University of Arizona.

As planned, Phoenix stopped transmitting one minute after landing and focused its limited battery power on opening its solar arrays, and other critical activities. About two hours after touchdown, it sent more good news. The first pictures confirmed that the solar arrays needed for the mission's energy supply had unfolded properly, and masts for the stereo camera and weather station had swung into vertical position.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Phoenix Mars Lander scheduled to touch down May 25

The Phoenix Mars lander mission is intriguing to me. It will land using thrusters, the first attempt since the crash of the Mars Polar Lander in 1999.

The real test will come during landing. Just before 5 P.M. Pacific time on May 25, the Phoenix lander is scheduled to separate from its rocket-powered "cruise stage" and dive into Mars's atmosphere at a speed of 12,600 miles (20,300 kilometers) per hour relative to the Martian surface.

What comes next is referred to as "seven minutes of hell." After four minutes, the craft will have slowed to 1,100 miles (1,170 kilometers) per hour under the protection of a heat shield. The lander will deploy a parachute at a distance of 7.8 miles (12.6 kilometers) from the surface, then jettison its heat shield, flip over to face its thrusters toward the planet and finally fire them in short, coordinated bursts, touching down at 4:53 P.M. Pacific time (taking into account the 15-minute communication lag between Mars and Earth).

I love scientific precision!

Visit NASA's Phoenix mission page for lot's more info and pictures.

Genetic screening of embryos created for IVF

A favorable headline leads a creepy report:
Better Baby-Making: Picking the Healthiest Embryo for IVF

There's new hope for the more than 7 million American women (and their partners) who long for a child and are plagued by infertility. Australian researchers have developed a method for screening embryos created through in vitro fertilization (IVF) to select the ones that have the best shot of developing into healthy babies.

Connect the dots! Does the final paragraph sound weird to anybody else?

James Adjaye, a biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin, Germany, says that further work needs to be done before scientists can be sure that the genes found in the new work are actually indicate that an embryo will develop into a baby. "Once this has been achieved," he explains, "we will be seeing a new era of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis aimed at, identifying disease-free blastocysts, identifying developmentally competent blastocysts among a cohort developing in vitro and achieving single blastocyst transfer in order to avoid multiple births."

Any other undisirable qualities you'd like to screen out? Sex? Sexual orientation? Darker complexion?