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NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

By MARCIA DUNN

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA’s experimental helicopter Ingenuity rose into the thin air above the dusty red surface of Mars on Monday, achieving the first powered flight by an aircraft on another planet.

The triumph was hailed as a Wright Brothers moment. The mini 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) copter even carried a bit of wing fabric from the Wright Flyer that made similar history at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903.

“Altimeter data confirms that Ingenuity has performed its first flight, the first flight of a powered aircraft on another planet,” said the helicopter’s chief pilot back on Earth, Havard Grip, his voice breaking as his teammates erupted in applause.

It was a brief hop — just 39 seconds — but accomplished all the major milestones.

Project manager MiMi Aung was jubilant as she ripped up the papers holding the plan in case the flight had failed. “We’ve been talking so long about our Wright Brothers moment, and here it is,” she said.

Flight controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California declared success after receiving the data and images via the Perseverance rover. Ingenuity hitched a ride to Mars on Perseverance, clinging to the rover’s belly upon their arrival in an ancient river delta in February.

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward. “Each world gets only one first flight,” Aung observed earlier this month.

Scientists cheered the news from around the world and even from space.

“A whole new way to explore the alien terrain in our solar system is now at our disposal,” Nottingham Trent University astronomer Daniel Brown said from England.

This first test flight — with more to come by Ingenuity — holds great promise, Brown noted. Future helicopters could serve as otherworldly scouts for rovers, and eventually astronauts, in difficult, dangerous locales.

Ground controllers had to wait more than three excruciating hours before learning whether the pre-programmed flight had succeeded more than 170 million miles (287 million kilometers) away.

When the news finally came, the operations center filled with applause, cheers and laughter. More followed when the first black and white photo from Ingenuity appeared, showing the helicopter’s shadow as it hovered above the surface of Mars. “The shadow of greatness, #MarsHelicopter first flight on another world complete!” NASA astronaut Victor Glover tweeted from the International Space Station.

Next came stunning color video of the copter’s clean landing, taken by Perseverance, “the best host little Ingenuity could ever hope for,” Aung said in thanking everyone.

The helicopter achieved its planned altitude of 10 feet (3 meters), according to the altimeter data, and appeared stable as it hovered for a full 30 seconds. For duration, that beats the Wright Flyer, whose first flight lasted a mere 12 seconds.

To accomplish all this, the helicopter’s twin, counter-rotating rotor blades needed to spin at 2,500 revolutions per minute — five times faster than on Earth. With an atmosphere just 1 percent the thickness of Earth’s, engineers had to build a helicopter light enough — with blades spinning fast enough — to generate this otherworldy lift.

More than six years in the making, Ingenuity is just 19 inches (49 centimeters) tall, a spindly four-legged chopper. Its fuselage, containing all the batteries, heaters and sensors, is the size of a tissue box. The carbon-fiber, foam-filled rotors are the biggest pieces: Each pair stretches 4 feet (1.2 meters) tip to tip.

Ingenuity also had to be sturdy enough to withstand the Martian wind, and is topped with a solar panel for recharging the batteries, crucial for surviving the minus-130 degree Fahrenheit (minus-90 degree-Celsius) Martian nights.

NASA chose a flat, relatively rock-free patch for Ingenuity’s airfield, measuring 33 feet by 33 feet (10 meters by 10 meters). Following Monday’s success, NASA named the Martian airfield “Wright Brothers Field.”

“While these two iconic moments in aviation history may be separated by time and 173 million miles of space, they now will forever be linked,” NASA’s science missions chief Thomas Zurbuchen announced.

The little chopper with a giant job attracted attention from the moment it launched with Perseverance last July. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger joined in the fun, rooting for Ingenuity over the weekend via Twitter. “Get to the chopper!” he shouted, re-enacting a line from his 1987 sci-fi film “Predator.”

Up to five increasingly ambitious flights are planned, and they could lead the way to a fleet of Martian drones in decades to come, providing aerial views, transporting packages and serving as lookouts for human crews. On Earth, the technology could enable helicopters to reach new heights, doing things like more easily navigating the Himalayas.

“This gives us amazing hope for all of humanity,” Zurbuchen tweeted. Indeed, JPL’s mantra, “Dare Mighty Things,” was printed on a wall of the control room.

Ingenuity’s team has until the beginning of May to complete the test flights so that the rover can get on with its main mission: collecting rock samples that could hold evidence of past Martian life, for return to Earth a decade from now.

The team plans to be increasingly daring until Ingenuity’s final flight, testing its limits and possibly even wrecking the craft, leaving it to rest in place forever, having sent its data back home.

Until then, Perseverance will keep watch over Ingenuity. Flight engineers affectionately call them Percy and Ginny. “Big sister’s watching,” said Malin Space Science Systems’ Elsa Jensen, the rover’s lead camera operator.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Monday high school sports schedule

Boys soccer:
Oskaloosa @ North Polk

Knoxville @ PCM
Chariton @ Albia
Girls track:
Oskaloosa, Pella & Knoxville @ Bondurant-Farrar
Ottumwa @ Dowling Catholic
PCM @ Gilbert
Boys track:
Newton, Pella & Knoxville @ Norwalk
Centerville, Davis County & English Valleys @ Pekin
Twin Cedars & Albia @ Wayne
Boys golf:
Oskaloosa, PCM & Grinnell @ West Marshall
Newton vs. Pella @ Bos Landen
Girls golf:
Knoxville & Pella @ Pleasantville
Newton vs. WDM Valley @ Willow Creek, WDM
Ottumwa @ Washington
Albia & Davis County @ Centerville
Boys & Girls golf:
Sigourney @ Lynnville-Sully
North Mahaska @ English Valleys (Knoll Ridge, North English)
BGM @ Keota
Belle Plaine @ Montezuma
Girls tennis:
Ballard @ Grinnell
Knoxville @ Pella Christian
Maharishi @ Albia
Boys tennis:
Ottumwa @ Urbandale

Coronavirus update

No new deaths from coronavirus were reported in Iowa Monday (4/19).  The Iowa Department of Public Health says the statewide total of COVID-19 deaths remains at 5881. There have also been another 168 new positive COVID-19 tests, bringing the state total as of Monday to 360,134.  Only new positive tests for coronavirus have been reported in the No Coast Network listening area….and both of those are in Mahaska County.

Freeze Watch Tuesday night into Wednesday morning

We haven’t seen the last of winter weather.  A Freeze Watch will go into effect Tuesday night (4/20) at 7 until 10am Wednesday (4/21) for the No Coast Network listening area.  The National Weather Service says there’s a chance of light snow Tuesday night, which will be followed by below-freezing temperatures.  That cold air can kill sensitive vegetation and also damage unprotected outdoor plumbing.  So if you’ve just planted something, take time to protect that from the upcoming cold.

Police: 8 dead in shooting at FedEx facility in Indianapolis

By CASEY SMITH

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A gunman killed eight people and wounded several others before apparently taking his own life in a late-night attack at a FedEx facility near the Indianapolis airport, police said, in the latest in a spate of mass shootings in the United States after a relative lull during the pandemic.

Five people were hospitalized after the Thursday night shooting, according to police. One of them had critical injuries, police spokesperson Genae Cook said. Another two people were treated and released at the scene. FedEx said people who worked for the company were among the dead.

A witness said that he was working inside the building when he heard several gunshots in rapid succession.

“I see a man come out with a rifle in his hand and he starts firing and he starts yelling stuff that I could not understand,” Levi Miller told WTHR-TV. “What I ended up doing was ducking down to make sure he did not see me because I thought he would see me and he would shoot me.”

It was the latest in a recent string of mass shootings across the U.S. Last month, eight people were fatally shot at massage businesses across the Atlanta area, and 10 died in gunfire at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado.

It was at least the third mass shooting this year in Indianapolis alone. Five people, including a pregnant woman, were shot and killed in January, and a man was accused of killing three adults and a child before abducting his daughter during at argument at a home in March.

Police have not identified the shooter or said whether he was an employee at the facility. They said “preliminary information from evidence at the scene” indicated that he died by suicide.

“We’re still trying to ascertain the exact reason and cause for this incident,” Cook said.

Craig McCartt, of the Indianapolis police, told NBC Today early Friday that officers still knew “very little.” Chris Bavender, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Indianapolis office, said that they are helping the police with the investigation.

Attorney General Merrick Garland was briefed on the shooting, and the White House said President Joe Biden would be. Biden’s advisors have been in touch with the city’s mayor and law enforcement officials.

Family members gathered at a nearby hotel to await word on loved ones — and some employees were bused there for tearful reunions. But other relatives said they still had no information about their loved ones hours later. Most employees aren’t allowed to carry cellphones inside the FedEx building, making contact with them difficult.

“When you see notifications on your phone, but you’re not getting a text back from your kid and you’re not getting information and you still don’t know where they are … what are you supposed to do?” said Mindy Carson, holding back tears. Her daughter, Jessica, works in the facility and she had not heard from her.

Police were called to reports of gunfire Thursday just after 11 p.m., and officers “came in contact with (an) active shooter incident,” Cook said. The gunman later killed himself.

“The officers responded, they came in and did their job. A lot of them are trying to face this, because this is a sight that no one should have to see,” Cook said.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett lamented that the city was “confronted with the horrific news of yet another mass shooting, an act of violence that senselessly claimed the lives of eight of our neighbors.”

“In times like this, words like justice and sorrow fall short in response for those senselessly taken,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said. He ordered flags to be flown at half-staff until April 20.

A man told WTTV that his niece was sitting in the driver’s seat of her car when the gunfire erupted, and she was wounded.

“She got shot on her left arm,” said Parminder Singh. “She’s fine, she’s in the hospital now.”

He said his niece did not know the shooter.

___

Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

North Mahaska prepares for prom

It’s prom season in the No Coast Network listening area.  Prom is an event that is a high priority for high school students.  It’s also an event that wasn’t held in many places last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.  North Mahaska is holding its junior prom on Saturday (4/17) and junior class sponsor Brant Bollman says the students are looking forward to it.

“Yeah, they’re excited.  They’re glad we’ve been able to keep COVID at bay for a while so we can have a normal prom…or as normal as we can.”

North Mahaska junior Gracee Chandler is happy there’s a prom this year.

“It’s pretty cool to do it this year because it got taken away from us so suddenly last year and we were all so excited for it.  So we get basically a second chance.”

Breanna Fogle, another junior, tells us what she’s looking forward to at the prom.

“Just like, being able to be in a group setting and have fun with friends and make memories on a special night.”

Other area high schools having prom this weekend include EBF, Pella and Knoxville.

Southern Iowa Speedway Season Opener

The 2021 racing season is set to take it’s first green flag of the season on Wednesday, April 21st at the Southern Iowa Speedway located on the Mahaska County Fairgrounds in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Following a shortened season in 2020 due to the pandemic the Southern Iowa Fairboard is looking forward to hosting a full season of exciting racing action on the Mahaska County Monster ½ mile dirt track.

Racing action will again be contested in five classes of race cars on Wednesday nights, Stock Cars will be joined by the Sportmods, Hobby Stocks, Sport Compacts and Wingless Sprint Cars. Wednesday nights racing action will get underway with hot laps taking to the track at 7:15 with racing to follow.  If you can’t make it to the races, they can be heard live each week on KBOE-FM. 

Naig says Raccoon River’s endangered ranking is ‘propaganda’

BY 

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig is dismissing a national environmental group’s report that cited ag run-off in ranking Iowa’s Raccoon River as one of the nation’s most-endangered rivers.

“That so-called report was a bit of propaganda, I think. It was obviously a Washington, D.C based advocacy organization,” Naig says. “They can go out and say what they want to, but what they talked about related to Iowa is not based in fact. We’re moving in the right direction.”

The American Rivers report described the farm chemicals and manure that drain into the Raccoon River as “a grave threat” to using the river as a source for drinking water. Naig says there’s recently been an acceleration of the voluntary nutrient reduction strategy state officials unveiled in 2013 to promote rather than require conservation practices on Iowa farms.

“We’ve got a long ways to go and I don’t sugar coat that at all…The strategy calls for a 45% reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus loss off of the Iowa landscape,” Naig says. “That’s a big number, not easily achieved. It’s going to time and focus, but the evidence is moving in the right direction.”

About two million acres of Iowa farmland is now planted with oats, rye and other so-called cover crops that hold soils in place. Naig says it took 15 years to reconstruct 100 weblands and another 50 are currently under development. The number of filtration systems called “bioreactors” in Iowa will double after one project in Polk County is completed later this year.

Meanwhile, the CEO of the drinking water system for half a million central Iowans says there will be a catastrophe if the state doesn’t find a way to more quickly reduce ag pollution in the Raccoon River. Naig says the Des Moines Water Works is providing safe drinking water now and every indication is it will be able to do so in the future.

“Last year, 2020 — a year unlike any other in terms of disruption to all of our lives, we set a record in terms of conservation adoption in the state of Iowa,” Naig says. “Even in that environment, more farmers, more landowners, more focus, more resources, more partners doing more on the ground than at any other time in our state’s history.”

Naig made his comments during taping of “Iowa Press” which airs tonight at 7:30 on Iowa PBS.

Bahena Rivera in court

The man accused of murdering Mollie Tibbetts was in court Thursday (4/15) for the first time in over a year. Cristian Bahena Rivera attended a pretrial conference for his first degree murder trial.  Rivera is accused of killing Tibbetts in her hometown of Brooklyn in July 2018.  Bahena Rivera’s trial is scheduled to start May 17 in Davenport.  The trial has been moved from Poweshiek County because of pretrial publicity.

US expels Russian diplomats, imposes new round of sanctions

By ERIC TUCKER and AAMER MADHANI

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration on Thursday announced the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats and sanctions against dozens of people and companies as it moved to hold the Kremlin accountable for interference in last year’s presidential election and the hacking of federal agencies.

The sanctions also target Moscow’s ability to borrow money by prohibiting U.S. financial institutions from buying Russian bonds directly from Russian institutions.

The actions, foreshadowed for weeks by the administration, represent the first retaliatory measures announced against the Kremlin for the hack, familiarly known as the SolarWinds breach. In that intrusion, Russian hackers are believed to have infected widely used software with malicious code, enabling them to access the networks of at least nine agencies in what U.S. officials believe was an intelligence-gathering operation aimed at mining government secrets.

Besides that hack, U.S. officials last month alleged that Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized influence operations to help Donald Trump in his unsuccessful bid for reelection as president, though there’s no evidence Russia or anyone else changed votes or manipulated the outcome.

Russia swiftly denounced the actions and warned of retaliation.

The measures announced Thursday include sanctions on six Russian companies that support the country’s cyber activities, in addition to sanctions on 32 individuals and entities accused of attempting to interfere in last year’s presidential election, including by spreading disinformation. The U.S. also sanctioned eight people and entities tied to Russia’s occupation of Crimea.

The 10 diplomats being expelled include representatives of Russian intelligence services, the Biden administration said.

Other measures are expected as well, though the administration is not likely to announce them. Officials have been advising that their response to Russia would be in ways both seen and unseen.

“These actions are intended to hold Russia to account for its reckless actions. We will act firmly in response to Russian actions that cause harm to us or our allies and partners,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

But, he added, “Where possible, the United States will also seek opportunities for cooperation with Russia, with the goal of building a more stable and predictable relationship consistent with U.S. interests.”

The White House also said Biden was using diplomatic, military and intelligence channels to respond to reports that Russia encouraged the Taliban to attack U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan based on the “best assessments” of the intelligence community.

Reports of alleged “bounties” surfaced last year, with the Trump administration coming under fire for not raising the issue directly with Russia. The White House did not publicly confirm the reports. “The safety and well-being of U.S. military personnel, and that of our allies and partners, is an absolute priority of the United States,” the White House said Thursday.

After the sanctions were announced, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned that “such aggressive behavior will undoubtedly trigger a resolute retaliation.”

“Washington should realize that it will have to pay a price for the degradation of the bilateral ties,” Zakharova said, adding that “the responsibility for that will fully lie with the United States.”

She said the ministry has summoned the U.S. ambassador for a “hard conversation,” but wouldn’t immediately say what action Russia will take.

The sanctions send a clear retributive message to Russia and are aimed at serving as a deterrent. But they are certain to exacerbate an already tense relationship between the U.S. and Russia.

President Joe Biden told Putin this week in their second call to “de-escalate tensions” following a Russian military buildup on Ukraine’s border, and said the U.S. would “act firmly in defense of its national interests” regarding Russian intrusions and election interference.

In a television interview last month, Biden replied “I do” when asked if he thought Putin was a “killer.” He said the days of the U.S. “rolling over” to Putin were done. Putin later recalled his ambassador to the U.S. and pointed at the U.S. history of slavery and slaughtering Native Americans and the atomic bombing of Japan in World War II.

It remained unclear whether the U.S. actions would actually result in changed behavior, especially since past measures by the U.S. have failed to bring an end to Russian hacking. The Obama administration expelled diplomats from the U.S. in 2016 in response to interference in that year’s presidential election. And though Trump was often reluctant to criticize Putin, his administration also expelled diplomats in 2018 for Russia’s alleged poisoning of an ex-intelligence officer in Britain.

U.S. officials are still grappling with the aftereffects of the SolarWinds intrusion, which affected agencies including the Treasury, Justice, Energy and Homeland Security departments, and are still assessing what information may have been stolen. The breach exposed vulnerabilities in the supply chain as well as weaknesses in the federal government’s own cyber defenses.

The actions would represent the second major round of sanctions imposed by the Biden administration against Russia. Last month, the U.S. sanctioned seven mid-level and senior Russian officials, along with more than a dozen government entities, over a nearly fatal nerve-agent attack on opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his subsequent jailing.

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Associated Press writer Zeke Miller in Washington, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee in Kabul contributed.

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