Connect with us

topNews

NASA bids adieu to Opportunity, the Mars rover that kept going and going

Published

on

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Opportunity, a remarkably durable NASA rover designed to roll along the surface of Mars for three months, has stopped communicating with Earth after 15 years of service, officials said on Wednesday, ending a mission that astounded the U.S. space agency.

Engineers lost contact with the solar-powered vehicle on June 10 during a dust storm that encircled Mars. Since then, NASA officials made numerous attempts to reach the six-wheeled rover, which is about the size of a golf cart.

Opportunity’s equipment may have been compromised by the storm, which struck while the rover was at a site called Perseverance Valley and blotted out sunlight needed by the robot’s solar panels, officials said.

The vehicle was built to drive six-tenths of a mile (1 km), but ended up covering 28 miles (45 km) and lasting longer on Mars than any other robot sent to the surface of the Red Planet.

On Tuesday, engineers sent a transmission in a last attempt to revive the rover, but heard nothing back, said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

“It is, therefore, that I am standing here with a sense of deep appreciation and gratitude that I declare the Opportunity mission as complete,” Zurbuchen said during an online video presentation at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

WET AND WARM MARS

As Opportunity explored craters on Mars, it gathered evidence to demonstrate the planet in the ancient past was wet and warm enough to possibly sustain life, NASA said. That included the discovery of white veins of the mineral gypsum, an indication of water moving through underground fractures.

Opportunity landed on Mars in January 2004, a few weeks after its rover twin, Spirit.

Spirit ended its mission in 2010 after becoming stuck in soft soil.

The Opportunity mission cost more than $1 billion, with about 300 JPL staff members dedicated to the project soon after it landed, John Callas, project manager for Mars Exploration Rovers, said by phone.

The team had dwindled to 30 by the time Opportunity went silent, he said. Its members are going to other projects.

FILE PHOTO: A self-portrait of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, a combination of multiple frames taken by Opportunity’s panoramic camera (Pancam) during March 22 through March 24, 2014 on planet Mars is seen in this NASA/JPL-Caltech image released on April 17, 2014. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University/Arizona State University/Handout via REUTERS

Another NASA rover called Curiosity, which arrived on Mars in 2012, continues its work on the Martian surface, collecting soil samples to analyze them for signs of organic compounds.

And NASA’s InSight spacecraft, the first robotic lander designed to study the deep interior of a distant world, touched down safely on the surface of Mars in November, with instruments to detect planetary seismic rumblings never measured anywhere but Earth.

InSight and the next Mars rover mission, scheduled for 2020, are both seen as precursors for eventual human exploration of Mars, an objective NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has said might be achieved as early as the mid-2030s.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Will Dunham, Bill Tarrant and Rosalba O’Brien

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

topNews

Facebook broke rules, should be regulated: UK lawmakers

Published

on

By

LONDON (Reuters) – Facebook intentionally breached data privacy and competition law and should, along with other big tech companies, be subject to a new regulator to protect democracy and citizens’ rights, British lawmakers said on Monday.

In a damning report that singled out Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for what it said was a failure of leadership and personal responsibility, the British parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee said tech firms had proved ineffective in stopping harmful content on their platforms.

This included disinformation, attempts by foreign countries to influence elections, and risks to personal data.

“We need a radical shift in the balance of power between the platforms and the people,” committee chairman Damian Collins said.

Collins said the age of inadequate self-regulation must end, following an 18-month investigation that concluded Facebook had “intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws.”

“The rights of the citizen need to be established in statute, by requiring the tech companies to adhere to a code of conduct written into law by Parliament, and overseen by an independent regulator,” he said.

Facebook rejected the suggestion it had breached data protection and competition laws, and said it shared the committee’s concerns about false news and election integrity.

“We are open to meaningful regulation and support the committee’s recommendation for electoral law reform,” Facebook’s UK public policy manager Karim Palant said.

“We also support effective privacy legislation that holds companies to high standards in their use of data and transparency for users.”

Lawmakers in Europe and the United States are scrambling to get to grips with the risks posed by big tech companies regulating the platforms used by billions of people.

Germany has been at the forefront of the backlash against Facebook, fueled by last year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal in which tens of millions of Facebook profiles were harvested without their users’ consent. Earlier this month, it ordered Facebook to curb its data collection practices in the country.

U.S senator Marco Rubio introduced a bill last month aimed at giving Americans more control over data collected by online companies like Facebook and Alphabet’s Google.

The British committee does not propose legislation, but does have the power to summon witnesses for its investigations.

ZUCKERBERG NO SHOW

Facebook became the focus of its inquiry after whistleblower Christopher Wylie alleged that political consultancy Cambridge Analytica had obtained the data of millions of users of the social network.

Zuckerberg apologized last year for a “breach of trust” over the scandal.

But he refused to appear three times before British lawmakers, a stance that showed “contempt” toward parliament and the members of nine legislatures from around the world, the committee said.

“We believe that in its evidence to the committee Facebook has often deliberately sought to frustrate our work, by giving incomplete, disingenuous and at times misleading answers to our questions,” Collins said.

“Mark Zuckerberg continually fails to show the levels of leadership and personal responsibility that should be expected from someone who sits at the top of one of the world’s biggest companies.”

Facebook, however, said it had cooperated with the investigation by answering more than 700 questions and putting forward four senior executives to give evidence.

It said it had made substantial changes, including the authorization of every political advert, and it was investing heavily in identifying abusive content.

“While we still have more to do, we are not the same company we were a year ago,” Palant said.

FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

The committee said it had identified major threats to society from the dominance of companies such as Facebook – which also owns WhatsApp and Instagram – Google and Twitter.

Democracy was at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalized adverts from unidentifiable sources, they said, and social media platforms were failing to act against harmful content and respect the privacy of users.

Companies like Facebook were also using their size to bully smaller firms that relied on social media platforms to reach customers, it added.

Editing by Hugh Lawson and Mark Potter

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Continue Reading

topNews

Alibaba is the force behind hit Chinese Communist Party app: sources

Published

on

By

BEIJING (Reuters) – A Chinese government propaganda app that recently became a huge hit was developed by Alibaba, two people at the company told Reuters, at a time when the nation’s tech firms are under global scrutiny over their ties to Beijing.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Alibaba Group is seen at the company’s headquarters in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China July 20, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

“Xuexi Qiangguo”, which literally translates as ‘Study to make China strong’ and is a play on the government propaganda theme of applying President Xi Jinping’s thoughts, overtook Tik Tok and WeChat to become the county’s most popular app on Apple’s China app store last week.

It was developed by a largely unknown special projects team at Alibaba known as the “Y Projects Business Unit”, which takes on development projects outside the company, said the people.

New York-listed Alibaba declined to comment on whether the business unit had developed the app.

The app’s development by Alibaba, whose Chairman Jack Ma is a member of the Communist Party, is the latest example of a Chinese tech company collaborating with the government.

The country’s propaganda department has released the app ahead of next month’s National People’s Congress in Beijing, China’s top annual parliamentary gathering.

JOB OPPORTUNITIES

The app, which includes short videos, government news stories and quizzes, was created by an Alibaba team. A user of Alibaba’s own messaging app DingTalk can use their login credentials to log into Xuexi Qiangguo. Alibaba said the app was built using DingTalk’s software.

Staff at the Alibaba unit are responsible for developing and maintaining the app that includes news, videos, livestream and community comments, according to the sources and a job advertised for Xuexi Qiangguo on Alibaba’s career website.

The unit does not have a website, but is described in job ads on popular Chinese careers site Zhipin.com as a strategic level project that is in a creation stage and offers many job opportunities.

At least part of the app’s runaway popularity can be attributed to directives issued by local governments and universities that require people in China’s expansive party member network to download the app.

The app has been downloaded over 43.7 million times on Apple and Android devices since its launch in January, according to estimates by Beijing-based statistical consulting firm Qimai.

It was not immediately clear whether Alibaba makes money from the app, or who initiated its development.

Last month, Alibaba executive vice-chairman Joe Tsai slammed U.S. treatment of fellow Chinese tech firm Huawei Technologies as “extremely unfair”, and sharply criticized what he called an attempt by the U.S. government to curb China’s rise via the trade war.

Huawei, the world’s biggest network equipment maker, has been largely barred from the United States and some other countries on suspicion that its products could be used as a conduit for spying. Huawei and China have denied the allegations.

EXTENSIVE COLLABORATION

But major Chinese tech companies have cooperated extensively with governments in China on infrastructure, cloud computing and public security as part of the country’s “Internet Plus” policy drive to improve traditional industries.

Collaboration with state media has also increased in recent years, amid tighter censorship laws that require companies to toe the party line.

Tik Tok creator Beijing ByteDance Technology Co and WeChat creator Tencent Holdings Ltd are among some who have collaborated with state media outlets using their social media platforms.

“The upside for these firms is that their track record of cooperation can put them in a better position to obtain key licenses or opportunities,” said Mark Natkin, managing director at Beijing-based Marbridge Consulting, adding these collaborations were Beijing’s way of maintaining control over private firms.

“The downside is they may get tapped to participate in projects which, on economic or PR considerations alone they might normally eschew, but which may be uncomfortable or unwise to refuse.”

Reporting by Pei Li and Cate Cadell, Additional reporting by Shanghai newsroom; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Continue Reading

topNews

Center-right to top EU poll; far-right surges: survey

Published

on

By

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The center-right is set to remain the biggest group in the EU legislature after elections in May that should also show a surge in seats for the far-right, a survey by the European Parliament showed on Monday.

FILE PHOTO – New CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer talks with former CDU chief and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party congress in Hamburg, Germany, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

The German Christian Democrat CDU/CSU alliance led by Chancellor Angela Merkel would remain the biggest single party with 29 seats, but only just ahead of Italy’s League, the far-right group now in government in Rome.

Its 27 seats are a mark of how the elections will reflect a strengthening of nationalist sentiment against established pro-EU movements across Europe. This will be the most important EU election since the first was held in 1979, Parliament’s chief spokesman Jaume Duch told a news conference on the polls.

While traditional parties are set to retain a dominance that would allow a continuation of the broad centrist majority coalition that has tended to support legislation from the EU executive, gains of about 40 percent for radicals on the right, to 14 percent of seats, may introduce more policy uncertainty.

The European People’s Party (EPP), to which Merkel belongs, would take 183 of the 705 seats, or 26 percent, in the new chamber. That is down from 29 percent at present, according to the compilation of national polling data from the 27 member states. It was published by the assembly’s staff on Monday.

That would outstrip the 135 seats for the center-left Socialists and Democrats, whose share would drop six points to 19 percent, partly due to the loss of British seats after Brexit as the parliament slims down from a total of 751 seats.

For a graphic showing seats, click here .

Britain’s ruling Conservative party does not sit with the EPP. Their departure would hit the European Conservatives and Reformists, dropping that group from third place to fifth — although parliamentary officials also expect the voting to usher in a major reshuffle of alliances on the floor, making it difficult to forecast group alignments in the new chamber.

FAR-RIGHT GAINS

The two far-right eurosceptic groups among the eight in the current parliament would see their share rise to 14 percent from 10 percent, despite the loss of Brexit campaigners the UK Independence Party. That reflects gains for Italy’s League, adding 21 seats, Germany’s AfD, gaining 11, and Marine Le Pen’s French National Rally, which would add six seats if polls hold.

However, realignments of existing groups are likely after voting ends on May 26 and before the new parliament sits on July 2 as national parties seek allies that fit their policies and can leverage their strength with funding and committee posts.

Italy’s 5-Star movement, in government with the League, sits now with UKIP but has looked at joining groups further left in the chamber. The polls suggest it could gain eight seats to 22 in May, but those may not, in fact, bolster the far-right.

There are also question marks over the alignment of some 24 seats for Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, often hostile to Brussels, as its ECR allies the British Conservatives depart.

Also unclear are the 18 French seats which polls suggest President Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche movement may win.

Adding them to the centrist ALDE, home to some Macron allies and which shares Macron’s strongly pro-EU line, would give ALDE 93 seats, making it easily the third biggest bloc. But Macron has been wary of confirming which alliances he will make as he looks to use the May elections to resist eurosceptic forces.

One consequence of uncertainty over the make-up of the new parliament — which might also be upset by a delay to Brexit — could be delay in forming the new executive.

National leaders should nominate a successor to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in late June. Lawmakers should then confirm the nominee in July so that a new Commission of nominees from all 27 member states is in place on Nov. 1.

Given the summer break, that is a fairly tight timetable. A demand by Parliament that leaders nominate a lead candidate from one of the winning parties could also cause more wrangling. Juncker and his team would stay on if there were such a delay.

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Continue Reading

Trending