Wednesday, December 30, 2020

RIP, DAWN WELLS (1938-2020)...

So I found out a few hours ago that Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann Summers on the classic TV show Gilligan's Island, died today due to COVID-19 complications. She was 82. Wells' passing hit pretty hard for me since Gilligan's Island was one of my favorite TV shows during my childhood. I hope that Tina Louise—who played Ginger Grant on Gilligan's Island and is the only surviving cast member from this sitcom—is keeping safe during this pandemic.

May Dawn Wells rest in peace.

Dawn Wells as Mary Ann Summers on the classic TV show GILLIGAN'S ISLAND.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

On This Day in 2010: Chillin' in Pasadena...

Chillin' at the condo of my high school friend Adam in Pasadena, CA...on December 29, 2010.

Just thought I'd share this photo of me, my high school friend Sarina and a couple of her other buddies hanging out at the condominium of my other high school friend, Adam, ten years ago today. It was back in 2010 that Adam decided to move to this condo in Pasadena to be much closer to his job at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (in La Cañada Flintridge a few miles away)...which he has been working at since 1999, I believe!

So why am I sharing this photo, you ask? Well— As mentioned in this Blog Entry, December was gonna be an emotional month for me as I commemorated 20 years since I had one last final exam with Yenny in college, and I marked one decade since things started to change drastically (for the worse) in my life. This Pasadena hangout was the last social gathering I attended before s**t would hit the fan (job-wise) a few days later...and this past ten years was gonna be a painful one for me.

Granted, I achieved the goals that I set out to attain in the previous decade (such as doing the H.A.L.O. Jump in 2013), but I was very content with my life until I would unfortunately make mistakes that caused it to change ten years ago next month. I briefly got that life back in 2014, but it was apparently just a fluke (as it lasted only eight months) and I'm back to reminiscing about days long gone.

Anyways, I could go on and on about how I wish I could go back to the way things were, but that would be a huge waste of time. The only constant in life is change...and I, just like everyone else, must accept it and look to the future. Or is that also bad advice and I should just focus on the present instead? Whatever. Only three days till 2021!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Photos of the Day: The Lakers Get Their New Bling...

LeBron James shows off his championship ring before the Lakers' opening game against the Clippers at STAPLES Center...on December 22, 2020.

Just thought I'd share these pics after the Los Angeles Lakers received their championship rings before their first game of the 2020-'21 NBA season at STAPLES Center last night. In regards to the championship banner itself, the Lakers will not be raising it up to the STAPLES rafters until it's finally safe for fans to watch the ceremony in person. About yesterday's game, congratulations to the L.A. Clippers for repeating as the Opening Night Champions! Hah.

The Lakers' 2020 NBA championship ring.

The Lakers' 2020 NBA championship ring (this one made specifically for LeBron James).

The Lakers' 2019-'20 championship banner will be raised at STAPLES Center once fans are allowed to return to the arena to watch this moment in person.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Hubble's Successor Opens Its Shield One Last Time Before Launch...

Technicians watch as NASA's James Webb Space Telescope unfurls its sunshield during a final pre-launch test at the Northrop Grumman facility in Redondo Beach, California.
NASA / Chris Gunn

NASA’s Webb Sunshield Successfully Unfolds and Tensions in Final Tests (News Release - December 18)

Lengthened to the size of a tennis court, the five-layer sunshield of NASA’s fully-assembled James Webb Space Telescope successfully completed a final series of large-scale deployment and tensioning tests. This milestone puts the observatory one step closer to its launch in 2021.

“This is one of Webb’s biggest accomplishments in 2020,” said Alphonso Stewart, Webb deployment systems lead for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We were able to precisely synchronize the unfolding motion in a very slow and controlled fashion and maintain its critical kite-like shape, signifying it is ready to perform these actions in space.”

The sunshield protects the telescope and reflects light and background heat from the Sun, Earth and Moon into space. The observatory must be kept cold to accomplish groundbreaking science in infrared light, which is invisible to human eyes and felt as heat.

In the sunshield’s shadow, Webb’s innovative technologies and sensitive infrared sensors will allow scientists to observe distant galaxies and study many other intriguing objects in the universe.

Maintaining the sunshield’s shape involves a delicate, complicated process.

“Congratulations to the entire team. Due to Webb’s large size and stringent performance requirements, the deployments are incredibly complex. In addition to the required technical expertise, this set of tests required detailed planning, determination, patience and open communication. The team proved that it has all these attributes. It’s amazing to think that next time Webb’s sunshield is deployed it will be many thousands of miles away, hurtling through space,” said James Cooper, Webb’s sunshield manager at Goddard.

The Kapton® polymer-coated membranes of Webb’s sunshield were fully deployed and tensioned in December at Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California. Northrop Grumman designed the observatory’s sunshield for NASA.

During testing, engineers sent a series of commands to spacecraft hardware that activated 139 actuators, eight motors, and thousands of other components to unfold and stretch the five membranes of the sunshield into its final taut shape. A challenging part of the test is to unfold the sunshield in Earth’s gravity environment, which causes friction, unlike unfolding material in space without the effects of gravity.

For launch the sunshield will be folded up around two sides of the observatory and placed in an Ariane 5 launch vehicle, which is provided by the European Space Agency.

In this test, two pallet structures that hold the sunshield upright folded down, then two huge “arms” (known as the Mid-Boom Assembly) of the sunshield slowly telescoped outward, pulling the folded membranes along with them to resemble the synchronized movements of a very slowly choreographed dance. Once the arms locked in their horizontal position, the membranes of the sunshield were successfully tensioned individually starting with the bottom layer, separating each into their fully deployed shape.

The large sunshield divides the observatory into a warm, Sun-facing side (about 185 degrees Fahrenheit) and a cold-space-facing side (minus 388 degrees Fahrenheit) comprised of the optics and scientific instruments. The sunshield will protect the observatory’s optics and sensors, so they remain at extremely cold temperatures to conduct science.

“This milestone signals that Webb is well on its way to being ready for launch. Our engineers and technicians achieved incredible testing progress this month, reducing significant risk to the project by completing these milestones for launch next year,” said Bill Ochs, project manager for Webb at Goddard. “The team is now preparing for final post-environmental deployment testing on the observatory these next couple of months prior to shipping to the launch site next summer.”

Webb has passed other rigorous deployment tests during its development, which successfully uncovered and resolved technical issues with the spacecraft. These tests validate that once in orbit, the observatory and its many redundant systems will function flawlessly.

The James Webb Space Telescope will be the world's premier space science observatory when it launches in 2021. Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Technicians watch as NASA's James Webb Space Telescope unfurls its sunshield during a final pre-launch test at the Northrop Grumman facility in Redondo Beach, California.
NASA / Chris Gunn

Monday, December 21, 2020

Photos of the Day: A Zoom Xmas Party...

The official group photo from our Zoom Xmas party on December 20, 2020.

Just thought I'd post these screenshots from a Zoom video session that a couple of friends and I had last night to celebrate the holiday season. Normally, we would meet up at a friend's house in the city of Stanton to have a Christmas party (which I've been attending annually since 2013...even though this has been ongoing with my friends for 26 years), but obviously due to the coronavirus pandemic, this was the course of action for 2020 instead. It was still fun, nevertheless—and now I have to buy a $20 Amazon gift card for my white elephant recipient. I received a Target gift card in return, heh.

Happy First Day of Winter!

A screenshot that I took of our Zoom Xmas party on December 20, 2020.

Another screenshot that I took of our Zoom Xmas party on December 20, 2020. Grogu made an appearance.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

On This Day in 2010: Remembering the Company Christmas Party...

Posing with a cool-looking water bottle while wearing a nifty red jacket that I received from one of my assistant supervisors during the company Christmas party at Saints & Sinners tavern in west Los Angeles...on December 20, 2010.

Just thought I'd post these two pics from my company's Christmas party that was held at the Saints & Sinners tavern in west Los Angeles 10 years ago today! As you can see from these photos, this bar served water in pretty cool-looking bottles (one of which I still keep as a remembrance today). That red Hugh Heffner-esque jacket was given to me by one of my assistant supervisors after he was apparently impressed by me talking to all of the cute female co-workers who showed up that night, heh. Yes, I still have this jacket too!

Anyways, it's too bad that Saints & Sinners itself went out of business years ago... Oh well.

Three water bottles that I drank from during the company Christmas party in west Los Angeles on December 20, 2010. I still keep one of these bottles as remembrance of this fun night.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

The FDA Has Approved a Second Vaccine to Fight the Coronavirus in the U.S.!

Moderna's coronavirus vaccine has been approved by the FDA for emergency use in the United States...on December 18, 2020.

FDA Takes Additional Action in Fight Against COVID-19 By Issuing Emergency Use Authorization for Second COVID-19 Vaccine (Press Release - December 18)

Action Follows Thorough Evaluation of Available Safety, Effectiveness, and Manufacturing Quality Information by FDA Career Scientists, Input from Independent Experts

Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the second vaccine for the prevention of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The emergency use authorization allows the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine to be distributed in the U.S. for use in individuals 18 years of age and older.

“With the availability of two vaccines now for the prevention of COVID-19, the FDA has taken another crucial step in the fight against this global pandemic that is causing vast numbers of hospitalizations and deaths in the United States each day,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. “Through the FDA’s open and transparent scientific review process, two COVID-19 vaccines have been authorized in an expedited timeframe while adhering to the rigorous standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality needed to support emergency use authorization that the American people have come to expect from the FDA. These standards and our review process, which are the same we have used in reviewing the first COVID-19 vaccine and intend to use for any other COVID-19 vaccines, included input from independent scientific and public health experts as well as a thorough analysis of the data by the agency’s career staff.”

The FDA has determined that the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine has met the statutory criteria for issuance of an EUA. The totality of the available data provides clear evidence that the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine may be effective in preventing COVID-19. The data also show that the known and potential benefits outweigh the known and potential risks—supporting the company’s request for the vaccine’s use in people 18 years of age and older. In making this determination, the FDA can assure the public and medical community that it has conducted a thorough evaluation of the available safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality information.

The Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine contains messenger RNA (mRNA), which is genetic material. The vaccine contains a small piece of the SARS-CoV-2 virus’s mRNA that instructs cells in the body to make the virus’s distinctive “spike” protein. After a person receives this vaccine, their body produces copies of the spike protein, which does not cause disease, but triggers the immune system to learn to react defensively, producing an immune response against SARS-CoV-2.

“Guided by science and data, the agency’s career staff determined that the vaccine’s known and potential benefits clearly outweigh its known and potential risks, and although not an FDA approval, the FDA’s expectations described in our June and October guidance documents have been met,” said Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “Today’s authorization demonstrates our steadfast commitment to the health of the American people, with the assurance that our scientific standards and the integrity of our review process have been maintained. This achievement is yet another testament to the dedication of FDA’s career scientists and physicians, who have been working urgently to conduct comprehensive and rigorous evaluations of the data submitted for vaccines to prevent COVID-19.”

FDA Evaluation of Available Safety Data

Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine is administered as a series of two doses, one month apart. The available safety data to support the EUA include an analysis of 30,351 participants enrolled in an ongoing randomized, placebo-controlled study conducted in the U.S. These participants, 15,185 of whom received the vaccine and 15,166 of whom received saline placebo, were followed for a median of more than two months after receiving the second dose. The most commonly reported side effects, which typically lasted several days, were pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, swollen lymph nodes in the same arm as the injection, nausea and vomiting, and fever. Of note, more people experienced these side effects after the second dose than after the first dose, so it is important for vaccination providers and recipients to expect that there may be some side effects after either dose, but even more so after the second dose.

It is mandatory for ModernaTX, Inc. and vaccination providers to report the following to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) for Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine: all vaccine administration errors, serious adverse events, cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS), and cases of COVID-19 that result in hospitalization or death.

FDA Evaluation of Available Effectiveness Data

The effectiveness data to support the EUA include an analysis of 28,207 participants in the ongoing randomized, placebo-controlled U.S. study who did not have evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection prior to the first dose of vaccine. Among these participants, 14,134 received the vaccine and 14,073 received placebo. The vaccine was 94.1% effective in preventing COVID-19 disease among these clinical trial participants with 11 cases of COVID-19 in the vaccine group and 185 in the placebo group. At the time of the analysis of these 196 COVID-19 cases, none in the vaccine group and 30 in the placebo group were classified as severe. After the analysis of these 196 cases was completed, one severe case in the vaccine group was identified and is awaiting confirmation. At this time, data are not available to determine how long the vaccine will provide protection, nor is there evidence that the vaccine prevents transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from person to person.

The EUA Process

On the basis of the determination by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on Feb. 4, 2020, that there is a public health emergency that has a significant potential to affect national security or the health and security of United States citizens living abroad, and issued declarations that circumstances exist justifying the authorization of emergency use of unapproved products, the FDA may issue an EUA to allow unapproved medical products or unapproved uses of approved medical products to be used in an emergency to diagnose, treat, or prevent COVID-19 when there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives.

The issuance of an EUA is different than an FDA approval (licensure) of a vaccine, in that a vaccine available under an EUA is not approved. In determining whether to issue an EUA for a product, the FDA evaluates the available evidence to determine whether the product may be effective and also assesses any known or potential risks and any known or potential benefits. If the product meets the effectiveness standard and the benefit-risk assessment is favorable, the product is made available during the emergency. Once a manufacturer submits an EUA request for a COVID-19 vaccine to the FDA, the agency then evaluates the request and determines whether the relevant statutory criteria are met, taking into account the totality of the scientific evidence about the vaccine that is available to the FDA.

The EUA also requires that fact sheets that provide important information, including dosing instructions, and information about the benefits and risks of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine, be made available to vaccination providers and vaccine recipients.

ModernaTX, Inc. has submitted a pharmacovigilance plan to the FDA to monitor the safety of Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine. The pharmacovigilance plan includes a plan to complete longer-term safety follow-up for participants enrolled in ongoing clinical trials. The pharmacovigilance plan also includes other activities aimed at monitoring the safety profile of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and ensuring that any safety concerns are identified and evaluated in a timely manner.

The FDA also expects manufacturers whose COVID-19 vaccines are authorized under an EUA to continue their clinical trials to obtain additional safety and effectiveness information and pursue approval (licensure).

The EUA for the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine was issued to ModernaTX, Inc. The authorization will be effective until the declaration that circumstances exist justifying the authorization of the emergency use of drugs and biologics for prevention and treatment of COVID-19 is terminated. The EUA for Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine may be revised or revoked if it is determined the EUA no longer meets the statutory criteria for issuance.

The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.

Source: FDA.Gov

Friday, December 18, 2020

Photos of the Day: All Hail THE MANDALORIAN!

Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) and Grogu in THE MANDALORIAN - Chapter 10: The Passenger.

So surprisingly, despite the fact that I've been a huge Star Wars geek since 1995, this Blog entry is the very first time that I'm typing about the Disney+ masterpiece that is The Mandalorian! I'm not gonna recap the events of the show's first two seasons, but let me just say that showrunners Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni are friggin' awesome! To triumphantly bring Boba Fett back from the dead (and give him his own Web series, The Book of Boba Fett, next year; what a wonderful tribute to the late Jeremy Bulloch...who memorably played the bounty hunter in the original Star Wars trilogy), feature live-action incarnations of Bo-Katan and Ahsoka Tano (even though I didn't watch all episodes of The Clone Wars animated series), as well as Dark Troopers (which initially got me interested in Star Wars over 25 years ago), and now showing Luke Skywalker (still played by the venerable Mark Hamill) in all his Jedi Master glory, well... It remains to be seen how Favreau and Filoni will top this in Season 3, which premieres on Christmas Day, 2021.

Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) and Koska Reeves (Mercedes Varnado) in THE MANDALORIAN - Chapter 16: The Rescue.

So many other Star Wars titles will soon stream on Disney+...including the much-anticipated series about Obi-Wan Kenobi (with Ewan McGregor reprising the role and Hayden Christensen returning as Darth Vader once more), Cassian Andor (again featuring Diego Luna as the Rebel soldier from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson will return as the former Jedi) and even Lando Calrissian (though it remains to be seen if Donald Glover will reprise this iconic role from Solo: A Star Wars Story, or Billy Dee Williams himself will don the cape in this limited series). Oh, and let's not forget that Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins will helm the next Star Wars feature film, Rogue Squadron—which gets released in theaters nationwide on December 25, 2023. Can't wait! So much Star Wars goodness at hand...

Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff) in THE MANDALORIAN - Chapter 11: The Heiress.

Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) in THE MANDALORIAN - Chapter 13: The Jedi.

A Dark Trooper is about to apprehend Grogu in THE MANDALORIAN - Chapter 14: The Tragedy.

Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) confronts Grogu in THE MANDALORIAN - Chapter 14: The Tragedy.

Din Djarin bids farewell to Grogu in THE MANDALORIAN - Chapter 16: The Rescue.

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), R2-D2 and Grogu depart to begin Grogu's Jedi training in THE MANDALORIAN - Chapter 16: The Rescue.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Mars 2020 Update: Development on the Mars 2026 Mission Continues...

An artist's concept of the Mars Ascent Vehicle carrying rock and soil samples launching away from NASA's Sample Retrieval Lander.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA Moves Forward with Campaign to Return Mars Samples to Earth (Press Release)

NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) are moving to the next phase in a campaign to deepen understanding of whether life ever existed on Mars and, in turn, better understand the origins of life on Earth.

NASA has approved the Mars Sample Return (MSR) multi-mission effort to advance to Phase A, preparing to bring the first pristine samples from Mars back to Earth. During this phase, the program will mature critical technologies and make critical design decisions, as well as assess industry partnerships.

The first endeavor of this campaign is in progress. NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover launched in July and is set to land on the Red Planet Feb. 18, 2021. The car-size rover will search for signs of ancient microbial life. Using a coring drill at the end of its robotic arm, Perseverance has the capability to gather samples of Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust), and hermetically seal them in collection tubes. Perseverance can deposit these samples at designated locations on the Martian surface or store them internally.

In the next steps of the MSR campaign, NASA and ESA will provide respective components for a Sample Retrieval Lander mission and an Earth Return Orbiter mission, with launches planned in the latter half of this decade. The Sample Retrieval Lander mission will deliver a Sample Fetch Rover and Mars Ascent Vehicle to the surface of Mars. The rover will retrieve the samples and transport them to the lander. The Perseverance rover also provides a potential capability for delivery of collection tubes to the lander. A robotic arm on the lander will transfer the samples into a container embedded in the nose of the Mars Ascent Vehicle.

Once sealed, the system will prepare for the first launch from another planet. In Mars orbit, the Earth Return Orbiter will rendezvous with and capture the sealed sample container, and then place the samples in an additional high-reliability containment capsule for return to Earth in the early 2030s.

"Returning samples of Mars to Earth has been a goal of planetary scientists since the early days of the space age, and the successful completion of this MSR key decision point is an important next step in transforming this goal into reality," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "MSR is a complex campaign, and it encapsulates the very essence of pioneering space exploration – pushing the boundaries of what's capable and, in so doing, furthering our understanding of our place in the universe."

Bringing Mars samples back to Earth will allow scientists across the world to examine the specimens using sophisticated instruments too large and too complex to send to Mars, and will allow future generations to study them using technology not yet available. Curating the samples on Earth will allow the science community to test new theories and models as they are developed, much as the Apollo samples returned from the Moon have done for decades.

The MSR campaign also advances NASA's efforts to send humans to the Red Planet. It will involve landing heavier spacecraft on the Martian surface than ever before. It would also involve launch from and rendezvous operations around another planet for the first time. With the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and next man on the lunar surface in 2024 to prepare for humanity's next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.

"MSR will foster significant engineering advances for humanity and advance technologies needed to successfully realize the first round-trip mission to another planet," said Jeff Gramling, Mars Sample Return program director at NASA Headquarters. “The scientific advances offered by pristine Martian samples through MSR are unprecedented, and this mission will contribute to NASA’s eventual goal of sending humans to Mars."

NASA established a Mars Sample Return Independent Review Board earlier this year to evaluate its early concepts for partnership with ESA to return the first samples from another planet. The board’s report with NASA’s responses released in October found the agency is now ready to undertake its Mars sample return campaign. NASA convened a second group of independent experts, the MSR Standing Review Board (SRB), to provide ongoing assessment of the MSR program. The SRB also recommended the program move into Phase A.

"Beginning the formulation work of Phase A is a momentous step for our team, albeit one of several to come," said Bobby Braun, Mars Sample Return program manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which leads development for NASA’s MSR effort. "These reviews strengthened our plan forward and this milestone signals creation of a tangible approach for MSR built upon the extraordinary capabilities of the NASA centers, our ESA partners, and industry."

ESA is providing the Earth Return Orbiter, Sample Fetch Rover, and the lander's robotic arm to the partnership. NASA is providing the Sample Retrieval Lander, Mars Ascent Vehicle, and the Capture/Containment and Return System payload on the Earth Return Orbiter. Multiple NASA Centers are involved in this effort, contributing in their areas of strength.

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An artist's concept of the European Space Agency's Earth Return Orbiter above the surface of Mars.
European Space Agency

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

InSight Update: What the Robotic Lander Has Learned About the Red Planet Since 2019...

An animated GIF showing Martian clouds moving high above the InSight lander's SEIS instrument.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

3 Things We've Learned From NASA's Mars InSight (News Release)

Scientists are finding new mysteries since the geophysics mission landed two years ago.

NASA's InSight spacecraft touched down Nov. 26, 2018, on Mars to study the planet's deep interior. A little more than one Martian year later, the stationary lander has detected more than 480 quakes and collected the most comprehensive weather data of any surface mission sent to Mars. InSight's probe, which has struggled to dig underground to take the planet's temperature, has made progress, too.

There was a time when the surfaces of Mars and Earth were very similar. Both were warm, wet, and shrouded in thick atmospheres. But 3 or 4 billion years ago, these two worlds took different paths. The mission of InSight (short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) has been to help scientists to compare Earth to its rusty sibling. Studying what the depths of Mars is made of, how that material is layered, and how quickly heat seeps out of it could help scientists better understand how a planet's starting materials make it more or less likely to support life.

While there's more science to come from InSight, here are three findings about our red neighbor in the sky.

Faint Rumblings Are the Norm

InSight's seismometer, which was provided by the French space agency, Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES), is sensitive enough to detect slight rumblings from great distances. But it wasn't until April 2019 that seismologists with the Marsquake Service, coordinated by ETH Zurich, detected their first marsquake. Since then, Mars has more than made up for lost time by shaking frequently, albeit gently, with no quakes larger than magnitude 3.7.

The lack of quakes larger than magnitude 4 poses something of a mystery, considering how frequently the Red Planet shakes due to smaller quakes.

"It's a little surprising we haven't seen a bigger event," said seismologist Mark Panning of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which leads the InSight mission. "That may be telling us something about Mars, or it may be telling us something about luck."

Put another way: It could be that Mars is just more static than anticipated - or that InSight landed in an especially quiet period.

Seismologists will have to keep waiting patiently for those larger quakes in order to study layers deep below the crust. "Sometimes you get big flashes of amazing information, but most of the time you're teasing out what nature has to tell you," said InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt of JPL. "It's more like trying to follow a trail of tricky clues than having the answers presented to us in a nicely wrapped-up package."

The Wind May Hide Quakes

Once InSight started detecting quakes, they became so regular that, at one point, they were happening every day. Then, in late June of this year, the detections essentially stopped. Only five quakes have been detected since then, all of them since September.

Scientists believe Mars' wind is responsible for these seismically blank periods: The planet entered the windiest season of the Martian year around June. The mission knew that winds could affect InSight's sensitive seismometer, which is equipped with a domed wind and heat shield. But the wind still shakes the ground itself and creates literal noise that covers up quakes. This could also have contributed to what seems like the long seismic silence before InSight's first quake, since the spacecraft landed while a regional dust storm was settling down.

"Before landing, we had to guess at how the wind would affect surface vibrations," Banerdt said. "Since we're working with events that are much smaller than what we'd pay attention to on Earth, we find that we have to pay much closer attention to the wind."

Surface Waves Are Missing

All quakes have two sets of body waves, which are waves that travel through the planet's interior: primary waves (P-waves) and secondary waves (S-waves). They also ripple along the top of the crust as part of a third category, called surface waves.

On Earth, seismologists use surface waves to learn more about the planet's internal structure. Before getting to Mars, InSight's seismologists expected these waves to offer glimpses as deep as 250 miles (about 400 kilometers) below the surface, into a sub-crustal layer called the mantle. But Mars continues to offer mysteries: Despite hundreds of quakes, none has included surface waves.

"It's not totally unheard of to have quakes without surface waves, but it has been a surprise," Panning said. "For instance, you can't see surface waves on the Moon. But that's because the Moon has far more scattering than Mars."

The dry lunar crust is more fractured than Earth and Mars, causing seismic waves to bounce around in a more diffuse pattern that can last for over an hour. The lack of surface waves on Mars may be linked to extensive fracturing in the top 6 miles (10 kilometers) below InSight. It could also mean that the quakes InSight detected are coming from deep within the planet, since those wouldn't produce strong surface waves.

Of course, untangling such mysteries is what science is all about, and there's more to come with InSight.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Hayabusa2 Update: The Sample Return Capsule Has Been Opened!

Soil grains from asteroid Ryugu as seen inside the sample container of Hayabusa2's return capsule.
JAXA

Confirmation of the Asteroid Ryugu Sample Collection by the Asteroid Explorer, Hayabusa2 (Press Release - December 14)

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is pleased to confirm that samples from asteroid Ryugu have been collected within the sample container inside the re-entry capsule of the asteroid explorer, Hayabusa2.

The Hayabusa2 re-entry capsule was recovered in Woomera, Australia on December 6, 2020 and delivered to the JAXA Sagamihara Campus on December 8. Work then began to open the sample container inside the re-entry capsule. On December 14, a sample of grains of black sand thought to be derived from asteroid Ryugu was confirmed to be inside the sample container. These are believed to be particles attached to the entrance of the sample catcher (the container in which the samples have been stored).

Work will continue with opening the sample catcher that sits in the sample container. The curation and initial analysis team will remove the samples and proceed with the analysis.

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

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Rock samples from asteroid Ryugu as seen inside 'chamber A' of Hayabusa2's sample return capsule.
JAXA

Monday, December 14, 2020

Watch THE BROKEN TABLE on ThinkShorts.com!

THE BROKEN TABLE is now available for streaming on ThinkShorts.com!

Last week, I submitted The Broken Table to the cool streaming site Think Shorts for inclusion...and I am proud to say that my short film joins hundreds of amazing indie projects that were contributed by other filmmakers to this online directory over the course of this year. So stoked! Click on the link below to view my suspense thriller, which is 6 minutes, 29 seconds-long:

https://thinkshorts.com/7063/the-broken-table

I intend on submitting my other short film Envious next! Stay tuned.

THE BROKEN TABLE is now available for streaming on ThinkShorts.com!

Sunday, December 13, 2020

On This Day in 2000: My Geology 104 Lab Exam Is Held in College...

A photo I took of the Walter Pyramid at Cal State Long Beach, on January 5, 2013.

Just thought I'd commemorate the fact that today marks 20 years since I took my Geology 104 lab exam at Cal State Long Beach. Today was a turning point in how I would view my remaining years in college after I spent one last class with Yenny (who I called 'Denise' in my Blog for how many years after that); giving her a Christmas card and us exchanging e-mail addresses that would lead to 2001 being one of the most painful years of my life.

Anyways, click on this Blog Entry to read what I originally posted about this day two decades ago. The next few weeks will actually be pretty emotional for me—as recalling the events of December 2010 will be just as somber as remembering the events of December in Y2K. Though I probably won't blog about those memories... We'll see.

Friday, December 11, 2020

The FDA Has Approved the First Coronavirus Vaccine for Emergency Use in the U.S.!

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first coronavirus vaccine for emergency use in the United States...on December 11, 2020.
iStock

FDA Takes Key Action in Fight Against COVID-19 By Issuing Emergency Use Authorization for First COVID-19 Vaccine (Press Release)

Action Follows Thorough Evaluation of Available Safety, Effectiveness, and Manufacturing Quality Information by FDA Career Scientists, Input from Independent Experts

Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued the first emergency use authorization (EUA) for a vaccine for the prevention of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in individuals 16 years of age and older. The emergency use authorization allows the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine to be distributed in the U.S.

“The FDA’s authorization for emergency use of the first COVID-19 vaccine is a significant milestone in battling this devastating pandemic that has affected so many families in the United States and around the world,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. “Today’s action follows an open and transparent review process that included input from independent scientific and public health experts and a thorough evaluation by the agency’s career scientists to ensure this vaccine met FDA’s rigorous, scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality needed to support emergency use authorization. The tireless work to develop a new vaccine to prevent this novel, serious, and life-threatening disease in an expedited timeframe after its emergence is a true testament to scientific innovation and public-private collaboration worldwide.”

The FDA has determined that Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine has met the statutory criteria for issuance of an EUA. The totality of the available data provides clear evidence that Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine may be effective in preventing COVID-19. The data also support that the known and potential benefits outweigh the known and potential risks, supporting the vaccine’s use in millions of people 16 years of age and older, including healthy individuals. In making this determination, the FDA can assure the public and medical community that it has conducted a thorough evaluation of the available safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality information.

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine contains messenger RNA (mRNA), which is genetic material. The vaccine contains a small piece of the SARS-CoV-2 virus’s mRNA that instructs cells in the body to make the virus’s distinctive “spike” protein. When a person receives this vaccine, their body produces copies of the spike protein, which does not cause disease, but triggers the immune system to learn to react defensively, producing an immune response against SARS-CoV-2.

“While not an FDA approval, today’s emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine holds the promise to alter the course of this pandemic in the United States,” said Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “With science guiding our decision-making, the available safety and effectiveness data support the authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine because the vaccine’s known and potential benefits clearly outweigh its known and potential risks. The data provided by the sponsor have met the FDA’s expectations as conveyed in our June and October guidance documents. Efforts to speed vaccine development have not sacrificed scientific standards or the integrity of our vaccine evaluation process. The FDA’s review process also included public and independent review from members of the agency’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee. Today’s achievement is ultimately a testament to the commitment of our career scientists and physicians, who worked tirelessly to thoroughly evaluate the data and information for this vaccine.”

FDA Evaluation of Available Safety Data

Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine is administered as a series of two doses, three weeks apart. The available safety data to support the EUA include 37,586 of the participants enrolled in an ongoing randomized, placebo-controlled international study, the majority of whom are U.S. participants. These participants, 18,801 of whom received the vaccine and 18,785 of whom received saline placebo, were followed for a median of two months after receiving the second dose. The most commonly reported side effects, which typically lasted several days, were pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, and fever. Of note, more people experienced these side effects after the second dose than after the first dose, so it is important for vaccination providers and recipients to expect that there may be some side effects after either dose, but even more so after the second dose.

It is mandatory for Pfizer Inc. and vaccination providers to report the following to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) for Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine: all vaccine administration errors, serious adverse events, cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS), and cases of COVID-19 that result in hospitalization or death.

FDA Evaluation of Available Effectiveness Data

The effectiveness data to support the EUA include an analysis of 36,523 participants in the ongoing randomized, placebo-controlled international study, the majority of whom are U.S. participants, who did not have evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection through seven days after the second dose. Among these participants, 18,198 received the vaccine and 18,325 received placebo. The vaccine was 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 disease among these clinical trial participants with eight COVID-19 cases in the vaccine group and 162 in the placebo group. Of these 170 COVID-19 cases, one in the vaccine group and three in the placebo group were classified as severe. At this time, data are not available to make a determination about how long the vaccine will provide protection, nor is there evidence that the vaccine prevents transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from person to person.

The EUA Process

On the basis of the determination by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on February 4, 2020, that there is a public health emergency that has a significant potential to affect national security or the health and security of United States citizens living abroad, and then issued declarations that circumstances exist justifying the authorization of emergency use of unapproved products, the FDA may issue an EUA to allow unapproved medical products or unapproved uses of approved medical products to be used in an emergency to diagnose, treat, or prevent COVID-19 when there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives.

The issuance of an EUA is different than an FDA approval (licensure) of a vaccine. In determining whether to issue an EUA for a product, the FDA evaluates the available evidence and assesses any known or potential risks and any known or potential benefits, and if the benefit-risk assessment is favorable, the product is made available during the emergency. Once a manufacturer submits an EUA request for a COVID-19 vaccine to the FDA, the agency then evaluates the request and determines whether the relevant statutory criteria are met, taking into account the totality of the scientific evidence about the vaccine that is available to the FDA.

The EUA also requires that fact sheets that provide important information, including dosing instructions, and information about the benefits and risks of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, be made available to vaccination providers and vaccine recipients.

The company has submitted a pharmacovigilance plan to FDA to monitor the safety of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine. The pharmacovigilance plan includes a plan to complete longer-term safety follow-up for participants enrolled in ongoing clinical trials. The pharmacovigilance plan also includes other activities aimed at monitoring the safety profile of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and ensuring that any safety concerns are identified and evaluated in a timely manner.

The FDA also expects manufacturers whose COVID-19 vaccines are authorized under an EUA to continue their clinical trials to obtain additional safety and effectiveness information and pursue approval (licensure).

The EUA for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine was issued to Pfizer Inc. The EUA will be effective until the declaration that circumstances exist justifying the authorization of the emergency use of drugs and biologics for prevention and treatment of COVID-19 is terminated, and may be revised or revoked if it is determined the EUA no longer meets the statutory criteria for issuance.

The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.

Source: FDA.Gov

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Beresheet 2 Is Unveiled!

Schematics showing the spacecraft that will comprise the Beresheet 2 mission.
SpaceIL

Earlier today, Israeli officials announced that another privately-made lander—once again built by SpaceIL—will head to the Moon in 2024! Known as Beresheet 2, this mission would actually consist of two landers plus an orbiter...and cost around $100 million like the first Beresheet spacecraft. All I can say is, I am absolutely excited for this project! I was so disappointed after Beresheet was unable to stick the landing in April of last year, but was glad when the folks at SpaceIL announced that they would try again a few days later.

Godspeed, Beresheet 2! Your launch can't arrive soon enough.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay pose with the schematics for the Beresheet 2 spacecraft...on December 9, 2020.
Haim Zach / GPO

Monday, December 07, 2020

RIP, Chuck Yeager (1923-2020)...

Personally-speaking, I thought this venerable aviation icon took an eternal, sound barrier-shattering flight into the wild blue yonder years ago. I guess not. Having passed at age 97, Chuck Yeager lived such an amazing life...from going supersonic in 1947, winning a Distinguished Flying Cross in 1949 for doing so, to being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan in 1985. Oh, and he had three flight simulator video games created by Electronic Arts named after him in the late 1980s and early 90s (Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Trainer, Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Trainer 2.0 and Chuck Yeager's Air Combat). May the General rest in peace.

Chuck Yeager poses next to the Bell X-1 'Glamorous Glennis'...which he used to break the sound barrier on October 14, 1947.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Hayabusa2 Update: The Soil Sample from Asteroid Ryugu Has Been Safely Brought Back to Earth!

Hayabusa2's sample return capsule creates a fireball as it enters Earth's atmosphere above Woomera, Australia...on December 6, 2020 (Japan Time).
JAXA

The Results of Hayabusa2 Re-entry Capsule Recovery (Press Release)

On December 6, 2020, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has recovered the body of the capsule, the heat shields, and the parachute of the Hayabusa2 re-entry capsule in the Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA). Tomorrow, the capsule recovery team will extract gas out of the capsule at the operation headquarters in Australia. Researchers considered the gas originates from the precious sample from Asteroid Ryugu.

After the capsule separation, the spacecraft performed trajectory correction maneuvers three times every 30 minutes to depart from the Earth's sphere from 15:30 to 16:30 on December 5 (JST). The Hayabusa2 team members confirmed the trajectory correction maneuvers' success at 16:31 on the same day (JST). The current status of the spacecraft is normal.

We take this opportunity to show our deepest gratitude to the governments of Australia and Japan, NASA, and relevant parties for their cooperation in the recovery of the Hayabusa2 re-entry capsule. Our appreciation extends to the people of Japan and the world for their generous support and encouragement.

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

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Hayabusa2's sample return capsule, with its parachute still attached, lies on the ground at the landing site in Woomera, Australia...on December 6, 2020 (Japan Time).
JAXA

A JAXA technician carries Hayabusa2's sample return capsule back to a special container at the Woomera landing site in Australia...on December 6, 2020 (Japan Time).
JAXA

Hayabusa2's sample return capsule is placed inside a special container at the Woomera landing site in Australia...on December 6, 2020 (Japan Time).
JAXA

Saturday, December 05, 2020

The King Will Play with the Lake Show till 2023 (at the Minimum)!

One of LeBron James' most memorable dunks during the 2019-'20 NBA regular season.
Andrew D. Bernstein / NBAE via Getty Images

Lakers Re-sign LeBron James (Press Release - December 3)

The Los Angeles Lakers have re-signed forward LeBron James, it was announced today by Vice President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Rob Pelinka. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not released.

“LeBron James is a transcendent basketball player, and human being,” said Pelinka. “LeBron put his trust in the Lakers in 2018, and now this contract extension paves the way for LeBron to further solidify his legacy as an all-time Lakers great. We could not be more honored by this commitment.”

James appeared in 67 games (all starts) last season, averaging 25.3 points (49.3 FG%), a career-best and league-leading 10.2 assists, 7.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 34.6 minutes per game. One of six players in NBA history to average 25 points and 10 assists in a single season, James earned a league-record 13th All-NBA First Team selection, while being selected as an NBA All-Star for the 16th time in his career. Additionally, he moved to third on the league’s all-time points list and eighth on the all-time assists list, while becoming the first player to record a triple-double against all 30 current NBA franchises.

The NBA’s all-time leader in playoff wins, James started in all 21 of the Lakers postseason games last season, recording 27.6 points (.560 FG%), 10.8 rebounds, 8.8 assists and 1.2 steals en route to his fourth NBA Finals MVP award. He became the first player to win Finals MVP with three different franchises and joined Michael Jordan as the only players to be named Finals MVP and regular season MVP on four separate occasions.

Source: NBA.com

Friday, December 04, 2020

Video of the Day: THE BROKEN TABLE - RED CUT Edition...

The official poster for THE BROKEN TABLE: RED CUT Edition.

Happy Friday, everyone! Just thought I'd share this latest and hopefully final version of my short film, The Broken Table. The reason why I decided to create another iteration (using the Lightworks editing program) is because this is officially my cut of the film. The version of The Broken Table that was released in early May is based on input by a couple of folks who donated to the project's Kickstarter campaign last year. Seeing as how they contributed hard-earned money to my film, I obviously couldn't ignore the suggestions that they had for The Broken Table while it was still in postproduction a year ago.

With this Red Cut edition, I pretty much included everything that I had in mind even before I started shooting the film last fall. If you watch the official version and this cut, you'll see that two of the three music tracks are different...with the entire music score for The Broken Table now attributed solely to talented composer Sir Cubworth. The end credits have been upgraded to a red font, because I wanted the film to feel sinister through the very end. And I also added a heartbeat sound effect—which was inspired by last year's The Shining sequel Doctor Sleep—to three different moments in The Broken Table.

I figure that The Broken Table will be completely done with by the time New Year's Day rolls around. It was fun working on this project, and I look forward to whatever cinematic endeavor awaits me in the future. Check out The Broken Table: Red Cut on Vimeo below! And have a great weekend.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Stating the Obvious: The Brow Will Officially Return to the Lake Show Next Season!

Anthony Davis will play with the Los Angeles Lakers for at least four more years.
Getty Images

Lakers Re-sign Anthony Davis (Press Release)

The Los Angeles Lakers have re-signed forward Anthony Davis, it was announced today by Vice President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Rob Pelinka. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not released.

“In the Orlando bubble, Anthony Davis proved he is one of the game’s most complete and dominant two-way players,” Pelinka said. “Now, Lakers fans get to watch AD continue to grow and lead our franchise for years to come. This is truly a blessed moment for Lakers Nation.”

Davis earned All-NBA First Team honors for the fourth time in his career in 2019-20, averaging 26.1 points (.503 FG%, .846 FT%), 9.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.3 blocks and 1.5 steals in 62 games. He made his seventh career All-Star appearance, was a two-time Western Conference Player of the Week and was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team for the second time in his career. Davis ranked third in the NBA in blocks and 10th in points, while finishing as one of two players to average at least 2.0 blocks and 1.5 steals per game.

In 21 playoff appearances, Davis averaged 27.7 points, (.571 FG%, .383 3FG%), 9.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.2 steals. He became the fifth player in league history to shoot 50-40-90 in the NBA Finals (.571 FG%, .421 3P%, .938 FT%), joining Kevin Durant, Chauncey Billups, Penny Hardaway and Magic Johnson. Davis became the eighth player in NBA history to win an NBA Championship, NCAA Championship and an Olympic gold medal.

Source: NBA.com

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

NASA's Future Robotic Rover Continues to Go Through Its Developmental Paces...

An animated GIF showing the prototype for NASA's VIPER lunar rover testing its wheels' suspension system.
NASA / David Maurantonio

VIPER’s Many Brains are Better than One (News Release)

If you opened up a robot vacuum, a self-driving car, or even one of NASA’s Mars rovers (which we’re definitely not recommending you do!) you’d find a bunch of processors programmed with software that serve as the robot’s “brains.” All robots have these computerized brains directing their movement and activity, but NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, will be the first off-world rover to have its brains split in two as it explores the Moon’s surface in search of water ice.

As it drives across the Moon, VIPER will effectively do its thinking from both its on-board flight software as well as from ground software running from mission control on Earth. Using an engineering prototype of the rover, the VIPER team recently began putting the software through its paces on a simulated lunar terrain at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.

“We use distributed computing all the time when we use our smart phones to run mapping apps that connect to faraway servers and data centers to run the calculations,” said Terry Fong, chief roboticist and VIPER rover deputy at Ames. “Similarly, VIPER will perform much of its data crunching on faster computers on Earth, since we have a relatively fast connection to mission control during all rover operations.”

In November, the team began testing the software’s ability to successfully execute commands with the prototype rover. Using an outdoor robotics research and development facility featuring slopes, boulders, and craters, called the Roverscape, the team had the software take the rover for a test drive. The rover performed a variety of activities, like turning in place, driving in a straight line, recording its position, adjusting the suspension, and keeping its antenna stable while moving to ensure the rover can stay in touch with Earth.

The Moon-Gravity Representative Unit prototype is a stripped-down, engineering test unit that focuses on VIPER’s mechanical system, which is specially designed to allow engineers to test how the rover will drive in lunar gravity, which is one-sixth that of Earth’s.

Because of the Moon’s proximity to Earth, communications delays are only a matter of seconds. VIPER’s engineers are taking advantage of this to download images and other data from the rover for fast processing, rather than having to rely only on the rover’s slower on-board computing, which also reduces the cost to develop the rover.

Faster data processing means the mission operations and science teams can make quick-thinking decisions about the rover’s path and science activities. This will speed up operations, expedite science findings and maximize what they can accomplish during VIPER’s 100-day mission on the Moon’s South Pole.

“In addition to the science and operations benefits, keeping a portion of VIPER’s software running on Earth means engineers can take advantage of the latest and greatest in computer processing, data storage, and networking,” said Hans Utz, VIPER rover software lead engineer with KBR at Ames.

Besides the use of distributed computing, VIPER also will break ground by being NASA’s first planetary rover mission to make extensive use of open-source software, including key components adapted from ROS, the Robotics Operating System, considered the industry-standard in robotics development. Once the mission is over, the VIPER team intends to release the rover’s software for general use. This approach allows for a rapid, agile, and cost-effective way of developing the rover’s software systems that can also benefit future rovers on the Moon and beyond.

VIPER is a collaboration within and beyond the agency. VIPER is part of the Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program and is managed by the Planetary Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley is managing the project, leading the mission’s science, systems engineering, real-time rover surface operations and flight software. The hardware for the rover is being designed and built by NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, while the instruments are provided by Ames, NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and commercial partner Honeybee Robotics in Altadena, California. The spacecraft, lander and launch vehicle that will deliver VIPER to the surface of the Moon will be provided by Astrobotic in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who was selected through NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS initiative, delivering science and technology payloads to and near the Moon.

Source: NASA.Gov

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Remembering David Prowse (1935-2020)...

Earlier today, the world found out that David Prowse—the man behind the mask as Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy—passed away in England yesterday after battling a short illness. He was 85. Although we didn't hear his voice on the iconic Sith Lord (James Earl Jones voiced Vader, respectively), Prowse's imposing stature contributed to Emperor Palpatine's dark apprentice being one of the most fearsome and memorable movie villains of all time. Rest in peace, Prowse...and the Force will be with you. Always.

David Prowse posing on a STAR WARS set as Darth Vader.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Pau's Brother Has Joined the Lakers...

Marc Gasol will play for the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2020-'21 NBA season.

Lakers Sign Marc Gasol (Press Release)

The Los Angeles Lakers have signed center Marc Gasol, it was announced by Vice President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Rob Pelinka. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not released.

Gasol played in 44 games (43 starts) for Toronto last season, averaging 7.5 points (.427 FG%, .385 3FG%), 6.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 26.4 minutes per game. In 839 games (824 starts) for the Grizzlies and Raptors, he has averaged 14.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.4 blocks in 33.0 minutes. Gasol has played and started in 94 career playoff games, notching 13.9 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.4 blocks in 35.2 minutes, while aiding the Raptors in their 2019 title campaign.

A three-time NBA All-Star, Gasol has earned two All-NBA selections and in 2013 became the first European-born player to be named NBA Defensive Player of the Year. He is one of six players in league history to record more than 6,000 career rebounds, 1,100 blocks and 350 three pointers. As a member of the Spanish National Team, Gasol has helped the country earn nine medals, including gold medals at the FIBA World Cup in 2006 and in 2019, and Olympic silver medals in 2008 and 2012.

Source: NBA.com

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Saturday, November 21, 2020

The Lakers Take the First Major Step Towards Defending Their NBA Title Next Season...

Dennis Schröder will play for the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2020-'21 NBA season.

Lakers Acquire Dennis Schröder (Press Release - November 18)

The Los Angeles Lakers have acquired guard Dennis Schröder from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Danny Green and the draft rights to Jaden McDaniels, it was announced by Vice President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Rob Pelinka.

Schröder averaged 18.9 points, 4.0 assists and 3.6 rebounds in 65 games (two starts) for Oklahoma City last season. Additionally, he led the league in points scored off the bench and finished second in NBA Sixth Man Award voting, while shooting career highs in field goal percentage (.469) and three-point percentage (.385). Schröder owns career averages of 14.1 points, 4.6 assists and 2.8 rebounds in seven seasons with Atlanta and Oklahoma City.

Drafted 17th overall by the Hawks in the 2013 NBA Draft, Schröder has appeared in 46 postseason games (six starts) throughout his career, averaging 13.1 points, 4.0 assists and 2.3 rebounds in 23.4 minutes per game.

Source: NBA.com

Friday, November 20, 2020

Farewell, SUPERNATURAL...

Farewell, SUPERNATURAL. This cool image will apparently be on the box cover of the Season 15 DVD set.

Last night, the CW Network aired the 2-hour series finale for Supernatural...one of the longest-running genre TV series that began back in 2005. The first hour was devoted to a special where the cast and crew shared their memories on working on this hit show for well over a decade. It was in the second hour where "Carry on," the final episode of Supernatural, showed the fates of Sam and Dean Winchester after spending much of their lives hunting ghosts, demons, vampires, Wendigos, Bloody Mary and the like. All I can say is, it was hugely emotional. To dedicate 15 years of my life to watching the exploits of these two brothers as they—with the help of Bobby Singer (their surrogate father), Castiel (the angel who raised Dean from perdition in Season 4), Crowley (the crossroads demon-turned-King of Hell), Jack (Lucifer's part-human son, a.k.a. a Nephilim) and company—take on the Yellow-Eyed Demon, Lucifer, The Darkness (a.k.a. Amara) and even God (a.k.a. Chuck) Himself was an epic thing. And now it's over.

I've been getting the Supernatural season DVDs as a Christmas gift from one of my brothers since 2008... It's gonna be interesting when he has to find something else to buy for Christmas 2022! Heh. It's all good. In terms of other TV shows that I watch on a weekly basis, there are none. Except for reruns of my other favorite series, The Big Bang Theory, on Channel 13 here in Los Angeles. I hope you guys have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Video of the Day: THE CARD - My Short Film!

The poster for my short film THE CARD...which was officially released online (for streaming via Vimeo and YouTube) on November 19, 2020.

Happy Thursday, everyone! Just thought I'd post my newest project that I worked on after completing Envious last month, which is my other short film The Card! I shot this project back in 2002 (during my spring semester at Cal State Long Beach)—using a Super 8mm camera provided by my school's film department. Unlike Envious, I didn't have a sound mixer and boom operator to work with me on set...meaning that I had to create the audio track (and record dialogue) entirely in postproduction. That was pretty interesting!

I used Final Cut Pro to edit The Card 18 years ago, but utilized Lightworks on the Apple MacBook that my brother got me for my birthday last month to update it. Unlike Envious, I didn't have a version of The Card without its music track—so it was tricky retaining sound effects and the dialogue while also removing the songs that were featured in the original film (these songs being hip-hop jams by Dr. Dre, Warren G., Ashanti, K-Ci & JoJo and Usher). I would have kept the songs if YouTube didn't slap a copyright claim on videos that use trademarked music...but it's all good.

Anyways, here's The Card as presented on YouTube. (You can also view it on Vimeo.) Why did I choose today as the film's release date, you ask? Because tonight is the 2-hour series finale for the hit TV show Supernatural, which I've been watching since it premiered on the CW Network back in 2005! Carry on. (FYI, that's the episode title for tonight's finale.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Lakers Will Begin Defending Their NBA Title Before Christmas!

The Los Angeles Lakers take a group photo after winning the 2020 NBA championship at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida...on October 11, 2020.

NBA and NBPA Agree on 2020-21 Season Start and Adjustments to CBA (Press Release - November 10)

2020-21 Season to Begin on Tuesday, December 22

The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association announced today that they have reached agreement in principle on the start of the 2020-21 season, as well as adjustments to certain provisions of the current collective bargaining agreement impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The NBA Board of Governors today unanimously approved the agreement.

The parties have agreed in principle to the following:

- The 2020-21 season will begin on Tuesday, December 22;

- The 2020-21 season will feature each team playing a 72-game schedule. The full regular-season and broadcast schedules will be released at a future date;

- A new system will be used to ensure the parties’ agreed-upon split of basketball-related income (BRI). In the event player compensation were to exceed the players’ designated share in any season, necessary salary reductions beyond the standard 10 percent escrow would be spread across that season and potentially the following two seasons, subject to a maximum salary reduction in any season of 20 percent;

- For the 2020-21 season, the Salary Cap will be $109.140 million and the Tax Level will be $132.627 million.

- In subsequent seasons of the CBA, the Salary Cap and Tax Level will increase by a minimum of three percent and a maximum of 10 percent over the prior season. Teams’ tax payments will be reduced in proportion to any BRI decreases; and

- Free agent negotiations will begin on November 20 at 3 p.m. (PT), with signings starting at 9:01 a.m. (PT) on November 22.

Source: NBA.com

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Lakers players (and team general manager Rob Pelinka, on the right) gather around the Larry O'Brien Trophy after they won the 2020 NBA championship at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida...on October 11, 2020.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Mars 2020 Update: Lookin' Ahead to the 2026 Mars Sample Return Mission...

An artist's concept of the Mars Ascent Vehicle carrying rock and soil samples launching away from NASA's Sample Retrieval Lander.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Independent Review Indicates NASA Prepared for Mars Sample Return Campaign (Press Release)

NASA released an independent review report Tuesday indicating the agency is now ready to undertake its Mars Sample Return (MSR) campaign to bring pristine samples from Mars to Earth for scientific study. The agency established the MSR Independent Review Board (IRB) to evaluate its early concepts for a groundbreaking, international partnership with ESA (European Space Agency) to return the first samples from another planet.

Following an examination of the agency’s ambitious Mars Sample Return plan, the board’s report concludes that NASA is prepared for the campaign, building on decades of scientific advancements and technical progress in Mars exploration.

The MSR campaign will require three advanced space vehicles. The first, NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover, is more than halfway to Mars following launch in July. Aboard Perseverance is a sophisticated sampling system with a coring drill and sample tubes that are the cleanest hardware ever sent to space. Once on Mars, Perseverance aims to cache rock and regolith samples in its collection tubes. It then would leave some of them on the Martian surface for an ESA-provided "fetch" rover to collect and deliver to a NASA-provided Mars Ascent Vehicle, which then would launch the samples into orbit around Mars. An ESA-provided Earth Return Orbiter would then rendezvous with the samples in orbit around Mars and take them in a highly secure containment capsule for return to Earth in the 2030s.

“Mars Sample Return is something NASA needs to do as a leading member of the global community,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “We know there are challenges ahead, but that’s why we look closely at these architectures. And that’s why in the end, we achieve the big accomplishments.”

Sample return is a top priority of the National Academies’ Planetary Science Decadal Survey for 2013-2022, and NASA has worked to mature the critical capabilities and overall MSR concept for the past three years. The board acknowledged the longstanding cooperation between NASA and ESA in robotic and human space exploration as an asset for the robust campaign and commended both agencies' early and in-depth analysis of MSR implementation approaches to inform future planning and development.

“NASA is committed to mission success and taking on great challenges for the benefit of humanity, and one way we do that is by ensuring we are set up to succeed as early as possible,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “I thank the members of this board for their many hours of work resulting in a very thorough review. We look forward to continued planning and mission formulation in close partnership with ESA. Ultimately, I believe this sample return will be well worth the effort and help us answer key astrobiology questions about the Red Planet – bringing us one step closer to our eventual goal of sending humans to Mars.”

NASA initiated the IRB in mid-August to ensure the long-awaited mission is positioned for success. It is the earliest independent review of any NASA Science Mission Directorate large strategic mission. Historically, such reviews have not occurred until much later in the program development.

David Thompson, retired president and CEO of Orbital ATK, chaired the IRB, which comprised 10 experienced leaders from scientific and engineering fields. The board, which met during 25 sessions from August to October of this year, interviewed experts across NASA and ESA, as well as in industry and academia, and made 44 recommendations to address potential areas of concern regarding the program’s scope and management, technical approach, schedule, and funding profile.

“The MSR campaign is a highly ambitious, technically demanding, and multi-faceted planetary exploration program with extraordinary scientific potential for world-changing discoveries,” said Thompson. “After a thorough review of the agency’s planning over the past several years, the IRB unanimously believes that NASA is now ready to carry out the MSR program, the next step for robotic exploration of Mars.”

The IRB found that NASA has developed a feasible concept and a broad set of architectural options to inform the planning of the MSR campaign over the next several years and recommends the MSR program to proceed. It also highlighted the excellent progress the agency has achieved over the past several years and further emphasized the potential for this program to enable civilization-scale scientific discoveries underscoring that the technology is available now.

“The independent review has given strong support to MSR, which is great news for the campaign,” says ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration, David Parker. “It reinforces our shared vision to provide the world’s scientists with pristine pieces of the Red Planet to study using laboratory tools and techniques that we could never take to Mars.”

The IRB provided its findings and recommendations to NASA for consideration to better position the program for success. NASA has agreed to address and study all of the board’s recommendations in the next year as it moves through early formulation efforts, well in advance of the agency’s confirmation decision.

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An artist's concept of the European Space Agency's Earth Return Orbiter above the surface of Mars.
European Space Agency