Mars touchdown: NASA spacecraft survives supersonic plunge
By MARCIA DUNN
AP Aerospace Writer
Tuesday, November 27
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Minutes after touching down on Mars, NASA’s InSight spacecraft sent back a “nice and dirty” snapshot of its new digs. Yet the dust-speckled image looked like a work of art to scientists.
The photo revealed a mostly smooth and sandy terrain around the spacecraft with only one sizable rock visible.
“I’m very, very happy that it looks like we have an incredibly safe and boring landing location,” project manager Tom Hoffman said after Monday’s touchdown. “That’s exactly what we were going for.”
A better image came hours later and more are expected in the days ahead, after the dust covers come off the lander’s cameras.
The spacecraft arrived at Mars after a perilous, supersonic plunge through its red skies that took just six minutes.
“Touchdown confirmed!” a flight controller called out just before 3 p.m. EST, setting off jubilation among scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who had waited in white-knuckle suspense for word to reach across 100 million miles (160 million kilometers) of space.
It was NASA’s eighth successful landing at Mars since the 1976 Viking probes, and the first in six years. NASA’s Curiosity rover, which arrived in 2012, is still on the move on Mars.
Because of the distance between Earth and Mars, it took eight minutes for confirmation to arrive, relayed by a pair of tiny satellites that had been trailing InSight throughout the six-month, 300-million-mile (482-million-kilometer) journey.
“Flawless,” declared JPL’s chief engineer, Rob Manning. “Sometimes things work out in your favor.”
InSight, a $1 billion international project, includes a German mechanical mole that will burrow down 16 feet (5 meters) to measure Mars’ internal heat. The lander also has a French seismometer for measuring quakes, if they exist on our smaller, geologically calmer neighbor. Another experiment will calculate Mars’ wobble to reveal the makeup of the planet’s core.
Late Monday, NASA reported the spacecraft’s vital solar arrays were open and recharging its batteries.
Over the next few “sols” — or Martian days of 24 hours, 39½ minutes — flight controllers will assess the health of InSight’s all-important robot arm and its science instruments. It will take months to set up and fine-tune the instruments, and lead scientist Bruce Banerdt said he doesn’t expect to start getting a stream of solid data until late next spring.
Banerdt called InSight’s first snapshot of the surface the first bit of science, albeit “nice and dirty.” He said the image would be cleaned and the black specks would disappear. That photo came from a camera low on the lander. Late Monday, NASA released a clean photo taken by a higher camera that showed part of the lander and the landscape.
The 800-pound (360-kilogram) InSight is stationary and will operate from the same spot for the next two years, the duration of a Martian year.
“In the coming months and years even, history books will be rewritten about the interior of Mars,” said JPL’s director, Michael Watkins.
NASA went with its old, straightforward approach this time, using a parachute and braking engines to get InSight’s speed from 12,300 mph (19,800 kph) when it pierced the Martian atmosphere, about 77 miles (114 kilometers) up, to 5 mph (8kph) at touchdown. The danger was that the spacecraft could burn up in the atmosphere or bounce off it.
Many Mars-bound spacecraft launched by the U.S., Russia and other countries have been lost or destroyed over the years, with a success rate of just 40 percent, not counting InSight.
The three-legged InSight settled on the western side of Elysium Planitia, the plain that NASA was aiming for.
Museums, planetariums and libraries across the U.S. held viewing parties to watch the events unfold at JPL. NASA TV coverage was also shown on the giant screen in New York’s Times Square, where crowds huddled under umbrellas in the rain.
“What an amazing day for our country,” said Jim Bridenstine, presiding over his first Mars landing as NASA’s boss.
Mars’ well-preserved interior provides a snapshot of what Earth may have looked like following its formation 4.5 billion years ago, according to Banerdt. While Earth is active seismically, Mars “decided to rest on its laurels” after it formed, he said.
By examining and mapping the interior of Mars, scientists hope to learn why the rocky planets in our solar system turned out so different and why Earth became a haven for life.
Still, there are no life detectors aboard InSight. NASA’s next mission, the Mars 2020 rover, will prowl for rocks that might contain evidence of ancient life. The question of whether life ever existed in Mars’ wet, watery past is what keeps driving NASA back to the fourth rock from the sun.
After InSight landed, the two experimental satellites zoomed past Mars, their main job done. One took one last photo of the red planet that the satellites’ chief engineer, Andy Klesh, titled “farewell to InSight … farewell to Mars.”
For AP’s complete coverage of the Mars landing: https://apnews.com/MarsLanding
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Trump strongly defends use of tear gas on caravan migrants
By COLLEEN LONG and ELLIOT SPAGAT
Tuesday, November 27
SAN DIEGO (AP) — President Donald Trump is strongly defending the U.S. use of tear gas at the Mexican border to repel a crowd of migrants that included angry rock-throwers but also barefoot, crying children.
Critics denounced the border agents’ action as overkill, but Trump kept to a hard line.
“They were being rushed by some very tough people and they used tear gas,” Trump said Monday of the previous day’s encounter. “Here’s the bottom line: Nobody is coming into our country unless they come in legally.”
At a roundtable in Mississippi later Monday, Trump seemed to acknowledge that children were affected, asking, “Why is a parent running up into an area where they know the tear gas is forming and it’s going to be formed and they were running up with a child?”
He said it was “a very minor form of the tear gas itself” that he assured was “very safe.”
Without offering evidence, he also claimed that some of the women are not really parents but are instead “grabbers” who steal children so they have a better chance of being granted asylum in the U.S.
The showdown at the San Diego-Tijuana border crossing has thrown into sharp relief two competing narratives about the caravan of migrants hoping to apply for asylum but stuck on the Mexican sider. Trump portrays them as a threat to U.S. national security, intent on exploiting America’s asylum law, but others insist he is exaggerating to stoke fears and achieve his political goals.
The sheer size of the caravan makes it unusual.
“I think it’s so unprecedented that everyone is hanging their own fears and political agendas on the caravan,” said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank that studies immigration. “You can call it scary, you can call it hopeful, you can call it a sign of human misery. You can hang whatever angle you want to on it.”
Trump rails against migrant caravans as dangerous groups of mostly single men. That view featured heavily in his speeches during the midterm election campaign when several were hundreds of miles away, traveling on foot. Officials have said some 500 members are criminals, but haven’t backed that up with details on why they think so. On Monday, Trump tweeted the caravan at the border included “stone cold criminals.”
Mario Figueroa — Tijuana’s social services department director who is overseeing operations at the sports complex where most of the migrants in the caravan are staying — said as of Friday that of the 4,938 staying there, 933 were women, 889 were children and 3,105 were men, which includes fathers traveling with families along with single men.
The U.S. military said Monday that about 300 troops who had been deployed in south Texas and Arizona as part of a border security mission have been moved to California for similar work. The military’s role is limited largely to erecting barriers along the border and providing transportation and logistical support to Customs and Border Protection.
Democratic lawmakers and immigrant rights groups blasted the border agents’ Sunday tactics.
“These children are barefoot. In diapers. Choking on tear gas,” California Governor-elect Gavin Newsom tweeted. “Women and children who left their lives behind — seeking peace and asylum — were met with violence and fear. That’s not my America.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said the administration’s concerns about the caravan “were borne out and on fully display” Sunday.
McAleenan said hundreds — perhaps more than 1,000 — people attempted to rush vehicle lanes at the San Ysidro crossing. Mexican authorities estimated the crowd at 500. The chaos followed what began as a peaceful march to appeal for the U.S. to speed processing of asylum claims.
After being stopped by Mexican authorities, the migrants split into groups. On the west side of the crossing, some tried to get through razor-wire fencing in a concrete levee that separates the two countries. On the east side, some pulled back a panel of fencing made of Army surplus steel landing mats to create an opening of about 4 feet, through which a group of more than 30 people crossed, according to a U.S. official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Others made it over a steel fence farther east.
McAleenan said four agents were struck with rocks but were not injured because they were wearing protective gear.
Border Protection agents launched pepper spray balls in addition to tear gas in what officials said were on-the-spot decisions made by agents. U.S. troops deployed to the border on Trump’s orders were not involved in the operation.
“The agents on scene, in their professional judgment, made the decision to address those assaults using less lethal devices,” McAleenan told reporters.
The scene was reminiscent of the 1980s and early 1990s when large groups of migrants rushed vehicle lanes at San Ysidro and overwhelmed Border Patrol agents in nearby streets and fields.
U.S. authorities made 69 arrests on Sunday. Mexican authorities said 39 people were arrested in Mexico.
The incident left many migrants feeling they had lost whatever possibility they might have had for making asylum cases.
Isauro Mejia, 46, of Cortes, Honduras, looked for a cup of coffee Monday morning after spending Sunday caught up in the clash.
“The way things went yesterday … I think there is no chance,” he said.
Mexico’s Interior Ministry said in a statement it would immediately deport those people arrested on its side and would reinforce security.
Border Patrol agents have discretion on how to deploy less-than-lethal force. It must be both “objectively reasonable and necessary in order to carry out law enforcement duties” — and used when other techniques are not sufficient to control disorderly or violent subjects.
Last week Trump gave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis explicit authority to use military troops to protect Customs and Border Protection agents on the border, with lethal force if necessary. Mattis also was empowered to temporarily detain illegal migrants in the event of violence against the border patrol. Mattis told reporters this did not change the military’s mission in any way, and that he would use the new authorities only in response to a request by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. He said there had been no such request yet.
With the caravan as a backdrop, Trump has used national security powers to circumvent longstanding immigration law to deny asylum to anyone caught crossing the border illegally. However, a court has put those regulations on hold after civil liberties groups sued. On Thanksgiving Day, the president warned of “bedlam, chaos, injury and death” if the courts block his efforts to harden immigration rules.
But it’s also possible that Sunday’s clash was borne of increasing desperation caused by the hardening of the policies, said Rachel Schmidtke, program associate for migration at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Mexico Institute.
“This situation is now escalating to the point of a self-fulfilling prophesy,” she said. “The more you squeeze the more it artificially creates something that didn’t exist, but now is starting to become a crisis.”
Long reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Robert Burns in Washington; Julie Watson in San Diego; Jill Colvin in Biloxi, Miss.; and Christopher Sherman in Tijuana, Mexico contributed to this report.
GM slashes thousands of jobs in tech shift
By TOM KRISHER
AP Auto Writer
Tuesday, November 27
DETROIT (AP) — Even though unemployment is low, the economy is growing and U.S. auto sales are near historic highs, General Motors is cutting thousands of jobs in a major restructuring aimed at generating cash to spend on innovation.
The GM layoffs come amid the backdrop of a trade wars between the U.S., China and Europe that likely will lead to higher prices for imported vehicles and those exported from the U.S. CEO Mary Barra said the company faces challenges from tariffs but she did not directly link the layoffs to them.
President Donald Trump, who has made bringing auto jobs back a big part of his appeal to Ohio and other Great Lakes states that are crucial to his re-election, said his administration and lawmakers are exerting “a lot of pressure” on GM. Barra headed for Washington after the news broke to speak with White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow in what was described as a previously scheduled meeting.
Trump said he was being tough on Barra, telling the company that the U.S. has done a lot for GM and that if its cars aren’t selling, the company needs to produce ones that will.
At a rally near GM’s Lordstown, Ohio, plant last summer, Trump told people not to sell their homes because the jobs are “all coming back.”
GM announced Monday that it will cut as many as 14,000 workers in North America and put five plants up for possible closure.
At the factories, around 3,300 blue-collar workers could lose jobs in the U.S. and another 2,600 in Canada, but some U.S. workers could transfer to truck or SUV factories that are increasing production. The cuts mark GM’s first major downsizing since shedding thousands of jobs in the Great Recession. The reductions could amount to as much as 8 percent of GM’s global workforce of 180,000 employees.
The cuts include about 8,000 white-collar employees, or 15 percent of GM’s North American white-collar workforce. Some will take buyouts while others will be laid off.
The restructuring is part of a shift by GM as it abandons many of its car models and focuses more on autonomous and electric vehicles.
It’s the new reality for automakers that are faced with the present cost of designing gas-powered cars and trucks that appeal to buyers now while at the same time preparing for a future world of electric and autonomous vehicles.
Barra said as cars and trucks become more complex, GM will need more computer coders but fewer engineers who work on internal combustion engines.
“The vehicle has become much more software-oriented” with millions of lines of code, she said. “We still need many technical resources in the company.”
The restructuring also reflects changing North American auto markets as manufacturers continue to shift away from cars toward SUVs and trucks. In October, almost 65 percent of new vehicles sold in the U.S. were trucks or SUVs. That figure was about 50 percent cars just five years ago.
GM is shedding cars largely because it doesn’t make money on them, Citi analyst Itay Michaeli wrote in a note to investors.
“We estimate sedans operate at a significant loss, hence the need for classic restructuring,” he wrote.
The move to make GM get leaner before the next downturn likely will be followed by Ford Motor Co., which also has struggled to keep one foot in the present and another in an ambiguous future of new mobility. Ford has been slower to react, but says it will lay off an unspecified number of white-collar workers as it exits much of the car market in favor of trucks and SUVs, some of them powered by batteries.
GM doesn’t foresee an economic downturn and is making the cuts “to get in front of it while the company is strong and while the economy is strong,” Barra told reporters.
Factories that could be closed include assembly plants in Detroit and Oshawa, Ontario, and Lordstown, Ohio, as well as transmission plants in Warren, Michigan, and near Baltimore. The company also said it will stop operating two additional factories outside North America by the end of next year.
The announcement worried GM workers who could lose their jobs.
“I don’t know how I’m going to feed my family,” Matt Smith, a worker at the Ontario factory, said Monday outside the plant’s south gate, where workers blocked trucks from entering or leaving. “It’s hard. It’s horrible.” Smith’s wife also works at the plant. The couple has an 11-month-old at home.
Workers at the Ontario plant walked off the job Monday but were expected to return Tuesday.
Most of the factories to be affected by GM’s restructuring build cars that will not be sold in the U.S. after next year. They could close or they could get different vehicles to build. Their futures will be part of contract talks with the United Auto Workers union next year.
The Detroit-based union has already condemned GM’s actions and threatened to fight them “through every legal, contractual and collective bargaining avenue open to our membership.”
Bobbi Marsh, who has worked assembling the Chevrolet Cruze compact car at the Ohio plant since 2008, said she can’t understand why the factory might close given the strong economy.
“I can’t believe our president would allow this to happen,” she said Monday. Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown said the move will be disastrous for the region around Youngstown, Ohio, east of Cleveland, where GM is one of the area’s few remaining industrial anchors.
“GM received record tax breaks as a result of the GOP’s tax bill last year, and has eliminated jobs instead of using that tax windfall to invest in American workers,” he said in a statement.
GM, the nation’s largest automaker, will stop producing cars and transmissions at the plants through 2019. In all, six car models were scrapped, leaving the company with nine remaining car models for its four brands, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC.
Among the cars that won’t be made after next year is the Chevrolet Volt rechargeable gas-electric hybrid. When introduced a decade ago, the Volt was meant to be a bridge to fully electric cars, the company said. It has a small battery that can take it about 50 miles, then it switches to a small gasoline engine.
But since it was introduced, battery technology has improved dramatically, GM said. Now the full-electric Chevrolet Bolt can go up to 238 miles on a single charge.
The United Auto Workers promised to fight any plant closures and criticized GM for cutting U.S. jobs while building full-size pickups in Mexico. It also recently announced that a new Chevrolet Blazer SUV will be built there. Also, GM imports the Buick Envision midsize SUV from China.
Associated Press writers Rob Gillies in Toronto, John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio, and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.
Porous paving options catch on, one driveway at a time
By KATHERINE ROTH
Tuesday, November 27
One driveway at a time, many green-minded homeowners and communities are opting for permeable paving options instead of traditional asphalt.
“It’s much better for the environment because it helps cut down on storm runoff, which picks up motor oil and other pollutants, overburdens water treatment facilities, and can ultimately end up in local waterways,” says Margaret Mayfield, an architect in Los Osos, California.
“Along with green roofs and landscaping, it’s one more tool in the tool chest in terms of cutting down on runoff. It can also be more beautiful than traditional asphalt.”
Permeable, or porous, driveways come in a range of styles, some high-tech and others decidedly Old School. For patios and walkways, in addition to driveways, common permeable options include:
— Grass with tire strips. In dry and mild climates, a grass driveway may work perfectly well, particularly if two 18-inch-wide gravel or impermeable paved strips are included. That combination produces much less runoff than a single-slab, impermeable driveway, experts say.
— Loose stones or gravel: This method has been supporting vehicle traffic for centuries, and is as viable as ever.
— Concrete or recycled plastic grid systems: This option has become increasingly popular in many areas. It consists of grids or blocks that form a hard surface, allowing water to flow freely through the spaces in the grids. The grids can be filled with sand, gravel, soil or turf, and are long-lasting and easy to install.
— Permeable Pavers: These include cobblestones, stone or concrete paving stones with gaps between them filled in with sand, so that water can flow through.
— Pervious concrete and porous asphalt: New types of concrete or asphalt actually let water soak through. This allows for pavement-style parking and driving surfaces where local regulations might not permit alternatives.
Environmentalists say that porous surfaces like these can play a big role in reducing the amount of rainwater that runs down hard surfaces and fills rivers, ponds and municipal water systems, picking up debris along the way. That rush of water can pollute local waterways because water-treatment facilities can’t handle it all.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, permeable pavements can also help reduce flooding of building foundations and ponding of water on driveways, sidewalks and patios.
And while permeable options can be a little pricier than non-permeable paving, that isn’t always the case, and proponents say their benefits are worth it.
Permeable pavements have been used successfully in many parts of the United States and Canada, including in cold climates, says EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones.
When selecting a permeable surface, she says, consider adjacent land uses and the prevalence of soils, mulch, leaf litter or other fine particles that might create clogs. In such cases, take care to design the driveway or walkway to avoid loss of permeability. If permeable, interlocking concrete pavers are selected, you might want to buy some spares in case the pavement is damaged or pavers are lost.
Many communities across the country offer incentives like rebates or reduced stormwater utility fees to those who opt for permeable paving, so check with your community office before launching a permeable paving project.