Enrollment decline continues in urban public schools

Some good news: In reporting today that the Chicago public school system this year lost 10,000 students, the Associated Press story also said this:

The enrollment decline, which has been happening each year for the past decade, comes as other big city districts including New York and Los Angeles have seen enrollment declines this year as well. … The enrollment drop this academic year is due to students moving elsewhere, going to private schools or homeschooling, according to recent district data.

The story also noted that this declines appears to be occurring among all ethnic groups, since the school demographics remained unchanged.

Finally, being the Associated Press and thus married to supporting governments run by Democrats, the story had to allow the final word to the city’s Democratic Party mayor as well as the unions that have routinely backed her:

Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the drop a “minor miracle,” saying she was surprised enrollment didn’t decline even more considering the COVID-19 pandemic. “We had to quickly transition to remote learning. We know that didn’t work for a lot of families. There’s been a lot of challenges and struggles that have been revealed throughout the course of this pandemic that hit our most vulnerable residents the hardest, many of whom” have children attending CPS, Lightfoot said.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Teachers Union blamed underfunded schools, particularly in largely Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, as a major driver.

That parents might have finally gotten disgusted with the government’s utter failure to teach reading, writing, or arithmetic does not occur to these political geniuses. Nor does it occur to them that their passion for forcing masks and racial indoctrination on little children might have also contributed to the decline in enrollment.

No, for leftists their failures are always explained by either a lack of funding or circumstances beyond their control. Give us more money and all will be well! We promise!

It appears however that an increasing number of parents are no longer buying these arguments. Thank goodness.

Dragon crew launch to ISS delayed due to weather

The early morning launch on October 31st of the next manned flight of SpaceX’s Endurance capsule to ISS, has been delayed because of poor weather downrange from the launch site.

The bad weather could have interfered with recovery operations should a launch abort had been necessary and the capsule was forced to land in the Atlantic.

The launch has now been rescheduled for 1:10 am (Eastern) on November 3rd.

Hubble in safe mode again

According to NASA’s Twitter feed for the Hubble Space Telescope, it went into safe mode earlier this week because of “issues with internal communications.”

Hubble’s science instruments went into safe mode on Monday after experiencing synchronization issues with internal spacecraft communications. Science observations have been temporarily suspended while the team investigates the issue. The instruments remain in good health.

Much of the press is using that lovely buzzword of bureaucrats, calling this a “glitch.” The goal of that word is to make the problem seem minor and no big deal.

It can’t be minor and no big deal however if the telescope shut down six days ago and remains out of service. This is not a “glitch.” This is a serious issue that is taking time to resolve.

Furthermore, I get more concerned when no further information is provided. As far as I can so far find, the quote above is the only information NASA has released. And that information is remarkably vague and uninformative.

The Haunting

An evening pause: For the Halloween weekend, one of Hollywood’s best ghost films, Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963), based on a short story by Shirley Jackson.

No blood. No gore. No violence. Only an overwhelming sense of dread and fear, evoked by brilliant filmmaking.

ABL leases space at Port of Los Angeles

Capitalism in space: The rocket startup ABL has now leased space at the Port of Los Angeles for “spacecraft processing” and cargo shipment.

Included in the five-year lease is a 25,000-square-foot integration and payload processing facility, 20,000-square-foot warehouse space, and a 13,000-square-foot office space. The location, previously occupied by rocket launching ship company Sea Launch, will be used by ABL for a range of operations including vehicle processing, payload integration, and maritime operations supporting the company’s launch facilities around the world.

This deal comes on top of ABL’s announcement earlier this week that it has raised an addition $200 million in investment capital, and is planning its first launch in mid-December.

Holes in snowy ice on Mars?

Holes in snowy ice on Mars?
Click for full image.

Cool image time! Today we return to the regions surrounding Milankovic Crater in the high northern latitudes of Mars. The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken on June 1, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows a spray of impact craters where the bolides apparently landed in relatively soft material. The location itself is about 10 miles to the southeast of the 74-mile-wide crater, and sits within its rim ejecta blanket.

The label for the image says this is showing “crater modification,” which suggests that the rimless nature of these craters became so after their creation. This location, at 54 north latitude, is in a region of Mars where scientists have found a lot of evidence of near surface ice. For example, within Mikankovic Crater itself they have identified numerous scarps with clearly seen pure ice layers.

If ice is close to the surface here, then the ground could be like soft snow on Earth, especially because Mars’ lighter gravity would not compress that ice as much. Think about what happens when you toss pebbles into soft snow. They fall through, and leave behind holes not unlike the ones we see in this picture. Later, sunlight would begin to modify the holes so that their edges grow outward, once again exactly as we see here.

The overview map below as always gives some context, which in this case has less to do with Mars but with Elon Musk and Starship.
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: Surgeon fired after telling school board its mask mandate on kids was wrong

Jeffrey Horak, speaking at school board against masks
Jeffrey Horak, speaking in opposition to mask mandates
at Fergus Falls school board on October 11th.

They’re coming for you next: Jeffrey Horak, a surgeon in Minnesota with 32 years of experience, was fired by his hospital just nine days after he publicly told a school board it had no business mandating masks on little children, that such a decision belonged solely to the parents.

When asked why Horak was so suddenly fired, officials at the hospital provided the typical weasel-worded answers designed to dodge responsibility.

A spokesperson for Lake Region Healthcare deferred questions to Lake Region Medical Group, saying that the “Medical Group Board made the decision about discontinuing Dr. Horak’s practice, not LRH.”

Dr. Greg Smith, the president of the Medical Group Board, said they made the “decision to discontinue Dr. Jeff Horak’s employment contract after a thorough review process.”

“The reasons for Dr. Horak’s separation are a confidential matter,” Dr. Smith said in a statement provided to Fox News on Tuesday. “To be clear, this was a decision that was made by Dr. Horak’s peers who serve on the Medical Group Board, not by Lake Region Healthcare, the community-based hospital where Dr. Horak practiced General Surgery.”

» Read more

VC of Joint Chiefs: Not one, not two, but “hundreds” of Chinese hypersonic tests!

If I did not have confirmation of my skepticism about the claims by the military and anonymous sources that China this summer completed a successful hypersonic test flight, I have it now.

Today the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. John Hyten, made a speech demanding that the military stop building expensive gold-plated satellites and emulate SpaceX’s methods of frequent testing and quick development.

Hyten has been very correctly pushing for this change in strategy for years. However, in his remarks he said this:

China, he said, has performed “hundreds” of tests of hypersonic weapons in the last five years, compared to nine the United States has performed.

…[He also] implied this morning, but did not state categorically, that China has built and tested what appears to be a Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS).

FOBS technology is not new, but Hyten described it “as highly destabilizing.” And China’s reported use of a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) as the pointy end of the stick would be a twist. The Soviets deployed a FOBS — which combines a low-flying missile and nuclear warhead that reaches Low Earth Orbit, but does not remain in space for a full turn about the Earth — from 1969 to 1983. China began an effort in the early 1970s, but suffered test failures with its launcher, and gave up. [emphasis mine]

As I say, Hyten’s goals — fast testing, fast development, and not fearing failure — are all correct and laudable. But to suddenly turn a questionable story about a possible single successful Chinese hypersonic test flight, based entirely on anonymous sources, into “hundreds” of flights, strongly confirms to me that the original story was planted by the military to create fear in Congress and the public so that both would eagerly give the military more money.

The result will be that Hyten won’t get what he really wants. His use of exaggeration and possible disinformation will only cause Congress to balloon the military’s budget for new programs, which will then be used to feed the Pentagon’s insatiable appetite for endless and slow-moving test programs that only function as jobs programs, the very thing Hyten rails against.

Drop in aviation during COVID lockdowns caused no change in high cirrus clouds, contrary to predictions of climate models

The uncertainty of climate science: In the twenty-five years since I became a science journalist, I cannot count the number of high profile press releases and scientific papers that I’ve read claiming that the increase in aviation and the resulting contrails from airplanes was going to be a major contributor to human-caused global warming. According to the models, the increase in contrails was increasing the high altitude cirrus cover, and thus in a variety of ways acting to warm the planet.

Well, a paper just published in Geophysical Research Letters took a look at the effect the sudden and almost complete cessation of aviation during the 2020 COVID lockdowns had on high altitude cirrus clouds. If the models were right, the lack of air traffic should have caused a reduction in cirrus clouds, thus demonstrating the models were correct.

The models were wrong, once again. From the abstract:

We find that, despite the very large reduction in air traffic, neither cirrus cover nor temperature ranges changed by enough to be detectable relative to the year-to-year variability of natural cirrus. Comparing the satellite observations to previous model-simulated aviation cirrus, we determine that any aviation-induced change in cirrus would have a much smaller magnitude than would be inferred from climate model simulations. These results suggest that the warming effect of cirrus clouds produced by aircraft may be smaller than previously believed. [emphasis mine]

In other words, air traffic apparently has no impact on the high altitude cloud cover. The models that said this traffic was a contributor to global warming were 100% wrong. It apparently is not.

Of course, there remains some uncertainty even with this result, as it is for only one year. The effect of air traffic on clouds could have been disguised in 2020 by the natural fluctuations normally seen from year to year, though the paper’s authors think not.

Assuming this data is confirmed, the authors also concede that the plans to mitigate contrails by rerouting planes so that they do not all fly along the same routes could be very counter-productive. It will cause those detours to burn more fossil fuels, while changing nothing in the cloud cover in the upper atmosphere.

Ah, the law or unintended consequences once again rears its ugly head. Too bad global warming activists never seem to admit it exists, even though it constantly bites them in the rear, time after time after time after time after time….

Solid dry ice in Moon’s permanently shadowed craters?

Stable dry ice at Moon's south pole
Click for full figure.

Using eleven years of data from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), scientists think they have identified small areas in the Moon’s permanently shadowed interiors of some polar craters where the temperatures are always cold enough for dry ice (solid carbon dioxide) to be stable.

The map to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, is Figure 2 of the paper. It shows the areas at the south pole where stable dry ice is thought possible. The darker blue/purple are colder and thus are expected to have less sublimation. From the abstract:

Carbon-bearing species would be essential for sustained robotic or human presence on the Moon, for use in rocket fuel and biological materials. Various volatiles can be cold-trapped in permanently shadowed craters near the lunar poles. The existence of carbon dioxide cold traps has previously been surmised, but the required temperatures are near the lowest surface temperatures that have been reliably measured. Extensive and improved analysis of 11 years of orbital surface temperature measurements establishes the existence of carbon dioxide cold traps on the Moon, which potentially host high concentrations of solid carbon dioxide. Large CO2 cold traps are rare, however, and the geographic concentration of the resource will have policy implications. [emphasis mine]

The paper also adds in its conclusion that these regions are likely going to be of high value, and will thus likely be prime settlement and mining targets by everyone. As they note, “That this resource is highly concentrated geographically has implications for the governance of the lunar surface.”

Major solar flare from the Sun

X-1 solar flare
The flare is the bright spot, center bottom. Click for original image.

The Sun today unleashed an X1-class solar flare, one of the more powerful seen since the ramp up to solar maximum began at the start of 2020.

More information here, with this quote:

The blast also hurled a CME [coronal mass ejection] into space. Coronagraph images are not yet available, but evidence for a CME is already pursuasive [sic]. The USAF reports strong Type II and Type IV radio emissions generated by a CME plowing through the sun’s atmosphere. In addition, energetic particles accelerated at the leading edge of a CME have already reached Earth.

When will the CME itself arrive? Assuming that it is Earth directed, probably on Oct. 30th or 31st. Fresh data from SOHO coronagraphs will allow a more precise forecast, so stay tuned.

During the flare, a pulse of X-rays and extreme UV radiation ionized the top of Earth’s atmosphere, causing a strong shortwave radio blackout centered on South America:

Aviators, mariners, and ham radio operators on the daylit side of Earth may have noticed strange propagation effects at frequencies below 30 MHz.

While this flare is unlikely to cause any significant disturbances to orbiting or Earth-based technology, the flare was emitted by a large sunspot that is still active, can still flare again, and is well positioned on the Sun to send more material and radiation Earthward.

New results about Jupiter published from Juno

Three new papers published today in the journals Science and the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets reveal in more detail the depth of Jupiter’s storms and clouds, using a variety of different sensors and techniques.

The papers can be found here, here, and here.

Juno’s microwave radiometer (MWR) allows mission scientists to peer beneath Jupiter’s cloud tops and probe the structure of its numerous vortex storms. The most famous of these storms is the iconic anticyclone known as the Great Red Spot. Wider than Earth, this crimson vortex has intrigued scientists since its discovery almost two centuries ago.

The new results show that the cyclones are warmer on top, with lower atmospheric densities, while they are colder at the bottom, with higher densities. Anticyclones, which rotate in the opposite direction, are colder at the top but warmer at the bottom.

The findings also indicate these storms are far taller than expected, with some extending 60 miles (100 kilometers) below the cloud tops and others, including the Great Red Spot, extending over 200 miles (350 kilometers). This surprise discovery demonstrates that the vortices cover regions beyond those where water condenses and clouds form, below the depth where sunlight warms the atmosphere.

The height and size of the Great Red Spot means the concentration of atmospheric mass within the storm potentially could be detectable by instruments studying Jupiter’s gravity field. Two close Juno flybys over Jupiter’s most famous spot provided the opportunity to search for the storm’s gravity signature and complement the MWR results on its depth.

With Juno traveling low over Jupiter’s cloud deck at about 130,000 mph (209,000 kph) Juno scientists were able to measure velocity changes as small 0.01 millimeter per second using a NASA’s Deep Space Network tracking antenna, from a distance of more than 400 million miles (650 million kilometers). This enabled the team to constrain the depth of the Great Red Spot to about 300 miles (500 kilometers) below the cloud tops.

The data from these two techniques confirms that the base of the Great Red Spot is somewhere between 200 to 300 miles below the cloud tops, much deeper than most of the other storms, though even those storms are deeper than expected.

Another paper published earlier in Geophysical Research Letters looked at the storms in Jupiter’s polar regions, and found their polygonal arrangement around the poles appears stable and caused by a balanced push between these surrounding storms, trying to move to the poles, and the storms at the poles pushing back.

Today’s blacklisted American: ULA fires leader of protest against its COVID shot mandate

The religious banned at ULA
The religious banned at ULA

They’re coming for you next: The rocket company United Launch Alliance (ULA) yesterday fired Hunter Creger, the man who organized public protests against its COVID shot mandate.

Creger, a Laser Weld Technician at ULA, reported for his day shift at the rocket parts manufacturing plant on Wednesday for the first time this week. On Monday and Tuesday, Creger organized a protest with other employees to raise their voices in unison over the company’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate.

The mandate requires the federal workers at the plant to be vaccinated by Friday, October 29, or face termination. Creger asked his supervisors if the suspension is related to his role in the protests. He said they would not clarify that, but he has his own suspicions. “Even after all of this, after walking me out of the facility for my role that I played in the protest, at the root of all of this is because I’m a Catholic and that’s why they fired me. They denied my religious accommodation. That’s what started this whole thing.” [emphasis mine]

According to the story, more than two hundred employees filed for a religious exemption to the mandate. All were denied.
» Read more

One last look at a Martian mountaintop

Siccar Point
For the original images go here and here.

The image above is a mosaic made from two Curiosity navigation photos taken on October 23, 2021 and combined, cropped, and reduced to post here. It shows the top 30 feet or so of Siccar Point, the spectacular outcrop that I have featured several times previously.

Curiosity has now traveled past this outcrop, so that this view above is no longer visible to the rover. I post it now as a farewell image of what I think is the most breath-taking feature yet seen by any planetary lander — manned or unmanned — since the first set down on the Moon in the mid-1960s. It also illustrates with great clarity the alien nature of Mars. Those delicate overhanging rocks would not be possible on Earth, with a gravity about two and a half times heavier than Mars.

Note too that I have not enhanced the contrast or brightness. I think the twilight light here actually gives us a sense of the real brightness of a clear Martian day. Because the Sun is much farther away, even at high noon it provides much less illumination than on Earth. A bright day on Mars to our Earth-adapted eyes will always feel like dusk.

Meanwhile the science team is quickly pushing the rover south, to get…

…closer to the area we are targeting for our next drill campaign. This drive should leave us with bedrock in the workspace for additional contact science on the weekend. This terrain continues to be very challenging, with large boulders, sharp rocks that are wheel hazards, and sand ripples, like the terrain shown in the image. These drives take a while to plan to make sure we are avoiding all the hazards while getting to where science wants to go. Our paths end up looking a little “drunk” as we weave our way around obstacles.

Astra’s 4th attempt to reach orbit now scheduled for early November

Capitalism in space: The new smallsat rocket company Astra has revealed that it will make its fourth attempt to reach orbit with a launch window opening on November 5th.

That this launch could take place only a little over two months since Astra’s last attempt, which failed, speaks well of the company. They have very quickly fixed the fuel line issues that caused that August 28th failure and then moved immediately to fly again.

Moreover, the company’s overall pace of launch is excellent. This will be their fourth launch attempt since September 2020, less than fourteen months, suggesting that when they finally succeed and begin operational launches they will also keep their promise of frequent and rapid launches.

Starliner delays have cost Boeing another $185 million

Capitalism in space: Boeing today announced that it has had to taken another $185 million charge out of its earnings, in addition to the $410 million previously deducted, in order to cover the problems and delays in developing its Starliner manned capsule.

When Boeing took the original earnings charge, it said it did so because it committed to redo the uncrewed flight test at no expense to NASA, a point a Boeing executive reaffirmed at the Oct. 19 briefing. “There’s no additional charges that will be going to the government for this. This is something that The Boeing Company will make sure we’ve got covered as we get this vehicle prepared,” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager for Boeing’s commercial crew program.

These costs are beginning to pile up. Boeing has got to get this capsule fixed and flying, not only to begin bringing in some income but to show the world that it can do this right.

Russia launches Progress freighter to ISS

Using its Soyuz-2 rocket, Russia today successfully launched a Progress freighter to ISS, carrying more than 5,000 pounds of cargo.

The freighter is scheduled to dock with ISS Friday evening at 9:34 pm (Eastern). It will dock with the port on the 20-year-old Zvezda module, which has remained unused for the past six months because of concerns that the docking and undocking at the port was causing stress fractures in the sections of Zvezda closest to the port. The Russians have decided to do this docking for the express purpose of studying its impact on the module.

The Progress MS-18 spacecraft will link up with the rear docking port on Zvezda. With the help of cosmonauts on the station, Russian engineers have traced a small air leak on the station to the transfer compartment leading to Zvezda’s rear port. The compartment has been sealed from the rest of the space station since the departure of a previous Progress spacecraft from the rear docking port in April. But cosmonauts will re-open the compartment to unload cargo delivered by the Progress MS-18 spacecraft.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

38 China
23 SpaceX
18 Russia
4 Northrop Grumman
4 Arianespace (Europe)

China remains ahead of the U.S. 38 to 36 in the national rankings.

Curiosity marches on into the mountains

Curiosity marches onward to Maria Gordon Notch
Click for full image.

Overview map
Click for interactive map

With the end of the solar conjunction in the first half of October, blocking communications with Mars because the Sun was in the way, Curiosity has resumed its travels. It has moved past the spectacular outcrop I have highlighted previously, an outcrop the science team has labeled Siccar Point.

They are now moving south at the base of the cliff to the west, the top of which is a plateau they call the Greenheugh Pediment, heading for a gap where the rover will be able to turn right and head up onto that pediment. The red dotted line on the overview map to the right shows this route, which corresponds to the red dotted line on the photo above.

I estimate the cliffs on both sides of Maria Gordon Notch are about 100 feet high. The notch itself I estimate is about 750 feet away. At the pace Curiosity has been traveling across this rough ground, it could probably reach it in about two to three weeks. However, I expect the science team will stop at least once along the way to do more detailed science work, so that journey might take a month or slightly more.

Today’s blacklisted American: American Geophysical Union rejects candidates for awards because they are white

Discriminated against in Seattle
Eagerly discriminated against by the
American Geophysical Union

“Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” An awards committee of the American Geophysical Union, assigned to give fellowships to scientists of note, decided to reject all the candidates this year because they happened to be white.

Five of the nation’s top ice scientists found themselves in a conundrum. They’d been tasked with a formidable job: reviewing candidates for the American Geophysical Union’s fellows program, the most prestigious award given by the world’s largest earth and space science society. But when the group looked at its list of candidates, all nominated by peers, it spotted a problem.

Every nominee on the list was a white man.

….“That was kind of a bit of a showstopper for me,” said Helen Fricker, a glaciologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and one of the five committee members. Fricker and her colleagues — Jeff Dozier, Sinead Farrell, Bob Hawley, Don Perovich and Michele Koppes — represented the AGU’s cryosphere section, comprising scientists focused on the Earth’s snow and ice. The group was just one of about two dozen different committees, all reviewing their own lists of candidates.

The homogeneous pool of nominees didn’t sit right. … So the committee members made an uncomfortable decision. They declined to recommend any nominees at all.

Let me make this very clear: They bluntly rejected the nominees for only one reason: their race. If this isn’t outright bigotry and racism I do not know what is. And if you don’t believe me, you should read the public letter these committee members wrote explaining their decision. In it they say:
» Read more

Water and carbon monoxide detected in exoplanet’s atmosphere

Astronomers, using both the Hubble Space Telescope and the ground-based Gemini Telescope, have detected water and carbon monoxide in the atmosphere of an exoplanet 320 light years away.

Previously hydrogen, helium, hydrogen cyanide, iron, and magnesium have been detected in the atmospheres of a variety of exoplanets. In other cases scientists found exoplanets that were devoid of water.

This detection of water and carbon monoxide is a first for these two materials, and is somewhat significant as it is the first detection that suggests an exoplanet atmosphere that might have similarities to Earth.

Poland becomes thirteenth nation to sign Artemis Accords

The new colonial movement: Poland yesterday announced that it has signed the U.S.-led Artemis Accords.

In brief comments at the ceremony, [Polish Space Agency (POLSA) President Grzegorz Wrochna] said he saw the Artemis Accords as a first step toward greater cooperation with the United States. He noted that while Poland is a member of the European Space Agency, Polish space companies are looking to expand their business outside Europe. “They want to reach for new markets, especially the U.S. market,” he said. “They want to participate in missions of other agencies, especially NASA. We would like to open the door for them, and I believe this is the first step.”

The full list of signatories at this moment: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Poland, South Korea, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, and the United States.

While the accords — introduced by the Trump administration — are cleverly written to appear to endorse the mandates of the Outer Space Treaty, they are also written to bluntly minimize that treaty’s hostility to private property. With each new signatory, the ability to overturn that treaty’s limitations preventing legal protection to private property in space grows, as it binds a growing number of nations in an alliance to do so.

Not surprisingly, Russia and China have said they oppose the Artemis Accords. Both of these nations do not want legal protections in space to private citizens or companies. Instead, they wish that power to reside with them, or with the United Nations.

Whether the strategy behind the Artemis Accords will work however remains unclear. That strategy requires the U.S. to maintain its strong support for private property in space. Any wavering of that support will weaken the ability of this new Artemis alliance to overturn the Outer Space Treaty’s provisions that make private ownership of territory in space impossible.

China’s Kuaizhou-1A solid rocket successfully launches a remote sensing satellite

China’s Kuaizhou-1A smallsat solid rocket today successfully launched a commercial remote sensing satellite.

This launch, the 38th successful launch this year by China, ties its previous high in 2018. The country had two additional launches this year, but those were failures.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

38 China
23 SpaceX
17 Russia
4 Northrop Grumman
4 Arianespace (Europe)

China now leads the U.S. 38 to 36 in the national rankings.

Russian engineers to dock next Progress to Zvezda to test it

Russian engineers have decided that they will dock the next Progress freighter flying to ISS and scheduled to launch tomorrow to the Zvezda module in order to find out if the stress of that docking will cause more cracks in the module’s aft section.

Scheduled for launch in early hours of October 28, 2021, the Progress MS-18 cargo ship will be on a two-day trip to the International Space Station, aiming to dock at the aft port of the Zvezda Service Module, ISS. That particular docking mechanism was unoccupied for half a year, because it is connected to the rest of the outpost via the PrK transfer compartment, which had been leaking air despite all efforts to seal tiny cracks in its walls. Progress MS-18 should confirm that the PrK chamber could be used safely.

This is not crazy, it actually makes a great deal of sense. The engineers need to know if a docking results in more cracks. If so, it will confirm the cause and also provide them the data they need to prevent such things on future manned space vessels.

Ingenuity completes 14th flight on Mars

Ingenuity's shadow below it during 14th flight
Ingenuity’s shadow below it during 14th flight.
Click for full image.

On October 24th, Ingenuity successfully completed its 14th flight on Mars, a short test hop up and down to see if the helicopter could function properly as the air pressure in the Martian atmosphere drops due to seasonal variations.

As planned, the helicopter executed its first 2,700 rpm flight, proving that Ingenuity is capable of flying in the weeks and months ahead on Mars, during which seasonal changes on the surface will result in decreases in air density. The short 23-second flight included a peak altitude of 16 feet (5 meters) above ground level, with a small sideways translation of 7 feet (2 meters) to avoid a nearby sand ripple.

I predict the next flight will head north, leap-frogging past Perseverance to get a better view of the South Seitah area so that the rover team can decide whether they can continue north through that terrain or retreat backwards.

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