Common Core State Standard
SL.CCS.1/2/3/4 Grades 6-12: An essay of a current news event is provided for discussion to encourage participation, but also inspire the use of evidence to support logical claims using the main ideas of the article. Students must analyze background information provided about a current event within the news, draw out the main ideas and key details, and review different opinions on the issue. Then, students should present their own claims using facts and analysis for support.

FOR THE WEEK OF APR 26, 2021

A brief flight by a small U.S. copter on Mars is a space exploration milestone

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Share a fact about Mars or the Perseverance mission.
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List at least two school subjects used daily by NASA engineers.
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Read another science or technology article and describe its topic.

The unmanned America mission on Mars accomplished a breakthrough last week that lasted under a minute, but still is a big deal. A helicopter named Ingenuity hovered 10 feet above the planet's dusty surface for about 40 seconds -- the first flight of a spacecraft on a planet other than Earth. After pivoting to look at NASA’s Perseverance rover and snap a picture of its own shadow, the small copter settled back down. "It's amazing, brilliant. Everyone is super-excited," said engineer Taryn Bailey at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., where mission controllers work and where the small craft was developed. NASA officials compare the pioneering trip to the Wright brothers' first short flight in 1903.

More short flights by the four-pound craft are planned during the next three weeks. Each will be tense because a bad landing could end things, as Ingenuity can't right itself after a fall. Now that NASA knows the remote-control copter works, it'll be "available for all of our missions at Mars," says Thomas Zurbuchen, an associate administrator at the space agency. Its success proves that powered flight is possible in Mars' thin atmosphere. Future aerial vehicles on the Red Planet could help rovers or human astronauts scout safe paths through unfamiliar landscapes, or a copter might survey tricky terrain that a wheeled rover can’t traverse.

Here's why the brief flight is a significant step: The density of air on Mars is only about a hundredth that at sea level on Earth. It's difficult for helicopter blades to push hard against such thin air and lift off the ground. For tests in California, NASA built a simulation chamber that could be emptied of Earth’s air and pumped full of carbon dioxide at Mars-like density. Ingenuity and Perseverance will stay on Mars. The copter is expected to stop working next month, but the rover should transmit data and gather rock samples until at least April 2023. Over the next two years, Perseverance will stash 40 geologic samples on the planet's surface for pickup by a future mission around 2026. They’ll be put on an unmanned rocket that will blast off Mars and take them into orbit for transfer to a spacecraft to bring them back to Earth. The aim is to return the samples sometime in the 2030s.

NASA official says: "What the Ingenuity team has done is given us the third dimension. They've freed us from the surface now, forever, in planetary exploration." -- Michael Watkins, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Project manager says: "Let's get back to work -- and more flights!" – MiMi Aung, lead engineer

TV comedian says: "I say they've got two more flights before it ends up stuck on the neighbor's roof." —Stephen Colbert

Front Page Talking Points is written by Alan Stamm for NIEonline.com, Copyright 2021

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