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‘Flawless’: NASA craft lands on Mars after perilous journey

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Flawless NASA craft lands on Mars after perilous journey

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A NASA spacecraft designed to drill down into Mars’ interior landed on the planet Monday after a perilous, supersonic plunge through its red skies, setting off jubilation among scientists who had waited in white-knuckle suspense for confirmation to arrive across 100 million miles of space.

Flight controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, leaped out of their chairs, screaming, dancing and hugging, upon learning that InSight had safely arrived on Mars, the graveyard for a multitude of previous missions.

“Touchdown confirmed!” a flight controller called out just before 3 p.m. EST, instantly dispelling the anxiety that gripped the control room as the spacecraft made its six-minute descent.

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.

The two experimental satellites not only transmitted the good news in almost real time, they also sent back InSight’s first snapshot of Mars just 4½ minutes after landing.

The picture was speckled with debris because the dust cover was still on the lander’s camera, but the terrain at first glance looked smooth and sandy with just one sizable rock visible — pretty much what scientists had hoped for. Better photos are expected in the days ahead.

It was NASA’s — indeed, humanity’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.

“Flawless,” declared JPL’s chief engineer, Rob Manning. “This is what we really hoped and imagined in our mind’s eye,” he added. “Sometimes things work out in your favor.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, presiding over his first Mars landing as the space agency’s boss, said: “What an amazing day for our country.”

Many Mars-bound spacecraft launched by the U.S., Russia and other spacefaring countries have been lost or destroyed over the years, with a success rate of just 40 percent, not counting InSight.

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.

The three-legged InSight settled on the western side of Elysium Planitia, the plain that NASA was aiming for. Project manager Tom Hoffman said the spacecraft landed close to the bull’s-eye, but NASA did not have yet have the final calculations.

He said that it was hard to tell from the first photo whether there were any slopes nearby, but that it appeared he got the flat, smooth “parking lot” he was hoping 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.

The $1 billion international mission features a German-led mechanical mole that will burrow down 16 feet (5 meters) to measure the planet’s internal heat. Nothing has ever dug deeper into Mars than several inches. The lander also has a French-made 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.

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. Its first job was to get a fast picture out. The next task was the unfolding of its solar panels. NASA wanted to wait 16 minutes for the dust to settle before attempting that; it was awaiting word Monday night on how that went.

Lead scientist Bruce Banerdt warned it will be a slow-motion mission. The instruments will have to be set up and fine-tuned. He said he doesn’t expect to start getting a stream of solid data until late next spring, and it may take the entire mission to really get the goods.

“It really depends on how benevolent Mars is feeling, how many marsquakes it throws at us,” Banerdt said Sunday. “The more marsquakes, the better. We just love that shaking, and so the more shaking it does, the better we can see the inside.”

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. That will be part of NASA’s next mission, the Mars 2020 rover, which 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.

___

This story has been corrected to show that confirmation came before 3 p.m., not after.

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Budget head Mulvaney picked as Trump’s next chief of staff

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Budget head Mulvaney picked as Trumps next chief of staff

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has picked budget director Mick Mulvaney to be his acting chief of staff, ending a chaotic search in which several top contenders took themselves out of the running for the job.

“Mick has done an outstanding job while in the Administration,” Trump tweeted Friday. “I look forward to working with him in this new capacity as we continue to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

Trump added that his current chief of staff, John Kelly, will be staying until the end of the year. “He is a GREAT PATRIOT and I want to personally thank him for his service!” Trump wrote.

Trump’s first pick for the job, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff Nick Ayers, took himself out of the running last weekend and decided to leave the White House instead. The decision caught the president and many senior staffers by surprise, and Trump soon found that others he considered front-runners were not interested in the job.

It was not immediately clear why the president decided to make Mulvaney’s appointment temporary. One senior White House official said there was no time limit on the appointment and Mulvaney would fill the role of chief of staff indefinitely, regardless of the “acting” title.

Key to his selection: Mulvaney and the president get along and the president likes him personally. Additionally, Trump prized the former congressman’s knowledge of Capitol Hill and political instincts as the White House prepares for a Democratic-controlled House and the president’s upcoming re-election campaign.

The decision came suddenly. Trump had grown frustrated with the length of the search and the growing perception that no one of stature wanted the job, according to one person familiar with his thinking.

Mulvaney received the news before the president tweeted his announcement. They spoke face to face Friday afternoon at a meeting that was supposed to be about the budget and spoke by phone later in the evening, according to a second White House official. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the personnel matter on the record.

“This is a tremendous honor,” Mulvaney tweeted. “I look forward to working with the President and the entire team. It’s going to be a great 2019!”

Mulvaney, who will be Trump’s third chief of staff, will now take on his third job in the administration. He is head of the Office of Management and Budget, and for a time simultaneously led the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The White House originally said Russell Vought, Mulvaney’s deputy, would be taking over at OMB. But press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday night that Mulvaney will not resign that job even though he “will spend all of his time devoted to his role as the acting Chief Of Staff for the President.”

Sanders said Vought “will handle day to day operations and run OMB.”

Mulvaney had signaled in recent weeks that he wasn’t interested in being chief of staff, with a person close to him telling reporters that he’d made clear that he would me more interested in taking over as secretary of the Treasury or Commerce. But the White House officials disputed reports that captured that sentiment, and said the president didn’t need to change Mulvaney’s mind.

A former tea party congressman, Mulvaney was among a faction on the hard right that pushed GOP leaders into a 2013 government shutdown confrontation by insisting on lacing a must-pass spending bill with provisions designed to cripple President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

Trump’s pick generated little immediate reaction on Capitol Hill, where most of Mulvaney’s allies are part of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. But his knowledge of Congress and how government works is likely to be an asset in the coming months.

The appointment of the affable, fast-talking South Carolinian came just hours after another candidate for the post, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, took himself out of contention. Christie cited family reasons in a statement saying he was asking Trump to remove him from consideration. He had met with Trump on Thursday to discuss the job, according to a person familiar with the meeting who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Ayers, who had cited family concerns as a reason he didn’t accept the post, tweeted Friday: “The right father of triplets got the job…Congratulations @MickMulvaneyOMB!” Both men are, coincidentally, fathers of triplets.

Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, served for six months before leaving in July 2017. Trump tweeted his choice of Kelly to replace him before he formally offered the retired four-star Marine general the job.

For some months, Kelly had success streamlining the decision-making process in the West Wing and curtailing access to the undisciplined president. But Trump grew weary of the restrictions and Kelly’s influence waned as the two men frequently clashed.

As the search dragged on after Ayers bowed out, with no backup at the ready, the void had been filled with Trump’s specialty: drama.

British journalist Piers Morgan suggested he would be a good fit in an op-ed for The Daily Mail, while former major league slugger Jose Canseco tweeted his interest to Trump. Speculation swirled around an array of Trump associates, prompting some to distance themselves from the job.

When former House Speaker Newt Gingrich visited the White House this week, he insisted it was merely to see the Christmas decorations.

The wild process was hardly a novelty for the Trump administration, which has struggled with high staff turnover and attracting top talent, but it underscored the tumult of Trump’s Washington. In past administrations, chief of staff was a sought-after job, typically awarded after a careful process. Now, many view the job as a risky proposition, given Trump’s propensity for disorder and his resistance to being managed.

Author Chris Whipple, an expert on chiefs of staff, had called the search process “sad to watch.”

“In his first two years, Trump devalued the position by failing to empower anyone to perform the job, and now he’s turned the search for a replacement into a reality show,” said Whipple, author of “The Gatekeepers,” a book on the subject. “The only thing more broken and dysfunctional than the White House itself seems to be the search for the new White House chief of staff.”

Trump on Friday disputed that notion.

“For the record, there were MANY people who wanted to be the White House Chief of Staff. Mick M will do a GREAT job!” he tweeted.

___

Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

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J&J hammered by report it knew of asbestos in baby powder

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J&J hammered by report it knew of asbestos in baby powder

NEW YORK (AP) — Johnson & Johnson is forcefully denying a media report that it knew for decades about the existence of trace amounts of asbestos in its baby powder.

The report Friday by the Reuters news service sent company shares into a tailspin, suffering their worst sell-off in 16 years.

Reuters is citing documents released as part of a lawsuit by plaintiffs claiming that the product can be linked to ovarian cancer. The New Brunswick, New Jersey company has battled in court against such claims and on Friday called the Reuters report, “one-sided, false and inflammatory.”

Shares are down more than 9 percent, the most severe decline since 2002.

In the report, Reuters points out that documents show consulting labs as early as 1957 and 1958 found asbestos in J&J talc. Further reports by the company and outside labs showed similar findings through the early 2000s.

In its statement Friday, Johnson & Johnson said “thousands of independent tests by regulators and the world’s leading labs prove our baby powder has never contained asbestos.”

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NOQ Report launches Patreon to save journalism

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Support NOQ Report on Patreon

Fake news is awful. It’s rampant. It didn’t start when Donald Trump became President, but now that Pandora’s fake news box has been opened, it isn’t going to be closed any time soon. The unhinged components of mainstream media are destroying the foundation of a free press by delivering reports that herd people down the wrong intellectual path.

That’s why NOQ Report was created. We want to give people the real news with truthful insights devoid of corporate spin.

To continue in our quest, we’ve launched our first Patreon page to generate the revenue we need to make the site grow and thrive. We’re now in Google News as one of the few non-leftist voices appearing on the most powerful aggregator in America. Our traffic has tripled in just over two months. Now, it’s time to take it to the next level.

We have no corporate sponsors or spammy ads polluting the site. We rely on the generosity of those who believe that America’s finest days are ahead as long as we can prevent the mainstream media from perverting that vision.

It may be too capitalistic for most leftists that a news outlet asks for the support of its viewers, but this is America. We were built on capitalism and the hard work that goes into making it work. That’s why NOQ Report needs your support.

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