CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — 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 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 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 trailed InSight throughout the six-month, 300-million-mile 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 were 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 when it pierced the Martian atmosphere, about 77 miles up, to 5 mph 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 also was 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 16 feet 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 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. Seven hours after touchdown, NASA reported that InSight's vital solar panels were open and recharging its batteries.
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 could 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 might have looked like after 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.
For the second election in a row, the issue of minimum wage was on the ballot -- and for the second election in a row, voters chose to support a higher rather than lower minimum wage.
But now that it is clear that the city’s minimum wage law will continue unchanged, business owners and employees alike are wondering what the future might hold.
Steven Alvin is director of operations at three restaurants, two of which are in town and a third outside city limits.
Alvin, who lives just outside Flagstaff in the county, was not able to weigh in on the proposition, but said he was disappointed with the voters' choice when it came to Proposition 418. Alvin said he expected the decision to be far harder for voters and was surprised when the results came out fairly strongly in support of a higher minimum wage.
In 2016, the first minimum wage proposition passed with 53 percent of the vote; during this election, 55 percent of voters decided to uphold it. But that increase in voter approval doesn’t constitute an increased number of votes, according to the Statement of Votes Cast released by the County Recorder’s office.
Supporters of the current minimum wage law turned out in essentially the same numbers this year as they had in 2016, with only 126 fewer votes this time around. But voters in opposition to the minimum wage law didn’t turn out in as high of numbers as they had in 2016, receiving over 1,000 fewer votes.
Blake Gober, who led the “Yes on 418” campaign, said he was disappointed with the choice made by voters, saying the election's outcome will hurt small business and nonprofits.
On the other side, councilmember Eva Putzova said, “People feel even stronger today about increasing the minimum wage than they felt in 2016 because they see the outcome, the strong economy for local business."
In order to get a better picture of how businesses are feeling about the future wage hikes now that Prop 418 failed to pass, the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce conducted an email survey of about 1,000 of the businesses they represent.
One of the questions, which asked how many employees businesses planned to lay off if they were planning to let any go, received 80 responses. Of those businesses that responded, 30 percent, 24 in all, answered that they would be laying off employees. Fifty businesses responded they would not be laying off or that the question was not applicable and five businesses said they did not yet know how many employees they would have to let go, if any. One business owner replied saying they could not comment as they were now retired.
Megan Rawlinson, the bar manager at Altitudes Bar and Grill, said they may be making changes to how they operate.
Management at the restaurant have discussed operating in a way where servers will not be needed and instead, customers will simply come up to the bar to get their food when it is ready, Rawlinson said.
When the wage gets to $15.50 an hour, Rawlinson said they are also talking about transitioning to a service charge, meaning the servers themselves would not get tips.
“So we would only get to make $15.50 an hour,” Rawlinson said. “Which for us is hard, because I have the potential to make $50 an hour.”
Alvin said now that the law will remain unchanged, he may be forced to make changes to the restaurants he co-owns in town to survive higher wages.
At the Northern Pines Restaurant, Alvin said, they are now planning on letting go of two of their prep cooks and they are changing what they serve. He said many of their meals previously came with a free glass of juice and two free sides, but now they are charging for the juice and restricting one of those free sides to toast unless the customer wants to pay extra.
They have not yet discussed how they may change their other in-town restaurant, La Vetta Ristorante Italiano, and Alvin said he didn’t quite buy the argument that the increased cost of wages may be balanced by more spending money in the hands of workers.
The restaurant they own that is outside city limits, The Horsemen Lodge Steakhouse, will likely not see any changes to either the menu or the number of employees, Alvin said.
Alvin said he may not be happy with the outcome of the election, but it is the decision voters made, and he respects it.
As of 21 days into the fall 2018 semester, Northern Arizona University missed its strategic enrollment goals for the year, as set by the Arizona Board of Regents.
Although ABOR’s Fall Enrollment Report implies that the university may be off course for meeting its 2025 enrollment goals, these statistics do not reflect NAU’s total enrollment, which continues to rise.
“The report serves as a guideline and each year there may be slight fluctuations in enrollment, but NAU is moving steadily toward achieving our 2025 enrollment metric goals,” said NAU spokesperson Kim Ott. “NAU’s actual enrollment grew by more than 400 students this fall.”
The discrepancy stems from ABOR’s reporting standards, which – because of state law – exclude some of the students currently enrolled at NAU, including those who have not paid at least 15 percent of their tuition and are not in a payment plan on census day, as well as exchange students paying tuition to their host institution.
Consequently, NAU typically uses enrollment numbers from the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), especially in university comparisons, because it accounts for all enrolled students at the 21-day mark.
The updated IPEDS report will be released this spring; however, preliminary results suggest a total of 31,066 enrolled students this fall, compared to the 30,581 of the ABOR report.
Though not as comprehensive at IPEDS, ABOR metrics remain valuable for use in fulfilling ambitious long-term enrollment goals at the state level. They will also determine whether or not NAU’s President Rita Cheng will receive a $90,000 bonus in 2020.
The Fall Enrollment report describes that the university missed its 2018 metric goal by more than 3 percent because 123 fewer students are enrolled this year at NAU’s main and satellite campuses. Undergraduate enrollment also decreased this year, missing its goal by nearly 3 percent, and though graduate enrollment exceeded last year’s by 21 students, it still fell short of its goal by almost 6 percent.
“The report confirms that we are in an increasingly competitive higher education market, and to ensure our success we must meet the needs and priorities of our students in Flagstaff, online and at our statewide campuses,” Ott said.
According to NAU’s business plan, released in September, a competitive market makes enrollment one of the university’s key challenges; it will be addressed with increased recruitment and planning efforts, as well as targeted marketing and additional program offerings.