7 months ago

NASA head: Alabama-powered mission is history’s first aimed specifically at finding life on another planet

Alabama is once again set to make history with the scheduled Thursday morning launch of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission.

Atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, the Perseverance rover is set to blast off from Space Launch Complex-41 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The rocket was built at ULA’s world-class facility in Decatur.

This was highlighted at a NASA press conference on Wednesday ahead of the scheduled launch.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine of the Mars 2020 mission said, “I’m exceptionally excited about what we’re about to do.”

He explained this will mark the ninth robot that the agency has landed on the planet. ULA and its heritage rockets have launched every previous U.S.-led mission to Mars, beginning in the 1960s. In fact, the launch of this latest mission will mark ULA’s 20th trip to Mars.

While the discoveries already made from prior missions are amazing — including that liquid water once was prevalent on Mars and that life might still exist under the Red Planet’s surface, Mars 2020 is expected to reveal even more groundbreaking information, Bridenstine outlined. He thanked ULA for making the mission possible.

“[T]his is the first time in history where we’re going to go to Mars with an explicit mission to find life on another world — ancient life on Mars,” he emphasized. “It’s a great day.”

“Are we going to be able to do that? We don’t know. We don’t know if life existed there or not. But we do know that Mars at one point in its history was habitable. We don’t know that it was inhabited, but we know that it was habitable,” Bridenstine continued. “And now we’re actually, no kidding, going to do an astrobiology mission to the surface of Mars.”

He then mentioned that President Donald Trump has challenged NASA with planting an American flag on Mars in the near future as part of the Artemis program.

“In order to do that, we’re going to need to send humans,” Bridenstine noted. “And when we send humans to Mars, they’re going to have to be able to breath, and we can’t take all of that oxygen with us [to the planet]. So in this mission (Mars 2020), we have a technology demonstration called ‘Moxie.’ We’re going to take the carbon dioxide atmosphere of Mars and we’re going to turn it into oxygen, so that when humans get there, we know that we know that we know that we’re going to be able to create the oxygen necessary for life support.”

He further stressed that another important Mars 2020 technology demonstration will come in the form of the Ingenuity helicopter.

According to NASA, the helicopter will ride to Mars attached to the belly of the Perseverance rover. The vehicle will eventually deploy and operate on its own throughout the planet; the helicopter will become the first aircraft to attempt powered flight on another planet, per NASA. Ingenuity, weighing four pounds and operating under solar power, was named by an Alabama high school student.

Per a tweet from NASA, Vaneeza Rupani — the Tuscaloosa County high school student who named Ingenuity — will attend Thursday’s launch in-person.

“Ingenuity is going to transform how we think about exploring worlds in the future,” Bridenstine advised.

You can watch the full press conference below:

You can follow along with the Mars 2020 mission here, courtesy of NASA, including a launch countdown clock.

The launch is scheduled for 6:50 a.m. CT on Thursday; you can watch the launch live via NASA TV or ULA’s website here. The broadcast will begin about 50 minutes prior to the two-hour launch window opening.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

25 mins ago

Packaging Corp. of America plans $440 million project at Alabama mill

JACKSON, Alabama – Packaging Corp. of America (PCA) plans to launch a three-year, $440 million project to permanently convert a paper machine at its mill in Clarke County to produce linerboard used for corrugated packaging.

Lake Forest, Illinois-based PCA announced that it discontinued the production of uncoated freesheet, used for copy paper and other applications, on its No. 3 paper machine at the Jackson mill in late 2020.

After a temporary switch to produce linerboard, PCA is now making preparations to convert the mill’s paper machine into a 700,000-ton-per-year high-performance, virgin kraft linerboard machine in a phased approach over the next 36 months.

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PCA said key elements in the conversion project include the installation of an OCC plant for recycling old corrugated containers and various pulp mill modifications. In addition, modifications and upgrades will be made to critical sections of the paper machine.

PCA Chairman and CEO Mark Kowlzan said the project will enable the company to meet strong packaging demand and to optimize the Alabama mill’s profitability and viability. The capital cost of the conversion is expected to be approximately $440 million.

“We are appreciative of the continued support from the State of Alabama, the Alabama Department of Commerce, the City of Jackson and Clarke County to help us continue providing quality jobs and a positive economic impact in the Jackson community,” Kowlzan said.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

Governor Kay Ivey said the project represents a positive development for the Jackson mill, a major industrial employer with more than 500 workers.

“Packaging Corp. of America’s reinvestment in its Jackson manufacturing facility will solidify the plant’s future by enhancing its competitiveness,” Governor Ivey said.

“This decision underlines the company’s confidence in its Alabama operation while also preserving jobs and safeguarding local education tax dollars. It’s a win for the company, the community and the state.”

Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said PCA’s project will increase the efficiency of the Clarke County plant while providing a long-term economic boost to Jackson, a city with a population of around 5,300.

“We’re committed to helping existing businesses grow and thrive in Alabama, and the impact of a major investment is always magnified when in happens in rural communities,” Secretary Canfield said.

“With this project, PCA is positioning its Jackson mill for the future, which will significantly benefit the city and the region for years to come.”

‘LONG-STANDING RELATIONSHIP’

Jackson Mayor Paul R. South said the project will allow PCA to continue providing quality jobs while securing a positive economic future for Clarke County.

“The City of Jackson looks forward to working with the corporation as the project moves forward,” South said. “In my opinion, they couldn’t have selected a better community.  Jackson is a safe and peaceful city full of great people, with good schools and recreation and a strong work force, along with extensive natural resources.”

“This is wonderful news for Clarke County and the City of Jackson,” said Stan Hutto, chairman of the Clarke County Commission. “We have a long-standing relationship with this outstanding company, and we are committed to helping them achieve their goals to ensure a bright, successful future.”

PCA is the third largest producer of containerboard products and the third largest producer of uncoated freesheet paper in North America. PCA operates eight mills and 90 corrugated products plants and related facilities.

The Jackson mill’s No. 1 paper machine will continue to produce uncoated freesheet products.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

56 mins ago

Alabama’s Helen Keller was more than a hero for the disabled

She could neither see nor hear. But her vision influenced countless millions.

Helen Keller’s influence reached far beyond her native Alabama. She became a celebrity at an early age and remained so throughout her life.

Born in 1880 in Tuscumbia, Keller was 19 months old when an illness left her deaf and blind.

With the help of Anne Sullivan, her teacher for 49 years, she was able to learn how to communicate.

In her prime, she was traveling across the world making appearances and giving inspirational speeches.

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She became known for her tireless activism on behalf of workers’ and women’s rights, her literary work, and her tenure as an unofficial U.S. ambassador to the world.

“Helen Keller lived her life as an example of what people with disabilities could accomplish,” said Keller J. Thompson, her great grand-niece. “She so desired within her innermost being that people with disabilities be given a chance to prove the many things that they could do in this life. By her own experiences, she knew that people with disabilities could have great impacts on the world around them and every day of her life she was eager to be someone that impacted the world in a positive way, leaving it a better place than she found it.”

Keller attended several educational institutions and was accepted at Radcliffe College, where she graduated with honors, becoming the first deaf person to obtain a university degree.

According to an Encyclopedia of Alabama account, in the decades after college, Keller become increasingly involved in politics. She became an advocate of suffrage, unemployment benefits and legalized birth control for women.

She blamed industrialization and poverty for causing disability among a disproportionately large number of working-class people and became increasingly concerned about racial inequalities. She expressed her views through public speeches, newspaper and magazine articles, interviews and appearances at rallies.

Keller entered the 1920s seeking a meaningful public life and financial stability. The newly created American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) supplied both. Working on behalf of blind people with the AFB, Keller became a successful fundraiser and political lobbyist.

From the 1920s through the early 1940s, she worked to raise funds and lobby state and national legislatures. She emphasized educational and employment possibilities for people with disabilities, particularly those who were blind.

A trip to Japan in 1948 was the catalyst for Keller’s transformation from tourist to semi-official ambassador for the United States. Thrilled by her reception in Japan, the State Department worked with the AFB to fund and facilitate her travels and promote her as a representative of Americanism.

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson awarded her the Congressional Medal of Freedom. When she died in 1968 at the age of 88, she was one of the most famous people in the world.

Keller’s journey from a deaf, blind girl to graduating from Radcliffe and becoming a prominent writer and political activist provided inspiration to millions of people with disabilities.

Although she left Alabama at the age of 8, she always claimed Ivy Green, her family’s house in Tuscumbia, as home, and she continued to identify herself as a Southerner throughout her life and travels.

Keller said: “Your success and happiness lie in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.”

Throughout March, Alabama NewsCenter is recognizing Alabama women of distinction, past and present, in celebration of Women’s History Month.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 hours ago

Rep. Aderholt warns congressional Democrats moving to allow for taxpayer-funded abortions

FLORENCE — Since 1976, the Hyde Amendment has banned the use of federal funds to pay for abortion except in the extreme case of saving the life of a pregnant woman or terminating a pregnancy that resulted from incest or rape.

The Hyde Amendment has stood the test time, most recently during the 2010 Affordable Care Act debate. However, U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville) warns now that Democrats have the House, Senate and White House, the Hyde Amendment is in their crosshairs.

At an appearance before the Shoals Republican Club on Saturday, Aderholt discussed the possibility of Democrats ending the Hyde Amendment, adding it could come down to one or two Senate Democrats preventing a vote to end the filibuster rule in the U.S. Senate.

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“[O]ne of the things that is most egregious about what’s happening now is abortion — you know, one of those issues that has always been Democrats and Republicans have disagreed on. But one thing Democrats and Republicans could always somewhat agree on was federal funding of abortion off-limits. It’s one thing that if abortion would be allowed, and of course, I’m pro-life. I don’t agree with that. But at least the Democrats would embrace the idea we would not take federal government taxpayer dollars to fund abortion. That is out now. Democrats want to make it so federal funds, your tax dollars, can go for abortion. And that’s a really scary thing.”

“The Hyde Amendment is what we’re talking about. They want to destroy the Hyde Amendment. So, we’re going to do everything we can to make sure we keep the Hyde Amendment. It’s hard on Republicans — it’s hard on the House side, the Republicans being in the minority. Then on the Democrat side in the Senate with only 50 votes — then hopefully, we can get Manchin or some of those others to come along with us to try to make the rule out of order. We’re five seats basically from taking the majority in the House of Representatives.”

Aderholt was optimistic about Republicans’ chances in 2022 to regain control of the House but added his party had to be vigilant in the meantime.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

14 hours ago

Shelby, Tuberville vote against Democrats’ $1.9 trillion spending bill

U.S. Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) on Saturday voted against H.R.1319, the Democrats’ $1.9 trillion spending bill supported by President Joe Biden.

The bill originally passed the House with no Alabama Republicans supporting the bill, and — after numerous changes were made in the Senate — the same has now occurred in the upper chamber in a party-lines 50-49 vote. Due to Democrats using the budget reconciliation process to consider this legislation, they were able to act without bipartisan support. The measure will now head back to the House.

The spending bill, which is supposed to be for emergency COVID-19 relief, includes a litany of pet provisions slipped in by Democrats, such as the expansion of Obamacare subsidies and funding for blue state bailouts, Planned Parenthood, union pensions and other items unrelated to the pandemic.

The legislation includes $350 billion to bail out long-mismanaged state and local governments, multiple times the amount experts estimate was needed to address COVID-related items. Only 5% of the funding included for K-12 schools would be spent during the current fiscal year, with 95% instead spent over the next seven years. Additionally, agriculture-related funds in the bill would be spent over the next decade.

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“I voted against this bill today because it could further wreck the economy and ignite inflation,” Shelby explained in a written statement. “This legislation includes a host of non-COVID-related left-wing policies.”

“Not only does it cost the American taxpayers $1.9 trillion, but only nine percent of the funding in the bill goes toward the immediate fight against COVID and one percent toward vaccines,” he continued. “The bill does nothing to get kids back in classrooms and, instead, includes a massive cash bailout for some mismanaged states and local governments. Democrats are forcing a liberal wish list of pet projects through Congress that’s masked as a pandemic rescue package. I am disappointed that we were blocked at every turn from engaging and passing real COVID relief in a bipartisan, targeted manner, just like the Senate did five times last year.”

Republican senators attempted to improve the bill during a process that began Thursday and finally ended shortly after noon local time on Saturday. Tuberville himself filed 23 amendments to the legislation, focusing on providing targeted health and financial relief to those most impacted by the pandemic.

This included amendments to ensure that rural states like Alabama receive a minimum of 30% of all funds appropriated for testing and vaccinations, elementary and secondary schools, small businesses, colleges and universities, restaurants, and state and local governments. To ensure our nation’s most vulnerable have access to the resources needed to combat COVID-19, Tuberville also filed an amendment to remove funding designated for foreign countries and transfer those funds to support American nursing homes. Additionally, he filed amendments to increase funding for veterans’ healthcare and assist state veterans’ homes across the country in protecting their residents from coronavirus outbreaks.

RELATED: Democrats block Tuberville amendment barring federally funded schools from allowing biological males to compete in female sports

“Democrats refused to negotiate with Republicans on this bill from the start because they knew this reconciliation process was their best chance to pass President Biden’s progressive wish list,” Tuberville stated. “To put it into perspective, until today, the most partisan vote on the past five COVID relief bills was 92-6. This bill is a broken promise to the American people – one that hides under the name of ‘COVID relief’ when it should actually be called ‘liberal relief.’ Instead of targeting funds to the people, communities, and businesses who actually need it, this bill sends billions to bail out poorly managed states and puts less than 1% of funding toward vaccines.”

He concluded, “$1 trillion from past relief bills has not yet been used, and the small percentage of the funds in this bill that will actually go to people who really need it will take years to get there. This legislation is a reckless use of taxpayer dollars when what Americans and our economy really needs now is a plan to start reopening.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

15 hours ago

Auburn defeats Mississippi State 78-71 for Bruce Pearl’s 600th career win

In a season filled with uncertainty, injuries, and the looming notion that Auburn had self-imposed a post-season ban, the Auburn Tigers finished their season on a high note.

Bruce Pearl managed to get his team involved and excited in a season where they could have easily folded and written this season off. However, Pearl got his team focused on the season at-hand and managed to pick up his 600th career win against Mississippi State today.

On Auburn’s post-game radio broadcast, Pearl talked to Andy Burcham after the game. On how he got his team motivated in a year like this, he said, “Really happy with our effort tonight. I was concerned heading into this game knowing that this is our last practice, and this is our last game. You know, we aren’t playing for the tournament, so what is going to be the motivation?”

Effort is the main takeaway from Pearl’s response, and his team has struggled with almost every problem this season except effort.

With what is an admittedly underwhelming season by Auburn’s standards, the Tigers used effort to defeat Mississippi State 78-71 in front of their home crowd in Auburn Arena.

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Earlier in the week, Pearl said that this week of practice was different than any he has ever had at Auburn because the players and coaches knew that this was without a doubt the last game of the season.

For the Tigers, four different players scored in double figures. Allen Flanigan continued to improve and led the team in scoring with 22 points along with four rebounds and two assists.

The team as a whole had one of their best halves of the season in the second half of this game.

Auburn shot 82% from the charity stripe this game which is well above average for the Tigers. They also shot 5-10 from three in the second half, and were over 50% from the field as a whole.

Defensively, the Tigers stepped up big and made it more difficult for the Bulldogs to answer Auburn’s scoring runs. On what changed in the second half, Pearl said, “We played a little bit more zone in the second half. I think we did really well in the zone in this game.”

With Sharife Cooper still out, Auburn needed players to step up again. While Flanigan and Williams led the way in scoring, Jamal Johnson stepped into the point guard role once again this season.

Johnson has been selfless in bouncing around to whatever position he has been needed. He shot 4-8 from deep and dished out seven assists in this game.

On Cooper’s absence, Pearl said, “To win two out of the last three games without Sharife, is just a testament to how much our guys have improved as well as how great of a job my staff has done.”

JT Thor led the team in rebounding with nine boards in the game. Thor also scored ten points against the Bulldogs including a three-pointer.

Dylan Cardwell had one of the more impressive highlights of the game with a turn around three-point jumper as time was running out on the shot clock. In the final game of the season, Cardwell took his first and only long range shot of the season and drained it.

On Cardwell’s circus-type shot, Pearl said, “You know what’s funny is that he hasn’t worked on that shot, but he has been working on his three-point shot. So that was pretty cool, wasn’t it?”

On what it means to get his 600th career win, Pearl said, “It means I’m old, that’s what it means. I’ve been doing this a long time.”

Pearl later continued saying, “I hold myself to a high standard. I answer to God and God only, and he has a really high standard. There is no way I can meet that standard, but I’m going to try, and that is what I expect from the people around me.”

Auburn’s coach will be looking for more wins in the future. As for now, the Tiger’s season is officially over, and Pearl will be looking forward to getting to work on next season.

Hayden Crigler is a contributing college football and college basketball writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him through email: hayden@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter: @hayden_crigler.