2 weeks 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

4 mins ago

Retirement System of Alabama head: Trump ‘enjoys conflict and turmoil over progress and a United America’

Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) CEO Dr. David Bronner had some harsh words for President Donald Trump this month.

In August’s RSA Advisor, a monthly publication from the group, Bronner entitled his normal column, “The ‘Economic Terror’ of 2020.”

“We are slightly past halfway of 2020 and to be honest, it feels like a decade of problems thrown at the world in a mere six months. Unfortunately, our president enjoys conflict and turmoil over progress and a United America,” he wrote to begin the column.

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“I have known President Trump for over 25 years,” Bronner continued. “We have played golf twice, and sat beside each other during numerous public and private events – the Miss Universe pageant and the Elevated Acre Park dedication in New York City. Our relationship cooled when he built Trump Towers with illegal immigrants from Poland and abused contractors in the process.”

“Take his unusual management style, add to it the world’s worst pandemic in our lifetime, toss in legal protests (don’t forget that is how women got to vote), some taken over by rioters – and here comes hurricane season,” he warned. “How do these things affect and impact Alabama? When Alabama started to develop tourism 27 years ago, we had about $1.8 billion in tourist revenue – most of that was from the beaches. Revenue grew to $17 billion in 2019. If a solution to COVID-19 is not found, that could easily be cut by 50% to 75%.”

Bronner subsequently highlighted vaccine development efforts as a source of optimism before making some economic observations and predictions.

He then concluded the column with praise for former Defense Secretary James Mattis, who recently denounced President Trump.

“In time, we will get past these serious problems – from racism to health pandemics – if we listen to the real heroes of America like General James N. Mattis, our former Secretary of Defense: ‘In unity, there is strength,'” Bronner wrote.

The Advisor issue, including Bronner’s column, is hosted on RSA’s website online, which utilizes an “AL.gov” domain.

A physical copy was also sent to the more than 370,000 RSA members, who are State employees and retirees. Additionally, Advisor copies are traditionally placed in RSA-owned buildings and certain governmental buildings, including the State House, for distribution. The Alabama Great Seal is displayed just above Bronner’s column.

The federal government maintains “.gov” domains and regulates their usage. It is the policy of the federal government that “political information” not be shared on “.gov” websites, which could put the RSA’s domain in jeopardy.

The Code of Alabama states, “No person in the employment of the State of Alabama, a county, a city, a local school board, or any other governmental agency, whether classified or unclassified, shall use any state, county, city, local school board, or other governmental agency funds, property, or time, for any political activities.”

Bronner is the highest paid state employee in Alabama. In Fiscal Year 2019, he was paid $754,684.98, according to records published by the Alabama Department of Finance.

This is not the first time the RSA head has publicly attacked Trump or made controversial political statements.

During a meeting of the Alabama State Employees Association in October 2015, Bronner said of then-candidate Trump, “I know the bastard, he ain’t worth anything. I assure you, if Mr. Trump was president, you wouldn’t like it. That I can promise.”

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

15 mins ago

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing to boost Alabama investment by $830 million

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – Mazda Toyota Manufacturing (MTM), the joint venture between automakers Mazda Motor Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp., plans to make an additional $830 million investment in Alabama to incorporate new cutting-edge manufacturing technologies to its production lines and provide enhanced training to its workforce of up to 4,000 employees.

“Toyota’s presence in Alabama continues to build excitement about future opportunities that lie ahead, both for our economy and for the residents of our great state,” Governor Kay Ivey said.

“Mazda and Toyota’s increased commitment to the development of this manufacturing plant reiterates their belief in the future of manufacturing in America and the potential for the state of Alabama to be an economic leader in the wake of unprecedented economic change.”

The additional investment brings the total figure in the state-of-the-art facility in Huntsville to $2.311 billion, up from the $1.6 billion originally announced in 2018.

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The investment reaffirms Mazda and Toyota’s commitment to produce the highest-quality products at all of their production facilities.

The investment also accommodates production line modifications to enhance manufacturing processes supporting the Mazda vehicle and design changes to the yet-to-be-announced Toyota SUV that will be both produced at the Alabama plant.

The new facility will have the capacity to produce up to 150,000 units of a future Mazda crossover model and up to 150,000 units of the Toyota SUV each year.

HIRING PLANS

MTM continues to plan for up to 4,000 new jobs and has hired approximately 600 employees to date, with plans to resume accepting applications for production positions later in 2020. Initial hiring began in January.

“Mazda Toyota Manufacturing is proud to call Alabama home. Through strong support from our state and local partners, we have been able to further incorporate cutting-edge manufacturing technologies, provide world-class training for team members and develop the highest quality production processes,” said Mark Brazeal, vice president of administration at MTM.

“As we prepare for the start of production next year, we look forward to developing our future workforce and serving as a hometown company for many years to come,” he added.

Full-scale construction of the Alabama plant continues, with 75 to 100 percent completion on roofing, siding, floor slabs, ductwork, fire protection and electrical.Construction began in early 2019.

“This newest investment by our partners at Mazda Toyota Manufacturing shows the company’s continued confidence in the ability of our community to provide a strong, skilled workforce to meet the demands for quality and reliability,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said.

“We look forward to the day when the first vehicles roll off the line,” he added.

“We are excited to learn of this additional investment being made by Mazda Toyota Manufacturing,” Limestone County Commission Chairman Colin Daly said.

“We continue to be grateful to MTM for their belief in our community and look forward to our partnership with them for many years to come.”

MAGNIFYING IMPACT

Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said MTM’s new investment will magnify the economic impact of a project that is poised to transform the North Alabama region.

“With this enhanced investment, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA is adding new technology and capabilities to a manufacturing facility that was already designed to be one of the most efficient factories in the automotive industry,” Canfield said.

“We’re confident that the groundbreaking collaboration between Mazda and Toyota will drive growth not only for the companies but also for North Alabama for generations.”

(Courtesy of Made In Alabama)

2 hours ago

Alabama coronavirus update: Hospitalizations begin to decrease, new cases falling

There is good news in Alabama’s fight against the coronavirus this week, with a number of key metrics including hospitalizations showing the state making progress while the disease remains highly active.

Hospitals across the state admitted an average of 108 COVID-19 patients per day over the last week — a number that is far higher than preferred by healthcare professionals — but also the first time the rate has declined on a week to week basis since the beginning of the pandemic.

Previously, the seven-day average of hospitalizations had hovered between 160 and 200 since July 17.

Yellowhammer News used numbers from the coronavirus information hubs BamaTracker and Johns Hopkins University for the data in this article.

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There was an average of 1,156 new coronavirus cases confirmed in the Yellowhammer State over the last seven days. That is is down from an average of 1,415 for the week concluding on August 6, a roughly 18% decline.

(BamaTracker)

Notably, Alabama’s total number of coronavirus cases since the virus reached the state exceeded 100,000 this week and reached a total of 101,491 as of Thursday morning.

Another good sign for the state is that seven counties reported no new cases on Thursday. For virtually all of July and early August, only one or two counties each day did not report a case.

Especially encouraging to infectious disease experts is the decline in the percentage of tests for COVID-19 that are coming back positive.

According to the data, 13% of the tests given each of the last seven days in Alabama have come back positive, and though that is well above the national average of 7.8%, it is a welcomed decline from a statewide high of over 20% that happened over the week ending August 2.

BamaTracker says the ideal range of tests coming back positive is 1%-5%.

On average, 24 people with coronavirus died each day for the last week in Alabama, one of the highest rates from throughout the pandemic.

(BamaTracker)

The state’s death toll now stands at 1,821 with another 69 people who are presumed to have perished with COVID-19 but have not yet been confirmed by the Alabama Department of Public Health.

According to experts, a surge in new cases follows the occurrence where the virus was spread by about seven to 14 days. A corresponding increase in hospitalizations occurs around two weeks after the surge in new cases, and the concluding uptick in deaths comes two to four weeks after the increase in hospitalizations.

Those expert findings would indicate Alabama’s increase in deaths stems from behavior occurring around the weekend of July 4, though figures like State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris are quick to point out that something as complex as the fluctuations of a pandemic are never attributable to one single factor.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

3 hours ago

Black Alabama Sons of Confederate Veterans member opposes monument, flag removal

Daniel Sims, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, has added a unique perspective to the debate over removing Confederate monuments and flags from public display.

Sims, who is black, interviewed with Huntsville-area WHNT about the subject this week.

Wearing both a hat and shirt depicting the Confederate flag, while also holding a full-size Confederate flag on a staff, Sims told WHNT, “Regardless [of] how the next person feels, I’m not going to take my flag down.”

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“If I’ve got anything to do with it, ain’t no monument going to come down,” he added.

Sims was reportedly adopted as a child and now holds his adopted family’s heritage as his own.

“My whole family’s white,” Sims explained. “[I] went to an all-white school, grew up in an all-white neighborhood. My grandfather was white, and he was the main one who fought in this war here (the Civil War). And he’s taught me everything I know.”

WHNT reported that the interview took place in Albertville, which is located in Marshall County. According to the most recent data published by the Census Bureau, the county’s population is 79.8% white, 14.7% Hispanic or Latino and 3.2% black.

About the push to take down a confederate monument and flag specifically outside the Albertville courthouse, Sims added, “It may make my blood boil if they just come up here and feel like they could just tear it down. I don’t see me still living if they do that right there. That monument ain’t hurting nobody. That monument ain’t killing a soul. It ain’t talking bad to nobody. It ain’t even racist.”

Watch:

The clip has gone viral, garnering about 400,000 views in 12 hours. The WHNT reporter who conducted the interview noted in a tweet that Sims has reminded some viewers of an old “Chapelle Show” character, Clayton Bigsby.

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

4 hours ago

Byrne thanks Trump admin for ‘continuing to put American workers first’ by holding off on adding component parts to Airbus tariffs

U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) praised the Trump administration’s decision this week to hold off on implementing new tariffs on component parts used in Airbus’ Mobile assembly plant.

Airbus, headquartered in Europe, has been in the middle of a trade dispute between the United States and the European Union since 2004.

The company has an assembly plant in Mobile that employs 1,100 people, and business groups in the area have long sought to keep the imported component parts that are fashioned into aircraft at the plant from being added to the list of products subject to a tariff by the U.S. government.

“I thank the Trump Administration for this decision and continuing to put American workers first,” Byrne said in a statement on Thursday after U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer decided against placing tariffs on the component parts.

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The United States kept in place tariffs on $7.5 billion worth of goods from several European countries as part of the ongoing dispute. Many of the goods remaining under tariff are consumer products like food and beverage products.

The ongoing dispute was heightened in October 2019 after the World Trade Organization (WTO) issued a ruling in the United States’ favor, saying that many European nations had never ended their improper subsidies for Airbus that have long been at the heart of the issue.

The Trump administration first decided not to impose tariffs on the imported components shortly after the October decision by the WTO, a choice met at the time by the City of Mobile with “a great sense of relief and gratitude.”

In further praise of the extension of that decision, Byrne said on Thursday, “I have no doubt we will see the fruits of this decision as Mobile continues on the path to being a worldwide center of aviation excellence.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95