Rocks are phenomenal time keepers. Their composition, shape, and age can make an otherwise barren environment reveal its secrets.
On Mars, rocks are front and center in the ongoing quest to uncover the planet’s history and find evidence of past life. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to send men to Mars yet; men with their built-in geology kits: eyes, hammer-wielding hands, and clever brains.
Instead, we send geology-capable surrogates in the form of rovers like Spirit and Opportunity. And in the case of these two rovers, their geologic instruments are also a tribute to the victims of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Smashing a rock with a rover’s arm is a little dicey and potentially very problematic. So the MER team behind Spirit and Opportunity (both of which landed on Mars in 2004) came up with an easier and safer way to see inside a rock: scrape away its weathered surface. Then individual instruments -- spectrometers to determine composition, magnets to collect magnetic dust particles, and a microscopic imager for high resolution photos -- could do the science. The tool for this first step, scraping into the rocks, was the rock abrasion tool or RAT.
The small tube-shaped RAT, about the size of a soda can, was designed to grind and brush away dirt from a rock’s surface. The result was a small circular depression revealing the rock’s interior. Because the tool’s small parts were prone to clogging with dust and rock shavings, each instrument also included a wire brush to keep the “teeth” clean and maintain its cutting power. This quick fix also had the benefit of avoiding cross contaminating between different rocks.
The RATs were designed and built by Honeybee Robotics, a New York City company created and led Steve Gorevan. Founded in 1983, Honeybee got its first NASA contract in 1986. Since then, the company has worked on over 100 NASA projects with nearly all the the agency’s centers -- fitting since Gorevan pursued engineering because of a childhood desire to work for NASA.
Opportunity’s rock abrasion tool at the end of her robotic arm
But Gorevean isn’t just clever about engineering, he’s also clever about his health and fitness. In 2001, though he lived just blocks away from Honeybee’s Manhattan offices, he biked to work along a circuitous route that took him through the plaza at the World Trade Center.
On the morning of Sept. 11, he heard jet engines on his ride. Not the sound of a regular approach to LaGuardia or JFK Airports, either, but the out-of place sound of engines accelerating and flying too low to the ground. Then he heard a crash. He stopped and got off his bike. Standing in the street with a dozen or so others, he stared at the flames spewing out of the North tower. After a minute, he hopped back on his bike and pedaled the mile north to Honeybee.
Honeybee employees watched the morning’s events unfold from their building’s rooftop. They saw the towers fall and watched as masses migrated away from the site, ghostlike from a layer of soot. But work at Honeybee couldn’t stop; employees couldn’t put their work on hold to help the city recover. They had to go to Mars.
Steve Kondos, the JPL engineer in charge of the Honeybee RAT contract, came up with the way for the New York company to honor the victims: include material from the wreckage of the World Trade Center on the rovers. A lasting tribute on Spirit and Opportunity from the whole MER team.
Rather than having a Honeybee employee walk over to a fire station and ask for a piece of metal, the idea went through formal channels all the way to mayor Rudy Giuliani who approved the idea. Less than three months later, a representative from the mayor’s office arrived at Honeybee’s building with a box. It contained debris from both towers: a steel bracket, two large bolts, and a twisted plate of aluminum. The acrid smell that had permeated the city after the attacks was also preserved in that small box.
Among the pieces of debris, the aluminum plate stood out. The RATs had a lot of aluminum parts, including cable shields designed to protect the electric cables that ran the instrument from possible damage if it bumped into a rock. The aluminum from the World Trade Center was the perfect piece to cut and shape into cable shields.
Honeybee made four -- two for the flight rovers and two as spares -- and vacuum sealed an American flag on each to ensure they wouldn’t peel off.
The two cable shield monuments of the September 11 attacks, whose flags show up beautifully in the rovers’ color pictures, are still there (though looking a little dust covered in recent photos). And they should endure for millennia.
Former Chief Security Officer for NewsCorp: N. Koreans Not Behind Sony Hack, Interview Leak 2014-12-20 2:17
Hemanshu Nigam, a former federal prosecutor and former chief security officer for NewsCorp/Fox studios, says North Korea isn’t behind the Sony Hack.
Nigam gave several bullet points for why the hack was likely an inside job.
Attack code borrowed from a previous attack on Seoul, that’s why it’s in Korean. Private hackers typically borrow malicious code from other hackers.Nations state attacks follow ...
Sony Fires Back at Obama: Actually We Did Call the White House – Several Times 2014-12-20 2:13 Sony fired back at Obama after the press conference saying they had several conversations with the Obama White House before and after the movie was canceled.
Via The Hollywood Reporter:
After President Obama criticized Sony for its decision to cancel The Interview's release after theater chains decided not to show the film, the studio has issued a statement elaborating on the move.
The Bankster International 2014-12-20 1:55 Geopolitical analysis, the art of explaining power relationships through the prism of impersonal geography, can be a helpful tool for observers of the Great Game – but it also has its limitations. A case in point is the renewed US-Russia confrontation. Think tanks and policy insiders easily sell the narrative that from the dark days of the Cold War to ...
Another banker dies under suspicious circumstances 2014-12-20 1:09 52-year-old Belgian Geert Tack – a private banker for ING who managed portfolios for wealthy individuals – was described as ‘impeccable’, ‘sporty’, ‘cared-for’, and ‘successful’ and so as Vermist reports, after disappearing a month ago, the appearance of his body off the coast of Ostend is surrounded by riddles…
Impeccable. Sporty. Cared for. Successful. Just some qualifications that are attributed to ...
NATO increases military presence on Russia’s borders 2014-12-20 1:14
The Pentagon has confirmed the military buildup along Russia’s borders to ensure long-term “peace and stability” in the region.
Earlier Moscow accused NATO of a sharp increase in air activity and intelligence flights in the border zone.
Replying to RIA Novosti’s query on the increased number of NATO flights around Russia’s borders, a Pentagon representative told the news agency that the military ...