NASA braces for probe’s plunge to Martian surface

Posted Aug. 05, 2012, at 9:02 p.m.

PASADENA, Calif. — With Mars looming large, NASA’s most high-tech rover ever built was on track to plunge into the red planet’s atmosphere Sunday night and attempt a series of difficult acrobatics to land safely on the surface.

The Curiosity rover was poised to hit the top of the Martian atmosphere at 13,000 mph, and then, if all goes as planned, be slowly lowered by cables inside a massive crater in the final few seconds.

Mission control at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena hoped to hear a signal at 1:31 a.m. EST Monday. The space agency warned that confirmation could take longer if an orbiting spacecraft that’s supposed to listen for Curiosity during the descent is not in the right place.

“Landing on Mars is always a nerve-racking thing. You’re never going to get relaxed about something like landing a spacecraft on Mars,” said planetary scientist Steve Squyres, who headed NASA’s last successful rover mission in 2004.

The last Mars rovers, twins Spirit and Opportunity, were cocooned in air bags and bounced to a stop in 2004. The plans for Curiosity called for a series of braking tricks, similar to those used by the space shuttle, and a supersonic parachute to slow it down.

Curiosity’s mission is to scour for basic ingredients essential for life, including carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous, sulfur and oxygen. It’s not equipped to search for living or fossil microorganisms. To get a definitive answer, a future mission needs to fly Martian rocks and soil back to Earth to be examined.

Report: Boy Scout files reveal repeat child abuse

LOS ANGELES — Internal documents from the Boy Scouts of America reveal more than 125 cases in which men suspected of molestation allegedly continued to abuse Scouts, despite a blacklist meant to protect boys from sexual predators.

A Los Angeles Times review of more than 1,200 files from 1970 to 1991 found suspected abusers regularly remained in the organization after officials were first presented with sexual misconduct allegations.

Predators moved from troop to troop because of clerical errors, computer glitches or the Scouts’ failure to check the blacklist, known as the “perversion files,” the newspaper said.

In at least 50 cases, the Scouts expelled suspected abusers, only to discover they had re-entered the organization and were accused of molesting again.

In other cases, officials failed to document reports of abuse in the first place, letting offenders stay in the program until new allegations came to light, the Times reported.

One scoutmaster was expelled in 1970 for sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy in Indiana. After being convicted of the crime, he went on to join two troops in Illinois between 1971 and 1988. He later admitted to molesting more than 100 boys, was convicted of the sexual assault of a Scout in 1989 and was sentenced to 100 years in prison, according to his file and court records.

In 1991, a Scout leader convicted of abusing a boy in Minnesota returned to his old troop shortly after getting out of jail.

Taliban fighters kill 6 in ambush

KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban-led insurgents killed two New Zealand soldiers and four Afghan intelligence officers Saturday in an ambush in the central province of Bamiyan, local officials said Sunday.

The intelligence officers, members of the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s spy agency, had received a report of explosives stockpiled in the Baghak area of Shibar district and mounted an operation to seize them, said Abdul Rahman Ahmadi, the spokesman for the Bamiyan’s governor. But the Taliban fighters were waiting to ambush the officers, Ahmadi said.

The besieged intelligence officers summoned assistance from New Zealand troops based in Bamiyan. When the New Zealand troops arrived, they were also fired on. Two New Zealanders were killed and six wounded, Ahmadi said.

Ten intelligence officers, an Afghan police officer and a civilian were wounded.

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