About: The story of the world this week; how humankind soared again and flew into new legions, and how we tackled waves.


Wright Brothers Moment on Mars

America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has persevered in its Mars Mission and made history on 19th April by successfully flying its mini-helicopter, Ingenuity, on Mars: being the first aircraft to achieve controlled, powered flight on a planet beyond Earth.

For the first flight, the helicopter, weighing 1.8 kilograms, took off, climbed to about 3 meters above the ground, hovered in the air briefly, completed a 96 degree turn, and then landed. The entire flight lasted about 40 seconds. The first photo from Ingenuity showed the helicopter’s shadow on the Martian surface below, while the Martian Rover, Perseverance, watching from a distance, captured a stunning video of the historic flight on Mars. Glad that Perseverance and Ingenuity are friends on Mars-good to have that kind of warmth at such a cold distance.

The blades of an average helicopter on Earth rotate at a rate of 400 to 500 rotations per minute (rpm). The uniquely designed rotor blades of Ingenuity rotate at 2,500 rpm. More ‘rpm’ are required to achieve the lift and thrust in the extremely thin air of Mars. Ingenuity has a wireless communication system, is equipped with computers, navigation sensors, and cameras. It is solar-powered and can keep itself warm autonomously through the harshly cold Martian night-as low as minus 90 degrees Celsius. It has all the ‘hot wherewithal’ of living on its own.

NASA will now plan additional experimental flights of farther distance and greater altitude. And quick on the heels for the first flight, they did just that, when on 22nd April NASA succeeded in doing a more challenging second flight with a 50 second flight, climbing to 5 metres(m), doing a 5 degree tilt to accelerate sideways for a distance of 2m. It worked to precision and there was a second wave of celebrations.

Some of the Earth based ‘Martians’ revolving-and waving-behind Ingenuity’s success are: MiMi Aung, Ingenuity’s Project Manager, Timothy Canham-Mars Helicopter Operations Lead; Bob Balaram-Chief Engineer, Mars helicopter Project; Vandi Verma-Chief Engineer, Robotic Operations, and Havard Fjaer Grip-Ingenuity Chief Pilot (He sure had a grip of the flight).

This is definitely humankind’s Wright Bothers Moment on Mars. Congratulations NASA. I’m thrilled beyond any dimension.

Former US President, Barack Obama put it best, ‘With all the enormous challenges facing the world, it’s worth taking the time to appreciate extraordinary human achievement and our relentless impulse toward discovery’.

Black & White in America-I can’t breathe.

In what is being called, monumental and a historic moment of accountability, a white police officer was found guilty of murdering a black man while arresting him. And this is a rare conviction in the United States (US) of America and on this account, in part, the case is considered to be one of the most important in US History.

It is being called so, as Law Enforcing Officers kill about a thousand people a year in the US and a study found that only 121 have been charged with murder or manslaughter since 2005. And only 44 Officers were actually convicted. A lot has to be with strong Police Unions, which provide legal assistance when necessary.

Coming back to our topic and digging into the roots, on the evening of 25th May 2020, George Floyd, a 46 years old black man purchased cigarettes at Cup Foods, a Grocery Store in the Powderhorn Park neighbourhood of Minneapolis, Minnesota, US, paying with a $20 Cash Note. A Store employee suspected it to be counterfeit and along with other employees confronted Floyd while he was in his car, demanding he return the cigarettes. On Floyd refusing, the Police was called-in on a complaint of passing fake cash notes and that Floyd was drunk and not in control of himself. In a sequence of events during the arrest, from getting Floyd off his car to a Police car across the street, Derek Chauvin, a white police officer with the Minneapolis Police Department, knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds when he was handcuffed and lying face down. Two other police officers assisted Chauvin in restraining Floyd. A fourth police officer prevented bystanders from interfering with the arrest as events unfolded.

While lying on the ground with Chauvin’s knee on his neck, Floyd cried out, ‘I can’t breathe’ 27 times and expressed fears of dying. After several minutes Floyd stopped speaking. For a further two minutes, he lay motionless and one for the Officers found no pulse when urged to check. Despite this, Chauvin refused pleas to lift his knee until medics told him to do so. The encounter with the Police was recorded on video by a 17 years old girl, Darnella Frazier, without which many say the Trial might have had a different outcome.

The death set off massive protests and looting in Minneapolis. And the protests spread across America, igniting the ‘Black Lives Matter’ banner.

Then, the sensational Trial convened late in March this year and became the most closely watched one in decades. For almost a year, George Floyd’s death has reverberated around the world-inspiring murals and marches, sparking conversations in living rooms and new legislation.

After 10 hours of discussions the Jury came to a conclusion finding Derek Chauvin guilty on all three counts: Second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.

It is rare that US police officers are charged over deaths in custody, but Derek Chauvin now faces a jail sentence for the killing of George Floyd. The sentence is expected to be delivered sometime in June this year.

The conviction is a landmark one, but true justice can prevail only when the colour of the skin does not come in the way of how a person, under suspicion of committing a crime, is treated. Black or White it should never matter.

Second Waves

The coronavirus pandemic is ferociously ravaging through India, upsetting any calculations that were made, or not made at all-riding out a second wave. Over three lakhs cases were reported on four consecutive days, being the single highest anywhere in the World since the pandemic began.

Hospitals were overwhelmed and ran out of beds, critical oxygen supplies, and medicines. The most affected States are, Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka, New Delhi, and Uttar Pradesh.

India’s Prime Minster went live on national Television urging people to stay strong, stick to the basics of infection prevention, break the cycle of infections, and said Lockdowns will not be the norm, but the last resort. ‘We don’t want to go in Lockdowns again’, he thundered. The virus better listen!

The Government has also decided to open up COVID-19 vaccination for all above 18 years from 1st May 2021 onwards and gave the States freedom in procurement of Vaccines. Indian Vaccine manufacturers will be handing over 50% of their production to the Government and the other 50% to the open market.

This is a great step forward, but it needs to be kept in mind that we cannot vaccinate ourselves out of a surge in infections. We need to still stick to the prevention basics and strictly enforce public health measures.

While we are talking about Vaccines, where are we on Treatments for COVID-19?Alongside vaccines, don’t we need COVID-19 treatment drugs? A pill that can help fight off early symptoms and which can be taken at home! There are three broad approaches being investigated at the moment.

First, The UK is running the world’s largest clinical trial, called Recovery to find which drugs work and which don’t; second, The World Health Organization (WHO) is running the Solidarity Trial to assess promising treatments in countries around the world; third, Oxford University is running, The Principle Trial, looking for medicines which will help people recover from COVID-19 symptoms, at home.

Given that the pandemic has consumed so much of our time, and lives, since it first flew-in from China, it’s a tribute to mankind’s perseverance and ingenuity that we have been able to come-up with a Vaccine, in record time.

I’m disappointed with America’s embargo on essential supplies to India. Why hold on despite so many requests and Tweets on social media clamouring for action? Raw materials for production lines in India-the largest Vaccine Manufacturer in the World-making at least 160m doses of COVID-19 vaccines a month, will come to a halt in the coming weeks unless America supplies about 37 critical items. Maybe this story is not being told in the US as it should be ? Wake up America and listen to the waves.

Oxygen for the Masses

While India is struggling to make Oxygen on Earth to tackle the hospitalisation requirements rising out of the deadly second COVID-19 wave, it can perhaps take lessons from Perseverance, which is having a field day on Mars besides sending photographs of Ingenuity’s circus tricks. This week it extracted Oxygen out of the thin air on Mars, converting a minuscule amount of the rich Carbon-di-oxide in the Martian atmosphere into Oxygen (96% of the atmosphere of Mars is carbon-di-oxide). The quantity generated is about sufficient for an Astronaut to breathe for 10 minutes. Could be life-saving.

Many firsts coming from Perseverance-that’s a name to keep!

A Comedian Takes Away our Laughs for a few Days

He was a comedian Actor mainly in Tamil Films and most often acted as a side-kick to the hero in the over 200 films he has appeared in. In many films he ploughed and planted a separate comedy track, as is a style in Tamil cinema.

I thought him to be too handsome to be a comedian, with his debonair looks. And when he passed away at age 59, late last week due to a cardiac arrest, people remembered him for the over one crore trees he helped plant all over Tamil Nadu, inspired by the late President of India, Dr Abdul Kalam’s environmentalism. He founded the ‘Green Kalam Initiative’ in 2010 with the mission of planting one billion trees across Tamil Nadu. What better way of remembering an Actor?

Vivek, born Vivekanandan, leaves behind his wife and two daughters. A son died at the age 13 due to brain-fever in the year 2015, leaving Vivek heart-broken.

Vivek was born in Kovilpatti, Tamil Nadu and passed out of The American College, Madurai, before being introduced into films by late Director K Balachander. He was awarded the Kalaivanar Award for his contribution to Tamil Cinema in 2006 and the Padma Shri in 2009 for his contribution to Indian Cinema.

Vivek’s comedy style consisted of one-liners that featured social and political satire, which led to comparisons with yester-year Tamil comedy actor N. S. Krishnan (called Kalaivanar) and earning him the nickname ‘Chinna Kalaivanar’. (Small Artist).

Some of the notable movies he acted in are, Run, Saamy, Anniyan, Shivaji, Kuruvi, Vedi, and Alaipayuthey.

His fans have decided to continue the tree planting effort and claim they see a shade of Vivek in every tree. RIP Vivek-you are Big.

Please Yourself: Apple’s AirTag

On Tuesday, Apple announced a long-awaited gadget called AirTag. Users can attach the, about Rs 3,190, coin-sized device to valuables such as keys or a backpack, then, if the item gets lost, locate it on a live map inside Apple’s built-in Find My software. AirTag’s most important differentiating feature isn’t the technology inside the stainless-steel gadget. It’s other people’s iPhones.

AirTag doesn’t have a Global Positioning System (GPS) signal, which would rapidly drain its battery and raise privacy questions. Instead, when it’s attached to an object, and it gets lost, it sends out a secure Bluetooth signal. For those signals to reach the internet and inform the person who’s looking for their lost device, they’ll need to find an iPhone that’s listening for them.

Using Bluetooth and the hundreds of millions of iOS, iPadOS, and macOS devices in active use around the world, the user can locate a missing device even if it can’t connect to a Wi-Fi or cellular network. Any iOS, iPadOS, or macOS device with ‘offline finding’ enabled in Find My settings can act as a ‘finder device.’

Thinking laterally, I guess ‘husbands and wives can track each other’ (who gets there first?) and parents can track their children-just slip an AirTag into their pants!

More breathing stories with lots of oxygen and tags coming up in the weeks ahead.


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