HAMNET Report 21st February 2021

I’m sure anybody who lives in the Eastern half of South Africa is watching the development of Tropical Cyclone Guambe in the Mozambique Channel with interest. There have been dramatic time-lapse videos of the cloud formation as the storm starts to build. Forecasts during this last week have suggested the cyclone will turn east as it passes the southern tip of Madagascar and travel off harmlessly into the Indian Ocean. We continue to watch. The northern half of South Africa has already had its fair share of rain this rainy season, as pictures of the Orange River in full spate at the Augrabies Falls show. Let’s hope we get off this cyclone lightly.

Meanwhile the Southern United States, Texas and Indiana in particular, are experiencing bitterly cold weather. Snow, sleet, rain, and sub-zero temperatures abound, and there are stories of people sleeping inside tents inside their houses, on the grounds that it is easier to keep the small area inside the tent warm than it is to keep the whole house warm. Snowfalls of up to 30cm were measured in some towns.

The Washington Post reports that “millions of Texans remain without power for what could be days, and hospitals throughout Texas have now lost water and heat, leaving doctors scrambling to conserve resources and coronavirus vaccine shots while caring for vulnerable residents.”

The ARRL News reports that ARES volunteers in Southern Texas, New Mexico, Illinois, and Alabama are either on standby or have been activated to carry messages and assist the communities where required. A strong unseasonal tornado hit eastern North Carolina on Monday, killing three people and destroying homes. Twenty eight others have died in the extreme weather across the country.

The New Zealand Herald reports this week that a crew of 12 Land Search and Rescue volunteers, as well as members of the Amateur Radio Emergency Communications group were involved this week in the search for an elderly Invercargill man missing from his rest home since Monday.

He apparently has trouble communicating, due to a stroke, has limited mobility and is unlikely to approach anyone.

Police were contacted about his disappearance on Monday, about 1pm, and search and rescue volunteers were involved from about 5pm. He was last seen at the rest home at 8am. Since then, residential areas, Queens Park, the railway tracks, green spaces and the Otepuni Stream have been searched, some areas more than once.

Sgt Martin of the Invercargill Police said the search had involved dog handlers and kayakers going down the stream. Those involved were extremely concerned for his welfare, given that the temperature dropped to 1.3deg Celsius on Tuesday night.

Local residents were asked to search their properties, even if they have previously searched them, as the man was believed to be on foot and might have wandered on to a property. People with CCTV cameras on their properties were asked to review the footage and submit it to police if they saw anyone who looked like the lost man.

We can only hope the search ends happily.

I’m sure a large proportion of you sat up on Thursday evening, and watched while the Jet Propulsion Laboratory team supervising Perseverance’s landing on Mars bit their fingernails to the bone, waiting for the delayed news of its safe landing. Everything had to be automatic of course, because a one-way radio trip to Percy, as she is affectionately called by her controllers, takes 11 minutes. So there’s no immediate decision-making going on there. Percy had to make up her own mind where and how to land, and she did.

The difference with this lander, of course, was that JPL was not disconnected from her during the landing, because she was able to relay telemetry to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) above her during those 7 minutes of terror.

But did you know that a team of five people came together to create a social media persona for Perseverance. On Twitter and Facebook, the team has worked hard to show that Perseverance is a “boss.” The team messages in English and Spanish.

Ultimately, they were just trying to bring everybody along with the mission. They got together and thought about what makes this rover different. What makes this rover different from the others that have gone before it? What was different about its story?

And it wasn’t about just giving a voice to Perseverance. The rover has a personality; a drive to succeed that informs its choices. Linda Rivera, a digital and social media specialist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who on Thursday monitored Perseverance’s Facebook account, said the character-creation processes included deep thoughts about things like the rover’s hobbies.

Amusingly, according to Twitter, those hobbies are photography, collecting rocks and off-roading!

“I’m safe on Mars” was the first tweet to emerge after she landed safely on Thursday evening, our time.  “Perseverance will get you anywhere”, was another! So was “I’ve come nearly 300 million miles, and I’m just getting started”.

“If Perseverance is anything, she’s a boss,” said Stefanie Smith, the JPL’s digital and social media lead. “She’s the biggest, most ambitious rover we’ve ever sent to the surface of another planet. She’s got a rock vaporizing laser on her head, just like Curiosity did.

“But she’s unlike Curiosity, who, while charming, isn’t as capable as Perseverance. Curiosity can’t walk and chew gum. Curiosity can’t drive and think about driving at the same time. Perseverance can. Perseverance has a second brain and if Perseverance had gone to college, she would have been summa [cum laude]. But she’s also super-lovable.”

The Twitter account has been providing updates on Perseverance since March 2020. It got started by letting the world know its name.

“Call me Perseverance,” the account’s first tweet reads. It adds: “I’m headed for Mars: driven to search for signs of ancient life, test new tech to help future human explorers, and collect the first rock samples for future return to Earth.”

Twitter’s official account responded: “Please find water”!

The nuclear-powered, 1025kg (2,260-pound) rover’s mission is to “seek signs of ancient life and collect samples of rock and regolith (i.e. broken rock and soil) for possible return to Earth,” according to NASA.

So far, all seems to be going according to plan.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.