The mission team performed a crucial weight-balancing test on the rover in preparation for this summer’s history-making launch to the Red Planet.
With 13 weeks to go before the launch period of NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover opens, final preparations of the spacecraft continue at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. On April 8, the assembly, test and launch operations team completed a crucial mass properties test of the rover.
Precision mass properties measurements are essential to a safe landing on Mars because they help ensure that the spacecraft travels accurately throughout its trip to the Red Planet – from launch through its entry, descent and landing.
On April 6, the meticulous three-day process began with Perseverance being lifted onto the rover turnover fixture. The team then slowly rotated the rover around its x-axis – an imaginary line that extends through the rover from its tail to its front – to determine its center of gravity (the point at which weight is evenly dispersed on all sides) relative to that axis.
NASA’s next rover is rotated on special test fixture in preparation for its upcoming summertime launch to Mars.
The team then moved the rover to a spin table. To minimize friction that could affect the accuracy of the results, the table’s surface sits on a spherical air bearing that essentially levitates on a thin layer of nitrogen gas. To determine center of gravity relative to the rover’s z-axis (which extends from the bottom of the rover through the top) and y-axis (from the rover’s left to right side), the team slowly rotated the vehicle back and forth, calculating the imbalance in its mass distribution.
Just as an auto mechanic places small weights on a car tire’s rim to bring it into balance, the Perseverance team analyzed the data and then added 13.8 pounds (6.27 kilograms) to the rover’s chassis. Now the rover’s center of gravity is within 0.001 inch (0.025 millimeters) of the exact spot mission designers intended.
The Perseverance rover is a robotic scientist weighing about 2,260 pounds (1,025 kilograms). It will search for signs of past microbial life, characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet. No matter what day Perseverance launches during its July 17-Aug. 5 launch period, it will land on Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration plans.
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- Unmanned Aircraft Systems: FAA Could Strengthen Its Implementation of a Drone Traffic Management System by Improving Communication and Measuring PerformanceBy Sam NewsJanuary 28, 2021The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is working with industry and public stakeholders to develop a traffic management system for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), also known as drones. The UAS traffic management ecosystem (referred to as UTM) involves developing a framework of interconnected systems for managing multiple UAS operations. Under UTM, FAA would first establish rules for operating UAS, and UAS-industry service providers and operators would then coordinate the execution of flights. Operators would likely be able to access UTM, for example, through smart phone applications to map routes for UAS flights and check for flight restrictions. FAA began collaborating in 2015 with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to establish and implement a framework to research, develop, and test increasingly complex UTM concepts and capabilities with industry stakeholders. For example, in one scenario tested in Virginia, UAS operators using UTM were alerted to a rescue helicopter, allowing the operators to avoid the area. Example of a Traffic Management Scenario Simulating a Real-World Situation for an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) To further develop and implement UTM, FAA conducted tests through its UTM pilot program, completed in November 2020, and is working on a UTM implementation plan. However, industry stakeholders said they need more information on the next steps, and it is uncertain whether FAA's plan will include performance goals and measures. FAA has reported that it plans to use results from the pilot program to inform its implementation plan, statutorily required one year after the pilot program concludes. UAS stakeholders generally agreed with FAA's approach for moving UTM toward implementation. However, they said that they face planning challenges because FAA provides limited information on timing and substance of next steps, such as areas of UTM technology that FAA will focus on during testing. In addition, FAA has not indicated whether the implementation plan will include performance goals and measures, instead stating that such metrics are not statutorily required. Providing more data to the UAS industry and public stakeholders in the short term and including goals and metrics in the plan could help stakeholders make informed decisions and better align their activities with FAA plans for UTM testing and implementation. Why GAO Did This Study UAS have potential to provide significant social and economic benefits in the U.S. FAA is tasked with safely integrating UAS into the national airspace. UTM, as planned, will be a traffic management system where UAS operators and service providers are responsible for the coordination and management of operations at low altitudes (below 400 feet), with rules established by FAA. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 included a provision for GAO to review infrastructure requirements for monitoring UAS at low altitude. This report examines, among other things, the actions FAA has taken to develop UTM and additional steps needed to achieve UTM's implementation. GAO reviewed relevant statutes, regulations, and agency documents; assessed FAA's efforts against internal controls for communicating quality information and GAO's work on results- oriented practices and performance measures; and interviewed 19 UAS industry and public stakeholders selected to achieve a range of perspectives. GAO is recommending that FAA: (1) provide stakeholders with additional information on the timing and substance of UTM testing and implementation efforts using FAA's UTM website or other appropriate means, and (2) develop performance goals and measures for its UTM implementation plan. The Department of Transportation generally concurred with these recommendations. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Navy and Marine Corps: Services Continue Efforts to Rebuild Readiness, but Recovery Will Take Years and Sustained Management AttentionBy Sam NewsDecember 2, 2020The Navy and Marine Corps continue to face significant readiness challenges that have developed over more than a decade of conflict, budget uncertainty, and reductions in force structure. These challenges prevent the services from reaping the full benefit of their existing forces and attaining the level of readiness called for by the 2018 National Defense Strategy. Both services have made encouraging progress identifying the causes of their readiness decline and have begun efforts to arrest and reverse it (see figure). However, GAO's work shows that addressing these challenges will require years of sustained management attention and resources. Recent events, such as the ongoing pandemic and the fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard affect both current and future readiness and are likely to compound and delay the services' readiness rebuilding efforts. Selected Navy and Marine Corps Readiness Challenges Continued progress implementing GAO's prior recommendations will bolster ongoing Navy and Marine Corps efforts to address these readiness challenges. The 2018 National Defense Strategy emphasizes that restoring and retaining readiness is critical to success in the emerging security environment. The Navy and Marine Corps are working to rebuild the readiness of their forces while also growing and modernizing their aging fleets of ships and aircraft. Readiness recovery will take years as the Navy and Marine Corps address their multiple challenges and continue to meet operational demands. This statement provides information on readiness challenges facing (1) the Navy ship and submarine fleet and (2) Navy and Marine Corps aviation. GAO also discusses its prior recommendations on Navy and Marine Corps readiness and the progress that has been made in addressing them. This statement is based on previous work published from 2016 to November 2020—on Navy and Marine Corps readiness challenges, including ship maintenance, sailor training, and aircraft sustainment. GAO also analyzed data updated as of November 2020, as appropriate, and drew from its ongoing work focused on Navy and Marine Corps readiness. GAO made more than 90 recommendations in prior work cited in this statement. The Department of Defense generally concurred with most of GAO's recommendations. Continued attention to these recommendations can assist the Navy and the Marine Corps as they seek to rebuild the readiness of their forces. For more information, contact Diana Maurer at (202) 512-9627 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- DOD Financial Management: Actions Needed to Address Deficiencies in Controls over Army Active Duty Military PayrollBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021What GAO FoundGAO identified deficiencies in the design of key control procedures relied on by the Army and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service-Indianapolis (DFAS-IN) to detect errors in payroll disbursements to active duty Army military personnel. Specifically, GAO found that the Army's procedures for reviewing Unit Commander Finance Reports (UCFR) do not (1) provide for monitoring of required UCFR reviews to better assure detection of payroll errors, (2) require reporting on completed UCFR reviews in all cases, and (3) clearly establish time frames for completing and reporting on UCFR reviews. GAO's analysis of DFAS data on military pay debts and Army investigations of potential fraud completed over the past 2 years identified numerous instances of the effect of errors or irregularities in Army active duty payroll disbursements that went undetected for lengthy periods of time, including some that were not detected for up to 2 years or until the soldier left the Army. For example:A soldier who separated from the Army in 2009 continued to receive active duty pay totaling about $185,000 until 2011.A soldier who was absent without leave from January 2010 to September 2011 received military pay of $33,268 to which she was not entitled.A soldier under investigation for possible fraud allegedly received over $34,000 in paratrooper and language proficiency pay but did not have a documented record of jumps performed or up-to-date proficiency certifications.GAO's analysis determined that the Army could reduce its risk of lengthy delays in detecting and correcting pay errors with more stringent UCFR monitoring and reporting requirements.GAO also found that DFAS and the Army have procedures and metrics in place that focus on the timeliness of manual processing and payroll adjustments for error corrections. However, they do not have procedures and metrics to enable them to gather data on active duty pay errors that were related to causes other than timeliness, such as over- and underpayments, data entry errors, and unauthorized payments. Further, the design of existing Defense Joint Military Pay System-Active Component and DFAS-IN Case Management System procedures for transaction processing and error correction did not provide for monitoring to capture data on all types of pay errors and their causes that would be useful in identifying the extent to which there are any additional systemic payroll control weaknesses. For example, an Army National Guard colonel deployed on active duty to Afghanistan reported that he experienced financial hardship when his military pay was stopped for 1-1/2 months. The absence of data on the extent and causes of all types of Army active duty military payroll errors impairs the Army's ability to identify and address any adverse trends that may indicate the existence of other systemic control weaknesses. Overall, the control deficiencies that GAO identified increase the risk that the nearly $47 billion in reported fiscal year 2011 Army active duty military payroll includes Army servicemembers who received pay to which they were not entitled and others who did not receive the full pay they were due. Further, to the extent that errors in Army active duty pay are not identified and addressed in a timely manner, they can have a negative effect on soldier welfare and, ultimately, could erode soldiers' focus on their Army mission.Why GAO Did This StudyIn March 2012, GAO reported on challenges that DOD and the Army face in achieving audit readiness with respect to the over $45 billion in reported fiscal year 2010 Army active duty military payroll disbursements. In performing that work, GAO identified indications of possible weaknesses in selected processes, systems, and controls relied on to reasonably assure the validity and accuracy of reported Army active duty military payroll that were beyond the scope of that audit. GAO subsequently completed work on those issues and is presenting the results in this report. GAO (1) assessed the design of key controls for payroll accuracy and (2) determined the extent to which the Army and DFAS-IN have monitoring controls to identify and address any systemic weaknesses. GAO compared selected Army and DFAS-IN processes, systems, and controls for assuring payroll accuracy to applicable internal control standards and to applicable provisions of law, regulations, and policies and procedures. GAO also interviewed officials and examined related data and information.[Read More…]
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- Virginia Return Preparer Indicted for Evading her Own Taxes and Not Filing Her ReturnsBy Sam NewsNovember 12, 2020A federal grand jury in Richmond, Virginia, returned an indictment charging a return preparer with tax evasion and failure to file individual income tax returns, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger for the Eastern District of Virginia.[Read More…]
- Laredo man admits to smuggling meth in fire extinguishersBy Sam NewsIn Justice NewsJuly 25, 2021A 40-year-old Laredo man [Read More…]
- 40 Charged in Largest Federal Racketeering Conspiracy in South Carolina HistoryBy Sam NewsDecember 10, 2020A federal grand jury has returned a 147-count superseding indictment against 40 defendants across South Carolina in the largest federal racketeering conspiracy in South Carolina history.[Read More…]
- Justice Department Settles with Transportation and Logistics Company to Resolve Immigration-Related Discrimination ClaimsBy Sam NewsNovember 12, 2020The Justice Department announced today that it reached a settlement with IAS Logistics DFW LLC, d/b/a Pinnacle Logistics (Pinnacle Logistics), a transportation and logistics company headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas.[Read More…]
- Medicaid: Information on the Use of Electronic Asset Verification to Determine Eligibility for Selected BeneficiariesBy Sam NewsApril 23, 2021What GAO Found Individuals who receive assistance from the federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program may also become eligible for Medicaid. SSI provides cash assistance to eligible individuals who are over age 65, blind, or disabled; and who have limited resources (i.e., assets) and income. Medicaid programs in 42 states and the District of Columbia use the SSI asset limit of $2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a married couple. Medicaid programs in the remaining eight states may set an asset limit that differs from the current SSI asset limit. The Social Security Administration (SSA), which administers the SSI program, and state Medicaid programs electronically verify the assets of these individuals when determining financial eligibility: In the 42 states and the District of Columbia that use the SSI asset limit, SSA is the entity that verifies applicants' assets. SSA has two data sources to detect assets among SSI beneficiaries. The first data source is the Access to Financial Institutions initiative. This initiative verifies reported bank accounts and can detect potential undisclosed accounts from financial institutions within geographic proximity of an SSI recipient's residence. The second data source is Non-home Real Property, which uses a commercial data source to help investigate potential ownership of real property other than a primary residence. In the eight states that may set their own asset limits, the state's Medicaid program must verify Medicaid eligibility for SSI recipients using an electronic asset verification system (AVS). An AVS provides a portal between state eligibility systems and banks or other third-party systems with electronic access to financial information. Once a state has an AVS in place, state eligibility workers can submit a request through the portal to perform an asset check for a Medicaid applicant. The request is sent to different financial institutions. A vendor gathers the information from the financial institutions and returns it to the state, and eligibility workers use the information to make an eligibility determination. Some states also use their AVS to check on applicants' property information, which may come from commercial data sources. Why GAO Did This Study GAO was asked to review the use of electronic asset verification to determine eligibility for selected Medicaid beneficiaries. This report provides an overview of what is known about how state Medicaid programs verify assets of applicants who are eligible because they receive SSI, and how SSA verifies assets of SSI applicants, among other issues. To describe what is known about how state Medicaid programs and SSA verify applicants' assets, GAO reviewed its prior work, as well as related research by other organizations. GAO also obtained input from officials from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and SSA; and reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, and guidance. The Department of Health and Human Services and SSA reviewed a draft of this report and provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Carolyn L. Yocom at (202) 512-7114 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Justice Department Honors Law Enforcement Officers and Deputies in Fourth Annual Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service in PolicingBy Sam NewsNovember 3, 2020Attorney General William [Read More…]
- Seven North Carolina Tax Preparers Plead Guilty to Conspiring to Defraud the IRSBy Sam NewsJanuary 12, 2021Seven Charlotte, North Carolina tax return preparers pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States by preparing and filing false tax returns, announced Principal Deputy Assistant General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division, U.S. Attorney R. Andrew Murray for the Western District of North Carolina, and Special Agent in Charge Matthew D. Line of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI).[Read More…]
- Former Air Force Contractor Pleads Guilty to Illegally Taking 2,500 Pages of Classified InformationBy Sam NewsFebruary 25, 2021A former contractor with the U.S. Air Force pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio today to illegally taking approximately 2,500 pages of classified documents.[Read More…]
- Opening Remarks by Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo Before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics ControlBy Sam NewsSeptember 26, 2020Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
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- Priority Open Recommendations: Department of EducationBy Sam NewsJuly 7, 2021What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified six priority recommendations for the Department of Education. Since then, Education has implemented three of those recommendations by taking action to: (1) raise awareness of the threat of lead in school drinking water and collaborate with EPA to encourage testing; (2) help borrowers in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program better understand eligibility requirements; and (3) improve its cyber risk management framework to better protect the agency's systems and data. In May 2021, GAO identified four additional priority recommendations for Education, bringing the total number to seven. These recommendations involve the following areas: protecting the investment in higher education and ensuring the well-being and education of the nation's school-age children. Education's continued attention to these issues could lead to significant improvements in government operations. Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/or executive branch decision-making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015 GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations. For more information, contact Jackie Nowicki at (617) 788-0580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- State Partnership Program: Improved Oversight, Guidance, and Training Needed for National Guard’s Efforts with Foreign PartnersBy Sam NewsAugust 31, 2021What GAO FoundMany State Partnership Program stakeholders, including State Partnership Program Coordinators, Bilateral Affairs Officers, and combatant command officials, cited benefits to the program, but the program lacks a comprehensive oversight framework that includes clear program goals, objectives, and metrics to measure progress against those goals, which limits the Department of Defenses (DOD) and Congress ability to assess whether the program is an effective and efficient use of resources. The benefits described by all stakeholders focused on the programs contributions to meeting their specific missions, such as building security relationships, providing experience to guardsmen, and supporting combatant commands missions. Goals, objectives, and metrics to measure progress are necessary for management oversight, and National Guard Bureau officials told GAO that they recognize the need to update the programs goals and develop metrics and have initiated efforts in these areas. Officials expect completion of these efforts in summer 2012. Until program goals and metrics are implemented, DOD cannot fully assess or adequately oversee the program.State Partnership Program activity data are incomplete as well as inconsistent and funding data are incomplete for fiscal years 2007 through 2011; therefore GAO cannot provide complete information on the types and frequency of activities or total funding amounts for those years. GAO found that the multiple data systems used to track program activities and funding are not interoperable and users apply varying methods and definitions to guide data inputs. The terminology used to identify activity types is inconsistent across the combatant commands and the National Guard Bureau. Further, funding data from the National Guard Bureau and the combatant commands were incomplete, and while the National Guard Bureau provided its total spending on the program since 2007, it could not provide information on the cost of individual activities. Although the National Guard Bureau has initiated efforts to improve the accuracy of its own State Partnership Program data, without common agreement with the combatant commands on what types of data need to be tracked and how to define activities, the data cannot be easily reconciled across databases.The most prominent challenge cited by State Partnership Program stakeholders involved how to fund activities that include U.S. and foreign partner civilian participants. Activities involving civilians, for example, have included subject-matter expert exchanges on military support to civil authorities and maritime border security. Although DOD guidance does not prohibit civilian involvement in activities, many stakeholders have the impression that the U.S. military is not permitted to engage civilians in State Partnership Program activities and some states may have chosen not to conduct any events with civilians due to the perception that it may violate DOD guidance. DOD and the National Guard Bureau are working on developing additional guidance and training in this area. Until these efforts are completed, confusion may continue to exist and hinder the programs full potential to fulfill National Guard and combatant command missions.Why GAO Did This StudyThe National Guards State Partnership Program is a DOD security cooperation program that matches state National Guards with foreign countries to conduct joint activitiesincluding visits between senior military leaders and knowledge sharing in areas such as disaster managementthat further U.S. national security goals. The program has partnerships between 52 U.S. state and territory National Guards and 69 countries. In fiscal year 2011, program expenditures were at least $13.2 million. The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act directed GAO to study the program. GAO determined (1) the extent to which State Partnership Program activities are meeting program goals and objectives; (2) the types and frequency of activities and funding levels of the program; and (3) any challenges DOD faces in the programs implementation. GAO collected written responses to questions from State Partnership Program Coordinators at the state level, Bilateral Affairs Officers at the U.S. embassies in the partner nations, and officials at the combatant commands, reviewed documents, and interviewed DOD officials.[Read More…]
- VA Police: Actions Needed to Improve Data Completeness and Accuracy on Use of Force Incidents at Medical CentersBy Sam NewsSeptember 8, 2020The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) policy on use of force states that police officers must use the minimal level of force that is reasonably necessary to gain control of a situation and should only utilize physical control methods on an individual when the force is justified by the individual's actions. To guide officers, VA developed a Use of Force Continuum Scale to define and clarify the categories of force that can be used. Categories of Force on the VA’s Use of Force Continuum Scale According to VA policy, all police officers must receive training on the VA's use of force policy when hired and biannually thereafter. Officers are trained—through classroom lectures and scenarios that emphasize effective communication techniques—to use the minimal level of force to deescalate a situation. Officers record use of force incidents electronically and the chief of police decides which, if any, use of force incidents need to be investigated in accordance with VA guidance. Chiefs of Police at the six facilities GAO visited conducted investigations in a similar manner, by reviewing evidence and comparing an officer's action with the VA's use of force policy to determine whether actions were justified. While most investigations are conducted at the local level, VA headquarters may also run investigations for certain incidents, such as when it receives a complaint against an officer. VA police officers record incidents in a database, Report Executive, but GAO's analysis indicates that VA data on use of force incidents are not sufficiently complete and accurate for reporting numbers or trends at medical centers nationwide. For example, GAO found that 176 out of 1,214 use of force incident reports did not include the specific type of force used. Further, Report Executive does not track incidents by individual medical centers. By addressing these limitations, VA can more effectively monitor use of force trends by type of force or medical facility, among other variables, to understand the VA's use of force incidents nationwide. GAO also found that VA does not systematically collect or analyze use of force investigation findings from local medical centers, limiting its ability to provide effective oversight. Specifically, there is no policy requiring Chiefs of Police to submit all investigations on use of force to VA headquarters, and VA does not have a database designed to collect and analyze data on use of force investigations. Collecting and analyzing such data nationwide would allow VA to better assess the impact of its deescalation policies and improve the agency's oversight efforts. About 5,000 VA police officers are responsible for securing and protecting 138 VA medical centers across the country. These officers are authorized to investigate crimes, make arrests, and carry firearms. The Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 included a provision that GAO assess aspects of the VA police services. This report addresses (1) what the VA's policies are on the use of force by police officers at medical centers, and what training officers receive on the use of force; (2) how VA records and investigates use of force incidents at medical centers; and (3) the extent to which VA sufficiently collects and analyzes use of force data at medical centers. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed VA policies, procedures, and training materials on the use of force and interviewed VA officials at headquarters and six local medical centers, selected to represent varying size and locations. GAO reviewed VA data on use of force incidents recorded from May 10, 2019, through May 10, 2020—the most recent full year data were available. GAO is making five recommendations, including that VA improve the completeness and accuracy of its use of force data; implement a tool to analyze use of force incidents at medical centers nationwide; ensure that medical centers submit all use of force investigations to VA headquarters; and analyze the use of force investigation data. The VA concurred with each of GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Gretta L. Goodwin at (202) 512-8777 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Biofuel Fraudster Sentenced to Seven Years in Prison for Scamming Multiple Federal Agencies and CustomersBy Sam NewsAugust 6, 2020The owner of a biofuel company was sentenced to seven years in prison followed by a three-year term of supervised release and ordered to pay $10,207,000 in restitution for defrauding multiple federal agencies and customers.[Read More…]
- Peruvian National Sentenced to Over 9 Years in Prison for Defrauding Thousands of Spanish-Speaking U.S. ImmigrantsBy Sam NewsSeptember 21, 2021More from: September 21, [Read More…]