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NASA's Perseverance

The Associated Press

The biggest, most sophisticated Mars rover ever built — a car-size vehicle bristling with cameras, microphones, drills and lasers — blasted off Thursday as part of an ambitious, long-range project to bring the first Martian rock samples back to Earth to be analyzed for evidence of ancient life.

NASA’s Perseverance rode a mighty Atlas V rocket into a clear morning sky in the world’s third and final Mars launch of the summer. China and the United Arab Emirates got a head start last week, but all three missions should reach the red planet in February after a journey of seven months and 300 million miles.

The plutonium-powered, six-wheeled rover will drill down and collect tiny geological specimens that will be brought home in about 2031 in a sort of interplanetary relay race involving multiple spacecraft and countries. The overall cost: more than $8 billion.

In addition to addressing the life-on-Mars question, the mission will yield lessons that could pave the way for the arrival of astronauts as early as the 2030s.

“There’s a reason we call the robot Perseverance. Because going to Mars is hard,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said just before liftoff. “It is always hard. It’s never been easy. In this case, it’s harder than ever before because we’re doing it in the midst of a pandemic.”

Aaron Yazzie's ‘stuff on Mars’ — again!

Aaron Yazzie, Navajo, is a mechanical engineer at NASA's jet propulsion laboratory, and some of his work will be aboard NASA's Martian rover, the Perseverance, which is set for liftoff today. This is the second time Yazzie's work will be headed to Mars. He created atmospheric testing equipment for the NASA rover that landed on the surface of the red planet in November 2018.

This time Yazzie is the lead engineer for drill bits for NASA's brawniest and brainiest Martian rover yet. It sports the latest landing tech, plus the most cameras and microphones ever assembled to capture the sights and sounds of Mars. Its super-sanitized sample return tubes — for rocks that could hold evidence of past Martian life — are the cleanest items ever bound for space. A helicopter is even tagging along for an otherworldly test flight.

Yazzie has been working on the spacecraft for the past four years of his career as the lead engineer for all of Perseverance’s drill bit assemblies.

Check out Yazzie’s posts on Indian Country Today’s Instagram account where he’ll share insights into the rover, its launch, and the start of its journey to Mars.

Biden campaign to host roundtable on economic development in Indian Country

Presumed Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s campaign will host a “Indian Country Business Leaders for Biden” roundtable Thursday morning. The virtual event will include Native business leaders who will discuss what the campaign’s policy agenda will mean for Indian Country.

The panel will feature Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona. The event is free and open to the public. Registration for the event can be found here.

Democrats announce schedule for national convention

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Democrats, who are poised to formally nominate Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee for president, announced on Wednesday evening a preliminary schedule for the four days of the national convention, which is scheduled for Aug. 17-20. It will be anchored in Milwaukee.

Execution set for Navajo man on federal death row

The only Native American on federal death row is scheduled to be executed in late August, the U.S. government announced Wednesday.

Lezmond Mitchell, who is Navajo, had been among the first of a handful of inmates set to be put to death after the Trump administration restored federal executions after an informal, 17-year moratorium. Mitchell temporarily was spared by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as his attorneys argued to interview jurors for potential racial bias.

The court sided against Mitchell in late April, and a panel of judges later rejected a bid to keep the execution on hold beyond Aug. 24. Mitchell's attorneys have asked the full court to reconsider, and the U.S. attorney in Arizona urged the court to act quickly.

Chicago NHL team to ban headdresses at team events

In a letter to fans on Wednesday, the Chicago NHL team said it would utilize its national platform to educate the public on its mascot and better serve the Native community.

The team also announced that it was banning headdresses at team events and home hockey games at the United Center.

“We have always maintained an expectation that our fans uphold an atmosphere of respect, and after extensive and meaningful conversations with our Native American partners, we have decided to formalize those expectations,” read the letter.

Advocates have been asking the team to change its mascot for years. Earlier this month, after the Washington NFL team announced that it would change its controversial name that depicts stereotypical Native imagery, the Chicago hockey team made a commitment to expand its effort to serve as “stewards of our name and identity.”

WATCH: 'We all had a vision of telling these stories'

In the late 1800s the U.S. Government started forcibly taking Native American children from their families and placing them in boarding schools. The idea to use schools as a tool for assimilation of Native Americans came from Army officer Colonel Richard Pratt.
“A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one," Pratt said. "In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man."

Beginning in 1870, more than a hundred federal and church-sponsored Indian boarding schools housed thousands of children, some as young as four. The schools continued into the 1970s despite reports of malnutrition, abuse, and the use of the students for heavy labor.

In 2000, the Heard Museum in Phoenix created an exhibit to show the effects of the boarding school system. In 2017 that exhibit was updated. Today, the Heard Museum's exhibit called, "Away From Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories," is being honored with a national award.

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