Tag Archives: Interview

Over half of Canadians say monarchy is obsolete after Harry and Meghan’s interview, poll suggests

A new poll suggests just over half of Canadians believe the British monarchy is a relic that Canada should abandon, following Prince Harry and Meghan’s explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey.

Fifty-three per cent of respondents to an online survey by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies say the British monarchy no longer has its place in 21st-century Canada, while one-third say they would rather preserve this part of our heritage.

Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque said the interview — and how Canadians are responding to its revelations — should be considered a blow for the monarchy and those who believe in the importance of the role it plays in Canada.

“I think this probably would not have been true a few weeks ago,” Bourque said.

The poll also found that 59 per cent of respondents sympathize more with Harry and Meghan, while 26 per cent say they held more sympathy for the Royal Family.

The online poll of 1,512 adult Canadians was carried out March 12 to 14. It cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based surveys are not considered random samples.

WATCH | Palace issues stark response to Meghan, Harry’s interview:

Buckingham Palace issued a stark response amid the chaos surrounding Prince Harry and Meghan’s bombshell interview, which included an outburst from well-known TV personality Piers Morgan. 2:03

Fifty-two per cent say the recent events involving the couple, which included the Duchess of Sussex divulging that she had been driven to thoughts of suicide and that a member of the Royal Family had asked how dark her son Archie’s skin might be, speak about a fundamental problem with the institution.

Negative view of monarchy higher in Quebec

Forty-three per cent of respondents say the recent events show the Royal Family holds racist views, which Bourque said is damaging to its reputation.

The negative view of the monarchy was higher in Quebec, where 71 per cent of respondents said it is out of date, which Bourque said is not surprising.

“Even if you exclude the Quebec numbers, you still get about half of Canadians who say basically do we really need the Royal Family in Canada,” he said.

WATCH | Trudeau says he won’t comment on ‘what’s going on over in the U.K.’:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he “won’t comment on what’s going on over in the U.K.” after being asked about allegations of racism made against the Royal Family in Oprah’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. 2:23

An earlier poll of 2,122 adult Canadians carried out from Feb. 5 to 7 had 46 per cent of respondents saying the monarchy is outdated and that Canada should get rid of it, so the numbers are slightly higher after the interview with Harry and Meghan.

In the more recent poll, Canadians appear divided on what could replace the monarchy.

Thirty-six per cent of respondents said they would prefer the prime minister be the head of state, with no other representative such as the governor general. Sixteen per cent said they would like Canada to be a republic with an elected president and 20 per cent said they would like to keep the existing arrangement.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook-Canadian Press News Fellowship, which is not involved in the editorial process.

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CBC | World News

The Harry and Meghan interview: Beyond the turmoil and what makes a prince a prince

Hello, royal watchers. This is your regular dose of royal news and analysis. Reading this online? Sign up here to get this delivered to your inbox.


While sifting through everything Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, had to say to Oprah Winfrey Sunday night, many saw parallels to other troubled times for the Royal Family.

The interview raised concerns particularly around race and mental health, and some found in it reminders of what Harry’s mother, Diana, experienced, as she laid bare the lack of support she felt after her ill-fated marriage to Prince Charles.

But the Diana period, which came as the clock wound down on the 20th century, was hardly the first time of family turmoil. 

And in those earlier experiences going back decades — and centuries — there could lie hints of the House of Windsor’s fate after this latest crisis.

“I don’t think the history of this Royal Family, which has been written off so many times, tells you anything other than they know how to survive,” said John Fraser, author of The Secret of the Crown: Canada’s Affair with Royalty, and founding president of the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada.

“Going back, back, back, there has never been a reign that hasn’t had some domestic problems.”


Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, front, with Harry and Meghan, behind, attend the annual Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in London on March 9, 2020. (Phil Harris/The Associated Press)

So far, there have been only the slimmest of hints of what will come next.

In a short statement issued by Buckingham Palace Tuesday, the Queen said she and her family were saddened to learn of Harry and Meghan’s experiences, and that issues raised, particularly of race, would be addressed privately by the family.

In response to a question from a reporter while at an engagement at a school in east London on Thursday, Prince William said, “We’re very much not a racist family,”

BBC royal correspondent Sarah Campbell said William could have ignored the question.

“Despite the Queen’s statement saying the race issue would be dealt with privately, the prince clearly felt he had to push back on what has become a very public and damaging allegation,” Campbell wrote on the BBC website. “Remaining silent, he felt, was not the best option.”

WATCH: Prince William responds to a reporter:

The Duke of Cambridge spoke briefly on Thursday about racial issues raised in the interview Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, gave to Oprah Winfrey. William denied the British Royal Family is racist. 0:13

In the interview with Winfrey, Meghan and Harry said there was a conversation — or conversations — with an unnamed family member in which concerns were raised about the colour of the skin of their first child before he was born.

It was perhaps the most damaging moment of the interview for the family, and one that is still surrounded in murkiness.

While Harry told Winfrey later that neither of his grandparents — Queen Elizabeth or Prince Philip — was part of that particular conversation, he refused to say during the interview who was.

“The fact that [Harry’s] on the outs with his father leads everyone to believe it must have been Charles, or possibly William, and until that’s dealt with, it’s this huge problem if they’re going to be future sovereigns,” said Fraser.

He said he finds it “unbelievable” that Charles, the man who walked Meghan halfway down the aisle at her wedding, would be worried about the colour of his grandson’s skin.


Meghan Markle walks down the aisle with Prince Charles for her wedding ceremony at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle in Windsor, near London, England, on May 19, 2018. (Sky News/Associated Press)

“Nothing in his life suggests that he is that callous or stupid,” Fraser said.

Still, it’s not clear who might have said it.

“It’s been left like a timebomb,” said Fraser. “How can [Charles] be the head of the Commonwealth, which has so many Black nations, until this is resolved? It’s a real dilemma.”

Fraser expects we will eventually learn who was involved in the conversation in question. “It’s just the nature of the way things go.”

But Fraser hopes it will be a given a context, and that it will be worked out within the family, “at some point down the road when they’ve got some distance from the immediate hurt that everyone must be feeling at the moment.”

Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, a lawyer and human rights activist in London, says the family’s circumstances are not beyond repair.

WATCH: What are the consequences of Harry and Meghan’s interview:

Royal commentator Roya Nikkhah and women’s rights activist Shola Mos-Shogbamimu talk to Adrienne Arsenault about the revelations in Prince Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, the media reaction in the U.S. and U.K. and what, if any, changes might come out of it. 6:56

“Buckingham Palace better take this seriously, not come out with any stiff-upper-lip nonsense,” she told Adrienne Arsenault, senior correspondent and co-host of CBC’s The National, this week, before the statement from the palace. 

“Nobody’s going to stand for it. Not for the racist comment, not for their lack of support for Meghan’s mental health, suicidal thoughts, not that fact that Prince Charles apparently failed to even speak to his son….

“All of those things should be answered, and they should be answered humanely, like the Royal Family is in touch with what the public expects from it.”

Maybe there is at least one more signal of efforts within the family to work things out. While the relationship between William and Harry has been deeply strained, William said Thursday he will be speaking with his brother.

Who can be a prince or princess?


Harry, Meghan and their son, Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu during their royal tour of South Africa on Sept. 25, 2019, in Cape Town. (Toby Melville/Getty Images)

Amid the many issues Meghan raised during the interview, one that seemed particularly troubling for her concerned conversations before Archie’s birth.

“They were saying they didn’t want him to be a prince or a princess — not knowing what the gender would be — which would be different from protocol, and that he wasn’t going to receive security,” she said.

That got a lot of people wondering about just what provisions there are for determining who becomes a prince or princess.

Under provisions of a letter patent issued by King George V in 1917, Archie, a great-grandchild of the monarch, would not at this point in his life be eligible to be a prince. 

But his cousin — Prince William’s eldest son, seven-year-old George, who is in direct line to the throne — is a prince. George’s siblings can be princes or princesses, too, under provisions of a letter patent issued in 2012 by Queen Elizabeth, before George was born.


Prince Louis, left, Princess Charlotte, centre, and Prince George, with their parents, Prince William and Kate, attend a special pantomime performance at London’s Palladium Theatre in December 2020. (Aaron Chown/The Associated Press)

But that’s where it ends for that generation of royal great-grandchildren of the monarch, as things stand now.

“None of Harry’s children automatically get to be a prince except if there’s some reason that the Queen would bestow it on them,” said Fraser.

Grandchildren of a monarch can be princes or princesses, however, so things could change for Archie when his grandfather, Charles, becomes the monarch.

Whether Meghan’s comments might refer to what might happen then isn’t clear. 

There is a broad understanding that Charles is looking toward a more streamlined monarchy, with fewer working members.

“I saw that Meghan mentioned that there were plans to narrow eligibility, and I imagine that this is a reference to the Prince of Wales’s stated view that the size of the Royal Family needs to be reduced,” Bob Morris from the constitution unit at University College London told the BBC.

“However, he has not so far as I know given details of how it should be accomplished.”

Fascinator readers write


Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah set off another crisis for the Royal Family. (Harpo Productions/Joe Pugliese/handout via Reuters)

Readers of the Royal Fascinator shared their views in droves after the Winfrey interview. Here’s a sampling of emails and excerpts from longer messages that reflect the wide range of thoughts offered on Harry, Meghan and what they said on Sunday.

From Linda: “I was saddened by the interview. It could have been a great opportunity for the royals to move forward and acknowledge mental health issues, but the Firm refused to take that route. Shocked to hear how the men in grey suits direct so much of the agenda.”

From Susan: “Unsubstantiated accusations are very damaging. It’s easy to allege things were said and then refuse to say who said them. Then it’s just a case of he said, she said. But the damage is done.”

From Charlie: “I feel for Harry and Meghan, and I don’t blame them one bit for the decision they made for leaving the U.K. and the Royal Family in search for a more peaceful, sane and healthy lifestyle and mental health. I have never been a royal watcher or a fan of all the pomp that goes into it. I personally think Canada should abolish all that nonsense as it relates to a Governor General as the representative of the Queen in Canada (who is still our head of state). Canada should maintain close ties with the U.K., for sure, as partners, allies and friends, but this monarchy BS is a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

From Margaret: “I am still grappling with the intent of the interview and tell-all. And what is to be gained by the couple? Probably more paparazzi and Hollywood-like behaviours…. The constant referral back to Diana gives one pause for thought as well. Yes, Harry was totally traumatized by his mother’s death…. That said, although there are some similarities in press and media reporting, Diana was very young and naive when she joined ‘the Firm,’ whereas Harry and Meagan were well into their 30s when they married and should have known full well what could happen…. I do not mean to downplay or negate the comments on race/skin colour. Hopefully, there will be some conversations around that at the palace level.”


Meghan, Harry and Queen Elizabeth sit with some of the Queen’s Young Leaders at a Buckingham Palace reception following an awards ceremony on June 26, 2018. (John Stillwell/Reuters)

From Tina: “I felt so much of this interview resonated with the Diana era. It left me with many questions, but mostly: How on earth can a parent stop taking calls from their child? How on earth can a parent not want to keep their family safe? How on earth can a parent allow the words of racism to be spoken amongst anyone, never mind their own? How on earth can a parent knowingly watch your child go through such pain and not reach out? … I applaud the two of them for coming out to the world and letting people be reminded, once again, of a dated monarchy who cares more about how they are perceived to the world than that of their own. One can only hope for Meghan and Harry to have a life of joy with their little family and always be safe …. and perhaps maybe Harry’s wish that ‘time heals all’ comes true and his family come to their senses.”

From Paul: “Unless I misheard Meghan, she mentioned that she was not informed/prepared with the protocols of ‘the Firm.’ I find this difficult to believe. She is an intelligent, successful woman with a mind of her own…. I am not naive enough to not know there would be some racial problems. But I do believe too much emphasis was placed on the racial issue. As for protection being dropped for Harry, why not? He is in a foreign country, by choice…. With all Harry and Meghan’s money, they should be paying for their own protection. Remember, they optioned out of the U.K. Nevertheless, I wish them the best in their endeavours.”

From Anna: “I do not feel this interview will damage the Royal Family. There are differences of opinion in all families. I do not feel the whole Royal Family should be painted with the same brush. This interview will be so hard on the Queen. My heart goes out to her.”

We’ll continue to include comments from readers in future editions of the Royal Fascinator.

Royal reads

  1. Harry and Meghan’s interview might have some thinking it’s time for Canada to retire the Queen and its connection to the monarchy, but it wouldn’t be that simple to do, writes CBC’s Aaron Wherry.

  2. Harry talked of an “invisible contract” between the media and the Royal Family. The BBC took a closer look at what it is. 

  3. Journalist and TV presenter Piers Morgan left British broadcaster ITV after long-running criticism of Meghan that reached a crescendo after the interview with Winfrey. (CBC)


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CBC | World News

After the Harry and Meghan interview, how does the monarchy keep calm and carry on?

In a career spanning decades, Alastair Campbell has seen it all — politics, royalty, scandal and intrigue. 
 
As former British prime minister Tony Blair’s communications chief when Diana, Princess of Wales, died after a car crash in Paris in 1997, Campbell is used to managing controversy and tackling communications crises head on.
 
And yet, the explosive interview Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, did with Oprah Winfrey, watched by more than 60 million people worldwide still left him “fairly shocked.”
 
“Normally these things never quite live up to the hype, but it actually sort of did,” Campbell said. 


Millions of people around the world watched the interview. This photo illustration shows people in masks in Arlington, Va., watching on March 7. (Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images)

Revelations from the interview included allegations from the couple that an unnamed family member raised “concerns” about how dark their son Archie’s skin would be before his birth, as well as claims by the duchess that life in the palace was so difficult she had contemplated suicide, and had received no help when she reached out.

In the face of this latest controversy, the monarchy still seems likely to survive. But any changes to adapt to the times will be subtle and slow.

Echoes of another crisis

Campbell documented his insight into the Royal Family in detailed diary accounts after Diana’s death. He said listening to Meghan talk about her own struggles inside the palace brought back memories. 

“I was quite sad,” Campbell said. “I know Harry a bit. I knew Princess Diana, and I kind of heard echoes of Princess Diana, to be honest. When Meghan talked about not being supported when she was trying to get help and when Harry spoke about feeling that his father let him down, I could kind of hear those echoes.”


The former Princess of Wales Diana, seen here with her son Prince Harry, also criticized the way the Royal Family treated her. (John Redman/The Associated Press)

They are echoes of a similar time when Diana’s divorce from Prince Charles, the next in line to the throne, and later her death, rocked the monarchy to its core, forcing it to look inwards and examine its role in a changing society. 

Meghan’s interview with Winfrey also carried echoes of the 1995 interview Diana gave to BBC journalist Martin Bashir for the BBC’s Panorama program, which was kept secret from Buckingham Palace.  

Charles Anson, press secretary to Queen Elizabeth from 1990 to 1997, said the parallels between the two interviews were clear. 

“I had similar sorts of feelings both of interest and also concern about how much it would touch on family and private matters, which perhaps will be better discussed within a family circle,” Anson said. 

But is it simply a “family issue” to be resolved privately, or are there wider questions to be asked on just how damaging this is for the monarchy?

No impact on ‘the constitutional situation’

Robert Hardman, royal reporter for the Daily Mail and author of the book Queen of the World, said this is a serious situation for the Royal Family, but that ultimately, this too shall pass and the institution will survive — “as it always does.” 

“This is a fallout between members of the family. It doesn’t have a direct impact on the constitutional situation.

“I mean, clearly, there’s reputational damage here. But you know what? The Diana interview in 1995 was making more important points going right to the heart of the monarchy. The abdication crisis of 1936 was an existential crisis.”

Public opinion seems to support Hardman’s view. A recent YouGov poll of 1,672 people between March 8 and 9 found 63 per cent of respondents want to retain the monarchy. That’s down from 67 per cent in October 2020, but still a majority. 

Meanwhile, the interview didn’t bode so well for the royal couple. A YouGov poll on Friday found that 48 per cent of 1,664 respondents had a negative attitude of Harry compared to 45 per cent with a positive view. That’s the first time his net favourability rating has been negative. Fifty-eight per cent had a negative opinion of Meghan and only one-in-three had a positive view. 


Prince Harry and Meghan confirmed in February that they will not be returning to work as members of the Royal Family. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

“They’re relevant because they’re seen as relevant,” Campbell said. “There’s no other royal family in the world that gets this sort of attention for anything. None. I think it’s partly history, it’s partly tradition. It’s partly that they are an important part of our soft power.”

But is a stamp of public approval enough to keep the monarchy relevant moving forward? Royal observers say change is inevitable. The question is, how much change and how fast? 

“Any institution that refuses to move with the times is doomed. They know that,” Hardman said. “But they are not a brand of soap powder or something. They can’t rebrand. You can’t suddenly change the formula. You’re dealing with a human institution and it moves at a different pace.

“It moves outside the political cycle. Politicians have to worry about being re-elected every few years. Monarchy doesn’t work like that.”

Addressing racism

Experts generally agree that the monarchy is in no real danger of becoming obsolete. However, the issue that there are claims of racism within the family has resonated beyond palace walls in the U.K. and beyond.

On Thursday, while visiting a school, Prince William was asked by a reporter if the Royal Family were racist, to which he replied: “We’re very much not a racist family.” It was the first direct response from a senior royal after Meghan’s allegations. 

Royal commentators who have been following the royals for years said it’s extremely rare for any member of the Royal Family to respond to questions thrown at them by reporters. But Prince William clearly felt compelled to reply. 

The 61-word statement from Buckingham Palace in response to Harry and Meghan’s interview, issued almost 40 hours after it first aired, did little to douse the fire. 

“The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately,” it said.

Lisa Bent, a British author of Jamaican descent, said the statement was not enough.  


The interview and its repercussions have been reported in British newspapers. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP Photo)

“This again shows that the monarchy doesn’t have the know-how of how to deal with such issues in today’s society. It’s a different world right now, and their traditional ways aren’t cutting it with what we need for today’s society.”

Priyamvada Gopal, a professor of postcolonial studies at the University of Cambridge, said wider discussions on race in British society are relatively recent compared with North America. 

“The defensive mode is normalized, whether it’s the monarchy, whether it’s the tabloids, whether it’s major British institutions, the mood is to hit back rather than say: ‘OK, let’s have a serious conversation.'”

Subtle changes

As for the monarchy, Campbell has theories about how we might see subtle changes to show that the royals are in tune with the times. 

“I’m just guessing now, but I think you’ll see things like possibly more Black people employed there. They’ll be starting from a pretty low base,” Campbell said. 

“I know the Queen’s not doing so many public events, but maybe if she’s at a public event and the military are there, they might just make sure that there’s a few soldiers of colour who are there. I think you’ll see that kind of thing.”


It’s expected that there will be subtle changes made to show the monarchy is keeping up with the times. For example, there may be more coverage of events such as this 2018 meeting between the Queen and Governor-General of Barbados Dame Sandra Mason. (Steve Parsons/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Campbell, along with most long-time royal observers, point out that any sign of modernizing the monarchy, or adapting to the times wouldn’t be in the form of grand gestures. 

The Queen is “like an enduring winner,” he said.

“They’ll get through this. They’ll adapt. They’ll change a little bit and you’ll probably notice a few subtle changes in the coming months and then they’ll just get on with it. They’re survivors.”
 

WATCH | The Sussexes divulge stories of racism in interview with Oprah Winfrey: 

Meghan Markle’s claims that she not only experienced racism from the U.K. tabloids, but also that a member of the Royal Family asked about the colour of Archie’s skin has sent shockwaves around the world, but the palace remains silent. 2:43

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CBC | World News

Queen says she’s saddened by Harry and Meghan’s experiences following explosive interview

Queen Elizabeth and her family said on Tuesday that they were saddened to learn of the experiences of Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, saying they would address issues around race that were raised by the couple in an interview with Oprah Winfrey.

“The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan,” Buckingham Palace said in a statement.

“The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. Whilst some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.

“Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved family members.”

The interview — in which Harry and Meghan accused a family member of making a racist remark about their son and courtiers of ignoring her pleas for help when she was suicidal — has dragged the royals into their biggest crisis since the death of Harry’s mother Diana in 1997, when the family, led by Queen Elizabeth, was widely criticized for being too slow to respond.

In the two-hour show, originally aired on CBS on Sunday, Harry also said his father, heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles, had let him down.

Monarchy ‘needs to adapt again’

Before Buckingham Palace released its statement, Charles was asked by a reporter what he thought of the interview while he was visiting a COVID-19 vaccine pop-up clinic in London. He stopped and looked up before turning and walking off without comment.

British media has said the interview — watched by 12.4 million viewers in Britain and 17.1 million in the United States — had triggered a crisis and the monarchy needed to adapt to survive, however difficult a response might be.


In their interview with Oprah Winfrey, Meghan said a member of the Royal Family had expressed ‘concerns’ to Harry about the colour of her unborn child’s skin. (Harpo Productions/Joe Pugliese/Reuters)

“It could hardly be more damaging to the Royal Family, not least because there is little it can do to defend itself,” the Times said in a lead article under the title “Royal Attack.”

“The key to the monarchy’s survival over the centuries has been its ability to adapt to the needs of the times. It needs to adapt again,” the Times said.

Rocky relationship with press

Nearly three years since her star-studded wedding in Windsor Castle, Meghan gained sympathy in the United States by casting some unidentified members of the Royal Family as uncaring, mendacious or guilty of racist remarks.

Meghan and Harry have also had a torrid relationship with the British press, successfully taking papers to court on occasions, and have repeatedly questioned what they say is reporting tainted by racist overtones.

Harry said in the interview he did not know where to turn when faced with such troubling media coverage and felt hurt when his family failed to call out racist reporting.

He said the Royal Family had an unhealthy silent agreement with the British tabloids and that the family was paranoid about the media turning on them.

“There is a level of control by fear that has existed for generations and generations,” Harry said.

Johnson watched interview

For the monarchy, which traces its history through 1,000 years of British and English history to William the Conqueror, Meghan’s bombshell has been compared to the crises over the death of Diana and the 1936 abdication of Edward VIII.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson watched the interview, his spokesperson said on Tuesday, but would not be making any further comment on it.

Johnson said on Monday he had the highest admiration for the Queen but that he did not want to speak about the interview.

WATCH | What are the consequences of Meghan and Harry’s interview?

Royal commentator Roya Nikkhah and women’s rights activist Shola Mos-Shogbamimu talk to Adrienne Arsenault about the revelations in Prince Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, the media reaction in the U.S. and U.K. and what, if any, changes might come out of it. 6:56

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her nation was unlikely to stop having the Queen as head of state soon.

Opponents of the monarchy said the allegations made by Meghan and Harry showed how rotten the institution was — and that the palace’s public relations machine had created a distorted image of the royals.

“Now people are getting a much clearer picture of what the monarchy is really like. And it doesn’t look good,” said Graham Smith, head of Republic, a campaign group that seeks to abolish the monarchy.

“With the Queen likely to be replaced by King Charles during this decade, the position of the monarchy has rarely looked weaker,” Smith said.

Markle’s father comments

Some royal supporters cast Meghan, 39, an American former actor, as a publicity seeker with an eye on Hollywood stardom.

But the gravity of the claims has raised uncomfortable questions about how the British monarchy, which survived centuries of revolution that toppled their cousins across Europe, could function in a meritocratic world.


A family gathers around the television in Liverpool, northwest England, to watch Harry and Meghan’s interview on Monday. The interview was watched by 12.4 million viewers in Britain. (Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images)

Meghan, whose mother is Black and father is white, said her son Archie, who turns two in May, had been denied the title of prince because there were concerns within the Royal Family “about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.”

She declined to say who had voiced such concerns, as did Harry. Winfrey later told CBS that Harry had said it was not the Queen or her 99-year-old husband Prince Philip, who has been in hospital for three weeks while the crisis unfolds.

Meghan’s estranged father Thomas Markle, whom she has not spoken to since her wedding, said on Tuesday he did not think the Royal Family was racist, and hoped an alleged remark from a family member about the colour of the skin of Meghan’s son was a “dumb question.”


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CBC | World News

Boris Johnson, royal watchers react following revealing Harry and Meghan interview

Britain and its Royal Family absorbed the tremors Monday from a sensational television interview with Prince Harry and Meghan, in which the couple said they encountered racist attitudes and a lack of support that drove the duchess to thoughts of suicide.

In a two-hour soul-baring interview by Oprah Winfrey, the couple painted a deeply unflattering picture of life inside the royal household, depicting a cold, uncaring institution that they had to flee to save their lives.

Meghan told Winfrey that at one point “I just didn’t want to be alive anymore.” She said she sought help through the palace’s human resources department but was told there was nothing it could do.

Meghan, 39, admitted that she was naive at the start of her relationship with Harry and unprepared for the strictures of royal life.

The former television star, who is biracial, said that when she was pregnant with son Archie, there were “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.”

Harry confirmed the conversation, saying: “I was a bit shocked.” He said he would not reveal who made the comment, though Winfrey said he told her it was not either of his grandparents, Queen Elizabeth or her husband, Prince Philip.

Politicians weigh in

Asked about the interview at a coronavirus news conference, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson steadfastly refused to comment on the explosive allegations of racism and dysfunction inside the Royal Family.

Johnson said he had “always had the highest admiration for the Queen and the unifying role that she plays in our country and across the Commonwealth.”

But he said that “when it comes to matters to do with the Royal Family, the right thing for a prime minister to say is nothing.”

In contrast, Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, says the palace has to take the allegations seriously.

“The issues that Meghan has raised of racism and mental health are really serious issues,” he said. “It is a reminder that too many people experience racism in 21st-century Britain.”

In the U.S., where Harry and Meghan now live, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki was asked whether President Joe Biden and his wife Jill had any reaction to the interview.

Psaki said Meghan’s decision to speak about her struggles with mental health “takes courage” and “that’s certainly something the president believes in.”

But she said she wouldn’t offer additional comment on the situation “given these are private citizens, sharing their own story and their own struggles.”

Harry slams ‘toxic’ British tabloid press

Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, announced they were quitting royal duties last year, citing what they said were the unbearable intrusions and racist attitudes of the British media, and they moved to California, where Meghan was born and raised.

That split became official this year, and the interview was widely seen as their first opportunity to explain their decision.

In a clip released Monday that was not broadcast the night before, Harry reiterated that racism was “a large part” of the reason the couple left Britain — and he blamed the “toxic” British tabloid press.

“The U.K. is not bigoted,” he said. “The U.K. press is bigoted, specifically the tabloids.”


The younger royals have campaigned for support and awareness around mental health, but Harry says the Royal Family was unable to offer that support to its own members. (Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images)

The implications for the interview — which was broadcast Sunday night in the United States and will air in Britain on Monday night — are only beginning to be understood. Emily Nash, royal editor at Hello! magazine, said the revelations had left her and many other viewers “shell-shocked.”

“I don’t see how the palace can ignore these allegations; they’re incredibly serious,” she said. “You have the racism allegations. Then you also have the claim that Meghan was not supported, and she sought help even from the HR team within the household and was told that she couldn’t seek help.”

‘This rotten institution needs to go’

Anti-monarchy group Republic said the interview gave a clearer picture of what the Royal Family is like — and it’s not pretty.

“Whether for the sake of Britain or for the sake of the younger royals, this rotten institution needs to go,” Graham Smith of the campaign group said.

Harry, born a royal prince, described how his wife’s experience had helped him realize how he and the rest of the family were stuck in an oppressive institution.

“I was trapped, but I didn’t know I was trapped,” Harry said. “My father and my brother, they are trapped.”

Meghan, he said, “saved me.”

WATCH | Meghan says Royal Family failed to protect her and Prince Harry:

The Duchess of Sussex told Oprah Winfrey that things started to worsen with the Royal Family after she and Harry were married. 0:23

The younger royals — including Harry, Meghan, Harry’s brother, Prince William, and William’s wife, Catherine — have made campaigning for support and awareness around mental health one of their priorities. But Harry said the Royal Family was completely unable to offer that support to its own members.

“For the family, they very much have this mentality of ‘This is just how it is, this is how it’s meant to be, you can’t change it, we’ve all been through it,'” Harry said.

Criticism, sympathy for the couple

The couple had faced severe criticism in the United Kingdom before the interview. Prince Philip, 99, is in a London hospital after recovering from a heart procedure, and critics saw the decision to go forward as being a burden on the Queen — even though CBS, rather than Harry and Meghan, dictated the timing of the broadcast.

In the United States, sympathy for the couple poured in after the interview. Britain could be less forgiving, since some see the pair as putting personal happiness ahead of public duty.

Tennis star Serena Williams, a friend who attended Harry and Meghan’s wedding, said on Twitter that the duchess’s words “illustrate the pain and cruelty she’s experienced.”


“The mental health consequences of systemic oppression and victimization are devastating, isolating and all too often lethal,” Williams added.

Other well-known figures also reacted on social media, including filmmaker Ava DuVernay — who referenced the BBC’s bombshell interview with Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, in 1995 — tennis star Billie Jean King and U.S. inauguration poet Amanda Gorman.




Some 17.1 million Americans — tuning in for one of the biggest TV events in the past year — watched the interview, broadcaster CBS said on Monday.

CBS said the interview was the most watched TV special outside the annual National Football League Super Bowl in a year.

While clips of the interview have been shared online, and the British press covered the major points, much of Britain won’t see the full interview until Monday night — and many will want to know how the palace addresses this saga. The palace has not responded to the interview.


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The Meghan and Harry interview: A ‘damaging’ view on race as Palace history repeats itself

Hello, royal watchers. This is a special edition of The Royal Fascinator, your dose of royal news and analysis. Reading this online? Sign up here to get this delivered to your inbox.


The revelations just kept coming Sunday night as Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, gave Oprah Winfrey — and a worldwide television audience — their view on why they had to leave the upper echelons of the Royal Family.

The reasons were many, but amid all they had to say, there was one statement that stood out and seems particularly serious for the House of Windsor: Meghan’s declaration that a senior member of the Royal Family had worries about the colour of the skin of their first child before he was born.

In an interview Monday on CBS This Morning, Winfrey said Harry told her neither Queen Elizabeth nor Prince Philip were part of conversations about Archie’s skin colour.

“I think it’s very damaging — the idea that a senior member of the Royal Family had expressed concern about what Archie might look like,” Carolyn Harris, a Toronto-based royal author and historian, said in an interview late Sunday night.

Meghan told Winfrey the concern had been relayed to her by Harry, and when questioned further on it, Harry refused to offer more specifics, saying it’s a “conversation I’m never going to share.”

And that, Harris suggests, speaks to the seriousness of the matter.

“It’s very clear that Harry didn’t want to go into details feeling that it would be too damaging for the monarchy.”

WATCH | Royal Family expressed concerns about son’s skin colour, Meghan tells Oprah:

Meghan told Oprah Winfrey that the Royal Family didn’t want her and Prince Harry’s son to be made a prince or receive security partly over concerns over how dark the baby’s skin would be. 0:15

It will take time to digest the impact of all that Harry and Meghan had to say to Winfrey. But some early comments in the British media this morning suggest Harry and Meghan’s account will have a profound impact.

“They have revealed the terrible strains inside the palace. They have drawn a picture of unfeeling individuals lost in an uncaring institution. They have spoken of racism within the Royal Family. This was a devastating interview,” the BBC’s royal correspondent, Jonny Dymond, wrote in an online analysis

“But Harry describing his brother and father as ‘trapped,’ and Meghan revealing that she repeatedly sought help within the palace only to be rebuffed is a body blow to the institution.”

‘A damning allegation’

The Guardian reported that Harry and Meghan telling Winfrey of conversations in the Royal Family about Archie’s skin colour is “a damning allegation that will send shockwaves through the institution and send relations with the palace to a new low.”

Many themes and issues developed over the two-hour broadcast, which sprinkled lighter moments — they’re expecting a girl, they have rescue chickens and Archie, age almost two, has taken to telling people to “drive safe” — with much more serious concerns, including the lack of support they say they received, particularly as Meghan had suicidal thoughts.

WATCH | Meghan had suicidal thoughts during royal life:

The Duchess of Sussex told Oprah Winfrey that she had asked for help from the Royal Family for her mental health, but received none. 0:22

“A theme that emerges again and again, and it’s something that Harry explicitly states in the interview, is the Royal Family being concerned with the opinion of the tabloid press,” said Harris. “This may very well have influenced decisions not to speak out about the way Meghan was being treated and that may have influenced some other decisions as well.”

One of those might be the question of security, something that was of considerable concern to the couple when they learned royal support for it would be withdrawn.

“The Royal Family has frequently in the past received bad press regarding minor members … receiving security,”said Harris.

‘Negative headlines’

“There were a lot of negative headlines regarding Beatrice and Eugenie continuing to receive security and their father’s [Prince Andrew’s] insistence they receive security despite being comparatively minor members of the Royal Family who do not undertake public engagements representing the Queen.”

There was also a sense out of Sunday’s interview that issues that troubled the Royal Family in the past may still be a worry now.

“Even in the 21st century after all of the problems that the Royal Family encountered in the 1990s with the breakdowns in the marriages of Prince Charles and Prince Andrew … there still doesn’t seem to be a consistent means of mentoring new members of the Royal Family,” said Harris.

Meghan said she had to Google the lyrics for God Save the Queen, and was filled in at the last minute about having to curtsy to Elizabeth just before meeting her for the first time.


Queen Elizabeth, Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, pose for a picture at a Buckingham Palace reception following the final Queen’s Young Leaders Awards ceremony in London on June 26, 2018. Both Meghan and Harry spoke warmly of the Queen during the interview Sunday night. (John Stillwell/Reuters)

Throughout the interview, Harry and Meghan repeatedly expressed respect and admiration for the Queen, if not for how the Royal Family as an institution operates.

But there is considerable murkiness around just who may be responsible for some of the more serious issues they raised.

“We know they respect the Queen and have a good personal relationship with the Queen. We know that Meghan had a conflict with Kate but says Kate apologized and Meghan forgave her and she doesn’t think Kate’s a bad person,” said Harris.

Lacking ‘specific details’

“But when it comes to who made racist comments about Archie’s appearance or who was dismissive directly of Meghan’s mental health, [on] that we don’t have specific details.”

High-profile royal interviews such as this — particularly one by Harry’s mother Diana, in 1995 — have a track record of not turning out as the royal interviewees may have intended, and it remains to be seen the lasting impact of this one. 

Harris sees parallels with Diana’s interview, as she “spoke frankly” about a lack of support from the family, and felt that she had been let down by Prince Charles.


Meghan spoke with Winfrey before they were joined by Harry. (Harpo Productions/Joe Pugliese/Reuters)

Harry talked of hoping to repair his relationship with his father — “I will always love him but there’s a lot of hurt that happened” — but said he felt really let down, and noted a time when his father wasn’t taking his calls.

Harris expects the interview will prompt further critical scrutiny of Charles, and Harry’s older brother Prince William.

The relationship with William has already been under intense scrutiny, and is clearly still a delicate matter for Harry, who hesitated noticeably before responding as Winfrey pressed him on it. 

“Time heals all things, hopefully,” Harry said.

How Buckingham Palace responds to all this remains to be seen. Generally, the public approach in matters such as this is silence, and a determination to be seen as carrying on with regular duties.

Whether a member of the family might make a more informal comment — say in response to a question from someone at a public event — also remains to be seen. 

WATCH | Meghan says Royal Family failed to protect her and Prince Harry:

The Duchess of Sussex told Oprah Winfrey that things started to worsen with the Royal Family after she and Harry were married. 0:23

But from what did emerge Sunday evening, there is a sense that whatever efforts the House of Windsor has made to put a more modern face on the monarchy, they appear not to have yielded the fruit that might have been hoped.

“There’s been some elements of modernization, but it’s very clear that the institution has difficulty adapting to the needs of individuals who marry into the Royal Family,” said Harris. “It’s clear that Meghan came away from her experiences feeling that she was not supported or mentored in her new role.”


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Tensions with palace rise ahead of Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah

Hello, royal watchers. This is your regular dose of royal news and analysis. Reading this online? Sign up here to get this delivered to your inbox.


Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, may have stepped back as working members of the Royal Family. But the attention often focused on the couple now living in California was at a fever pitch this week ahead of their televised interview Sunday night with talk-show host Oprah Winfrey.

Headlines swirled on both sides of the Atlantic, reinforcing an impression of growing tensions and a public relations tug-of-war between the couple and Buckingham Palace. 

The American network CBS released clips from the interview, which included Harry’s worries about similarities between the treatment of Meghan and his late mother, Diana, and Meghan accusing the palace of “perpetuating falsehoods.”

In the U.K., media headlines spun particularly around a Times newspaper report of allegations that Meghan bullied palace staff, something the palace has said will be investigated.

All of this comes as Harry’s grandfather Prince Philip continues what has become a lengthy stay in hospital, which has led some to question whether the interview should be broadcast at all right now.

So far, any delay seems unlikely and any sense that things will settle down after the interview seems remote.


Harry and Meghan, shown at Canada House in London in January 2020, stepped back as senior members of the Royal Family last year. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/Reuters)

“I think the winner is likely to be the media and particularly Oprah,” British PR expert Mark Borkowski said over the phone from the U.K. this week.

“It isn’t going to come out as well as [Harry and Meghan] thought, but at the end of the day, their market is the U.S.A. and North America.”

While the broadcast — initially pegged at 90 minutes and since expanded to two hours — may focus on specifics of their royal life after their marriage in 2018, it’s also widely seen as part of their effort to chart their course outside the upper echelons of the Royal Family.

“Some of the things that they’re likely to say that might rile the Royal Family might rile the British media — that’s obviously a decision they’ve made because they’re building a brand,” said Borkowski.

And their choice of interviewer would appear to have its own strategy, too.

“I think Oprah is probably the best role model for who they’d like to become in terms of what she stands for, the qualities, the philanthropy, the ideals that she espouses,” said American public relations expert Howard Bragman. 


Oprah Winfrey, whose interview with Harry and Meghan will be broadcast Sunday night, was a guest at their wedding at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in Windsor, England, on May 19, 2018. (Ian West/Reuters)

It is a case, Bragman said over the phone from Los Angeles, “where [Canadian philosopher and communications theorist] Marshall McLuhan’s ‘the medium is the message’ is certainly at play.”

Bragman expects “a classic Oprah interview.”

“She’s not going to be easy on them. Nobody would respect her. She wouldn’t respect herself and that’s not what she’s known for,” he said. 

“She’s going to ask the tough questions but in an empathetic way. She’s been there. Anything you’re talking about, which is giving up your privacy, the scrutiny, some of the backbiting they’ve had to deal with, she’s had to deal with these things. “

The interview Sunday evening comes a few hours after members of the Royal Family will take part in a television broadcast to mark Commonwealth Day. It will include a message from the Queen, with Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall; Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge; and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, also expected to take part.

The broadcast replaces the annual Commonwealth Service usually held at Westminster Abbey in London, which is not possible this year given the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s also in stark contrast to last year’s Commonwealth Service, where senior members of the Royal Family all came together at the abbey, with much observation focusing on how Harry and Meghan were — or weren’t — perhaps getting along with other members of the family. 


Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, front, with Harry and Meghan, behind, attend the annual Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in London on March 9, 2020. (Phil Harris/The Associated Press)

From Borkowski’s perspective, the Royal Family “is still struggling” with how to deal with all that is swirling around Harry and Meghan right now.

High-profile royal interviews have a shaky track record for turning out as the interviewees might have hoped or intended. There were deep repercussions from Diana’s interview with the BBC in 1995, and from Prince Andrew’s with the BBC in 2019, in the wake of controversy over his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Both Borkowski and Bragman will be riveted to Sunday’s interview, and expect a lot of other people will be, too. (Deals have been struck to show the interview Sunday or early next week in dozens of countries, ViacomCBS Global Distribution Group has said.)

“It’s still going to have a long tail,” said Bragman. “People will talk, people will look at clips, people will analyze body language, hair and outfits and they’ll tear it apart.”

Overall, Borkowski doesn’t expect it will end well.

“It’s going to fall into two categories. Americans are probably going to love it,” he said. “The Brits are going to say, how dare you.”

Borkowski suggests there might have been another way for Harry and Meghan to get their message out, as they work on building their brand, and their deals with Netflix and Spotify and so on.

“Let their content do the talking,” he said. 

Prince Philip still in hospital


Prince Philip remains in a London hospital more than two weeks after he was admitted for treatment of an infection. He has also had a heart procedure. (Adrian Dennis/Getty Images)

While details remain relatively scant regarding Prince Philip’s condition in hospital, Buckingham Palace has said he is recovering after a “successful procedure” for a pre-existing heart condition.

The Queen’s 99-year-old husband was admitted to hospital in London for treatment of an infection on Feb. 16 after feeling unwell.

Earlier this week, he was transferred to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, which has Europe’s largest specialized cardiovascular unit, the BBC reported. 

Philip underwent the procedure on Wednesday, and the palace said the following day that he would be staying in hospital to rest and recuperate for a number of days. On Friday morning, Philip was transferred back to the central London hospital where he had been admitted more than two weeks ago.

As is routine when it comes to matters of royal health, few details have been made public regarding Philip.

Given that, many outside the palace walls try to assess the situation in any way they can, observing how other members of the Royal Family — including the Queen — appear to be carrying on with their normal duties.


A police officer stands near King Edward VII’s Hospital, where Prince Philip returned in London on Friday. (John Sibley/Reuters)

Any comment a member of the family makes spreads quickly. On Wednesday, Philip’s daughter-in-law, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, was at a COVID-19 vaccination centre in London when a volunteer asked her about him.

“We heard today that he’s slightly improving,” the BBC reported Camilla saying. “So, that’s very good news. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.”

Philip has had various stays in hospital in recent years, including for a hip replacement just before Harry’s wedding three years ago. The current stay is reportedly the longest he has had.

What’s in a royal baby name?


Princess Eugenie and her husband, Jack Brooksbank, have named their son August Philip Hawke Brooksbank. He was born Feb. 9 at London’s Portland Hospital. (Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank via AP)

Tapping past generations for a new baby’s name is common in all families, royal or otherwise.

The latest royal baby’s name is in keeping with that practice — but the choice made by Princess Eugenie and her husband, Jack Brooksbank, represents a far less common option than monikers such as Elizabeth or George that recur with some regularity on royal birth certificates.

August Philip Hawke Brooksbank was born on Feb. 9, and his name was announced several days later.

“He is named after his great-grandfather and both of his great x5 grandfathers,” Eugenie wrote on Instagram.

The great-grandfather is Prince Philip. Hawke comes from the Brooksbank side of the family.

And August is a nod to Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, whose full name was Franz August Karl Albert Emanuel.

Eugenie’s name has its own connections to Victoria, who had a granddaughter named Victoria Eugenie. 

In a video posted online the other day in connection with Eugenie’s work founding the Anti-Slavery Collective, she talked of aspirations for her child.

“I think my child hopefully will be one of those people who will continue to see the world as a place that can be changed,” Eugenie said in the interview recorded before August’s birth.

“I hope that the world will be a place where my child can have hope and continue to know that they can make a big difference.”

Royally quotable

“It is obviously difficult for people if they’ve never had a vaccine, because they ought to think about other people other than themselves.”    

— Queen Elizabeth, during a video call with health officials overseeing COVID-19 inoculations across the United Kingdom.

Royal reads

  1. Prince William and Kate urged people to get a COVID-19 vaccination during a video call with people preparing to get their shots. [BBC]

  2. Prince Harry got fresh about leaving royal duties in an appearance on The Late Late Show with James Corden (the host was also a guest at Harry and Meghan’s wedding). (CBC)

  3. Hortense Mancini, a mistress of Charles II, set trends ahead of her time, establishing a salon in 17th-century London where her female peers had the same freedoms as men, new research shows. [The Guardian]

  4. Another high-profile royal interview won’t be investigated by police in London. Controversy had swirled in recent months over the interview Harry’s mother, Diana, gave the BBC in 1995. [ITV]


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Interview: NASA’s Adam Steltzner Talks Perseverance, 10 iPhones in a Box, and Why We Shouldn’t Colonize Mars

NASA’s Perseverance rover is set to touch down on Mars this week, and we had the opportunity to talk to one of the people who had a hand in bringing this mission to fruition. Adam Steltzner is the chief engineer of the Mars 2020 project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and he designed the rover’s ambitious sample return system. He’s featured heavily in the upcoming Nat Geo documentary Built for Mars, which follows the twists and turns of getting this robot to the red planet. Our conversation below was lightly edited for clarity and length.

ExtremeTech: When preparing for Mars 2020, was the plan always to build on the Curiosity chassis?

Adam Steltzner: Yes. From the very, very beginning, our currently deputy project manager, who was previously the flight system manager on Curiosity, after Curiosity was off from Earth and on the way to Mars, he sat down and blue sky said, “How much spare equipment do I have?” At Curiosity’s launch, there was no plan for any follow-on missions. So Matt Wallace sat down and said, “How much equipment do we have? Could one put that together and defer the costs of a build and get a mission to Mars building essentially on the investment that we’ve made with Curiosity?” From its very first–the idea was to build off of Curiosity’s foundation.

ExtremeTech: Were there any ideas pitched for Perseverance that you just couldn’t make happen because of time or expense?

Adam: Not really!

ExtremeTech: You got everything you wanted?

Adam: I’m just making sure that–it’s rare that somebody says, “Did you get everything you wanted?” That’s why it takes me a while to say yes because I’m like, “I guess I did.” I’m not used to that, but yes.

ExtremeTech: What’s the specific geological significance of Jezero Crater where Perseverance is going to touch down?

Adam: The scientists want to go to Jezero crater, they tell me, because it was once a lake back in that wet time for Mars, and right where we’re landing was the delta. I am being educated that deltas are deltaic deposits. That’s to say, the sediment that creates the fan-like structure of a delta.

The fan-like structure of a delta comes from when a river runs into a bigger body of water, the water slows down. When it was moving quickly, it was able to carry particles and sediments with it in suspension, in Stokes flow. But when it slows down, mean velocity in the flow is reduced, and it can no longer carry those particles in Stokes flow.

When they settle out, they are incredibly good at preserving evidence of life that was carried with those stream beds or living there, as they add on a protective layer of geological material. Deltaic deposits are the best places we find here on Earth to look for signs of ancient life. The Jezero Crater, where it is on the globe of Mars, and the fact that it’s wet, the fact that we’ve got a very clear delta are the reasons that we wanted to go to Jezero.

ExtremeTech: The Ingenuity Helicopter is just a technology demonstration with no important instruments, but if it flies and works beautifully, is there any way that it could be used to help Perseverance complete its mission?

Adam: A helicopter or an aerial asset such as Ingenuity could be very, very useful to a surface mission. Ingenuity herself, because she’s a ride-along and a late addition, is sized such that she doesn’t have much of a life expectancy on the surface of Mars.

Seasonally, we will get to a place where the temperatures drop and there’s not enough sunlight for her to maintain battery temperature overnight to keep the battery cells good. She’s got a limit to her life expectancy, and therefore, we don’t have a plan. We don’t believe there’s an opportunity for a windfall use of Ingenuity. Now, if we’re wrong about all that, she survives, there may be, but we think that we’re really taking her there proving that we can fly on the surface of Mars in less than one percent of the atmosphere we have on earth. It’s very, very low density. That’s a very high altitude here on earth, way higher than helicopters ever fly.

We had to totally redesign the relationship between the elastic flexible modes of the rotor system and the atmospheric interaction modes. It’s upside-down compared to how helicopters are designed here on earth. She’s also taking some lightweight, highly integrated avionics electronics, flight electronics, that are offshoots of commercial consumer electronics. For instance, she has a Qualcomm Snapdragon chip, which is a cellphone chip that is the size of my thumbnail and does an amazing job doing pretty much what our visual compute element, which is the size of a lunchbox, does.

ExtremeTech: Let’s talk about the sample return system. Why go to the trouble of bringing the samples back to Earth? What can you do with a Martian core sample here on Earth that you can’t do with a rover on Mars?

Adam: The answer to that is pretty easy. Anything you want. The problem with the other way, that is to say, doing the science investigation, what we call in situ at Mars, is you have to conceive of the measurements, you have to conceive of a hypothesis. You conceive of your scientific hypothesis, that there are, let’s say, organic materials trapped in the clays found here. Then you need to say, “what science instrument could take measurements to determine if there are organic compounds there? Can I miniaturize that science instrument?” Most of the time, the answer is, “No, you can’t,” but for some science, the answer is, “Yes, I can.”

So, you take something that would be the size of a room, a big piece of equipment, and make a miniature version of it that’s hardened for space flight, stick it on a rover, put it on Mars. You make the measurements and it’s like, “Yes, it does look like there’s organics. Are they biogenic? Gee, it’s hard to tell. Boy, I would like this other measurement.” Now I hypothesize an instrument to do that. That could be miniaturized and ruggedized and I do another expedition to Mars.

The problem is, as is always the case when we’re learning or understanding, each question we answer opens another question, and each of those question cycles is about 10 years for you to figure out how to build it, shrink it, build it, put it on Mars, take that measurement, get a new question, and do it again. If you bring the samples back from Mars to Earth, you have all of Earth’s equipment, all of Earth’s scientists, all of the ingenuity that is across this globe that can be brought to bear on the investigation.

ExtremeTech: It seems like if you’re bringing all these samples back and you’re going to do all these tests, you want to make very certain that you don’t accidentally analyze any bits of Earth.

Adam: Right.

ExtremeTech: How do you make sure? You’re building these things in the Earth’s atmosphere. There’s Earth all around you. How do you make sure none of it gets into the sample containers?

Adam: It’s a humungous pain in the ass. We’ve built the cleanest hardware that has ever been put in space. I designed the sampling system and invented the cleaning protocols. It was a huge effort. The way you do it is you carefully choose your materials. For instance, the sample tubes are made out of titanium, but they have a titanium nitride surface. The titanium sample tube is exposed to a low-pressure plasma of nitrogen gas in a high-energy environment. That high-energy nitrogen plasma penetrates the surface of the titanium and creates titanium nitride, which is a refractory material and is incredibly inert. It’s more passive than gold. That passivity means that things don’t like to stick to it. It’s like super Teflon in some sense.

Then we take that super clean passive system sample tube and we put it behind a fluid mechanical particle barrier. This is a specially designed barrier that does not allow any particles greater than 0.3 microns in size to make it into the volume in which the sample tubes are sealed. Then once they’re in that, we put them in an oven, and we bake that oven for hundreds of hours and clean everything out of the inside of that tube. Then we have something that looks a little bit like, in some sense, functionally, it’s a little bit like a Band-Aid. That is to say, it’s sterile, individually wrapped.

ExtremeTech: Did making the “cleanest hardware ever” cause any unforeseen issues?

Adam: Yes! Here’s a fun fact. Every friction measurement that an engineer has ever known is a friction measurement that’s conducted with a very, very thin film of hydrocarbons present on the surface of the material. If I take a piece of aluminum foil and I bake it, let’s say, at 500°C in an oxygen environment, that will combust all of the hydrocarbons on that piece of aluminum. Then I bring it outside of the chamber in a clean room, and I put it on a desk with a HEPA-filtered flow bench, with absolutely sterile, particle-free air blowing over it. Within hours, it will have accumulated a monolayer of hydrocarbons that just get sucked out of the atmosphere.

Your breakfast, my lunch, the decomposition of fall leaves — Earth is a soup. We think we’re walking around, but we’re really swimming in a soup of life and the byproducts of life. Those show up on every single piece of stuff you’ve ever touched. Some stuff has lots less of it. For instance, if you have a piece of titanium nitride, it doesn’t have as much. It accumulates more slowly, and it accumulates less, and it accumulates slightly different, in a molecular weight sense, than if I have a piece of aluminum. Aluminum’s very hungry. It has a reactive surface.

If you go to a testing laboratory that’s testing the friction coefficient between 440 stainless steel and nitronic 60, and they say, “Oh, yes, the friction coefficient between these two is X.” Well, what they were really doing is they were testing it with that thin film of hydrocarbons present on it. When you bake those away like we did, it’s much stickier. Everything is much stickier. We struggled a lot with that. In fact, we had to change, on the fly, our cleaning protocols. We had originally envisioned baking at 350°C for about 10 minutes, and we had to back down to 200°C, essentially to leave a little bit of hydrocarbons present on parts. When you go into this unworldly clean domain, you find yourself fighting against challenges that were hard to anticipate because they are challenges very different than any faced with all of human activity to date.

ExtremeTech: You need, I think, two more missions to get these samples back to Earth. Correct?

Adam: That’s correct.

ExtremeTech: Ballpark, when do you think you can have them back on Earth?

Adam: About 10 years, 10 to 12 years from now.

ExtremeTech: If Perseverance discovers life on Mars, when you get those samples back and you’re looking at them, what’s the piece of data that convinces scientists something was alive in Jezero crater three billion years ago?

Adam: Signs of ancient life can come in different forms. To make a convincing argument, you are likely to have several of those forms of evidence aligned. For instance, you would look at morphological shapes that look like microstructures or microfossils. Then you would look to see if those shapes were made out of what I think the scientists called carrageenan, which is essentially the carbon residue of life. You would use multiple lines of evidence.

You would look at the location in the geological deposit that these things were in and see that it was associated with, for instance, a lake shore in the past. You would use sets of evidence that were aligned and corroborated the position that ancient life in the form that you see. Just as we do today. You find things called stromatolites. Stromatolites are algae mats. They make this special form. That form, although not uniquely biotic — there are abiotic processes that can make similar forms and shapes in geology — but when you find the stromatolite-like forms and you are in a place where it’s an ancient lake bed, and the mineralogy of the elemental makeup of the stromatolite demonstrates the presence of these carbon-rich compounds associated with life, then all of those things together say that is a biotic stromatolite. That was an ancient lake bed, and that microfossil was the algae that was forming at the edge of the lake.

ExtremeTech: What does Mars smell like? Obviously, you haven’t been there to smell, but if you were to guess?

Adam: Mars smells like your grandparent’s clothing trunk that hasn’t been opened in decades.

ExtremeTech: I like that. Why?

Adam: There’s that kind of like empty, there’s a hint of something… it’s dry, it’s old, it’s dusty.

ExtremeTech: Kind of musty?

Adam: Yes. That’s what it is for me.

ExtremeTech: How far away do you think we are from being able to colonize Mars? And would you ever go?

Adam: I hope infinitely far away from being able to colonize Mars.

ExtremeTech: You don’t think that Mars is someplace we should live?

Adam: No. In the evolution of Earth, the Earth’s environment has gotten pretty bad at times. Most notably, about 65 million years ago, when an asteroid smashed into what’s now a region of the Yucatán Peninsula and killed all the dinosaurs with a dusted atmosphere. It killed a lot of the plants and 90 percent of the species. In the middle of that moment, the environment on Earth was still infinitely more habitable for life than I think we could ever make Mars.

We evolved to have one Earth gravity that keeps my spinal fluid in the right pressures as I stand, and if I don’t stand frequently, my body doesn’t like it, I age poorly. People who are bedridden die very rapidly because their bodies are made to move and they’re made to move in one G. The fibers of my bones grow in directions of the principal stress state of my skeleton as defined by the way it interacts with Earth’s gravity. I am so much of Earth that me away from Earth isn’t really me, and so that’s true for you.

ExtremeTech: What do you think is the next game-changing technology for planetary exploration?

Adam: I think the next game-changing technology for planetary exploration, which may not sound too whiz-bang, is the utilization of commercial, off-the-shelf consumer electronics. Here is an illustrative example although a preposterous one. Imagine 10 iPhones sitting in a box. They are not radiation-hardened, but they vote. A processor asks them all the same question and takes a voted result. The ones that have gotten gorked by a cosmic ray running through the neighborhood or a little local radiation as we approach Jupiter are just counted in the voting scheme. We do this all the time with certain things like, for instance, a Boeing 777 has got three computers and they do triple loading arrangements so that if one computer has a hiccup, it doesn’t bring the plane down.

Imagine a set of iPhones in a voting scheme somehow being utilized to overcome the radiation environment. The processor that we have running Perseverance is the same one that ran Curiosity. It’s the same one that was in my Beige box G4 Macintosh in 1999 when I got my Ph.D. When we build the [Perseverance] computer, we do it with a person hand-soldering wires to wires. It’s heavy, it’s expensive, and 25-years-ago technology. There’s 10 times the power, 100 times. I haven’t done the math lately on my current iPhone to how much more processing power it has. [Ed note: We checked, and the current iPhone is about 15-20 times faster than the CPU in Perseverance.]

An interplanetary spacecraft’s about a billion bucks. When launch services come down to the order of $ 100 million, the launch is no longer the big price, the price is the building of the thing. Now you say, if I really wanted to reach out and do a lot more exploration, how do I bring the price of the spacecraft down? Well, you can look across the whole gamut, but one of the big places that could be is in the way we control, the way we program, the kinds of ways in which we operate the vehicle. Taking cues from modern technology and applying it to space exploration may allow us to drive down the cost and further increase the value proposition of our robotic exploration of space.

If you want to learn more about NASA’s Perseverance rover, the documentary airs on Nat Geo on Thursday, February 18, at 8 PM ET. That’s the same day Perseverance will touch down in Jezero Crater, which NASA has scheduled for about 4 PM ET.

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