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Christine Sinclair’s return highlights Canadian camp roster heading into friendlies

Canadian captain Christine Sinclair is back in the mix as the Canadian women’s national team gathers in England ahead of two European friendlies later this month. 

Sinclair, international soccer’s all-time leading goal scorer with 186 goals, who sat out the SheBelieves Cup in February due to injury, was among the 26 players called to camp by head coach Bev Priestman as Canada continues to take shape ahead of the Tokyo Olympics in July.  

The No. 8 Canadians play world No. 31 Wales on April 9 at Leckwith Stadium in Cardiff before an April 13 match-up with No. 6 England at Stoke City Stadium in Stoke-on-Trent. It will be a homecoming of sorts for Priestman, a native of Consett, England, who spent the last two and a half years as an assistant with England. 

“The matches against Wales and England in April are again critical to our preparation for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games,” Priestman said in a statement. 

“If you look at both teams, they have had success against top-10 teams over the past two years and obviously England were semifinalists at the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019, which will be a great Tier 1 test to assess players and where this group is at. I’m excited to get back in with the group and continue building towards where we want to be come the summer.”

WATCH | Analyzing Canada’s performance at SheBelieves Cup:

Signa Butler is joined by John Molinaro and Harjeet Johal, to assess Team Canada’s performance in their debut at the SheBelieves Cup and which players made the most of their opportunity, for the notably short-handed Canadian side. 7:20

Last chance to gage potential Olympic roster

This is Canada’s second camp in 2021 after being idle for 11 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic and various travel and health restrictions. It’s also perhaps the last chance to get on Priestman’s radar look before the team is chosen for the Olympic Games.

The SheBelieves Cup, Priestman’s first tournament in charge since taking the reins in October, wasn’t a true evaluation of the Canadian squad as it was beset by player issues and availability issues. 

They won one game — 1-0 stoppage time win over Argentina — and lost two, a hard-fought 1-0 loss to the No. 1 United States and a 2-0 defeat to fellow No. 8 Brazil. 

While there were positives in the tournament, such as four players earning their first caps and younger players getting valuable playing time, goal scoring continued to be an issue. Dating back to February 2020, Canada has been outscored 9-3 in its last seven matches (1-4-2). Even more worrisome is their recent record against top-10 teams – 0-8-2, where they’ve been outscored 20-3. 

Kadeisha Buchanan, Canada’s reigning player of the year and a standout centre back with Olympique Lyonnais, is unavailable for medical reasons. 

The only new face to the camp is uncapped Cloe Lacasse, a 27-year-old forward from Sudbury, Ont., who plays in Portugal for Benfica.

Canada’s roster:

Goalkeepers: Rylee Foster (Liverpool FC), Stephanie Labbé (Rosengård), Erin McLeod (Orlando Pride)

Defenders: Lindsay Agnew (North Carolina Courage), Gabrielle Carle (Florida State University), Allysha Chapman (Houston Dash), Vanessa Gilles (FC Girondins de Bordeaux), Ashley Lawrence (Paris Saint-Germain), Jayde Riviere (University of Michigan), Jade Rose (Super REX Ontario), Shelina Zadorsky (Tottenham Hotspur)

Midfielders: Samantha Chang (University of South Carolina), Jessie Fleming (Chelsea FC), Julia Grosso (University of Texas at Austin), Jordyn Listro (Orlando Pride), Quinn (OL Reign FC), Sophie Schmidt (Houston Dash),  Desiree Scott (Kansas City NWSL), Sarah Stratigakis (University of Michigan)

Forwards: Janine Beckie (Manchester City FC), Jordyn Huitema (Paris Saint-Germain),  Cloe Lacasse (Benfica), Nichelle Prince (Houston Dash), Deanne Rose (University of Florida), Christine Sinclair (Portland Thorns), Evelyne Viens (Sky Blue FC), 

Unavailable due to medical reasons: Kadeisha Buchanan (Olympique Lyonnais), Adriana Leon (F, West Ham United), Kailen Sheridan (GK, Sky Blue FC), Sabrina D’Angelo (Vittsjö GIK), Diana Matheson (MF, Kansas City NWSL), Bianca St-Georges (D, Chicago Red Stars)

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NASA Awards Contract for Mars Sample Return Rocket

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Perseverance is finally rolling around the Martian surface after arriving last month, and NASA hopes to cover a lot of ground as it searches for evidence of life. The rover won’t do all the science itself, though. Part of its mission is to collect samples that will eventually make their way back to Earth, and NASA just awarded a contract to Northrop Grumman to build part of the return system. Specifically, the long-time government contractor will develop the Mars Ascent Propulsion System (MAPS). 

The Perseverance rover is just the first part of a three-stage plan to get pieces of Mars back to Earth. As the rover travels around Mars, it will use its robotic arm and drill to collect, photograph, and store samples in special ultra-clean metal tubes. The rover doesn’t have any way to get these samples off the surface, but that’s where the second phase comes in. 

To get those samples into space, NASA is working on a Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV). The MAPS contract awarded to Northrop Grumman covers just the rocket that will launch from the MAV with the samples safely inside, but arguably, that’s the most important part of the mission. Mars has just one-third of Earth’s gravity, which will allow the MAPS to be smaller and more compact than rockets that launch on Earth. 

The MAV will also have a sample fetch rover that will pick up the tubes from Perseverance and bring them back to the MAV. If successful, the MAPS system will be the first rocket ever launched from the surface of another planet. The contract has a total value of $ 84.5 million. Work on the project will begin immediately with a 14-month timeline for initial design and testing. 

The ultra-clean sample containers Perseverance will fill up on Mars.

Once the samples are in orbit, NASA will need to send a third mission to Mars to pick up the payload and send it back to Earth. JPL fellow and Mars 2020 chief engineer Adam Steltzner believes it should be possible to return the Mars samples in 10-12 years. 

Getting some bits of Mars back to Earth in pristine condition could vastly expand our understanding of the dusty world. While rovers like Perseverance and Curiosity can do incredible in-situ science, some instruments can’t be miniaturized and stuffed into a rocket. Researchers on Earth can also come up with new ways to study the samples without needing to wait for another Mars mission to take their experiment into space.

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Canadian keeper Sheridan vows to return ‘stronger, better than ever’ from surgery

Sky Blue FC says Canadian goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan has undergone successful surgery on her right quad.

The NWSL club said there is no timetable for Sheridan’s return.

The 25-year-old from Whitby, Ont., was injured Feb. 18 in Canada’s first game at the SheBelieves Cup in Orlando. She was helped off the pitch in the 10th minute of the 1-0 loss to the U.S., going down in pain after a seemingly innocuous pass to a teammate.

“Surgery went really well and I am excited to start my recovery process,” Sheridan said in a statement Tuesday. “I will be pushing myself to come back stronger and better than ever.”

The Olympic football tournament is scheduled for July 21 to Aug. 7 in Tokyo. Canada Soccer said it had no information on Sheridan’s possible return to action.

Veteran Stephanie Labbe, who has 72 caps, started the rest of the SheBelieves Cup, with the uncapped Rylee Foster as her backup. Erin McLeod, a 38-year-old who has 118 caps, had to leave camp early with a dislocated finger.

WATCH | Sheridan leaves SheBelieves Cup game with injury:

Early in the match against the United States, Canada’s goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan plays the ball then goes down in pain. She would have to be replaced by Stephanie Labbé. 1:19

Also Tuesday, the Chicago Red Stars said Canadian defender Bianca St-Georges had successful arthroscopic surgery to repair a “lower knee injury” suffered in camp with Canada prior to the SheBelieves Cup.

The NWSL team said the surgery happened Feb. 24. The 23-year-old from Quebec is expected to return to action before the May 15 start of the regular season.

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Harry and Meghan will not return to royal duties, Buckingham Palace says

Buckingham Palace confirmed Friday that Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, will not be returning to royal duties, and Harry will give up his honorary military titles.

When Harry and Meghan stepped away from full-time royal life in early 2020, it was agreed the situation would be reviewed after a year.

The palace said in a statement “that they will not be returning as working members of The Royal Family.”

It said Harry’s appointment as captain general of the Royal Marines and with other military groups would revert to Queen Elizabeth II before being distributed to other members of the family.

Prince Harry sits with then-girlfriend Meghan Markle to watch a wheelchair tennis event during the Invictus Games in Toronto on Sept. 25. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Harry, 36, served in the British army for a decade, including on the front line in Afghanistan and retains a close bond with the military. He founded the Invictus Games for wounded armed services personnel and veterans, first held in 2014 at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

He will also have to relinquish positions as patron of the Rugby Football Union, the Rugby Football League and the London Marathon Charitable Trust.

Meghan, 39, will be stripped of her role as patron of Britain’s National Theatre and the Association of Commonwealth Universities.

In early 2020, Meghan and Harry announced they were quitting royal duties and moving to North America, citing what they said were the unbearable intrusions and racist attitudes of the British media.

The couple agreed to no longer use the title “Royal Highness” or receive public funds for their work, although it was unclear at the time if those decisions would stand.

Harry and Meghan, seen here with their son Archie in South Africa in 2019, are expecting their second child. (Toby Melville/Getty Images)

They retain their titles of duke and duchess, and Harry is still sixth in line to the British throne. Harry and Meghan now live in Santa Barbara, Calif., and are expecting their second child, a younger sibling for toddler Archie.

They recently announced that they will speak to Oprah Winfrey in a TV special to be broadcast next month.

They continue to have a tense relationship with sections of the British media. Earlier this month, Meghan won a legal victory in a lawsuit against the publisher of the Mail on Sunday, when a British judge ruled the newspaper invaded her privacy by publishing part of a letter she wrote to her estranged father.

A spokesperson for the couple said in a statement that “as evidenced by their work over the past year, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex remain committed to their duty and service to the U.K. and around the world, and have offered their continued support to the organizations they have represented regardless of official role. We can all live a life of service. Service is universal.”

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Protesting Indian farmers return to camp after storming historic fort

Leaders of a protest movement sought Wednesday to distance themselves from a day of violence when thousands of farmers stormed India’s historic Red Fort, the most dramatic moment in two months of demonstrations that have grown into a major challenge of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

Farmers demanding the repeal of new agricultural laws briefly took over of the 17th-century fort, and images broadcast live on television shocked the nation. In a particularly bold rebuke to Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government, the protesters hoisted a Sikh religious flag.

At least one protester died, and several demonstrators were injured, as were more than 300 police officers, and there are concerns the violence could undermine the protest movement that has thus far been largely peaceful and is growing in strength.

Farmers demand laws be repealed

The farmers — many of them Sikhs from the major agricultural states of Punjab and Haryana — are demanding the repeal of new laws that they fear will favour large corporate agriculture and leave smallholders behind. The government insists the laws will benefit farmers and boost production through private investment, but, in the face of protests, it has offered to suspend them for 18 months. The farmers want nothing less than a full repeal.

On Tuesday, more than 10,000 tractors and thousands more people on foot or horseback moved into the capital, shoving aside barricades and buses blocking their path and at times met by police using tear gas and water cannons.

“The situation is normal now. The protesters have left the streets of the capital,” New Delhi police officer Anto Alphonse said Wednesday morning.

Hundreds of police are now guarding the fort, while the farmers have returned to their camp at the edge of the capital, where they have hunkered down since November, when they last tried to march into New Delhi. Unfazed by the winter cold and frequent rains, they have said they will stay until the farm laws are repealed.

Police officers stand guard at the Red Fort in New Delhi on Wednesday, a day after protesting farmers stormed the fort. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

The protesting farmers’ groups are scheduled to meet later Wednesday to discuss the future course of action. Another march is planned for Feb. 1, when the Modi government is scheduled to present the annual budget in Parliament.

Violence could dampen farmers’ power, analyst says

As the protests have gathered strength, they have rattled the government like never before since they form the most influential voting bloc in India and are also crucial to its economy. But political analyst Arti Jerath said Tuesday’s violence could dampen their power.

“The Supreme Court has all along said the farmers can continue with the protest without disrupting the life in New Delhi,” she said. “Tuesday’s development has given the government a handle to go to the top court and say, ‘See?’ This is precisely what it was fearing, that it would turn violent.”

Cracks appeared Wednesday in the protest movement when a former convener of the farmers’ umbrella organization disassociated himself from the group after Tuesday’s violent clashes.

V.M. Singh said he was ready to hold talks with the government on legislation guaranteeing a minimum support price for wheat and rice. He said he is no longer seeking the repeal of the three new laws.

Protest organizer Samyukt Kisan Morcha, or United Farmers’ Front, sought to distance the movement from the violence, accusing two outside groups of sabotage by infiltrating their movement.

WATCH | Farmers and police clash:

Months-long protests in India escalated on Tuesday as thousands of farmers clashed with police in New Delhi over new laws that they say will push small farmers out of the market and let private corporations exploit them. 1:47

“Even if it was a sabotage, we can’t escape responsibility,” said Yogendra Yadav, another protest leader.

Yadav said frustration had built up among the protesting farmers and asked: “How do you control it if the government is not serious about what they have been demanding for two months?”

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Alexei Navalny’s return to Russia solidifies opposition leader’s role as ‘anti-Putin’

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny returned home from Germany to challenge President Vladimir Putin and now faces the possibility of years of hard labour because of it.

His supporters are also confronting the existential question of how his political movement will survive with him sidelined, in all likelihood for a very long time after he was detained in Moscow on Sunday.

“Russia will continue with our struggle for freedom, becoming the Russia we are all dreaming of,” said a 33-year-old woman who called herself by the nickname Hotaru.   

She went to meet Navalny at the airport where he was originally scheduled to land dressed in a traditional red and blue Russian folk dress. 

She said using her last name would make her a target as Russian police are using any excuse to arrest Navalny’s supporters and smother his political influence. Indeed, at the airport that day, more than 70 people were taken into custody.

In St. Petersburg on Tuesday, one supporter claimed he was arrested for the simple act of clapping his hands in support of Navalny.

WATCH | Navalny is arrested after he returns to Moscow:

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was arrested upon his return to Moscow from Germany, where he had been recovering from an apparent assassination attempt. Navalny maintains he did nothing wrong and several countries are demanding he be released. 1:57

Russian media reports also say flight attendants who posed for selfies with Navalny on his flight back to Moscow are being investigated by police.

The young woman in the colourful dress also shared a basket filled with Russian blini, or pancakes.

“Pancakes for our president,” she said, insisting that the vision of a “new life for Russia” with Navalny in charge will continue to energize his supporters whether he’s in jail or not. 

Navalny, 44, is a lawyer who has built up a countrywide political organization fighting corruption in Russia’s government.  

Banned from running for office

His videos focusing on the extravagant spending and lifestyles of Russia’s most prominent figures, including former president Dmitry Medvedev, have been viewed by tens of millions of people.   

Even today, with Navlany behind bars, his anti-corruption foundation released a nearly two-hour video billed as an investigation into Putin, which focused on what it claims is the president’s $ 1.35-billion US mansion on the Black Sea.

The Kremlin has repeatedly banned Navalny and his candidates from running for elected office.  

Still, opinion polls suggest he has only single-digit support and the notion of Navalny replacing Putin has rarely seemed more fanciful than it does now, with the Kremlin pulling out vast resources to try to mute his influence.

A still image taken from video footage shows law enforcement officers speaking with Russian opposition leader Navalny before leading him away at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow on Sunday. (Reuters)

Navalny had been recuperating in Germany after an assassination attempt while he was campaigning in Siberia last August.

He accuses Putin of ordering the hit using the Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent and having it carried out by members of Russia’s secret police. 

An extensive investigation by journalists with the collective Bellingcat uncovered flight manifests, addresses and phone logs that all pointed to the existence of a secret nerve agent program run by the FSB (Russian Federal Security Service) designed to eliminate the Kremlin’s enemies.

People, including supporters of Navalny, gather outside a police station where the Russian opposition leader is being held following his detention in Khimki, outside Moscow, on Monday. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

Russian authorities have repeatedly denied any such program exists and warned Navalny that he could be arrested for treason just for accusing Putin of the crime.

Navalny chose to board the plane Sunday in Berlin and return to Moscow anyway.

A few moments after stepping off the plane, he stopped and explained to the media that he never considered living the life of a political exile outside Russia.

“It was never a question, not for a single second. It shows that we need to fight here because, my God … some ugly thieves are in power.”

No intention of giving up his fight

In an earlier Instagram post, he said he only ended up in Germany because he arrived there in intensive care after “they tried to kill me.” He said he never had any intention of giving up his fight against Putin.

Russia’s prison service, however, clearly indicated that if he returned, Navalny should not expect to be a free man for long. 

It published an order for his detention, claiming he violated parole terms from a suspended sentence on a 2014 embezzlement conviction — a case that the European Court of Human Rights said was politically motivated. 

Riot police try to keep supporters of Navalny away from Vnukovo airport in Moscow on Sunday. (Chris Brown/CBC)

In anticipation of his arrival, police told his supporters not to come out to greet him and if they did, there would be mass arrests.  

Throngs of riot squad police were deployed at Vnukovo airport, where he was supposed to land, to drive home the point.

Nonetheless, hundreds if not thousands of people braved the –20 C temperatures and transportation officials finally diverted his aircraft north to Moscow’s main airport, Sheremetyevo.

As Navalny waited at passport control, police made their move, putting him under arrest. 

He kissed his wife, Yulia, goodbye, and was taken into custody, becoming what human rights group Amnesty International called a “prisoner of conscience.” 

Makeshift court

Less than 18 hours later, as he waited in a cell, Navalny was told he was going to meet with his lawyer, but instead was taken into a room in the police station that had been turned into a makeshift court.

With only invited Kremlin-friendly media present, he was ordered held for 30 days in jail for violating the terms of the probation, even as he reprimanded the judge for taking part in a sham proceeding.   

He will appear in court again Jan. 29 to deal with the alleged parole violation but his legal team has said they expect more charges will follow. Last month, Russian investigators opened a “fraud” investigation, claiming he misused money from his foundation.

‘No immediate threat of a mass revolt’

Political observers say there’s nothing to prevent Putin from treating his nemesis as harshly as he wants.

“There is no immediate threat of a mass revolt,” said Moscow-based political scientist Ekaterina Schulmann, noting that aside from Navalny’s followers, Russians en masse are unlikely to take to the streets in his cause.  

She said most people are indifferent or do not want to get involved.

“At the moment, Putin can get away with almost anything.”

Navalny and his wife, Yulia Navalnaya, are seen on board a plane during a flight from Berlin to Moscow on Sunday. (Maria Vasilyeva/Reuters)

Putin and senior Russian officials contort their language to avoid uttering Navalny’s name, using terms such as “the Berlin patient” instead. State TV rarely makes mention of him.   

As Navany’s plane was landing, more than five million people were watching Russian-language live feeds of the event on the internet, whereas Kremlin-controlled television news ignored his arrival completely.

Nonetheless, Schulmann said the Kremlin has been only partially successful at marginalizing Navalny and his decision to return to Russia has cemented his status as the second-most important political figure in the country.

“There is Putin, and there is the anti-Putin, which is him,” said Schulmann.  

“He has voluntarily returned to the country that will imprison him.

“This is a very brave action. He is acquiring a certain type of moral authority as a person who has demonstrated that he is a person who is ready to suffer for his convictions.” 

Law enforcement officers detain a participant of a rally Monday in St. Petersburg to protest Navalny’s detention. (Anton Vaganov/Reuters)

Navalny’s fate has been compared to that of former billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Once one of Russia’s richest men, Khodorkovsky oversaw a vast oil empire but ran afoul of Putin in the early 2000s, lost his businesses and was sentenced to a hard labour camp before being pardoned.

Unlike Khodorkovsky, however, who now lives in the United Kingdom and wages his ongoing fight against Putin from London, Navalny left a safe life in the West to return to Moscow.

Moscow-based lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant was the lead counsel for Khodorkovsky during his trial almost two decades ago.

“It’s absolutely unfair,” he told CBC News of Navalny’s treatment by Russia’s judicial system, noting that his first “court” appearance at the converted police station broke every rule of jurisprudence.

“There is no rule of law — it’s just repression to delete the main opposition guy from public life.”

Klyuvgant said Navalny’s legal situation is worse than what he faced, but he said the only option for his lawyers is to build a case for his release that is grounded in law, even if the scales of justice are tilted against him.

“Don’t expect innocence — maybe parole or a pardon or a decrease in prison terms,” he said.

Even though he’s behind bars, Navalny has so far managed to stay connected with his supporters by recording short video blogs during breaks in the court proceedings.

He has called for mass protests in cities across the country on Saturday.

“There’s nothing these thieves in their bunkers fear more than people on the streets,” Navalny said in a video posted by his press secretary.

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Putin critic Alexei Navalny to return to Russia amid threat of arrest

Leading Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny plans to fly home to Russia on Sunday after recovering in Germany from his poisoning in August with a nerve agent.

Navalny announced Wednesday that he would return, despite Russian authorities’ threats to put him behind bars again. He is expected to fly from Berlin to Moscow. On Thursday, Russia’s prison service said that he faces immediate arrest once he returns.

Navalny, who has blamed his poisoning on the Kremlin, charged that Russian President Vladimir Putin was now trying to deter him from coming home with new legal motions. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied a role in the opposition leader’s poisoning.

At the end of December, the Federal Penitentiary Service, or FSIN, warned Navalny that he faced time in prison if he fails to immediately report to its office in line with the terms of a suspended sentence and probation he received for a 2014 conviction on charges of embezzlement and money laundering that he rejected as politically motivated. The European Court for Human Rights had ruled that his conviction was unlawful.

The FSIN said Thursday it issued an arrest warrant for Navalny after he failed to report to its office. The prison service, which has asked a Moscow court to turn Navalny’s 3 ½-year suspended sentence into a real one, said it’s “obliged to take all the necessary action to detain Navalny pending the court’s ruling.”

Navalny fell into a coma while aboard a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow on Aug. 20. He was transferred from a hospital in Siberia to a Berlin hospital two days later.

Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established that he was exposed to a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent.

Russian authorities insisted that the doctors who treated Navalny in Siberia before he was airlifted to Germany found no traces of poison and have challenged German officials to provide proof of his poisoning. They refused to open a full-fledged criminal inquiry, citing a lack of evidence that Navalny was poisoned.

Last month, Navalny released the recording of a phone call he said he made to a man he described as an alleged member of a group of officers of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, who purportedly poisoned him in August and then tried to cover it up. The FSB dismissed the recording as fake.

WATCH | Navalny poisoning ignored by Russian state TV:

Russia Channel 1 political host Mikhail Akincheko explains why Russian state TV is ignoring the poisoning of Kremlin foe Alexei Navalny. 0:51

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NASA Begins Planning Mars Sample Return Mission

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NASA has sent numerous robotic explorers to Mars over the years, examining samples and surveying the fascinating geology of the red planet. Still, we could learn much more with Mars samples to examine in detail here on Earth. The recently launched Perseverance rover will lay the groundwork by collecting samples for return to our planet. NASA has now announced it will work with the European Space Agency (ESA) to get those samples back to Earth, but it won’t be cheap. 

Perseverance, previously known as Mars 2020, borrows heavily from the Curiosity rover’s wildly successful design. When it lands on Mars early next year, Perseverance will begin scouring the planet for evidence of life. Along the way, it will scoop up bits of the planet and store them in 43 sample tubes inside the belly of the rover. The rover has a 2-meter robotic arm that will be important in much of its work, but there’s a smaller 0.5-meter arm underneath Perseverance that will assist with collecting core samples in the tubes.

The rover won’t do any analysis of these samples on the ground — it will check the volume and take a photo of each tube, and then it’ll wait on the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission. NASA has announced the MSR has entered Phase A development during which NASA and the ESA will decide on specific features of the mission. 

NASA techs loading the sample return tubes into Perseverance.

The current plan calls for NASA to contribute a lander and rover, and the ESA will build an orbiter. Following the projected launch in 2026, the lander would touch down near the Perseverance landing site in Jezero Crater. Its task will be to rendezvous with the older rover on the surface (a first of robot Mars exploration). Depending on the state of the Mars 2020 mission, Perseverance might even be able to meet the MSR rover half-way. 

Perhaps the biggest challenge of the MSR mission will be getting the samples off the surface of Mars. The rover will have a small rocket onboard that can break free of Mars’ weak gravity and meet up with the ESA orbiter. While independent reviews support NASA’s decision to move forward with the mission, some worry the high cost could harm other programs. NASA projects it will cost $ 2.9-3.3 billion to get those 43 sample tubes back to Earth. The independent review board says it’ll be closer to $ 3.8-4.4 billion. NASA expects to complete the latest planetary science decadal survey in 2022, and that report will no doubt make suggestions on exploration priorities for the next decade. NASA might not be able to act on all the suggestions if MSR has gobbled up its budget.

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Palestinian Authority urges Israel to return to talks focused on 2-state solution

The Palestinian Authority’s foreign minister on Saturday urged Israel to return to talks based on a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ahead of the transition to a new U.S. administration.

Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki’s comments came in a joint statement with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi of Jordan.

In a news conference after their meeting, al-Malki said that the Palestinian Authority is ready to co-operate with U.S. president-elect Joe Biden on the basis of achieving a Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital on territory Israel captured in the Six Day War in 1967. Biden will be sworn into office on Jan. 20.

“We are ready for co-operation and dealing with the new U.S. administration, and we are expecting that it would redraw its ties with the state of Palestine,” he said.

The diplomat said co-ordination with Cairo and Amman is a “centre point” that would establish a “starting point” in dealing with the incoming Biden administration. Egypt and Jordan are close U.S. allies.

In September, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for an international conference early next year to launch a “genuine peace process,” based on United Nations resolutions and past agreements with Israel. The Palestinians urged that the conference be multilateral, since they contend the United States is no longer an honest broker.

Palestinian negotiators have suffered numerous setbacks under the Trump administration and complained about what they say are biased pro-Israel steps from Washington.

U.S. President Donald Trump has sidelined the Palestinian Authority, recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv, slashed financial assistance for Palestinians and reversed course on the illegitimacy of Israeli settlements on land claimed by the Palestinians.

Israel captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 war. The international community considers both areas to be occupied territory, and the Palestinians seek them as part of a future independent state.

WATCH | Some young Palestinians see no end to the Israeli occupation:

The dream of a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears in retreat, in large part because of the failure of the international community to insist upon it. 9:47

Israel annexed East Jerusalem and considers it part of its capital — a step that is not internationally recognized.

It has also built a far-flung network of settlements that house nearly 700,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Jerusalem since their capture in 1967.

The Palestinians want both territories for their future state and view the settlements as a violation of international law and an obstacle to peace — a position with wide international support.

Security co-ordination

Al-Malki also said they have returned to security co-ordination with Israel, after Israeli authorities sent a “message, for the first time, that they are abiding to all agreements” made with the Palestinians.

In May, Abbas, the Palestinian president, announced that the Palestinian Authority would cut ties with Israel, including security co-ordination, following Israel’s pledge to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank.

In a statement following their meeting, the three foreign ministers said they would work to rally international support against Israel’s “illegitimate measures,” which include settlement expansion, demolishing dozens of Palestinian homes and seizing their land.

“These are illegitimate Israeli actions on the ground that affect all chances to reach a comprehensive peace process that can only happen by the two-state solution,” Safadi, Jordan’s top diplomat, told the news conference.

The ministers said in their statement that Jerusalem’s status should be resolved in the negotiations, calling for Israel “as the occupying power, to stop all violations that target the Arab, Islamic and Christian identity of Jerusalem and its sanctuaries.”

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi also met with the Jordanian and Palestinian ministers, according to his office.

WATCH | Israel signs agreement with Bahrain, U.A.E. to normalize relations:

A historic Middle East agreement has been signed at the White House, after U.S. President Donald Trump helped broker a deal for Israel to normalize relations with both Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. 1:58

He said in a statement that Egypt has been working toward a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “taking into account the regional and international changes.”

He was apparently referring to the election of Biden as the U.S. president and the normalization deals between Israel and four Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.

Those deals, crafted by the Trump administration, dealt another heavy setback for Palestinians.

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CBC | World News

NHL, NHLPA tentatively agree to terms on return to play: reports

The National Hockey League and its players’ association reportedly agreed to terms Friday on holding the 2021 campaign.

Each side must hold a vote among its constituents to put the final stamp of approval on the deal, Sportsnet and TSN reported.

The sides agreed to a 56-game schedule with hopes of starting Jan. 13, according to multiple outlets.

CBC Sports has not independently confirmed the reports.

Deputy NHL commissioner Bill Daly confirmed to The Associated Press the sides have an agreement, pending the approval of various executive boards.

The NHL Players’ Association’s board is meeting Friday night to discuss the deal, while the league’s board of governors could vote on the plan soon. Approval from health officials in the five Canadian provinces that have teams is still needed before the NHL can go ahead with the season.

Training camps for the seven non-playoff teams would open Dec. 31, followed by Jan. 3 for the other 24 teams. It’s unclear whether teams would play in their home arenas or in “hub” cities, although an all-divisional schedule is expected.

The NHL was reportedly planning to realign its divisions for the 2020-21 campaign with a seven-team, all-Canadian division that would play domestically in Canada with no cross-border travel. However, reports Thursday night suggested that every Canadian team may have to head south instead to adhere to provincial guidelines around COVID-19.

Exhibition games aren’t expected to be included in the leadup to the new season.

The NHL, like the NBA, finished its previous season in two quarantined bubbles — in Toronto and Edmonton. Commissioner Gary Bettman awarded the Stanley Cup to the Tampa Bay Lightning in late September.

Owners and players agreed to a long-term extension of the collective bargaining agreement before the 2019-20 season resumed, bracing for financial ramifications of the pandemic. They agreed recently to stick to that deal, which includes players deferring 10 per cent of salaries, a cap on money paid into escrow and a flat $ 81.5 million US cap.

The NHL follows the NBA in moving toward another regular season. The basketball season opens Tuesday.

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CBC | Sports News