Obama Brings Hope to Future Space Exploration.
Monday, April 19, 2010
President Obama spoke at the
Kennedy Space Center on April 15, 2010 about the new direction
for NASA and America's Space Program.
Institution for Science
Institutes of Health
Society of America
National Center for Atmospheric Research
Research Institute for Climate and Society
/ Blogs of Interest
Belt of Venus
supported in part by “Readers Like You”
NASA / KSC
Stamp: 4/19/2010 at 4:22:55 AM UTC
Wise Gets Ready to Survey the Whole Sky
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
NASA's Wide-field Infrared
Survey Explorer, or Wise, is chilled out, sporting a sunshade and
getting ready to roll. NASA's newest spacecraft is scheduled to
roll to the pad on Friday, Nov. 20, its last stop before
launching into space to survey the entire sky in infrared light.
Wise is scheduled to launch no earlier than 9:09 a.m. EST
on Dec. 9 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It will
circle Earth over the poles, scanning the entire sky
one-and-a-half times in nine months. The mission will uncover
hidden cosmic objects, including the coolest stars, dark
asteroids and the most luminous galaxies.
of Wise are a vast improvement over those of past infrared
surveys," said Edward "Ned" Wright, the principal
investigator for the mission at UCLA. "We will find millions
of objects that have never been seen before."
mission will map the entire sky at four infrared wavelengths with
sensitivity hundreds to hundreds of thousands of times greater
than its predecessors, cataloging hundreds of millions of
objects. The data will serve as navigation charts for other
missions, pointing them to the most interesting targets. NASA's
Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes, the European Space Agency's
Herschel Space Observatory, and NASA's upcoming Sofia and James
Webb Space Telescope will follow up on Wise finds.
is an exciting time for space telescopes," said Jon Morse,
NASA's Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters in
Washington. "Many of the telescopes will work together, each
contributing different pieces to some of the most intriguing
puzzles in our universe."
Visible light is just one
slice of the universe's electromagnetic rainbow. Infrared light,
which humans can't see, has longer wavelengths and is good for
seeing objects that are cold, dusty or far away. In our solar
system, Wise is expected to find hundreds of thousands of cool
asteroids, including hundreds that pass relatively close to
Earth's path. Wise's infrared measurements will provide better
estimates of asteroid sizes and compositions -- important
information for understanding more about potentially hazardous
impacts on Earth.
"With infrared, we can find the
dark asteroids other surveys have missed and learn about the
whole population. Are they mostly big, small, fluffy or hard?"
said Peter Eisenhardt, the Wise project scientist at NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Wise also will
find the coolest of the "failed" stars or brown dwarfs.
Scientists speculate it is possible that a cool star lurks right
under our noses, closer to us than our nearest known star,
Proxima Centauri, which is four light-years away. If so, Wise
will easily pick up its glow. The mission also will spot dusty
nests of stars and swirling planet-forming disks, and may find
the most luminous galaxy in the universe.
To sense the
infrared glow of stars and galaxies, the Wise spacecraft cannot
give off any detectable infrared light of its own. This is
accomplished by chilling the telescope and detectors to
ultra-cold temperatures. The coldest of Wise's detectors will
operate at below 8 Kelvin, or minus 445 Fahrenheit.
is chilled out," said William Irace, the project manager at
JPL. "We've finished freezing the hydrogen that fills two
tanks surrounding the science instrument. We're ready to explore
the universe in infrared."
JPL manages Wise for
NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The mission was
competitively selected under NASA's Explorers Program managed by
the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The science
instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan,
Utah, and the spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace &
Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data
processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis
Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
Caption: This animation illustrates the Wide-field Infrared
Survey Explorer's 11-second data-taking exposure cycle. The cycle
is synchronized with the orbit to generate total sky coverage
with overlap between orbits in six months following launch. There
will be eight or more exposures at every position for more than
99 percent of the sky.
Stamp: 11/17/2009 at 6:20:15 PM UTC
Scientists Find Clues to a Secret of Life
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
scientists analyzing the dust of meteorites have discovered new
clues to a long-standing mystery about how life works on its most
basic, molecular level.
"We found more support for
the idea that biological molecules, like amino acids, created in
space and brought to Earth by meteorite impacts help explain why
life is left-handed," said Dr. Daniel Glavin of NASA's
Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "By that I
mean why all known life uses only left-handed versions of amino
acids to build proteins." Glavin is lead author of a paper
on this research appearing in the Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences March 16.
Proteins are the workhorse
molecules of life, used in everything from structures like hair
to enzymes, the catalysts that speed up or regulate chemical
reactions. Just as the 26 letters of the alphabet are arranged in
limitless combinations to make words, life uses 20 different
amino acids in a huge variety of arrangements to build millions
of different proteins. Amino acid molecules can be built in two
ways that are mirror images of each other, like your hands.
Although life based on right-handed amino acids would presumably
work fine, "you can't mix them," says Dr. Jason Dworkin
of NASA Goddard, co-author of the study. "If you do, life
turns to something resembling scrambled eggs -- it's a mess.
Since life doesn't work with a mixture of left-handed and
right-handed amino acids, the mystery is: how did life decide --
what made life choose left-handed amino acids over right-handed
Over the last four years, the team carefully
analyzed samples of meteorites with an abundance of carbon,
called carbonaceous chondrites. The researchers looked for the
amino acid isovaline and discovered that three types of
carbonaceous meteorites had more of the left-handed version than
the right-handed variety – as much as a record 18 percent
more in the often-studied Murchison meteorite. "Finding more
left-handed isovaline in a variety of meteorites supports the
theory that amino acids brought to the early Earth by asteroids
and comets contributed to the origin of only left-handed based
protein life on Earth," said Glavin.
All amino acids
can switch from left-handed to right, or the reverse, by chemical
reactions energized with radiation or temperature, according to
the team. The scientists looked for isovaline because it has the
ability to preserve its handedness for billions of years, and it
is extremely rarely used by life, so its presence in meteorites
is unlikely to be from contamination by terrestrial life. "The
meteorites we studied are from before Earth formed, over 4.5
billion years ago," said Glavin. "We believe the same
process that created extra left-handed isovaline would have
created more left-handed versions of the other amino acids found
in these meteorites, but the bias toward left-handed versions has
been mostly erased after all this time."
discovery validates and extends the research first reported a
decade ago by Drs. John Cronin and Sandra Pizzarello of Arizona
State University, who were first to discover excess isovaline in
the Murchison meteorite, believed to be a piece of an asteroid.
"We used a different technique to find the excess, and
discovered it for the first time in the Orgueil meteorite, which
belongs to another meteorite group believed to be from an extinct
comet," said Glavin.
The team also found a pattern
to the excess. Different types of meteorites had different
amounts of water, as determined by the clays and water-bearing
minerals found in the meteorites. The team discovered meteorites
with more water also had greater amounts of left-handed
isovaline. "This gives us a hint that the creation of extra
left-handed amino acids had something to do with alteration by
water," said Dworkin. "Since there are many ways to
make extra left-handed amino acids, this discovery considerably
narrows down the search."
If the bias toward
left-handedness originated in space, it makes the search for
extraterrestrial life in our solar system more difficult, while
also making its origin a bit more likely, according to the team.
"If we find life anywhere else in our solar system, it will
probably be microscopic, since microbes can survive in extreme
environments," said Dworkin. "One of the biggest
problems in determining if microscopic life is truly
extra-terrestrial is making sure the sample wasn't contaminated
by microbes brought from Earth. If we find the life is based on
right-handed amino acids, then we know for sure it isn't from
Earth. However, if the bias toward left-handed amino acids began
in space, it likely extends across the solar system, so any life
we may find on Mars, for example, will also be left-handed. On
the other hand, if there is a mechanism to choose handedness
before life emerges, it is one less problem prebiotic chemistry
has to solve before making life. If it was solved for Earth, it
probably has been solved for the other places in our solar system
where the recipe for life might exist, such as beneath the
surface of Mars, or in potential oceans under the icy crust of
Europa and Enceladus, or on Titan."
The research was
funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute, the NASA
Cosmochemistry program, and the NASA Astrobiology: Exobiology,
and Evolutionary Biology program.
Caption: This artist's concept uses hands to illustrate the left
and right-handed versions of the amino acid isovaline.
Credit: NASA / Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith
NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center / Bill Steigerwald
Stamp: 3/18/2009 at 4:24:23 AM UTC
Day the Sun Brought Darkness
Friday, March 13, 2009
March 13, 1989 the entire province of Quebec, Canada suffered an
electrical power blackout. Hundreds of blackouts occur in some
part of North America every year. The Quebec Blackout was
different, because this one was caused by a solar storm!
Friday March 10, 1989 astronomers witnessed a powerful explosion
on the sun. Within minutes, tangled magnetic forces on the sun
had released a billion-ton cloud of gas. It was like the energy
of thousands of nuclear bombs exploding at the same time. The
storm cloud rushed out from the sun, straight towards Earth, at a
million miles an hour. The solar flare that accompanied the
outburst immediately caused short-wave radio interference,
including the jamming of radio signals from Radio Free Europe
into Russia. It was thought that the signals had been jammed by
the Kremlin, but it was only the sun acting up!
evening of Monday, March 12 the vast cloud of solar plasma (a gas
of electrically charged particles) finally struck Earth's
magnetic field. The violence of this 'geomagnetic storm' caused
spectacular 'northern lights' that could be seen as far south as
Florida and Cuba. The magnetic disturbance was incredibly
intense. It actually created electrical currents in the ground
beneath much of North America. Just after 2:44 a.m. on March 13,
the currents found a weakness in the electrical power grid of
Quebec. In less than 2 minutes, the entire Quebec power grid lost
power. During the 12-hour blackout that followed, millions of
people suddenly found themselves in dark office buildings and
underground pedestrian tunnels, and in stalled elevators. Most
people woke up to cold homes for breakfast. The blackout also
closed schools and businesses, kept the Montreal Metro shut
during the morning rush hour, and closed Dorval Airport.
Quebec Blackout was by no means a local event. Some of the U.S.
electrical utilities had their own cliffhanger problems to deal
with. New York Power lost 150 megawatts the moment the Quebec
power grid went down. The New England Power Pool lost 1,410
megawatts at about the same time. Service to 96 electrical
utilities in New England was interrupted while other reserves of
electrical power were brought online. Luckily, the U.S. had the
power to spare at the time…but just barely. Across the
United States from coast to coast, over 200 power grid problems
erupted within minutes of the start of the March 13 storm.
Fortunately none of these caused a blackout.
some satellites actually tumbled out of control for several
hours. NASA's TDRS-1 communication satellite recorded over 250
anomalies as high-energy particles invaded the satellite's
sensitive electronics. Even the Space Shuttle Discovery was
having its own mysterious problems. A sensor on one of the tanks
supplying hydrogen to a fuel cell was showing unusually high
pressure readings on March 13. The problem went away just as
mysteriously after the solar storm subsided.
later, the March 1989 'Quebec Blackout' has reached legendary
stature, at least among electrical engineers and space
scientists. It is a dramatic example of how solar storms can
affect us even here on the ground. Fortunately, storms as
powerful as this are rather rare. It takes quite a solar wallop
to cause anything like the conditions leading up to a
Quebec-style blackout. Typical solar activity 'sunspot' cycles
can produce least two or three large storms, so it really is just
a matter of chance whether one will cause a blackout or not. As
it is for hurricanes and tornadoes, the more we can learn about
the sun's 'space weather,' the better we can prepare for the next
storm when it arrives!
Caption: Artist rendition of the 1989 blackout.
Goddard Space Flight Center / Rani Gran
Stamp: 3/13/2009 at 5:44:20 PM UTC
Engineer Finds Solution That Could Provide Insight into Soyuz
Capsule Re-entry Issues
Friday, November 7, 2008
blind engineer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in
Greenbelt, Md., had the vision for a solution to a problem that
ultimately required him to fly to Europe to obtain potentially
important data on the flight of a Soyuz capsule returning two
International Space Station crew members and spaceflight
participant Richard Garriott to Earth.
Marco Midon is an
electronics engineer in the Microwave and Communications Branch
at NASA Goddard and has been with NASA for almost 11 years. He
recently provided critical engineering support for the
implementation of 18 meter Ka-Band antennas at White Sands Test
Facility in New Mexico and also served as NASA systems engineer
on a project to upgrade a NASA ground station at McMurdo Station,
Earlier this month, Midon read a memo from the
head of space operations at NASA Headquarters asking for ideas on
how the agency could respond to a request from the Russian
Federal Space Agency to provide telemetry data on the Soyuz
capsule during de-orbit and re-entry.
"I saw the
e-mail asking for ideas about how data from the Soyuz could be
received and recorded and right away I knew how it could be done"
said Midon. "The real question was whether it could be done
in the time that was available."
request from the head of all human spaceflight efforts came after
it was determined that there were no commercial, or space station
partner facilities that could provide the service needed because
the downlink frequency (VHF) is not usually used for space
telemetry. NASA and Russian partners agreed that providing data
beyond that which is recorded just prior to separation of the
Soyuz modules might be valuable in shedding light on the
spacecraft’s past entry performance.
spirit of the old NASA, the Goddard team responded to my request
with an amazing 'can-do' attitude. The team was focused on the
problem to be solved and let no hurdles stand in the way,”
said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for Space
Operations. "Good Soyuz performance is important for
International Space Station operations, and any help NASA could
provide helps all of the partnership.”
proposal involved a low-cost mobile system that could be
transported and deployed along the track of the separation and
re-entry plan of the Soyuz vehicle.
the go-ahead to pursue my idea, my first course of action was to
verify that we could obtain the necessary equipment" said
Midon. "I called one vendor about the antenna needed and
then another about the pre-amp that would be required to amplify
signals tuned to this particular oddball frequency and how both
items were needed immediately. The answer from everyone was
'yes,' so rush orders were placed."
With less than
four days before Soyuz landing, the next step involved Midon
contacting individuals at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in
Virginia to confirm that the center could support a test of the
system being proposed. After getting confirmation, he traveled to
Wallops and supported activities that simulated what the Russian
signal would look like and verified it could indeed be received
A day later, all the equipment ordered was
in place, and the stage was set for the final test to prove that
Midon's idea could indeed work.
"We took the
equipment down to Wallops and set up everything," said
Midon. "While we were busy doing that, other folks talked to
the Russians who agreed to turn on the Soyuz that was docked to
the space station for two communication passes. Basically we were
72 hours out from landing and knew we would only have these two
short communication passes to prove the whole thing worked.”
it turned out, the first pass wasn't all that successful with
little or no signal received. But Midon came up with some tweaks
to the system to make it a little more sensitive and during the
second pass, good data was received.
While Midon and his
group continued with their efforts, other NASA engineers were
busy in determining the best location to place the portable
system. Three potential locations were initially identified --
Turkey, North Africa and Greece. After reviewing flight path
trajectories, it was decided that Athens would provide the best
view to capture telemetry data.
So on Wednesday, October
22, with less than 48 hours before Soyuz landing, the site for
the temporary station was set. Midon and Jim Evans, a Honeywell
Technical Solutions employee at Wallops, traveled to
Baltimore-Washington International airport with all the
A new challenge arose when one package was
determined to be 12 pounds over the airline’s allowed
limit. Midon and Evans decided to take most of the equipment on
their flight to Greece, while others worked options for getting
the remaining equipment delivered.
Because no commercial
delivery service could guarantee the equipment would arrive in
time, Harry Schenk, a Honeywell employee at Goddard who had
helped with earlier efforts, volunteered to fly to Greece with
the remaining items.
By the time Midon and Evans arrived
in Athens, less than 24 hours remained before the Soyuz flyover
would take place. The two went immediately to the American
Embassy in Athens which was the chosen location for setting up
Throughout the afternoon and into the
evening, Midon and Evans worked to set things up while waiting
for Schenk to arrive with the final pieces of equipment. By
around 10 p.m. and less than eight hours before the event, all
the equipment was powered up and verified ready to support.
After finally checking into the hotel and getting at
least a few hours sleep, the three men were back at the embassy
around 4 a.m., local time, for the Soyuz flyover which was
planned for just after 6 a.m.
But there was still one more
issue to work.
"When we got back to embassy for the
event, we realized a recorder wasn't working," said Midon.
"We realized that the likely cause was a heating problem
because the room wasn't air conditioned. We found a marine who is
one of the few people around at that time of day who found us a
fan so we could circulate more air around the unit and that
seemed to fix the problem."
Based on information
provided by flight dynamics engineers, the antenna on the roof
was positioned and just after 6 a.m., the system began receiving
data from the Soyuz capsule as it traveled through the
"The pass was very low, only 8 1/2
degrees and we were in a valley so I wasn't sure we were going to
get anything" said Midon. "At first, the signal was
very weak. But then after two-to-three minutes the signal got
much stronger, and it was clear we were getting good data. The
strong signal lasted about a minute and with processing back in
the lab, we're hoping there is at least 90 seconds of good data
that can be utilized."
Later, Midon had a phone
conversation with Gerstenmaier who thanked him and his group and
said how much both the American and Russian flight control teams
appreciated their incredible effort.
Midon remarked "I
think the real story here is that we only had two or three days
to come up with a solution to something and were then able to
implement it in Europe. I may have been the technical guy who
figured out how to do it but there were a lot of other folks
whose willingness to pitch in provided us with an opportunity to
Caption: Harry Schenk (right), a Honeywell employee at Goddard,
made a last-minute trip to Greece, to ensure final pieces of
equipment were in place in time to collect data during the Soyuz
NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center / Ed Campion
Stamp: 11/7/2008 at 6:23:44 PM UTC
and ATK Investigate Failed Launch Of Hypersonic Experiments
Friday, August 22, 2008
An Alliant Tech Systems
suborbital rocket carrying two NASA hypersonic experiments was
destroyed shortly after liftoff from NASA's Wallops Flight
Facility in Virginia Friday. No injuries or property damage were
Most debris from the rocket is
thought to have fallen in the Atlantic Ocean. However, there are
conflicting reports of debris being sighted on land. This debris
could be hazardous. People who think they may have encountered
rocket debris are advised not to touch it and to report it to the
Wallops Emergency Operations Center at 757-824-1300.
NASA is very disappointed in
this failure but has directed its focus on protecting public
safety and conducting a comprehensive investigation to identify
the root cause. NASA is assembling a multidiscipline team, along
with the rocket's maker Alliant Tech Systems, or ATK, of Salt
Lake City, to begin the investigation promptly.
The exact launch time was 5:10
a.m. EDT. The anomaly that caused the failure occurred
approximately 27 seconds into flight and is not known.
Stamp: 8/22/2008 at 11:34:08 AM UTC
Evaluates Sensor Technology for Future Aircraft Efficiency
Monday, July 14, 2008
is evaluating an advanced, fiber optic-based sensing technology
that could aid development of active control of wing shape.
Controlling a wing's shape in flight would allow it to take
advantage of aerodynamics and improve overall aircraft
The Fiber Optic Wing Shape Sensor system
measures and displays the shape of the aircraft's wings in
flight. The system also has potential for improving aircraft
safety when the technology is used to monitor the aircraft
Flight tests on NASA's Ikhana, a modified
Predator B unmanned aircraft adapted for civilian research, are
under way at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air
Force Base in California. The effort represents one of the first
comprehensive flight validations of fiber optic sensor
"Generations of aircraft and spacecraft
could benefit from work with the new sensors if the sensors
perform in the sky as they have in the laboratory," said
Lance Richards, Dryden's Advanced Structures and Measurement
The weight reduction that fiber optic sensors
would make possible could reduce operating costs and improve fuel
efficiency. The development also opens up new opportunities and
applications that would not be achievable with conventional
technology. For example, the new sensors could enable adaptive
"Active wing-shape control
represents the gleam in the eye of every aerodynamicist,"
Richards said. "If the shape of the wing can be changed in
flight, then the efficiency and performance of the aircraft can
be improved, from takeoff and landing to cruising and
Six hair-like fibers located on the top
surface of Ikhana's wings provide more than 2,000 strain
measurements in real time. With a combined weight of less than
two pounds, the fibers are so small that they have no significant
effects on aerodynamics. The sensors eventually could be embedded
within composite wings in future aircraft.
To validate the
new sensors' accuracy, the research team is comparing results
obtained with the fiber optic wing shape sensors against those of
16 traditional strain gauges co-located on the wing alongside the
"The sensors on Ikhana are
imperceptibly small because they're located on fibers
approximately the diameter of a human hair," Richards
explained. "You can get the information you need from the
thousands of sensors on a few fibers without the weight and
complexity of conventional sensors. Strain gauges, for example,
require three copper lead wires for every sensor."
using the fiber optic sensors, researchers do not require
analytical models for determining strain and other measurements
on the aircraft because data derived with the sensors include all
of the actual measurements being sought.
safety-related benefit of the lightweight fiber optic sensors is
that thousands of sensors can be left on the aircraft during its
lifetime, gathering data on structural health and performance. By
knowing the stress levels at thousands of locations on the
aircraft, designers can more optimally design structures and
reduce weight while maintaining safety, Richards explained. The
net result could be a reduction in fuel costs and an increase in
Further, intelligent flight control software
technology now being developed can incorporate structural
monitoring data from the fiber optic sensors to compensate for
stresses on the airframe, helping prevent situations that might
otherwise result in a loss of flight control.
extension, the application of the technology to wind turbines
could improve their performance by making their blades more
"An improvement of only a few percent
equals a huge economic benefit," Richards said. "The
sensors could also be used to look at the stress of structures,
like bridges and dams, and possibilities extend to potential
biomedical uses as well. The applications of this technology are
Caption: A Predator B unmanned aircraft system has joined the
inventory of research aircraft at NASA's Dryden Flight Research
Center, Edwards, Calif. Built by General Atomics Aeronautical
Systems Inc. of San Diego, NASA took possession of the aircraft
during the fall of 2006. The aircraft has been given the Choctaw
Nation name "Ikhana"(pronounced ee-kah-nah), which
Source: NASA / Dryden
Stamp: 7/14/2008 at 4:24:09 PM UTC
Launch Abort System Jettison Motor Test
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
successfully tested the Launch Abort System jettison motor, the
first full-scale test for the Constellation Program's Orion crew
exploration vehicle. The jettison motor is a solid rocket motor
designed to separate the Launch Abort System from the crew module
on a normal launch and to safely propel the abort system away
from the crew module during an emergency.
The static test firing was
conducted by Aerojet Corporation in Sacramento, Calif. NASA has
partnered with Lockheed Martin Corporation, Orbital Sciences
Corporation, and Aerojet Corporation to supply the jettison
"This was a major success
for the Orion Launch Abort System team," said Mark Cooper,
NASA's integrated product team lead for LAS Propulsion at
Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "The test
provided valuable data on motor performance that will allow
design and analytical refinements by our contactor team. The test
is the culmination of intense and focused work by the entire
jettison motor team."
Demonstrating the jettison
motor performance is critical to the development of the crew
module's launch abort system, which will offer a safe escape in
the event of an emergency on the launch pad or during the climb
to a low Earth orbit. The jettison motor test was a critical
demonstration milestone in the Orion Project's preparations for
the first of a series of flight tests of the Launch Abort System
currently scheduled for late 2008.
NASA's Langley Research Center
in Hampton, Va., manages the launch abort system design and
development effort with partners and team members from NASA's
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. Langley’s
Launch Abort System Office performs this function as part of the
Orion Project Office located at NASA's Johnson Space Center,
Houston. The abort system is a key element in NASA's continuing
efforts to improve safety as the agency develops the next
generation of spacecraft to return humans to the moon.
Caption: Orion Launch Abort System jettison motor test.
Stamp: 4/16/2008 at 8:50:56 AM CST
Team Demonstrates Robot Technology For Moon Exploration
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
the 3rd Space Exploration Conference Feb. 26-28 in Denver, NASA
will exhibit a robot rover equipped with a drill designed to find
water and oxygen-rich soil on the moon.
are the key to sustainable outposts on the moon and Mars,"
said Bill Larson, deputy manager of the In-Situ Resource
Utilization (ISRU) project. "It's too expensive to bring
everything from Earth. This is the first step toward
understanding the potential for lunar resources and developing
the knowledge needed to extract them economically."
engineering challenge was daunting. A robot rover designed for
prospecting within lunar craters has to operate in continual
darkness at extremely cold temperatures with little power. The
moon has one-sixth the gravity of Earth, so a lightweight rover
will have a difficult job resisting drilling forces and remaining
stable. Lunar soil, known as regolith, is abrasive and compact,
so if a drill strikes ice, it likely will have the consistency of
Meeting these challenges in one system took
ingenuity and teamwork. Engineers demonstrated a drill capable of
digging samples of regolith in Pittsburgh last December. The
demonstration used a laser light camera to select a site for
drilling then commanded the four-wheeled rover to lower the drill
and collect three-foot samples of soil and rock.
are tasks that have never been done and are really difficult to
do on the moon," said John Caruso, demonstration integration
lead for ISRU and Human Robotics Systems at NASA's Glenn Research
Center in Cleveland.
In 2008, the team plans
to equip the rover with ISRU's Regolith and Environment Science
and Oxygen and Lunar Volatile Extraction experiment, known as
RESOLVE. Led by engineers at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla.,
the RESOLVE experiment package will add the ability to crush a
regolith sample into small, uniform pieces and heat them.
process will release gases deposited on the moon's surface during
billions of years of exposure to the solar wind and bombardment
by asteroids and comets. Hydrogen is used to draw oxygen out of
iron oxides in the regolith to form water. The water then can be
electrolyzed to split it back into pure hydrogen and oxygen, a
process tested earlier this year by engineers at NASA's Johnson
Space Center in Houston.
taking hardware from two different technology programs within
NASA and combining them to demonstrate a capability that might be
used on the moon," said Gerald Sanders, manager of the ISRU
project. "And even if the exact technologies are not used on
the moon, the lessons learned and the relationships formed will
influence the next generation of hardware."
participated in the ground-based rover concept demonstration from
four NASA centers, the Canadian Space Agency, the Northern Centre
for Advanced Technology in Sudbury, Ontario, and Carnegie Mellon
University's Robotics Institute in Pittsburgh.
Mellon was responsible for the robot's design and testing, and
the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology built the drilling
system. Glenn contributed the rover's power management system.
NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., built a
system that navigates the rover in the dark. The Canadian Space
Agency funded a Neptec camera that builds three-dimensional
images of terrain using laser light.
All the elements
together represent a collaboration of the Human Robotic Systems
and ISRU projects at Johnson. These projects are part of the
Exploration Technology Development Program, which is managed by
NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.
Image Caption 1: While
designing the lunar truck, JSC engineers threw out some
traditional assumptions on what a vehicle needs -- for instance,
doors and seats -- and added interesting new capabilities such as
active suspension, six-wheel drive with independent steering for
Credit 1: NASA
Caption 2: This robot shares some features with the lunar truck,
but is equipped with a drill designed to find water and
oxygen-rich soil on the moon.
Credit 2: Carnegie Mellon University
Stamp: 2/27/2008 at 12:08:15 PM CST