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Glenn Helps Ares I-X Soar

November 17, 2009 Leave a comment
11.16.09

The future of new rocket design was successfully tested when the Ares I-X blasted off on October 28, 2009. The test vehicle launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and travelled for six minutes until it splashed down 150 miles away in the Atlantic Ocean. Ares I-X, at 327 feet tall and 1.8 million pounds, was comprised of components fabricated at several NASA centers. The Upper Stage Simulator (USS), all 430,000 pounds and 110 feet of it, was developed, designed and constructed at NASA’s Glenn Research Center.

view of ARES I -X launch from distance

The Ares I-X Flight Test blasts off from the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Image Credit: Thilo Kranz, Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft-und Raumhahrt (German Space Agency)
Vince Bilardo, Ares I-X Upper Stage Simulator Project Manager at Glenn, lead the project from its beginning four years ago through the extraordinary apex of the launch. He shares his thoughts on Ares I-X and Glenn’s essential role in its success.

How did the launch go?
Vince Bilardo: The launch was nearly flawless! Once we got past the weather issues, the countdown and flight went just as planned. The vehicle flew the exact trajectory that was planned. All the data was successfully telemetered to the ground during the flight, the cameras all worked great and provided spectacular images of the flight. We proved conclusively that we can successfully control a tall, slender rocket by small movements in a single rocket nozzle.

How did the Glenn component, the USS, perform?
VB: The Glenn-built Upper Stage Simulator (USS) performed flawlessly, as best as we can determine so far. And that was not just during launch but in all phases of the ground assembly and launch processing prior to the flight. Contrary to speculation, the USS motion after First Stage separation was predicted in several of the “dispersion cases” or simulations that we ran prior to flight. And the entire stage held together after separation all the way down to the water, contrary to some analyses which predicted that it might break apart due to high loads during the tumble down to the sea. It all adds up to a strong endorsement of the robust design and manufacturing concept that our in house team implemented.

ARES I-X at night

>Ares I-X, including the Upper Stage Simulator (USS) built at NASA’s Glenn Research Center, is illuminated the night before launch. Image Credit: Thilo Kranz, Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft-und Raumhahrt (German Space Agency)
What was the experience of being at the launch like?
VB: I was part of the Launch Support Team, which was located in one of the backup launch control rooms called Hangar AE, on the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station side. All of the Integrated Product Team personnel that designed and developed the Ares I-X hardware and software were located in Hangar AE. We had to be “on station” at our consoles by 4:00 am for the countdown each of the two launch attempts on October 27 and 28. Then, we had to work some contingency loads analyses to take into account the winds on the actual day of launch and their potential affect on the vehicle structure. So it was a very busy time leading up to the final countdown coming out of the planned hold at the T-4 minute point.

As we got close to this point, the weather uncertainty took over, and it made for an emotional roller coaster as we thought we had a go, then the weather window would close, then open again another 30 minutes later, and so on. Once we got the count restarted, the final four minutes were very quiet in the room, then once we got to T-0 and saw the vehicle lift off there was elation and cheering, followed by more quiet as we watched closely to for each event during the overall six minute mission. As each of those milestones were hit, there was more cheering, followed by a big round of applause once we saw the FS parachutes open up.

What was it like being a key participant in the Ares I-X launch? What did you and your Glenn team learn from being a part of the project?
VB: It was a thrilling experience, and without a doubt the highlight of my career to date. I believe this is true for all of our USS team members at GRC and across the agency, for this truly was a once-in-a-career historic mission: the first flight of a new rocket vehicle in over a generation, since the Space Shuttle was developed in the 1970s.

We have learned a tremendous amount being part of this endeavor, starting with the hands-on, in house engineering, design, analysis, manufacturing, handling, and transportation we performed with civil servants and in-house contractor team members. We developed rigorous flight hardware processes and procedures, and we put in place improved manufacturing tools and techniques. We also gained the experience of processing the flight hardware for launch in the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center.

We have truly built our capacity to be a space flight development center during the execution of Ares I-X.

NASA EDGE Nominated for Best Video Podcast

November 17, 2009 Leave a comment
11.16.09

NASA EDGE Nominated for ‘Best Video Podcast’ in the 5th Annual Podcast Awards!

›› Vote Now for NASA EDGE!

NASA EDGE

Vote now for NASA EDGE, Best Video Podcast at www.podcastawards.com!

NASA EDGE continues their unprecedented, unscripted journey through the world of video podcasting with their very first award nomination. This is no small accomplishment considering that only two and half years ago, they weren’t sure that they would find an audience.

Well, they have. Almost three years and 3.2 million downloads later, NASA EDGE is now recognized in the company of such internet greats and fellow nominees as “Buzz out Loud,” “Diggnation” and “Filmriot” just to name a few.

In fact, the 5th Annual Podcast Awards, managed by Podcast Connect Inc., mentioned on their Web site that this year’s competition received more than 321,000 nominations for over 3,500 different shows.

Be sure to vote for NASA EDGE

You can vote once a day from November 13 to November 30, 2009 by visiting www.podcastawards.com. NASA EDGE is listed in the “Best Video Podcast” category with nine other video podcasts.

If you’re already a fan of NASA EDGE, please vote for them. If you haven’t seen or heard of NASA EDGE, visit their home page at www.nasa.gov/nasaedge and download any or all of their 46 video podcasts. You will not be disappointed.

NASA EDGE Co-Host and outsider Blair Allen

NASA EDGE Co-host, Blair Allen

What is NASA EDGE?

NASA EDGE is different. Unscripted and unpredictable, NASA EDGE takes a unique look in and around the greatest space program on the planet. They have hosted the Great Moonbuggy Race, examined NASA spinoff technology at the X Games, followed the Desert-RATS with an unconventional set of duct tape boots, coined the term Magnetospherence and even made an appearance on ESPN’s nationally syndicated “Mike & Mike in the Morning” show.

Check out their latest Vodcast, which added a new wrinkle. In October they covered NASA’s historic Ares I-X Flight Demonstration live on the Web. That show featured the entire broadcast team and an attempt at defining and redefining ‘triboelectrification.’

Of course, NASA EDGE isn’t just a video podcast. If you have questions, comments or thoughts about NASA or NASA EDGE, you can friend them on facebook and ask questions, chat or check out some exclusive facebook videos.

Or if you just want to keep up with their latest shows or activities you can follow them on twitter (@NASA_EDGE).

If all goes well, you’ll hear from them the second they win their very first award!

Atlantis and Crew Set For Monday Launch to Space Station

November 16, 2009 Leave a comment

Atlantis and crew are set to launch at 2:28 p.m. EST on Nov. 16, on a mission to the International Space Station.

Tanking Underway

Earlier this morning, the Mission Management Team met and gave the “go” for loading space shuttle Atlantis’ external tank with 500,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, which began at 5:03 a.m. EST.
The three-hour fueling process will provide the fuel and oxidizer Atlantis’ three main engines require for the 8 1/2 minute trip to orbit.

Weather forecast is now at a 70-percent chance of favorable weather for an on-time liftoff at 2:28 p.m. this afternoon.

NASA Television is providing live commentary of external tank loading and launch commentary and blog will begin at 9:30 a.m.

NASA Reproduces a Building Block of Life in Laboratory

November 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Dr. Scott Sandford and colleagues.
Left to right: Stefanie Milam, Michel Nuevo and Scott Sandford.
Photo credit: Dominic Hart/NASA
Click image for full resolution. NASA scientists studying the origin of life have reproduced uracil, a key component of our hereditary material, in the laboratory. They discovered that an ice sample containing pyrimidine exposed to ultraviolet radiation under space-like conditions produces this essential ingredient of life.

Pyrimidine is a ring-shaped molecule made up of carbon and nitrogen and is the basic structure for uracil, part of a genetic code found in ribonucleic acid (RNA). RNA is central to protein synthesis, but has many other roles.

“We have demonstrated for the first time that we can make uracil, a component of RNA, non-biologically in a laboratory under conditions found in space,” said Michel Nuevo, research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. “We are showing that these laboratory processes, which simulate occurrences in outer space, can make a fundamental building block used by living organisms on Earth.”

High energy UV photons
An ice sample is deposited in a chamber, where it is irradiated with high energy UV photons from the hydrogen lamp at approximately – 442 F. The bombarding photons break the chemical bonds in the ice samples, which then form new compounds, such as uracil.
Click image for full resolution. Nuevo is the lead author of a research paper titled “Formation of Uracil from the Ultraviolet Photo-Irradiation of Pyrimidine in Pure Water Ices,” Astrobiology vol. 9 no. 7, published Oct. 1, 2009.

NASA Ames scientists have been simulating the environments found in interstellar space and the outer solar system for years. During this time, they have studied a class of carbon-rich compounds, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which have been identified in meteorites, and are the most common carbon-rich compound observed in the universe. PAHs typically are six-carbon ringed structures that resemble fused hexagons, or a piece of chicken wire.

Pyrimidine also is found in meteorites, although scientists still do not know its origin. It may be similar to the carbon-rich PAHs, in that it may be produced in the final outbursts of dying, giant red stars, or formed in dense clouds of interstellar gas and dust.

“Molecules like pyrimidine have nitrogen atoms in their ring structures, which makes them somewhat whimpy. As a less stable molecule, it is more susceptible to destruction by radiation, compared to its counterparts that don’t have nitrogen,” said Scott Sandford, a space science researcher at Ames. “We wanted to test whether pyrimidine can survive in space, and whether it can undergo reactions that turn it into more complicated organic species, such as the nucleobase uracil.”

molecular structures of pyrimidine and uracil
The molecular structures of pyrimidine and uracil.
Click image for full resolution. In theory, the researchers thought that if molecules of pyrimidine could survive long enough to migrate into interstellar dust clouds, they might be able to shield themselves from radiation destruction. Once in the clouds, most molecules freeze onto dust grains (much like moisture in your breath condenses on a cold window during winter).

These clouds are dense enough to screen out much of the surrounding outside radiation of space, thereby providing some protection to the molecules inside the clouds.

Scientists tested their hypotheses in the Ames Astrochemistry Laboratory. During their experiment, they exposed the ice sample containing pyrimidine to ultraviolet radiation under space-like conditions, including a very high vacuum, extremely low temperatures (approximately – 340 degrees Fahrenheit), and harsh radiation.

They found that when pyrimidine is frozen in water ice, it is much less vulnerable to destruction by radiation. Instead of being destroyed, many of the molecules took on new forms, such as the RNA component uracil, which is found in the genetic make-up of all living organisms on Earth.

“We are trying to address the mechanisms in space that are forming these molecules. Considering what we produced in the laboratory, the chemistry of ice exposed to ultraviolet radiation may be an important linking step between what goes on in space and what fell to Earth early in its development,” said Stefanie Milam, a researcher at NASA Ames and a co-author of the research paper.

“Nobody really understands how life got started on Earth. Our experiments demonstrate that once the Earth formed, many of the building blocks of life were likely present from the beginning. Since we are simulating universal astrophysical conditions, the same is likely wherever planets are formed,” explained Sandford.

Additional team members who helped perform the research and co-author the paper are Jason Dworkin and Jamie Elsila, two NASA scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

The research was funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) and the NASA Origins of Solar Systems Program. NAI is a virtual, distributed organization of competitively-selected teams that integrates and funds astrobiology research and training programs in concert with the national and international science communities.

For more information about the NASA Ames Astrochemistry Laboratory, visit:

http://www.astrochemistry.org/

Take Me Out to the Ballpark – On Mars!

November 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Imagine Mars logo

NASA and JPL have partnered with the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum to host a workshop for kids on Sat., Nov. 7, in Cooperstown, N.Y. Image credit: NASA/JPL Students in fourth through seventh grade will work to create the ultimate baseball experience “on Mars,” even designing the rules for how to play a game on the Red Planet. NASA and JPL have partnered with the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum to host a workshop for kids on Sat., Nov. 7, in Cooperstown, N.Y.

At the Imagine Mars workshop, kids will learn about the Martian environment and baseball. They will create uniforms, stadium concepts and rules for playing a baseball game, taking into consideration things like Mars’ gravity, which is 38 percent that found on Earth. This means that if you weigh 100 kilograms (220 pounds) on Earth you would only weigh about 38 kilograms (83 pounds) on Mars. Mars scientist Jim Bell from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., who works on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover mission, will be a guest speaker.

For more information, see the news release from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

More information on the Mars Exploration Rover mission is available at http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/home/index.html .

A Splendid Day for Flying Glaciers

November 9, 2009 Leave a comment

From: Kathryn Hansen, Science Writer, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

pen3vel

A last-minute change in flight plans made for another great science flight on Nov. 4. Initial plans were to make a high-altitude flight, according to program director Jim Yungel of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.  But a forecaster in the Punta Arenas airport weather office advised crew of the potential for weather to interfere with the high-altitude measurements for the mission’s LVIS instrument.

With a new flight plan in place, NASA’s DC-8 took off just a few minutes after the scheduled 11 a.m. departure time. The new plan called for low-altitude flights over the Antarctic Peninsula.

“The forecaster was completely correct,” Yungel wrote to colleagues after the flight. “We flew into sunny conditions with occasional very light high cirrus over flight lines, resulting in an outstanding data set over the Larsen Ice Shelf and many impressive glaciers.”

Instruments that collect data at lower altitudes, including the Airborne Topographic Mapper, had a successful 11.3-hour flight.

“Much of this flight surveyed a grid over the Larsen C Ice Shelf,” Yungel wrote. “Later in the flight we surveyed several significant glaciers in the central Peninsula area, including the Atlee, Flask, Crane, Hektoria, and Drygalski glaciers. It was a splendid day for flying glaciers!”

DSC03014

Despite the busy flight, Yungel managed to capture these images of the landscape from the aircraft window …

HANSEN

Frost-Covered Phoenix Lander Seen in Winter Images

November 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Phoenix in winter

As the sun began to reappear on the horizon following the deepest, darkest days of north polar winter on Mars, the HiRISE camera imaged the Phoenix landing site on July 30, 2009, (left image) and in Aug. 22, 2009 (right). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
› Full image and caption

PASADENA, Calif. — Winter images of NASA’s Phoenix Lander showing the lander shrouded in dry-ice frost on Mars have been captured with the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE camera, aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The HiRISE camera team at the University of Arizona, Tucson, captured one image of the Phoenix lander on July 30, 2009, and the other on Aug. 22, 2009. That’s when the sun began peeking over the horizon of the northern polar plains during winter, the imaging team said. The first day of spring in the northern hemisphere began Oct. 26.

The images are available at http://hirise.lpl.arizona.edu/ESP_014393_2485.

“We decided to try imaging the site despite the low light levels,” said HiRISE team member Ingrid Spitale of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.

“The power of the HiRISE camera helped us see it even under these poor light conditions,” added HiRISE team member Michael Mellon of the University of Colorado in Boulder, who was also on the Phoenix Mars Lander science team.

The HiRISE team targeted their camera at the known location of the lander to get the new images and compared them to a HiRISE image of the frost-free lander taken in June 2008. That enabled them to identify the hardware disguised by frost, despite the fact that their views were hindered by poor lighting and by atmospheric haze, which often obscures the surface at this location and season.

Carbon dioxide frost completely blankets the surface in both images. The amount of carbon dioxide frost builds as late winter transitions to early spring, so the layer of frost is thicker in the Aug. 22 image.

HiRISE scientists noted that brightness doesn’t necessarily indicate the amount of frost seen in the images because of the way the images are processed to produce optimal contrast. Even the darker areas in the frost-covered images are still brighter than typical soil that surrounds the lander in frost-free images taken during the lander’s prime mission in 2008.

Other factors that affect the relative brightness include the size of the individual grains of carbon dioxide ice, the amount of dust mixed with the ice, the amount of sunlight hitting the surface and different lighting angles and slopes, Spitale and Mellon said.

Studying these changes will help us understand the nature of the seasonal frost and winter weather patterns in this area of Mars.

Scientists predicted that the ice layer would reach maximum thickness in September 2009, but don’t have images to confirm that because HiRISE camera operations were suspended when Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter entered an extended safe mode on Aug. 26.

The Phoenix Mars Lander ceased communications last November, after successfully completing its mission and returning unprecedented primary science phase and returning science data to Earth. During the first quarter of 2010, teams at JPL will listen to see if Phoenix is still able to communicate with Earth. Communication is not expected and is considered highly unlikely following the extended period of frost on the lander.

HiRISE is run from the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory’s HiRISE Operations Center, on the University of Arizona campus. Planetary Sciences Professor Alfred McEwen is HiRISE principal investigator. Planetary Sciences Professor Peter Smith is principal investigator for the Phoenix Mars Lander mission. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, for NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, based in Denver, is the prime contractor and built the spacecraft. Ball Aerospace Technologies Corp., of Boulder, Colo., built the HiRISE camera.

For more information about the mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mro.