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Smiles and Memories: A Final ‘Goodbye’ to the Langley Full-Scale Tunnel

November 16, 2009 Leave a comment

It was a grand finale of sorts, a celebration that revisited the 78-year history of the Full-Scale Tunnel at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

The Langley Full-Scale Tunnel in Oct. 1930

Click to enlarge

The Langley Full-Scale Tunnel’s huge exterior from the Little Back River in October 1930.

 

Credit: NASA

Engineers mingled with mayors. Alumni mingled with a new generation of NASA. Recollections mingled with respect.

“Many times it is referred to as ‘the’ Langley Wind Tunnel,” said Joe Chambers, author and former tunnel branch head, who spoke to a standing room-only crowd at Langley’s Reid Conference Center. In fact, it was only one of dozens of wind tunnels at NASA Langley.

A slideshow of the tunnel’s history shown through photographs and quotes included music from the decades of the tunnel’s operation. It set the ambiance for the ceremony that marked the official “goodbye.” Demolition of the 30-by-60-foot tunnel is expected to begin early next year.

“We did 796 tests in this facility,” said Chambers.

Chambers explained that the vision for a tunnel that would be 60 feet (18.3 m) across, 30 feet (9.1 m) high and with capabilities of speed surpassing 100 miles per hour (161 kph) started as a model in 1929. That model was under construction by 1930 and dedicated in 1931. It was built for $980,000.

As ideas arose, the tunnel evolved. In 1939, wooden blades replaced the original metal ones. “Those blades are the same blades that are in the tunnel today,” Chambers said. Applause erupted.

Clyde McLemore (R) offered his experiences as Dan Murri (L) guided guests

Click to enlarge

After a celebratory reception, some of the employees and alumni who worked in the Langley Full-Scale Tunnel gathered in front of the Reid Conference Center.

 

Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

During the years of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the tunnel attracted pioneers and luminaries like Orville Wright, Charles Lindbergh, Glenn Curtiss and Howard Hughes.

“When NASA was formed, the facility changed and began to develop space ideas,” Chambers said. Modern times called for modern upgrades. Chambers noted the addition of a flight control computer.

And according to Chambers, the wind tunnel was producing more than just critical test results for improved flight — it produced four NASA Center Directors. “There is no other wind tunnel or organization that provided four center directors to the agency,” he said.

It also produced memories.

Gorden Helsel, mayor of Poquoson, Va., stared forward at the slideshow. “It’s a landmark to this area,” he said. “To a lot of folks out here, it’s like losing an old friend.”

He glanced over at the F-22 model. “I flew in one of those,” Helsel said. “I spent 45 minutes in the air and was glad to get back on the ground.” It was an experience made possible through testing at the full-scale tunnel.

Long Yip worked in the tunnel from 1977 to 1990. “I remember opening a textbook on aeronautics and the first thing I saw was the Full Scale Tunnel. I never imagined I would work there,” he said.

Bob Huston began working at the tunnel in 1958. He recalled a time when one of his tests was interrupted by testing for Neil Armstrong and the lunar lander. “The test I was working on was delayed for six months,” he said. In hindsight, Huston didn’t mind so much.

A group of employees who worked in the Full-Scale Tunnel

Click to enlarge

Clyde McLemore (R) offered his personal experiences as Dan Murri (L) guided guest throughout different areas of the Langley Full-Scale Tunnel. “If I get anything wrong, you all can let me know,” Murri respectfully said to the alumni that were present on the tour.

 

Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

Following the reception, many guests chose to revisit the tunnel located on the Langley Air Force Base side of NASA Langley. When attending alumni spoke up during a tour, the crowd circled and listened.

Clyde McLemore who worked there from 1947 to 1980, described a time when workers used slide rules, calculators and computers.

“When you say ‘computers’ — you are talking about a person?” asked Dan Murri as he led guests throughout the tunnel.

“Yes, it was a girl we called a computer,” McLemore responded with a smile.

The group continued on through the curvy turbulence vanes and across a walkway. It was the same walkway that Cameron Diaz walked on for a scene in the movie, “The Box,” which is set to be released nationwide on Nov. 6.

At the next halt, McLemore looked up at a wooden propeller that stood about three stories tall. “The nose cone and tail cone were mine,” he said.

“You designed those?” Murri asked.

“Yes,” McLemore responded.

For many on the tour, the tunnel was being seen through the eyes of the alumni. And for the alumni, the tunnel was being seen through their younger selves.

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Alumni and guests tour the Langley Full-Scale Tunnel.

Huston smiled at the tunnel’s interior. He pointed to specific areas and recalled a funny story or a test that took place there. “Even when we worked extra hours during the war, it didn’t matter much. It was still a fun place to work,” he said.

The facility survived nearly eight decades. Its memory and history will survive much longer and so will its results. Tests conducted there include all of the World War II aircrafts, the P-51 aircraft, the Mercury entry capsule, submarines and NASCAR vehicles, to name a few.

The Langley Full-Scale Tunnel is being preserved virtually at:

http://gis.larc.nasa.gov/documents/643/historic/WebApp.html

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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.

2012: Beginning of the End or Why the World Won’t End?

November 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Scenes from the upcoming film 2012. Courtesy Columbia Pictures.

Scenes from the motion picture “2012.” Courtesy Columbia Pictures. Remember the Y2K scare? It came and went without much of a whimper because of adequate planning and analysis of the situation. Impressive movie special effects aside, Dec. 21, 2012, won’t be the end of the world as we know. It will, however, be another winter solstice.

Much like Y2K, 2012 has been analyzed and the science of the end of the Earth thoroughly studied. Contrary to some of the common beliefs out there, the science behind the end of the world quickly unravels when pinned down to the 2012 timeline. Below, NASA Scientists answer several questions that we’re frequently asked regarding 2012.

Question (Q): Are there any threats to the Earth in 2012? Many Internet websites say the world will end in December 2012.
Answer (A): Nothing bad will happen to the Earth in 2012. Our planet has been getting along just fine for more than 4 billion years, and credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012.

Q: What is the origin of the prediction that the world will end in 2012?
A: The story started with claims that Nibiru, a supposed planet discovered by the Sumerians, is headed toward Earth. This catastrophe was initially predicted for May 2003, but when nothing happened the doomsday date was moved forward to December 2012. Then these two fables were linked to the end of one of the cycles in the ancient Mayan calendar at the winter solstice in 2012 — hence the predicted doomsday date of December 21, 2012.

Q: Does the Mayan calendar end in December 2012?
A: Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after December 31, the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on December 21, 2012. This date is the end of the Mayan long-count period but then — just as your calendar begins again on January 1 — another long-count period begins for the Mayan calendar.

Q: Could a phenomena occur where planets align in a way that impacts Earth?
A: There are no planetary alignments in the next few decades, Earth will not cross the galactic plane in 2012, and even if these alignments were to occur, their effects on the Earth would be negligible. Each December the Earth and sun align with the approximate center of the Milky Way Galaxy but that is an annual event of no consequence.

“There apparently is a great deal of interest in celestial bodies, and their locations and trajectories at the end of the calendar year 2012. Now, I for one love a good book or movie as much as the next guy. But the stuff flying around through cyberspace, TV and the movies is not based on science. There is even a fake NASA news release out there…”
– Don Yeomans, NASA senior research scientist
Q: Is there a planet or brown dwarf called Nibiru or Planet X or Eris that is approaching the Earth and threatening our planet with widespread destruction?
A: Nibiru and other stories about wayward planets are an Internet hoax. There is no factual basis for these claims. If Nibiru or Planet X were real and headed for an encounter with the Earth in 2012, astronomers would have been tracking it for at least the past decade, and it would be visible by now to the naked eye. Obviously, it does not exist. Eris is real, but it is a dwarf planet similar to Pluto that will remain in the outer solar system; the closest it can come to Earth is about 4 billion miles.

Q: What is the polar shift theory? Is it true that the earth’s crust does a 180-degree rotation around the core in a matter of days if not hours?
A: A reversal in the rotation of Earth is impossible. There are slow movements of the continents (for example Antarctica was near the equator hundreds of millions of years ago), but that is irrelevant to claims of reversal of the rotational poles. However, many of the disaster websites pull a bait-and-shift to fool people. They claim a relationship between the rotation and the magnetic polarity of Earth, which does change irregularly, with a magnetic reversal taking place every 400,000 years on average. As far as we know, such a magnetic reversal doesn’t cause any harm to life on Earth. A magnetic reversal is very unlikely to happen in the next few millennia, anyway.

The Blue Marble: Next GenerationEarth, as seen in the Blue Marble: Next Generation collection of images, showing the color of the planet’s surface in high resolution. This image shows South America from September 2004. Q: Is the Earth in danger of being hit by a meteor in 2012?
A: The Earth has always been subject to impacts by comets and asteroids, although big hits are very rare. The last big impact was 65 million years ago, and that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Today NASA astronomers are carrying out a survey called the Spaceguard Survey to find any large near-Earth asteroids long before they hit. We have already determined that there are no threatening asteroids as large as the one that killed the dinosaurs. All this work is done openly with the discoveries posted every day on the NASA NEO Program Office website, so you can see for yourself that nothing is predicted to hit in 2012.

Q: How do NASA scientists feel about claims of pending doomsday?
A: For any claims of disaster or dramatic changes in 2012, where is the science? Where is the evidence? There is none, and for all the fictional assertions, whether they are made in books, movies, documentaries or over the Internet, we cannot change that simple fact. There is no credible evidence for any of the assertions made in support of unusual events taking place in December 2012.

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

NASA Sets STS-129 Prelaunch Events and Countdown Details

November 5, 2009 Leave a comment

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — News conferences, events and operating hours for the news center at NASA’s
Kennedy Space Center, Fla., are set for the upcoming launch of space shuttle Atlantis. The shuttle’s STS-129 mission to the International Space Station is scheduled to lift off at 2:28 p.m. EST on Monday, Nov. 16.

129

A NASA blog will update the countdown beginning Nov. 16 at 9:30 a.m. Originating from Kennedy, the blog is the definitive Internet source for information leading up to launch. During the mission, visitors to NASA’s shuttle Web site can read about the crew’s progress and watch the mission’s three spacewalks live. As Atlantis’ flight concludes, the NASA blog will detail the spacecraft’s return to Earth. For NASA’s launch blog and continuous mission updates, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle

The NASA News Twitter feed will be updated throughout the shuttle launch countdown, mission and landing. To follow, visit: http://www.twitter.com/nasa

Two STS-129 astronauts are tweeting about their pre-launch preparation and are expected to provide updates to their Twitter accounts during the shuttle mission. Bobby Satcher, an orthopedic surgeon, can be followed at: http://www.twitter.com/Astro_Bones and http://www.twitter.com/ZeroG_MD. The latter account focuses on a discussion of medical issues for space exploration.

His crewmate Leland Melvin can be followed at: http://www.twitter.com/Astro_Flow

Detailed lists of countdown milestones, news briefing times and participants, and hours of operation for Kennedy’s news center and media credentialing office are available at: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/news

For NASA TV streaming video, scheduling and downlink information, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

Source : spaceref.com