Category: scientist

Science-Heavy SpaceX Dragon Headed to Space St…

Heads up: a new batch of science is headed to the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX Dragon on April 2, 2018. Launching from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop a Falcon 9 rocket, this fire breathing (well, kinda…) spacecraft will deliver science that studies thunderstorms on Earth, space gardening, potential pathogens in space, new ways to patch up wounds and more.


Let’s break down some of that super cool science heading 250 miles above Earth to the orbiting laboratory:

Sprites and Elves in Space

Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) experiment will survey severe thunderstorms in Earth’s atmosphere and upper-atmospheric lightning, or transient luminous events. 


These include sprites, flashes caused by electrical break-down in the mesosphere; the blue jet, a discharge from cloud tops upward into the stratosphere; and ELVES, concentric rings of emissions caused by an electromagnetic pulse in the ionosphere.

Here’s a graphic showing the layers of the atmosphere for reference:


Metal Powder Fabrication

Our Sample Cartridge Assembly (MSL SCA-GEDS-German) experiment will determine underlying scientific principles for a fabrication process known as liquid phase sintering, in microgravity and Earth-gravity conditions.


Science term of the day: Liquid phase sintering works like building a sandcastle with just-wet-enough sand; heating a powder forms interparticle bonds and formation of a liquid phase accelerates this solidification, creating a rigid structure. But in microgravity, settling of powder grains does not occur and larger pores form, creating more porous and distorted samples than Earth-based sintering. 

Sintering has many applications on Earth, including metal cutting tools, automotive engine connecting rods, and self-lubricating bearings. It has potential as a way to perform in-space fabrication and repair, such as building structures on the moon or creating replacement parts during extraterrestrial exploration.

Plants in space! It’s l[a]unch time!

Understanding how plants respond to microgravity and demonstrating reliable vegetable production in space represent important steps toward the goal of growing food for future long-duration missions. The Veggie Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System (Veggie PONDS) experiment will test a passive nutrient delivery system in the station’s Veggie plant growth facility by cultivating lettuce and mizuna greens for harvest and consumption on orbit.

The PONDS design features low mass and low maintenance, requires no additional energy, and interfaces with the Veggie hardware, accommodating a variety of plant types and growth media.


Quick Science Tip: Download the Plant Growth App to grow your own veggies in space! Apple users can download the app HERE! Android users click HERE!

Testing Materials in Space

The Materials ISS Experiment Flight Facility (MISSE-FF) experiment will provide a unique platform for testing how materials, coatings and components react in the harsh environment of space.


A continuation of a previous experiment, this version’s new design eliminates the need for astronauts to perform spacewalks for these investigations. New technology includes power and data collection options and the ability to take pictures of each sample on a monthly basis, or more often if required. The testing benefits a variety of industries, including automotive, aeronautics, energy, space, and transportation.

Patching up Wounds

NanoRacks Module 74 Wound Healing (Wound Healing) experiment will test a patch containing an antimicrobial hydrogel that promotes healing of a wound while acting as a foundation for regenerating tissue. Reduced fluid motion in microgravity allows more precise analysis of the hydrogel behavior and controlled release of the antibiotic from the patch.


For the first part of the experiment, the hydrogels will be assembled aboard the station and returned to Earth for analysis of mechanical and structural properties. The second part of the experiment assembles additional hydrogels loaded with an antibiotic. Crew members will collect real-time data on release of antibiotics from these gels into surrounding water during spaceflight. This patch could serve as a non-surgical treatment for military combat wounds and reduce sepsis, or systemic inflammation, usually caused by contamination of an open wound.

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10 Ways to Celebrate Pi Day with Us on March 1…

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: On March 14, we will join people across the U.S. as they celebrate an icon of nerd culture: the number pi. 

So well known and beloved is pi, also written π or 3.14, that it has a national holiday named in its honor. And it’s not just for mathematicians and rocket scientists. National Pi Day is widely celebrated among students, teachers and science fans, too. Read on to find out what makes pi so special, how it’s used to explore space and how you can join the celebration with resources from our collection.

1—Remind me, what is pi?

Pi, also written π, is the Swiss Army knife of numbers. No matter how big or small a circle – from the size of our universe all the way down to an atom or smaller – the ratio of a circle’s circumference (the distance around it) to its diameter (the distance across it) is always equal to pi. Most commonly, pi is used to answer questions about anything circular or spherical, so it comes in handy especially when you’re dealing with space exploration.

2—How much pi do you need?

For simplicity, pi is often rounded to 3.14, but its digits go on forever and don’t appear to have any repeating patterns. While people have made it a challenge to memorize record-breaking digits of pi or create computer programs to calculate them, you really don’t need that many digits for most calculations – even at NASA. Here’s one of our engineers on how many decimals of pi you need.

3Officially official.

Pi pops up in everything from rocket-science-level math to the stuff you learn in elementary school, so it’s gained a sort of cult following. On March 14 (or 3/14 in U.S. date format) in 1988, a physicist at the San Francisco Exploratorium held what is thought to be the first official Pi Day celebration, which smartly included the consumption of fruit pies. Math teachers quickly realized the potential benefits of teaching students about pi while they ate pie, and it all caught on so much that in 2009, the U.S. Congress officially declared March 14 National Pi Day. Here’s how to turn your celebration into a teachable moment.

4Pi helps us explore space!

Space is full of circular and spherical features, and to explore them, engineers at NASA build spacecraft that make elliptical orbits and guzzle fuel from cylindrical fuel tanks, and measure distances on circular wheels. Beyond measurements and space travel, pi is used to find out what planets are made of and how deep alien oceans are, and to study newly discovered worlds. In other words, pi goes a long way at NASA.

5Not just for rocket scientists.

No Pi Day is complete without a little problem solving. Even the math-averse will find something to love about this illustrated math challenge that features real questions scientists and engineers must answer to explore and study space – like how to determine the size of a distant planet you can’t actually see. Four new problems are added to the challenge each year and answers are released the day after Pi Day.

6—Teachers rejoice.

For teachers, the question is not whether to celebrate Pi Day, but how to celebrate it. (And how much pie is too much? Answer: The limit does not exist.) Luckily, our Education Office has an online catalog for teachers with all 20 of its “Pi in the Sky” math challenge questions for grades 4-12. Each lesson includes a description of the real-world science and engineering behind the problem, an illustrated handout and answer key, and a list of applicable Common Core Math and Next Generation Science Standards.

7—How Do We celebrate?

In a way, we celebrate Pi Day every day by using pi to explore space. But in our free time, we’ve been known to make and eat space-themed pies, too! Share your own nerdy celebrations with us here.

8—A pop-culture icon.

The fascination with pi, as well its popularity and accessibility have made it a go-to math reference in books, movies and television. Ellie, the protagonist in Carl Sagan’s book “Contact,” finds a hidden message from aliens in the digits of pi. In the original “Star Trek” series, Spock commanded an alien entity that had taken over the computer to compute pi to the last digit – an impossible task given that the digits of pi are infinite. And writers of “The Simpsons,” a show known for referencing math, created an episode in which Apu claims to know pi to 40,000 digits and proves it by stating that the 40,000th digit is 1.

9—A numbers game.

Calculating record digits of pi has been a pastime of mathematicians for millennia. Until the 1900s, these calculations were done by hand and reached records in the 500s. Once computers came onto the scene, that number jumped into the thousands, millions and now trillions. Scientist and pi enthusiast Peter Trueb holds the current record – 22,459,157,718,361 digits – which took his homemade computer 105 days of around-the-clock number crunching to achieve. The record for the other favorite pastime of pi enthusiasts, memorizing digits of pi, stands at 70,030.

10—Time to throw in the tau?

As passionate as people are about pi, there are some who believe things would be a whole lot better if we replaced pi with a number called tau, which is equal to 2π or 6.28. Because many formulas call for 2π, tau-enthusiasts say tau would provide a more elegant and efficient way to express those formulas. Every year on Pi Day, a small debate ensues. While we won’t take sides, we will say that pi is more widely used at NASA because it has applications far beyond geometry, where 2π is found most often. Perhaps most important, though, for pi- and pie-lovers alike is there’s no delicious homonym for tau.

Enjoy the full version of this article HERE

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Solar System 10 Things to Know This Week: Huma…

Meet some of the amazing humans behind our exploring machines.

1—Small Town to Small Satellites

“I grew up in a small town where working at NASA was unheard of. I worked hard, persevered, and eventually made it to where I am despite many obstacles along the way. Through that process, never forget to enjoy what you are doing. It is my passion for space exploration that has helped me keep motivated and that brings me happiness every day that I come to work.”

2—Scientist. Mountain Unicyclist

“I do a rather unusual sport for fun—mountain unicycling. I love it because it’s incredibly challenging, requiring strength, stamina and focus. I also enjoy surfing, caving, flying and teaching a space camp in South Korea each summer.”

Morgan Cable, Research Scientist

3—"Eat. Breathe. Do Science. Sleep later.“

“I do SCIENCE! No, seriously, I travel and explore for fun. It’s a fascinating world and I can’t get enough of it. But I’m always doing "science” of some kind no matter where I am. I love it —— can’t escape it and wouldn’t want to. Eat. Breathe. Do Science. Sleep later.”

Derek Pitts, Solar System Ambassador

4—In the Room Where It Happened

“It was the summer of 2013, when I was the media rep for the Voyager mission. I was with Ed Stone, the mission’s project scientist, when he came to the conclusion that Voyager 1 had crossed the threshold into interstellar space. For the first time, a human—made object flew beyond the plasma bubble our sun blows around itself. Voyager 1 is now bathed in the remnants of the explosions of other stars. I really appreciated seeing the scientific process—and Ed’s mind—at work.”

Jia-Rui Cook, Supervisor of News Events and Projects at JPL

5—All About the Math. And Determination.

“From an academic point of view, it’s all about doing well in math and science. However, there is absolutely no substitute for being determined. Being determined to be successful is at least half the game.”

James Green, Director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division

6—Problem Solver

Opportunity [rover] was designed to live for 90 days in the harsh Martian environment but she is still exploring now 11 years later! Because of her age, software and hardware components are degrading on the vehicle and more recently, the flash memory. I had the incredible opportunity to lead the team to figure out how to solve these flash problems and get Opportunity back into an operational state.”

Bekah Sosland Siegfriedt, Engineer

7—Never Give Up

“When you encounter difficulties or failures, do not take no for an answer. If you truly want to accomplish something and are passionate about it, you need to believe in yourself, put your mind to it, and you can accomplish anything! I failed A LOT, but I NEVER GAVE UP. It took three years and over 150 applications to NASA before I received my first internship”

Kevin DeBruin, Systems Engineer

8—More Than Mohawk Guy

“The great thing about being at NASA is that there are jobs for all types —— whether it’s engineering, science, finance, communication, law, and so forth. All of them are necessary and all of them involve working on some of the coolest things humans can do. So pick the area you love, but also know that you can still be a part of exploring the universe.”

Bobak Ferdowsi, Systems Engineer

9—The Power of One

“When my older sister claimed she would one day be an astronaut, on the heels of Sally Ride’s launch into space, I made the same claim. Though, it was more because I dreamed to be just like my sister! In turned out that she outgrew the crazy dream, and my desire only got stronger.”

Mamta Patel Nagaraja, Science Communications

10—Dedication and Choices

“Body-building is a favorite pasttime: it’s a great stress reliever and a hobby that I can take with me when I travel for work or for pleasure. It’s also a great expression of responsibility and ownership: What I’ve accomplished is due entirely to my dedication and choices, and it belongs to no one but me.”

Troy Hudson, Instrument System Engineer

Check out the full version of Ten Things to Know HERE

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