Category: technology

These 9 Companies Could Help Us Send the Next …

We sent the first humans to land on the Moon in 1969. Since then, only of 12 men have stepped foot on the lunar surface – but we left robotic explorers behind to continue gathering science data. And now, we’re preparing to return. Establishing a sustained presence on and near the Moon will help us learn to live off of our home planet and prepare for travel to Mars.


To help establish ourselves on and near the Moon, we are working with a few select American companies. We will buy space on commercial robotic landers, along with other customers, to deliver our payloads to the lunar surface. We’re even developing lunar instruments and tools that will fly on missions as early as 2019!


Through partnerships with American companies, we are leading a flexible and sustainable approach to deep space missions. These early commercial delivery missions will also help inform new space systems we build to send humans to the Moon in the next decade. Involving American companies and stimulating the space market with these new opportunities to send science instruments and new technologies to deep space will be similar to how we use companies like Northrop Grumman and SpaceX to send cargo to the International Space Station now. These selected companies will provide a rocket and cargo space on their robotic landers for us (and others!) to send science and technology to our nearest neighbor.

So who are these companies that will get to ferry science instruments and new technologies to the Moon?

Here’s a digital “catalogue” of the organizations and their spacecraft that will be available for lunar services over the next decade:

Astrobotic Technology, Inc.

Pittsburg, PA


Deep Space Systems

Littleton, CO


Firefly Aerospace, Inc.

Cedar Park, TX


Intuitive Machines, LLC

Houston, TX


Lockheed Martin Space

Littleton, CO


Masten Space Systems, Inc.

Mojave, CA


Moon Express, Inc.

Cape Canaveral, FL


Orbit Beyond, Inc.

Edison, NJ


Draper, Inc.

Cambridge, MA


We are thrilled to be working with these companies to enable us to investigate the Moon in new ways. In order to expand humanity’s presence beyond Earth, we need to return to the Moon before we go to Mars.

The Moon helps us to learn how to live and work on another planetary body while being only three days away from home – instead of several months. The Moon also holds enormous potential for testing new technologies, like prospecting for water ice and turning it into drinking water, oxygen and rocket fuel. Plus, there’s so much science to be done!


The Moon can help us understand the early history of the solar system, how planets migrated to their current formation and much more. Understanding how the Earth-Moon system formed is difficult because those ancient rocks no longer exist here on Earth. They have been recycled by plate tectonics, but the Moon still has rocks that date back to the time of its formation! It’s like traveling to a cosmic time machine!

Join us on this exciting journey as we expand humanity’s presence beyond Earth.

Learn more about the Moon and all the surprises it may hold:

Find out more about today’s announcement HERE.

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Small Businesses Help Us Explore Space!

Earlier this month,
Congress introduced a
officially recognizing Nov. 24, 2018 as Small Business Saturday “to
increase awareness of the value of locally owned small businesses and the
impact of locally owned small businesses on the economy of the United States.”

This annual American
Express campaign
began on the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 2010 to support
“local places that make our communities strong.”


For 60
years, we have supported and partnered with
small businesses
across the country to pioneer the future of space exploration, scientific discovery and
aeronautics research.

Our Small Business Innovative
Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program
funds the research, development and
demonstration of innovative technologies that help address space exploration
challenges and have significant potential for commercialization. In 2018, our
program awarded 555 contracts to small businesses for a total of $180.1


NASA works with small
business Nanocomp Technologies Inc. of Merrimack, New Hampshire, to advance
manufacturing of carbon nanotube composite materials.

Our investments in small businesses help equip future
missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond by advancing our science and technology
capabilities. They also benefit the U.S. economy. The SBIR/STTR program’s 2017 Economic
Impact Report
a $2.74 return for every dollar spent on awards—money well spent!

Small businesses
also contribute to scientific advances for the International Space Station as
well as here on Earth. Pancopia, Inc. in Hampton, Virginia, developed
an innovative, high-performance water recycling system
to remove high levels of organic carbon and
nitrogen in wastewater. Recycling water in space saves money on resupply and
enables more Earth-independence and self-reliance. With the help of an SBIR
award, Pancopia is also working on a similar system for public wastewater that
has the potential to cut treatment expenses to less than half the current


Small businesses
also contribute to scientific advances for the International Space Station as
well as here on Earth. Pancopia, Inc. in Hampton, Virginia, developed
an innovative, high-performance water recycling system
to remove high levels of organic carbon and
nitrogen in wastewater. Recycling water in space saves money on resupply and
enables more Earth-independence and self-reliance. With the help of an SBIR
award, Pancopia is also working on a similar system for public wastewater that
has the potential to cut treatment expenses to less than half the current


When NASA went to the private sector to develop deformable
mirror technology—a key component of starlight-blocking instruments—a
small business in Berkeley, California
, applied for research and development funding through
SBIR to design extra-precision, segmented mirrors. This innovative approach for
a small deformable mirror made up of many tiny hexagonal segments enables
advanced control when paired with other optics.


Data collected by a
telescope using the Iris AO deformable mirror can be used to determine if the
target investigated in space is an exoplanet based on its orbit, and if the
exoplanet has atmosphere using color spectrum imaging analysis. The Iris AO technology
is currently being refined and prepared for inclusion in a future exoplanet

Does your small
business have a big idea? Your next opportunity to join our SBIR/STTR program
starts on Jan. 7, 2019, when our next solicitation opens. We’ll be seeking
new innovative ideas from small businesses and research institutions for
research, development and demonstration of innovative technologies. Go to to learn more.

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Optical Communications: Explore Lasers in Spac…


When we return to the Moon, much will seem unchanged since
humans first arrived in 1969. The flags placed by Apollo
astronauts will be untouched by any breeze. The footprints left by man’s “small
step” on its surface will still be visible across the Moon’s dusty landscape.

Our next generation of lunar explorers will require
pioneering innovation alongside proven communications technologies. We’re
developing groundbreaking technologies to help these astronauts fulfill their

In space communications networks, lasers will supplement
traditional radio communications, providing an advancement these explorers
require. The technology, called optical communications, has been in development
by our engineers over decades.


, in infrared, has a higher frequency than radio,
allowing more data to be encoded into each transmission. Optical communications
systems also have reduced size, weight and power requirements. A smaller system
leaves more room for science instruments; a weight reduction can mean a less
expensive launch, and reduced power allows batteries to last longer.


On the path through this “Decade of Light,” where laser
joins radio to enable mission success, we must test and demonstrate a number of
optical communications innovations.


The Laser Communications Relay Demonstration
(LCRD) mission will send data between ground stations in Hawaii and California
through a spacecraft in an orbit stationary relative to Earth’s rotation. The
demo will be an important first step in developing next-generation Earth-relay
satellites that can support instruments generating too much data for today’s
networks to handle.


The Integrated LCRD Low-Earth Orbit User Modem
and Amplifier-Terminal
will provide the International
Space Station
with a fully operational optical communications
system. It will communicate data from the space station to the ground through
LCRD. The mission applies technologies from previous optical communications
missions for practical use in human spaceflight.


In deep space, we’re working to prove laser technologies
with our Deep Space
Optical Communications
mission. A laser’s wavelength is smaller than
radio, leaving less margin for error in pointing back at Earth from very, very
far away. Additionally, as the time it takes for data to reach Earth increases,
satellites need to point ahead to make sure the beam reaches the right spot at
the right time. The Deep Space Optical Communications mission will ensure that
our communications engineers can meet those challenges head-on.


An integral part of our journey back to the Moon will be our
. It looks remarkably similar to the Apollo capsule, yet it
hosts cutting-edge technologies. NASA’s Laser Enhanced Mission Communications
Navigation and Operational Services (LEMNOS) will provide Orion with data rates
as much as 100 times higher than current systems.

LEMNOS’s optical terminal, the Orion EM-2 Optical
Communications System, will enable live, 4K ultra-high-definition video from
the Moon. By comparison, early Apollo cameras filmed only 10 frames per second
in grainy black-and-white. Optical communications will provide a “giant leap”
in communications technology, joining radio for NASA’s return to the Moon and the
journey beyond.


NASA’s Space
Communications and Navigation program office provides strategic oversight to optical
communications research. At NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt,
Maryland, the Exploration and Space Communications projects division is guiding
a number of optical communications technologies from infancy to fruition. If
you’re ever near Goddard, stop by our visitor center to check out our new
optical communications exhibit. For more information, visit

5 Questions from a Year of Education on the In…


This year, we’re celebrating a Year of Education on the Station as astronauts and former teachers Joe Acaba and Ricky Arnold have made the International Space Station their home. While aboard, they have been sharing their love of science, technology, engineering and math, along with their passion for teaching. With the Year of Education on the Station is coming to a close, here are some of the highlights from students speaking to the #TeacherOnBoard from across the country!

Why do you feel it’s important to complete Christa McAuliffe’s lessons?

“The loss of Challenger not only affected a generation of school teachers but also a generation of school children who are now adults.” Ricky’s personal mission was to bring the Challenger Mission full circle and give it a sense of closure by teaching Christa’s Lost Lessons. See some of Christa’s Lost Lessons here.

Have you ever poured water out to see what happens?

The concept of surface tension is very apparent on the space station. Fluids do not spill out, they stick to each other. Cool fact: you can drink your fluids from the palm of your hand if you wanted to! Take a look at this demonstration that talks a little more about tension. 

How does your equipment stay attached to the wall?

The use of bungee cords as well as hook and loop help keep things in place in a microgravity environment. These two items can be found on the space station and on the astronaut’s clothing! Their pants often have hook and loop so they can keep things nearby if they need to be using their hands for something else. 

Did being a teacher provide any advantage to being an astronaut?

Being an effective communicator and having the ability to be adaptable are great skills to have as a teacher and as an astronaut. Joe Acaba has found that these skills have assisted him in his professional development.  

Since you do not use your bones and muscles as often because of microgravity, do you have to exercise? What type can you do?

The exercises that astronauts do aboard the space station help them maintain their bone density and muscle mass. They have access to resistance training through ARED (Advanced Resistive Exercise Device) which is a weight machine and for cardio, there is a bicycle and treadmill available to keep up with their physical activity.

Learn more about the Year of Education on Station

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NASA’s 60th Anniversary: Trailblazing Technolo…

NASA’s 60th Anniversary: Trailblazing Technology

Technology drives exploration. For 60 years, we have advanced technology to meet the rigorous needs of our missions. From GPS navigation to water filtration systems, our technologies developed for space improve your daily life on Earth. We continue to innovate and explore. Since we opened for business on Oct. 1, 1958, our history tells a story of exploration, innovation and discoveries. The next 60 years, that story continues. Learn more:

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Discover NASA Technology in Your Life

Have you ever wondered how space exploration impacts you?
“Spinoffs” are products and services developed from NASA technology or improved
through NASA partnerships. These innovations—first created to help explore space
and study Earth—are responsible for billions of dollars in both revenue and
saved costs, tens of thousands of jobs created, and for changing the world
around us.

Home & City
interactive web platform allows you to explore some
of the spinoff technologies you can find in your everyday life, demonstrating
the wider benefits of America’s investments in its space program.


Here are the seven most unexpected items you can find in your homes
and cities which were “spun off” from technologies to enable the study and
exploration of space.


“That’s one small step for man, one
giant leap for mankind.”

On July 20, 1969, millions were glued to their television sets when NASA
astronaut Neil Armstrong offered these famous words via live broadcast, upon
becoming the first man to ever step foot on the Moon. This historic
transmission was delivered from Armstrong’s headset to the headsets of Mission
Control personnel at NASA, and then on to the world.

Improved by the technology that
carried Neil Armstrong’s words, more compact and comfortable headsets were
developed for airline pilots in the 1960s and ‘70s. Today those advancements
continue to evolve in all forms of communications and telephone equipment. Mobile
provide greater efficiency and flexibility for everyone
from professionals to video gamers.


2. Water Quality

On the International Space Station
very little goes to waste. This includes water, which is recovered from every
possible source, cleaned and recycled.

Following our development of a
simplified bacteria test for water quality on the space station, one engineer
created a foundation to distribute test kits suitable for use in rural
communities around the world. Water contamination is still a major problem in
many places, and the test helps local communities and governments obtain and
share water quality data using a smartphone app.

3. Skin Cream

We know that on Earth, gravity is a constant. For astronauts in
orbit, however, it’s a different story—and according to a
scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center
, studying what happens to
bodies in microgravity “can lead to significant new discoveries in human
biology for the benefit of humankind.”

As our researchers experimented with
replicating microgravity conditions in the lab, they invented a bioreactor that
could help simulate conditions that human cells experience in a space-like
environment. This allowed them to perform tissue-growth experiments on the
ground and in space, and eventually, to consider the question of how to protect
human cells from the toxic effects of long-duration space missions.

Now, thanks to this NASA-patented
bioreactor, one company uses agents from human cells that produce collagen to
enrich its skin cream
products. Lab tests have shown the rejuvenating cream to increase skin moisture
content by 76 percent and reduce darkness and wrinkles by more than 50 percent.


4. Acoustic

From its start, NASA has innovated in all
branches of aeronautics, which has led to numerous advances in helicopters,
including ways to limit vibrations as they fly and advanced composites to build
tougher, safer vehicles. 

An industrious helicopter manufacturer that
built up its expertise with NASA contracts later used the same special
vibration analysis equipment to enhance the sound of acoustic
. The company also built the body out of a fiberglass
composite used for rotor blades. The resulting instruments are stronger and
less expensive to produce than those of traditional rosewood and produce a
rich, full sound.


5. Tiny
[Mobile] Homes

While the International Space Station is the
largest spacecraft ever flown—it’s about the size of a football field—living
and working space for astronauts is still at a premium. NASA created a studio
called the Habitability Design Center to experiment with the interior design of
spacecraft to maximize usable space and make scientific research as efficient
and effective as possible.

An architect who helped NASA design the
interior of the International Space Station launched a company specializing in compact
trailers for camping and exploration
. Suitable for a full hookup
campsite or going completely off-grid, the company’s flagship trailer can
accommodate two adults and two children for sleeping and can be customized with
a range of features including a shower, refrigerator, toilet, and more. And it
all fits into a unit light enough to be towed by a four-cylinder car.


6. Blue Light
Blocking Ski Goggles

Skiers and snowboarders face extremely bright sunlight, especially
when it’s reflected off the white snow. That can make it hard to see, and not
just because of glare. The blue in sunlight makes it more difficult to discern
colors at the edge of the visible light spectrum, like reds. A NASA-designed
used in snow goggles helps block up to 95 percent of blue
light, making it easier for people on the slopes to see the terrain clearly.


7. Implants
for the Hearing Impaired

Hearing aids, which make sound louder,
can only do so much for those who were born or have become deaf. Cochlear
implants work
in a completely different way, converting sound into
digital signals that can be processed by the brain.  And the technology
traces back in part to a NASA space shuttle engineer who used skills in
electronics instrumentation and his own experiences with hearing loss to
develop an early version of the life-changing device.


are just a few examples of thousands of NASA Spinoff
and dual-purpose technologies benefiting the world around us. 

Trace space back to you and
visit NASA Home and City today!

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Five Technologies Taking Aeronautics into the …

Martian helicopters? Electric planes? Quiet supersonic

The flight technologies of tomorrow are today’s reality at
NASA. We’re developing a number of innovations that promise to change the
landscape (skyscape?) of aviation. Here are five incredible aeronautic
technologies currently in development:


The X-59 QueSST and Quiet Supersonic Technology

It might sound like an oxymoron, but ‘quiet boom’ technology
is all the rage with our Aeronautics Mission Directorate. The X-59 QueSST is
an experimental supersonic jet that hopes to reduce the sound of a supersonic
boom to a gentle thump. We will gauge public reaction to this ‘sonic thump,’
evaluating its potential impact if brought into wider use. Ultimately, if the
commercial sector incorporates this technology, the return of supersonic
passenger flight may become a reality!


The X-57 Electric Place

Electric cars? Pfft. We’re working on an electric PLANE.
Modified from an existing general aviation aircraft, the X-57 will be an all-electric
X-plane, demonstrating a leap-forward in green aviation. The plane seeks to
reach a goal of zero carbon emissions in flight, running on batteries fed by
renewable energy sources!

3. Second-Generation Search and
Rescue Beacons

Our Search and Rescue office develops technologies for
distress beacons and the space systems that locate them. Their new
constellation of medium-Earth orbit instruments can detect a distress call
near-instantaneously, and their second-generation beacons, hitting shelves
soon, are an order of magnitude more accurate than the previous generation!

(The Search and Rescue office also recently debuted a coloring book
that doesn’t save lives but will keep your crayon game strong.)

4. Earth from the Air

Earth science? We got it.

We don’t just use satellite technology to monitor our
changing planet. We have a number of missions that monitor Earth’s systems from
land, sea and air. In the sky, we use flying laboratories to assess things like
air pollution, greenhouse gasses, smoke from wildfires and so much more. Our
planet may be changing, but we have you covered.


5. Icing

No. Not that icing.


Much better.

Though we at NASA are big fans of cake frosting, that’s not
the icing we’re researching. Ice that forms on a plane mid-flight can disrupt
the airflow around the plane and inside the engine, increasing drag, reducing
lift and even causing loss of power. Ice can also harm a number of other things
important to a safe flight. We’re developing tools and methods for evaluating
and simulating the growth of ice on aircraft. This will help aid in designing
future aircraft that are more resilient to icing, making aviation safer.

There you have it, five technologies taking aeronautics into
the future, safely down to the ground and even to other planets! To stay up to
date on the latest and greatest in science and technology, check out our

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Solar System: 10 Ways Interns Are Exploring Sp…

Simulating alien worlds, designing spacecraft with origami and using tiny fossils to understand the lives of ancient organisms are all in a day’s work for interns at NASA.

Here’s how interns are taking our missions and science farther.

1. Connecting Satellites in Space


Becca Foust looks as if she’s literally in space – or, at least, on a sci-fi movie set. She’s surrounded by black, except for the brilliant white comet model suspended behind her. Beneath the socks she donned just for this purpose, the black floor reflects the scene like perfectly still water across a lake as she describes what happens here: “We have five spacecraft simulators that ‘fly’ in a specially designed flat-floor facility,” she says. “The spacecraft simulators use air bearings to lift the robots off the floor, kind of like a reverse air hockey table. The top part of the spacecraft simulators can move up and down and rotate all around in a similar way to real satellites.” It’s here, in this test bed on the Caltech campus, that Foust is testing an algorithm she’s developing to autonomously assemble and disassemble satellites in space. “I like to call it space K’nex, like the toys. We’re using a bunch of component satellites and trying to figure out how to bring all of the pieces together and make them fit together in orbit,” she says. A NASA Space Technology Research Fellow, who splits her time between Caltech and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), working with Soon-Jo Chung and Fred Hadaegh, respectively, Foust is currently earning her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She says of her fellowship, “I hope my research leads to smarter, more efficient satellite systems for in-space construction and assembly.”

2. Diving Deep on the Science of Alien Oceans


Three years ago, math and science were just subjects Kathy Vega taught her students as part of Teach for America. Vega, whose family emigrated from El Salvador, was the first in her family to go to college. She had always been interested in space and even dreamed about being an astronaut one day, but earned a degree in political science so she could get involved in issues affecting her community. But between teaching and encouraging her family to go into science, It was only a matter of time before she realized just how much she wanted to be in the STEM world herself. Now an intern at NASA JPL and in the middle of earning a second degree, this time in engineering physics, Vega is working on an experiment that will help scientists search for life beyond Earth. 

“My project is setting up an experiment to simulate possible ocean compositions that would exist on other worlds,” says Vega. Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus, for example, are key targets in the search for life beyond Earth because they show evidence of global oceans and geologic activity. Those factors could allow life to thrive. JPL is already building a spacecraft designed to orbit Europa and planning for another to land on the icy moon’s surface. “Eventually, [this experiment] will help us prepare for the development of landers to go to Europa, Enceladus and another one of Saturn’s moons, Titan, to collect seismic measurements that we can compare to our simulated ones,” says Vega. “I feel as though I’m laying the foundation for these missions.”

3. Unfolding Views on Planets Beyond Our Solar System


“Origami is going to space now? This is amazing!” Chris Esquer-Rosas had been folding – and unfolding – origami since the fourth grade, carefully measuring the intricate patterns and angles produced by the folds and then creating new forms from what he’d learned. “Origami involves a lot of math. A lot of people don’t realize that. But what actually goes into it is lots of geometric shapes and angles that you have to account for,” says Esquer-Rosas. Until three years ago, the computer engineering student at San Bernardino College had no idea that his origami hobby would turn into an internship opportunity at NASA JPL. That is, until his long-time friend, fellow origami artist and JPL intern Robert Salazar connected him with the Starshade project. Starshade has been proposed as a way to suppress starlight that would otherwise drown out the light from planets outside our solar system so we can characterize them and even find out if they’re likely to support life. Making that happen requires some heavy origami – unfurling a precisely-designed, sunflower-shaped structure the size of a baseball diamond from a package about half the size of a pitcher’s mound. It’s Esquer-Rosas’ project this summer to make sure Starshade’s “petals” unfurl without a hitch. Says Esquer-Rosas, “[The interns] are on the front lines of testing out the hardware and making sure everything works. I feel as though we’re contributing a lot to how this thing is eventually going to deploy in space.”

4. Making Leaps in Extreme Robotics


Wheeled rovers may be the norm on Mars, but Sawyer Elliott thinks a different kind of rolling robot could be the Red Planet explorer of the future. This is Elliott’s second year as a fellow at NASA JPL, researching the use of a cube-shaped robot for maneuvering around extreme environments, like rocky slopes on Mars or places with very little gravity, like asteroids. A graduate student in aerospace engineering at Cornell University, Elliott spent his last stint at JPL developing and testing the feasibility of such a rover. “I started off working solely on the rover and looking at can we make this work in a real-world environment with actual gravity,” says Elliott. “It turns out we could.” So this summer, he’s been improving the controls that get it rolling or even hopping on command. In the future, Elliott hopes to keep his research rolling along as a fellow at JPL or another NASA center. “I’m only getting more and more interested as I go, so I guess that’s a good sign,” he says.

5. Starting from the Ground Up


Before the countdown to launch or the assembling of parts or the gathering of mission scientists and engineers, there are people like Joshua Gaston who are helping turn what’s little more than an idea into something more. As an intern with NASA JPL’s project formulation team, Gaston is helping pave the way for a mission concept that aims to send dozens of tiny satellites, called CubeSats, beyond Earth’s gravity to other bodies in the solar system. “This is sort of like step one,” says Gaston. “We have this idea and we need to figure out how to make it happen.” Gaston’s role is to analyze whether various CubeSat models can be outfitted with the needed science instruments and still make weight. Mass is an important consideration in mission planning because it affects everything from the cost to the launch vehicle to the ability to launch at all. Gaston, an aerospace engineering student at Tuskegee University, says of his project, “It seems like a small role, but at the same time, it’s kind of big. If you don’t know where things are going to go on your spacecraft or you don’t know how the spacecraft is going to look, it’s hard to even get the proposal selected.”

6. Finding Life on the Rocks


By putting tiny samples of fossils barely visible to the human eye through a chemical process, a team of NASA JPL scientists is revealing details about organisms that left their mark on Earth billions of years ago. Now, they have set their sights on studying the first samples returned from Mars in the future. But searching for signatures of life in such a rare and limited resource means the team will have to get the most science they can out of the smallest sample possible. That’s where Amanda Allen, an intern working with the team in JPL’s Astrobiogeochemistry, or abcLab, comes in. “Using the current, state-of-the-art method, you need a sample that’s 10 times larger than we’re aiming for,” says Allen, an Earth science undergraduate at the University of California, San Diego, who is doing her fifth internship at JPL. “I’m trying to get a different method to work.” Allen, who was involved in theater and costume design before deciding to pursue Earth science, says her “superpower” has always been her ability to find things. “If there’s something cool to find on Mars related to astrobiology, I think I can help with that,” she says.

7. Taking Space Flight Farther


If everything goes as planned and a thruster like the one Camille V. Yoke is working on eventually helps send astronauts to Mars, she’ll probably be first in line to play the Mark Watney role. “I’m a fan of the Mark Watney style of life [in “The Martian”], where you’re stranded on a planet somewhere and the only thing between you and death is your own ability to work through problems and engineer things on a shoestring,” says Yoke. A physics major at the University of South Carolina, Yoke is interning with a team that’s developing a next-generation electric thruster designed to accelerate spacecraft more efficiently through the solar system. “Today there was a brief period in which I knew something that nobody else on the planet knew – for 20 minutes before I went and told my boss,” says Yoke. “You feel like you’re contributing when you know that you have discovered something new.”

8. Searching for Life Beyond Our Solar System


Without the option to travel thousands or even tens of light-years from Earth in a single lifetime, scientists hoping to discover signs of life on planets outside our solar system, called exoplanets, are instead creating their own right here on Earth. This is Tre’Shunda James’ second summer simulating alien worlds as an intern at NASA JPL. Using an algorithm developed by her mentor, Renyu Hu, James makes small changes to the atmospheric makeup of theoretical worlds and analyzes whether the combination creates a habitable environment. “This model is a theoretical basis that we can apply to many exoplanets that are discovered,” says James, a chemistry and physics major at Occidental College in Los Angeles. “In that way, it’s really pushing the field forward in terms of finding out if life could exist on these planets.” James, who recently became a first-time co-author on a scientific paper about the team’s findings, says she feels as though she’s contributing to furthering the search for life beyond Earth while also bringing diversity to her field. “I feel like just being here, exploring this field, is pushing the boundaries, and I’m excited about that.”

9. Spinning Up a Mars Helicopter


Chloeleen Mena’s role on the Mars Helicopter project may be small, but so is the helicopter designed to make the first flight on the Red Planet. Mena, an electrical engineering student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, started her NASA JPL internship just days after NASA announced that the helicopter, which had been in development at JPL for nearly five years, would be going to the Red Planet aboard the Mars 2020 rover. This summer, Mena is helping test a part needed to deploy the helicopter from the rover once it lands on Mars, as well as writing procedures for future tests. “Even though my tasks are relatively small, it’s part of a bigger whole,” she says.

10. Preparing to See the Unseen on Jupiter’s Moon Europa


In the 2020s, we’re planning to send a spacecraft to the next frontier in the search for life beyond Earth: Jupiter’s moon Europa. Swathed in ice that’s intersected by deep reddish gashes, Europa has unveiled intriguing clues about what might lie beneath its surface – including a global ocean that could be hospitable to life. Knowing for sure hinges on a radar instrument that will fly aboard the Europa Clipper orbiter to peer below the ice with a sort of X-ray vision and scout locations to set down a potential future lander. To make sure everything works as planned, NASA JPL intern Zachary Luppen is creating software to test key components of the radar instrument. “Whatever we need to do to make sure it operates perfectly during the mission,” says Luppen. In addition to helping things run smoothly, the astronomy and physics major says he hopes to play a role in answering one of humanity’s biggest questions. “Contributing to the mission is great in itself,” says Luppen. “But also just trying to make as many people aware as possible that this science is going on, that it’s worth doing and worth finding out, especially if we were to eventually find life on Europa. That changes humanity forever!”

Read the full web version of this week’s ‘Solar System: 10 Things to Know” article HERE

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5 Examples of How Our Satellite Data is Helpin…

We could talk all day about how our satellite data is crucial for Earth science…tracking ocean currents, monitoring natural disasters, soil mapping – the list goes on and on.

But did you know there is another way this data can improve life here on Earth?


Our satellite data can be used to build businesses and commercial products – but finding and using this data has been a daunting task for many potential users because it’s been stored across dozens of websites.

Until now.

Our Technology Transfer program has just released their solution to make finding data easier, called The NASA Remote Sensing Toolkit (RST).


RST offers an all-in-one approach to finding and using our Earth Science data, the tools needed to analyze it, and software to build your own tools.  

Before, we had our petabytes on petabytes of information spread out across dozens of websites – not to mention the various software tools needed to interpret the data. 


Now, RST helps users find everything they need while having only one browser open.

Feeling inspired to innovate with our data? Here are just a few examples of how other companies have taken satellite data and turned it into products, known as NASA spinoffs, that are helping our planet today.

1. Bringing Landscape into Focus


We have a number of imaging systems for locating fires, but none were capable of identifying small fires or indicating the flames’ intensity. Thanks to a series of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contracts between our Ames Research Center and Xiomas Technologies LLC, the Wide Area Imager aerial scanner does just that. While we and the U.S. Forest Service use it for fire detection, the tool is also being used by municipalities for detailed aerial surveillance projects.

2. Monitoring the Nation’s Forests with the Help of Our Satellites


Have you ever thought about the long-term effects of natural disasters, such as hurricanes, on forest life? How about the big-time damage caused by little pests, like webworms? 

Our Stennis Space Center did, along with multiple forest services and environmental threat assessment centers. They partnered to create an early warning system to identify, characterize, and track disturbances from potential forest threats using our satellite data. The result was ForWarn, which is now being used by federal and state forest and natural resource managers.

3. Informing Forecasts of Crop Growth


Want to hear a corny story?

Every year Stennis teams up with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to host a program called Ag 20/20 to utilize remote sensing technology for operational use in agricultural crop management practices at the level of individual farms.
During Ag 20/20 in 2000, an engineering contractor developed models for using our satellite data to predict corn crop yield. The model was eventually sold to Genscape Inc., which has commercialized it as LandViewer. Sold under a subscription model, LandViewer software provides predictions of corn production to ethanol plants and grain traders.

4. Water Mapping Technology Rebuilds Lives in Arid Regions


No joking around here. Lives depend on the ability to find precious water in areas with little of it.  

Using our Landsat satellite and other topographical data, Radar Technologies International developed an algorithm-based software program that can locate underground water sources. Working with international organizations and governments, the firm is helping to provide water for refugees and other people in drought-stricken regions such as Kenya, Sudan, and Afghanistan.

5. Satellite Maps Deliver More Realistic Gaming


Are you more of the creative type? This last entry used satellite data to help people really get into their gameplay.

When Electronic Arts (EA) decided to make SSX, a snowboarding video game, it faced challenges in creating realistic-looking mountains. The solution was our ASTER Global Digital Elevation Map, made available by our Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which EA used to create 28 real-life mountains from 9 different ranges for its award-winning game.

You can browse our Remote Sensing Toolkit at

Want to know more about future tutorial webinars on RST?

Follow our Technology Transfer Program on twitter @NASAsolutions for the latest updates.

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Chemical Space Gardens

You know that colorful crystal garden you grew as a kid?

Yeah, we do that in space now. 

Chemical Gardens, a new investigation aboard the International Space Station takes a classic science experiment to space with the hope of improving our understanding of gravity’s impact on their structural formation.


Here on Earth, chemical gardens are most often used to teach students about things like chemical reactions.


Chemical gardens form when dissolvable metal salts are placed in an aqueous solution containing anions such as silicate, borate, phosphate, or carbonate.


Delivered to the space station aboard SpaceX’S CRS-15 cargo mission, the samples for this experiment will be processed by crew members and grown throughout Expedition 56 before returning to Earth.


Results from this investigation could provide a better understanding of cement science and improvements to biomaterial devices used for scaffolding, for use both in space and on Earth. 

Follow the growth of the chemical garden and the hundreds of other investigations constantly orbiting above you by following @ISS_Research on Twitter.

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