Category: technology

Why We Celebrate Search and Rescue Technologie…

Today (4/06), we celebrate the special radio frequency transmitted by emergency beacons to the international search and rescue network. 

This 406 MHz frequency, used only for search and rescue, can be “heard” by satellites hundreds of miles above the ground! The satellites then “forward” the location of the beacon back to Earth, helping first responders locate people in distress worldwide, whether from a plane crash, a boating accident or other emergencies.

Our Search and Rescue office, based out of our Goddard Space Flight Center, researches and develops emergency beacon technology, passing the technology to companies who manufacture the beacons, making them available to the public at retail stores. The beacons are designed for personal, maritime and aviation use.

The search and rescue network, Cospas-Sarsat, is an international program that ensures the compatibility of distress alert services with the needs of users. Its current space segment relies on instruments onboard low-Earth and geosynchronous orbiting satellites, hundreds to thousands of miles above us. 

Space instruments forward distress signals to the search and rescue ground segment, which is operated by partner organizations around the world! They manage specific regions of the ground network. For example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) operates the region containing the United States, which reaches across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as well as parts of Central and South America.

NOAA notifies organizations that coordinate search and rescue efforts of a 406 MHz distress beacon’s activation and location. Within the U.S., the U.S. Air Force responds to land-based emergencies and the U.S. Coast Guard responds to water-based emergencies. Local public service organizations like police and fire departments, as well as civilian volunteers, serve as first responders.

Here at NASA, we research, design and test search and rescue instruments and beacons to refine the existing network. Aeronautical beacon tests took place at our Langley Research Center in 2015. Using a 240-foot-high structure originally used to test Apollo spacecraft, our Search and Rescue team crashed three planes to test the survivability of these beacons, developing guidelines for manufacturers and installation into aircraft.

In the future, first responders will rely on a new constellation of search and rescue instruments on GPS systems on satellites in medium-Earth orbit, not hundreds, but THOUSANDS of miles overhead. These new instruments will enable the search and rescue network to locate a distress signal more quickly than the current system and achieve accuracy an order of magnitude better, from a half mile to approximately 300 feet. Our Search and Rescue office is developing second-generation 406 MHz beacons that make full use of this new system.

We will also incorporate these second-generation beacons into the Orion Crew Survival System. The Advanced Next-Generation Emergency Locator (ANGEL) beacons will be attached to astronaut life preservers. After splashdown, if the Orion crew exits the capsule due to an emergency, these beacons will make sure we know the exact location of floating astronauts! Our Johnson Space Center is testing this technology for used in future human spaceflight and exploration missions.

If you’re the owner of an emergency beacon, remember that beacon registration is free, easy and required by law. 

To register your beacon, visit: beaconregistration.noaa.gov

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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.

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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. 

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Follow @ISS_Research on Twitter for your daily dose of nerdy, spacey goodness.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.

SpaceX Dragon breathes Astronomical Amounts of…

SpaceX is helping the crew members aboard the International Space Station get down and nerdy as they launch their Dragon cargo spacecraft into orbit for the 13th commercial resupply mission, targeted for Dec. 15 from our Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

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This super science-heavy flight will deliver experiments and equipment that will study phenomena on the Sun, materials in microgravity, space junk and more. 

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Here are some highlights of research that will be delivered to the station:

ZBLAN Fiber Optics Tested in Space!

The Optical Fiber Production in Microgravity (Made in Space Fiber Optics) experiment demonstrates the benefits of manufacturing fiber optic filaments in a microgravity environment. This investigation will attempt to pull fiber optic wire from ZBLAN, a heavy metal fluoride glass commonly used to make fiber optic glass.

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When ZBLAN is solidified on Earth, its atomic structure tends to form into crystals. Research indicates that ZBLAN fiber pulled in microgravity may not crystalize as much, giving it better optical qualities than the silica used in most fiber optic wire. 

Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor is Totally Teaching us About Earth’s Climate

The Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor, or TSIS, monitors both total solar irradiance and solar spectral irradiance, measurements that represent one of the longest space-observed climate records. Solar irradiance is the output of light energy from the entire disk of the Sun, measured at the Earth. This means looking at the Sun in ways very similar to how we observe stars rather than as an image with details that our eye can resolve.

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Understanding the variability and magnitude of solar irradiance is essential to understanding Earth’s climate.  

Sensor Monitors Space Station Environment for Space Junk

The Space Debris Sensor (SDS) will directly measure the orbital debris environment around the space station for two to three years.

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Above, see documentation of a Micro Meteor Orbital Debris strike on one of the window’s within the space station’s Cupola. 

Research from this investigation could help lower the risk to human life and critical hardware by orbital debris.

Self-Assembling and Self-Replicating Materials in Space!

Future space exploration may utilize self-assembly and self-replication to make materials and devices that can repair themselves on long duration missions. 

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The Advanced Colloids Experiment- Temperature-7 (ACE-T-7) investigation involves the design and assembly of 3D structures from small particles suspended in a fluid medium. 

Melting Plastics in Microgravity

The Transparent Alloys project seeks to improve the understanding of the melting and solidification processes in plastics in microgravity. Five investigations will be conducted as a part of the Transparent Alloys project.

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These European Space Agency (ESA) investigations will allow researchers to study this phenomena in the microgravity environment, where natural convection will not impact the results.  

Studying Slime (or…Algae, at Least) on the Space Station

Arthrospira B, an ESA investigation, will examine the form, structure and physiology of the Arthrospira sp. algae in order to determine the reliability of the organism for future spacecraft biological life support systems.

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The development of these kinds of regenerative life support systems for spaceflight could also be applied to remote locations on Earth where sustainability of materials is important. 

Follow @ISS_Research on Twitter for more space science and watch the launch live on Dec. 15 at 10:36 a.m. EDT HERE!

For a regular dose of space-nerdy-goodness, follow us on Tumblr: https://nasa.tumblr.com/.

Reinventing the Wheel

Planning a trip to the Moon? Mars? You’re going
to need good tires…

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Exploration requires mobility. And whether you’re on Earth
or as far away as the Moon or Mars, you need good tires to get your vehicle
from one place to another. Our decades-long work developing tires for space
exploration has led to new game-changing designs and materials. Yes, we’re
reinventing the wheel—here’s why.

Wheels on the Moon

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Early tire designs were focused on moving hardware and
astronauts across the lunar surface. The last NASA vehicle to visit the Moon
was the Lunar Roving Vehicle during our Apollo
missions
. The vehicle used four large flexible wire mesh wheels with stiff
inner frames. We used these Apollo era tires as the inspiration for new designs
using newer materials and technology to better function on a lunar surface.

Up springs a new idea

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During the mid-2000s, we worked with industry partner
Goodyear to develop the Spring
Tire
, an airless compliant tire that consists of several hundred coiled
steel wires woven into a flexible mesh, giving the tires the ability to support
high loads while also conforming to the terrain. The Spring Tire has been
proven to generate very good traction and durability in soft sand and on rocks.

Spring Tires for Mars

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A little over a year after the Mars Curiosity Rover landed
on Mars, engineers began to notice significant wheel damage in 2013 due to the
unexpectedly harsh terrain. That’s when engineers began developing new Spring Tire
prototypes to determine if they would be a new and better solution for
exploration rovers on Mars.

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In order for Spring Tires to go the distance on Martian
terrain, new materials were required. Enter nickel titanium,
a shape memory alloy with amazing capabilities that allow the tire to deform
down to the axle and return to its original shape.

These tires can take a lickin’

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After building the shape memory alloy tire, Glenn engineers
sent it to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Mars Life Test Facility. It
performed impressively on the punishing track.

Why reinvent the wheel? It’s worth it.

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New, high performing tires would allow lunar and Mars rovers
to explore greater regions of the surface than currently possible. They conform
to the terrain and do not sink as much as rigid wheels, allowing them to carry
heavier payloads for the same given mass and volume. Also, because they absorb
energy from impacts at moderate to high speeds, there is potential for use on
crewed exploration vehicles which are expected to move at speeds significantly
higher than the current Mars rovers.

Airless tires on Earth

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Maybe. Recently, engineers and materials scientists have
been testing a spinoff tire version that would work on cars and trucks on
Earth. Stay tuned as we
continue to push the boundaries on traditional concepts for exploring our world
and beyond.  

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.  

13 Reasons to Have an Out-of-This-World Friday (the 13th)

1. Not all of humanity is bound to the ground

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Since 2000, the International Space Station has been continuously occupied by humans. There, crew members live and work while conducting important research that benefits life on Earth and will even help us eventually travel to deep space destinations, like Mars.

2. We’re working to develop quieter supersonic aircraft that would allow you to travel from New York to Los Angeles in 2 hours

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We are working hard to make flight greener, safer and quieter – all while developing aircraft that travel faster, and building an aviation system that operates more efficiently. Seventy years after Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 aircraft, we’re continuing that supersonic X-plane legacy by working to create a quieter supersonic jet with an aim toward passenger flight.

3. The spacecraft, rockets and systems developed to send astronauts to low-Earth orbit as part of our Commercial Crew Program is also helping us get to Mars

Changes to the human body during long-duration spaceflight are significant challenges to solve ahead of a mission to Mars and back. The space station allows us to perform long duration missions without leaving Earth’s orbit.

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Although they are orbiting Earth, space station astronauts spend months at a time in near-zero gravity, which allows scientists to study several physiological changes and test potential solutions. The more time they spend in space, the more helpful the station crew members can be to those on Earth assembling the plans to go to Mars.

4. We’re launching a spacecraft in 2018 that will go “touch the Sun”

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In the summer of 2018, we’re launching Parker Solar Probe, a spacecraft that will get closer to the Sun than any other in human history. Parker Solar Probe will fly directly through the Sun’s atmosphere, called the corona. Getting better measurements of this region is key to understanding our Sun. 

For instance, the Sun releases a constant outflow of solar material, called the solar wind. We think the corona is where this solar wind is accelerated out into the solar system, and Parker Solar Probe’s measurements should help us pinpoint how that happens.  

5. You can digitally fly along with spacecraft…that are actually in space…in real-time!

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NASA’s Eyes are immersive, 3D simulations of real events, spacecraft locations and trajectories. Through this interactive app, you can experience Earth and our solar system, the universe and the spacecraft exploring them. Want to watch as our Juno spacecraft makes its next orbit around Juno? You can! Or relive all of the Voyager mission highlights in real-time? You can do that too! Download the free app HERE to start exploring.

6. When you feel far away from home, you can think of the New Horizons spacecraft as it heads toward the Kuiper Belt, and the Voyager spacecraft are beyond the influence of our sun…billions of miles away

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Our New Horizons spacecraft completed its Pluto flyby in July 2015 and has continued on its way toward the Kuiper Belt. The spacecraft continues to send back important data as it travels toward deeper space at more than 32,000 miles per hour, and is ~3.2 billion miles from Earth.

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In addition to New Horizons, our twin Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft are exploring where nothing from Earth has flown before. Continuing on their more-than-37-year journey since their 1977 launches, they are each much farther away from Earth and the sun than Pluto. In August 2012, Voyager 1 made the historic entry into interstellar space, the region between the stars, filled with material ejected by the death of nearby stars millions of years ago.

7. There are humans brave enough to not only travel in space, but venture outside space station to perform important repairs and updates during spacewalks

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Just this month (October 2017) we’ve already had two spacewalks on the International Space Station…with another scheduled on Oct. 20. 

Spacewalks are important events where crew members repair, maintain and upgrade parts of the International Space Station. These activities can also be referred to as EVAs – Extravehicular Activities. Not only do spacewalks require an enormous amount of work to prepare for, but they are physically demanding on the astronauts. They are working in the vacuum of space in only their spacewalking suit. 

8. Smart people are up all night working in control rooms all over NASA to ensure that data keeps flowing from our satellites and spacecraft

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Our satellites and spacecraft help scientists study Earth and space. Missions looking toward Earth provide information about clouds, oceans, land and ice. They also measure gases in the atmosphere, such as ozone and carbon dioxide and the amount of energy that Earth absorbs and emits. And satellites monitor wildfires, volcanoes and their smoke.

9. A lot of NASA-developed tech has been transferred for use to the public

Our Technology Transfer Program highlights technologies that were originally designed for our mission needs, but have since been introduced to the public market. HERE are a few spinoff technologies that you might not know about.

10. We have a spacecraft currently traveling  to an asteroid to collect a sample and bring it back to Earth

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OSIRIS-REx is our first-ever mission that will travel to an asteroid and bring a sample of it back to Earth. Currently, the spacecraft is on its way to asteroid Bennu where it will survey and map the object before it “high-fives” the asteroid with its robotic arm to collect a sample, which it will send to Earth.

If everything goes according to plan, on Sept. 24, 2023, the capsule containing the asteroid sample will make a soft landing in the Utah desert.

11. There are Earth-sized planets outside our solar system that may be habitable

To date, we have confirmed 3,000+ exoplanets, which are planets outside our solar system that orbit a Sun-like star. Of these 3,000, some are in the habitable zone – where the temperature is just right for liquid water to exist on the surface.  

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Recently, our Spitzer Space Telescope revealed the first known system of SEVEN Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these plants are firmly in the habitable zone, and could have liquid water on the surface, which is key to life as we know it.

12. Earth looks like art from space

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In 1960, the United States put its first Earth-observing environmental satellite into orbit around the planet. Over the decades, these satellites have provided invaluable information, and the vantage point of space has provided new perspectives on Earth.

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The beauty of Earth is clear, and the artistry ranges from the surreal to the sublime.

13. We’re building a telescope that will be able to see the first stars ever formed in the universe

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Wouldn’t it be neat to see a period of the universe’s history that we’ve never seen before? That’s exactly what the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will be able to do…plus more!

Specifically, Webb will see the first objects that formed as the universe cooled down after the Big Bang. We don’t know exactly when the universe made the first stars and galaxies – or how for that matter. That is what we are building Webb to help answer.

Happy Friday the 13th! We hope it’s out-of-this-world!

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.

Happy National Techies Day!

October 3 is National Techies Day…and here at NASA we have quite a few people who get REALLY excited about technology. Without techies and the technology they develop, we wouldn’t be able to do the amazing things we do at NASA, or on Earth and in space.

Our Techies

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We love our techies! The passionate engineers, researchers and scientists who work on our technology efforts enable us to make a difference in the world around us. They are responsible for developing the pioneering, new technologies and capabilities needed to achieve our current and future missions.

Research and technology development take place within our centers, in academia and industry, and leverage partnerships with other government agencies and international partners. We work to engage and inspire thousands of technologists and innovators creating a community of our best and brightest working on the nation’s toughest challenges.

Technology Drives Exploration

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Our investments in technology development enable and advance space exploration. We are continually seeking to improve our ability to access and travel through space, land more mass in more locations, enable humans to live and explore in space and accelerate the pace of discovery.

Techie Technology

Advanced Manufacturing Technologies

When traveling to other planetary bodies, each and every pound of cargo matters. If we can reduce the weight by building tools once we arrive, that’s less weight we need to launch from Earth and carry through space.

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Additive manufacturing is a way of printing three-dimensional (3D) components from a digital model. If you think of a common office printer, it uses a 2D file to print images and text on a sheet of paper. A 3D printer uses a 3D file to deposit thin layers of material on top of each other, creating a 3D product.

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Thanks to techies, we’re already using this technology on the International Space Station to print wrenches and other tools. Our Additive Construction for Mobile Emplacement (ACME) project is investigating ways to build structures on planetary surfaces using resources available at a given site.

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Discover more about how our techies are working with advanced manufacturing HERE.

Technology Demonstrations

Our techies are always innovating and developing new cutting-edge ideas. We test these ideas in extreme environments both here on Earth and in space.  

Science missions in space require spacecraft propulsion systems that are high-performance, lightweight, compact and have a short development time. The Deep Space Engine project is looking to meet those needs. Our techies are currently testing a 100lbf (pound-force) thruster to see if this compact, lightweight, low-cost chemical propulsion system can operate at very low temperatures, which allows long duration storage capabilities.

Another technology in development is PUFFER, or the Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robot…and it was inspired by origami! This robot’s lightweight design is capable of flattening itself, tucking in its wheels and crawling into places rovers can’t fit. PUFFER has been tested in a range of rugged terrains to explore areas that might be too risky for a full-fledged rover to go.

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With our partners at Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., we’ve also collaborated on the Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM), which will flight test a “green” alternative to the toxic propellant, hydrazine, in 2018. GPIM is the nation’s premier spacecraft demonstration of a new high-performance power and propulsion system — a more environmentally friendly fuel. This technology promises improved performance for future satellites and other space missions by providing for longer mission durations, increased payload mass and simplified pre-launch spacecraft processing, including safer handling and transfer of propellants.  

Find out more about our technology demonstrations HERE.

Aircraft Technology

What if you could travel from London to New York in less than 3.5 hours? Our techies’ research into supersonic flight could make that a reality! 

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Currently, supersonic flight creates a disruptive, loud BOOM, but our goal is to instead create a soft “thump” so that flying at supersonic speeds could be permitted over land in the United States.

We’re conducting a series of flight tests to validate tools and models that will be used for the development of future quiet supersonic aircraft.

Did you know that with the ability to observe the location of an aircraft’s sonic booms, pilots can better keep the loud percussive sounds from disturbing communities on the ground? This display allows research pilots the ability to physically see their sonic footprint on a map as the boom occurs.

Learn more about our aircraft technology HERE.

Technology Spinoffs 

Did you know that some of the technology used in the commercial world was originally developed for NASA? For example, when we were testing parachutes for our Orion spacecraft (which will carry humans into deep space), we needed to capture every millisecond in extreme detail. This would ensure engineers saw and could fix any issues. The problem was,there didn’t exist a camera in the world that could shoot at a high enough frame rate – and store it in the camera’s memory – all while adjusting instantly from complete darkness to full daylight and withstanding the space vacuum, space radiation and water immersion after landing.

Oh…and it had to be small, lightweight, and run on low power. Luckily, techies built exactly what we needed. All these improvements have now been incorporated into the camera which is being used in a variety of non-space industries…including car crash tests, where high resolution camera memory help engineers get the most out of testing to make the cars we drive safer.

Learn about more of our spinoff technologies HERE.

Join Our Techie Team

We’re always looking for passionate and innovative techies to join the NASA team. From student opportunities to open technology competitions, see below for a list of ways to get involved:

NASA Solve is a gateway for everyone to participate in our mission through challenges, prize competition, citizen science and more! Here are a few opportunities:

Vascular Tissue Challenge 

The Vascular Tissue Challenge, a NASA Centennial Challenges competition, offers a $500,000 prize to be divided among the first three teams that successfully create thick, metabolically-functional human vascularized organ tissue in a controlled laboratory environment. More information HERE.

For open job opportunities at NASA, visit: https://nasajobs.nasa.gov

For open internship opportunities at NASA, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/stu-intern-current-opps.html

Stay tuned in to the latest NASA techie news, by following  @NASA_Technology on Twitter, NASA Technology on Facebook and visiting nasa.gov/technology.

Happy National Techies Day!

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.

Back to School Resources

Need help with your science homework? We’ve got you covered! Here are some out-of-this world (pun intended) resources for your science and space questions.

Let’s take a look…

NASA Space Place

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From questions like “Why does Saturn have rings?” to games that allow you to explore different galaxies, NASA Space Place has a variety of content for elementary-age kids, parents and anyone who likes science and technology topics. 

Visit the NASA Space Place website or follow @NASASpacePlace on Twitter.

SciJinks

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Targeting middle-school students and teachers, this NOAA and NASA partnership has games and useful information about weather and other Earth science subjects. 

Visit the SciJinks website or follow @SciJinks on Twitter. 

NASA Education

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The NASA Education website includes an A-Z list of education opportunities that we offer throughout the year, as well as education programs, events and resources for both students and educators. 

We have a diverse set of resources for multiple age groups:

Visit the NASA Education website or follow @NASAedu on Twitter. 

Want to get NASA Education materials for your classroom? Click HERE

A Year of Education on the International Space Station

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Although on different crews, astronauts Joe Acaba and Ricky Arnold – both former teachers – will work aboard the International Space Station. K-12 and higher education students and educators can do NASA STEM activities related to the station and its role in our journey to Mars. Click HERE for more. 

Sally Ride EarthKAM

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Also on the International Space Station, the Sally Ride EarthKAM @ Space Camp allows students to program a digital camera on board the space station to photograph a variety of geographical targets for study in the classroom. 

Registration is now open until Sept. 25 for the Sept. 26-30 mission. Click HERE for more. 

NASA eClips™

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NASA eClips™ are short, relevant educational video segments. These videos inspire and engage students, helping them see real world connections by exploring current applications of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, topics. The programs are produced for targeted audiences: K-5, 6-8, 9-12 and the general public.

Space Operations Learning Center

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The Space Operations Learning Center teaches school-aged students the basic concepts of space operations using the web to present this educational content in a fun and engaging way for all grade levels. With fourteen modules, there’s lots to explore for all ages.

The Mars Fun Zone

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The Mars Fun Zone is a compilation of Red Planet-related materials that engage the explorer inside every kid through activities, games, and educational moments. 

Fly Away with NASA Aeronautics

Frequent flyer or getting ready to earn your first set of wings? From children’s books for story time to interactive flight games, we’ve got Aeronautics activities for students of all ages that are sure to inspire future scientists, mathematicians and engineers. 

On Pinterest? We have a board that highlights NASA science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) lessons, activities, tools and resources for teachers, educators and parents. 

Check it out here: https://www.pinterest.com/nasa/nasa-for-educators/ 

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.

Launching the Future of Space Communications

Our newest communications satellite, named the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-M or TDRS-M, launches Aug. 18 aboard an Atlas V rocket from our Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It will be the 13th TDRS satellite and will replenish the fleet of satellites supporting the Space Network, which provides nearly continuous global communications services to more than 40 of our missions.

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Communicating from space wasn’t always so easy. During our third attempt to land on the moon in 1970, the Apollo 13 crew had to abort their mission when the spacecraft’s oxygen tank suddenly exploded and destroyed much of the essential equipment onboard. Made famous in the movie ‘Apollo 13’ by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks, our NASA engineers on the ground talked to the crew and fixed the issue. Back in 1970 our ground crew could only communicate with their ground teams for 15 percent of their orbit – adding yet another challenge to the crew. Thankfully, our Apollo 13 astronauts survived and safely returned to Earth. 

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Now, our astronauts don’t have to worry about being disconnected from their teams! With the creation of the TDRS program in 1973, space communications coverage increased rapidly from 15 percent coverage to 85 percent coverage. And as we’ve continued to add TDRS spacecraft, coverage zoomed to over 98 percent!

TDRS is a fleet of satellites that beam data from low-Earth-orbiting space missions to scientists on the ground. These data range from cool galaxy images from the Hubble Space Telescope to high-def videos from astronauts on the International Space Station! TDRS is operated by our Space Network, and it is thanks to these hardworking engineers and scientists that we can continuously advance our knowledge about the universe!  

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What’s up next in space comm? Only the coolest stuff ever! LASER BEAMS. Our scientists are creating ways to communicate space data from missions through lasers, which have the ability to transfer more data per minute than typical radio-frequency systems. Both radio-frequency and laser comm systems send data at the speed of light, but with laser comm’s ability to send more data at a time through infrared waves, we can receive more information and further our knowledge of space.

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How are we initiating laser comm? Our Laser Communications Relay Demonstration is launching in 2019! We’re only two short years away from beaming space data through lasers! This laser communications demo is the next step to strengthen this technology, which uses less power and takes up less space on a spacecraft, leaving more power and room for science instruments.

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Watch the TDRS launch live online at 8:03 a.m. EDT on Aug. 18: https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive

Join the conversation on Twitter: @NASA_TDRS and @NASALasercomm!

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

New Research Heading to Earth’s Orbiting Laboratory

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a…dragon? A SpaceX Dragon spacecraft is set to launch into orbit atop the Falcon 9 rocket toward the International Space Station for its 12th commercial resupply (CRS-12) mission August 14 from our Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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It won’t breathe fire, but it will carry science that studies cosmic rays, protein crystal growth, bioengineered lung tissue.

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Here are some highlights of research that will be delivered:

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ISS-CREAM! 

Cosmic Rays, Energetics and Mass, that is! Cosmic rays reach Earth from far outside the solar system with energies well beyond what man-made accelerators can achieve. The Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass (ISS-CREAM) instrument measures the charges of cosmic rays ranging from hydrogen to iron nuclei. Cosmic rays are pieces of atoms that move through space at nearly the speed of light

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The data collected from the instrument will help address fundamental science questions such as:

  • Do supernovae supply the bulk of cosmic rays?
  • What is the history of cosmic rays in the galaxy?
  • Can the energy spectra of cosmic rays result from a single mechanism?

ISS-CREAM’s three-year mission will help the scientific community to build a stronger understanding of the fundamental structure of the universe.

Space-grown crystals aid in understanding of Parkinson’s disease

The microgravity environment of the space station allows protein crystals to grow larger and in more perfect shapes than earth-grown crystals, allowing them to be better analyzed on Earth. 

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Developed by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, Anatrace and Com-Pac International, the Crystallization of Leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2) under Microgravity Conditions (CASIS PCG 7) investigation will utilize the orbiting laboratory’s microgravity environment to grow larger versions of this important protein, implicated in Parkinson’s disease.

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Defining the exact shape and morphology of LRRK2 would help scientists to better understand the pathology of Parkinson’s and could aid in the development of therapies against this target.

Mice Help Us Keep an Eye on Long-term Health Impacts of Spaceflight

Our eyes have a whole network of blood vessels, like the ones in the image below, in the retina—the back part of the eye that transforms light into information for your brain. We are sending mice to the space station (RR-9) to study how the fluids that move through these vessels shift their flow in microgravity, which can lead to impaired vision in astronauts.

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By looking at how spaceflight affects not only the eyes, but other parts of the body such as joints, like hips and knees, in mice over a short period of time, we can develop countermeasures to protect astronauts over longer periods of space exploration, and help humans with visual impairments or arthritis on Earth.

Telescope-hosting nanosatellite tests new concept

The Kestrel Eye (NanoRacks-KE IIM) investigation is a microsatellite carrying an optical imaging system payload, including an off-the-shelf telescope. This investigation validates the concept of using microsatellites in low-Earth orbit to support critical operations, such as providing lower-cost Earth imagery in time-sensitive situations, such as tracking severe weather and detecting natural disasters.

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Sponsored by the ISS National Laboratory, the overall mission goal for this investigation is to demonstrate that small satellites are viable platforms for providing critical path support to operations and hosting advanced payloads.

Growth of lung tissue in space could provide information about diseases

The Effect of Microgravity on Stem Cell Mediated Recellularization (Lung Tissue) uses the microgravity environment of space to test strategies for growing new lung tissue. The cells are grown in a specialized framework that supplies them with critical growth factors so that scientists can observe how gravity affects growth and specialization as cells become new lung tissue.

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The goal of this investigation is to produce bioengineered human lung tissue that can be used as a predictive model of human responses allowing for the study of lung development, lung physiology or disease pathology.

These crazy-cool investigations and others launching aboard the next SpaceX #Dragon cargo spacecraft on August 14. They will join many other investigations currently happening aboard the space station. Follow @ISS_Research on Twitter for more information about the science happening on 250 miles above Earth on the space station.  

Watch the launch live HERE starting at 12:20 p.m. EDT on Monday, Aug. 14!

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The Past, Present and Future of Exploration on Mars

Today, we’re celebrating the Red Planet! Since our first close-up picture of Mars in 1965, spacecraft voyages to the Red Planet have revealed a world strangely familiar, yet different enough to challenge our perceptions of what makes a planet work.

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You’d think Mars would be easier to understand. Like Earth, Mars has polar ice caps and clouds in its atmosphere, seasonal weather patterns, volcanoes, canyons and other recognizable features. However, conditions on Mars vary wildly from what we know on our own planet.

Join us as we highlight some of the exploration on Mars from the past, present and future:

PAST

Viking Landers

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Our Viking Project found a place in history when it became the first U.S. mission to land a spacecraft safely on the surface of Mars and return images of the surface. Two identical spacecraft, each consisting of a lander and an orbiter, were built. Each orbiter-lander pair flew together and entered Mars orbit; the landers then separated and descended to the planet’s surface.

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Besides taking photographs and collecting other science data, the two landers conducted three biology experiments designed to look for possible signs of life.

Pathfinder Rover

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In 1997, Pathfinder was the first-ever robotic rover to land on the surface of Mars. It was designed as a technology demonstration of a new way to deliver an instrumented lander to the surface of a planet. Mars Pathfinder used an innovative method of directly entering the Martian atmosphere, assisted by a parachute to slow its descent and a giant system of airbags to cushion the impact.

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Pathfinder not only accomplished its goal but also returned an unprecedented amount of data and outlived its primary design life.

PRESENT

Spirit and Opportunity

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In January 2004, two robotic geologists named Spirit and Opportunity landed on opposite sides of the Red Planet. With far greater mobility than the 1997 Mars Pathfinder rover, these robotic explorers have trekked for miles across the Martian surface, conducting field geology and making atmospheric observations. Carrying identical, sophisticated sets of science instruments, both rovers have found evidence of ancient Martian environments where intermittently wet and habitable conditions existed.

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Both missions exceeded their planned 90-day mission lifetimes by many years. Spirit lasted 20 times longer than its original design until its final communication to Earth on March 22, 2010. Opportunity continues to operate more than a decade after launch.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

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Our Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter left Earth in 2005 on a search for evidence that water persisted on the surface of Mars for a long period of time. While other Mars missions have shown that water flowed across the surface in Mars’ history, it remained a mystery whether water was ever around long enough to provide a habitat for life.

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In addition to using the rover to study Mars, we’re using data and imagery from this mission to survey possible future human landing sites on the Red Planet.

Curiosity

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The Curiosity rover is the largest and most capable rover ever sent to Mars. It launched November 26, 2011 and landed on Mars on Aug. 5, 2012. Curiosity set out to answer the question: Did Mars ever have the right environmental conditions to support small life forms called microbes? 

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Early in its mission, Curiosity’s scientific tools found chemical and mineral evidence of past habitable environments on Mars. It continues to explore the rock record from a time when Mars could have been home to microbial life.

FUTURE

Space Launch System Rocket

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We’re currently building the world’s most powerful rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS). When completed, this rocket will enable astronauts to begin their journey to explore destinations far into the solar system, including Mars.

Orion Spacecraft

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The Orion spacecraft will sit atop the Space Launch System rocket as it launches humans deeper into space than ever before. Orion will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities.

Mars 2020

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The Mars 2020 rover mission takes the next step in exploration of the Red Planet by not only seeking signs of habitable conditions in the ancient past, but also searching for signs of past microbial life itself.

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The Mars 2020 rover introduces a drill that can collect core samples of the most promising rocks and soils and set them aside in a “cache” on the surface of Mars. The mission will also test a method for producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, identify other resources (such as subsurface water), improve landing techniques and characterize weather, dust and other potential environmental conditions that could affect future astronauts living and working on the Red Planet.

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For decades, we’ve sent orbiters, landers and rovers, dramatically increasing our knowledge about the Red Planet and paving the way for future human explorers. Mars is the next tangible frontier for human exploration, and it’s an achievable goal. There are challenges to pioneering Mars, but we know they are solvable. 

To discover more about Mars exploration, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/topics/journeytomars/index.html

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