marshall space

Testing Time for the SLS Engine Section

In schools across the country, many students just finished final exams. Now, part of the world’s most powerful rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), is about to feel the pressure of testing time. The first SLS engine section has been moving slowly upriver from Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, but once the barge Pegasus docks at our Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, the real strength test for the engine section will get started.

The engine section is the first of four of the major parts of the core stage that are being tested to make sure SLS is ready for the challenges of spaceflight.

The engine section is located at the bottom of the rocket. It has a couple of important jobs. It holds the four RS-25 liquid propellant engines, and it serves as one of two attach points for each of the twin solid propellant boosters. This first engine section will be used only for ground testing. 

Of all the major parts of the rocket, the engine section gets perhaps the roughest workout during launch. Millions of pounds of core stage are pushing down, while the engines are pushing up with millions of pounds of thrust, and the boosters are tugging at it from both sides. That’s a lot of stress. Maybe that’s why there’s a saying in the rocket business: “Test like you fly, and fly like you test.”

After it was welded at Michoud, technicians installed the thrust structure, engine supports and other internal equipment and loaded it aboard the Pegasus for shipment to Marshall.

Once used to transport space shuttle external tanks, Pegasus was modified for the longer SLS core stage by removing 115 feet out of the middle of the barge and added a new 165-foot section with a reinforced main deck. Now as long as a football field, Pegasus – with the help of two tugboats – will transport core stage test articles to Marshall Space Flight Center as well as completed core stages to Stennis Space Center in Mississippi for test firing and then to Kennedy Space Center for launch.

The test article has no engines, cabling, or computers, but it will replicate all the structures that will undergo the extreme physical forces of launch. The test article is more than 30 feet tall, and weighs about 70,000 pounds. About 3,200 sensors attached to the test article will measure the stress during 59 separate tests. Flight-like physical forces will be applied through simulators and adaptors standing in for the liquid hydrogen tank and RS-25 engines.

The test fixture that will surround and secure the engine section weighs about 1.5 million pounds and is taller than a 5-story building. Fifty-five big pistons called “load lines” will impart more than 4.5 million pounds of force vertically and more than 428,000 pounds from the side.

The engineers and their computer design tools say the engine section can handle the stress.  It’s the test team’s job prove that it can.

For more information about the powerful SLS rocket, check out: 

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space:

Five Eclipses in NASA History

On Monday, August 21, 2017, people in North America will have the chance to see an eclipse of the Sun. Anyone within the path of totality may see one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights – a total solar eclipse. 

Along this path, the Moon will completely cover the Sun, revealing the Sun’s tenuous atmosphere, the corona. The path of totality will stretch from Salem, Oregon, to Charleston, South Carolina. Observers outside this path will still see a partial solar eclipse, where the Moon covers part of the Sun’s disk. Remember: you can never look at the Sun directly, and an eclipse is no exception – be sure to use a solar filter or indirect viewing method to watch partial phases of the eclipse.

Total solar eclipses are a rare chance to study the Sun and Earth in unique ways. During the total eclipse, scientists can observe the faintest regions of the Sun, as well as study the Sun’s effects on Earth’s upper atmosphere. We’ve been using eclipses to learn more about our solar system for more than 50 years. Let’s take a look back at five notable eclipses of the past five decades.

May 30, 1965

A total eclipse crossed the Pacific Ocean on May 30, 1965, starting near the northern tip of New Zealand and ending in Peru. Totality – when the Moon blocks all of the Sun’s face – lasted for 5 minutes and 15 seconds at peak, making this the 3rd-longest solar eclipse totality in the 20th century. Mexico and parts of the Southwestern United States saw a partial solar eclipse, meaning the Moon only blocked part of the Sun. We sent scientists to the path of totality, stationing researchers on South Pacific islands to study the response of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere to the eclipse. 

Additionally, our high-flying jets, scientific balloons, and sounding rockets – suborbital research rockets that fly and collect data for only a few minutes – recorded data in different parts of the atmosphere. A Convair 990 research jet chased the Moon’s shadow as it crossed Earth’s surface, extending totality up to more than nine minutes, and giving scientists aboard more time to collect data. A NASA-funded team of researchers will use the same tactic with two jets to extend totality to more than 7 minutes on Aug. 21, 2017, up from the 2 minutes and 40 seconds observable on the ground. 

March 7, 1970

The total solar eclipse of March 7, 1970, was visible in North America and the northwestern part of South America, with totality stretching to 3 minutes and 28 seconds at maximum. This was the first time a total eclipse in the United States passed over a permanent rocket launch facility – NASA’s Wallops Station (now Wallops Flight Facility) on the coast of Virginia. This eclipse offered scientists from NASA, four universities and seven other research organizations a unique way to conduct meteorology, ionospheric and solar physics experiments using 32 sounding rockets

Also during this eclipse, the Space Electric Propulsion Test, or SERT, mission temporarily shut down because of the lack of sunlight. The experimental spacecraft was unable to restart for two days.

July 10, 1972

Two years later, North America saw another total solar eclipse. This time, totality lasted 2 minutes and 36 seconds at the longest. A pair of scientists from Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, traveled to the Canadian tundra to study the eclipse – specifically, a phenomenon called shadow bands. These are among the most ephemeral phenomena that observers see during the few minutes before and after a total solar eclipse. They appear as a multitude of faint rapidly moving bands that can be seen against a white background, such as a large piece of paper on the ground. 

While the details of what causes the bands are not completely understood, the simplest explanation is that they arise from atmospheric turbulence. When light rays pass through eddies in the atmosphere, they are refracted, creating shadow bands.

February 26, 1979

The last total solar eclipse of the 20th century in the contiguous United States was in early 1979. Totality lasted for a maximum of 2 minutes 49 seconds, and the total eclipse was visible on a narrow path stretching from the Pacific Northwest to Greenland. Agencies from Canada and the United States – including NASA – joined forces to build a sounding rocket program to study the atmosphere and ionosphere during the eclipse by observing particles on the edge of space as the Sun’s radiation was suddenly blocked.

July 31, 1981

The USSR got a great view of the Moon passing in front of the Sun in the summer of 1981, with totality lasting just over 2 minutes at maximum. Our scientists partnered with Hawaiian and British researchers to study the Sun’s atmosphere – specifically, a relatively thin region called the chromosphere, which is sandwiched between the Sun’s visible surface and the corona – using an infrared telescope aboard the Kuiper Airborne Observatory. The chromosphere appears as the red rim of the solar disk during a total solar eclipse, whereas the corona has no discernible color to the naked eye.

Watch an Eclipse: August 21, 2017 

On August 21, a total solar eclipse will cross the continental United States from coast to coast for the first time in 99 years, and you can watch.

If skies are clear, people in North America will be able to see a partial or total solar eclipse. Find out what the eclipse will look like in your area, then make sure you have a safe method to watch – like solar viewing glasses or a pinhole projector – and head outside. 

You can also tune into throughout the day on Aug. 21 to see the eclipse like you’ve never seen it before – including a NASA TV show, views from our spacecraft, aircraft, and more than 50 high-altitude balloons.

Get all your eclipse information at, and follow along with @NASASun on Twitter and NASA Sun Science on Facebook.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space:


     Meet SA-500D, the first Saturn V rocket. Wernher von Braun designed her as the dynamic test article for the program. She was assembled stage by stage inside the Dynamic Test Stand at NASA Marshall Spaceflight Center, then subjected to lateral, longitudinal, and torsional vibrations equal of that of launch for a total of 450 hours.

     The first time I visited SA-500D in 1999, she was outside on the US Space and Rocket Center property. Her paint was faded and worn, having sat there since 1969. In 2005, full restoration began, and she was moved inside her new facility, the Davidson Center for Space Exploration in Huntsville, Alabama. I’m happy to report that as of Sunday, April 27, 2014, she looks great. Viewing the newly restored rocket is magnitudes more impactful. The difference is incredible.

Solar System: Things to Know This Week

We love Lucy—our spacecraft that will visit the ancient Trojan asteroids near Jupiter, that is. This week, let us count the ways this 2021 mission could revolutionize what we know about the origins of Earth and ourselves.

1. Lucky Lucy 

Earlier this year, we selected the Lucy mission to make the first-ever visit to a group of asteroids known as the Trojans. This swarm of asteroids orbits in two loose groups around the Sun, with one group always ahead of Jupiter in its path, and the other always behind. The bodies are stabilized by the Sun and Jupiter in a gravitational balancing act, gathering in locations known as Lagrange points.

2. Old. Really, Really Old

Jupiter’s swarms of Trojan asteroids may be remnants of the material that formed our outer planets more than 4 billion years ago—so these fossils may help reveal our most distant origins. “They hold vital clues to deciphering the history of the solar system,” said Dr. Harold F. Levison, Lucy principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado.

3. A Link to The Beatles

Lucy takes its name from the fossilized human ancestor, called “Lucy” by her discoverers, whose skeleton provided unique insight into humanity’s evolution. On the night it was discovered in 1974, the team’s celebration included dancing and singing to The Beatles’ song “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.” At some point during that evening, expedition member Pamela Alderman named the skeleton “Lucy,” and the name stuck. Jump ahead to 2013 and the mission’s principal investigator, Dr. Levison, was inspired by that link to our beginnings to name the spacecraft after Lucy the fossil. The connection to The Beatles’ song was just icing on the cake.

4. Travel Itinerary

One of two missions selected in a highly competitive process, Lucy will launch in October 2021. With boosts from Earth’s gravity, it will complete a 12-year journey to seven different asteroids: a Main Belt asteroid and six Trojans.

5. Making History

No other space mission in history has been launched to as many different destinations in independent orbits around the Sun. Lucy will show us, for the first time, the diversity of the primordial bodies that built the planets.

6. What Lies Beneath 

Lucy’s complex path will take it to both clusters of Trojans and give us our first close-up view of all three major types of bodies in the swarms (so-called C-, P- and D-types). The dark-red P- and D-type Trojans resemble those found in the Kuiper Belt of icy bodies that extends beyond the orbit of Neptune. The C-types are found mostly in the outer parts of the Main Belt of asteroids, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. All of the Trojans are thought to be abundant in dark carbon compounds. Below an insulating blanket of dust, they are probably rich in water and other volatile substances.

7. Pretzel, Anyone?

This diagram illustrates Lucy’s orbital path. The spacecraft’s path (green) is shown in a slowly turning frame of reference that makes Jupiter appear stationary, giving the trajectory its pretzel-like shape.

8. Moving Targets

This time-lapsed animation shows the movements of the inner planets (Mercury, brown; Venus, white; Earth, blue; Mars, red), Jupiter (orange), and the two Trojan swarms (green) during the course of the Lucy mission.

9. Long To-Do List

Lucy and its impressive suite of remote-sensing instruments will study the geology, surface composition, and physical properties of the Trojans at close range. The payload includes three imaging and mapping instruments, including a color imaging and infrared mapping spectrometer and a thermal infrared spectrometer. Lucy also will perform radio science investigations using its telecommunications system to determine the masses and densities of the Trojan targets.

10. Dream Team

Several institutions will come together to successfully pull off this mission. The Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, is the principal investigator institution. Our Goddard Space Flight Center will provide overall mission management, systems engineering, and safety and mission assurance. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver will build the spacecraft. Instruments will be provided by Goddard, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and Arizona State University. Discovery missions are overseen by the Planetary Missions Program Office at our Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for our Planetary Science Division.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space:

Take a Virtual Tour of NASA

Welcome to NASA! Today, we’re taking you behind-the-scenes for a virtual tour looking at our cutting-edge work and humanity’s destiny in deep space!

Starting at 1:30 p.m., we will host a series of Facebook Live events from each of our 10 field centers across the country. Take a look at where we’ll be taking you…

Glenn Research Center
1:30 p.m. EDT

Our Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, OH will host a tour of its Electric Propulsion Lab. This lab is where we test solar propulsion technologies that are critical to powering spacecraft for our deep-space missions. The Electric Propulsion Laboratory houses two huge vacuum chambers that simulate the space environment.

Marshall Space Flight Center
1:50 p.m. EDT

Our Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL will host a tour from a Marshall test stand where structural loads testing is performed on parts of our Space Launch System rocket. Once built, this will be the world’s most powerful rocket and will launch humans farther into space than ever before.

Stennis Space Center
2:10 p.m. EDT

Our Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, MS will take viewers on a tour of their test stands to learn about rocket engine testing from their Test Control Center.

Armstrong Flight Research Center
2:30 p.m. EDT 

Our Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, CA will host a tour from their aircraft hangar and Simulator Lab where viewers can learn about our X-Planes program. What’s an X-Plane? They are a variety of flight demonstration vehicles that are used to test advanced technologies and revolutionary designs.

Johnson Space Center
2:50 p.m. EDT

Our Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX will take viewers on a virtual exploration trip through the mockups of the International Space Station and inside our deep-space exploration vehicle, the Orion spacecraft!

Ames Research Center
3:10 p.m. EDT

Our Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley will bring viewers into its Arc Jet Facility, a plasma wind tunnel used to simulate the extreme heat of spacecraft atmospheric entry.

Kennedy Space Center
3:30 p.m. EDT

Our Kennedy Space Center in Florida will bring viewers inside the Vehicle Assembly Building to learn about how we’re preparing for the first launch of America’s next big rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

Langley Research Center
3:50 p.m. EDT

Our Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia will bring viewers inside its 14-by-22-foot wind tunnel, where aerodynamic projects are tested.

Goddard Space Flight Center
4:10 p.m. EDT

Our Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD will discuss the upcoming United States total solar eclipse and host its tour from the Space Weather Lab, a large multi-screen room where data from the sun is analyzed and studied.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory
4:30 p.m. EDT

Our Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA will bring viewers to the Spacecraft Assembly Facility to learn about robotic exploration of the solar system.

So, make sure to join us for all or part of our virtual tour today, starting at 1:30 p.m. EDT! Discover more about the work we’re doing at NASA and be sure to ask your questions in the comment section of each Facebook Live event! 

Additional details and viewing information available HERE

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space:

Illusions in the Cosmic Clouds: Pareidolia is the psychological phenomenon where people see recognizable shapes in clouds, rock formations, or otherwise unrelated objects or data. There are many examples of this phenomenon on Earth and in space.

When an image from NASAs Chandra X-ray Observatory of PSR B1509-58 a spinning neutron star surrounded by a cloud of energetic particles was released in 2009, it quickly gained attention because many saw a hand-like structure in the X-ray emission.

In a new image of the system, X-rays from Chandra in gold are seen along with infrared data from NASAs Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer telescope in red, green and blue. Pareidolia may strike again as some people report seeing a shape of a face in WISEs infrared data. What do you see?

NASAs Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, also took a picture of the neutron star nebula in 2014, using higher-energy X-rays than Chandra.

PSR B1509-58 is about 17,000 light-years from Earth.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the WISE mission for NASA. NASAs Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandras science and flight operations.

Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Aurora Australis (NASA, ISS) by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

10 “Spinoffs of Tomorrow” You Can License for Your Business

The job of the our Technology Transfer Program is pretty straight-forward – bring NASA technology down to Earth. But, what does that actually mean? We’re glad you asked! We transfer the cool inventions NASA scientists develop for missions and license them to American businesses and entrepreneurs. And that is where the magic happens: those business-savvy licensees then create goods and products using our NASA tech. Once it hits the market, it becomes a “NASA Spinoff.”

If you’re imagining that sounds like a nightmare of paperwork and bureaucracy, think again. Our new automated “ATLAS” system helps you license your tech in no time — online and without any confusing forms or jargon.

So, sit back and browse this list of NASA tech ripe for the picking (well, licensing.) When you find something you like, follow the links below to apply for a license today! You can also browse the rest of our patent portfolio - full of hundreds of available technologies – by visiting

1. Soil Remediation with Plant-Fungal Combinations

Ahh, fungus. It’s fun to say and fun to eat—if you are a mushroom fan. But, did you know it can play a crucial role in helping trees grow in contaminated soil? Scientists at our Ames Research Center discovered that a special type of the fungus among us called “Ectomycorrhizal” (or EM for short) can help enhance the growth of trees in areas that have been damaged, such as those from oil spills.

2. Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to Lower Drag

When it comes to aircraft, drag can be, well…a drag. Luckily, innovators at our Armstrong Flight Research Center are experimenting with a new wing design that removes adverse yaw (or unwanted twisting) and dramatically increases aircraft efficiency by reducing drag. Known as the “Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to Lower Drag (PRANDTL-D)” wing, this design addresses integrated bending moments and lift to achieve drag reduction.

3. Advancements in Nanomaterials

What do aircraft, batteries, and furniture have in common? They can ALL be improved with our nanomaterials.  Nanomaterials are very tiny materials that often have unique optical, electrical and mechanical properties. Innovators at NASA’s Glenn Research Center have developed a suite of materials and methods to optimize the performance of nanomaterials by making them tougher and easier to process. This useful stuff can also help electronics, fuel cells and textiles.

4. Green Precision Cleaning

Industrial cleaning is hard work. It can also be expensive when you have to bring in chemicals to get things squeaky. Enter “Green Precision Cleaning,” which uses the nitrogen bubbles in water instead. The bubbles act as a scrubbing agent to clean equipment. Goddard Space Flight Center scientists developed this system for cleaning tubing and piping that significantly reduces cost and carbon consumption. Deionized water (or water that has been treated to remove most of its mineral ions) takes the place of costlier isopropyl alcohol (IPA) and also leaves no waste, which cuts out the pricey process of disposal. The cleaning system quickly and precisely removes all foreign matter from tubing and piping.

5. Self-Contained Device to Isolate Biological Samples

When it comes to working in space, smaller is always better. Innovators at our Johnson Space Center have developed a self-contained device for isolating microscopic materials like DNA, RNA, proteins, and cells without using pipettes or centrifuges. Think of this technology like a small briefcase full of what you need to isolate genetic material from organisms and microorganisms for analysis away from the lab. The device is also leak-proof, so users are protected from chemical hazards—which is good news for astronauts and Earth-bound scientists alike.

6. Portable, Rapid, Quiet Drill

When it comes to “bringing the boom,” NASA does it better than anyone. But sometimes, we know it’s better to keep the decibels low.
That’s why innovators at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have developed a new handheld drilling device, suitable for a variety of operations, that is portable, rapid and quiet. Noise from drilling operations often becomes problematic because of the location or time of operations. Nighttime drilling can be particularly bothersome and the use of hearing protection in the high-noise areas may be difficult in some instances due to space restrictions or local hazards. This drill also weighs less than five pounds – talk about portable power.  

7. Damage Detection System for Flat Surfaces

The ability to detect damage to surfaces can be crucial, especially on a sealed environment that sustains human life or critical equipment. Enter Kennedy Space Center’s damage detection system for flat composite surfaces.
The system is made up of layered composite material, with some of those layers containing the detection system imbedded right in.
Besides one day potentially keeping humans safe on Mars, this tech can also be used on aircrafts, military shelters, inflatable structures and more.

8. Sucrose-Treated Carbon Nanotube and Graphene Yarns and Sheets

We all know what a spoonful of sugar is capable of. But, who knew it could help make some materials stronger? Innovators at NASA’s Langley Research Center did! They use dehydrated sucrose to create yarns and woven sheets of carbon nanotubes and graphene.

The resulting materials are lightweight and strong. Sucrose is inexpensive and readily available, making the process cost-effective. Makes you look at the sweet substance a little differently, doesn’t it?

9. Ultrasonic Stir Welding

NASA scientists needed to find a way to friction weld that would be gentler on their welding equipment. Meet our next tech, ultrasonic stir welding.

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center engineers developed ultrasonic stir welding to join large pieces of very high-strength, high-melting-temperature metals such as titanium and Inconel. The addition of ultrasonic energy reduces damaging forces to the stir rod (or the piece of the unit that vibrates so fast, it joins the welding material together), extending its life. The technology also leaves behind a smoother, higher-quality weld.

10. A Field Deployable PiezoElectric Gravimeter (PEG)

It’s important to know that the fuel pumping into rockets has remained fully liquid or if a harmful chemical is leaking out of its container. But each of those things, and the many other places sensors are routinely used, tends to require a specially designed, one-use device.

That can result in time-consuming and costly cycles of design, test and build, since there is no real standardized sensor that can be adapted and used more widely.

To meet this need, the PiezoElectric Gravimeter (PEG) was developed to provide a sensing system and method that can serve as the foundation for a wide variety of sensing applications.

See anything your business could use? Did anything inspire you to start your own company? If so, head to our website at to check them out.

When you’ve found what you need, click, “Apply Now!” Our licensing system, ATLAS, will guide you through the rest.

If the items on this round-up didn’t grab you, that’s ok, too. We have hundreds of other technologies available and ready to license on our website.

And if you want to learn more about the technologies already being used all around you, visit

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: