u.s. space program

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Five storied female NASA pioneers will soon grace toy-store shelves, in Lego form.

The Danish company announced on Tuesday that it would produce the Women of NASA set, submitted by science writer Maia Weinstock.

“Women have played critical roles throughout the history of the U.S. space program,” Weinstock wrote in her project proposal. “Yet in many cases, their contributions are unknown or under-appreciated – especially as women have historically struggled to gain acceptance in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”

She said the set is meant to shed light on the rich history of women in STEM professions.

Women Of NASA To Be Immortalized — In Lego Form

Photos: Maia Weinstock

Innovation at 100

Air travel, spaceflight, robotic solar-system missions: science fiction to those alive at the turn of the 20th century became science fact to those living in the 21st. 

America’s aerospace future has been literally made at our Langley Research Center by the best and brightest the country can offer. Here are some of the many highlights from a century of ingenuity and invention.

Making the Modern Airplane

In times of peace and war, Langley helped to create a better airplane, including unique wing shapes, sturdier structures, the first engine cowlings, and drag cleanup that enabled the Allies to win World War II.

In 1938 Langley mounted the navy’s Brewster XF2A-1 Buffalo in the Full-Scale Tunnel for drag reduction studies.

Wind Goes to Work

Langley broke new ground in aeronautical research with a suite of first-of-their-kind wind tunnels that led to numerous advances in commercial, military and vertical flight, such as helicopters and other rotorcraft. 

Airflow turning vanes in Langley’s 16-Foot Transonic Tunnel.

Aeronautics Breakthroughs

Aviation Hall of Famer Richard Whitcomb’s area rule made practical jet flight a reality and, thanks to his development of winglets and the supercritical wing, enabled jets to save fuel and fly more efficiently.

Richard Whitcomb examines a model aircraft incorporating his area rule.

Making Space

Langley researchers laid the foundation for the U.S. manned space program, played a critical role in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, and developed the lunar-orbit rendezvous concept that made the Moon landing possible.

Neil Armstrong trained for the historic Apollo 11 mission at the Lunar Landing Research Facility,

Safer Air Above and Below

Langley research into robust aircraft design and construction, runway safety grooving, wind shear, airspace management and lightning protection has aimed to minimize, even eliminate air-travel mishaps

NASA’s Boeing 737 as it approached a thunderstorm during microburst wind shear research in Colorado in 1992.

Tracking Earth from Aloft

Development by Langley of a variety of satellite-borne instrumentation has enabled real-time monitoring of planet-wide atmospheric chemistry, air quality, upper-atmosphere ozone concentrations, the effects of clouds and air-suspended particles on climate, and other conditions affecting Earth’s biosphere.

Crucial Shuttle Contributions

Among a number of vital contributions to the creation of the U.S. fleet of space shuttles, Langley developed preliminary shuttle designs and conducted 60,000 hours of wind tunnel tests to analyze aerodynamic forces affecting shuttle launch, flight and landing.

Space Shuttle model in the Langley wind tunnel.

Decidedly Digital

Helping aeronautics transition from analog to digital, Langley has worked on aircraft controls, glass cockpits, computer-aided synthetic vision and a variety of safety-enhancing onboard sensors to better monitor conditions while airborne and on the ground.

Aerospace research engineer Kyle Ellis uses computer-aided synthetic vision technology in a flight deck simulator.

Fast, Faster, Fastest

Langley continues to study ways to make higher-speed air travel a reality, from about twice the speed of sound – supersonic – to multiple times: hypersonic.

Langley continues to study ways to make higher-speed air travel a reality, from about twice the speed of sound – supersonic – to multiple times: hypersonic.

Safer Space Sojourns

Protecting astronauts from harm is the aim of Langley’s work on the Orion Launch Abort System, while its work on materials and structures for lightweight and affordable space transportation and habitation will keep future space travelers safe.

Unmasking the Red Planet

Beginning with its leadership role in Project Viking, Langley has helped to unmask Martian mysteries with a to-date involvement in seven Mars missions, with participation in more likely to come.

First image of Mars taken by Viking 1 Lander.

Touchdown Without Terror

Langley’s continued work on advanced entry, descent and landing systems aims to make touchdowns on future planetary missions routinely safe and secure.

Artist concept of NASA’s Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator - an entry, descent and landing technology.

Going Green

Helping to create environmentally benign aeronautical technologies has been a focus of Langley research, including concepts to reduce drag, weight, fuel consumption, emissions, and lessen noise.

Intrepid Inventors

With a history developing next-generation composite structures and components, Langley innovators continue to garner awards for a variety of aerospace inventions with a wide array of terrestrial applications.

Boron Nitride Nanotubes: High performance, multi-use nanotube material.

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Janelle Monae: ‘Hidden Figures’ Of NASA Were ‘True American Heroes’ | TODAY

Singer Janelle Monae portrays Mary Jackson, NASA’s first African-American aerospace engineer, in the film “Hidden Figures.” Monae tells TODAY that she was embarrassed that she didn’t know anything about the women profiled in the film until she read the script, and adds that it is now her mission to educate others about pioneering African-American women in the U.S. space program. 



(via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9wQXiIqWDA)

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The new Reactions video from the American Chemical Society (ACS) celebrates three female scientist you may not have heard of, but who made vital contributions to science.

According to ACS: “One saved the U.S. space program, another invented a better treatment for leprosy, and a third spawned an industry in the American Midwest. Mary Sherman Morgan, Alice Ball and Rachel Lloyd all had amazing accomplishments in chemistry, but their work was nearly lost to history.”

15 Ways the International Space Station is Benefiting Earth

With astronauts living and working aboard the International Space Station, we’re learning a great deal about creating and testing critical systems, maintaining efficient communications and protecting the human body during a deep space mission. While these are critical to our journey to Mars, it is important to also note all the ways in which research conducted and technology tested aboard the orbiting laboratory help us here on Earth.

Here are 15 ways the space station is benefiting life on Earth:

1. Commercializing Low-Earth Orbit

An exciting new commercial pathway is revolutionizing and opening access to space, fostering America’s new space economy in low-Earth orbit. For the first time, the market is expressing what research can and should be done aboard the microgravity laboratory without direct government funding. Our move to purchase commercial cargo resupply and crew transportation to the space station enables U.S. businesses to develop a competitive capability they also can sell as a service to others while freeing our resources for deep space exploration. Private sector participation provides a new model for moving forward in partnership with the government.

2. Supporting Water Purification Efforts Worldwide

Whether in the confines of the International Space Station or a tiny hut village in sub-Saharan Africa, drinkable water is vital for human survival. Unfortunately, many people around the world lack access to clean water. Using technology developed for the space station, at-risk areas can gain access to advanced water filtration and purification systems, making a life-saving difference in these communities. The Water Security Corporation, in collaboration with other organizations, has deployed systems using NASA water-processing technology around the world.

3. Growing High-Quality Protein Crystals

There are more than 100,000 proteins in the human body and as many as 10 billion in nature. Every structure is different, and each protein holds important information related to our health and to the global environment. The perfect environment in which to study these structures is space. Microgravity allows for optimal growth of the unique and complicated crystal structures of proteins leading to the development of medical treatments. An example of a protein that was successfully crystallized in space is hematopoietic prostaglandin D synthase (H-PGDS), which may hold the key to developing useful drugs for treating muscular dystrophy. This particular experiment is an example of how understanding a protein’s structure can lead to better drug designs. Further research is ongoing.

4. Bringing Space Station Ultrasound to the Ends of the Earth

Fast, efficient and readily available medical attention is key to survival in a health emergency. For those without medical facilities within easy reach, it can mean the difference between life and death. For astronauts in orbit about 250 miles above Earth aboard the International Space Station, that problem was addressed through the Advanced Diagnostic Ultrasound in Microgravity (ADUM) investigation. Medical care has become more accessible in remote regions by use of small ultrasound units, tele-medicine, and remote guidance techniques, just like those used for people living aboard the space station.

5. Improving Eye Surgery with Space Hardware

Laser surgery to correct eyesight is a common practice, and technology developed for use in space is now commonly used on Earth to track a patient’s eye and precisely direct the laser scalpel. The Eye Tracking Device experiment gave researchers insight into how humans’ frames of reference, balance and the overall control of eye movement are affected by weightlessness. In parallel with its use on the space station, the engineers realized the device had potential for applications on Earth. Tracking the eye’s position without interfering with the surgeon’s work is essential in laser surgery. The space technology proved ideal, and the Eye Tracking Device equipment is now being used in a large proportion of corrective laser surgeries throughout the world.

6. Making Inoperable Tumors Operable with a Robotic Arm

The delicate touch that successfully removed an egg-shaped tumor from Paige Nickason’s brain got a helping hand from a world-renowned arm—a robotic arm, that is. The technology that went into developing neuroArm, the world’s first robot capable of performing surgery inside magnetic resonance machines, was born of the Canadarm (developed in collaboration with engineers at MacDonald, Dettwiler, and Associates, Ltd. [MDA] for the U.S. Space Shuttle Program) as well as Canadarm2 and Dextre, the Canadian Space Agency’s family of space robots performing the heavy lifting and maintenance aboard the International Space Station. Since Nickason’s surgery in 2008, neuroArm has been used in initial clinical experience with 35 patients who were otherwise inoperable.

7. Preventing Bone Loss Through Diet and Exercise

In the early days of the space station, astronauts were losing about one-and-a-half percent of their total bone mass density per month. Researchers discovered an opportunity to identify the mechanisms that control bones at a cellular level. These scientists discovered that high-intensity resistive exercise, dietary supplementation for vitamin D and specific caloric intake can remedy loss of bone mass in space. The research also is applicable to vulnerable populations on Earth, like older adults, and is important for continuous crew member residency aboard the space station and for deep space exploration to an asteroid placed in lunar orbit and on the journey to Mars.

8. Understanding the Mechanisms of Osteoporosis

While most people will never experience life in space, the benefits of studying bone and muscle loss aboard the station has the potential to touch lives here on the ground. Model organisms are non-human species with characteristics that allow them easily to be reproduced and studied in a laboratory. Scientists conducted a study of mice in orbit to understand mechanisms of osteoporosis. This research led to availability of a pharmaceutical on Earth called Prolia® to treat people with osteoporosis, a direct benefit of pharmaceutical companies using the spaceflight opportunity available via the national lab to improve health on Earth.

9. Developing Improved Vaccines

Ground research indicated that certain bacteria, in particular Salmonella, might become more pathogenic (more able to cause disease) during spaceflight. Salmonella infections result in thousands of hospitalizations and hundreds of deaths annually in the United States. While studying them in space, scientists found a pathway for bacterial pathogens to become virulent. Researchers identified the genetic pathway activating in Salmonella bacteria, allowing the increased likelihood to spread in microgravity. This research on the space station led to new studies of microbial vaccine development.

10. Providing Students Opportunities to Conduct Their Own Science in Space

From the YouTube Space Lab competition, the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, and SPHERES Zero Robotics, space station educational activities inspire more than 43 million students across the globe. These tyFrom the YouTube Space Lab competition, the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, and SPHERES Zero Robotics, space station educational activities inspire more than 43 million students across the globe. These types of inquiry-based projects allow students to be involved in human space exploration with the goal of stimulating their studies of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is understood that when students test a hypothesis on their own or compare work in a lab to what’s going on aboard the space station, they are more motivated towards math and science.

11. Breast Cancer Detection and Treatment Technology

A surgical instrument inspired by the Canadian Space Agency’s heavy-lifting and maneuvering robotic arms on the space station is in clinical trials for use in patients with breast cancer. The Image-Guided Autonomous Robot (IGAR) works inside an MRI machine to help accurately identify the size and location of a tumor. Using IGAR, surgeons also will be able to perform highly dexterous, precise movements during biopsies.

12. Monitoring Water Quality from Space

Though it completed its mission in 2015, the Hyperspectral Imager for the Coastal Ocean (HICO) was an imaging sensor that helped detect water quality parameters such as water clarity, phytoplankton concentrations, light absorption and the distribution of cyanobacteria. HICO was first designed and built by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory for the Office of Naval Research to assess water quality in the coastal ocean. Researchers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took the data from HICO and developed a smartphone application to help determine hazardous concentrations of contaminants in water. With the space station’s regular addition of new instruments to provide a continuous platform for Earth observation, researchers will continue to build proactive environmental protection applications that benefit all life on Earth.

13. Monitoring Natural Disasters from Space

An imaging system aboard the station, ISS SERVIR Environmental Research and Visualization System (ISERV), captured photographs of Earth from space for use in developing countries affected by natural disasters. A broader joint endeavor by NASA and the U.S. Agency for International Development, known as SERVIR, works with developing nations around the world to use satellites for environmental decision-making. Images from orbit can help with rapid response efforts to floods, fires, volcanic eruptions, deforestation, harmful algal blooms and other types of natural events. Since the station passes over more than 90 percent of the Earth’s populated areas every 24 hours, the ISERV system was available to provide imagery to developing nations quickly, collecting up to 1,000 images per day. Though ISERV successfully completed its mission, the space station continues to prove to be a valuable platform for Earth observation during times of disaster.

14. Describing the Behavior of Fluids to Improve Medical Devices

Capillary Flow Experiments (CFE) aboard the space station study the movement of a liquid along surfaces, similar to the way fluid wicks along a paper towel. These investigations produce space-based models that describe fluid behavior in microgravity, which has led to a new medical testing device on Earth. This new device could improve diagnosis of HIV/AIDS in remote areas, thanks in part to knowledge gained from the experiments.

15. Improving Indoor Air Quality

Solutions for growing crops in space now translates to solutions for mold prevention in wine cellars, homes and medical facilities, as well as other industries around the world. NASA is studying crop growth aboard the space station to develop the capability for astronauts to grow their own food as part of the agency’s journey to Mars. Scientists working on this investigation noticed that a buildup of a naturally-occurring plant hormone called ethylene was destroying plants within the confined plant growth chambers. Researchers developed and successfully tested an ethylene removal system in space, called Advanced Astroculture (ADVASC). It helped to keep the plants alive by removing viruses, bacteria and mold from the plant growth chamber. Scientists adapted the ADVASC system for use in air purification. Now this technology is used to prolong the shelf-life of fruits and vegetables in the grocery store, and winemakers are using it in their storage cellars.

For more information on the International Space Station, and regular updates, follow @Space_Station on Twitter. 

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The V-shaped Flexible ‘Para-Wing’ Aircraft - Langley flight-testing the 50 ft. para-wing’s ability to  bring down safely a model of an manned space capsule from a few thousand feet above Plumb Tree Island, an old bombing range near Langley field, December 1961. The ‘para-wing’ was invented by husband and wife team, Francis and Gertrude Rogallo.

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one of the last flights of the Space Shuttle

Neil DeGrasse Tyson: ‘We Will Know Whether There’s Life On Other Planets’:

He’s the legendary astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. Tyson’s new TV series, Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey, will premiere on Sunday, March 9 at 9 p.m. ET/PT, and again on March 10 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel.

Popular Science: Would you rather have a jetpack or flying car?

Neil deGrasse Tyson: What I would rather have is a transportation system that requires neither: a wormhole.

PS: What incredible thing will we see in our lifetime?

NDT: I think that we will know whether or not there’s life on planets other than Earth. And I think the best location would be on Mars or on Jupiter’s moon Europa.

PS: When we find life on other planets, is it going to come and eat us?

NDT: No. People’s first thought every time scientists discover something new is, “Oh, my gosh, you created a virus, so there’s gonna be a killer virus.” I’m not more afraid of something I might find on Mars than I am of a polar bear who’s pissed off because his ice floe is melting.  

PS: What technical advance do we really need in astrophysics?

NDT: The ability to observe a spectrum of light passing through the atmosphere of an exoplanet. It would be able to tell us if there are biomarkers indicating that life thrives on the surface.

PS: What technical advance do we really need in space exploration?

NDT: Ways to shield us from cosmic rays from the galaxy and from the sun. Also, we’ll never travel to the stars unless we understand the fabric of space-time better or find out how to make a wormhole.

PS: China put its first rover on the moon in December. How will this affect the U.S. space program?

NDT: China says it wants to put stuff on Mars, and there’s no question that they are going to follow through with their plans. I don’t claim any deep geopolitical insight. But I do know that if we go back into space in a big way, it will not happen unless we feel militaristically motivated. Or, unless we feel we can make scads of money.

PS: What would a space program with only scientific goals look like?

NDT: If I put on my pure scientist hat, you wouldn’t send humans into space. You have to feed them and keep them warm. A robot couldn’t care less. We can design robots to do what humans can do and better.

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Popular Science.