A Glimpse of the Future
Workers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., got a sneak peek at the scientists and engineers of the future, thanks to the NASA Academy program.
Image to left: Evan Anzalone hopes to work in the space industry after earning his master's degree. Credit: NASA
Fifteen undergraduate and graduate students are conducting research as interns at Marshall this summer as part of the NASA Academy program. Workers at the center got to see the fruits of the students' labor recently when posters about their projects were displayed in the lobby of Marshall's headquarters building.
NASA Academy is open to students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, or to citizens of participating countries. Students must be college juniors or seniors, or in their first year of graduate work. They also must have high academic standing and a demonstrated interest in the space program.
Through the program, students get a variety of experience and training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines. Participants attend seminars and colloquia, visit NASA centers, meet with prominent professionals, and work together on a group project. (Marshall is one of four NASA centers that have hosted interns through the Academy project.) A main focus of the Academy, though, is working as an intern on NASA research. Students acquire hands-on experience with a NASA Principal Investigator on a research project. The poster presentation marked the midway point of the program, and required the interns to summarize the research they had been conducting with the PIs.
Evan Anzalone just earned his bachelor's degree in physics at Louisiana State University, and is about to begin working on his master's degree in aerospace engineering at Georgia Tech. He's working with Marshall PI Dennis Gallagher on a project titled "HELIX Instrument Development for the Detection of Volatiles in the Lunar Environment."
The research is focused on the use of smaller-size mass spectrometers to identify the presence of certain materials on the moon, from water to the helium-3 isotope, which has been studied as a possible energy source. "By using this technique, you can look for anything you want," Anzalone said. The mass spectrometer measures the speed of ions to identify them. Normally, these require a larger device to allow the ions to travel far enough to measure their speed accurately. The device Anzalone is researching, however, reduces that size substantially. "We can design it smaller and smaller," he said. "This is just a first step."
Such a device could play an important role in the Vision for Space Exploration, which calls for humans to return to the moon in the next decade, followed by missions farther into the solar system. In order to establish a continuous human presence on the moon, scientists and engineers will need a good understanding of the resources that are available on the lunar surface.
Anzalone said that he hopes to work in the field of spaceflight after earning his master's degree. "I hope to work for either NASA or one of the small start-ups (that will be providing commercial services)," he said.
Image to left: Younes Baalla has been researching radiation exposure measurement techniques at Marshall Space Flight Center. Credit: NASA
Younes Baalla is also involved in research that could be key to the Vision for Space Exploration. Baalla, a student at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, is working with scientist Zi-Wei Lin on the "Accuracy of Deterministic One-Dimensional Dose Estimates to Three-Dimensional Space Radiation Shielding Studies."
"This is very important for the lunar missions and the missions to Mars," Baalla said. Astronauts in low Earth orbit, where the space shuttle and International Space Station orbit, are protected from large amounts of radiation by the Earth's magnetic field. Crews traveling to other worlds, however, won't have that protection, and their spacecraft will be exposed to high levels of radiation. It will be necessary to design those spacecraft in such a way as to shield the crew from that radiation.
"It's very important that we be able to determine the effectiveness of shielding," Baalla said, explaining that this is the focus of the research he is participating in at Marshall. The research looks at the correlation between two different techniques for measuring radiation exposure, in hopes of developing a more accurate means of measuring how well various shielding methods block radiation. "While we're here, if we can develop something for NASA that someone can pick up on, that would be wonderful."
Image to right: Interns like Michelle Prewitt answer NASA workers' questions about the projects during the poster sessions. Credit: NASA
Other projects presented by the interns were:
-- "Microwave Instrument Development for UAVs and Microsatellites," by intern Jason Andersen with PI Chip Laymon.
-- "Soft Computing Approach to Space Radiation Dose and Risk Assessment," by intern Azfar Aziz with PI Abdulnassar Barghouty.
-- "Pressure Drop Analysis of Different Monolith Configurations for Future Use in CO2 Removal," by intern Jesse Bazley with PI Jim Knox.
-- "Tribal Earth Science Technology and Education (TRESTE)," by intern Jacci Bloom with PI Maury Estes.
-- "Impact Testing of Composite Honeycomb Structures," by intern Jennifer Dumolt with PI Alan Nettles.
-- "Constraining the Magnetic Field of Accretion-Powered X-Ray Pulsar EXO 2030+375," by intern Morgan Dwyer, with PI Colleen Wilson-Hodge.
-- "Detailed Analysis of BATSE Spectral Data Following Strong Solar Flares," by intern Andrew Herron, with PI Jerry Fishman.
-- "Defining the Lunar Pole Environment in Support of Project Constellation," by intern Nicholas Kvaltine with PI Jonathan Campbell.
-- "Optimization of the Electron Focusing Column of a Miniaturized Environmental Scanning Electron Microscope (mESEM)," by intern Whitney Plumb with PI Jessica Gaskin.
-- "Calibration of Large Area Pixelated Silicon Detectors for Use in Particle Physics and Cosmic Ray Experiments," by intern Michelle Prewitt with PI Mark Christl.
-- "Calibration and Testing of VUV Optics/TVLS Gratings for the SUMI Rocket Payload," by intern Cody Short with PIs Jim Spann and Ed West.
-- "Optical Pulse and Energetics Analysis of Lightning Flashes Using a Dual Optical Pulse Sensor and Slow Electric Field Detector," by intern Yvonne Torres with PI Rich Blakeslee.
-- "In-Space Active Mixture Ratio Control and Optimization Demonstration," by intern Jonah White with PI Dean Alhorn.
The NASA Academy is co-sponsored by the participating NASA centers and the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Project. Through NASA Academy, NASA continues its tradition of investing in the education of scientists and engineers. This investment is directly tied to the agency's major education goal of strengthening NASA and the nation's future workforce. Through this and the agency's higher education program, NASA will identify and develop the critical skills and capabilities needed to achieve the Vision for Space Exploration.
David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services