About human exploration
For humans to explore beyond earth
, a number of new technologies need to be developed from communications to data processing, radiation protection to human health, and life support to autonomous systems. Advances in these key areas will enable human exploration beyond low earth orbit to the moon, Mars, or any other destination in the solar system.
Due to larger payloads needed for human exploration and higher entry speeds particularly for Earth return from beyond the Moon, technological advancements are needed in thermal protection system materials as well as entry, descent, and landing systems.
Other activities include assisting in the development of commercial space transportation, supporting operations on the International Space Station, advanced systems for human space flight, mission operations, and more.
Ames leads the nation in research in many of the areas above. The NASA Ames Research Center’s Exploration Technology, Engineering, and Science directorates collaborate with the Ames International Space Station (ISS) Program Office and Office of the Chief Technologist on systems for the International Space Station and future human launch vehicles such as the Orion/MPCV and other commercial partners.
Ames is developing new software, computer interfaces, and intelligent software to make space flight safer and to make humans more efficient. Ames High End Computing Center provides computer modeling to verify and validate spacecraft designs to improve safety for future missions. Ames explores solutions to health risks of space travel such as radiation and microgravity and explores affects on future astronauts.
Featured example: Space Launch System (SLS) modeling
How is Ames’ ongoing modeling and support effort making an impact on NASA’s next generation launch vehicle, the Space Launch System?
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Ames is performing computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations for SLS on analysis of structure, booster separation and forces on the engine hinges, and providing critical information for down-selection from several vehicle shapes. Early design for the SLS has been focused on maintaining stability and control of the vehicle during ascent, and structural integrity throughout the mission. In order to determine details of the environment around the vehicle in these phases before it’s built, CFD simulations were performed at select points over the ascent path with various conditions. This informed critical design decisions for SLS early in the design cycle when wind tunnel data was not yet available.
Ongoing modeling and simulation support includes characterizing the aerodynamic performance of the vehicle for a suitable ascent trajectory, determining the distributed aerodynamic forces along the vehicle for structural analysis and providing surface pressure signatures to assist in venting design for parts of the vehicle.
NASA’s Advanced Supercomputing facilities enable fast and efficient turnaround time for CFD simulation. Ames’ Pleiades supercomputer allows several hundred complex simulations to be completed in under a week. With detailed calculated information about the aerodynamic forces on the vehicle, engineers can improve the SLS design with modifications to the shape and structural components.
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Featured example: Human-computer interaction
How did we develop the capability for International Space Station engineers in mission control to link problem and in-flight anomaly records?
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The Ames Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) Group has developed the capability for International Space Station engineers in Mission Control to link Problem and in-Flight anomaly records (in systems at Ames Research Center) to the Parts and Drawings (in systems at Johnson Space Center). The capability allows engineers to validate the existence and correctness of a hardware part or drawing for each problem or anomaly filed.
Historically, part number, part name, manufacturer and similar fields were hand entered, and hand-entered data could be incorrect. A user searching in a problem or anomaly tool for all the problems against a part could get an incomplete result. The new capability provides a robust, dynamic link across complex data sets, which enables notifications when data on either side of the link changes and leaves a bread crumb trail of links for engineers to follow when analyzing related problems and anomalies in the future.
Featured example: Human Research Program (HRP)
How is the Ames Human Research Program helping humans travel safely and productively in the environment of space?
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The Human Research Program (HRP) conducts research and develops technologies that allow humans to travel safely and productively in the environment of space. Crew health and performance are critical to successful human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. The HRP investigates and mitigates the highest risks to human health and performance, providing essential countermeasures and technologies for human space exploration. Risks include physiologic effects from radiation, hypogravity, and planetary environments, as well as unique challenges in medical treatment, human factors, and behavioral health support. The HRP utilizes an Integrated Research Plan (IRP) to identify the approach and research activities planned to address these risks, which are assigned to specific Elements within the program.
Ames supports the HRP in five of six program discipline areas:
- Exploration Medical Capabilities (ExMC)
- The Health and Human Countermeasures (HHC)
- The ISS Medical Project (ISSMP)
- Space Human Factors and Habitability (SHFH)
- Space Radiation Program Element (SPRE)