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NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., history related to the Apollo Moon Program and Lunar Prospector Mission.


  (NASA Ames is located in the heart of California's Silicon Valley.)   Excerpts from the NASA book: "Atmosphere of Freedom -Sixty Years At The NASA Ames Research Center," by Glenn E. Bugos, NASA SP-4314. (This book is a government publication and not copyrighted. Published circa 1999.)   Pages 54-55: "The disparity between what NASA got and what Ames received grew greater in early 1961 when President John Kennedy appointed James E. Webb to replace (T. Keith) Glennan as administrator (of NASA.) Kennedy had campaigned on the issue of the missile gap and Eisenhower's willingness to let the Soviets win many 'firsts' in space. So in Kennedy's second state of the union address, on 25 May 1961, he declared that by the end of the decade America would land American on the Moon and return him safely to Earth. Ames people had already planned missions to the Moon and pioneered ways to return space travelers safely to Earth, but they had expected decades to pass before these plans were pursued. Kennedy's pronouncement dramatically accelerated their schedules. Kennedy immediately boosted NASA's fiscal 1962 budget by 60 percent to $1.8 billion and its fiscal 1963 budget to $3.5 billion. NASA's total headcount rose from 16,000 in 1960 to 25,000 by 1963. More than half of this increase was spent on what Ames managers saw as the man-to-the-Moon space spectacular.   Again, Ames grew little relative to NASA, but it did grow. Ames' headcount less than doubled, from 1,400 in 1961 to 2,300 in 1965, while its budget quadrupled, from about $20 million to just over $80 million."   Page 66-68: "Impact Physics and Tektites For clues on reentry aerodynamics, (H. Julian) Allen (of Ames) also suggested that Ames study meteorites, nature's entry bodies. Using their high-speed guns, Ames first explored the theory of meteor impacts by hurling spheres of various densities at flat targets. At the highest impact speeds, both the sphere and target would melt and splash, forming a crater coated with the sphere materialñvery much like lunar craters. Ames then turned its attention to lunar cratersñspecifically the radial rays of ejected materialsñby shooting meteor-like stones at sand targets like those on the Moon. By concluding that an enormous volume of material was ejected from the Moon with every meteor impact, they paved the way for lunar landings by suggesting that the surface of the Moon was most likely all settled dust.   One stunning example of what results when Ames' raw scientific genius is unleashed was the work of Dean Chapman on tektites. In early 1959, Chapman used the 1 by 3 foot blowdown tunnel (as it was about to be dismantled) to melt frozen glycerin in a Mach 3 airstream. In the frozen glycerin he first photographed the flattening of a sphere into a shape similar to Allen's blunt body. The ball quickly softened, its surface melted into a viscous fluid, and a system of surface waves appeared that were concentric around the aerodynamic stagnation point. On his way to England for a year of research, Chapman visited a geologist at the American Museum of Natural History, who saw some similarity in the wave patterns on the glycerin balls and the wave patterns on glassy pellets of black glass called tektites. Tektites had been unearthed for centuries, mostly around Australia, though geologists still vigorously debated their origin. When geologists asked the Australian aborigines where the tektites came from, they pointed vaguely up to the sky.   Chapman applied the skills he hadñin aerodynamics and ablationñand learned what chemistry he needed. He cut open some tektites and found flow lines that suggested they had been melted into button shapes, after having been previously melted into spheres. From the flow lines he also calculated the speed and angle at which they entered Earth's atmosphere. He then melted tektite-type material under those reentry conditions in Ames' arc jet tunnels. By making artificial tektites, he established that they got their shape from entering Earth's atmosphere just as a space capsule would.   Chapman next offered a theory of where the tektites came from. By eliminating every other possibility, he suggested that they came from the Moon. Ejected fast enough following a meteor impact, these molten spheres escaped the Moon's gravitational field, hardened in space, then were sucked in by Earth's gravitation. Harvey Allen walked into Chapman's office one day and egged him on: 'If you're any good as a scientist you could tell me exactly which crater they came from.' So Chapman accepted the challenge, calculated the relative positions of Earth and Moon, and postulated that they most likely came from the Rosse Ray of the crater Tycho.   In October 1963, Chapman won NASA's Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement. His bit of scientific sleuthing had accelerated curiosity about the composition of the Moon and the forces that shaped it, in the process validating some theories about ablation and aerodynamic stability of entry shapes. But the community of terrestrial geologists kept open the debate. While most geologists now accepted that tektites had entered Earth's atmosphere at melting speeds, most maintained that they were terrestrial in originñejected by volcanoes or a meteor crash near Antarctica. Only a single sample returned from the Moon, during Apollo 12, bears any chemical resemblance to the tektites. Thus, only the return of samples from the Rosse Ray would ultimately prove Chapman's theory of lunar origin."   Pages 71-76   "In 1963, Ames opened a six-degree-of-freedom simulator for rotorcraft research, a moving cab simulator for transport aircraft, and a midcourse navigation simulator for use in training Apollo astronauts. Ames combined its various simulators into a spaceflight guidance research laboratory, opened in 1966 at a cost of $13 million. One of the most important additions was a centrifuge spaceflight simulator at the end of a centrifuge arm, capable of accelerating at a rate of 7.5 g forces per second. Another was a satellite attitude control facility, built inside a 22 foot diameter sphere to teach ground controllers how to stabilize robotic spacecraft.   Ames had become the best in the world at adding motion generators to flight simulators, and soon pioneered out-the-window scenes to make the simulation seem even more realistic for the pilot. Ames also emphasized the modular design of components, so that various computers, visual projectors, and motion systems could be easily interconnected to simulate some proposed aircraft design.   Ames also made key contributions to flight navigation. Stanley Schmidt had joined Ames in 1946, working in instrumentation, analog computing and linear perturbation theory. In 1959, when NASA first tasked its Centers to explore the problems of navigating to the Moon, Schmidt saw the potential for making major theoretical extensions to the Kalman linear filter. The result was a state-estimation algorithm (in simple terms a procedure for solving a problem) called the Kalman-Schmidt filter. By early 1961, Schmidt and John White had demonstrated that a computer built with this filter, combined with optical measurements of the stars and data about the motion of the spacecraft, could provide the accuracy needed for a successful insertion into orbit around the Moon. Meanwhile Gerald Smith, also of the Ames theoretical guidance and control branch, demonstrated the value of ground-based guidance as a backup to guidance on board the Apollo capsules. The Kalman-Schmidt filter was embedded in the Apollo navigation computer and ultimately into all air navigation systems, and laid the foundation for Ames' future leadership in flight and air traffic research.   In the mid-1960's, Ames also participated in the design of suits for astronauts to wear for extravehicular activity. Though none of the concepts demonstrated by Ames were included in the Apollo spacesuits, many were incorporated in the next-generation of suits designed for Space Shuttle astronauts. Hubert 'Vic' Vykukal led Ames' space human factors staff in designing the AX-1 and AX-2 suits for extended lunar operations, and in validating the concepts of the single-axis waist and rotary bearing joints. The AX-3 spacesuit was the first high pressure suitñable to operate at normal Earth atmospheric pressuresñand demonstrated a low-leakage, low-torque bearing. Ames continued to advance spacesuit concepts well beyond the Apollo years, and some concepts were applied only two decades later. The AX-5 suit, designed for the International Space Station, was built entirely of aluminum with only fifteen major parts. It has stainless steel rotary bearings and no fabric or soft parts. The AX-5 size can be quickly changed, it is easy to maintain, and it has excellent protection against meteorites and other hazards. Because it has a constant volume, it operates at a constant internal pressure, so it is easy for the astronaut to move. Ames also developed a liquid cooled garment, a network of fine tubes worn against the skin to maintain the astronaut's temperature. To expedite Ames' efforts in spacesuit design, in September 1987 Ames would open a neutral buoyancy test facility, only the third human-rated underwater test facility in the country . . . . In December 1965, Ames dedicated its life sciences research laboratory. It was architecturally significant within the Ames compound of square, two story, concrete-faced buildings, because it stood three stories tall and had a concrete surfacing dimple like the Moon. It cost more than $4 million to build and equip its state-of-the-art exobiology and enzyme laboratories.   These new facilities were designed to help Ames biologists understand the physiological stress that spaceflight and microgravity imposed on humans. While the Manned Spaceflight Center near Houston screened individual astronauts for adaptability and led their training, Ames developed the fundamental science underlying this tactical work. Mark Patton in the Ames biotechnology division studied the performance of humans under physiological and psychological stress to measure, for example, their ability to see and process visual signals. Other studies focused on how well humans adapted to long-term confinement, what bed rest studies showed about muscle atrophy, and what sort of atmosphere was best for astronauts to breathe. Ames' growing collection of flight simulators also was used for fundamental studies of human adaptability to the gravitational stress of lift-off, microgravity in spaceflight, and the vibration and noise of reentry. All these data helped define the shape and function of the Gemini and Apollo capsules."   Pages 77-80 "Cyril Ponnamperuma arrived at Ames in the summer of 1961 in the first class of postdoctoral fellows under a joint program between NASA and the National Research Council. What he saw at Ames led him to join the permanent staff, and for the next decade he infused Ames' exobiology efforts with a flourish of intellectual energy. Using all that NASA scientists were learning about the chemical composition of the universe, Ponnamperuma brought a fresh outlook to the question of how life began at all.   Geologists had already discovered much about the chemical composition of primordial Earth. Scientists at Ames used their chromatographs and spectroscopes to detect the minute amounts of organic compounds in extraterrestrial bodies, like meteorites. From this, Ponnamperuma's colleagues in Ames' chemical evolution branch elucidated the inanimate building blocks and natural origins of life. Like many biochemists, they suspected that life was simply a property of matter in a certain state of organization, and if they could duplicate that organization in a test tube then they could make life appear. If they did, they would learn more about how to look for life elsewhere in the universe.   By the end of 1965, in apparatus designed to simulate primitive Earth conditions, Ponnamperuma and his group succeeded in synthesizing some of the components of the genetic chainñbases (adenine and guanine), sugars (ribose and deoxyribose), sugar-based combinations (adenosine and deoxyadenosine), nucleotides (like adenosine triphosphate), and some of the amino acids. A breakthrough came when the Murchison carbonaceous meteorite fell on Australia in September 1969. In the Murchison meteorite, Ames exobiologists unambiguously detected complex organic moleculesñamino acidsñwhich proved prebiotic chemical evolution. These amino acids were archiral (lacking handedness), thus unlike the chiral amino acids (with left handedness) produced by any living system. The carbon in these organic compounds had an isotope ratio that fell far outside the range of organic matter on Earth. The organic compounds in the Murchison meteorite arose in the parent body of the meteorite, which was subject to volcanic outgassing, weathering and clay production as occurred on prebiotic Earth.  

Lunar Sample Analysis

Because of the expertise Ames people had developed in the chemical composition of nonterrestrial environments and in the life sciences, (NASA) headquarters asked Ames to build one of two lunar sample receiving facilities. To prevent any contamination of the samples, this facility had to be very clean, even beyond the best of the Silicon Valley clean rooms. Whereas the facility at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston focused on identifying any harmful elements in the lunar samples, Ames scientists looked at the overall composition of the lunar regolith (the term for its rocky soil).   Ames researchersñled by Cyril Ponnamperuma, Vance Oyama and William Quaideñexamined the carbon chemistry of the lunar soils, and concluded that it contained no life. But this conclusion opened new questions. Why was there no life? What kind of carbon chemistry occurs in the absence of life? Continuing their efforts, Ames researchers discovered that the lunar regolith was constantly bombarded by micrometeorites and the solar wind, and that interaction with the cosmic debris and solar atomic particles defined the chemical evolution of the surface of the Moon.   Ames also provided tools for investigating the chemistry of the Moon beneath its surface. Apollos 12, 14, 15 and 16 each carried a magnetometerñdesigned by Charles Sonnet, refined by Palmer Dyal, and built at Ames around an advanced ring core fluxgate sensor. These were left at the Apollo lunar landing sites to radio back data on the magnetic shape of the Moon. Paced by a stored program, these magnetometers first measured the permanent magnetic field generated by fossil magnetic materials. They then measured the electrical conductivity and temperature profile of the lunar interior, from which scientists deduced the Moon's magnetic permeability and its iron content. And they measured the interactions of the lunar fields with the solar wind. For Apollos 15 and 16, Ames also developed handheld magnetometers to be carried aboard the lunar rover.   The magnetometer left on the Moon by Apollo 12 showed that the Moon does not have a two-pole magnetism as does Earth. It also suggested that the Moon is a solid, cold mass, without a hot core like that of Earth. But it also unveiled a magnetic anomaly 100 times stronger than the average magnetic field on the Moon. The series of magnetometers showed that the Moon's transient magnetic fields were induced by the solar wind and that they varied from place to place on the surface. Most important, these data allowed NASA to develop plans for a satellite to map in detail the permanent lunar magnetic fields in support of future missions to the Moon. These efforts in the space and life sciences displayed Ames' strengths in basic research and experimentation, but they were not at the heart of NASA's early missions"   . Pages 247-250 "Lunar Prospector (NASA Administrator Daniel S.) Goldin launched NASA's Discovery Program in 1992 to fund highly focused missions with lower costs, shorter timelines, and less risk, by giving the science investigation teams a great deal of freedom. Discovery series projects were meant to reinvigorate the space sciences, which had dwindled as NASA funded Shuttle projects, and to spark public enthusiasm for the continued exploration of space. Discovery mission hardware should be built in less than 36 months, and cost less than $150 million ($250 million including launch costs). Ames' Lunar Prospector was the first competitively selected mission funded under the Discovery Program.   In the 25 years since Apollo, only a few spacecraft have flown by the Moon, and only one had a lengthy encounter. The Clementine spacecraft, built by the U.S. Department of Defense (with scientific management from NASA) to image the lunar surface, orbited the Moon for two months in 1994 in an elliptical orbit no closer than 250 miles to the surface of the Moon. Clementine returned radar signatures that provided indirect evidence of ice crystals at the lunar south pole. Since Apollo era samples showed the lunar regolith to be bone dry, scientists suggested that water was transported to the Moon on comets and asteroids, which created deep craters with permanent shadows that shielded the ice from the Sun's heat.   Spurred by these results, Ames developed plans for a spacecraft to lead NASA's rediscovery of the Moon. Called the Lunar Prospector, it would orbit the Moon for a year, in circular orbit at an altitude of about 60 miles. The idea for the Lunar Prospector was initiated at the Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space Company located adjacent to Ames in Sunnyvale, (Calif.) Former Ames deputy director Gus Guastaferro, then an executive with Lockheed, guided project conception. Ames managed the Prospector contract, and G. Scott Hubbard of the Ames space projects division led all Prospector efforts as the NASA mission manager. The principal investigator was Alan Binder at Lockheed; Tom Daugherty led the team at Lockheed that designed and built the Prospector. (After launch, Binder moved to the Lunar Research Institute of Gilroy, California, to await return of data.) William Feldman of the Los Alamos National Laboratory led the design of three key instruments and the Hewlett-Packard Company built a custom test system using off-the-shelf components. By contracting for parts and services from 25 other Silicon Valley firms, and by designing Prospector as a simple spin-stabilized cylinder just 4.6 feet in diameter and 4.1 feet in length, Lockheed took the spacecraft and mission from go-ahead to final test in only 22 months. In addition, Lockheed Martin, at its facility in Colorado, built the Athena launch vehicle which was used for its first time to send Prospector skyward. The total cost to NASA for the mission, including launch, was $63 million. 'Prospector has served as a model for new ways of doing business,' said Hubbard. 'This mission has made history in terms of management style, technical approach, cost management and focused science.'   Throughout 1997, Ames built a Prospector mission control room from the operations center that had so long served the Pioneer spacecraft. Mission controllers inserted the Prospector into lunar orbit on 11 January 1998 carrying five science instruments. A gamma ray spectrometer remotely mapped the chemical composition of the lunar surface, measuring concentrations of such elements as uranium, titanium, potassium, iron and oxygen. An alpha particle spectrometer looked for outgassing events that suggested tectonic or volcanic activity. A magnetometer and electron reflectometer probed the lunar magnetic fields for clues about the Moon's core. The doppler gravity experiment, managed by Alex Konoplic of JPL, returned the first lunar gravity map with operational specificity. And a neutron spectroscope, the first ever used in planetary exploration, detected energy flux emanating from the lunar regolith. Hydrogen has a unique neutron signature that is indicative of water ice at higher concentrations. Prospector returned the first direct measurement of high hydrogen levels at the lunar poles, which Ames scientists believe can only be explained as the presence of water ice.   Ames held a press conference on 5 March 1998 to announce the first science results from Lunar Prospector, only seven weeks after it entered lunar orbit. The indication of water ice embedded in the permanently shadowed craters at the lunar poles made headlines around the world. Future lunar explorers could extract this water for life support or as a source of oxygen and hydrogen fuel. Rough estimates showed up to six billion metric tons of water mixed in fairly low concentrations. After its first year in orbit at sixty miles, Prospector was instructed to swoop down as low as twenty miles to map the Moon at even greater detail. Ames scientists then refined their scientific data and their estimates of water volumes. Mission controllers instructed the Prospectorñits fuel now exhausted, its design life far exceeded, and after its 6,800 lunar orbits compiled a complete set of datañto crash into a crater at the lunar South pole on 31 July 1999. Although the impact kicked up no debris visible by ground-based telescopes, NASA scientists using space-based telescopes continued to look for signs of vapor that they could analyze for further evidence of ice."   NOTES: From: page near beginning of book: "NASA maintains an internal history program for two principal reasons: (1) Sponsorship of research in NASA-related history is one way in which NASA responds to the provision of the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 that requires NASA to 'provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination of information concerning its activities and the results thereof.' (2) Thoughtful study of NASA history can help agency managers accomplish the missions assigned to the agency. Understanding NASA's past aids in understanding its present situation and illuminates possible future directions. The opinions and conclusions set forth in this book are those of the author; no official of the agency necessarily endorses those opinions or conclusions."

 

RELATED LINKS

Atmosphere of Freedom-Sixty Years at the NASA Ames Research Center excerpts

Searching the Horizon, A History of Ames Research Center 1940-1976 excerpts

Adventures with Apollo excerpts

Astrogram Archive: For 45 Years, Ames Pioneers NASA Science and Technology

Image Archive: Moon Missions

Historic Apollo Press Releases

Clues To Origin Of The Moon Will Come From Study Of The First Lunar Sample

Scientists Will Look For Evidence of Life in Lunar Samples at Ames

 

 

 

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