Chief Technologist Praises Kennedy Advances
A heat shield partially made from Martian or lunar soil, lighting that lets plants grow in space and specialized containers that keep astronauts from getting infected by biological experiments were some of the ideas shown to NASA's chief technologist during his two-day visit to laboratories at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Although known for pioneering tools and techniques to prepare payloads and launch spacecraft successfully, the space center and its partner Space Florida also operate labs for scientists performing cutting edge research in other fields.
"It's very exciting to be here at Kennedy Space Center because one of the best parts of my job is thinking about the future," said Mason Peck, NASA's chief technologist. "That's one of the reasons I wanted to do this in the first place."
Peck, who has been in his NASA post for six months, has been visiting NASA centers across the nation to see up-close what developments are under way. The trips are important for a variety of reasons, but Peck said there is a certain element of fun in seeing such things, too.
"If you really want to geek out about technology, which is what I like doing, you have to come to a place like KSC," Peck said.
The Morpheus lander that is to start flight tests soon at the Shuttle Landing Facility was also shown to Peck, along with an Atlas V rocket that United Launch Alliance is prepping for a future mission.
One of Peck's duties is to help technologies developed for space make their way into the commercial market for use on Earth. He was told that center researchers have long developed innovative devices.
"We have a lot of people who do really great things and they don't know it," Martin Belson, president and CEO of Diversified Industries, told Peck. "They just say, 'I'm just doing my job.' We hear that so often."
Some of the technologies shown to Peck may find commercial applications sooner rather than later. A prime example of that is a system that electrically repels dust and dirt molecules from a metal surface. Michael Hogue's team developed it to keep solar panels clean on Mars and the moon, enabling a robotic explorer to operate for much longer times.
Imagine, on Earth, a car that instantly shakes dust and dirt off itself. Hogue said auto companies have already made early approaches about employing the technology in just that way.
"The success they've had here with turning out their products and embracing the business community is really unparalleled," Peck said. "When we spend money on the nation's space program, we're not spending it in space, we spend it right here on Earth. NASA has made contributions to our American life."
Peck was also shown some of the payload technologies developed at Kennedy that allow experiments to be performed on the International Space Station safely. Kennedy researchers have produced payload containers that have flown 51 times on shuttle and station missions, David Reed told Peck, and another seven are to fly on future missions, including an upcoming resupply flight.
"One of the very exciting things about NASA these days is we are looking to the future. We've got a lot on our plate, a lot of exciting work being done, a lot of it's being done right here at Kennedy," Peck said. "Right now with NASA we're seeing a return to what I'll call our innovation roots."
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center