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This Week @ NASA, January 7, 2011
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Shuttle program managers believe they’ve identified the root cause of cracks found on support beams on space shuttle Discovery’s external tank. Modifications will be made to these beams, called stringers, to offset material and assembly stresses discovered through extensive testing and analysis conducted at the Marshall Space Flight Center.

John Callas: "This was originally a 90-day mission; only three months and here we are some seven years later and we're still exploring and we're still discovering on the surface with these rovers."

This month the twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, are completing their seventh year on Mars. While Spirit remains immobile and in a slumber following the harsh Martian winter, Opportunity rolls on, investigating rocks on the lip of a football-sized crater. These images taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, the HiRISE camera, show Opportunity perched on the western edge of the Santa Maria crater. The rover is slated to explore Santa Maria over the next several weeks. Scientists hope that, as the Martian landscape warms up, Spirit may rouse itself and begin to communicate again. Once Opportunity is finished at the Santa Maria crater, it'll begin a slow but steady nearly two-year trek towards Endeavour crater, it'll resume a multi-year trek towards Endeavour crater.

John Callas: "...We know there are these clay minerals present in the rim of Endeavour Crater that is suggestive of ancient water on Mars that was of neutral ph. Neutral water is what astrobiologist assess that life started in and so the fact that there is evidence of ancient neutral water on Mars is very exciting for the bio-potential of the planet."

Leland Melvin: "Good Morning Falcons."

NASA's Associate Administrator for Education, Leland Melvin toured three NASA field centers in California, taking time to speak with staff about the agency's education goals and their encouragement of middle school students to pursue studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Leland Melvin: "Get the tools in your head, the reading, the writing, the math, the science, all the things your teachers are teaching you right now, so that you can do anything you want to; anything you can put your mind to you can do." During stops at the Ames Research Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Dryden Flight Research Center, Melvin emphasized support of students to live their dreams by studying hard, focusing on their goals, and avoiding people who doubt their abilities to attain them.

Leland Melvin: "But, whatever you dream, anything you dream if you work at it, if you believe in it, if you put your mind to it you can do it."

A former astronaut, Melvin is responsible for developing and implementing education programs that not only increase public awareness of NASA but also energize student interest in careers at the agency.

It could be every child's dream to have one, but this 60 by 20 foot sandbox at the Glenn Research Center is not for play. Instead, the SLOPE, for Simulated Lunar Operations Facility, provides researchers from NASA and the Canadian Space Agency with moon-like soil to test ways to harvest resources on the surface of the moon and other planets.

Kurt Sacksteder: "This is where we learn how to collect the material efficiently, teaming with a Canadian mining with expertise that NASA doesn't normally have. This is essential to allowing us to reproduce and collect consumables like oxygen and water that supports human exploration."

At SLOPE, researchers can measure the force and traction of a rover and other hardware and use that data to develop and build machines for excavation on the moon and other future destinations.

Kurt Sacksteder: "We believe that using resources on the Moon and Mars to sustain the crew rather than bringing those resources from Earth is the best way to make space travel more affordable and sustainable."

Middle- and high-schoolers from Southern California literally elevated ping pong to new heights as they competed in the 13th annual Invention Challenge hosted by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Teams built unique devices to lift the small, lightweight spheres; no paddles required.

"The contest objective is to take a regular ping-pong ball and get it from the ground up to a ceiling that's 2-meters tall; you can see that in the background."


Each device had to start with a single operation, such as cutting a string, or throwing a switch. Secure energy sources and only non-toxic and safe materials were used. Twelve teams of JPL engineers and scientists also competed against the clock.

"We're from Crescenta Valley High School and this is Bullet Billy, we're basically a modified arrow and the ball goes in there."

"Our participation went from like 1 student team to 2 student to 30 and this year we had 59."


"To get students to put the books aside a little bit and get out there and use their imagination, team building skills, creativity, actually building something, testing something, having it fail, and then learning from that and improving the device."

"It's basically turning all of these students into young engineers at an early age. That's really what it's all about."

Although requirements vary from year-to-year, the annual Invention Challenge is always fiercely competed with the same results:

students learn that math, science and engineering can be fun!

And that's This Week @ NASA!

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