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This Week @ NASA, January 9, 2012
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This Week @NASA...

The Orion crew capsule as it completed the last in a series of water drop tests at the Langley Research Center’s Hydro Impact Basin. Testing of the 18,000-pound capsule, which began last summer, simulates various water landing scenarios. This one represented a worst-case landing in rough seas after a launch abort. The test impact conditions simulated all parachutes being deployed as the capsule, traveling about 47 miles per hour, hits the water at an extreme angle before rolling over into what’s called “the Stable 2 position.” As with the Apollo capsule, Orion will have an onboard, up-righting system. This type of scenario is highly unlikely during actual vehicle operation, but is essential for the Orion’s validation as NASA’s next deep space exploration vehicle to carry astronauts beyond low Earth orbit.


GRAIL Mission Control: “At this time the reconfiguration of the spacecraft for the post LOI has begun …”

The project team at the Jet Propulsion Lab reacts to telemetry reporting that the first of NASA’s twin GRAIL spacecraft has achieved lunar orbit The Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory mission’s A spacecraft reached its near-polar elliptical orbit at 5 p.m. Eastern New Year’s Eve, followed by GRAIL-B on New Year’s Day at 5:43 p.m. EST. GRAIL data will enable scientists to better understand the moon's gravitational field as well as what goes on below its surface. Those crust-to-core data are also expected to increase our knowledge about how Earth and its rocky neighbors in the inner solar system developed into the diverse worlds we see today.

This year’s season of FIRST, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, kicks off this week with its initial regional robotics contests. Some 60-thousand high school students will vie for college scholarships using robots built in six weeks from a common kit of parts. The finalists of the 24-hundred competing teams will meet at the FIRST Championships in April at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.

Leaders from more than 70 aerospace companies attended the Space Launch System's Advanced Booster Industry Day held at the Marshall Space Flight Center. NASA is seeking proposals from the aerospace industry for engineering demonstrations and/or strategies to reduce risk on an advanced booster for the SLS. Marshall is leading the design and development of the SLS, the new heavy-lift launch vehicle that’ll propel the Orion crew vehicle on new missions of exploration across the solar system.

In case you missed it, here’s your chance to marvel at the unprecedented images of comet Lovejoy captured in late December by Expedition 30 Commander Dan Burbank from the International Space Station’s Cupola.

Burbank described what he saw in an interview with Detroit’s WDIV-TV.

Dan Burbank, Expedition 30 Commander: “It’s probably the most spectacular thing you could imagine and from the vantage point of space, it’s different than seeing it from planet Earth because there’s no intervening atmosphere to see.”

NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center recently completed a research study at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California designed to gauge public attitudes toward sonic booms.

Pilot “Rolling in 3, 2, 1 now … copy mark.”

The Waveforms and Sonic boom Perception and Response project, WSPR, gathered the reactions of more than 100 volunteer Edwards residents to low-noise booms created by NASA F/A-18 test aircraft.

Michael D. Holtz, Operations Engineer: “With Whisper (WSPR) we’re trying to get a read back from people on the ground to some kind of annoyance level. How annoying was this low boom, how annoying was this moderate boom?”

NASA and industry are working on technology that will reduce the noise and annoyance associated with sonic booms, so they won’t disturb the peace. Aviation and governmental authorities may then consider lifting current prohibitions on aircraft flying over land at supersonic speeds.

Larry Cliatt II, Principal Investigator: “Currently we’re limited by over land sonic booms. There’s no regulation stipulating what kind of sonic booms can be projected over land – right now the rule is no sonic booms over land.

Data from the recent study will be a valuable guide for future public perception studies in communities that normally don’t experience sonic booms.

Larry Cliatt II, Principal Investigator: “People here at the Edwards Air Force Base, they’re obviously very familiar with sonic booms. Eventually we want to take this to a broader level to where people that’s never heard a sonic boom – but we need to figure out how to do that.”

The research was sponsored by the Supersonics Project in NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate's Fundamental Aeronautics Program.

NASA's car-sized Curiosity rover may be on cruise control to Mars, but that doesn’t mean it’s not working hard along the 8-month-long trip. The Mars Science Laboratory rover is busy monitoring space radiation with its Radiation Assessment Detector, or RAD. The instrument detects high-energy atomic and subatomic particles from the sun, distant supernovas and other sourceshat might impact humans on future long duration spaceflights.

Don Hassler, Ph.D./Southwest Research Institute/Principal Investigator, MSL Radiation Assessment Detector: “Measuring the radiation environment in space is not new. But what is new is that RAD will measure for the first time the radiation environment inside the spacecraft. Which will be very similar to the environment to what a future astronaut would see inside their spacecraft on a future mission to Mars.”

Officials from NASA's Johnson Space Center and Texas A&M University signed an agreement certifying the transfer of the space shuttle launch and landing trainer, the Shuttle Motion Simulator, to Texas A&M.

Dr. R. Bowen Loftin Texas A&M President: “This isn’t going to go just to Texas A&M just as a centerpiece. It’s going to be able to be used for the educational material for and research facilities for future generations of engineers at texas A&M.”

Mike Fossum NASA Astronaut: We’re counting on all of those bright minds – those young people with the big ideas and the dreams and the willingness to work hard to turn them into realities – we’re counting on it and looking forward to it.”

The Shuttle Motion Simulator began operations at JSC in 1977 and was used in training for all 135 space shuttle missions.

Simulator: “Five feet, 210 looking good, let it settle … ok, chutes, stand by ...”

Installation of the SMS at Texas A&M will take place in early 2012.

Barry Wilmore at Titans Game: “Go 12th man … woooo.”

NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore celebrated the holidays by participating in pre-game ceremonies of the clash of his hometown Tennessee Titans with the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars in Nashville on Christmas Eve.

Wilmore, who was selected as a pilot by NASA in 2000, was honored with this Jumbotron video at LP Field. Wilmore made other appearances in the Nashville area to spread holiday cheer and share his experiences two years ago aboard space shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station on STS-129 in 2009.

Fifteen years ago, on January 12, 1997, the crew of space shuttle Atlantis launched from the Kennedy Space Center on STS-81. About 66 hours later, Atlantis made the fifth docking of a space shuttle to the Mir space station.

During five days of mated operations, nearly 6,000 pounds of water, U.S. science equipment and Russian logistical equipment were transferred from Atlantis to the Russian complex.

STS-81’s 10-day mission brought home astronaut John Blaha after an 118-day stay aboard Mir. Among the seven-person Atlantis crew was mission specialist John Grunsfeld, who’s just taken over as the new head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

And that’s This Week @NASA.

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