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This Week @ NASA, May 18, 2012
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This Week at NASA…

“3-2-1-Zero and launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as NASA turns to the private sector to resupply the International Space Station.”

SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket and unmanned Dragon spacecraft from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station early Tuesday morning on a demonstration flight to the International Space Station. This demonstration flight calls for an extensive set of tests requiring the Dragon spacecraft to show that it can move precisely in orbit and approach the space station carefully. If the tests are successful, plans call for Dragon to move close enough to be grappled by the station's robotic arm and berthed to the orbiting laboratory.

Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator: “We’re now back at the brink of a new future. A future that stands on the shoulders of Mercury and Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle. A future that embraces the innovation the private sector brings to the table and a future that opens up the skies to endless possibilities.”

Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO: “We obviously still have to go through a number of steps to effectively berth with the space station but everything is looking really good and I think – I would really count today as a success no matter what happens the rest of the mission.”

The flight is the first commercial venture to the ISS.

The three newest residents of the International Space Station were greeted by their Expedition 31 crewmates after their Soyuz capsule docked safely with the orbiting laboratory following its two day-plus journey from Kazakhstan. Soyuz commander Gennady Padalka, NASA flight engineer Joe Acaba, and Russian flight engineer Sergei Revin are slated to spend the next five months on the station. Expedition 31 will conclude, and 32 will begin, when Oleg Kononenko, Andre Kuipers, and Don Pettit return to Earth on July first after spending more than six months aboard the ISS.

When the Space Exploration Technologies or SpaceX Dragon spacecraft returns to Earth after its mission to the International Space Station, it will depend on a heat shield material called PICA-X to protect it during re-entry.

The heat shield material, called Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator, was developed in partnership with NASA Ames Research Center.

Dan Rasky, Senior Scientist, Ames Research Center: “So we were looking for an advanced material that was lighter weight, could withstand more extreme environments and would be, essentially, safer and more rugged for planetary missions.”

PICA-X samples were tested at NASA Ames using special facilities to simulate planetary re-entry temperatures and high speed atmospheric flows. During these tests, the surface temperature of the heat shield material reached approximately 3,450 degrees Fahrenheit – almost twice as hot as molten lava.

PICA-X has proved its effectiveness on the heat shield that protected the Stardust capsule during its return to Earth in January of 2006. It’ll be used by the Mars Science Laboratory to land its rover, Curiosity, on the Red Planet. And, of course, when the first commercial cargo resupply mission to the ISS returns a payload safely back to Earth, PICA-X will have played a major role in Dragon’s success.

Evaluation of a key component of the J-2X engine continues at the Stennis Space Center. NASA recently conducted a long duration test of the J-2X powerpack, a system of components on the top portion of the J-2X engine that helps the engine produce thrust. The 340-second test was designed to operate the powerpack turbo-pumps over a range of speeds by varying the gas generator valve positions. Continued testing of the J-2X, which will help propel NASA’s new Space Launch System, are scheduled through the summer. The SLS is the new heavy-lift launch vehicle that will expand human presence beyond low-Earth orbit and, with the Orion crew capsule, enable new missions of exploration across the solar system.

“… all of whom have achieved distinction beyond measure.”

The state of Alabama celebrated its space exploration heritage, designating May 3rd as NASA Day in Alabama. The State Legislature commended the Marshall Space Flight Center for its role in space exploration, as an engine of economic development and the anchor of the aerospace industry in North Alabama.

Rep. Mac McCutcheon, Ala. 25th District: “I salute Marshall and NASA. When we look at the economic impact that they have on our state, it is unprecedented, and they are right up there with us as Alabamians.”

Marshall has an estimated 2.9 billion dollar economic impact on the region. Its nearly 6000 government and contractor personnel, 90-percent of whom are college-educated, make NASA the third largest employer in Huntsville.

Gene Goldman, Acting Director, MSFC: “For more than half a century, we have embodied the values of determination, achievement and thirst for knowledge that made this nation great. We are still a symbol of this nation’s greatness and promise.”

Marshall, the center that developed the Saturn V moon rocket in the 1960s, is now working on the Space Launch System, a long-range rocket designed to take us beyond Earth orbit.

NASA astronaut T.J. Creamer, who lived and worked on the International Space Station, spoke to groups of local students visiting the state capital.

T.J. Creamer, Veteran Astronaut: “We want to be able to extend the humanity, go farther and learn more about earth, learn more about the sciences to be able to make tomorrow better.”

Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, Ala. 2nd District: “NASA is a national treasure. It truly is a national treasure. We’re just so proud to share in that and what we’re able to develop in North Alabama with the great state of Alabama.”

Thrill seekers had a blast learning about space during Education Day at King’s Dominion. Students and teachers applied the math and science they’ve used this school year to fun, problem-solving activities at the theme park.

The Langley Research Center had interactive exhibits where park-goers could learn how astronauts live and work in space, win prizes by answering NASA technology-related questions and playing the NASA “Spin the Wheel” game. They also explored how riding a roller coaster produces G forces just as a spacecraft does when it launches into space.

There were also exhibits highlighting NASA Aeronautics missions and displays from the Science Museum of Virginia.

“Solar array let’s see some energy in there, sounder let’s make some noise. What are we feeling? We gotta get something going now.”

Nearly 100 students converged on Wallops Flight Facility recently for the Annual Inspire the Next Generation Day.

Susie Saluskie - NASA Visitor Center Education Director: “What we’re doing here today is actually inspire the next generation where we have parents that work here at Wallops bringing their students in to try out a few things that we actually do here.”

“We’re a polar orbit, sun syncronous with the sun so that our solar array is always pointing towards the sun”

”Once we finish designing our rockets, we’re going to prep them for flight”

Alonte Uptegrow - Inspired Participant: “It’s fun, I get to go with my mom and build kites and build solar powered cars.”

Molly Turlington - Inspired Participant: “It’s really really fun, I’ve had a good time. I’m hoping to be a civil engineer when I get older so it’s really fun.”

The young explorers learned about science, technology, engineering and math, or "STEM" careers they could pursue with NASA, the Navy, the Coast Guard, NOAA, Fish and Wildlife and the Marine Science Consortium.

Janejit Gensler, ISS External Integration Office Technical Communications Lead: "I'm Janejit Gensler. I work in the International Space Station Program Office of External Integration at the NASA Johnson Space Center. I was born in Bangkok, Thailand and I immigrated to the US when I was about 2 or 3 years old, moved to Dallas, Texas, and I basically grew up there and went to school at the University of Texas, Austin. I got my chemical engineering bachelor's degree from UT.

The International Space Station is a wonderful program. A lot of people in the general public don't know that we even have an International Space Station, so from that standpoint, our office does a lot of external communications and we get out there. We do a lot of public outreach making sure that the public is aware of all the benefits that ISS, you know, has provided and is able to offer. We want to make sure that everybody knows that it's a manned station. We've been manned for over 10 years. We're up there seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and we've provided great benefits to humankind and we're still doing that with all the utilization that we're currently ramping up. We've completed assembly and we're working on all the research that's going to help us go and explore beyond lower earth orbit.

One of the most fun things I've done out here at NASA is I was able to go and watch a Soyuz launch out in Kazakhstan. I love to travel. Especially as a family love to travel outside the country, but this was the first time I've traveled that far away I guess to an exotic location other than Thailand where I'm from. Just being there and being a part of human space flight was amazing.

“And liftoff of a Soyuz rocket.”

“I feel the liftoff, the clock has started.”

Fifty years ago, on May 24, 1962, Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter launched from Cape Canaveral aboard the Aurora 7 spacecraft. The flight was the second manned orbital mission of the Mercury program, following John Glenn’s Friendship 7 flight three months earlier.

Like Glenn, Carpenter circled the Earth three times. The focus of the five-hour mission was on science and included the first study of liquids in weightlessness and Earth photography. A targeting mishap during reentry took the spacecraft about 250-miles off course. However, Carpenter and Aurora 7 were safely recovered after splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.

And that’s This Week @ NASA!

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