NASA Podcasts

This Week @ NASA, June 3, 2011
› Listen Now
› View Now
TW@N FINAL for 6-3-11

The final rollout of the Space Shuttle Program has brought Atlantis from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center for the liftoff of STS-135. Mated to its external tank and solid rocket boosters, the orbiter traveled the 3.4-miles atop a crawler-transporter at a top speed of less than a mile an hour.

STS-135 is the final mission of the 30-year-old shuttle program. Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim will crew the 12-day journey to the International Space Station and deliver the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module laden with supplies, logistics and spare parts. The mission also will fly a system to investigate using robots to refuel spacecraft. Atlantis is targeted to liftoff on July 8 at 11:40 a.m. Eastern.

More than seven years after it landed on the surface of the Red Planet, the long-lived Mars Exploration Rover Spirit has officially had its last conversation with its friends back on Earth.

The Jet Propulsion Lab has sent its final transmission to Spirit, which last communicated with the rover team on March 22, 2010.

With inadequate energy to run its survival heaters, the rover likely suffered irreparable damage due to colder internal temperatures last year than in any of its prior six years on Mars. It was hoped that Spirit might reawaken with the help of Martian spring and summer's increase in solar energy, but to no avail.

Spirit landed on Mars on Jan. 3, 2004, for a mission designed to last three months. Its twin, Opportunity, continues actively exploring on the surface of Mars.

And now, Centerpieces…

Space researchers consider the most likely location for discovering potential primitive life forms on Mars to be in caves. But how do they find them?

Judson "Jut" Wynne: "… the purpose of this study is to learn how to detect caves on Earth and then apply the techniques that we develop for detecting caves on Earth to looking for caves on Mars."

Wynne, a doctoral candidate at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and a researcher at the SETI Institute, flew two missions aboard a NASA King Air research aircraft in April 2011. The flights over lava fields in California's Mojave Desert collected both thermal and visual imagery to aid in detection of caves.

Judson "Jut" Wynne: "… We are basically coupling those ground-based measurements that we are currently collecting with the thermal imaging data and the vis) data that we are collecting as well. Through developing techniques for detecting caves on Earth we can then take those techniques and use them to look for caves on Mars."

NASA Goddard engineer Murzy Jhabvala operated a NASA photodetector that imaged the temperature variations of the caves and surrounding surface that occur as a result of the heating effects of the sun. This thermal data will be compared with similar ground-based measurements.

Wynne noted that there is a secondary reason for developing cave detection technology:

Judson "Jut" Wynne: "Another important aspect of this study as it relates to the importance of Martian caves is that these caves could also serve as astronaut shelters."

Wynne envisions this research will contribute to the development of selection criteria that could identify cave targets for future robotic exploration.

Judson "Jut" Wynne: "If life ever existed on Mars, we're going to find that evidence underground."

College students from across the country and around the globe impressed judges and spectators during the 2nd annual Lunabotics Mining Competition held May 23-28th at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.

The competition highlights student proficiency in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or, STEM. The challenge is for students to design and build a remote controlled excavator, called a lunabot, that can collect and deposit a minimum of 10 kilograms of lunar simulant, or moon dust, within 15 minutes. The winning achievements may result in ideas that will one day be used by NASA.

World War II aircraft paid a Memorial Day visit to the Ames Research Center. Flown by the Collings Foundation, the P-51, B-17, and B-24 aircraft regularly tour the country, allowing the public not only a close-up look, but also a chance to relive the wartime experience of flying in the aircraft on short demonstration flights.

Although the tour makes dozens of stops, the visit to Ames recalls a special relationship with these particular aircraft models.

Norbert Ulbirch: "The Chief Aerodynamicist of North American aviation decided to contact the Ames Aeronautical laboratory here at Moffett field, and they suggested to, basically, take an entire airframe, put it into a wind tunnel, and see if they could reproduce the duct rumbling that the test pilot had noticed during the flight test."

Ames did some important wartime, wind tunnel work to fine-tune the performance of the air scoop on the P-51. Other research and development at Ames included wing and propeller de-icing systems incorporated into production models of the B-17 and B-24 bombers. These aircraft went on to fly crucial high-altitude missions over Europe without falling victim to icing problems.

And that's This Week @NASA.

For more on these and other stories: log onto
› Listen Now
› View Now