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This Week @ NASA, July 13, 2012
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This Week at NASA…

The Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying Expedition 32/33 Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko, NASA Flight Engineer Suni Williams and Flight Engineer Aki Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency heads to the International Space Station following its launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Malenchenko, Williams and Hoshide are joining up with Expedition 32 Commander Gennady Padalka, NASA astronaut Joe Acaba and Cosmonaut Sergei Revin; who have been on the orbiting outpost since May.

When the Curiosity rover sets off from its landing site near Gale Crater to explore the Martian surface, the mobile science laboratory might encounter some sand dunes. Project engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have prepared for that possibility by putting a test rover through the paces here on Earth.

Scott Maxwell, Curiosity Test Dune Buggy Driver: "Through careful targeting, we’ve been able to shrink the landing ellipse for Curiosity and we’ve been able to move it closer to where we want to actually land. In case we land in dunes that are like this on Mars near the landing site, we want to be sure the real rover is able to navigate around successfully in those dunes and get from the point we landed, to the point where we really want to be. So we come out here today with the Curiosity Scarecrow rover, which is the same weight on Earth as the real rover is on Mars, to practice driving it around in the nearest thing to those dunes on Mars that we’re going to find here on Earth. This is a similar material and similar slopes to the dunes that we’re going to find on Mars. So being able to test this rover in these dunes gives us a good idea about what the performance of the real rover is going to be in the dunes that it might land in on Mars."

“Still making progress!”

Scott Maxwell, Curiosity Test Dune Buggy Driver: "The performance on this rover is actually fairly similar to Spirit and Opportunity. A little bit better. We can climb in soft sand up to about 15 degrees or so, which is a little better than what Spirit and Opportunity will do.

We are, in fact, right now, maneuvering it in an area of 15 degrees of tilt to an area of 25 degrees of tilt to try to explore where that break is in its performance.

Our top speed is very slow, but our acceleration to that top speed is pretty much instantaneous. So we go from a dead stop to right about as fast as we want to go pretty quickly.

It’s really fun, like to every one and a while, kind of leave the office environment behind and come out to an environment like this and see what the real rovers are going to be doing on Mars. It kind of connects you to it and reminds you that the computer models we’ve been playing are a far cry from reality.

This is that reality.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has spotted a concentration of high-altitude haze and a vortex swirling in the atmosphere high above the south pole of the Saturn moon Titan, hinting that a change of seasons may be coming on Saturn’s largest moon. Cassini researchers say the structure inside the vortex is reminiscent of the open cellular convection often seen over Earth's oceans … but they are at a very high altitude on Titan – which may be a response of Titan's stratosphere to seasonal cooling as southern winter approaches. The vortex was imaged during a June 27 flyby.

Deputy Administrator Lori Garver joined Glenn Research Center Director Ray Lugo, Congressional leaders and White House representatives at Ohio’s Cuyahoga Community College near Cleveland for a workshop on building the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. Garver emphasized how important the nation’s manufacturing capabilities are for NASA, space exploration and keeping America’s new technology economy competitive.

Lori Garver, NASA Deputy Administrator: “Advanced manufacturing capabilities are essential to turning research discoveries, inventions and new ideas into better or novel products. Our nation’s ability to innovate is unmatched.”

Garver also pointed out the important role played by Glenn in creating technologies for NASA that also benefit American manufacturers. NASA is supporting President Obama’s call for new Institutes for Advanced Manufacturing and will participate in a pilot institute later this year.

IRVE-3 DEMO FLIGHT APPROACHES – LARC (CP) Katherine Barnstorff Reporting
When rovers land on Mars – they travel all the way to the Red Planet protected by a rigid aeroshell or heat shield. The size of that structure limits just how much scientists and engineers can fit inside.

Neil Cheatwood, IRVE-3 Principal Investigator: “If you look at all the origami that’s involved in packing a rover like we’re sending to Mars right now into that confined space and having it deploy in the right sequence during that timeline you’ve only got a certain amount of time to do it – it’s very complicated.”

So Neil Cheatwood and his colleagues at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia have come up with a different idea … an inflatable heat shield. The first flight demonstration of the concept is the Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment or IRVE. The launch of IRVE-3 is currently scheduled for mid-July.

Robert Dillman, IRVE-3 Chief Engineer: “We will launch IRVE-3 on a sounding rocket out of Wallops Island. It will go up into space, inflate into reentry shape and perform its reentry experiment and radio the data back home. When the experiment is over IRVE-3 will land out in the Atlantic.”

IRVE-3 has been tested and re-tested on the ground to make sure it can withstand the heat and force of atmospheric reentry. The first line of defense against those conditions– the thermal blanket - is made up of layers of commercially available materials.

Carrie Rhoades, Flight Systems Engineer: “This combination includes Nextel, which is an aircraft engine insulator. We use pyrogel which is a pipe insulation material and then we use Kapton coated Kevlar. Kevlar is the same stuff police use in bullet proof vests.”

IRVE has already had one successful test. Assuming the demonstration flight of IRVE-3 also goes well – engineers hope to expand the concept literally - and test a larger inflatable in the future.

On July 12, the Smithsonian and the Embassy of France marked the 50th anniversary of the first transatlantic images transmitted by Telstar I, the world’s first commercial telecommunications satellite, with a live telecast between the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, and the Cité des Télécoms in Pleumeur-Bodou.

Paul Ceruzzi, Chairperson, Smithsonian Space History Division: “What a tremendous engineering achievement it was and how it really began a new era that we now just assume is going to continue into the future, really but it had to begin with a very small step.”

Telstar I was launched by NASA. The first Telstar transmission 50 years ago marked the advent of the exchange of global information and the commercial use of Space.

“Who can tell me where the International Space Station is? Yes.”

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver spoke to a group of young female students who were visiting NASA headquarters as part of the Summer Institute in Science, Technology and Research, or SISTER program.

Lori Garver, NASA Deputy Administrator: “I love making a difference. I feel like we were put here to leave the world better than we found it and I think it’s pretty rare that you get to be in a job where you feel you do that every day.”

Sponsored by Goddard Space Flight Center, the five day program is designed to introduce middle school girls to industry professionals like Garver in hopes of increasing their awareness of the opportunities available in non-traditional career fields such as science, math and engineering.

NASA Anniversary: APOLLO-SOYUZ TEST PROJECT - July 15, 1975
July 15 marks the 37th anniversary of the first international partnership in space -- the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. On that date in 1975, an Apollo spacecraft carrying astronauts Tom Stafford, Vance Brand and Deke Slayton launched from the Kennedy Space Center and, two days later, docked with a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft and its crew of two – Alexey Leonov and Valery Kubasov.

Designed to test the compatibility of rendezvous and docking systems and the possibility of an international space rescue, the nine-day Apollo-Soyuz mission brought together the two former Cold War, spaceflight rivals to work and perform as a team.

The successful Apollo-Soyuz Test Project paved the way for future international partnerships.

NASA Anniversary: DAWN ORBITS VESTA – July 15, 2011
And one year ago on July 15, 2011 Pacific Time -- after nearly four years of travel through the solar system, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft was pulled into the orbit of Vesta by the giant asteroid’s gravity. Dawn became the first spacecraft to orbit a main belt asteroid located in the region between Mars and Jupiter, about 117 million miles from Earth. Images and data collected by the spacecraft of Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres, Dawn’s next stop, will help scientists characterize the early solar system and the processes that dominated its formation. Dawn is expected to leave Vesta’s orbit late next month and arrive at Ceres in February 2015.

And that’s This Week @NASA!

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