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This Week @ NASA, August 24, 2012
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This Week at NASA…

Curiosity Update – JPL

Michael Meyer, NASA Program Scientist:
“We have the first roving astrobiology rover on Mars and we have truly extended our reach and  touched another planet.”

NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has made its first footprints on Mars. Curiosity completed a short drive during which rover drivers at The Jet Propulsion Laboratory commanded Curiosity to move forward, perform a series of turns and move in reverse. The six-wheeled one-ton rover traveled roughly 20 feet from the spot where it made its landing in early August.

Matt Heverly, Lead Rover Driver:
"The key things about the drive today were that we were able to do one full revolution of the drive actuators in the forward direction.  We were able to turn and see that the inertial measurement unit telling the rover how its heading is changing is working properly, and we were able to back-up another full revolution of the drive actuators. So we were able to see motor currents, we were able to get the data, and everything looks perfectly nominal.”

Curiosity’s first driving destination beyond its immediate position is expected to be an area named Glenelg – located about 1,300 feet east-southeast of its landing site.

Meanwhile the Curiosity science team has named the landing site after the late Ray Bradbury, an influential author and a huge proponent of Mars exploration. Bradbury, who passed away earlier this year, would have been 92 on the day of the announcement.

Michael Meyer, NASA Program Scientist:
“His books have truly inspired us. The Martian Chronicles have inspired our curiosity and  opened our minds to the possibility of life on Mars.  In his honor we declare the place that Curiosity touched down to be forever known as Bradbury Landing.”

The JPL team was also paid a visit by California Governor Jerry Brown, who met members of the surface operations team in charge of sending commands to Curiosity. The Governor was treated to an up close peek at Curiosity’s stunt double during a tour of the rover test-bed area and he spoke to JPLers about the importance of the aerospace and high-tech industries in California.

Other recent highlights for the Curiosity team include the flexing of the rover’s robotic arm for the first time since before its launch in November 2011 and Curiosity also fired the laser from its Chemistry and Camera instrument, or ChemCam for the first time on Mars, hitting a fist-sized rock called “Coronation” with 30 pulses during a 10-second period. ChemCam is equipped with a spectrometer to analyze rock samples for clues about the elements in the samples. The rover is on a two-year prime misson to assess whether the Gale Crater area of Mars has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.


InSight –ful Mars Mission – HQ

NASA has selected a new mission, set to launch in 2016, that will take the first look into the deep interior of Mars to see why the Red Planet evolved so differently from Earth as one of our solar system's rocky planets. The InSight mission will place instruments on the Martian surface to investigate whether the core of Mars is solid or liquid like Earth's.

W. Bruce Banerdt, InSight Principal Investigator:
“Understanding the interior structure, the interior processes and history of Mars is really fundamental to understanding the history and formation of the solar system and of our own planet as well.”

InSight is the 12th selection in NASA's series of Discovery-class missions. Created in 1992, the Discovery Program sponsors frequent, cost-capped solar system exploration missions with highly focused scientific goals.


Wind Tunnel Tests – MSFC


Engineers using Marshall Space Flight Center’s Trisonic Wind Tunnel have spent the past four months testing early scale models of NASA’s Space Launch System. More than 900 tests have been performed on various crew and cargo configurations of the SLS.

Data from the tests at Marshall will be merged with information collected from testing at Langley's Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel. Analysis of this data will help determine the best configuration and help refine the design of the vehicle that will take humans farther into space than ever before.

John Blevins, Space Launch System Engineer:
“At the start of every launch vehicle program one of the most important things is aerodynamics. Because you need to understand if you can control the vehicle, if it’s going to do what you want it to do and you need to know how much payload you’re going to get to orbit.”


Orion Drop Test – LARC


The team of engineers working on development of the Orion Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle and its components conducted the first vertical drop test of the 18-thousand pound capsule at Langley Research Center's Hydro Impact Basin. Swing drop testing, during which Orion entered the water at an angle, was conducted last summer to certify it for water landings. Changing the angle of the drop tests to vertical will help NASA more accurately predict Orion’s landing loads. In 2014, Orion will launch on Exploration Flight Test-1 -- traveling 15-times farther from the Earth than the International Space Station – before making a high energy re-entry into the atmosphere followed by a water landing.


Ancient Footprint – GSFC (CP) Michelle Handleman Reporting

The discovery of an ancient dinosaur track on the campus of Goddard Space Flight Center has scientists abuzz about the area’s ancient past. Noted dinosaur hunter Ray Stanford spotted the unusual rock formation jutting up ever-so-slightly from the earth around it. He’s found prehistoric tracks and fossils before, but is especially thrilled about this one.

Ray Stanford, Dinosaur Tracker:
“…I love the paradox  - here space scientists walk along here and they’re walking exactly where this big bundling, heavy dinosaur walked maybe 110, 112 million years ago. “

Though it will require further study, it appears the track was made by a Nodosaur - a large plant-eating dinosaur that roamed the area during the Cretaceous Period. With a footprint that’s 12 inches across, it's estimated this creature was between 15 and 20 feet long and weighed more than a ton.

Stanford says he hopes this discovery will encourage people to be more observant about the world around them. And if you find something, Stanford stressed the importance of notifying the appropriate authorities so it can be properly protected.


 Next Generation of Astronomy – HQ

A recent Science Showcase event in Boulder, Colorado provided an opportunity for NASA and Ball Aerospace Corporation, to celebrate, among other things the completion by Ball of the lightweight mirror system to be used in the James Webb Space Telescope. NASA Chief Scientist Waleed Abdalati says it’s an extremely exciting milestone – one that, like the recent landing of the Mars Curiosity rover, gives us another unprecedented opportunity to explore.
(SOT: Waleed Abdalati, NASA Chief Scientist)
“This is about our identity as human beings. Understanding the Universe and understanding our place in it and that quest for knowledge continues.”


 Mighty Eagle Lander – MSFC

The "Mighty Eagle," a NASA robotic prototype lander, is soaring high again for another series of tests at Marshall Space Flight Center. Since the last round of tests in 2011, the "Mighty Eagle" team has made significant updates to the guidance controls on the lander's camera, furthering its autonomous capabilities. NASA will use the "Mighty Eagle" to mature the technology needed to develop a new generation of small, smart, versatile robotic landers capable of achieving scientific and exploration goals throughout the solar system.


Chemistry Olympiad – GSFC

Nearly 300 of the world's top chemistry students visited NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center recently as part of the 44th International Chemistry Olympiad. The competition provides an opportunity for the young scientists to demonstrate their ability to solve chemistry problems independently and creatively.

While at Goddard, they heard from Nobel Prize winning NASA scientist John Mather about the role of chemistry in scientific discovery. They were also regaled with stories from the stars, courtesy of spaceflight veteran Piers Sellers -- currently serving as Goddard’s Deputy Director of Science and Exploration Directorate.


Celebrating Diversity Day – ARC

Ames Research Center recently hosted several special events for the Center’s annual Diversity Day celebration.
There was a panel discussion during which past and present Ames interns stressed the importance of the student internship experience, information booths were available for those interested in learning more about various cultures, regions and countries and employees were treated to a Center-wide picnic.
There was also an intern poster session attended by Ames Center Director Pete Worden and others. The events capped off the end of summer session for Ames interns.


NASA Anniversary: Launch of Mariner 2, August 27, 1962

Mariner 2 was the world's first successful interplanetary spacecraft. Launched Aug. 27, 1962, on an Atlas-Agena rocket, Mariner 2 passed within about 21,000 miles of Venus, sending back valuable new information about interplanetary space and the Venusian atmosphere. Mariner 2 recorded the planet's temperature for the first time, revealing the its very hot atmosphere of about 900 degrees Fahrenheit. The spacecraft's solar wind experiment was the first to measure the density, velocity, composition and variation over time ofthe solar wind


And that’s This Week @NASA.
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