Great Space “Spin-Offs”


As we go about our everyday life we are enjoying the benefits of what NASA does and, most of the time, we are completely unaware of this space agency’s contribution. As NASA develops new technologies that are vital to mission success or products designed for a specific purpose, there is almost always a “spin-off” product or technology that reaches the Earthling market that makes things a little better for humanity.

How many of us have mixed up a bottle of baby formula or spooned a jar of peas and carrots into the hungry mouth of a toddler? If you have, you were giving that baby space food. Almost one hundred percent of commercially sold infant formula is infused with a natural omega-3 fatty acid ingredient discovered while researching life support technology for the Mars mission. The next generation of Earthlings will have healthier brains, eyes and hearts thanks to NASA.

If you’re reading this article on my blog, then you’ve also probably seen the videos I’ve been posting reading books aloud. The technology used in my laptop camera as well as cellphone cameras are all NASA inspired inventions. Astronauts needed to miniaturize cameras in order to save as much space as possible as they packed and organized supplies for their space missions.

And, how many of my dear readers have ever flown in a great big airplane? Chances are, all of you. You know when you look up at a low-flying passenger jet and see those little up-turned wingtips and wonder just what the heck those things are? Well, the ever curious gringa asks that question every single time I see one. Those things are called “winglets”. These little aerodynamic dynamos are saving airlines billions of dollars in fuels and it’s all thanks to the research and development that goes on at NASA. When NASA develops technology in order to save the taxpayers a dime or two, that technology is eventually shared with companies so they can save a dime or two which then means the tax-paying consumer gets to save another dime or two when they shell out the dough for their airfare.

How many of us have “Google Earthed” our physical addresses to see what pops up on the satellite image? Yes, the curious gringa does this all the time. The accuracy of our current GPS technology is also thanks to the efforts of research and development at NASA. Everyone, everywhere, all over this globe, benefit in some form or fashion from this technology. I tell the caveman all the time to remember that my GPS locator is always activated on my cellphone so if anyone kidnaps me, and lets me keep my phone, he can find me. He assures me that if I remain my true, “Chatty Cathy” self they will certainly let me go so I need not waste the battery power. But, even if they don’t tire of my incessant chatter and question asking, he’ll come looking for me in a day or so.

That is when the gringa goes off for a pout by curling up with a good book in her space bed. Surely you know what I mean? That greatest invention mankind has ever come up with for people with back problems? You know, the memory foam mattress! Good Lord, over the years I have had so many falls with seizures and received neck and back injuries as a result, that I prayed for a non-gravity sleep chamber or a wind tunnel sleep chamber that wouldn’t put any pressure on my neck, hips or back no matter what position I might lay in. Well, the memory foam is the next best thing and a decent compromise. I’m able to get a relatively pain-free night’s sleep now because astronauts needed a material that would help keep them comfortable during times of extreme acceleration. Thank you, NASA, from the bottom of the ginga’s little heart.

I love watching law enforcement reality shows. One of my favorite types to watch is search and rescue. When I see the Coast Guard rushing to respond to a distress beacon for some poor crew of fishermen or pleasure sailors who have gotten themselves into trouble, once again NASA has been the source for a vital live-saving device. Without the satellites that NASA has deployed into Earth’s orbit, there would be no relay device for their distress signals.

The “greenies” out there can also feel some affinity toward the space agency for reducing big rig fuel consumption by almost 7,000 gallons annually per truck because of the NASA inspired new aerodynamic designs most modern rigs sport. As you pass one of these eighteen-wheelers on a bridge, you can feel secure because most modern bridges feature state of the art shock absorbers bracing them in place, technology originating with NASA in their efforts to develop technology to help astronauts survive the extreme effects of rocket launches.

One of the gringa’s favorite technology sharing tidbits of information regarding NASA, and, yes, even more of a favorite than my awesome memory foam mattress, are the vulnerable people around the world that are able to have access to clean drinking water. Water purification devices that are used today on the small scale of an individual, reusable, filtering water bottle or a hand held device that can provide clean water for an entire village is all thanks to the humanitarian mission of NASA. Growing up in the jungle and having to boil river water was how my caveman grew up. Needless to say, as a child, he and his siblings often suffered water-borne, internal, parasitic infections. There is a very soft spot in the gringa’s heart toward NASA for making it possible for many children around the world to improve the quality of their life and enjoy something I take for granted every day.

As I ponder the amazing contributions astronauts and scientists at NASA make to our world, I can’t help but flash a smile. And, thanks to one more of NASA’s greatest inventions of all time, invisible orthodontic braces, the gringa smiles boldly instead of covering that grin with a hand, embarrassed by crooked teeth and crazy fangs. Thanks, NASA, for not only inspiring fantastic dreams of space exploration but also for making everyday life a little bit better for everyone everywhere!

Source: http://www.nasa.gov

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Planting Seeds of Brilliance


NASA and the United States Department of Agriculture joined students earlier this month to plant seeds from the space-grown red romaine lettuce in the People’s Garden in Washington D.C. Although it is doubtful the nation will reap a harvest that will be adequate to solve world hunger, the symbolism of this act is definitely pointing to a future humanitarian goal where NASA will play a critical role.

These two government agencies cemented their partnership by jointly signing a government memorandum which commits NASA and the USDA to endeavor to inspire American youth to seek careers in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The planting of the romaine lettuce seeds symbolizes planting the seed of such inspiration in the hearts and minds of young people.

As the media hypes the doom and gloom of the world’s future due to the “irreversible” effects of climate change, we cannot allow this to dishearten our young people. Many are so discouraged, well aware of the sick planet they will be inheriting. Society must do all it can to counteract these negative media messages being fed to the youth. I mean, really, I get really mad at the news agencies. It’s always the bad stuff. I need a happy pill after ten minutes with the evening news. No wonder depression is so rampant. Have they ever thought about reporting on the solutions? Good grief, our society needs inspiration to get us out of this desperation! Young students must be emboldened to understand they are the heroes society is looking for to rescue and restore the future of this planet.

As NASA and the USDA take a pro-active position, so must every parent, spiritual leader, teacher, counselor, aunt, uncle, anyone who knows a young person. The creative inspiration that led to the technology that grew space salad fixin’s are just the sort of ideas that can spring forth from young minds today and become a reality tomorrow.

NASA is not just about the nation’s business in outer space. Their programs are very important to solving problems right here on the blue planet. Earthling farmers have been seriously impacted worldwide by drought conditions as a result of climate change. NASA works closely with the USDA in developing technology and new farming methods to solve these problems in order to continue to feed a hungry planet. Satellite images provided by NASA are an important piece of the information puzzle that helps agricultural experts make the right decisions.

The partnering of these two agencies is good news. Together, there is much talent and technology that can be brought to the “save the world” table. The gringa is certain that every idealistic, brilliant young person would want to be a part of something so noble and important.

Source & Photo Credit: http://www.nasa.gov

Photographers Named Curiosity & Opportunity


1curiosityAs the dear reader enjoys these other worldly images, please click on them to be swept away to a much larger, more panoramic view (except for one that stays tiny) of the digital Martian landscape artwork of Curiosity and Opportunity, NASA’s premier photographers.

Curiosity and Opportunity are not your average photographers. They are also  “Rover Environmental Monitoring Stations” (REMS). They rove around taking fantastic images of the Red Planet’s landscape while at the same time recording temperature and humidity data and measuring things like spikes of methane gas in the environment or evaluating the organic material in a sample of rock powder it collects with its robotic drill. Their work has discovered that today’s Mars is chemically active and ancient Mars harbored conditions that were favorable for the existence of life.

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When Curiosity landed on Mars, it was near Mount Sharp. There is an ancient lake bed near that mountain that is tens of millions of years old. Here’s a pic of a geological sampling hole drilled and photographed by Curiosity near Mount Sharp, September 24, 2014 (this pic stays this same size if you click on it, unlike the others that give you a much larger and more detailed image).

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Curiosity, NASA’s photographer/geologist took a “selfie” as it prepared to drill and analyze geologic samples at “Windiana”.

 

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Curiosity may be getting a bit narcissistic with its celebrity status and is becoming quite adept at taking “selfies”. The gringa just loves this! Back in August, Curiosity prepared to drill for geologic samples from a rock named “Buckskin”.

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Opportunity snapped this image of Hinner’s Point located at the norther edge of Marathon Valley on August, 14, 2015 on day 4,108 of its Martian mission. The summit is named after Noel Hinners (1935-2014) who had an important role in training astronauts for the Apollo program and continued in different leadership roles within NASA throughout his career. Opportunity’s work in Marathon Valley discovered the presence of silica and iron.

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The gringa will close this post with her favorite Martian photo so far, this beautiful sunset. Curiosity snapped this breathtaking image near Gale Crater on April 15, 2015, approximately day 965 of its mission.

Source and Photo credit: http://www.nasa.gov

NASA Throws Down The Gauntlet


Earlier this month NASA announced a challenge to the public. It seeks creative and innovative minds that can come up with the clever plan and even more clever technology that will enable astronauts to live like self-sufficient pioneers on Mars.

To get in on the action, you need to familiarize yourself with the scope of natural resources on Mars. Once you have a firm grasp on the raw materials and their capabilities, get to the drawing board and design a structure from those materials. First place wins $10,000. How awesome is that? What a wonderful opportunity for some public schools, who are always in need of additional funding, to motivate students to tackle the STEM subjects with gusto!

Truly NASA is committed to talented minds all around the globe as much as they are committed to their mission of exploration. Despite all the glory and prestige that is attached to the NASA brand, the agency recognizes that their efforts will most certainly be enhanced by the skills and brainstorms of any who share their dream and have something to contribute. They open the door to all with such challenges.

The goal to achieve with the technological development this challenge could potentially lead to is to shave off the launch budget about $100,000 for every two pounds of cargo by discovering how to use raw materials on Mars for construction rather than having to pack these materials for delivery here on Earth. This precious space can also be dedicated to other critical supplies for survival that absolutely cannot be found or replicated on the Red Planet.

Solving this problem will not just be for the benefit of a Martian exploration mission. This solution can be adapted and used on other missions as a successful mission on Mars opens the door to deep space exploration.

So, if you or someone you know is a science fiction fanatic or a creative innovator or a science geek, the gringa says, “Give them a poke in the ribs and a heads up! Tell them they need to design a shelter out of Martian soil and rocks.” Encourage them to visit the website setup for the challenge and submit an application: http://go.nasa.gov/1L4MSP6. I mean, really, what have they got to lose? Nothing! And, Mars to gain! What’s not to love about that? How could that NOT motivate a person!

And, if dirt and buildings are not their thing, if you know a fashionista who also has a talent with number-crunching, why not direct them to NASA’s textile challenge? Although the Z-2 design is pretty much a done deal, there are still all sorts of details to hammer out, like:

Direct any up and coming dressmakers, wool weavers and the like to the following link and I know their creative curiosity will get the best of them and they will just have to click!

https://ninesights.ninesigma.com/web/nasa-eva-test

NASA is preparing methods and procedures to properly test the design of the Mars spacesuit and they need some textile experts to help them with this critical job. What a thing to put on a resume when applying at the Yves Saint Laurent fashion house, “First Prize Winner of NASA Textile Challenge”. You know with something like that you’re guaranteed a second interview at the very least!

Source & Photo Credit: www.nasa.gov

Please Hold… What Was That You Said?


Can you imagine being off in an isolated, deserted area exploring. You have some sort of “incident” and realize you’ve been poisoned. Within two minutes you have located your phone and the 1-800 number for the Poison Control Center which you promptly call. They talk to you for two minutes to find out all the details of what exactly has poisoned you. It takes them another sixty seconds to discover the antidote and determine the proper course of action. It takes another sixty seconds for them to communicate this information. The last words the Poison Control operator says is, “The antidote must be delivered within five minutes to prevent death.” One minute too late. You’re dead. And THAT, dear readers, is exactly why NASA is developing a laser named OPALS. To avoid critical time delay effects on communications and astronauts who are in deep space.

NASA’s Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS) uses a laser beam to transmit data from the International Space Station to Earth. We Earthlings enjoy modern technology where we get instant gratification at the touch of a button (or voice command) when we need to communicate with anyone anywhere at any time about anything. The gringa is so spoiled, I get all aggravated when I get put on hold and have to listen to what is ALWAYS the most horrible music ever created by man. Well, avoiding time delayed transmissions is not about lowering aggravations levels of impatient astronauts. It’s about having technical support for the crew 24/7 to help them survive any possible crisis.

If astronauts relied on ancient radio wave technology, crew members could expect a lag time of over half an hour round trip. Yep, plenty of time for an astronaut to stub a cosmic toe and die. This just won’t do. And what if a crisis is happening back home? How awful for an astronaut to have an Earth-bound loved one who really needs a comforting or encouraging word and has to sit twiddling their thumbs for half an hour as the “I love you’s” and “You can DO IT” make the rounds between here and there. The gringa thinks, “Surely, in this day and age, we can do so much better!”

NASA conducted telecommunication research with the Comm Delay Assessment to see just what would happen to astronauts emotionally if they were cut off from contact completely and/or had pesky time-delay issues to deal with in communications. The performance of astronauts was analyzed as they completed six tasks with no time delayed communication and four where they experienced a 50-second time delay in communication. The no-brainer result was that the astronauts delivered a higher performance with a better mood when the communication was uninterrupted. With each delay, their mood got worse and more worse.

Yes, the gringa understands this. A memory of a cellphone flying out the front door in frustration and summarily receiving a well-aimed petite heel on the view screen comes to mind. I refuse to name names or give any further details. We’ve all been there. No need to judge the gringa. (I also once delivered a hammer blow to an alarm clock but that is fodder for another story).

Of course it was only normal for the crew to get frustrated when they needed to communicate quickly and had to sit around and wait. This only aggravates the already existing syndrome of “space brain”. This condition astronauts experience makes it harder to remember and comprehend things. The gringa is reminded again of a particular back and forth between my teenage son and I regarding help with my computer. I, too, have “space brain” and have never even had the privilege to “catch” this disease on a galactic mission. I call my son because I have done something to my laptop’s “home network”, didn’t have a clue what that meant, and couldn’t get on the Internet. The conversation goes something like this:

Me: “Son, I can’t get on the Internet.”

Son: “What does it say?”

Me: “Something about the home network.”

Son: “Okay, click on blah-blah-blah, then click on who-whatsit, and click OK.”

Me: “Got it. Piece of cake. Thanks. Love you.”

I hang up. I then realize I have no idea how to open the “home network” window. I call back (mind you he is at a party). He answers (thank God). I tell him my problem and he tells me what to do. I open the “home network” window then realize I forgot all the previous instructions. I call back. HE DOESN’T ANSWER! I call again. NO ANSWER! AAAAHHHHH! Time delay in a crisis! The gringa needs HELP!!! NOW!!! Yes. I know EXACTLY why the astronauts got a little moody.

And, what about having CLEAR communication? The astronauts also expressed that even more important than having instant communication was being able to understand what the heck was being said. This, too, the gringa totally understands. Every day the caveman and I talk on the phone while I walk the dog. At his job there is always a deafening din in the background not to mention his accent. On top of those issues is the fact that, by nature, he is a very soft spoken person. Mumblypeg is another affectionate I sometimes call the caveman. I cannot count how many times throughout the conversation I say the following words: “I can’t hear you.” “That made absolutely no sense.” “I don’t understand what you’re saying.” “I SAID I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” It is only the immense, unfathomable love I have for the caveman that preserves the life of my cellphone and it doesn’t end up under a certain petite heel of a person whom we all know and love yet shall remain nameless.

Unfortunately for these communications with the mumblypeg caveman the gringa will not get to enjoy the benefit of OPALS.  The astronauts, however, will. They will get to enhance the safety of their deep-space mission with laser enhanced telecommunications technology. The time delay will be the same, but, at least, when the message finally does arrive the astronauts won’t be saying, “What the HECK did they SAY?!” Or, as they open their special delivery package from home they smack their foreheads and shout, “We said we needed more NAILS! Not SNAILS!” And then the bag  is tossed out the spacelock in disgust and left to its fate on the inhospitable surface of Mars only to mutate and become gigantic Martian snails who exact their revenge on the astronauts who rejected them by sliming their exploration vehicle. Laser transmission will allow for clear as a bell communication of much more information that can be transmitted at one time as well as save us all from a future Martian snail slime war.

While Earthlings will be having the Neanderthal experience of watching television at about twenty megabits per second, the astronauts will be laser streaming videos at about 50 megabits per second and, without that pesky buffering. One day, one Martian will say to another Martian“Let’s “beam home” and see how grandma and grandpa are doing back in Texas!” The gringa will answer and say, “Having a beer on the beach, how ‘bout you?”

 

Source & Photo Credit:  http://www.nasa.gov

 

The “REAL” Martian Story


The recent film, “The Martian”, was a big hit at theatres. One reason it turned out to be one fabulous work of cinematic science fiction was because NASA actually collaborated with the filmmakers. With such expert technical advisement, how could it fail to succeed? The gringa would like to know just how similar the technologies featured in the film parallel actual technologies NASA is developing for the future Mars mission.

One of the technologies in development is a habitation module so astronauts can slip out of their dusty spacesuits and put their feet up for a well deserved break at the end of a long day exploring the Red Planet. The Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) is just the place where this happens. This artificial living habitat is a self-contained environment used for training at the Johnson Space Center in Texas. It simulates what will be the primary living quarters in deep space. Included in the two-story floor plan are workspaces, a bathroom, technically called a “hygiene module”, and an airlock.

Unlike the astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS), Mars mission astronauts will not enjoy food delivery from Earth on a regular basis. Even a hotshot rocket pilot would need at least nine months for an express delivery service. So, if astronauts want to bite into a delicious red apple or sip a glass of fresh orange juice or munch on a salad of crispy fresh leafy greens, they are going to have to grow their own.

So far, astronauts have proven successful farmers where lettuce is concerned but it’s going to take more than arugula to keep them from getting a case of scurvy.  What is being experimented with on the ISS is a vegetable growing system called “Veggie”. This system grows plants in pillow like structure and small bags that use a wicking material that contains the growing media and fertilizer. After the success of growing “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce, the farming operation has been expanded to include other crops that are important nutrition resources for future astronauts.

Not only will the astronauts need water to drink and use for personal hygiene, but the plants will also need fresh, clean water in order to grow. Although water has been discovered on Mars, there is still as yet no way to access this precious resource. When astronauts arrive, they will need to be supplied with their own water recovery system. Such a system is used on ISS. For years, this system has been tweaked and perfected to the point that not even a teardrop is wasted on ISS. Every drop of water produced in any way is recovered by the Environmental Control and Life Support system and recycled.

Reclaiming and purifying water for re-use sounds pretty simple. I mean, after all, we do it all the time all over the place on Earth. The major difference is gravity. Gases and liquids don’t separate the same way in micro-gravity so rather than use something like a steam distillation purification system or a process that requires gravity to pull unclean water through a filter, a centrifuge is required in space.

Since free-flowing saltwater exists seasonally on Mars, one thought is to construct new technologies for brine water recovery and purification. Water recovery from urine is already successful at separating salts and minerals from pure water on ISS. This technology simply has to be experimented and perfected for use on Mars.

And NASA is not stingy with their technology. Their work extends to vulnerable people all over the world in order to help provide them with clean drinking water. The gringa is proud that NASA considers humanitarian efforts as part of their mission.

Now, in the Mars movie the astronauts carried their oxygen supplies around wherever they went on Mars. Their oxygen supply was created by using carbon dioxide from the fuel generator in the ascent vehicle. In real life, how will astronauts have a regenerative supply of oxygen? We can again look to the ISS to see this technology already successfully in use. Breathable air is continuously made by splitting water molecules. After all H2O is a blend of hydrogen and oxygen. Work is underway to advance the existing technology to recover oxygen from any byproduct that may exist in the atmosphere and collected not only on Mars but also along the journey to Mars.

Now what about Matt Damon’s fashionable spacesuit in sporty orange? How real is that? Well, any astronaut is going to have to wear a protective suit to explore Mars. There is not enough breathable air for them to survive in and the cold would definitely wipe them out pretty quickly. After looking at photos of the Z-2 prototype spacesuit NASA is developing, the gringa is a bit disappointed after the high bar that Hollywood set with the sexy, Matt Damon spacesuit. NASA’s focus is not on a brilliant fashion statement. They are more concerned with creating a functional survival outfit that will remain comfortable to wear even after six or eight hours trekking about the remote wasteland of Mars. The trick is to design a spacesuit from a flexible material that is highly durable. Oh, well, if NASA decides to let the gringa tag along, I will just have to smuggle in my BeDazzler.

And just like the spacesuit let down, the gringa is a bit miffed that the real Mars rover design is not as sporty as depicted by Hollywood. Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised. Noone in Hollywood has any grip on reality, after all. It’s like living on another planet in that city! Maybe astronauts could spend some time there to practice what first contact will be like when they encounter their first alien species in outer space.

To go where their feet can’t take them, astronauts are going to have to have a vehicle that is sturdy and filled with all sorts of gadgets. The name of such a craft is the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV). The first real space mission this vehicle will be used on will be the upcoming asteroid mission that will precede the actual Mars mission. This little baby is still under development so the gringa doesn’t really have any specifics other than the design has to be extremely versatile in order to be prepared for just about anything that could happen on the Martian landscape.

The Mars journey will be one of the most dangerous undertakings NASA has tackled yet. Because safety is the primary concern, there is no big rush to get there. Zero margin of error is the mission standard. We have accomplished much on ISS that has helped get closer to accomplishing the ultimate goal of landing a crew on the surface of the Red Planet. The next stage of the game is to lasso that damn asteroid and start staging Mars rehearsals. The gringa just can’t believe that this may all happen within her lifetime!

Source & Photo Credit:  www.nasa.gov

Robot Real Estate Developers


The gringa, most definitely a product of the eighties, has mental images of R2D2 rolling around beeping and twittering happily as he constructs a space hut, anticipating the imminent arrival of Mars colonists from Earth. Well, it could happen! Seriously. Well, maybe not the R2D2 part, but something very nearly like it.

As NASA explores creative, imaginative ideas and new technologies, 3D printing is at the forefront of their plan to robotically construct habitations that will await the arrival of new Earthling residents on the Red Planet. By doing so, they can save critical cargo space. If they don’t have to pack tools, parts, and building supplies that can instead be contrived on a 3D printer sent ahead to Mars, the astronauts can arrive with other critical cargo to further enable a long-term mission’s success.

The engineers and scientists hard at work at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama are making this a reality. The envisioned plan is to have mobile machines that work like a 3D printer delivered to Mars by robotic space delivery. These machines could then be remotely controlled from Earth. These state of the art contraptions could be designed to work with the raw materials found on Mars. They could be designed to exude natural resources and “print” the building materials to create structures. Astronauts could arrive on Mars to find robot erected, 3D printed shelters already in place with a welcome mat outside to scrape off the space dust of their long journey.

This technology is already being tested at the International Space Station (ISS). Crews on board ISS have been creating all sorts of projects like building wrenches from layered plastic filament. Such items then undergo durability testing to see if they will even work. Advances in the technology will eventually, hopefully, make it possible to upgrade from plastic wrenches to wrenches manufactured from metals like titanium, nickel and other alloys.

NASA continues to search for talent throughout the civilian sector to help the dream come true of landing a manned space mission on Mars. One way this is done is by creating challenges and competitions in the fields of science and technology. In their 3-D Printed Habitat Challenge Design competition, Team Space Exploration Architecture and Clouds Architecture Office walked away with the grand prize depicted in the above picture of their design “Icehouse”.

By partnering with talent NASA is accelerating its own capabilities in advancing technology and manufacturing. 3-D technology is now in the proving ground to see if it can be used to create many things that humans will need in order to survive a long term stay on Mars. Being able to arrive at the Red Planet and survive in this galactic wilderness, create their own tools, survival and building materials with the natural resources at hand and a 3-D printer is beyond the gringa’s comprehension and that’s hard to believe considering my vast and somewhat quirky imagination.

Source: http://www.nasa.gov