Posts about NASA

Computer Code for NASA’s Apollo Guidance System

photo of Margaret Hamilton, NASA

Margaret Hamilton, NASA. Standing next to a printout of the source code she and her team wrote for the Apollo guidance computer that made the moon landings possible.

Meet Margaret Hamilton, the badass ’60s programmer who saved the moon landing

The software for the guidance computer was written by a team at the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory (now the Draper Laboratory), headed up by Margaret Hamilton.

The guidance computer used something known as “core rope memory“: wires were roped through metal cores in a particular way to store code in binary. “If the wire goes through the core, it represents a one,” Hamilton explained in the documentary Moon Machines. “And around the core it represents a zero.” The programs were woven together by hand in factories. And because the factory workers were mostly women, core rope memory became known by engineers as “LOL memory,” LOL standing for “little old lady.”

Hamilton is now 78 and runs Hamilton Technologies, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company she founded in 1986. She’s lived to see “software engineering” — a term she coined — grow from a relative backwater in computing into a prestigious profession.

In the early days, women were often assigned software tasks because software just wasn’t viewed as very important. “It’s not that managers of yore respected women more than they do now,” Rose Eveleth writes in a great piece on early women programmers for Smithsonian magazine. “They simply saw computer programming as an easy job. It was like typing or filing to them and the development of software was less important than the development of hardware. So women wrote software, programmed and even told their male colleagues how to make the hardware better.”

My aunt was one of those early software engineers. She wrote a chapter for a book, Programming the IBM 360, in the 1960s. My uncle was one of the first employees at NASA and rose to be one of the senior administrators there over his career.

It is great when society is able to capture the value individuals are capable of providing. We need to make sure we allow everyone opportunities to contribute. We do well in many ways but we also do lose from discrimination and also just making it uncomfortable for people to contribute in certain roles when we need not do so.

We have accomplished great things with software in the last 40 years. We could have accomplished more if we had done a better job of allowing women to contribute to the efforts in this field.

Related: The Eagle Has LandedBarbara Liskov wins Turing AwardGreat Self Portrait by Astronaut with Earth Reflected in His Visor

The Eagle Has Landed

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldren land on the moon: July 20, 1969. As Neil Armstrong took humanity’s first step onto the Moon he said:

That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

Related: Experiment, dropping a hammer and feather on the MoonPlanetary scientist Jennifer Heldmann discusses the MoonApply to be an AstronautOne Giant Leap For Mankind

Landing Curiosity on Mars

Touchdown on Mars will take place August 5th, 2012 (PDT or August 6th EDT and GMT).

Related: NASA’s Mars Curiosity RoverMars Opportunity Rover Continues Extended ExplorationSunset on Mars

Using Robots to Collect Data on our Oceans

Interesting idea to use self propelled robots to provide data on the oceans. They use no fuel to move, they use wave energy. They also have solar panels on the top. The wave gliders can travel to a distant area, collect data, and return to base. One of the big problems with convention methods of collecting data on the oceans is the large costs of placing the buoys (and the cost of servicing them).

Related: Wave Glider – The State of the OceansAutonomous Underwater Robot Decides on Experiment OptionsAltered Oceans: the Crisis at Sea

Thorium Nuclear Reactors

Kirk Sorensen is founder of Flibe Energy and is an advocate for nuclear energy based on thorium and liquid-fluoride fuels and author of Energy From Thorium blog.

He also taught nuclear engineering at Tennessee Technological University as a guest lecturer. He is active in nonprofit advocacy organizations such as the Thorium Energy Alliance and the International Thorium Energy Organization. He is married and has four small children.

See another video with him on why the thorium molten-salt reactor wasn’t developed (from a Google tech talk).

Related: Molten Salt Solar Reactor Approved by CaliforniaHelium-3 Fusion ReactorNuclear Power Production by Country from 1985-2009Mining the Moon

NASA Biocapsules Deliver Medical Interventions Based Upon What They Detect in the Body

Very cool innovation from NASA. The biocapsule monitors the environment (the body it is in) and responds with medical help. Basically it is acting very much like your body, which does exactly that: monitors and then responds based on what is found.

The Miraculous NASA Breakthrough That Could Save Millions of Lives

The Biocapsules aren’t one-shot deals. Each capsule could be capable of delivering many metred doses over a period of years. There is no “shelf-life” to the Biocapsules. They are extremely resilient, and there is currently no known enzyme that can break down their nanostructures. And because the nanostructures are inert, they are extremely well-tolerated by the body. The capsules’ porous natures allow medication to pass through their walls, but the nanostructures are strong enough to keep the cells in one place. Once all of the cells are expended, the Biocapsule stays in the body, stable and unnoticed, until it is eventually removed by a doctor back on Earth.

Dr. Loftus [NASA] thinks we could realistically see wildspread usage on Earth within 10 to 15 years.

The cells don’t get released from the capsule. The cells inside the capsule secrete therapeutic molecules (proteins, peptides), and these agents exit the capsule by diffusion across the capsule wall.

NASA plans to use the biocapsules in space, but they also have very promising uses on earth. They can monitor a diabetes patient and if insulin is needed, deliver it. No need for the person to remember, or give themselves a shot of insulin. The biocapsule act just like out bodies do, responding to needs without us consciously having to think about it. They can also be used to provide high dose chemotherapy directly to the tumor site (thus decreasing the side effects and increasing the dosage delivered to the target location. Biocapsules could also respond to severe allergic reaction and deliver epinephrine (which many people know have to carry with them to try and survive an attack).

It would be great if this were to have widespread use 15 years from now. Sadly, these innovations tend to take far longer to get into productive use than we would hope. But not always, so here is hoping this innovation from NASA gets into ourselves soon.

Related: Using Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into CellsNanoparticles With Scorpion Venom Slow Cancer SpreadSelf-Assembling Cubes Could Deliver MedicineNanoengineers Use Tiny Diamonds for Drug Delivery

YouTube SpaceLab Experiment Competition

YouTube SpaceLab is an open competition inviting 14 – 18 year olds (anywhere in the world) to create an idea for a science experiment in space. You don’t have to actually do the experiment, you just have to record yourself explaining it.

Entries must have be submitted on YouTube by 07:59 GMT on December 8th.

The winning experiments will be conducted on the International Space Station (ISS) and beamed live on YouTube for the whole planet to see.

Winners get the choice to either watch the rocket blast off with your idea on it in Japan or take a specially tailored astronaut training course in Russia when you turn 18. There are other amazing prizes for the runners-up too.

Here is an example entry from 3 students in UK on an experiment to learn about quorum sensing by bacteria in the micro gravity of space.

Related: Google Science Fair 2011 ProjectsBacteria Communicate Using a Chemical Language (quorum sensing)11 Year Old Using Design of ExperimentsResearch by group of 8 to 10 Year Olds Published in Royal Society Journal

Apply to be an Astronaut

Are you looking to change jobs? NASA is seeking outstanding scientists, engineers (job announcement closed so broken link removed), and other talented professionals to carry forward the great discovery process that its mission demands. Creativity. Ambition. Teamwork. A sense of daring. Curiosity. That’s what it takes to join NASA, one of the best places to work in the Federal Government.

photo of astronaut's faceplate reflecting earth

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has a need for Astronaut Candidates to support the International Space Station Program and future deep space exploration activities.

In 1959 NASA selected its first group of 7 astronaut candidates. Since then 20 additional classes have been selected; bringing the total number of astronaut candidates to 330.

The astronauts of the 21st century will continue to work aboard the International Space Station in cooperation with our international partners; help to build and fly a new NASA vehicle, the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) designed for human deep space exploration; and further NASA’s efforts to partner with industry to provide a commercial capability for space transportation to the space station.

NASA is in the process of identifying possible near-Earth asteroids to explore with the goal of visiting an asteroid in 2025. With that goal, and keeping in mind that the plan is to send a robotic precursor mission to the asteroid approximately five years before humans arrive, NASA will need to select the first set of targets to explore within the next decade.

Requirement include: Applicants for the Astronaut Candidate Program must meet the basic education requirements for NASA engineering and scientific positions, specifically: successful completion of standard professional curriculum in an accredited college or university leading to at least a bachelor’s degree with major study in an appropriate field of engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics.

Related: NASA Robotics AcademyNASA’s Mars Curiosity RoverAstronaut Drops a Hammer and Feather on the Moon

Continue reading

NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover

Curiosity is the name of the new rover from NASA. It will be launched to continue the exploration of Mars so successfully done by Spirit and Opportunity (2 previous Mars rovers that did some amazing work and laster years longer than expected). The rover is NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, a mobile robot for investigating Mars’ past or present ability to sustain microbial life.

photo of NASA's Mars Rover: Curiosity

Once on the surface, the rover will be able to roll over obstacles up to 75 centimeters (29 inches) high and travel up to 90 meters per hour. On average, the rover is expected to travel about 30 meters per hour, based on power levels, slippage, steepness of the terrain, visibility, and other variables.

The rover is about the size of a small SUV — 10 feet long (not including the arm), 9 feet wide and 7 feet tall. It weighs 900 kilograms (2,000 pounds)

The rover will carry a radioisotope power system that generates electricity from the heat of plutonium’s radioactive decay. This power source gives the mission an operating lifespan on Mars’ surface of a full martian year (687 Earth days) or more, while also providing significantly greater mobility and operational flexibility, enhanced science payload capability, and exploration of a much larger range of latitudes and altitudes than was possible on previous missions to Mars.

Related: Mars Rover Continues ExplorationMars Rovers Getting Ready for Another Adventure (2007)Sunset on Mars

5% of the Universe is Normal Matter, What About the Other 95%?

Dark Matters from PHD Comics on Vimeo.

Great discussion and illustration of the state of our understanding of physics, matter, dark matter and the rest of the stuff our universe has from PhD comics. What is the universe made of? 5% of it is normal matter (the stardust we are made of), 20% dark matter and the other 75% – we have no idea!

Dark Cosmos is a nice book on some of these ideas. It is 5 years old so missing some of the latest discoveries.

Related: Why do we Need Dark Energy to Explain the Observable Universe?The Mystery of Empty SpaceFriday Fun, CERN Version
Continue reading

Image of Map Showing Concentration of Life in Oceans

Image showing regions of life in the oceans

This image shows the abundance of life in the sea, measured by the SeaWiFS instrument aboard the Seastar satellite. Dark blue represents warmer areas where there is little life due to lack of nutrients, and greens and reds represent cooler nutrient-rich areas.

The nutrient-rich areas include coastal regions where cold water rises from the sea floor bringing nutrients along and areas at the mouths of rivers where the rivers have brought nutrients into the ocean from the land. NASA has posted a large gallery of great images for Earth Day.

Related: Altered Oceans: the Crisis at SeaMicrobes Beneath the Sea FloorA single Liter of Seawater Can Hold More Than One Billion Microorganisms

  • Recent Comments:

    • David: It is true that eating nuts lower the risk of heart disease. My uncle eats nuts everyday and his...
    • gopinaik: Hi, You have give very precious information to the users who cares about their health .Very nice...
    • John Bloor: We have a lot to learn!
    • Mike: That’s incredible and inspiring application of engineering. John, I assume the drone is...
    • Anonymous: Here in Spain to get Ph. D. is pretty difficult but the real problem is to get it recognized in...
    • Rahul Arya: very nice blog!! this blog is very useful and informative for me thanks for share this blog.
    • Saran Cantik: very terrible indeed mosquito becomes the most abundant animals causing death, in my...
    • Daniel: This is a nice discovery … mosquito indeed have negative impacts such as malaria and dengue...
  • Recent Trackbacks:

  • Links