Posts about NASA

Very Low Frequency Radio Waves Protect Earth

Very Low Frequency (VLF) radio communications signals are transmitted from ground stations at huge powers to communicate with submarines deep in the ocean. While these waves are intended for communications below the surface, they also extend out beyond our atmosphere, shrouding Earth in a VLF bubble. This bubble is even seen by spacecraft high above Earth’s surface, such as NASA’s Van Allen Probes, which study electrons and ions in the near-Earth environment.

The probes have noticed an interesting coincidence – the outward extent of the VLF bubble corresponds almost exactly to the inner edge of the Van Allen radiation belts, a layer of charged particles held in place by Earth’s magnetic fields. Dan Baker, director of the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, coined this lower limit the “impenetrable barrier” and speculates that if there were no human VLF transmissions, the boundary would likely stretch closer to Earth. Indeed, comparisons of the modern extent of the radiation belts from Van Allen Probe data show the inner boundary to be much farther away than its recorded position in satellite data from the 1960s, when VLF transmissions were more limited.

With further study, VLF transmissions may serve as a way to remove excess radiation from the near-Earth environment. Plans are already underway to test VLF transmissions in the upper atmosphere to see if they could remove excess charged particles — which can appear during periods of intense space weather, such as when the sun erupts with giant clouds of particles and energy.

Related: NASA’s Van Allen Probes Spot Man-Made Barrier Shrouding EarthAstronaut SelfieMagnetic Portals Connect Sun and Earth (2008)Webcast of Man Landing on the MoonNASA Biocapsules Deliver Medical Interventions Based Upon What They Detect in the Body (2012)

Solar Storm Could Do $2 Trillion in Damage

I read an interesting article from NASA recently, Near Miss: The Solar Superstorm of July 2012

According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, the total economic impact could exceed $2 trillion or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina. Multi-ton transformers damaged by such a storm might take years to repair.

By extrapolating the frequency of ordinary storms to the extreme, he calculated the odds that a Carrington-class storm would hit Earth in the next ten years.

The answer: 12%.

Our high technology is far more at risk than most people appreciate. I don’t understand why the odds are so high (given that the last such event was in 1859 but I would guess there are sensible reasons for them to calculate such high odds. Others (in a quick web search) offer lower odds, but still 7 or 8% of such an event in the next 10 years.

The 2012 event would have done a great deal of damage. Luckily it was directed away from the sun in a direction away from where the earth was at the time. NASA has satellites arrayed around the sun (even where the earth isn’t) and one of those was able to capture data on the event.

There is also disagreement about how much damage such a solar storm would cause on earth. The main direct damage is expected to be done to the power system (of the USA and the rest of the world).

Related: Solar Storm (2006)photo of Solar Eruption (2006)Solar Flares May Threaten GPS (2007)Magnetic Portals Connect Sun and Earth (2008)

NASA explored this idea in a webcast:

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Female African-American Mathematicians at NASA in 1961

Hidden Figures is a film based on the experiences of female African-American mathematicians at NASA in 1961 including Katherine Johnson. It is easy to forget our history if we don’t make an effort to remember.

Popular movie adaptations are not the best source for completely accurate history but they are a great way to raise awareness when they hold somewhat close to historical events.

It is amazing to see what was accomplished and also remember how badly mistaken our society was in important ways. We have made strides as a society, but we still have significant problems we need to address. Movies like Hidden Figures are a positive reminder of what can be accomplished when we give people opportunities. We need to remember that lesson and do what we can to remove the barriers that continue today.

NASA video on Katherine Johnson’s career:

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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

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