Tuesday, August 3, 2010

ISAS Day 3: Ames Research Center

The ISAS Summer Academy students maneuvered through security screenings in the Boise Airport early this morning as they prepared for their trip to Ames Research Center. Bags were inspected and shoes were removed, but everyone soon arrived at the gate without much trouble. Students yawned and looked out the window at the brightly colored chartered plane that would shortly be taking them to San Jose and anticipated the nearly two hour nap that they had been hoping for. As with most flights, the trip to San Jose was quiet and uneventful. Students either took the opportunity to rest their eyes or engage in hushed conversations.

Students getting organized in the San Jose airport
After feeling slightly more rested, the students disembarked the flight in much livelier spirits and began to grin excitedly as the weight of where they were going finally hit them. The shuttles taking them to Ames Research Center slowly meandered through traffic. Students watched curiously from behind glass as a strange, new city sped by them. Quickly, though, everything else faded away as the formidable hulk of Hangar One rose into view. The hangar was located on the airstrip next to Ames Research Center and was the most prominent structure in the area; rising hundreds of feet above everything around it. Shocked by the sudden change in scenery the students scrambled for their cameras and succesfully shed any drowsiness that remained from the flight. They had arrived.

Upon arriving at Ames Research Center, the students dropped their bags off at the Navy Lodge and hurriedly walked into the base. Although, by this point in the day, the expediency of the walk was motivated more by hunger than by the strict schedule. The students strolled down the sidewalks as they headed towards lunch, nudging one another and snapping as many pictures as their cameras would allow. The students were given a long and satisfying lunch at the MegaByte, the cafeteria located in the middle of Ames. Here they had the opportunity to eat a hearty meal, peruse through the gift shop, or simply sit outside in the warm California sunshine.

Leaving the peaceful cafeteria behind, the students were given a history lesson of Ames outside of the humongous structure known as the 80-by-120 Wind Tunnel; the largest wind tunnel in the world. After the entertaining history lesson, the students were given an inside tour of the wind tunnel and were allowed to roam freely across the cool gray tiles. Many students were stricken silent at this colossus of human innovation and listened intently as Bill Warmbrodt, a scientist from Ames, regailed them with stories of testing failures and successes. It was the highlight of the entire day.

The 80-by-120 Wind Tunnel at NASA Ames
The next stop on the tour brought the students  to view the development of the future NASA Mars rovers. Maria Bualat, another scientist from Ames, displayed to the students the mock control centers that sent instructions and received data from the rovers. These rovers were only in the experimental stage and were actually roaming the alien landscape of Devon Island. The island is the largest uninhabited island in the entire world and is deeply scarred by a magnificent crater. The barreness of the landscape mixed with the impact crater resulted in a prime location for the testing of rovers and other NASA equipment intended for missions on Mars or the Moon.

From the command center, the students continued their trek and split up into two groups. One group went to the CVSRF and the other went to the Fluid Dynamics Lab. After a short tour, the groups then switched in order to allow the students to witness all of the interesting labs without being too overcrowded. The CVSRF is a building in which two flight simulation machines tower silently and mechanical sounds whir constantly. These simulation machines are intended to be used to test pilot endurance, pilot abilities, new planes, and other variables. While touring the facility, the students were allowed to go into one of the simulators and participate in a landing simulation. At one point during the simulation, the fog cleared from San Francisco Bay and the students all saw a runway suddenly materialize out of the haze. The simulation was so realistic that one student commented as he descended from the machine, that as the plane landed he had braced himself for the usual bump when the wheels touch the tarmac, but then remembered afterwards that they weren't really landing.
A flight simulator in the CVSRF
In the Fluid Dynamics Lab, the students walked among the smaller scale wind tunnels and were even informed that the Discovery Channel show, Mythbusters, had repeatedly come to that lab and had asked for help in testing certain myths. The students were also witnesses to a live demonstration of a phosphorescent material that was released in a water tunnel that clearly showed how fluids move around objects. Students began pressing their noses up against the glass like they were children again visiting the aquarium for the first time.

Phosphorescent demonstration in the Fluid Dynamics Lab
With weary legs and bulging minds, the students trudged slowly back towards the Navy Lodge for some much needed rest and a delicious cookout. With the mentors brandishing spatulas and plates, the students were fed a tasty array of freshly cooked burgers, potato salad, watermelon, and more. Even the hardest workers are entitled to a relaxing break.

As evening began to nestle into the Silicon Valley, the students walked back into Ames in order to get a group shot in front of the monolithic Hangar One. To many of the students, it came as a surprise to tour so much of a NASA facility yet to have seen so few space projects. They learned that there is actually another purpose to NASA. Despite having a commitment to the exploration of space, NASA has an even greater commitment to improving the lives of people here on Earth. In the students' eyes, the world of NASA suddenly broadened, and so did their possible futures. With their remarkably gifted minds and NASA's limitless involvement in the world, these students have the opportunity to change Earth for the better.

These blogs will continue to be posted every evening.  A more "live" version of the days' events are being uploaded onto the ISAS: Idaho Science and Aerospace Scholars' facebook page.

--Andrew Schrader and Jaime Guevara--

1 comment:

  1. I am father of Patrick Yang who is participating this wonderful event. Everyday I wait for this blog posting and avidly read the whole thing. Today's story about the NASA center was particularly interesting and informing. Thanks for you guys efforts... You are very good reporters ! ! ! . . . By the way I am watching you from Seoul, South Korea, which is Patrick's home. . .