Wednesday, July 20, 2011

ISAS 2011 Academy 1 Day 3: Ames Research Center

Today began earlier than normal for all the students and staff of ISAS as they geared up for the much anticipated trip to San Jose, CA, to visit NASA Ames Research Center in the Silicon Valley. Getting through the security checkpoint at the Boise Airport (BOI) was a smoother transition than anticipated, given the size of the group, and all students were able to rendezvous with their groups and locate the respective departure gate on time.

Students headed to San Jose

After a relatively short flight, the students and staff arrived at the San Jose International Airport (SJC) and immediately headed towards the coach bus that was waiting at the bus stop in front of the airport. The students stayed at Navy Lodge, and each student departed the bus in an orderly fashion, took their belongings and awaited their turn to drop off their suitcases and begin exploring Ames Research Center. As the students headed to the visitors center, they were able to steal their first glimpses of the center through the security gates.

The students started the visit at the Ames Visitor Center, where the students were able to view different displays such as moon rocks brought to Earth by Apollo 11 and an interactive lecture on the universe. Other students, as well as staff, were in the gift shop buying items both for themselves and for their family members back home.

After the students had viewed all of the exhibits, both students and staff were guided into Ames by Tom Clausen, Director of Education, and arrived at the cafeteria on the base; MegaBites. The students were able to luncheon amongst soldiers and NASA scientists and even visit a secondary gift shop.

Directly after lunch, the students were divided into two groups, Blue Team and White Team comprised Group A while Red Team and Gray Team comprised Group B. Each group headed towards two separate buildings: the Crew Vehicle Systems Research Facility and the Fluid Mechanics Lab. In the Fluids Lab, the students were guided by undergraduate interns and shown two different wind tunnels. These wind tunnels have even earned some fame on an international scale. These tunnels have been used to test the regulation World Cup soccer balls as well as model vehicles from the popular show Mythbusters. The students were even allowed to place small plastic hoses into the tunnels to listen to the different sounds produced by the air vibrations. In another laboratory, the students were shown a small model car submerged in water with a colorful dye, allowing observation of wake and drag acting on the car.

Students entering the Fluid Mechanics Lab

In the CVSRF the students were allowed to enter two different flight simulators used by NASA to study how pilots operate while flying. The students thoroughly enjoyed not only going into these simulators but seeing them in action while “flying” around the Bay Area. Students and NASA directors smiled and chatted happily as the students had the opportunity to experience what very few individuals are even allowed to see, let alone touch.

Afterwards, the students were taken to a different building were they met Natalie Batalha from San Jose State University. Natalie lectured the students on the Kepler telescope project and its mission of searching for other Earth-sized planets outside of our solar system. Many students, and staff, had great questions about the use of the Doppler Effect in order to search for planets and whether said planets were gaseous or solid. In fact, so great were the questions that Natalie decided against narrating the flyover about the planet Kepler-10 and let the students decipher what they were viewing. The students were exceptionally happy to be given the opportunity to feel involved with a true NASA project.

The next stops for the students were the Centrifuge and Vertical Motion Range. In the centrifuge, the students were briefly lectured on some of the functions of the centrifuge and how it has been used for various films ranging from Hollywood films to History and Discovery Channel documentaries. After the lecture, the students were allowed to go into the centrifuge room and take pictures, look into the capsules, and even take team photos in front of the NASA logo.

Exploring the centrifuge

At the Vertical Motion Range, the students were able to see an actual simulation of a shuttle landing. They learned about how the simulation was able to function and reproduce the same g-forces on those inside the simulator without the actual craft taking off. After the simulation was over, the students were able to go into some of the simulation capsules that were being prepped in the warehouse and roam around the small rooms were many astronauts test their shuttle landing skills.

It was a long, exciting day

At the end of the day the students came back happy and tired, ready to dive into the delicious plates of lasagna and salad provided by the staff. After getting their fill of the delicious Italian dish, the students were given free time and enjoyed it thoroughly until bed time.

These blogs will continue to be uploaded daily, once the students have completed their final activities each night. A more "live" version of the days' events are being uploaded onto the ISAS Summer Academy Facebook group and page, as well as to Twitter at ISAS_Academy. The students are eager to continue exploring Ames Research Center and have another busy day ahead of them.

 -- Jaime Guevara, Andrew Schrader --

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