Tuesday, August 2, 2011

ISAS 2011 Academy 2 Day 3

The students were up bright and early this morning in order to catch their plane to San Jose, California, and eventually arrive at Ames Research Center. As the students piled onto the bus, they ran through mental checklists in their heads and jabbered excitedly with one another about what they would see that day. They arrived at the airport and made it through security without any trouble and ended up at the gate just before boarding began.

The flight to San Jose was quick and uneventful, and the students were greeted at the airport by a coach bus waiting to take them to Ames. The students stayed at the Navy Lodge, a hotel only a short walk from the entrance to Ames. In order to experience as much of the base as possible, the students dropped their belongings into one of the rooms and immediately entered the facility.

Students on the airplane
Their experience began with free time in the Ames Visitor’s Center, which was filled with interactive exhibits and a gift shop. The students received their first taste of Ames by exploring the multiple exhibits highlighting some of the center’s most famous and most recent contributions to NASA. The students also could sit down and view a live presentation detailing the structure of the universe.

At the Visitor's Center
After spending some time in the visitor’s center, the students were soon led by both the Director of Education at NASA Ames, Tom Clausen, and Education Specialist Tony Leavitt through Ames until the students reached the cafeteria on the base; Megabytes. The students were able to luncheon amongst soldiers and NASA scientists and even visit a secondary gift shop.

Directly after the luncheon, the students were led to a large auditorium to take part in the Director’s Colloquium Summer Session 2011. The Colloquium provides an opportunity for scientists and researchers to present ideas and results of experiments to others at Ames curious about their work. The students were fortunate to listen to a presentation by Dr. Natalie Batalha, a Co-Investigator working on the Kepler mission. After launching in 2009, the Kepler spacecraft has been searching for what fraction of stars in the galaxy harbor potentially habitable, earth-size planets. The students learned that Kepler has been one of NASA’s most recent and successful missions, having identified 21 definite earth-size planets with over a thousand more awaiting confirmation. Dr. Batalha inspired many of the students to even ask questions during a Q+A session despite the auditorium being filled with other scientists.

Students preparing to enter the Director's Colloquium
After the Colloquium, the students were split into two different groups in order to cover more ground during the day. The students were to visit three different facilities before the day ended. One of the facilities that the students visited was the 20 G centrifuge. The centrifuge is a facility used to test equipment, animals, and human beings’ tolerance to increased g forces. The students all listened intently as one of the scientists from the centrifuge discussed the history and the many uses of the centrifuge.

Another one of the facilities was called the VMS or Vertical Motion Simulator. The simulator was used by astronauts, including Idaho’s own Barbara Morgan, to practice controlling the space shuttle when landing. With a full range of motion, the simulator is one of the most realistic experiences of flying, without ever actually lifting off. The students crowded up against the window on the viewing platform as the simulator moved and rotated throughout an 11-story structure. As they watched a live feed from within the simulator, the students could not help but feel envious as a pilot maneuvered a simulated tilt-rotor aircraft above Ames Research Center.

Although tired from a long day of travelling, the students were taken to the last facility of the day, the breath-takingly large 80x120 wind tunnel. This wind tunnel, the largest in the world, is 80 feet high by 120 feet wide and has been where NASA has tested such renowned technologies as the space shuttle, parachutes for rovers and shuttles, and even an F-18 Blue Angels jet. The students also found out that many of the chutes tested in the wind tunnel were also dropped over their own state of Idaho during further testing. The students were led into the wind tunnel by Dr. Bill Warmbrodt who emphasized that the most important mission a scientist can be a part of is inspiring and educating younger students. His stories about the wind tunnel brought many smiles to the students who were already feeling the effects of the long day.
Listening to Dr. Bill Warmbrodt

Students in front of the 80x120 intake

Immediately after visiting the wind tunnel, the students were taken to a 1/3 scale model of the space shuttle for a quick and professional photo opportunity. Here the teams were assembled by color, with their respective mentors, and finally with the other teams and mentors intermingled for a ISAS group picture before heading back to Navy Lodge.

Upon returning to Navy Lodge, the students came back happy and tired, ready to dive into the delicious plates of lasagna and salad provided by the staff. While eating, the students were joined by a panel of scientists from Ames with expert knowledge to share with the four teams to help design their mission. The students were able to interact with the scientists and use their experience to enhance their missions. Afterwards, the students were allowed free time to relax and unwind from the long day.

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  page, as well as to Twitterat ISAS_Academy. The students are eager to continue exploring Ames Research Center and have another busy day ahead of them.

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