Wednesday, July 11, 2012

ISAS 2012 Academy 1: Day 4

Today marked day four for the Idaho Science and Aerospace Scholar Program. After yesterday's full day of an early start, plane flight, and hikes across NASA Ames Research Center in order to learn from scientists, students shuffled down the hotel halls to the continental breakfast. They scooped up their eggs, sausage and other eateries and slumped into the chairs, however, after leaving the hotel and taking a brisk walk against the Bay Area air, the students were awake and ready for the very first part of their NASA day, a lecture from Chris McKay, NASA space scientist. 

"There are three things to consider when considering missions to Mars", Dr. McKay began his speech to the students, "those are the past, present and future". The lecture continued for an hour in one of NASA Ames' auditoriums. Topics discussed included: the importance of studying Mars, it's possibility -- or maybe even lack thereof -- to one day become a human habitable planet, current Mars missions and explorations, and what the theorized and potential history of the "Red Planet" may have been like if it might have once supported life. Intertwined between these topics, students were able to approach Chris McKay with questions about their mission projects and their aspect of the manned Mars mission. In his NASA Ames's biography he explains, "My research focuses on the evolution of the solar system and the origin of life. I'm also actively involved in planning for future Mars missions including human exploration." Indeed, after his lesson today, the students were able to better understand how great his expertise on their topic of study is. 

The teams were then able to split up in their normal combinations--green with white and red with blue--to see the Mars Wind Tunnel and the Psychoanalytical Lab. The wind tunnel group began by meeting up with another NASA scientist who explained the concept of this smaller wind tunnel. This wind tunnel is located inside of the Tower Test Chamber. When testing a model vehicle of something that would be used on Mars, the model would be placed in the wind tunnel, with various kinds of dust, then the pressure in the Tower Test Chamber would be set to that of Mars, and the wind chamber would start, blowing the dust. This experiment allows the scientists and engineers to see how Mars' atmospheric pressure mixed with the dust would impact, and possibly harm, the equipment if really used on the planet. Students were able to look through the wind tunnel and see what kind of special dust mixture is regularly used. 

Over in the Psychoanalytical Lab students got to hear about a NASA developed treatment, now licensed to another company on how to help astronauts who struggle with a different kind of motion sickness. Motion sickness in space, while exhibited the same way, is worse and slightly different than that demonstrated on people here on Earth. The students were able to hear about a form of treatment that almost always helped alleviate this issue, not only in astronauts experiencing motion sickness, but in people with severe inner ear problems, anxiety, and other problems of the sort where controlling one's symptoms is helpful. "The point of this treatment," the research psychologist, Dr. William B. Toscano said, "isn't to get rid of the problem. We don't know how to do that yet. It's to help suppress the symptoms". The students watched a movie showing some of the treatments and were able to ask a few questions. 

With half of their day completed, it was now time for a burrito lunch in Mega Bites, the Ames cafeteria, and a last time to purchase from the gift shop before heading out to the next venue.

Brian Day was the next speaker. Lecturing in the same auditorium the students were in this morning for Dr. McKay's time, the students now got to hear about the moon and the current scientific understandings of it, as well as its dichotomy to what was once understood. Within his time, he discussed the origins of the moon. Other things discussed included the moon's water content and newly discovered atmosphere. This served to probably give the students some insight as to a possible use of the moon as a sort of "checkpoint" for future Mars missions, if they so chose.

Following Brian Day's lecture, the students were taken to the flight simulator. Here the flight simulation allowed students to enter an area known as the “cab” and sit in seats identical to that of popular Boeing planes. Students were allowed to take off, land, and fly the “plane” through the great San Francisco bay. Some students even attempted to fly the simulation under the Golden Gate Bridge. The programming of the simulation was so realistic most students confessed they really felt like or even thought they were moving.

The concluding activity of the day was the much anticipated, and somewhat famous, Fluid Dynamics Lab. This lab contains several smaller wind tunnels, similar to the one that students were able to walk inside of yesterday, as well as a small water channel. The majority of these tools have been used by the popular television show on the Discovery channel, MythBusters. The primary use for the wind tunnels, however, is to simulate the air currents around an aircraft in flight by using scaled models. The NASA Glenn website describes the function of a wind tunnel as the following, “In the wind tunnel, the aeronautical engineer can control the conditions that affect the forces and motion of the aircraft. By making careful measurements of the forces on a model of the aircraft. the engineer can determine the magnitude of the forces on the real, full-size aircraft. The wind tunnel model can also be used for diagnostics to make a detailed determination of how the air moves around or through the aircraft”. The water channel uses a similar process but by placing the model in the water and adding a fluorescent dye, scientists can tell almost exactly what the air patterns would be in a real scenario, this is because both air and water are both fluids.

After the tour, the students headed back to the visitor center for one last surprise trip through the gift shop. It was then time for them to grab sack dinners at the hotel and departure for the airport. The students should be arriving back in Boise tonight by 11:30 PM MST.  

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 work on their missions as they prepare for an extensive tour of Micron tomorrow.

-- Heidi Hughes, Jaime Guevara --

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