Tuesday, July 24, 2012

ISAS 2012 Academy 2: Day 3

NASA Ames would probably be described by most as the opposite of an amusement park. The buildings' drab facades look nothing like the bursts of color seen across Lagoon and Silver Wood. There are no bustling tourists packing around stuffed bags of souvenirs. The two gift stores on the large campus are small and the merchandise is limited. Regardless of all that, few would ever guess the giddy excitement bursting from the students on the flight to California were on a trip to a research center, not Disney Land or Six Flags, but as the plane touched down in San Jose this morning, the scholars were overflowing with questions and excitement about what was to come. 
Students began their day by waiting for their flight to San Jose, California

After dropping off luggage at the hotel, it was time for the visitors center, lunch at NASA Ames's cafeteria, and finally the beginning of touring. The first thing on the schedule was the 20G Centrifuge. As students walked into the same building that houses the centrifuge, its whirring and spinning could be heard through the wall. The students crowded around the windows that displayed the contraption. As it whipped in circles they gazed in. NASA Ames's centrifuge was designed to go up to 20G's, however no human has ever gone that fast. The average recorded speed for a human payload is 12.5G's. NASA is sure to make sure that it's not forgotten humans aren't the only thing that has stood the centrifuge's spin, though. Other payloads include plants, animals, cells, hardware and flight systems. Then the centrifuge slowed. It's spinning came to a gradual halt. The students were then able to enter the room and climb onto it. Time soon ended, though and it was time to move to the next exhibit.

The students were met in the lobby of The Simulation Lab by an intern. She explained it's the building that houses all of the vertical motion simulators. These devices are designed to mimic what it would be like to fly a space shuttle, helicopter, or similar aircrafts. They consist of the cab, or the main portion that holds the cockpit. It has a computer monitor that is designed to look like the windshield. Programmers make this monitor show highly realistic representations of what it would look like to actually fly the aircraft. The cab is placed on a series of hydrolic actuators. These are used to move the cab around so that the pilot training in the VMS is tricked into thinking she is actually flying. 
The teams were able to see the centrifuge where astronauts get put to the test before launch
NASA scientist, David Blake, claims when he first started at Ames he knew almost nothing about space. Indeed, his degrees include a Bachelors of Science in biology and several Bachelors, Masters, and PhD's in Geology, however no one would know the difference after the Director's Colloquium he presented to NASA employees, interns and ISAS students today. It was especially convenient for the students who are working on their mission to Mars that the entirety of his lecture was focused on the instruments on the Mars Science Laboratory. The Idaho group was able to arrive early and ask Doctor Blake questions. He was blown away by the advance level of questions these high school juniors were asking him.

The next activity was really was like Disney Land for many of the students. Earlier in the day they saw the vertical motion simulators, this time they were able to see the Boeing 747 simulator. It is set up nearly exactly the same as the VMS, except this one is around eleven feet off the ground, and is active. Many students were able to drive the airplane. Students tensed their legs, because the programming on the monitor seemed so realistic. The motion of the cab was even off, yet it still felt like flying a real airplane. 

This flight simulator made the students allowed the students to exactly what pilots feel everyday
The activity after that for many was similar to walking in the same steps as their favorite celebrity. The scholars were able to go to the Fluids Dynamic Lab. This lab is where Ames's smaller wind tunnels are. These are the same wind tunnels that are consistently being used by the popular Discovery channel television show, Myth Busters. There they test how different items are impacted by wind currents. It demonstrates the aerodynamics of the items. There was also the water version. Items are placed in a tunnel that is similar to a wind tunnel but instead used water instead of air.
After this long day, it was then time for dinner. Students chowed down on lasagna and chicken. After they finished, all the tables were cleared and the chairs were moved in set up for the NASA scientist questions and answer session. A panel of four scientists and one educator gathered to let the students ask whatever questions they would like. Questions ranged from pure curiosities on space and science to specific applications of their Mars project.

It was finally time to head back to the hotel. Students slumped in the lobby couches, exhausted, as they waited to receive their room key. After short debriefs by all the groups, all the students headed to their rooms to crash for the night.

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 have established themselves as mission control and are now ready for the trip to Ames Research Center.

- Heidi Hughes, Jaime Guevara -  

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