Wednesday, July 25, 2012

ISAS 2012 Academy 2: Day 4

Dana Backman stood at the front of the auditorium waiting to give his presentation. The scholars filed in and found their seat. This was their activity of the day after breakfast at the hotel and a walk to Ames. Backman is not only a NASA astronomer, but is also in charge of education and outreach for the stratospheric observatory for infrared astronomy (SOFIA). SOFIA is NASA's 747 Boeing, purchased used, from American Airlines. SOFIA is fitted with a 17-ton, 100 inch diameter infrared telescope. Its purpose is to study star and planet formation, organic compounds in space, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, atmospheres, ring and moons in the outer solar system, comets and near earth asteroids and much more. SOFIA's observatory is operational between 39,000 feet and 45,000 feet, barely above the average height of a commercial airline. Through out his presentation, students asked handfuls of questions. 

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. 

At the psychoanalytical lab, the students were given a thorough rundown on the tests astronauts have to pass in order to be cleared for launch and after landing

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.

Students were given a chance to take a big group picture before entering the 80 x 120 windtunnel

Brian Day was the next speaker. Lecturing in the same auditorium the students were in this morning for Dana Backman'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.

The next even today was one of the highest anticipated events of the trip. The students were taken to the breath-taking 80x120 wind tunnel. This wind tunnel, the largest in the world, is 80 feet high by 120 feet wide and it has been where NASA has tested many objects such as: shuttle parachutes, shuttle models, 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 also allowed to go into the wind tunnel as well as witness how the wind tunnel functioned both by itself and with the attached 40x80 wind tunnel.  Students and staff then had group photos taken professionally and got the choice between either taking some time to relax and play volleyball, or go see a robotics demonstration. 

Truly a breathtaking sight, the 80x120 wind tunnel has been the site for much aerospace testing

The final event at Ames was a way to remember the past two days. Students lined up in front of a 1/3 scale model space shuttle for photos. In all of their team colors it was quite a site to behold. 

It was then time for a sack lunch and off to the airport. The students will be back to Boise State late tonight. They have one layover in Seattle first, though. Security checks through the San Jose airport went smoothly, and regardless of a delayed flight to Seattle, students will only be back a little bit late. 

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.

-- Heidi Hughes, Jaime Guevara -- 

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