NASA Hack Space: April 2011

Nancy Conrad visited McMoon's today at NASA Ames Research Center and stopped to have a look at the Titan 1 ICBM we are restoring/upgrading. Nancy's husband, legendary astronaut Pete Conrad, flew on a Titan II - twice - on Gemini 5 and 11. We are enlisting students in our restoration project - so you know that Nancy is interested! Nancy is at Ames for the Conrad Foundation Spirit of Innovation Awards which start tomorrow. Larger image

"Three prototype Cornell-developed, fingernail-sized satellites -- collecting the solar wind's chemistry, radiation and particle-impact data -- will be mounted on the International Space Station after the space shuttle Endeavour delivers them on its final flight, which is scheduled to launch at 3:47 p.m. EDT on Friday, April 29. The thin, 1-inch-square chips, named "Sprite," in development for three years in the lab of Mason Peck, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, will be mounted to the Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE-8) pallet. The pallet will be attached to the space station, exposing the chips to the harsh conditions of space to see how they hold up and transmit data." More

Space Shuttle Endeavour's Final Launch Inspires Hands-on Public Engagement

"When Space Shuttle Endeavour makes its final trip into space it will be under the watchful eye of a high altitude balloon built and flown by students and volunteers from across the U.S. This will be the second flight of a camera-equipped payload, the first having been successfully flown during in February 2011 when images were obtained of Space Shuttle Discovery's launch from a vantage point of over 100,000 feet. This balloon mission will be conducted by Quest for Stars, a non profit educational organization, in coordination with the Challenger Center for Space Science Education and the Coalition for Space Exploration."

Students and educators nationwide will have the opportunity to interact with NASA engineers and scientists through two newly developed NASA flight initiatives. The programs, developed at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, are designed to give students and educators hands-on flight experiences using NASA sounding rockets and scientific balloons.

NASA Hosts Conrad Foundation's 2011 Spirit of Innovation Awards

"Young innovators from across America are invited to solve the challenges of the 21st century by creating breakthrough technologies at the Conrad Foundation's 2011 Innovation Summit. The Summit will be held at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., on April 28-May 1, 2011. This year's categories for team entries are: aerospace exploration, clean energy and cyber security."

Budget crunch mothballs telescopes built to search for alien signals, Scientific American

"The hunt for extraterrestrial life just lost one of its best tools. The Allen Telescope Array (ATA), a field of radio dishes in rural northern California built to seek out transmissions from distant alien civilizations, has been shuttered, at least temporarily, as its operators scramble to find a way to continue to fund it. In an April 22 letter to donors, Tom Pierson, CEO of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., explained that the ATA has been put into "hibernation," meaning that "starting this week, the equipment is unavailable for normal observations and is being maintained in a safe state by a significantly reduced staff." The ATA is a partnership between the SETI Institute, which is responsible for building the telescope array, and the University of California, Berkeley, which is responsible for operating it."

Challenger Center for Space Science Education (Challenger Center), the nation's premier provider of science education inspiration, is marking its 25th anniversary with the launch of its "Challenger Changed My Life" program to highlight its life-transforming benefits for students. The non-profit organization was founded on April 24, 1986 in tribute to the seven fallen astronauts of the Challenger Space Shuttle and their education mission. With the ongoing support of the astronauts' families, NASA, leading scientists, business leaders, educators and the nation, Challenger Center continues its vital role in STEM (science technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. Since its creation, its nationwide network of Challenger Learning Centers has served more than 4,000,000 students with simulated space missions and powerful STEM-focused learning experiences.

Singapore's first indigenous micro-satellite, X-SAT, lifted off on board India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle PSLV-C16 at 10.12am Indian Standard Time (12.42pm, Singapore time) on 20 April 2011. The X-SAT, developed and built by Singapore's Nanyang Technological University (NTU), in collaboration with DSO National Laboratories, was launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh, India. The wholly made-in-Singapore satellite was one of the two "piggyback" mission satellites loaded on the PSLV-C16 rocket owned by the Indian Space Research Organisation. The PSLV-C16 successfully inserted the X-SAT into its planned orbit around the Earth.

Moon Express Inc., a privately funded lunar transportation and data services company, and CrowdOptic, a revolutionary new technology that places text "captions" on objects in real time while they're in motion, today announced that Moon Express has deployed CrowdOptic to enhance the launch and tracking of its lunar lander technology tests carried on the Airship Eureka.

"Physics teachers from Bergen County Technical High School - Paramus campus, NJ, along with Project Aether's Ben Longmier (, hold a physics lesson from 75,000 ft. With coordination from the FAA, the high school student high altitude weather balloon was released from the NASCAR Pocono Raceway on Apr 8 at 11:15am." More.

"As part of the NASA Open Government plan released on April 7,201 0, NASA announced more than 150 milestones related to integrating Open Government into the agencies programs and projects. To celebrate the one year anniversary of our plan, we've released a new infographic to communicate our first year of progress toward becoming more transparent, participatory, and collaborative. While we've set high goals, we're committed to incorporating open government into every facet of our mission. We have made great progress in some areas; others have taken longer than we anticipated and extra time is required to fully realize the goals. We hope this will clearly communicate our progress and keep you informed of new and exciting things within NASA. All of these goals are fluid - you'll see growth and movement as we work to determine the best path toward openness. If you have any questions or comments, we encourage you to visit our new NASA Open Government Initiative website at and share your ideas."

View the project status infographic.

We're hosting an imromptu webcast for the NASA Make Challenge next Tuesday! Dale Dougherty hosts: The NASA Make Challenge is an invitation for makers to participate in the exploration of space and give students an opportunity to build an experimental kit that can be flown on a future space flight. These experiments will be based on the CubeSat modules. To help makers think about building kits for space flight, we'll bring together some experts who have developed and used the Cubesat program.

Wednesday April 19th, 11am PT/2pm ET

Watch at or on UStream Please join us in the UStream chat to interact live with the show.

We need your vote! The annual Spirit of Innovation Awards is kicking off a two-week People's Choice competition ( that challenges high school students to solve real-world problems by creating commercially viable science and technology based products. 27 teams of high school students have created unique inventions in the categories of aerospace exploration, clean energy, and cyber security. From Space Sleeping Pods to Solar Wind Power Generators to Parabolic Stoves and mobile apps that signal for help during times of duress, the 2011 Spirit of Innovation Awards high school student competitors have risen to the challenge and need your vote.

Amateur astronomers, including Nick James of Chelmsford, Essex, England, have captured video of the interesting object. James generated his video of GP59 on the night of Monday, April 11. The video, captured with an 11-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, is a compilation of 137 individual frames, each requiring 30 seconds of exposure. At the time, the asteroid was approximately 3,356,000 kilometers (2,081,000 miles) distant. Since then, the space rock has become something of a darling of the amateur astronomy community, with many videos available. Here is one recent posting:

Dynetics announced today that FASTSAT-HSV01 has successfully completed scheduled science operations for multiple payloads. Mission operations are managed and controlled at NASA's Huntsville Operations Support Center in Huntsville, Ala. FASTSAT is a commercial satellite developed by Dynetics in partnership with the Von Braun Center for Science & Innovation (VCSI) and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville for the Department of Defense Space Test Program (DoD STP).

"What do you get when you cross a WorldWide Telescope with a Kinect motion-sensing game controller? You get the "universe at your fingertips," according to Microsoft Research's Curtis Wong, who demonstrated the gesture-controlled cosmos today at the MIX11 conference in Las Vegas. Actually, having the universe at your fingertips is how Wong has thought of the freely available WorldWide Telescope project since it was first unveiled in 2008. The software, which is freely available through a Web-based interface and as a standalone program, displays the night sky and lets users zoom in on cosmic imagery from a wide variety of sources. You can even go on 3-D fly-throughs of distant galaxies, or create your own tours of celestial hot spots." More by Alan Boyle at MSNBC

When people think of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), they envision activities like camping, knot-tying, and canoeing, but soon, they'll need to add robot-building to that list. Scouts in 2011, through the introduction of the Robotics merit badge, now have the opportunity to design, build, and demonstrate a robot of their own creation.

The Robotics merit badge is part of the BSA's new curriculum emphasis on STEM: science, technology, engineering, and math. The BSA focus on STEM takes a fun, adventurous approach to helping Scouts develop critical skills that are relevant and needed in today's competitive world. The new merit badge is one of 31 STEM-related merit badges that Scouts can earn.

"NASA Ames Research Center is hereby soliciting information about potential sources for the design/build of the rehabilitation of Hangar 1, a historic property located at Moffett Field, California. The hangar is currently undergoing environmental clean up to remove hazardous materials. The remediation of environmental contamination and the removal of hazardous material are being undertaken by the US Navy. At the conclusion of the Navy's environmental cleanup, the hangar will be returned to NASA as a structure free of hazardous materials, but without the exterior siding, roof, and windows. NASA's intent is to rehabilitate the hangar with new metal siding, restore the historic windows, install a new roof on the upper crown of the hangar and return the hangar to a state of usefulness. The estimated cost is over $25,000,000." More

Internal NASA memo: "Out in the open field at the new Morpheus launch pad. West of JSC Building 14. If all goes well and there is no Govt. shutdown, the series of test firings may begin sometime Monday. The rocket engine burns methane and oxygen and is pressurized with helium. Note the ground restraint straps to keep it from "wandering." This constraint is necessary since there is no active flight control system installed yet. There is ES Div. engineering support to this program, but very little publicity." More

For the second consecutive year, high school students from across Australia joined in a competition to obtain scientifically useful (and aesthetically pleasing) images using the Gemini Observatory. The 2010 winning student team suggested that Gemini focus on an interacting galaxy pair which, they assured, "would be more than just a pretty picture." The spectacular result of this contest, organized by the Australian Gemini Office (AusGO), can be seen at

Eighty students from community colleges in 28 states and Puerto Rico have been selected to travel to a NASA center to develop robotic rovers. The National Community College Aerospace Scholars program encourages students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

Baruch Blumberg Passes Away, David Morrison, SETI Institute

"I was privileged to have lunch with Barry the day he died. He was attending a conference at Ames discussing exploration planning and its relationships with science and education. He presented a paper on the value of citizen science, where thousands of ordinary people can contribute significantly to science while also enjoying themselves in working with real spacecraft data, such as the high-resolution images now being received from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter."

Baruch Samuel Blumberg 1925-2011, earlier post

Virtual Swarms within a Sensor Network

Exploration of remote planetary surfaces has been limited to few humans and singular robotic vehicles thus severely limiting the range and duration of expeditions. NASA has proposed an exploratory airplane for MARS that would extend the range but removes the robot from surface contact and still presents a singular view. A sensor network, a distribution of a large number of connected, capable devices distributed over a region, could extend the range of exploration without the requirement for mobility. Conventional sensor network design is limited to a sense and send scenario where individual devices periodically sense the environment and send information through a multi-hop network of others to the central controller. However, a much more complex mission could be accomplished by a "virtual swarm" over the distribution. While the individual devices remain fixed, the application could move around the network as required to complete the mission. To take full advantage of the architecture and achieve maximum success, the application must adapt to unforeseen circumstances presented by the environment. More

Autonomous Robotic Swarms for Planetary Exploration

NASA has proposed an exploratory airplane for MARS that would extend the range but removes the robot from surface contact and still presents a singular view. A flying swarm of a large number of smaller vehicles, operating autonomously yet cooperatively, could extend the exploration range while maintaining direct surface contact as the swarm "hops" from point to point. Such a design has the added benefit that individual failure would not condemn the mission to fail (e.g., 80% of individuals could fail with 100% mission success). A swarm design presents new problems such as how the swarm will effectively fly in formation and how the swarm will determine course of action. Because much the environment is unknown, the swarm must adapt to unforeseen situations. Centralized control and predetermined script execution is likely not practical. Without directions from a central controller, individual members of the swarm are limited to local observations and communication with neighboring members. From these observations, individuals must make autonomous decisions and take individual action. From these actions, a behavior emerges. Thus, the challenge is to design the swarm for desired emergent behavior. NASA seeks a demonstration of true autonomy in formation flying of a swarm and in decisions on actions of the swarm to complete an exploratory mission. More

We performed an image search on Yahoo for "Comet Holmes" on 2010 April 1. Thousands of images were returned. We astrometrically calibrated---and therefore vetted---the images using the system. The calibrated image pointings form a set of data points to which we can fit a test-particle orbit in the Solar System, marginalizing out image dates and catching outliers. The approach is Bayesian and the model is, in essence, a model of how comet astrophotographers point their instruments.