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For their Future Projects, NASA tests Underwater tools made by students

The U.S. space agency invited college students from around the country to design, build and test devices and tools that could be useful on future missions

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NASA
NASA Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory Astronaut Training Image source: Wikipedia

Scuba divers worked a crank on a metal box that soon sent up a cloud of dust from the pallet of gravel where the device was anchored. Watching them closely on control room monitors, Mathew, an engineering student from West Virginia University, provided instructions.

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“The only reference is the driver’s non-dominant hand should be grasping the handle on the side of the case,” he said, who is also the project manager for a team of West Virginia University.

T NASA selected 25 teams and invited them to Houston to test their creations.

Asteroid material sampling

The main mission for which these tools would be needed is NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, said NASA’s Microgravity Next Program Manager Trinesha Dixon.

“The Asteroid Redirect Mission is looking for solutions as to how the crew members might collect samples on an asteroid,” she said.

NASA plans to send an unmanned spacecraft to an asteroid in September to extract small samples for analysis. A mission with astronauts on board is planned for sometime after 2020, utilizing the Orion spacecraft, a model of which is in the Johnson Space Center training facility.

Aerial View of NASA. Image source: Wikipedia
Aerial View of NASA. Image source: Wikipedia

Dixon said part of the difficulty in designing tools for such a mission is that no one knows what kind of material will be found on an asteroid, how hard it will be to penetrate, and what kind of effect might be produced by drilling or chopping into it.

After divers returned their device at pool’s edge, the West Virginia University students took it back to the large hall where each team had a separate table. There, they took it apart and carefully cleaned all the parts, including the two augurs that would be utilized to drill into the surface of an asteroid and extract material. Coming from a state known for mining, the team initially modeled its device on mechanisms used in mines that clamp to a surface and hold the drill steady.

Mathew Morrow explained, “When astronauts visit an asteroid, they need a tool out on the asteroid that can anchor, to hook their tools to, so we chose that design challenge.”

NASA supplied criteria for five separate types of tools or devices and let the students use their creativity and knowledge of engineering to come up with designs. Once the designs were accepted, they then had to build a prototype for testing.

“This is all student driven,” said West Virginia University College of Engineering and Mineral Resources professor Thomas Evans, who accompanied the three-student team to Houston. “I was just the faculty adviser and mentored them and drove them to deliver a product on time so they could be down here.”

Their device worked even better than expected, according to Evans.

“It was exceptional! I think this team did a fantastic job,” he said.

Evans said the West Virginia University team benefited from frequent visits to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in the neighboring state of Maryland, where Mathew Morrow had an internship.

Ideas NASA can use for space tool development

The experience was exciting for the students involved, but they may also one day see some of the elements in their designs used in devices that astronauts employ in space.

NASA’s Dixon said, “We can take components from different tools, concepts that the student teams might come up with, and put them together in our conceptualization of that tool.”

In addition to that, she said, having such a program encourages students interested in space flight to continue their studies and possibly become part of NASA’s future workforce.

Mathew Morrow is one who has such hopes.

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“I am really hoping that there might be an opportunity there (NASA) or somewhere else in the space industry, whether it be in a private company or with the government,” he said.

Opportunities in the private sector for space engineers have diversified from being mainly contractors building rockets and other equipment for NASA to service companies with their own spacecraft that can ferry supplies to the International Space Station, and may one day take passengers into space and become involved in efforts to extract minerals and other resources from the moon, asteroids or other planets. (VOA)

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Ram Setu : Where Science meets Hindu religion, Science affirms but Congress Party denies

Science Channel affirms that Ram Setu was man made not natural, NASA released images

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Ram Setu
Ram Setu between India and Sri Lanka (Pic by NASA)
  • Science channel affirms that Ram Setu was man made not natural
  • In 2007 Congress Party submitted an affidavit in court saying Ram Setu is a myth

An American science channel on Tuesday affirmed on the existence of Ram Setu, saying that there exist evidence suggesting that the bridge connecting India and Sri Lanka was man-made not natural.

The Discovery Communications-produced show, “Ancient Land Bridge”, quotes American archaeologists to affirm that 30-mile line between India and Sri Lanka is made up of rocks that are 7,000 years old, older than the sandbar supporting them, which is approx 4,000 years old. The video claims that the structure is man made, not natural, citing images from a NASA satellite. Interestingly, the carbon dating of beaches near Dhanushkodi and Mannar Island sync with the date of Ramayana.

Ram Setu in Ramayana
Ram Setu (Satellite image by NASA)

The description of Ram Setu in Ramayana

In ‘Yuddha Kanda’ of the Ramayana, building of Ram Setu has been described. Rama Setu took 5 days to build by under the supervision of architects Neel and Nala. It is believed that Ram Setu is made of a chain of limestone shoals. It is 30 Km Long and 3 Km Wide. It Starts from Dhanushkodi tip of India’s Pamban Island and ends at Sri Lanka’s Mannar Island. Sea in these areas is very shallow. In Ramayana it is mentioned that the bridge was built by stones and these stone which floated on water by touch of Nala & Neel.

Ram Setu
Pic credit : Promo released by the US-based Science Channel

Politics on Ram Setu

Ram Setu is the historical and archeological evidence of Ramayana. The new findings by NASA have already sparked a political debate in the country with BJP leaders questioning the Congress’ previous stand where the party had told the Supreme Court that there was no historical proof that Lord Rama had ever existed. Congress party made u-turn and claimed they never questioned existence of Lora Ram. But In 2005, the UPA-1 government had proposed a shipping canal project that would have dredged the area and damaged the formation on sea, referred to as the Ram Setu by Hindus. The project was thus challenged by the BJP in the apex court.

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Responding on the new affirmations, Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju said, “This is what the BJP has been saying all along.” Firebrand BJP leader Subramanian Swamy said, “the US scientists said what was already know”. On Tuesday, Smriti Irani posted the trailer of the show on her Twitter account, saying, “Jai Shri Ram.”

Ram Setu is the national heritage of India and it must be preserved.

– by Shaurya Ritwik, Shaurya is Sub-Editor at NewsGram and writes on Geo-politcs, Culture, Indology and Business. Twitter Handle – @shauryaritwik

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NASA’s plan on getting Martian samples to Earth

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NASA brings Martian samples to Earth from Mars.
NASA brings Martian samples to Earth from Mars. IANS
  • NASA plans on getting Martian samples to Earth from Mars
  • To know if life existed anywhere other than on Earth

Washington, Dec 11: (IANS) NASA has revealed how it plans to bring back Martian samples to Earth for the first time with the help of its next rover mission to the Red Planet, Mars 2020.

After landing on Mars, a drill will capture rock cores, while a caching system with a miniature robotic arm will seal up these samples. Then, they will be deposited on the Martian surface for possible pickup by a future mission, NASA said.

“Whether life ever existed beyond Earth is one of the grand questions humans seek to answer,” said Ken Farley of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“What we learn from the samples collected during this mission has the potential to address whether we’re alone in the universe,” Farley said.

Mars 2020 relies heavily on the system designs and spare hardware previously created for Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover, which landed in 2012.

Despite its similarities to Mars Science Laboratory, the new mission has very different goals – it will seek signs of ancient life by studying the terrain that is now inhospitable, but once held flowing rivers and lakes, more than 3.5 billion years ago.

To achieve these new goals, the rover has a suite of cutting-edge science instruments.

It will seek out biosignatures on a microbial scale.

An X-ray spectrometer will target spots as small as a grain of table salt, while an ultraviolet laser will detect the “glow” from excited rings of carbon atoms.

A ground-penetrating radar will look under the surface of Mars, mapping layers of rock, water and ice up to 10 metres deep, depending on the material.

The rover is getting some upgraded Curiosity hardware, including colour cameras, a zoom lens and a laser that can vaporise rocks and soil to analyse their chemistry, NASA said.

The mission will also undertake a marathon sample hunt.

The rover team will try to drill at least 20 rock cores, and possibly as many as 30 or 40, for possible future return to Earth, NASA said.

Site selection has been another milestone for the mission. In February, the science community narrowed the list of potential landing sites from eight to three.

All three sites have rich geology and may potentially harbour signs of past microbial life. But a final landing site decision is still more than a year away.

“In the coming years, the 2020 science team will be weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each of these sites,” Farley said.

“It is by far the most important decision we have ahead of us,” Farley said.

The mission is set to launch in July/August 2020. (IANS)

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NASA’s human ‘computer’ is still working at age 80

Sue Finely calculated rocket trajectories by hand

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Sue Finley still works at NASA
Sue Finley, 80, is still working at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. She started there in 1958 as a human "computer," calculating trajectories for rockets. VOA

Sue Finley, now 80 years old and NASA’s longest-serving female employee, recalls her early days with the space agency when she worked as a human “computer,” calculating rocket trajectories by hand at a time when computers were huge and expensive to operate.

Finley arrived at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, in January 1958, one week before the U.S. Army launched Explorer 1, America’s first earth satellite.

“It was a very big deal,” she recalls of the launch, a response to the launches a few months earlier of the first satellites, Sputnik 1 and 2, from the former Soviet Union.

She was at JPL for Pioneer 1, the first satellite sent aloft by the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in late 1958, which marked the beginning of the international space race.

Unmanned space probes

Since then, Finley has had a role in nearly every U.S. unmanned space probe, and some missions of other nations.

There were failures to overcome and spectacular successes, but always new goals as scientists expanded our knowledge of the earth and solar system.

“We were certainly proud,” she says of NASA accomplishments, “but you just go to the next thing.”

Finley has been through several career changes with the space agency, one of the most important when NASA phased out human computers, moving, initially, to simple electronic versions.

“We got little tiny computers,” she recalls. “One I had 16 wires, jumper cables to code with. One had 10 pegboards that you programmed with.”

As modern computers took over navigational tasks, Finley developed and tested software as a subsystem engineer.

Among her career highlights: the Vega mission, a Soviet-French collaboration with Venus, and Halley’s Comet, which received navigational help from NASA and dropped balloons into the atmosphere of Venus.

She had to change the software for the antenna that tracked the mission, “and it worked,” Finley recalls. “Everything worked. That’s what was so exciting!”

Finley has worked since 1980 on NASA’s Deep Space Network, which coordinates satellite facilities in California, Spain and Australia that allow communication with space probes.

Highlights of NASA career

Career highlights include developing software that generates audio tones sent back from spacecraft, informing engineers on the ground what is happening in space. It was first developed for the Mars missions.

Each tone has a meaning that communicates data, noted one of Finley’s colleagues, Stephen Lichten.

“If a parachute opened, it would send a tone,” Lichten, manager for special projects for the Deep Space Network, said.

“The spacecraft lets go of its heat shield, and it would send a different tone, and so engineers like Sue were here listening for those special frequencies which told them the spacecraft was telling them what it has just done,” he said.

He notes that Finley also helped develop communication arrays that combine multiple antennas to act in unison and other advances that now crucial to space missions.

Lichten once shared an office with Finley and says she inspired her younger colleagues.

“There was a parade of people coming in constantly, to ask her advice, to ask her questions,” he recalls. “This was during the Venus balloon mission days and I realized that Sue was regarded as sort of a guru at JPL.”

Finley has been involved with nearly every advance in space communications in recent decades, and she continues her work today, Lichten said.

There are many more women at NASA today than there were when she started, and Finley said she tells young women to be inquisitive.

“I tell them to never be afraid to ask questions, never be afraid to say you don’t know,” she said.

After nearly six decades at the space agency, a mother of two grown sons and a mentor to her colleagues, Finley has no plans of retiring.

“There’s nothing else I want to do,” she said. “And so far, they need me.”

As they have since the earliest days of the space agency. (VOA)