educator astronaut candidates pose in front of the Space Shuttle Enterprise at
the National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Va.|
Trip to Headquarters, Goddard Space Flight Center and Glenn Research Center
September 13 - 17,
the course of the next year, we will be touring the NASA Centers. NASA does more
than human space flight. We are visiting the Centers to learn more about the research
being conducted "to understand and protect our home planet, to explore the universe
and search for life, and to inspire the next generation of explorers."
Our first trip to a NASA Center started with Headquarters, located in Washington
D.C. Here we were introduced to the many people who run NASA. Whether they are
gaining support from lawmakers, creating budgets, designing educational materials,
or expanding scientific research, they are taking NASA forward to the Moon, Mars,
our second evening in D.C., we went to a celebration for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
(JPL) at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. We spoke with John Glenn who stood
not too far from the vehicle he rode in as the third American in space in 1962!
This historical moment took on a more significant meaning to me. Later in the
evening, we watched a video about the advancements JPL made in space science this
year. The rovers Spirit and Opportunity reached Mars in January, and they have
continued to send back amazing pictures and data. Of course we are very interested
in this data because it shows evidence of water, which could mean life existed
on its surface! In addition to the rovers, the Cassini probe reached Saturn and
will go on to explore its rings and moons, and Genesis recovered material from
the solar wind.
exploration doesn't just happen in space. On our third day of the trip, we ventured
to the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. At the Scientific Visualization
Studio, they take data from satellites such as Terra, Aqua, and Aura and turn
it into videos of what is happening on Earth. These videos can be used to track
storms, watch ocean temperatures change, and fight forest fires. We even wore
3D glasses to watch one of the videos! In a very large building, we saw where
they test equipment that will be going to space. They have chambers where they
"bake" the equipment at high temperatures, chambers for freezing the equipment,
and a room with a very large horn that creates sound at 150 decibels. Even with
very thick walls damping out the noise, the vibrations from this horn would give
you a very good shake! All of this extreme testing is necessary because the equipment
must work in the space environment where it is very hot and very cold. The vibration
testing is done to make sure that the equipment survives the trip to space, since
there are a lot of vibrations riding on a rocket. Our last stop brought a bit
of science fiction into reality. They are creating a robot to fix the Hubble Space
Telescope. I was impressed by all of the exciting science going on at this Center!
poses with NASA's astronaut class of 2004 at the National Air and Space Museum
in Chantilly, Va.
Goddard, we flew to Cleveland, Ohio, to the Center named after John Glenn-NASA's
Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field. At their materials and structures laboratory,
we saw large barrels that shoot ice and foam and are used to study the impact
of debris on the leading edge of the Space Shuttle's wing. Besides shooting ice,
Glenn scientists also study how ice develops on airplanes' wings as the planes
fly through clouds. We went inside the world's second-largest icing wind tunnel,
where researchers conduct experiments that keep pilots and passengers safe in
winter conditions. In the afternoon, we looked down a 510-foot chamber, in which,
after most of the air is removed, experiments are dropped to test how they behave
in the few seconds of zero-gravity created by this free-fall. Our last stop took
us to a laboratory, where scientists are experimenting with new forms of propulsion.
Hopefully, they will discover a way to make the trip to Mars shorter than three
went by so quickly; we met new friends, saw exciting equipment, and learned about
all sorts of experiments that are making the exploration vision possible. If you
have a NASA Center in your area, we recommend you go for a visit and watch the
future of space exploration for yourself.
The Astronaut Candidate Class of 2004