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Home | Tag Archives: nasa (page 2)

Tag Archives: nasa

Amy’s Everyday Astronomy: To the Moon and Beyond

Earlier this week, NASA Chief Bridenstine met with the Senate to assure them that Space Directive One, as laid out earlier this year by President Trump was well underway.

During this meeting, he explained that low Earth orbit needs to be driven by commercial enterprise. “And that’s underway right now.”

To accomplish this, NASA plans to use “Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLIPS).” This would give commercial companies the opportunity to land on the moon and NASA will become a paying customer of that. This falls in line with a recent announcement by SpaceX.

The company stated that should development and testing of the BFR (Big Falcon Rocket) go smoothly, they have plans to launch the first orbital flights of the 100-passenger spaceship by 2020 or 2021 at the earliest.

NASA’s next plan will be heavier landers capable of heavier payloads as well as prospectors, “…things that can dig,” said Bridenstine. “We know from NASA’s achievements back from 2008 and 2009, we know that there are potentially hundreds of billions of tons of water ice on the moon. Beyond that we need heavier landers that can take humans to the moon.”

Parallel to this plan, SpaceX also recently entered into a contract with iSpace. This Japanese start-up company is set to launch its lunar lander and mini-rovers aboard the Falcon 9 rockets in 2020 and 2021.

In time, iSpace hopes to set up a robotic lunar transportation service in order to use its rovers to help identify and exploit the potential resources available on the moon.

Further, NASA plans to use Tugs (commercial spacecraft like the Falcon 9) that go from low earth orbit to the Gateway, and from the gateway to the surface of the moon.

“These become a critical part of the infrastructure that can be used to capitalize on, with the commercial partners and international partners,” Bridenstine said. The potential of the Gateway is exciting because it gives more access to more parts of the solar system than ever before.

To help best utilize the new NASA budget for these initiatives, Bridenstine stated “Under the president’s budget request, the International Space Station will no longer receive direct support in the year 2025.”

Meanwhile, SpaceX has been planning a similar venture starting with a mission called #dearMoon that could lift off by 2023 on a week-long journey around the moon and back again. This first lunar flight would have the first paying passengers on board: Japanese billionaire, Yusaku Maezawa as well as six to eight artists.

The company is also planning to establish a base on the moon by 2028.

One of the ideas for a lunar base or permanent settlement being considered is the potential for something below the lunar surface. Staying below the surface could give the possible benefit of better protection from harmful solar radiation than anything man-made above ground.

To explore the viability of this, scientists have been practicing at Lava Beds National Monument in California. During their time in the lava tubes, three types of portable technologies are being evaluated: ground-penetrating radar, a magnetometer, and a gravimeter. Hopefully these evaluations will help future lunar settlers map lava tubes from the surface in order gauge the stability of each prior to entering.

Once we have mastered how to survive and build on the moon, we can begin moving on to other worlds like Mars. Especially since launching from the moon requires far less fuel to reach escape velocity.

And with both NASA and SpaceX aiming for the moon within the next decade, establishing a base on Mars seems more like more science fact than science fiction.


To read Amy’s previous stories, click here.

Bel Air High School Selects NASA Manager As Honored Ex for Homecoming

On Wednesday, Bel Air High School officials announced Christopher Carson, Highlander Class of 1986, as the Brenda Sandoval Honored Ex for 2018.

Of Carson, Bel Air school officials said, “His life exemplifies all that Bel Air expects from its graduates: a call to service, independence and responsibility.”

Carson, a graduate of the class of 1986, served as an airman with the United States Air Force. While serving our country, both here and abroad, he earned his degree in Engineering from New Mexico State University. He went on to work in the private sector for Boeing and the Hughes Corporation before accepting a position at NASA.

Carson also received his Masters degree from NMSU. He has continued to give back to his community as a guest presenter at various student career days, even here at Ysleta ISD.

Carson currently holds the title of Flight Integration Manager with NASA, which means that if you want to put a satellite into space, you need to talk to him.

He is married to another Bel Air alum, Beth Bailey and they have 3 beautiful daughters.

Click here to see a list of Homecoming activities.

NASA Chief Plans to Send Astronauts Back to the Moon

On the heels of a press conference regarding the proposed Space Force held earlier this month by Vice President, Mike Pence, NASA Chief, Jim Bridenstine announced his plan to send astronauts back to the moon…to stay.

Humans haven’t stepped foot on the moon since December 1972, and Bridenstine feels that’s far too long.

“If you go back to 2009, the United States, through NASA, made a critical discovery, which is the moon has hundreds of billions of tons of water ice. To me, that should have changed our direction immediately,” he said. “From 1969, when we first landed on the moon, up until 2009, a lot of people believed that the moon was bone-dry. So, the question is — during those 40 years, we missed that. What else have we missed?”

Water ice is exciting! Not just for the consumption of astronauts stationed on a future moon base, but as a possible fuel source. Because water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen, the hydrogen can potentially be extracted and used as a propellant for spacecraft.

Bridenstine also said he sees the moon as a way forward to points farther out in the solar system, and he’s not wrong. With the lack of atmospheric drag and lower gravity of the moon, spacecraft would need far less fuel to escape the lunar surface. This makes it an ideal launching platform to venture out to other worlds, like Mars.

But there are other benefits to lunar bases, as well.

“I think a lot of people miss the fact that the moon represents an amazing proving ground for all of the technologies and the human-performance capabilities that are necessary to survive on another planet and the ability to develop in-situ utilization abilities,” Bridenstine said.

What, exactly, are the newly appointed NASA Chief’s plans?

According to Bridenstine, the key is in building “Gateways”— small platforms in lunar orbit that will serve as outposts or transport points.

“The [first] Gateway is going to be in a near-rectilinear halo orbit. It is not optimum for getting to the surface of the moon, but it enables with a very low propulsion capability — we’re talking about solar electric propulsion — it enables us to stay in that orbit for a very, very long period of time,” Bridenstine said.

And that’s not all. Bridenstine sees potential for international use, both commercial and scientific, of these “Gateways.”

“What we want to do is enable more people to have access to the lunar surface than ever before and more people to have access to lunar orbit than ever before,” he said. “The interfaces we have on Gateway, whether it is power or docking, it is all going to be published on the internet.”

The NASA Chief made it clear, though, that the Gateway wouldn’t be another ISS. Rather, it would only be able to support humans for 30-60-day science missions, but not meant to house a permanent crew.

For more permanent settlements, like lunar bases, there is huge potential.

Recently, the European Space Agency announced their “lunar masonry” studies that are exploring the possibility of using dust from the moon’s surface as a building material for bases and other settlements on the surface.

Because the moon’s surface is made of basaltic material called silicates, ESA officials and researchers are analyzing volcanic material near Cologne, Germany that is a close match for lunar dust. And because lunar soil is made of 40% oxygen, researchers are also studying how to extract it for use by astronauts to extend their stays on the moon.

NASA has even been testing and improving on the powerful RS-25 engine designed 40 years ago to power the space shuttles.

When adding all these ideas and tests together the timing seems right for American’s to, once again, pioneer a new frontier.

Op-Ed: Space Force an Unlikely Idea Best Left in the Hangar

To some, the idea of a Space Force might seem exciting, especially being locked to Earth as America has become since the Shuttle program was retired on August 31, 2011.

Since that time, we have been hitching rides aboard rockets of other countries to continue working aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Recently, space has become an exciting adventure once again with several successful launches of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and the beautiful return of its boosters to the landing pad.

So, it seems natural that the idea of a government funded Space Force would spark the imagination, until you read the fine print.

Earlier this month, Vice President Mike Pence held a press conference outlining the reasoning behind and the steps necessary to develop a Space Force as a new branch of the military.

His speech started off by talking of three new space policy directives signed by President Trump that “will reorient our space program toward exploration, unleash America’s burgeoning commercial space companies, and safeguard our vital space assets with a new space traffic management policy.”

For a brief minute, this might bring to light thoughts of the continued search for habitability on other worlds, alien life in any form, or even astro-mining for resources outside the confines of Earth. But then, Pence goes on to talk about the highest priority of the Space Force being the “safety and security of the American people” from “growing security threats emerging in space.”

Just after the second world war ended, the Air Force was created as its own branch of the military to ensure our dominance in the air. This is the reasoning behind the push for a Space Force, according to Pence. “Space is a warfighting domain just like land and air and sea,” he says.

Suddenly, the paranoia starts with some people wondering about what threats from space he could be talking about. Clips from movies like Independence Day start auto-playing in the mind.

According to the Trump Administration, the space environment has fundamentally changed from what was once peaceful and uncontested, to crowded and adversarial, with other countries seeking to disrupt our space base systems and challenge America’s supremacy in space as never before.

The Vice President talks of Russian missiles that can be launched mid-flight and China destroying one of its own satellites, and then proposes that these countries MAY target our satellites.

So, no attack from aliens looming on the horizon. Okay.   What exactly is the outline of the four-step plan?

First, the creation of a new combat and command for space, The United States Space Command, led by a four-star flag officer to insure integration across the military.

Second, an elite group of joint war fighters specializing in the domain of space, drawing men and women from across the military to support the Space Command by providing space expertise in times of crisis and conflict.

Third, the creation of the Space Development Agency that will ensure the men and women have the cutting-edge war fighting capabilities.

The fourth step calls for clear lines of responsibility and accountability by creating a single civilian position that reports to the Secretary of Defense to oversee the new branch of service as the New Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space.

Though no details on who is being considered to fill any of these roles for command or training of the personnel, it appears this four-step plan has more to do with militaristic maneuvers than pioneering a new frontier, as his speech initially led us to believe.

And with the looming and ever-increasing national deficit that seems to be causing cuts to other, perhaps more important programs, it appears unlikely that the creation of a Space Force will ever see fruition.



Amy Cooley is an astronomy enthusiast with a passion for making astronomy and everything cosmos-related, accessible to everyone through her blog Everyday Astronomy With Amy.


NASA Camp Empowers UTEP Education Students

Samantha Martinez liked the concept of chemistry before she knew what it was. When visiting her grandmother as a youngster, she would head to the bathroom to mix different cleaning products with the hope that it would produce a chemical reaction.

That enthusiasm and curiosity only escalated as she matured. It got to the point where she wanted to share that love for science. The first-generation college student earned her bachelor’s degree in biology with a biomedical concentration in 2015 from The University of Texas at El Paso and became a science/chemistry teacher at Socorro High School in El Paso’s Lower Valley.

Martinez, a Master of Arts in Education student at UTEP, said she found success in her 10thgrade classroom using hands-on activities to introduce concepts with real-world implications. One example was letting her students make pancakes so they could see the chemical reactions of the batter and after they pour the batter onto a hot skillet. Which ingredients provide structure? Which create fluffiness? How does the batter react to the heat? Instructive, yes, but the students mostly enjoy the taste testing.

“That’s the kind of thing that grabs their attention,” Martinez said. “That’s what makes them want to explore.”

The native El Pasoan went back to school this summer to find other ways to bring science to life for her students. She and two other UTEP peers – Chelsea Lucas, a Master of Arts in Education student, and Alejandra Campa, a senior interdisciplinary studies major with a concentration in 4-8 bilingual generalist – spent an intensive week as part of the third annual NASA Minority University Research and Education Program (MUREP) Educators Institute at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

The gathering, conducted June 4-8, 2018, is a professional development opportunity that gives science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) educators ideas on how to integrate hands-on, low-cost science concepts into the common core curricula. It involved about 50 individuals from higher education institutions in Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. NASA conducts similar regional institutes at its centers throughout the country.

“The experience was amazing,” Martinez said. “It was so positive. I am grateful to have gone. I loved every part of it. I am so much more confident now. I think I can engage my students with some aluminum foil and paper cups.”

The week also included behind-the-scenes facility tours of mockups of the International Space Station to include one in a 60-foot deep indoor pool used to simulate weightlessness, and lectures by engineers involved with projects dating back to the Apollo moon missions in the early 1970s.

NASA, founded in 1958, has conducted manned and unmanned space missions through the years. Today, one of the agency’s deep space manned initiatives is Orion, which should start in 2030. One of the reasons NASA promotes science education is because many of the engineers, scientists, designers, mathematicians and more who will work on Orion are in middle school.

“Part of our jobs as STEM educators are to engage and encourage (PreK-12 students) to pursue degrees in STEM,” said Ruby Lynch-Arroyo, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor of teacher education, who also attended the institute as a faculty sponsor and facilitator. “But we also learned about how many other fields are tied to spaceflight such as art, economics, political science and marine biology.”

Lynch-Arroyo, who has integrated cross-curricular connections as a teacher for many years, said she would include the strategic thinking and planning that she learned in Houston as part of a professional development training with STEM teachers in the Canutillo Independent School District in August before the fall 2018 semester begins.

The UTEP students were bright and engaging, said Steven C. Smith, a NASA EPDC (Educator Professional Development Collaborative) specialist. He added that he mistook one student for a faculty member because of her confidence and participation in discussions and activities.

Smith said the MUREP institute introduces participants to a repository of NASA educational resources and helps them envision how that STEM content can be relevant to students in ways that will excite and inspire them.

“We know that the feet that leave the first footprints on Mars are probably going to be sitting in a middle school classroom this year,” Smith said. “We are looking for the teachers that will find those feet in their classes, inspire them, and set them on the course that will lead them to us.”

NASA awards multiyear research grants to minority-serving institutions to involve their students in MUREP activities. The program provides internships, scholarships, fellowships, mentoring and tutoring for underserved and underrepresented learners in K-12, informal, and higher education settings. The hope is that participants will help build a diverse pool of future NASA employees.

Smith invited STEM educators to use the NASA resources for teachers and students. Click here to find downloadable posters, images, activities, art resources and more. Educators also may look there for internship and scholarship opportunities. Make sure to click the “NASA Audiences” tab.

Author: Daniel Perez – UTEP Communications

Contributions From UTEP’s cSETR Recognized by Aerospace Engineering Society

A paper produced by Luz Bugarin, engineering project manager for UTEP’s NASA MIRO Center for Space Exploration and Technology Research (cSETR), and Mariana Chaidez, a doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering at UTEP, in collaboration with NASA researchers, has been named the 2017 Best Paper by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Liquid Propulsion Technical Committee.

The work, “Coil-On-Plug Ignition for Oxygen/Methane Liquid Rocket Engines in Thermal-Vacuum Environments,” was co-authored by John C. Melcher, Matthew J. Atwell, Robert L. Morehead and Eric A. Hurlbert, all of the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston.

It outlines the development of a coil-on-plug ignition system that can operate under vacuum and thermal vacuum conditions.

“This recognition is a testament to the tremendous work conducted at cSETR and the caliber of students that we have on campus,” said Ahsan Choudhuri, Ph.D., cSETR director and chair of UTEP’s mechanical engineering department. “For UTEP to not only contribute to a meticulous technical paper, but also have a hand in producing an award-winning one, is a special feat.”

Bugarin and Chaidez worked at the Johnson Space Center for 19 weeks while preparing their portion of the paper.

“Seeing that the research work done at my internship was not only valuable to me but led to the AIAA 2017 Liquid Propulsion Best Paper Award is beyond words,” Bugarin said. “I believe this is an excellent example of the high-quality opportunities that cSETR brings to students at UTEP.”

Chaidez agreed.

“I’m very grateful to have been given the opportunity to work with the NASA team at Johnson Space Center and to be able to be part of the group receiving this award,” Chaidez said. “My internship was a rewarding experience and it gives me great satisfaction that the work I completed during my internship aided in further advancing NASA’s and the project’s mission.”

UTEP’s role will be formally recognized July 11 in Cincinnati during an awards luncheon at the 2018 AIAA Propulsion and Energy Forum.

As part of their recognition, AAIA will designate the paper and the authors as award winners in its online library. The paper will also be listed in the November 2018 print issue of Aerospace America

NASA Grant Explores Extraction of Metals from Lunar Dust

UTEP’s Evgeny Shafirovich, Ph.D., professor in Department of Mechanical Engineering, recently was awarded $32,160 to start a joint research effort with Lynntech, Inc., for NASA.

“Lynntech invited us to participate because of our experience in the area of In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), particularly our recent research with lunar and Martian regolith simulants, supported by NASA,” Shafirovich said.

Long-term occupation of space requires a supply of metal suitable for fabrication of various components and structures. If everything had to be delivered from Earth, the cost would be overwhelming. Fortunately, the Moon and other space bodies are rich in the desired metallic elements.

This project investigates development of a process for the extraction of metals in a form suitable for use in additive manufacturing.

“Lynntech’s process requires relatively low temperatures, recycles all the reagents, and produces oxygen as a byproduct,” he said.

The one-year Phase I will demonstrate the reduction, volatilization, and powder formation steps for metals using regolith simulant as the feedstock.

“Recovered metal powders will be thoroughly characterized for use in powder-based additive manufacturing processes,” he added.

The research project also has potential non-NASA commercial applications.

Riverside High Student Engineers Win NASA/University of Alabama Design Competition

Riverside High School engineering students competed and won their division in a nationwide design competition sponsored by the University of Alabama at Huntsville and NASA.

The students designed a payload for the exploration of Neptune. As part of the competition they also did community outreach events where they visited to schools in the district and presented on science concepts.

Also as part of the competition, the students created a video that was shown on the Chihuahua’s Jumbotron during a game.

Earlier this summer, selected students traveled to Washington D.C in an all-expense paid trip to present their poster at NASA headquarters.

There, students met with one of the senators from Alabama and presented for Dr. Jim Green, the Director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters. In addition to Dr. Jim Green, they presented for other NASA members during their poster presentation.

The students participated in a semester long competition where they designed a payload for space exploration. In addition, they submitted a proposal and poster for judging by NASA engineers and aerospace engineering from the University of Alabama at Huntsville.

Engineering students that participated were: Seniors Guillermo Avitia, Daniel Holguin, Joshua Miranda, Michael Nava, Laura Parra, and Ricardo Soto. Also, juniors Bryan Amato, Stephanie Cisneros, and Rocio Ramirez.

Local Volcanic Crater is Test Bed for Future Space Exploration

Residents in West Texas and Southern New Mexico may not be aware of a massive volcanic crater in the area, but Kilbourne Hole is no secret to geologists and NASA researchers from around the nation. The National Natural Landmark is about 30 miles west of the Franklin Mountains and is known as a maar volcano.

“About 24,000 years ago, there was lava, magma that came up from deep within the Earth, and it hit shallow groundwater in the aquifer that was here,” explained Jose Hurtado, Ph.D., professor of geological sciences. “It was a lot wetter back then. That water turned to steam and that steam built up immense pressure, and that pressure was released in a massive explosion that produced Kilbourne Hole. The explosion also threw out pulverized material exposed in layers.”

Mother Nature’s unique imprint in the middle of the desert is what draws Hurtado and other researchers to the massive pit for exploration and research. The location has many rare minerals remaining, including olivine glass granules.

While he usually takes his students on the venture, Hurtado recently guided a group of NASA scientists and engineers, as well as a group of journalists, on a weeklong expedition.

The group is part of the RIS4E program – Remote, In Situ, and Synchrotron Studies for Science and Exploration (RIS4E) – and was in the area to explore different techniques for merging science and space exploration.

“This team brings together a diverse group of scientists and engineers to explore how portable instruments could be used by astronauts in the future,” said Jacob Bleacher, research scientist with the NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center. “The end goal is for us to find the problems with using the instruments here, in an environment where we can come back and test them again. We would like to make sure that the problems don’t come up on Mars or the moon when the astronauts are there.”

The fieldwork had been conducted on the big island of Hawaii, but for the next couple of years, it will be at Kilbourne Hole and nearby small shield volcano Aden Crater.

“This location is a very important place,” Bleacher said. “Analogs, or sites that are similar to what we expect to see on other planets, are a very fundamental part of these test runs for humans going somewhere else in the solar system. UTEP is ideally located near the Potrillo volcanic field, which is where Kilbourne Hole is located. This volcanic field as a whole is ideal to look at because most of the other places we are looking at exploring, like the moon and Mars, they’re very volcanic dominated … So understanding processes that can be studied firsthand here is very important to us.”

NASA Astronaut Barry “Butch” E. Wilmore, a U.S. Navy captain, knows firsthand how important research and testing are to space missions.

“You have to have procedures in place, systems in place, equipment in place ready to go do those things,” Wilmore said. “You can’t just fire that up at the last minute. Even during Apollo it was decades prior that they were doing preparations for what eventually took place on the moon in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, and that’s exactly what we are doing now: getting prepared for what could happen decades from now.”

To date, Wilmore has logged 178 days in space and has completed four space walks. He completed his first flight as pilot on STS-129, the final space shuttle crew rotation flight to or from the space station; served as flight engineer aboard the International Space Station for Expedition 41 and then as commander of Expedition 42. He was on the ground for the research at Kilbourne Hole.

“I think the first time I saw it, I thought about landing and we picked a good spot, just from the visual of it,” Wilmore recalled about his first impression of the crater. “There are so many different layers. It’s very interesting to see places like this and then come in here and assess how it all got here.”

According to the Bureau of Land Management, Kilbourne Hole measures 1.7 miles long by well over a mile across, and is hundreds of feet deep. Wilmore and the team used various parts of the crater for testing and simulations. The astronaut said it is important to have a diverse group that includes students.

“You don’t have a small group of people do great things, it takes a nation,” he said. “Having these students and some journalists out here – it’s a training ground for them to do what they are passionate about. The thought of space travel has inspired us for generations and it does these young folks as well.”

Six of Hurtado’s students assisted with the NASA project. They helped guide members and observed and aided the geology expert with his assignment of flying a drone to collect data.

“I think this is a great opportunity for students to get involved in research like this, make connections and overall get inspired to be part of future exploration,” Hurtado said.

It was the fourth visit to Kilbourne Hole for UTEP doctoral candidate in forensic geology Valeria Martinez, but her first time working alongside NASA scientists and an astronaut.

“To see the similarities [with Mars and the moon], it’s what makes every scientist excited,” she said. “It’s not just a hole, it’s a crater and you can see the science behind it.”

While there is no question the quest was exciting, Martinez said fieldwork is critical for students.

“You can read about it, you can know it theoretically, but you have to be hands-on and see it for yourself,” she said. “You need the field geology in order for students to understand what they’re seeing, what they’re reading, so they can connect the dots.”

Professor Timothy Glotch, Ph.D., of Stony Brook University leads the RIS4E team with the assistance of Darby Dyer, Ph.D., from Mount Holyoke College. Multiple project collaborators involved come from across the nation with diverse backgrounds and strengths. The program is one of nine nodes of NASA’s Solar System Exploration and Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI). Read more about SSERVI online.

Author: Lauren Macias-Cervantes – UTEP Communications

UTEP Grad Makes NASA List of Space Technology Research Fellows

Mechanical engineering graduate student Sergio Cordova is part of the NASA 2017 class of Space Technology Research Fellows. The prestigious award is the most competitive NASA fellowship with an estimated value of $74,000 annually.

Cordova is a master’s student graduating in May and will start his doctoral work, supported by this fellowship, in UTEP’s Department of Mechanical Engineering in the fall. His accomplishment marks a first for UTEP.

“I have always been interested in space research and I hope my work can make an impact on the future of space travel,” Cordova said.

This seventh class of Space Technology Research Fellows will conduct research relevant to agency technology challenges aligned with NASA’s space technology roadmaps, while pursuing degrees in related disciplines at their respective institutions.

“One of the most important challenges to our continued leadership and advancement of space technology is the assurance that we harness the innovation and technology capabilities from our American universities,” said Michael Gazarik, associate administrator for Space Technology at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “These grants provide one vehicle to tap into the enormous talents of graduate students working at universities to advance the development of future space technologies.”

Sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, the fellowships are improving America’s technological competitiveness by providing the nation with a pipeline for innovative space technologies.

The fellows conduct innovative space technology research on their respective campuses, at NASA centers, and at nonprofit U.S. research and development laboratories.

Evgeny Shafirovich, Ph.D., associate professor of mechanical engineering and Cordova’s mentor, said the opportunity is invaluable and a great accomplishment.

“I am very excited,” Shafirovich said. “This fellowship includes summer work for the student at one of NASA’s centers and exposes him to the NASA environment and some of the nation’s top researchers. I believe that the selection of our student for this award and his choice of UTEP for NASA-supported doctoral studies clearly demonstrate our progress and competitiveness with top universities of the nation.”

Cordova’s research titled “Combustion Synthesis of Thermoelectric Materials for Deep Space Exploration” addresses an important challenge – the lack of radioactive materials for radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) used by NASA as a power source in space exploration missions. The proposed approach to the fabrication of promising thermoelectric materials will enable the development of RTGs with superior performance characteristics. Also, these materials will be useful for thermoelectric conversion in nuclear fission reactors for space applications.

Cordova’s previous research on combustion synthesis has resulted in two published peer-reviewed journal articles. He has been involved with NASA research before. In 2014, he was the leader of a student team that developed a lunar dust-cleaning device and tested it aboard a reduced-gravity aircraft at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The fellowship awards are made initially for one year, and may be renewed for up to three additional years.

EPCC Student Selected by NASA for Community College Aerospace Scholars Project

Reynaldo Martinez Jr. of El Paso Community College (EPCC) has been selected to travel to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center this fall to participate in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars project (NCAS).

Martinez has been selected among other community college students from across the U.S. to be part of NCAS. “This unique opportunity will increase Reynaldo’s research skills as well as exposing him to work on real-life scenarios that NASA is currently working. I know this research experience working at NASA will provide the perfect environment for him to develop his research interests in the Computer Science field once he transfers to UTEP and work in a computational research lab,” said EPCC Professor, Dr. Christian Servin.

The five-week scholars program culminates with a four-day on-site event at Kennedy Space Center and offers students the opportunity to interact with NASA engineers and others as they learn more about careers in science and engineering. While at NASA, students form teams and establish fictional companies interested in Mars exploration.

Each team is responsible for developing and testing a prototype rover, forming a company infrastructure, managing a budget, and developing communications and outreach. The on-site experience at NASA includes a tour of facilities and briefings by NASA subject matter experts.

NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars is a project funded in part by the Minority University Research and Education Program, or MUREP, which is committed to the recruitment of underrepresented and underserved students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to sustain a diverse workforce.

NASA’s Juno Spacecraft in Orbit Around Mighty Jupiter

After an almost five-year journey to the solar system’s largest planet, NASA’s Juno spacecraft successfully entered Jupiter’s orbit during a 35-minute engine burn. Confirmation that the burn had completed was received on Earth at 8:53 p.m. PDT (11:53 p.m. EDT) Monday, July 4.

“Independence Day always is something to celebrate, but today we can add to America’s birthday another reason to cheer — Juno is at Jupiter,” said NASA administrator Charlie Bolden. “And what is more American than a NASA mission going boldly where no spacecraft has gone before? With Juno, we will investigate the unknowns of Jupiter’s massive radiation belts to delve deep into not only the planet’s interior, but into how Jupiter was born and how our entire solar system evolved.”

Confirmation of a successful orbit insertion was received from Juno tracking data monitored at the navigation facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, as well as at the Lockheed Martin Juno operations center in Littleton, Colorado. The telemetry and tracking data were received by NASA’s Deep Space Network antennas in Goldstone, California, and Canberra, Australia.

“This is the one time I don’t mind being stuck in a windowless room on the night of the 4th of July,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “The mission team did great. The spacecraft did great. We are looking great. It’s a great day.”

Preplanned events leading up to the orbital insertion engine burn included changing the spacecraft’s attitude to point the main engine in the desired direction and then increasing the spacecraft’s rotation rate from 2 to 5 revolutions per minute (RPM) to help stabilize it..

The burn of Juno’s 645-Newton Leros-1b main engine began on time at 8:18 p.m. PDT (11:18 p.m. EDT), decreasing the spacecraft’s velocity by 1,212 miles per hour (542 meters per second) and allowing Juno to be captured in orbit around Jupiter. Soon after the burn was completed, Juno turned so that the sun’s rays could once again reach the 18,698 individual solar cells that give Juno its energy.

“The spacecraft worked perfectly, which is always nice when you’re driving a vehicle with 1.7 billion miles on the odometer,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager from JPL. “Jupiter orbit insertion was a big step and the most challenging remaining in our mission plan, but there are others that have to occur before we can give the science team the mission they are looking for.”

Over the next few months, Juno’s mission and science teams will perform final testing on the spacecraft’s subsystems, final calibration of science instruments and some science collection.

“Our official science collection phase begins in October, but we’ve figured out a way to collect data a lot earlier than that,” said Bolton. “Which when you’re talking about the single biggest planetary body in the solar system is a really good thing. There is a lot to see and do here.”

Juno’s principal goal is to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter. With its suite of nine science instruments, Juno will investigate the existence of a solid planetary core, map Jupiter’s intense magnetic field, measure the amount of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere, and observe the planet’s auroras. The mission also will let us take a giant step forward in our understanding of how giant planets form and the role these titans played in putting together the rest of the solar system. As our primary example of a giant planet, Jupiter also can provide critical knowledge for understanding the planetary systems being discovered around other stars.

The Juno spacecraft launched on Aug. 5, 2011 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. JPL manages the Juno mission for NASA. Juno is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft. The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.

More information on the Juno mission is available at: the mission on Facebook and Twitter 

UTEP Students Selected to Help to Shape Future Space Technology

A team of UTEP students has been selected by NASA to test the tools they designed to solve challenges related to deep space exploration at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The team of undergraduate students is one of 25 advancing to the testing phase in NASA’s Micro-g Neutral Buoyancy Experiment Design Teams – Micro-g NExT – activity. They have spent the past semester building their prototypes and preparing for the test, which will take place in NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL), a 40-foot deep pool where astronauts train for spacewalks.

UTEP students will compete among teams from top national research universities including Columbia, Cornell, Purdue, the University of Alabama, the University of California at San Diego, the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, the University of Maryland, and Virginia Tech.

“Our participation in such programs demonstrates what a strong mechanical engineering program we have,” said Evgeny Shafirovich, Ph.D., associate professor and faculty adviser for the UTEP team.

This is the eighth UTEP team in five years that has been selected for participation in NASA’s microgravity experiment program.

“This time our students will be testing their hardware for asteroid sample collection,” Shafirovich said. “This project exposes our students to NASA’s work environment and prepares them for their future engineering careers.”

UTEP alumnus and former astronaut John “Danny” Olivas, Ph.D., served as a mentor for this year’s team.

The tools designed for Micro-g NExT address an authentic, current space exploration problem: sample collection for NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, in which humans will visit a portion of an asteroid that will be brought into lunar orbit.

Upon successful testing, student-designed tools have the possibility of being used by the astronauts for future training as NASA prepares for the mission. The UTEP Space Miners team has created a rock chip sampling device that will create and contain chip samples during the said Asteroid Redirect Missions. The device is a modified air hammer that uses a push-to-open canister and iris mechanism (a circular component that spirals open and closed) specially designed to contain chip samples.

UTEP students on the team are captain Steven Torres, Colton Caviglia, Reina Trevino and Leonardo Gutierrez Sierra.

During the team’s stay at Johnson Space Center May 23-26, they will participate in a series of workshops, design review and testing sessions.

The Space Miners’ Micro-g project is supported by the UTEP Department of Mechanical Engineering and its NASA MIRO Center for Space Exploration and Technology Research (cSETR).

El Paso Community College Student Selected to Visit NASA

Freda J. Adams of El Paso Community College in El Paso (EPCC), TX has been selected to travel to NASA’s Johnson Space Center this spring to participate in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars project (NCAS).

Adams has been selected as one of 216 community college students from across the U.S. to be part of NCAS.

The five-week scholars program culminates with a four-day on-site event at Johnson Space Center and offers students the opportunity to interact with NASA engineers and others as they learn more about careers in science and engineering.

While at NASA, students form teams and establish fictional companies interested in Mars exploration. Each team is responsible for developing and testing a prototype rover, forming a company infrastructure, managing a budget, and developing communications and outreach.

The on-site experience at NASA includes a tour of facilities and briefings by NASA subject matter experts.

NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars is a project funded in part by the Minority University Research and Education Program, or MUREP, which is committed to the recruitment of underrepresented and underserved students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to sustain a diverse workforce.

With this project, NASA continues the agency’s tradition of investing in the nation’s educational programs. It is directly tied to the agency’s major education goal of attracting and retaining students in STEM disciplines critical to NASA’s future missions, which include missions to Mars and beyond.

NMSU Grad Students awarded NASA Fellowships for Planetary Astronomy Research

Two doctoral candidates at New Mexico State University are among 13 students in the country selected to receive NASA Harriett G. Jenkins graduate fellowships, providing each student with more than $50,000 in annual funding through the completion of their dissertations.

Kathryn Steakley and Alexander Thelen, both third-year doctoral candidates in the Department of Astronomy in the College of Arts and Sciences, were chosen for this graduate fellows program, which focuses on improving and diversifying NASA’s future Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) workforce.

“Having had two of our students selected provides evidence that our students are gaining valuable professional and academic development,” said Jim Murphy, Steakley’s faculty adviser and associate professor of astronomy. “Hopefully, their success serves as motivation for other NMSU students to participate in national-level competitive award opportunities.”

Along with financial support – which includes a 10-month stipend, tuition and fees – each fellowship offers an annual 10-week in-residence summer research stay at a NASA center.

Steakley will conduct her research stay at NASA Ames Research Center under the mentorship of Melinda Kahre, who received her doctorate from NMSU in 2006. Steakley’s application research proposal, titled “Exploring impact heating of the early Martian climate,” will focus on the climate conditions on Mars that were necessary when apparent water-carved channels were created several billion years ago.

“Today, Mars is too cold for water to exist in liquid form on the surface,” Steakley said. “My project is to test whether comet and asteroid impacts could have made Mars warm enough to support liquid water in the past.”

Steakley will use atmospheric computer models to simulate these conditions and investigate how the existence of these processes may have enabled the formation of surface water flow features.

“It’s important because life can survive where there is liquid water,” Steakley said. “So if there was water on Mars in the past, we want to know what conditions allowed that and how long they lasted.”

Thelen will spend his research visit at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center working on his project, “The chemical history and evolution of Titan’s atmosphere as revealed by ALMA,” under the mentorship of NASA research assistant Conor Nixon.

“Xander has been interested in planetary science research since he arrived at NMSU in 2013, and he has been involved in several research projects related to the atmospheres of Jupiter and its icy moon Europa,” said Nancy Chanover, associate professor of astronomy and Thelen’s faculty adviser. “I am delighted that he was selected to receive this NASA graduate fellowship, which will enable him to extend his solar system interests yet again – this time to study Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.”

Thelen’s research project uses the newly completed Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA), located in Chile, to probe the atmosphere of Titan to learn more about its atmospheric chemistry.

“An exciting facet of this project is that in filling out the chemical inventory of Titan’s atmosphere, we will be able to find pathways to form more complex molecules – or observe them directly – which may eventually lead to evidence of amino acids being possible on Titan,” Thelen said. “This will provide important results for astrobiology studies and assessing the possibility of life forming in other places in the solar system, besides Earth.”

As part of this fellowship, Thelen and Steakley attended the Southern Regional Education Board’s Institute on Teaching and Mentoring conference last semester, in Arlington, Va. There, they met Charles Bolden, the current administrator of NASA, attended sessions on how to be successful in a doctoral program and were introduced to the other Harriett G. Jenkins fellows and alumni.

“It was clear from that point that this fellowship was going to be more than a check and a handshake,” Steakley said. “They are providing us with a network of support from other fellows and professional development resources that will allow us to do great science now and in our future careers. I can’t thank NASA enough for this opportunity.”

Author: Dana Beasley – NMSU

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