Science and Technology News

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

NASA’s Family Welcomes Its Extended Families

To kick off a memorable summer, one would hope will never end, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., recently hosted a "Bring Your Family to Work Day" celebration to welcome employee families and student interns who will work here this summer. The day’s events allowed employees to share their excitement of working at NASA, and demonstrate technology developed here.

A bright and balmy summer’s day was the backdrop for NASA’s family day. Attended by approximately 1,000 guests, they strolled from exhibits to tour stops, which included the Ames Exploration Center, a Robonaut exhibit, the Ames Exploration Encounter (AEE) Center, a robotics laboratory and national research facilities. In addition, more than 3,500 guests and employees took a break from the tours, exhibits and work to share a bite of lunch at the free barbeque picnic, donated by the Ames Exchange Council, in the historic NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) Park.

“We had a fantastic event at Ames,” said Carolina Blake, acting deputy director of the New Ventures and Communications directorate. “It was great to see so many children and students and their families take advantage of such an outstanding opportunity to see what happens here in our workplace.”

NASA’s family day started 9 a.m. sharp in the Ames Exploration Center, where visitors and guests viewed high-definition videos on a 14-foot-by-36-foot screen in an immersive theater. Videos included Mars missions and simulated flights through the Milky Way and beyond. Education outreach specialist Cara Dodge was there to guide these arm-chair space travelers through the universe. Profiled against a red planet on a multiplex screen and in front of an audience of about 50 people, she asked: “Why is Mars red?”

“There’s iron oxide in its soil,” said an older gentleman in the audience.

“Very good,” said Dodge. “But does anyone know what is iron oxide?”

“It’s rust,” said Addyson Dasso, an eight-year-old who recently graduated from second grade at Wilkinson School in Half Moon Bay, Calif.

Many children and their families were captivated by images of space that moved them toward the sun and planets in our solar system, and far away to the very outer limits of the universe. To help make the experience even more real, small mockups of the Pioneer spacecraft, built at Ames, are displayed in the visitor center. In addition, an actual lunar sample from the moon’s Hadley-Apennine region is exhibited. Retrieved by the Apollo 15 crew, it is part of the 169 pound lunar sample they brought back from the moon.

Next stop was the Robonaut exhibit in the foyer of the main auditorium. Robonaut is a humanoid robotic development project. It is different from other NASA robots in that it is designed to move large objects with sophisticated dexterity. To highlight other work performed at Ames, the center now is producing a video series, called Destination Innovation, which was featured in the main auditorium for guests to view throughout the day.

Not far from the main auditorium is the newly renovated Ames Exploration Encounter (AEE) center. Located in a renovated six-foot-by-six-foot supersonic wind tunnel building, the facility provides a unique educational program to inspire positive attitudes about science, technology, engineering and math for students from 4th through 6th grade. Students are given an opportunity to operate rovers on a simulated lunar regolith and visit various stations on the International Space Station. Students experience science in action and soon realize its connection to their lives.

“There were several hundred people who toured our facility. For some kids, this may be the first time they had a positive experience learning about science and space, seeing things only talked about before,” said Daniel Likins, acting operations manager for the AEE.

Across the street from the AEE is the robotics laboratory, housed in building 246. It is a modified warehouse with equipment and materials used to build and operate robots designed to compete in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition. For the last 14 years, NASA Ames mentored a robotics team called The Cheesy Poofs (Team 254), from Bellarmine College Preparatory School, San Jose, Calif. In 2011, it won the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) World Robotics Competition Championship Winning Alliance. Guests were given a demonstration of how robots work and allowed to maneuver a robot up and down a gymnasium-like court, while flexing its arm used for throwing and picking up objects.

As part of the NASA experience, employees and their guests also were invited to view the world’s largest vertical motion simulator, called the VMS. It has an unequaled range of motion, moving as much as 60 feet vertically and 40 feet horizontally. While the VMS offers much that is unique, two capabilities stand out. First, engineers can customize the system to simulate any aerospace vehicle, whether existing or in the design stage. Second, simulations occur with high fidelity; that is, the simulator reproduces the flight characteristics of the vehicle with a high degree of accuracy. The Space Shuttle Program used it to train the astronauts to fly the space shuttle.

After a long and stimulating day of fun and excitement, it truly became a day many wished that summer could always be here.

“It was incredible day! We are deeply appreciative all those that contributed their time and efforts to making this event so successful,” said Blake.

Ruth Marlaire
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

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