Friday, September 28, 2012

NASA Orion Splashdown Tests Ensure Safe Landings For Astronauts

Rachel Kraft
Headquarters, Washington
Sasha Congiu
Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.

HAMPTON, Va. -- The 18,000-pound test article that mimics the size and weight of NASA's Orion spacecraft crew module recently completed a final series of water impact tests in the Hydro Impact Basin at the agency's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

The campaign of swing and vertical drops simulated various water landing scenarios to account for different velocities, parachute deployments, entry angles, wave heights and wind conditions the spacecraft may encounter when landing in the Pacific Ocean. The next round of water impact testing is scheduled to begin in late 2013 using a full-sized model that was built to validate the flight vehicle's production processes and tools.

Orion will carry astronauts farther into space than ever before and be the most advanced spacecraft ever designed. It will fly its first flight test, designated Exploration Flight Test 1, in 2014. The spacecraft will travel more than 3,600 miles into space -- 15 times farther from Earth than the International Space Station -- and reach speeds of more than 20,000 mph before returning to Earth. This unmanned flight test will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Several Orion systems, including the heat shield and parachutes at speeds generated during a return from deep space, will be tested.

In 2017, Orion will be launched by NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), a heavy-lift rocket that will provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. Designed to be flexible for launching spacecraft for crew and cargo missions, SLS will enable new missions of exploration and expand human presence in the solar system.

Langley's Hydro Impact Basin is 115 feet long, 90 feet wide and 20 feet deep, and is located at the historic Landing and Impact Research Facility where Apollo astronauts trained for moonwalks.

For video and still imagery documenting the ground breaking of the Hydro Impact Basin all the way through various stages of the Orion testing, visit

For more information about Orion, visit

For further information about the International Space Station, NASA's commercial space programs and the future of American spaceflight, visit

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Babies Are Born Scientists

New research methods reveal that babies and young children learn by rationally testing hypotheses, analyzing statistics and doing experiments much as scientists do

Very young children's learning and thinking is strikingly similar to much learning and thinking in science, according to Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. Gopnik's findings are described in the Sept 28 issue of the journal Science. She spoke about her work in a video briefing with NSF.

New research methods and mathematical models provide a more precise and formal way to characterize children's learning mechanisms than in the past. Gopnik and her colleagues found that young children, in their play and interactions with their surroundings, learn from statistics, experiments and from the actions of others in much the same way that scientists do.

"The way we determine how they're learning is that we give them, say, a pattern of data, a pattern of probabilities or statistics about the world and then we see what they do," said Gopnik.

For example, in a series of experiments Gopnik and her colleagues used machines with the ability to light up and play music and asked young children to make them go.

"We found that like scientists, they tested hypotheses about the machines and determined which one was more likely," said Gopnik.

But before we rush to put toddlers on an earlier academic track, Gopnik's research shows that encouraging play, presenting anomalies and asking for explanations prompts scientific thinking more effectively than direct instruction.

"Everyday playing is a kind of experimentation--it's a way of experimenting with the world, getting data the way that scientists do and then using that data to draw new conclusions," said Gopnik. "What we need to do to encourage these children to learn is not to put them in the equivalent of school, tell them things, or give them reading drills or flash cards or so forth. What we need to do is put them in a safe, rich environment where these natural capacities for exploration, for testing, for science, can get free rein."

Gopnik's research was supported by NSF through the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences directorate. In her paper Gopnik described the work of Laura Schulz of MIT, also supported by NSF through the Education and Human Resources directorate. Schulz's studies show that children's play involves a kind of intuitive experimentation where they examine things and events to discover cause and effect underlying them. A video showing some of her experiments is attached. It was part of a paper she published in Science last year, 16-Month-Olds Rationally Infer Causes of Failed Actions.

More details about Gopnik's work are available in a TED talk she gave last year.


Five Years of Dawn

This full view of the giant asteroid Vesta was taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft, launched Sept. 27, 2007, as part of a rotation characterization sequence on July 24, 2011, at a distance of 3,200 miles (5,200 kilometers). A rotation characterization sequence helps the scientists and engineers by giving an initial overview of the character of the surface as Vesta rotated underneath the spacecraft. This view of Vesta shows impact craters of various sizes and troughs parallel to the equator. The resolution of this image is about 500 meters per pixel.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Registration Open: NASA Tech Days Coming to Cleveland Nov. 28-30

David E. Steitz
Headquarters, Washington      
Katherine Martin
Glenn Research Center, Cleveland
WASHINGTON -- NASA Technology Days, a three-day public technology showcase, will take place at the Cleveland Public Auditorium and Conference Center Nov. 28-30. The space technology showcase will bring together stakeholders from industry, academia and the U.S. government to engage in strategy development, partnership building and methods of fostering technology transfer and innovation.

NASA Tech Days attendees will get a comprehensive overview of the agency's technology programs for space science, exploration and aeronautics, and discover innovative and advanced technologies that are stimulating the economy and sustaining our nation's global competitiveness. NASA's Tech Days are free and open to the public, but registration is required. To register, visit

Visitors will explore the NASA showcase, featuring mature NASA-funded technologies that can be transferred to aerospace, advanced energy, automotive, innovative manufacturing and human health industries. The demonstrations and exhibits will provide opportunities for networking, business development and forging of new relationships while attendees learn about leading technologies contributing to American economic growth and innovation.

Attendees also can attend presentations by NASA program executives about the agency's upcoming technology initiatives. In addition, participants will have the opportunity to discuss technology transfer and strategic partnerships with NASA officials.

NASA's Glenn Research Center of Cleveland, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., will be participating in the showcase, providing exhibits and information on how businesses can partner with NASA for technology development, transfer and innovation.

For more information about NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist and the agency's Space Technology Program, visit

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Global Hawk Aircraft

This image captures a perspective of NASA's Global Hawk unmanned aircraft from one of the wings. The Global Hawk is sitting at the aircraft hangar of NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va. on Sept. 7, 2012.

The month-long Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3), which began in early September, is currently deploying one instrument-laden Global Hawk from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore to look at the environment of tropical storms. In 2013 and 2014, a second Global Hawk will be added that will focus on getting detailed measurements of the inner core of hurricanes.

The Global Hawk's ability to fly for a much longer period of time than manned aircraft will allow it to obtain previously difficult-to-get data. Scientists hope to use that data to gain new insights into how tropical storms form, and more importantly, how they intensify into major Atlantic hurricanes — information that forecasters need to make better storm predictions, save lives, and ultimately prevent costly coastal evacuations if a storm doesn't warrant them.

Image Credit: NASA