Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Spaceward Bound's Web Guru

Here's Linda Conrad, of NASA Ames Research Center.  She is THE guru when it comes to Spaceward Bound web postings.  And she laughs a lot, so she is a valuable part of the expedition team.  She will help with questions and comments we receive while in the Arctic.

Mars Science Laboratory & Wind Tunnel

Phoenix, the rover currently at the north pole of Mars, and Spirit and Opportunity, the two Energizer Bunnies of Mars' rovers, all carry science packages weighing, I believe, less than 20 pounds each.  Flying to Mars soon will be the Mars Science Laboratory.  Carrying about 143 pounds of science equipment, this rover will be the size of a small car!  How do you gently place this payload on the martian surface?  Well, boys and girls, with science, technology, engineering and mathematics saavy, of course.  That and all the amazing folks at NASA and supporting contractors.  

For an exciting .mov animation of its landing, go to mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/gallery/video/movies/MSLAnim1.mov

Last week, I was fortunate to tour the world's largest wind tunnel where tests were being conducted the main chute for the Science Laboratory.  It's sixty feet in diameter when fully deployed, leaving ten feet of clearance on each side of this 80' x 100' wind tunnel.  Look for the people walking in front of the wind tunnel intake in the photo outside the tunnel.  Gives one a good perspective for the actual immensity of the tunnel.

Rover Driver's Ed. 101

One of the six major questions of the Arctic 2008 expedition is:
How can a teleoperated rover be used to assist human explorers in the Arctic?

Yesterday, I journeyed to the Carnegie Mellon University Innovations Lab to begin to learn how to drive a rover.  After driving a rover I find it's similar to driving a R/C (radio-controlled) car, or operating a video game controller.  An aside:  I can hear my video-game-loving students already concocting stories to their parents explaining why they can't do their homework, but must get on the Wii.  They have to refine their fine-motor teleoperational device abilities so as to ensure a career in the sciences...(weary sigh from teacher).

Above you can see a rover similar to the type we'll drive in the high Arctic.  Also, below, in the video, you'll meet my driving instructor, Andrew, and catch a glimpse of the lab staff.  Incidentally, this biologist notes they seem to fuel their metabolic rate primarily through candy bars and highly-caffeinated soft drinks.