Get out of town and do something new with people you don’t know this summer
Most of the time when I travel, I travel alone. I am the road warrior. Up at zero dark thirty so I can catch a plane at 6 or 7am. My job is to get to the airport, get from the airport to my meeting, turn around and come home in the fastest reasonable time possible. My trip last week to Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston broke the mold. I traveled with eighteen faculty and students from New Mexico State University, Dona Ana Community College (DACC) and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology.
All are in space and aerospace disciplines at their intuitions. All students were invited by faculty because they knew each would benefit from visiting at least one of the labs at JSC. Wayne Hale, accompanied us. He is the former NASA Space Shuttle Program Manager and got our group the insider tour. None of the faculty or students had ever visited a NASA lab.
Wayne spoke to the team about the logistics of touring the labs on the evening of our arrival. Then asked the students and faculty to tell him their academic discipline and what they wanted to see or discuss during the tour. Once again I observed the cumulative effect of the effort in our communities that goes to prepare our young people for the tough roads ahead. No matter how smart you are, someone is going to be smarter. This group was well prepared.
As soon as we got behind the gate at JSC, people came up to Wayne to say hi or even share a hug. It began to sink in, he’s with us, we’re with him. When we toured the International Space Station (ISS) full scale lab in Building 9, Wayne personally showed then watched as each of us got into the Shuttle mid-deck. The building is as large as Albertsons and it does not house all of the components that make up the Space Station. Mark Albers, Aerospace Technology Professor at DACC said, “when I go shopping with my wife, my feet hurt after 20 minutes. I could do this for three weeks and never get tired.”
When we went to the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL), a certified NASA diver, a woman who trains the astronauts did our tour. Cool career. The NBL is a pool. It is facility is larger than the Pan Am Center. It has been filled only once with 6.2 million gallons of fresh water. It is 202 feet in length, 102 feet wide and 40 feet deep. It is refilled each day with 5,000 gallons of water because of evaporation. On the bottom of the pool is a full scale mock up of the International Space Station. Astronauts are trained for extra-vehicular activity (EVAs) – space walks, in the pool. No astronauts were there at the time we were in the facility. Oil rig workers were doing evacuation training, as the facility is contracted out to defray its cost.
We then went to the ISS Control Center and Flight Director, Holly Ridings explained the round the clock work of the people who work in the center. All the communications, video, voice and data from the ISS is processed through the Tracking Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) network out at White Sands Test Facility. We reminded her some of us were from Las Cruces, and some of our friends work at TDRSS.
The Christopher C. Kraft Jr., Mission Control Center, which is the Gemini and Apollo Mission Control Center and National Historic Landmark was next. We sat in the chairs, touched the control panels, and then one of the students looked up and saw a hundred people in the gallery above the control center looking down at us. What an amazing day they were having.
Finally, we went to the Robonaut lab. Many are interested in robotics. NASA has partnered with General Motors to create Robonaut 2. It will be able to move inside and outside the space station. It has the capability to sense by touch to stop what it was doing, to see a tool, pick it up, most importantly preform fine movements with fingers and arms to emulate human motion. Not the jerky stuff we see in the movies but the coordinated hand, wrist, elbow, shoulder and head coordination. The car industry is likely the largest early adopter of many of the sensors and technologies developed by the space industry.