The Reduced Gravity Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston is home to NASA's own flying, microgravity laboratory, "The Weightless Wonder." It's every bit as incredible as the name suggests.
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How do you test a new method for CPR in space without actually going into space? You take flight in a microgravity plane, obviously. For the last 20 years, NASA's Reduced Gravity Office has opened up its zero-g planes to college students from around the country, who get the once in a lifetime opportunity to test physical experiments in a weightless environment. Yes, they get to play with fire in zero g. Lucky...
Deep in the belly of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, lie "The Domes". Step into one of them and suddenly you're standing on the surface of Mars, or you're flying high above the Earth, looking out from the International Space Station. This is the Systems Engineering Simulator, where we learnt to fly, drive and design better space vehicles.
We've seen how NASA recreates the vacuum of space right here on Earth, but what about the gravity of space? What about the forces of inertia? When large objects move and behave so differently, how to you train for a mission so you know what to expect when you get there? Like this.
For the last 25 years, scientists have been able to monitor the "greenness" of trees from space and use that as a tool for evaluating plant health. The problem is that greenness isn't a good indicator for stresses -- such as drought -- because some trees (think pines) continue to be a lovely green until they're dead. Researchers are thus turning to a new indicator: the way plants glow.
While Curiosity was still flying through space, way before it landed on Mars, scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory were busy working with a clone rover back on earth. In a simulation area called the Mars Yard, scientists put the duplicate Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) through a series of experiments to perfect the rover's software and reevaluate its capabilities. The tests answered critical questions like, "Can it go over that big rock?"
We have heard a lot about exoplanets in the past year. But for all the talk about these planets, which orbit a star other than our sun, we still haven't actually seen one.
Have you ever wondered how the hell spaceships get made? I mean, how does something like the six-legged ATHLETE rover go from an engineering fantasy into an actual working thing?
A few years ago, back when the Constellation Program was still alive, NASA engineers discovered that the Ares I rocket had a crucial flaw, one that could have jeopardised the entire project. They panicked. They plotted. They steeled themselves for the hundreds of millions of dollars it was going to take to make things right.
When you were a kid, did you dream of going into space? Maybe you had a colouring book about a lunar voyage. Or maybe you and your best friend tried to create anti-gravity out of cleaning products and accidentally killed a tree in your front yard. Y'know, hypothetically. If any of this sounds even remotely familiar, it's a safe bet that NASA figured into your dreams.
In the summer of 1986, I spent a week at Space Camp in Huntsville, AL. Not only that, but in our final mission, I crashed our Space Shuttle.