NASA Expertise Contributes to Chilean Miner Rescue
Clint Cragg, principal engineer with the NASA Engineering and Safety Center based at Langley Research Center, never thought he would end up a media star. The former Navy submarine commander is not an astronaut or a top NASA administrator.
He is a problem-solver who was called in along with three NASA healthcare professionals to consult with the Chilean government when 33 miners got trapped 2,300 feet underground. After 69 days underground, all the miners trapped in the San José copper and gold mine were brought safely above ground. Rescue workers pulled the final miner to safety on October 13, wrapping up the rescue process started the night before.
As part of the rescue operation, NASA offered expert advice on medical, nutritional, and behavioral health issues. The NASA team also provided suggestions regarding the rescue capsules that were specially-designed to pull the trapped miners out of the shaft that was dug over 2,000 feet into the Earth. Michael Duncan, deputy chief medical officer in NASA’s Space Life Sciences Directorate at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, led the team. The other team members were physician J.D. Polk, psychologist Al Holland, and engineer Cragg.
“Initially what the Chileans were asking for was medical and psychological assistance because of NASA’s experience in harsh environments,” said Cragg. But the engineer went along to see how else NASA might be able to help. During his three days in South America, Cragg met up with a number of engineers in the Chilean Navy and others who were studying how to design a rescue capsule.
“One of my recommendations was that NASA could help fleshing out some of the requirements for the rescue capsule,” said Cragg. The Chileans took the NASA engineer up on his offer by email after he turned to the United States.
tell you they were just doing their
jobs ... but the men and women of NASA do
extraordinary things each
and every day.”
—Charlie Bolden, NASA Administrator
“I put together a team of engineers from almost every center around the Agency,” said Cragg. “Over the course of three days we hammered out a 12–13 page list of requirements for the capsule and sent that to the Chilean Minister of Health.”
Cragg said the team offered about 75 suggested design features.
“After we had sent the requirements, I got some communication from one of the Chilean Navy commanders intimately involved in the design process of the capsule,” said Cragg. “He told me that they had incorporated most of the suggestions we had provided to them.”
After the rescue, President Barack Obama welcomed NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and the NASA team to the Oval Office for a ceremony that recognized Americans involved in the rescue.
After the White House event, Bolden and Deputy Administrator Lori Garver presented NASA’s “Exceptional Achievement Medal" to the Agency employees who supported the rescue effort, including Cragg. The medal is awarded for a significant, specific accomplishment or substantial improvement in operations, efficiency, service, financial savings, science, or technology that contributes to NASA’s mission.
“We’re greatly honored by the President’s recognition of these extraordinary NASA employees who assisted the Chilean miners,” Bolden said. “I’m sure they would be the first to tell you they were just doing their jobs and nothing out of the ordinary, but the men and women of NASA do extraordinary things each and every day.”
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The NASA Office of Earth Science and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) are working together to develop a National Invasive Species Forecasting System for the early detection, remediation, management, and control of invasive species on Department of Interior and adjacent lands.
The forecasting system will provide a framework for using USGS’s early detection and monitoring protocols and predictive models to process NASA and commercial data and create on-demand, regional-scale assessments of invasive species patterns and vulnerable habitats.
When fully implemented, the forecasting system will provide a dynamic and flexible mechanism for generating electronic and paper maps of hot spots for potential exotic species invasions.
The New Guy
Almost 200 people from 15 countries have visited the International Space Station, but the orbiting complex has so far only had human crewmembers—until now.
Robonaut 2, the latest generation of the Robonaut astronaut helpers, launched to the space station aboard Space Shuttle Discovery on the STS-133 mission. It is the first humanoid robot in space, and although its primary job for now is teaching engineers how dexterous robots behave in space, the hope is that through upgrades and advancements, it could one day venture outside the station to help spacewalkers make repairs or additions to the station or perform scientific work.
A First Responder for First Responders
MARSHA may soon become a well known name in firefighting. The Mobile And Remote Sensing Hazmat Activity (MARSHA) robot, in development by Glenn Research Center with help from the Cleveland Fire Department, provides an affordable way to minimize risks to first responders. The robot can enter a hazardous environment such as a building fire and, equipped with various sensors and cameras, provide firefighters with a critical information for creating an effective response—without putting them in harm’s way.
Answer to a Burning Question
Each year, about 865 million acres of land around the world are affected by vegetation fires, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). To help combat these devastating fires, FAO launched a NASA-developed fire monitoring tool called the Global Fire Information Management System (GFIMS). Using data from NASA satellites, GFIMS detects fire hotspots around the globe and delivers the information to firefighting agencies in near real time.
Rockets to Rockies
A new partnership in Colorado is poised to leverage space and energy technologies to bring down-to-Earth economic benefits to the Rocky Mountain State.
Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, Jr. and NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver announced a new Technology Acceleration Program (TAP) that will leverage space technology from NASA to help accelerate economic growth and create new jobs in Colorado. This public-private
partnership will create a regional economic innovation cluster focused on aerospace and energy technologies. Under this model, Federal and State governments will work together with industry and academia to strengthen Colorado’s economy.
The goal of the new
public-private partnership is to create
10,000 new jobs in Colorado over the next five years.
The Colorado Association for Manufacturing and Technology (CAMT) is at the core of the initiative, with the Departments of Energy and Commerce joining along with NASA. Through this collaboration, private sector partners are financing the development of an Aerospace and Clean Energy Park that will host new businesses interested in using NASA technologies and expertise to develop new commercial products and services. The goal of the new public-private partnership is to create 10,000 new jobs in Colorado over the next five years.
This model for leveraging Federal investments in research and development to help accelerate economic growth reflects successful public-private partnerships like the NASA Research Park at NASA’s Ames Research Center in the heart of Silicon Valley. NASA plans to replicate these models in other states and regions as well, to drive regional economic growth and strengthen aerospace and energy supply chains. There are already some great examples of NASA technology being commercialized in Colorado, from temperature-controlled textiles used in outdoor gear to dehydration-preventing products for athletes and adventurers. The new partnership builds on these successes and promises to generate new ones by accelerating the flow of technology from the lab into the marketplace.
A Transformative Experience
Four Orlando students were chosen as winners of the 2010 NASA “Optimus Prime Spinoff” award. The contest encouraged students to produce short, creative videos about their favorite technology from NASA’s Spinoff 2009 publication.
The winning video for third through fifth grades was created by Juliana Sanchez, Samantha Herrod, Isaliz Gonzalez, and Grace Romano, four students at the Union Park Elementary school in Orlando, Florida. The video was based on a story from NASA’s Spinoff 2009 publication called “Fabrics Protect Sensitive Skin from UV Rays”—about how NASA technology used in clothing is helping to protect the wearer’s skin against exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays. Their video was one of two winners. The winning video for sixth through eighth grades, by Dahlia Senthilnathan Huh of Roberto Clemente Middle School in Germantown, Maryland, was based on the 2009 Spinoff story originating from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, “Star-Mapping Tools Enable Tracking of Endangered Animals,” about how a star-mapping algorithm used on the Hubble Space Telescope is helping scientists track endangered animals.
NASA collaborated with Hasbro, using the correlation between the popular Transformers brand, featuring its leader Optimus Prime, and spinoffs from NASA technologies created for aeronautics and space missions used here on Earth. The goal was to help students understand how NASA technology “transforms” into things used daily.
“We are so proud and impressed with the job the students did on their videos,” said Nona Cheeks, head of Goddard’s Innovative Partnerships Program Office. “Based on the students’ creativity in developing cool, comprehensive videos demonstrating their understanding of how NASA technology gets used for many purposes, I am very excited by the potential for future contests.”
Kimberley Klein, Science Lab Teacher at Union Park Elementary said, “This contest gave the student the opportunity to learn about all the products that were made for NASA and are now being used in everyday life. I loved hearing their ideas, not only about the video they were making, but also about how they would love to help engineer some of the products they were learning about.”
NASA recognized the winning videos during a special awards ceremony with Peter Cullen, the voice of Optimus Prime, at the Space Foundation’s 2011 National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado. NASA plans to hold the contest again, expanding the pool of contestants to 9th through 12th graders with videos about technologies from the Spinoff 2010 publication.
“These new explorers are to spaceflight
what Lindbergh was to commercial aviation.”
—Charlie Bolden, NASA Administrator
Falcon 9 Carries NASA’s C3PO Program to New Heights
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lofted the Dragon capsule into orbit in December 2010, lifting off from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, a few miles south of the Space Shuttle launch pads.
The Dragon safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean following two orbits. It marked the first time a commercial company has recovered a spacecraft from orbit.
“While rocket launches from the Cape are considered a common occurrence, the historic significance of today’s achievement by SpaceX should not be lost,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. “This is the first in a new generation of commercial launch systems that will help provide vital support to the International Space Station and may one day carry astronauts into orbit. This successful demonstration flight is an important milestone in meeting the objectives outlined by President Obama and Congress, and shows how government and industry can leverage expertise and resources to foster a new and vibrant space economy. “These new explorers are to spaceflight what Lindbergh was to commercial aviation,” he said.
The mission was a demonstration flight under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services, or COTS, contract. COTS partnerships are managed under the NASA Commercial Crew and Cargo (C3PO) program, designed to extend human presence in space by enabling an expanding and robust U.S. commercial space transportation industry.
“We would not be here without the help of NASA, I cannot emphasize that enough,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said.
NASA announced the winners of the 18th annual NASA Great Moonbuggy Race, and it was Puerto Rico’s year.
Teams representing Teodoro Aguilar Mora Vocational High School of Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, snared the top two berths in the high school division and, for the second straight year, the University of Puerto Rico in Humacao held off all comers to win the college division.
The NASA competition challenges students around the world to build and race lightweight, human-powered buggies—demonstrating the same innovation and can-do spirit that put the first Apollo-era lunar rover on the moon four decades ago. More than 70 teams from 22 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, Germany, India, and Russia took part in the race, which encourages young people to reach for new heights in science, technology, engineering and math, and pursue careers in technical fields that will benefit NASA, the Nation, and all humankind. The race challenges students to tackle many of the same engineering challenges dealt with by Apollo-era lunar rover developers at Marshall Space Flight Center in the late 1960s. This year’s event celebrated the 40th anniversary of that feat, which culminated in the first use of a crewed lunar rover in July 1971.
Held in April 2011 at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, the event was organized by Marshall in partnership with the center, and major race sponsors included Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Jacobs Engineering ESTS Group.
“We’re thrilled to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first lunar rover on the moon with the biggest moonbuggy race to date,” said Tammy Rowan, manager of Marshall’s Academic Affairs Office, which organizes the race. “The legacy of that marvelous NASA endeavor is alive and well in classrooms all over the Nation and the world, where it’s clear our young people dream as big as NASA does, and possess the creativity, know-how, and innovation to realize those dreams.”
Since its inception, NASA has demonstrated an unparalleled ability to tackle massively complex and ambitious goals to forward the human endeavor. NASA is constantly collaborating with partners, from governments and universities to corporations and individuals. Now NASA is supporting a collaborative effort to solve some of the toughest social and environmental challenges today.
Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) is a unique partnership between NASA, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, and the World Bank dedicated to using technology to make the world a better place by building a volunteer community of innovation.
RHoK organizes hackathons—marathon hacking events with multiple global locations bringing together developers from all over the world to “hack” real-world problems. At every RHoK hackathon, the problem definitions are shared with the RHoK community, and the developers work their hacking magic to create open source software solutions that respond to those problems, make the world a safer place, and save lives. At the end of a 2-day marathon of hacking, a panel of experts will review each hack and the winners will walk away with prizes and the opportunity to see their applications put to use on the ground to respond to critical disaster risk challenges.
RHoK held its inaugural hackathon, RHoK #0, in Mountain View, California, in November 2009, resulting in software solutions that were used on the ground during the devastating earthquakes in Haiti and Chile in early 2010. The subsequent RHoK #1 and #2 took the initiative global. Hundreds of volunteers around the world collaborated for intense brainstorming, programming and coming up with important solutions to be implemented on the ground to lessen disaster risk and improve response where disasters strike.
The winning hack from the RHoK #1 Washington D.C. event, a visual tool to map landslide risk, is already being implemented by the World Bank in landslide-affected areas, and other hacks have been received interest and support from governments and risk management specialists worldwide.
Improving Safety in the Skies and on the Rails
From planes to trains, when you find something that works, stick with it.
That is why the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) at Ames Research Center is serving as a model to create a similar safety reporting system for the Federal Railroad Association.
The ASRS collects, analyzes and responds to voluntarily submitted aviation safety incident reports in order to lessen the likelihood of aviation accidents. During its 34-year history, the ASRS has been highly successful. Each year, the ASRS receives approximately 56,000 aviation safety reports from frontline aviation personnel, including pilots, air traffic controllers, dispatchers, mechanics, and flight attendants.
“The replication of the ASRS system in the railroad industry to provide assistance in realizing safety improvements is a welcome recognition of the success of ASRS and its numerous improvements to aviation safety,” said NASA ASRS director Linda Connell.
Amtrak recently joined the reporting program, along with the Canadian Pacific Railway, Union Pacific Railroad and the New Jersey Transit system.
“The ASRS was chosen to be the model for the new pilot because it has been a proven successful model,” said Karen Rae, deputy administrator of the Department of Transportation. “We’re addressing human factors to get accidents down to zero.”
A Phone Call Away
The Puerto Rico Telephone Company (PRTC) sought ways to quickly and accurately determine the location of mobile phone subscribers. Through a Space Act Agreement, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will provide PRTC with certain GPS reference and correction data, as well as technical support for the usage and implementation of advanced assisted GPS data products that will help the company in increasing public safety, fulfilling federally mandated enhanced 911 requirements, and enabling value-added location-based services.
A Study in Safety
The results of a 10-month study by 30 NASA engineers of possible electronic causes of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles was released in February 2011 by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
“NASA found no evidence that a malfunction in electronics caused large unintended accelerations,” said Michael Kirsch, principal engineer and team lead of the study from the NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC) based at Langley Research Center.
At the request of Congress, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began the study in March 2010 and asked NASA engineers with expertise in electronic and software systems to look into consumer claims that electronic systems may have played a role in reports of unintended acceleration.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood thanked NASA and other DOT engineers saying, “We enlisted the best and brightest engineers to study Toyota’s electronics systems, and the verdict is in.”
Two mechanical safety defects were identified by NHTSA more than a year ago: “sticking” accelerator pedals and a design flaw that enabled accelerator pedals to become trapped by floor mats. These are the only known causes for the reported unintended acceleration incidents. Toyota recalled nearly 8 million vehicles in the United States for these two defects.
Kirsch went on to say that, “NASA and NHTSA engineers stood side by side in this study to try to find the root cause of the problem. We have a strong team including some of the best electronics and software experts in NASA.”
The NESC team included NASA software experts in California to NASA hardware and systems engineers in Maryland who examined computer controlled electronic systems, electromagnetic interference, and software to determine if these systems played a role in incidents of unintended acceleration.
The NESC was established in 2003 in response to the Space Shuttle Columbia accident with a goal to enable complex problem solving using experts from anywhere in the world. This approach allows the best engineers in their respective disciplines to apply their expertise to tough technical problems. To date, the NESC has engaged in approximately 400 independent technical assessments. Recently, the NESC provided support to the trapped miners in Chile by developing suggested design requirements for the rescue system.
NASA and Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade and vintage goods, partnered to launch “Space Craft,” a contest where entrants shared original handmade items and works of art inspired by NASA and NASA’s programs. The contest helped inform Etsy’s 5.9 million members, 96 percent of whom are women, most under age 35, about the Agency’s present and future exploration plans.
“The contest reaches an important audience NASA would like to better engage to help share the excitement that is America’s Space Program,” said Doug Comstock, director of the Innovative Partnerships Office in NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The winning entry was the “Northstar Table” designed by Colleen and Eric Whiteley of Brooklyn, New York.
Global Hawk Proves its Worth
In late 2010, NASA wrapped two missions that demonstrated the capabilities of one of the Agency’s newest Earth science tools: the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft.
The Global Hawk and its array of science instruments are monitored and controlled by pilots and scientists from the Global Hawk Operations Center at Dryden Flight Research Center. Built by Northrop Grumman, NASA’s Global Hawk aircraft were originally flown in the Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration program sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Two test models were transferred from the U.S. Air Force to NASA in 2007, and a third was transferred in 2009. Northrop Grumman and Dryden signed a Space Act Agreement to re-fit and maintain three Global Hawks for use in high-altitude, long-duration Earth science missions.
The Global Hawk Pacific (GloPac) mission completed four science flights, including a 28.6-hour flight to the Arctic and a 24-hour flight between the Gulf of Alaska and the tropics.
“The GloPac mission showed that the Global Hawk aircraft is a revolutionary tool for Earth science research,” said co-mission scientist Paul Newman from Goddard Space Flight Center. “The Global Hawk has now proven to be a science platform that can fly to altitudes of 65,000 feet for long-duration flights approaching 30 hours.”
During GloPac, mission scientists collected observations of cloud structures, Asian dust, and stratospheric air masses that had moved down from the North Pole. The Global Hawk was also able to make observations that will be used to validate atmospheric observations from the Aura and CALIPSO satellites, part of NASA’s “A-train” of environmental monitoring satellites.
The GloPac mission included more than 130 researchers and technicians from Goddard; NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Ames Research Center; and Dryden; as well as NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory; Northrop Grumman; the University of California, Santa Cruz; Droplet Measurement Technologies of Boulder, Colorado; and the University of Denver.
NASA also completed one of its largest hurricane research efforts ever with help from the Global Hawk: the Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes (GRIP) experiment. The initiative was designed to answer some of the most fundamental yet still unanswered questions of hurricane science: What ultimately causes hurricanes to form? Why do some tropical depressions become strong hurricanes, while others dissipate? What causes the rapid strengthening often seen in hurricanes?
GRIP featured the debut of the Global Hawk drone in a hurricane research capacity. The unmanned plane’s flight range gave scientists the ability to directly observe a hurricane as it changed over time and distance in a way that conventional planes and satellites have not done before.
As GRIP progressed, Global Hawk pilots, based remotely at Dryden, grew more comfortable with the drone’s capability at 60,000 feet and over a hurricane. The Global Hawk made a 25-hour flight that included 20 passes over the eye of Tropical Storm Karl as it was emerging into a hurricane—precisely the type of formation and storm development that scientists hoped to capture during GRIP.
“None of our other planes can do that,” said GRIP project manager Marilyn Vasques, of Ames.
With the flight portion of the campaign ended, scientists will soon move on to analyzing the data they have gathered. Scientists who worked on GRIP and many others will likely mine this cache for years to come. These observations could provide insights with great value to science, which is still trying to fully understand hurricanes, and to society, which could eventually benefit from more accurate forecasts of storm strength and development.
Innovation and International Development
NASA and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have agreed to expand their joint efforts to overcome international development challenges such as food security, climate change, and energy and environmental management.
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Rajiv Shah, USAID administrator, signed a 5-year memorandum of understanding in April 2011 at NASA Headquarters. The agreement formalizes ongoing agency collaborations that use Earth science data to address developmental challenges and to assist in disaster mitigation and humanitarian responses. The agreement also encourages NASA and USAID to apply geospatial technologies to solve development challenges affecting the United States and developing countries.
“Technologies for NASA missions have long improved life here on Earth. Together with USAID, we’ll meet even more sustainable development challenges here on the ground, solving problems for the world community,” Bolden said. “As we explore space, we’ll also be exploring solutions to important health, nutritional, and safety challenges in developing countries.”
USAID is the lead Federal development agency implementing U.S. development efforts through field-based programs and projects around the world. NASA has broad experience with Earth science research, development of Earth science information products, and technology applications.
“Through our partnership with NASA, we can apply the latest cutting-edge technology to deliver meaningful results for people in developing countries in areas like health, food security, and water,” Shah said. “It’s a prime example of our efforts to use the power of science and technology to tackle today’s pressing development challenges.”
technology to deliver meaningful results for people in developing countries.”
—Rajiv Shah, USAID
Since 2003, NASA and USAID have worked together building and expanding the SERVIR program. SERVIR integrates satellite observations, ground-based data, and forecast models to monitor and forecast environmental changes and improving response to natural disasters in Central America, the Caribbean, East Africa, and the Himalayan region of Asia.
The agencies also collaborate on the LAUNCH program, which supports science and technology innovators in the nonprofit and private sectors. The program’s goal is improving innovations to achieve greater impact on sustainability issues. NASA, USAID, the Department of State, and Nike Inc. formed LAUNCH to identify and support innovative approaches to global challenges through a series of forums.
The inaugural event, LAUNCH: Water, was held at Kennedy Space Center in March 2010. There innovators presented transformative ideas, technology, and research that addressed water sustainability challenges. Also in 2010, LAUNCH: Health focused on innovations in nutrition, exercise, and health care. LAUNCH: Energy took place in late 2011.
The program has proved a showcase for a host of cutting-edge innovations, including the Bioneedle, a biodegradable needle filled with vaccine that dissolves in the body, providing essential inoculation without requiring needle disposal or cold chain storage. Another innovator developed a novel agricultural irrigation technology. Licensed by DuPont, the system is currently being used to grow plants in the African desert by desalinating well water. Other LAUNCH-supported innovations include a new, cost-effective method to safely remove arsenic from drinking water; a low-cost eye-test device that attaches to a cell phone; a handheld device that analyzes blood drops for fast diagnosis of various diseases; and a cellphone/microscope combination for detecting parasites in water.
“LAUNCH represents a focused effort to accelerate innovations that can touch thousands and thousands of lives,” said Doug Comstock, director of NASA’s Innovative Partnerships Office.
For their efforts, LAUNCH lead Diane Powell, of NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist, and her team were named finalists for the 2011 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America “Science and Environmental Medal,” presented to honor federal employees for significant contributions to the Nation related to science and the environment.
In addition to SERVIR and LAUNCH, NASA and USAID have agreed to explore how efforts promoting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education can be advanced through joint support of programs such as Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE). GLOBE is a worldwide primary and secondary school-based science and education program funded by NASA and other U.S. agencies.