Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA returned to Mars on April 7 with the 2001 Mars Odyssey Orbiter, which roared into space onboard a Delta II rocket. The spacecraft carries a suite of scientific instruments designed to tell us what makes up the Martian surface and provide vital information about potential radiation hazards for future human explorers.

The 2001 Mars Odyssey mission is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)NASA's lead center for robotic space exploration of the solar system. Nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains above Pasadena, California, JPL also manages the worldwide Deep Space Network, which communicates with spacecraft and conducts scientific investigations from its complexes in California's Mojave Desert, Spain, and Australia.

Mid-year, JPL's director of 10 years, Dr. Edward Stone, announced his retirement, and Dr. Charles Elachi stepped into his position. Dr. Elachi's vision for the laboratory is to continue to do what has never been done before. JPL and NASA exist to envision and then create for the future.

Engineers sharing Dr. Elachi's vision are already creating the technologies of the future, today. Emergency vehicle warning systems, software to help farmers, networks of small sensors to help preserve the environment, wearable personal communications systems, robotic arms to assist with rehabilitation therapies, and lightning-speed computer chips are all in development. Some of these developments will bring about new discoveries and lead in the search for life on other planets, while also providing breakthrough advances in communications, the environment, and even in saving lives.

small device called a pod can be collected in groups together to form a new type of instrument called a Sensor Web This small device, called a pod, can be collected in groups together to form a new type of instrument called a Sensor Web. Each pod contains sensors that collect information from the surrounding environment and communication chips that transmit the data to other pods. Hopping from pod to pod, the data eventually arrives at a primary uplink where it can then be sent to an orbiting satellite for transmission back to Earth.

On the local front, a city just 10 minutes from JPL is pilot testing a technology developed at JPL that will alert motorists of rapidly approaching emergency vehicles. The Emergency Vehicle Early Warning Safety System, developed with the assistance of the Technology Affiliates Program, equips emergency vehicles with transponders that communicate via microwave with receivers on large visual displays deployed on the mast arms above intersections. As an emergency vehicle approaches an intersection, a police officer or firefighter activates the transponder by pressing a switch on the dashboard, which automatically turns the traffic light to yellow, then red, for cross traffic. The visual display board uses icons to show the emergency vehicle approaching or leaving the intersection and the direction it is traveling.

Some of the people closest to the land, farmers, will be the first to benefit from a new global positioning technology developed to make NASA satellites more efficient and cost-effective. Farmers worldwide are putting the new system to the test through a partnership between JPL and NavCom, a division of the John Deere Company. NavCom licensed the technology from JPL and will be equipping tractors with receivers that will provide location information instantly--a vital tool for precision farming. The technology will allow farmers to navigate fields at night and when visibility is poor. More importantly, with soil sensors and other monitors, it will let them calculate and map out precisely where the field may need more water, fertilizer, or weed control, saving both time and money.

In Alaska, tiny sensor pods that resemble a child's toy form a sensor web that will help monitor the environment along the Alaskan pipeline. Alyeska, Inc., is currently working with JPL engineers to adapt their sensor web technology to monitor for oil leaks and preserve the natural habitat along the 800-mile (1288-kilometer) stretch of pipe. The pods communicate with each other, creating a virtual presence allowing large areas to be monitored continuously. Unlike remote operations, sensor webs are placed inside the environment, thus making them capable of sensitive, on-site measurements not possible from satellites. Last year, a prototype sensor web was tested and "planted" in gardens here on Earth in preparation for missions to help monitor potential biological activity on planets.

 woman using Wireless augmented Reality Prototype personal communications system  
The Wireless Augmented Reality Prototype, or WARP, is a personal communications system that will one day be used aboard the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station. The system not only allows for ease of communication between crewmembers, but also includes a wearable monitor that can be used to view documents.  of artist concept of a person using personal communications system

In space, a wearable computer system with audio and video capability may someday be available to astronauts. The Wireless Augmented Reality Prototype (WARP) system will include a lightweight headpiece equipped with a miniature display, two-way real-time audio, and video capability. Finally, just what every astronaut needs, a wearable communicator unit. This system will allow crewmembers onboard the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station to communicate via video and audio transmission. The system will allow astronauts to get instant data from remote computers through an eyepiece, freeing their hands for other jobs. On Earth, the potential uses are endless. Imagine owning your own wearable personal communications system.

Earlier this year, JPL engineers and UCLA neurophysiologists teamed up to create a prototype, robot-like device that, when complete, will be used in a rehabilitation program that could potentially help wheelchair-bound people take their first steps. The device, still in the developmental phase, could be part of clinical trials in about three years. This same device could also be useful to astronauts in maintaining their ability to walk safely following prolonged periods in micro-gravity, such as extended missions on the International Space Station.

Defying traditional laws of physics, researchers may have found a way to blast through roadblocks on the highway to faster and smaller computers. Using modern quantum physics, researchers discovered that entangled pairs of light particles, called photons, can act as a single unit, but perform with twice the efficiency. This research could enable us to continue upgrading computers even after traditional manufacturing procedures have been exhausted.

New JPL technology developments hold promise for the coming year. A hopping robot on wheels, an artificial ear made of nanotubes, machines with human-like vision, and computers that think for themselves are just a few. Many of the technologies currently under research and development will have non-space related benefits. A hand-held device to measure a patient's eye to get a blood glucose reading; a laser that could perform a spinal tap; and a nicotine patch that measures calcium loss, which could be a useful tool in the prevention and mitigation of osteoporosis, are all being considered and may be possible in the years to come.

of Mars Odyssey Orbiter orbiting over earth The 2001 Mars Odyssey Orbiter was launched on April 7, 2001, arriving at Mars on October 20, 2001. The Orbiter carries three instruments: the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), the Gamma Ray Spectrometer (GRS), and the Mars Radiation Environment Experiment (MARIE).

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