Tag Archives: NASA

Photo by: Sean Amidan/ASU/SpaceTREx

ASU chosen to lead lunar CubeSat mission

A spacecraft the size of a shoebox with Arizona origins will soon be orbiting our nearest neighbor to create a map of water-ice on the Moon.

The NASA-selected CubeSat will be designed, built, and operated at Arizona State University, and is one piece of the agency’s larger mission to fully characterize the water content at the lunar South Pole in preparation for exploration, resource utilization, and improved understanding of the Moon’s geologic history.

Photo by: Andy DeLisle/ASU

Photo by: Andy DeLisle/ASU

The spacecraft, called the Lunar Polar Hydrogen Mapper, or “LunaH-Map” for short, will produce the most detailed map to-date of the Moon’s water deposits, unveiling new details about the depth and distribution of the ice that has been tentatively identified from previous missions. Confirming and mapping those deposits in detail will help NASA understand how much water might be available and will help inform NASA’s strategy for sending humans farther into the solar system.

The ability to search for useful assets, such as hydrogen, can potentially enable astronauts to manufacture fuel and other provisions needed to sustain a crew for a journey to Mars, reducing the amount of fuel and weight that NASA would need to transport from Earth.

This is the third major space project for which NASA has selected ASU in the past year, and it is the first planetary science spacecraft mission that will be led by ASU. It represents a major achievement for planetary geologist Craig Hardgrove, the School of Earth and Space Exploration postdoctoral research associate who proposed the mission and will be overseeing it as principal investigator.

“All of our previous NASA mission involvement has consisted of us having instruments on other people’s missions. This is ASU’s first interplanetary mission – this is OUR mission, our chance to trail blaze,” said Jim Bell, professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and mission deputy principal investigator.

“It’s a privilege to be leading this fantastic team, and I want to make sure we do it right and deliver on our promise to NASA,” said Hardgrove.

CubeSats are part of a growing movement that is revolutionizing space exploration because of their small size and low cost of construction and operation, effectively opening the door to early career scientists, providing them an opportunity to operate missions of their own.

“How much good science can we do with these small missions? We don’t know the answer, but we will be one of the first groups to try to answer the question,” said Bell.

A university affair

Although this is one of NASA’s first forays into deep space science experiments with CubeSats, the technology isn’t new to NASA and universities, which have recognized their value and have been building them for years.

“CubeSats are a model for a new way to gain access to space, but they are also a model for how to teach students how to design, build, operate, and troubleshoot a real space mission,” said Bell, who also directs ASU’s NewSpace Initiative. “Students want to know how a spacecraft works, but not just from a PowerPoint presentation. This is their opportunity to build something. Break it. Fix it. Test it again. Launch it. Operate it. And that is the beauty of CubeSats; they provide students with the experience of going through the complete mission process.”

LunaH-Map will be designed, built, and tested on ASU’s Tempe campus, in partnership with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and several other partners supplying space-qualified hardware and services. LunaH-Map leverages technology from at least six different small commercial space companies with expert knowledge and experience in building spacecraft hardware including, Radiation Monitoring Devices, Busek, KinetX, NASA’s Ames Research Center, Catholic University of America, and Planetary Resources.

Overseeing all aspects of the spacecraft engineering is the mission’s Chief Engineer and Co-Investigator, Jekan Thanga, an Assistant Professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. Much of the design and development of LunaH-Map will be done in his Space and Terrestrial Robotic Exploration (SpaceTREx) Laboratory, and clean rooms in ASU’s state-of-the-art Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building 4, which with their glass windows offer an opportunity for visitors to watch the spacecraft being built, tested, and operated.

In total, there will be 15-20 ASU professionals, including students, working on all aspects of the design, development, testing, and delivery of the spacecraft.

“Within the United States there only about seven institutions that are doing interplanetary CubeSat missions,” said Thanga. “ASU brings together scientists and engineers to work on radical new concepts together, from the start. This innovative collaboration strategy leads to greater science return, and more creativity and capability.”

Other Co-Investigators from ASU include Professor Mark Robinson and Associate Research Professor Paul Scowen from the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

Small, low-cost, but sophisticated

LunaH-Map, along with a number of other deep-space CubeSats, are candidates to fly to lunar orbit on Exploration Mission-1, the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), which will be the most powerful rocket ever built and will enable astronauts in the Orion spacecraft to travel deeper into the solar system. NASA will provide several CubeSat missions spots on the maiden SLS mission.

LunaH-Map is a 6U (“6 unit”) CubeSat. One “unit” is a cube measuring 4.7 inches on a side; LunaH-Map strings six of these CubeSat building blocks together and weighs as much as a small child (about 30 pounds).

But just because it is small, doesn’t mean it is less sophisticated – in this case, as with our Smartphones, size doesn’t compromise capabilities. LunaH-Map’s design allows for all the necessary sensors and instruments to be securely packaged inside.  A Jack-in-the-box like deployer releases the spacecraft and panels pop out like little wings.

Once it arrives at the Moon, the tiny spacecraft will embark on a 60-day science mission, consisting of 141 science orbits, using a suite of science instruments.

Its main instrument is a neutron detector designed to sense the presence of hydrogen by measuring the energies of neutrons that have interacted with and subsequently leaked back out of the material in the top meter of the lunar surface.

“We know from previous missions there is an increased abundance of hydrogen at the lunar poles. But we don’t know how much or exactly where,” said Hardgrove. “NASA has funded three different CubeSats to learn more: Lunar IceCube, Lunar FLASHLIGHT, and LunaH-Map. They all look for water in different ways, and provide different types of information.”

As LunaH-Map flies over the lunar South Pole at a very low altitude, it counts the energies of neutrons that have leaked out of the lunar surface. The energy distribution of the neutrons that hit the detectors tells us about the amount of hydrogen that’s buried in the top meter of lunar soil.

LunaH-Map will map the hydrogen content of the entire South Pole of the Moon, including within permanently shadowed regions at high resolution. LunaH-Map will measure the bulk hydrogen content, up to a meter beneath the lunar surface, while the instruments on both Lunar IceCube and FLASHLIGHT will tell us about the very top few microns. LunaH-Map will create the highest resolution maps of regional near-surface (top-meter) water-ice distribution across the entire South Pole of the Moon.

“Science is a human endeavor, and part of that is knowing each other and trusting each other. And when it comes to a NASA mission and tax payer dollars to do exploration, you got to have the credentials. You have to be trusted, you need to have proven yourself, you need to show that you can make it happen and you won’t fail. And we’ve got a history now where that’s the case,” said Lindy Elkins-Tanton, director of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.


ASU, Mayo researchers develop real-time test for bone cancer

Are your bones getting stronger or weaker? Right now, it’s hard to know. But a new test for detecting bone loss, being developed by Arizona State University and Mayo Clinic researchers, offers the possibility of near real-time monitoring of bone diseases. The technique, which measures changes in calcium isotope ratios, has passed an important hurdle by being tested on urine samples from NASA space shuttle astronauts.

Our bones are largely built of calcium, and the turnover of calcium can indicate the development of bone diseases such as osteoporosis and the cancer multiple myeloma. Geochemists have developed extremely accurate ways of measuring calcium isotope ratios, for example for the study of sea shell deposits in sedimentary rocks. Now a group of geochemists and biologists have worked with NASA to put these techniques together to develop a new, rapid test of bone health.

“It’s a novel project in which we use geoscience techniques and concepts for biomedical research,” says lead researcher Ariel Anbar, President’s Professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The ASU team also includes Gwyneth Gordon and Steve Romaniello; collaborator Scott Smith works at NASA Johnson Space Center.

Using mass spectrometry, the relative ratios of the calcium isotopes 42Ca and 44Ca in bone can be discerned. The researchers found that lighter calcium isotopes, such as 42Ca, are absorbed from the blood into the bone during bone formation. Conversely, these light isotopes tend to be released into the bloodstream when bones break down. By measuring the ratios of the two isotopes in blood or urine scientists can calculate the rate of change of bone mass.

Anbar will be discussing this method at the Goldschmidt Conference in Prague, Czech Republic, August 16-21. He will also be recognized for being elected a Geochemistry Fellow by The Geochemical Society and The European Association of Geochemistry.

“The big advantage of these measurements is that they show what is happening in the bone, whereas traditional bone health measurements, such as DXA scans, show what hashappened. This means that we can have a real near-time view of what is happening in the bone, rather than comparing before and after, when damage may have already been done,” explains Anbar.

“Our goal is that these measurements will allow us to see bone breakdown in osteoporosis, but also can show us the progress of certain that affect bone, such as multiple myeloma.”

The research was piloted in bed-bound subjects (who lose bone mass), but the best way for the researchers to test whether the system worked was in an ambient and less controlled population who are known to experience rapid bone loss. In space, because of zero gravity conditions, astronauts experience very rapid bone loss. Working with NASA, the researchers measured calcium isotope ratios in urine from 30 shuttle astronauts, before, during, and after the flights. This allowed them to confirm that the test worked at high sensitivity (NASA partly funded the research).

Joseph Skulan, a member of the research team who first proposed the idea, said: “We were able to confirm that Ca isotopes in the sample from the shuttle astronauts shifted as expected, meaning that they we could see in more or less real time the ongoing bone loss. We did this with simple urine samples, taken at various points during their flights.”

In a collaboration with the Mayo Clinic, the researchers have also looked at a group of 71 patients who either had multiple myeloma (bone cancer), or were at risk of multiple myeloma.

“What we see with cancer patients is exciting,” said Anbar. “Samples from patients with the most active cancer tended to have lighter Ca isotopes. This means that the tests could theoretically feed into decisions on whether or not to treat a patient, for example if a cancer was dormant or growing very slowly, and to assess the effectiveness of treatments.”

He continued: “At the moment, this is still a test which is in development, but we’ve shown the principle is sound and the potential profound. The advantage for this methodology is that the patient doesn’t have to come to the machine; the measurements can be done with a blood or urine test. And from a scientific point of view, we are delighted that we have the chance to combine geochemistry, biology, and space science to benefit patients.”

Commenting, Scott Parazynski, MD, former NASA astronaut, currently University Explorer and Professor at Arizona State University said:

“It’s tremendous to see a sophisticated geochemical assay being translated into what could become a really significant medical diagnostic tool. Physicians treating osteoporosis and other calcium disorders of bone, including multiple myeloma, have very few tools at their disposal to quickly determine whether the treatments they’re providing are actually making a difference. By using calcium isotope ratios, healthcare providers may be able to optimize therapies for these debilitating illnesses in the future.”

123rf.com:  Johan Swanepoel

NASA honors NAU for asteroid observations

A team led by David Trilling, associate professor of astronomy at Northern Arizona University, has been selected to receive a NASA Group Achievement Award.

According to NASA, the Spitzer Near Earth Asteroid Team is being recognized “for exemplary science implementation, analysis and execution of the Spitzer 2011 MD and 2009 BD near-Earth Asteroid Observations for NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission.” Trilling, NAU post-doctoral researcher Michael Mommert and colleagues from four other institutions participated in the research.

The award will be presented Tuesday, June 30, during a ceremony in California hosted by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“It is terrific to get this recognition from NASA as a thank-you for the work we did in support of their space mission planning,” Trilling said. “It was a fun a project, and we learned some new important things about asteroids in doing it. To get this acknowledgement from NASA is just icing on the cake.”

The project involved the observation of two small asteroids in support of NASA’s proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission. Trilling explained that NASA originally planned to capture a small asteroid and bring it back to Earth orbit, and the team’s observations helped determine whether either of the two best candidate asteroids would allow for a successful mission.

Trilling said that NASA has since decided not to proceed with capturing an asteroid. Now the plan is to pick up a boulder off of a larger asteroid instead.

“I think our observations of the two small asteroids convinced NASA that the capture plan was too risky,” Trilling said.

Stephen Tegler, professor and chair of NAU’s Physics and Astronomy Department, praised Trilling and Mommert for the importance and prestige of their work, as well as “the general importance of telescope observations in supporting our country’s space program.”


ASU scientists play key roles in new NASA mission

NASA is sending a mission to see if Europa, an icy moon of Jupiter, has conditions suitable for life, and three ASU scientists are involved with the mission’s instruments.

Three scientists in Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) — Philip Christensen, Mikhail Zolotov, and Everett Shock — are involved with NASA’s newly announced robotic mission to investigate whether conditions suitable for life exist at Jupiter’s moon Europa.

The mission, scheduled for launch in the 2020s, will follow up on the results of NASA’s Galileo mission of 20 years ago. That spacecraft found Europa to be an intriguing body. Its surface is a shell of ice perhaps a few tens of miles thick, covering a salty water ocean.

The icy surface has numerous colored cracks and spots, perhaps rich in salts, where the ocean water appeared and froze. Observations from Earth orbit using the Hubble Space Telescope have also revealed that Europa erupts plumes of water vapor a hundred miles high or more.

The payload of nine science instruments will greatly increase the limited knowledge of Europa, tackling challenges such as imaging the surface in high-resolution and determining the thickness of the moon’s icy shell and the depth of its ocean.

A thermal instrument will scour Europa’s frozen surface in search of thermal anomalies.

“This is a terrific opportunity for ASU and SESE,” says Philip Christensen. A Regents’ Professor of geological sciences in SESE, he is the principal investigator for the Europa Thermal Emission Imaging System (E-THEMIS).

“The role E-THEMIS plays in the mission is to act as a heat detector,” he explains. “It will scan the surface of Europa at high resolution for warm spots.” Such locations, Christensen says, could be places where the ice shell has become thin and they are the most likely locations for plume activity.

The E-THEMIS instrument will be built at ASU using the engineers and facilities in SESE on the Tempe campus that are currently building Christensen’s OTES instrument for the OSIRIS-REx mission. ASU will do the instrument design, fabrication, assembly, test, and calibration, along with mission operations and science data processing. Ball Aerospace will develop the electronics that will be integrated into E-THEMIS.  

 “This plays perfectly into SESE’s strengths in combining science with engineering,” he says.

Everett Shock and Mikhail Zolotov, co-investigators for the MAss SPectrometer for Planetary EXploration/Europa (MASPEX), will apply their geochemistry expertise to interpret the results.

“In order to assess habitability of Europa we will need to gather information about composition of surface materials and understand their relations with putative water ocean,” explains Zolotov, who is also a co-investigator on the Radar for Europa Assessment and Sounding: Ocean to Near-surface (REASON) and SUrface Dust Mass Analyzer (SUDA).

The MASPEX and SUDA instruments will be used to sample Europa’s thin atmosphere, including plume emissions and small particulates of minerals and ice lofted into space.

“We anticipate lots of data, but the MEANING of the data for the habitability of Europa will require additional experiments, calculations, and theoretical modeling, which are major strengths of the combination of geochemistry, biochemistry, and planetary science in SESE and at ASU,” says Shock.

The School of Earth and Space Exploration is a unit of ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.


NASA chooses ASU for Mars 2020 mission

Arizona State University has been selected by NASA to design, deliver and oversee the Mastcam-Z imaging investigation, a pair of color panoramic zoom cameras, on the next rover mission to be launched to the surface of Mars in 2020. Jim Bell, a professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, will be the principal investigator overseeing the investigation.

NASA has selected the instruments that will be carried aboard the Mars 2020 mission, a roving laboratory based on the highly successful Curiosity rover. The instruments were competitively selected from 58 proposals submitted, two times the average number of proposals submitted for instrument competitions in the recent past and an indicator of the extraordinary interest in exploration of the Red Planet.

The Mars 2020 rover will be designed to seek signs of past life on Mars, to collect and store samples that could be returned to Earth in the future, and to test new technology to benefit future robotic and human exploration of Mars. The instruments onboard will help to build upon the many discoveries from the Curiosity Mars rover and the two Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity) and will be the critical next step in NASA’s strategic program of exploring the Red Planet.

Bell will oversee an international science team responsible for creating and operating the cameras on NASA’s next, yet-to-be-named, Mars rover. Bell has been responsible for the science imaging systems onboard the NASA Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, and is the deputy P.I. of the color cameras on the Curiosity rover.

“These cameras will be the main eyes of NASA’s next rover,” says Bell.

The imaging system ASU will deliver is a pair of multispectral, stereoscopic cameras that will be an enhanced descendant of Curiosity’s successful imaging instrument called Mastcam. Mastcam-Z will be comprised of two zoom camera heads to be mounted on the rover’s remote sensing mast. This matched pair of zoom cameras will each provide broad-band red/green/blue (RGB) color imaging, as well as narrow-band visible to short-wave near-infrared multispectral capability.

Mastcam-Z will have all of the capabilities of Curiosity’s imaging instrument, but is augmented by a 3.6:1 zoom feature capable of resolving features about 1 millimeter in size in the near field and about 3-4 centimeters in size at 100 meter distance.

“The cameras that we will build and use on Mars are based on Curiosity’s cameras but with enhanced capabilities,” explains Bell. “Specifically we will be able to use our zoom capability to allow us to play a much more significant role in rover driving and target selection.”

Mastcam-Z’s imaging will permit the science team to piece together the geologic history of the site—the stratigraphy of rock outcrops and the regolith, as well as to constrain the types of rocks present. The cameras will also document dynamic processes and events via video (such as dust devils, cloud motions, and astronomical phenomena, as well as activities related to driving, sampling, and caching), observe the atmosphere, and contribute to rover navigation and target selection for investigations by the coring/caching system, as well as other instruments.

Bell’s large international science team will include Mark Robinson, School of Earth and Space Exploration professor and principal investigator for the imaging system on board NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera. Robinson brings significant experience in planetary geology and spacecraft imaging and will be responsible for characterizing the regolith from Mastcam‐Z images and assisting with camera calibration and mission operations.

In addition, Bell intends to involve a significant number of staff, undergraduate students, and graduate students in the mission. For example, SESE Research Scientist Craig Hardgrove and Technology Support Analyst Austin Godber are slated to play leading roles in the design, testing, and operations of the Mastcam-Z investigation.

Mastcam-Z remote instrument operations will be directed from the ASU Science Operations Center (SOC), housed in the Mission Operations Center located in the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV on the ASU campus. ASU faculty, staff, and students will work closely with mission engineering leads at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

“We are very excited about playing such a critical role in NASA’s next Mars rover. And we are especially excited because this rover will be the first step in NASA’s Mars rover sample return mission,” says Bell. “We are eager are to play a role in the selection of the first Martian samples for eventual return to Earth.”


Hubble unveils its most colorful view of the universe

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have assembled a very comprehensive picture of the evolving universe – and the most colorful. This study, called the Ultraviolet Coverage of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (UVUDF) project, provides the missing link in star formation, say researchers.

Prior to this survey, astronomers were in a curious position. They had knowledge of star formation in nearby galaxies from missions such as NASA’s GALEX observatory. And, thanks to Hubble’s near-infrared capability, they also studied star birth in the most distant galaxies, which appear to us in their most primitive stages thanks to the vast light travel time involved. But for the period in between — a range extending from about 5 billion to 10 billion light-years away — they just didn’t have enough data. This is the time when most of the stars in the universe were born.

Ultraviolet light comes from the hottest, most massive, and youngest stars. By observing at these wavelengths, researchers get a direct look at which galaxies are forming stars and, just as importantly, where within those galaxies the stars are forming.

Astronomers have previously studied the Hubble Ultra Deep Field in visible and near infrared light, in a series of exposures taken from 2004 to 2009. Now, with the addition of ultraviolet light, they have combined the full range of colors available to Hubble, stretching all the way from ultraviolet to near-infrared light. The resulting image — made from 841 orbits of telescope viewing time — contains approximately 10,000 galaxies, extending back in time to within a few hundred million years of the big bang.

Studying the ultraviolet images of galaxies in this intermediate time period enables astronomers to understand how galaxies like our Milky Way grew in size from small collections of very hot stars. Because Earth’s atmosphere filters most ultraviolet light, this work can only be accomplished with a space-based telescope.

“It’s the deepest panchromatic image of the sky ever made. It reaches the faintness of one firefly as seen from the distance of the Moon,” says Rogier Windhorst, professor at the School of Earth and Space Exploration in Arizona State University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“Ultraviolet surveys like this one, using the unique capability of Hubble, are incredibly important in planning for the James Webb Space Telescope,” explained Windhorst, a team member. “Hubble provides an invaluable ultraviolet light dataset that researchers will need to combine with infrared data from Webb. This is the first really deep ultraviolet image to show the power of that combination.”

When better reductions of these ultraviolet images became available earlier this year, Windhorst made properly weighted stacks of the 13-filter images, and put them together in a final color mosaic. This then was perfected by Zolt Levay at the Space Telescope Science Institute.

ASU students will use images like these to analyze in detail the cosmic star-formation during the last 10 billion years. Such studies have become possible thanks to the unique ultraviolet imaging capability of Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, the last camera installed into Hubble in May 2009. ASU has had major science involvement in WFC3, since the designing and building of it started in 1998.


Now is the time to invest in Arizona

It used to be when I traveled to different business meetings across the country, people would ask me about Arizona’s politics. While we still have reputation issues to repair, the questions I’ve been getting recently are more focused on the buzz they’re hearing about our growing technology sector.

There’s good reason Arizona is getting noticed for its growth. Over the last five years, Arizona has developed one of the most robust technology entrepreneurial ecosystems in the country. The state is home to five of Deloitte’s 2013 “Technology Fast 500” firms, specifically First Solar, LifeLock, Telesphere, Inilex and GPS Insight. Other startups that have been home grown in Arizona into industry leaders include Axosoft, GoDaddy, iCrossing, Infusionsoft, Insight Enterprises, LimeLight Networks and WebPT.

We were able to accomplish our strong entrepreneurial spirit in part by drawing the attention of the media and the state’s policy makers to the need to diversify our economy away from construction and climate into a knowledge-based economy with higher paying jobs. Our efforts resulted in a tax credit for qualified research and development that is the best in the nation and a successful angel investment tax credit.

A lot of other resources have been invested. Over a dozen business incubators and accelerators call Arizona home, providing resources to support technology entrepreneurs. In addition to graduating a vibrant workforce to fuel quality jobs, Arizona’s world-renowned universities and community colleges are also heavily engaged.

Arizona State University (ASU) runs the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative and the ASU SkySong Innovation Center was recently awarded one of the best organizations of its kind in the country. University of Arizona (UA) is helping create the technology of tomorrow in its Bridges/UA Bio Park and UA Tech Park that includes a Solar Zone. UA also participates in Startup Tucson – an organization dedicated to growing a vibrant ecosystem of entrepreneurship through educational events. Northern Arizona University fosters business growth through it Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology and benefits from its affiliation with NASA. All of that bodes well for Arizona’s innovation economy.

Other efforts are focused solely on exciting people about technology and science. We just celebrated the third annual statewide Arizona SciTech Festival with over 300K people attending more than 500 events this year.

And although we have a long way to go, there’s a growing pool of capital. We’re home to two of the largest and top rated angel investor networks in the U.S. ─ ATIF and Desert Angels. The Arizona Commence Authority has created the Arizona Innovation Challenge that awards the most money in the country to the most promising entrepreneurs meeting technology challenges. Grayhawk Capital just raised $70 million in funds for early and growth stage technology investments. And Tallwave Capital recently announced it has deployed $500,000 in capital in early-stage ventures.

The 2010 census reports Arizona’s population at 6.4 million, with a median age of 35.9 years. The predicted growth rates for Arizona by the federal and state government expect that between 1.5 million and 3 million people will move to Arizona by the year 2020. That type of robust regional population growth combined with an improved U.S. economy translates into high potential for investors.

It’s true we enjoy more than 300 days of sunshine each year. But we offer a lot more than golf and spas. Venture capital sitting on the sidelines should put money into promising Arizona high tech firms and startup ventures.

Now is the time to invest in Arizona.

NASA Star Vista

ASU engages with NASA’s Solar Research Institute

Arizona State University Foundation Professor Kip Hodges is co-investigator and ASU principal investigator for a node of the new NASA Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI). SSERVI brings nine teams of researchers from NASA laboratories, universities, research institutions, and commercial enterprises together in a collaborative virtual setting to focus on questions concerning planetary science and human space exploration in the inner Solar System.

Through Hodges participation, ASU is affiliated with “Field Investigations to Enable Solar System Science and Exploration” team that is led by Jennifer Heldmann of NASA’s Ames Research Center. Other nodes of the virtual institute are based at Brown University, the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, the Lunar and Planetary Institute (Houston, Texas), NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center, the Southwest Research Institute (Boulder, Colo.), Stony Brook University, the University of Central Florida, the University of Colorado. All together, the new virtual institute embraces the research of nearly 200 scientists nationwide, providing them with a total of roughly $12 million per year over the next five years.

“I’m very pleased that, through Jen’s leadership, the NASA Ames node was selected to be an inaugural part of SSERVI”, said Hodges. “I think we have assembled a great team of researchers that cross the boundaries between planetary science and the engineering and implementation of new technologies to enhance our ability to do science on other worlds.”

In addition to researchers from the Ames Research Center and ASU, the NASA Ames team includes participants from: the BAER Institute; the Canadian Space Agency; Cornell University; Evergreen Valley College; Honeybee Robotics; Idaho State University; the Korean Institute of Geoscience & Mineral Resources; Los Gatos Research; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Purdue University; the SETI Institute; Studio 98; the University of Toronto; the University of Western Ontario; Wyle Integrated Science and Engineering; and NASA’s Goddard, Johnson, Kennedy, and Marshall Space Flight Centers.

The NASA Ames team will focus on the development of innovative strategies for scientific research on asteroids, the Moon, and the moons of Mars – as well as on samples returned from those bodies – through studies of planetary analog sites on Earth. Hodges notes that it is important to establish best practices for human and robotic exploration of space prior to the launch of real missions so that we can maximize the quality and quantity of science that can be done at our exploration targets.

“By studying geologic features on Earth that are similar to those we will encounter on other bodies, we better prepare ourselves for future explorations.” The NASA Ames node will be conducting such studies on volcanic landscapes in Idaho and at meteorite impact craters in northern Canada.

Hodges was recruited for participation in SSERVI as a consequence of his research group’s work on determining the ages of impact events on Earth and the Moon.

“On coming to ASU in 2006, it was one of my goals to establish a world-class center for noble gas geochronology and geochemistry in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. Thanks to investments by ASU, the National Science Foundation, and NASA, the laboratory my research group has worked hard to put together enables some very creative work, including our pioneering use of laser microprobe technologies for dating impact events”, Hodges says.

Recent work of this kind has focused on a variety of terrestrial impact sites and on lunar impact rocks brought back during the Apollo 16 and 17 missions. Many members of Hodges’ research group – research scientists Mathijs van Soest and Jo Anne Wartho, postdoctoral associates Marc Biren, Frances Cooper, and John Weirich, and graduate students Cameron Mercer and Kelsey Young – have contributed to building the laboratory’s reputation as a leading facility for impact dating.

“Our participation in the work of the NASA Ames node of SSERVI permits us to expand our work on terrestrial impact sites in a way that will feed forward into future studies of samples returned from exploration targets like near-Earth asteroids, our Moon and the moons of nearby planets, or Mars. We are excited to be part of such a great effort, and look forward to helping NASA write the next chapter in the history of space exploration,” states Hodges.


Bringing Farms to Arizona Cities

Green living innovator Greg Peterson has an idea of bringing 10,000 urban farms into big cities of Arizona.

By creating farms closer to homes in large cities, fresh foods are more readily available to help create a healthier way of living.

Peterson, contributing writer for Phoenix Magazine and Edible Phoenix, began gardening 35 years ago when he realized the importance of growing your own food.

“Stress, environmental toxins, and lack of nutrition contribute to disease. We can control the quality of the food were eating,” Peterson said. The diagnosis of a tremor causing one of Peterson’s hands to shake “spun” him into learning more about health.

Peterson’s idea of the Urban Farm began after he transformed his backyard into an entirely edible landscape with over 70 fruit trees, three solar applications, and recycled building materials. The site is open to the public and offers tours and classes on how to garden and farm.

Most of the food bought at major grocery store chains travels an average of 1500 miles before it reaches shelves to be purchased, Peterson explains. This means that fruits and vegetables have to be picked before they are ready, leaving people with a limited amount of nutrients in their diets.

Restaurants located in bigger cities are beginning to garden and farm on site of their locations. Pizzeria Bianco and The Parlor, both located in Phoenix, have fresh menu items by growing their ingredients on the restaurant’s property.

Fruits and vegetables are more power packed with nutrients when they are grown and sold closer to homes in urban areas because they don’t have to be picked so far ahead of time for long destinations. Food is healthier for people when it doesn’t have to travel as far.

The hot, sunny weather in Arizona sometimes makes it difficult to maintain a garden or farm, let alone do this in bigger city areas of the state. Tim Blank, a man who works directly with the Department of Energy and NASA, has created a product called the “Tower Garden” to grow fresh food in any environment.

The “Tower Garden” is an environmentally friendly product that uses 90 percent less water in growing plants. Ongoing drought problems in the state of Arizona makes conserving water an important issue.

Nutrition educator and Tower Garden owner, Ellen Stecker, grows tomatoes, squash, zucchini, and cilantro with the product on her property at home.

Tower Gardens are so popular, that they have been featured on ABC news, CNN, and the New York Times. This invention is an important tool that helps bring gardening closer to homes in the city.

With his idea of creating 10,000 urban farms in Phoenix, Peterson says that the Tower Garden inspires healthy living.

NASA Geek Chic

Geek chic: Mohawks in, pocket protectors out

Known to the Twitterverse and the president of the United States as “Mohawk Guy” of the Mars mission, Bobak Ferdowsi could be the changing public face of NASA and all of geekdom.

Ferdowsi, whose shaved scalp also features star shapes, is a flight director for the Mars rover Curiosity — a mission that captured the nation’s imagination with its odds-defying, acrobatic landing.

And Mohawk Guy isn’t the only star. There’s also former rock ‘n’ roller Adam Steltzner, sometimes called “Elvis Guy” because of his pompadour and sideburns.

Steltzner directed the daring landing of the rover and appears in a NASA movie trailer describing why the Aug. 5 Mars landing involved “seven minutes of terror.” The movie, posted on YouTube, became a hit.

“You guys are a little cooler than you used to be,” President Barack Obama said in a Monday congratulatory phone call to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Given Ferdowsi’s success, Obama, a “Star Trek” fan, joked about the Mohawk and suggested he might try it: “I think that I’m going to go back to my team and see if it makes sense.”

Mohawk Guy’s Twitter followers have soared to more than 50,000. Over the weekend, he and the 49-year-old Steltzner appeared on NPR’s game show, “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me.” He’s been doing Google+ hangouts. And, oh yes, he’s gotten marriage proposals.

Strange hairstyles are a tradition for the 32-year-old Ferdowsi, who once donned a cut that was supposed to resemble a rocket plume — red, orange and gold.

Ferdowsi couldn’t be reached for comment, but he tweeted late Monday: “So incredible to have the POTUS call work today & thank the team! Still can’t believe (at) BarackObama called me mohawk guy! ”

Last week, in a Los Angeles Times interview, he acknowledged his haircut might be “a little bit of a shock” to some. He said most people think of the serious, button-downed Apollo 13 NASA. .

But he noted that in 1967, engineers at his workplace, Jet Propulsion Lab, or JPL, wore Spock ears for the launch of a Venus-bound spacecraft. In fact, the California operation is more like the Berkeley of NASA.

In the unmanned world of space robotics, engineers are just as detail obsessed as Mission Control in Houston. But JPL doesn’t handle life-and-death astronaut missions, and more risks can be taken. Such as the remarkable landing system of Mars Curiosity that featured a giant parachute, retrorockets and the gentle controlled lowering of the one-ton rover with cables.

It was all run by Steltzner, who twice got F’s in high school math, initially skipped college to play music and enjoys making his own jam.

The JPL missions are run in a creative conclave nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains east of Los Angeles and managed by the California Institute of Technology for NASA. JPL prides itself on its university-like atmosphere. Some engineers come to work in Hawaiian shirts, shorts and flip-flops. Others sport hippie hairstyles.

“The button-down white shirts and ties were always in Houston; they were not here,” said Gentry Lee, who is chief engineer for planetary flight systems at JPL and is one of Ferdowsi’s bosses.

“The people who have been flying robotic missions have always been about substance and not about appearances,” Lee said. But he said most people who don’t know NASA didn’t know that until now.

“Geeks have hit pop culture,” said Ken Denmead, editor and publisher of geekdad.com. “I think more than any other single event in the last five or 10 years, this (Mars landing) has put a face on science and engineering that really gets future generations excited.

“People like Bobak and the whole crew on the Curiosity landing just shatter that (pocket protector) mode and that’s wonderful,” Denmead, a San Francisco civil engineer, said in a phone interview.

With hit television shows celebrating geeks, like “The Big Bang Theory,” science-lover Obama in the White House, and especially regular people using more technology in their daily lives, Denmead sees what he calls “normals” becoming more geek-like. And geeks are becoming more social thanks to Twitter and Facebook.

“The communications barriers have come down between the geeks and the normals if you want,” Denmead said. “The differences have faded away.”

Recycled Water in Space

Recycled Water — On A Journey From Space And Back To Earth

There’s What in My Water?

“Green” technology is constantly evolving and, consequently, so is my knowledge of it. Ever since I embarked on the journey of learning more about sustainability, nothing ceases to amaze me. Maybe some of the things I write about are old news to those more educated on the topic, but I’m sure there are many individuals such as myself who are taking this one day at a time.

In that vein, I stumbled upon a technology that NASA uses to solve the problem of not having a sufficient water supply for its astronauts in space. Hauling water to space is difficult and expensive, so instead NASA utilizes a special device that recycles astronauts’ sweat and urine (yes, urine) into drinking water.

The wastewater enters a processing machine where it goes through six steps of cleansing, including adding iodine to kill microbes. The water is boiled off, vapor collected and brine from urine removed. Add a dash of water from air condensation, filter, and voilà, recycled drinking water is born!

As space exploration evolved it became obvious the technology would be vital to the long-term success of NASA missions.

There's What in my Water?The recycling system was brought up to the International Space Station last November by the space shuttle Endeavour. However, only recently were the astronauts actually able to test the fruits of their “labor.” The project, Environmental Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS), also doubled the living capacity of the space station from three people to six.

Another plus? A portion of ECLSS has been adapted to Earth and is already helping rural villages in northern Iraq, the Dominican Republic and Pakistan generate clean drinking water.

One company at the forefront of this water treatment technology is Water Security Corporation. The company has taken the technology originally developed for NASA and commercialized it to make it accessible to those who need it most.

An interesting tidbit the company includes on its Web site is how similar the situations are between NASA and rural villages in developing nations in terms of having a sufficient water supply. Like the astronauts on the space station, residents in these villages must recycle everything they have. With the help of this technology, the villagers can treat what they DO have in order to keep the water supply constant without having to rely on the whims of others.

People in the developed world take for granted the basic things we are lucky enough to have on a day-to-day basis. This reminded me to truly make an attempt to not be wasteful and conserve our limited resources.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the astronauts say the water tastes just fine. :-)