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Best Goddard Videos of 2011: Space Technology

December 13, 2011 Leave a comment

On Friday this week, NASA/Goddard filmmakers, writers, and animators will screen what they consider their best work of 2011. It’s called the Best of Goddard Film Festival, and it’s held every year about this time for Goddard employees. (For employees, the festival will run from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm in the Goett Auditorium, Building 3.)

Even if you are “outside the Center,” you can still watch and enjoy the entries to the festival that are available on YouTube on the NASA Explorer channel. They’ll run in groups this week on the blog.

Yesterday’s post featured NASA scientific discoveries from 2011. Today, let’s look at videos about space and satellite technology.


Intro to LIDAR

  • Animators: Walt Feimer (HTSI) (Lead) Chris Smith (HTSI)
  • Video Editor: Chris Smith (HTSI)
  • Producer: Chris Smith (HTSI)
  • Scientist: Gregory Neumann (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
  • Videographer: Rob Andreoli (AIMM)
  • Writer: Chris Smith (HTSI)




LEND: The Lunar Neutron Counter

  • Animator: Chris Smith (HTSI)
  • Video Editor: Chris Smith (HTSI)
  • Narrator: Chris Smith (HTSI)
  • Producer: Chris Smith (HTSI)
  • Scientists: Richard Vondrak (NASA/GSFC); John Keller (NASA/GSFC)
  • Writer: Chris Smith (HTSI)




So, You Want To Build a Satellite?

  • Animator: Chris Smith (HTSI) (Lead)
  • Video Editor: Chris Smith (HTSI)
  • Narrator: Chris Smith (HTSI)
  • Producer: Chris Smith (HTSI)
  • Scientist: Bruce Jakosky (LASP)
  • Writer:Chris Smith (HTSI)

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.


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Model rocket attacks real (big) rocket!

July 27, 2011 2 comments
Looking up: Model rocket enthusiasts at the NASA Goddard visitor center

Looking up: Model rocket enthusiasts at the NASA Goddard visitor center


On Sunday, July 17, model rocket enthusiasts gathered at the Goddard Space Flight Center Visitor Center to commemorate the historic Apollo 11 launch and landing in 1969. Below is a clip of a puny model rocket “attacking” the magnificent, towering Thor Delta in back of the VC. Lucky strike! Watch it in HD/full screen for the full and dramatic effect of this modern-day reenactment of David vs. Goliath.

Regular public rocket launches began in 1976 as a program of the new Visitor Center and, of course, to mark the nation’s bicentennial. These days, it’s not uncommon for multiple generations to participate — even children of children of people who attended the early launches!

The special Apollo 11 launch event began in 1980. It’s always been on the third Sunday of July, which makes sure it coincides reasonably with the Apollo 11 anniversary.

“We have flown altitude, parachute duration, streamer duration and spot landing events over the years. I think we have kind of settled down for spot landing now,” explains Ed Pearson, a local model rocket enthusiast and longtime associate of the Visitor Center who helped start the public launches at Goddard.

More on that in a future post. Turns out the Visitor Center building has a more interesting history than imagined. More details to come…



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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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Goddard Symposium Moments: Woodrow Whitlow and the "Moon Lady"

goddard symposium web art
Last week, March 30-31, I had the pleasure of helping to document the proceedings of the 49th annual Goddard Symposium. The event is sponsored by the American Astronautical Society with support from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Each year, the symposium celebrates the ideas and accomplishments of American rocketry pioneer Robert H. Goddard.

Imagine packing a bunch of rocket scientists and rocket entrepreneurs into the same room for two days to talk shop. It was a blast (no pun intended). Until July 1, you can see all the talks and panel discussions, and many of the speakers’ presentation slides, at a website hosted by the NASA Goddard Sciences and Exploration Directorate.

The most interesting part of the symposium, for me personally, was hearing talks and presentations by the senior NASA officials who are attempting to chart a new course for the agency — one that could include significant changes in how we explore the solar system.

I admit I expected the senior management types from NASA to play things pretty straight. And they did, of course, when it came to policy issues. But I also heard a lot of candid discussion, and a lot of humor, which was refreshing.

One of the high-ranking officials who participated, NASA Associate Administrator for Mission Support Woodrow Whitlow, Jr., told a funny story about the day he (literally) got the call from NASA to come and work for the agency. The caller was the famous Harriett G. Jenkins, Assistant Administrator for Equal Opportunity Programs at NASA from 1974 to 1992. Among other things, Jenkins recruited minority job candidates.

In 1979, Whitlow was finishing his Ph.D. at MIT in aeronautics and astronautics. Jenkins called at 5:30 a.m. to ask him to come and work for NASA. Here’s the rest of the story:


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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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Goddard's First Homegrown Satellite, Explorer 10, Was Launched 50 Years Ago Today: We Talk to the Father of Explorer 10, James Heppner, About the 'Opportunity Years' at the Dawn of NASA


photo of Earl Angulo (at left) and Ron Browning examining an Explorer-10 model attached to a test fixture
This photo from the early 1960s shows Goddard employees Earl Angulo (at left) and Ron Browning examining an Explorer 10 model attached to a test fixture. They were responsible for the mechanical engineering and testing of the satellite.


Fifty years ago today, Goddard’s first homegrown scientific satellite roared off the pad at Cape Canaveral on a Thor-Delta rocket. Although key components came from outside the gates, Explorer 10 was the first satellite to be designed, assembled, tested, and flown from Goddard Space Flight Center.

James Heppner, a young space physicist (barely 30 then) and one of NASA’s early employees, conceived of the mission that came to be called Explorer 10. Heppner functioned as a sort of one-man band — Project Manager, Project Scientist, and Principal Investigator for the magnetometer instruments on the satellite.

Before NASA was founded, Heppner worked for the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. It was there he developed methods to measure Earth’s magnetic field. At NRL he used sounding rockets to study charged particles and magnetic fields high in Earth’s atmosphere. His earlier research in Alaska focused on the aurora and its effects on radio wave propagation, and was the basis for his Caltech PhD thesis.

Heppner calls these times the “opportunity years,” a period when methods and technology for measuring magnetic fields and space plasma — the bread and butter of space physics — were being invented. He was at the right place at precisely the right time.

In late 1958, as Heppner and many of his colleagues were being “handed over” to the nation’s new aerospace agency, he had already helped create a magnetometer for the Vanguard program. Vanguard, an NRL project, was created to loft the first civilian scientific payloads into space for the International Geophysical year of 1957-58. Heppner’s proton magnetometer went into space aboard Vanguard 3 on September 18, 1959.

NASA satellite P-14 was renamed Explorer 10

NASA satellite P-14 was renamed Explorer 10

At the time of the transition to NASA, Heppner today recalls, he conceived of a satellite to measure the magnetic field of the moon. The mission, then called P-14, would accomplish its goal by extreme measures:

“I originally proposed Explorer 10 when NASA was formed,” explains Heppner, 83, who spoke with me recently from his home in New Market, Maryland. “And the intent was to try to hit the moon and measure the moon’s magnetic field on the way in.”

The original plan was deferred. The truth is, hitting the moon — even intentionally — was no simple trick in those days. It wasn’t clear the Thor-Delta launch system would accomplish the task, and even tracking a spacecraft to the moon was straining the technical capabilities of the time.

“With time we realized that the odds of hitting the moon would be extremely low, from the vehicle performance and ability to track, things like that,” Heppner explains. “I was told that with the odds of hitting the moon being so low, it would be embarrassing to even try. So I was essentially directed by NASA headquarters to make sure that the trajectory was such that it couldn’t be interpreted as an attempt to hit the moon.”

The new mission goal was to measure magnetism and plasma particles in space from outside of Earth’s protective magnetic bubble, or magnetosphere. This had been attempted previously, but not with great success. To do it required launching P-14/Explorer 10 into a highly elliptical orbit that would take it a great distance from Earth, dozens of time the planet’s radius.

The satellite weighed approximately the same as a space physicist: 79 kilograms, or 178 pounds. “It was very light,” Heppner says. “We were trying to get distance.” An engineering model hangs in the Smithsonian if you care to look at the real thing..

For the records, here is the complete entry in the NASA/National Space Science Data Center mission database:

“Explorer 10 was a cylindrical, battery-powered spacecraft instrumented with two fluxgate magnetometers and one rubidium vapor magnetometer extending from the main spacecraft body, and a Faraday cup plasma probe. The mission objective was to investigate the magnetic fields and plasma as the spacecraft passed through the earth’s magnetosphere and into cislunar space. The satellite was launched into a highly elliptical orbit. It was spin stabilized with a spin period of 0.548 s. The direction of its spin vector was 71 deg right ascension and minus 15 deg declination. Because of the limited lifetime of the spacecraft batteries, the only useful data were transmitted in real time for 52 h on the ascending portion of the first orbit. The distance from the earth when the last bit of useful information was transmitted was 42.3 earth radii, and the local time at this point was 2200 h. All transmission ceased several hours later. “


On March 25, 1961, a rocket similar to this one launched Explorer 10 into space. This historic Delta rocket stands in the Goddard Visitor Center's "rocket garden." (Image: Wikipedia RadioFan)

On March 25, 1961, a rocket similar to this one launched Explorer 10 into space. This historic Delta rocket stands in the Goddard Visitor Center's "rocket garden." (Image: RadioFan)

Rubidium vapor magnetometers could measure extremely weak magnetic fields, and were a totally new technology, Heppner says. They were invented at a company called Varian Associates in Palo Alto, California. The Faraday cup plasma instrument, which measured particles streaming off the sun’s “solar wind,” came courtesy of a team of scientists at MIT led by the pioneering X-ray astronomer and plasma physicist Bruno Rossi.

Finally the big day came on March 25, 1961. The launch managers for the Thor-Delta rocket worked in “the block house” at the Cape, while Heppner and his colleagues were encamped in a machine shop, peering at oscilloscopes to assess the health of their satellite and staying in contact with the blockhouse, and the other scientists and engineers, by telephone.

Explorer 10, as was typical in those days, was powered by a expendable battery. The craft radioed back data for 52 hours as it swooped through and outside of the magnetosphere, travelling for 42.3 Earth radii — about 167,466 miles — before the battery dimmed and the craft shut down. (For comparison, consider that the average distance form Earth to the moon is 238,857 miles.)

After launch, tracking stations record data on tapes and send them to the scientists. Heppner published a number of scientific papers from the data. He headed the Goddard Magnetic Fields Group, and worked on many major missions over the succeeding years.

The next big missions for Heppner after Explorer 10 were the Orbiting Geophysical Observatories, which grew substantially in mass and capability. He retired from the civil service in 1989, but continued to work as a contractor until 1996.

How were those days different from the later, larger, more complex place NASA has become? What was it like in the opportunity years?

“It was a very busy period in the sense that the technology was developing,” Heppner explains. “The early satellites weren’t very sophisticated because everything was new.”

But things moved fast. Heppner summed it up best in a chapter he wrote for a 1997 book, Discovery of the Magnetosphere.

“Opportunities for new endeavors were plentiful and the time between conception and results was unbelievably short when viewed in the light of today’s space programs.”

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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That Was the Week that Was, March 7-11, 2011. . . Coolest Goddard People, Science, & Media PLUS Best of the Blogpodcastotwittersphere

March 11, 2011 2 comments


photo of isim on goddard centrifuge

A big chunk of the Webb Telescope goes out for a spin: This week a web feature story came out about ongoing testing of the metal cage that will hold the various scientific instrument on the Webb Telescope – the heir to the Hubble Space Telescope now under construction here at Goddard and elsewhere in NASA.

Webb will undergo significant shaking when it is launched on the large Ariane V rocket. To be sure the telescope’s “chassis” is ready for this “bumpy road,” the ISIM is subjected to some extreme testing.  During the testing process, the ISIM is spun and shaken while many measurements are taken. Afterwards, engineers compare the measurements with their models of the ISIM. If there are discrepancies, then the engineers track down why, and make corrections.


That centrifuge is a pretty impressive piece of hardware, let me tell you. Months ago, I got a chance to film a preliminary spin-up test of the giant centrifuge. This thing, at full throttle, can spin about once every two seconds. The test I saw was a lot tamer than that, spinning at roughly 2 rpm. Check it out:




The centrifuge room is pretty noisy, and the equipment is massive — on the order of a half-million pounds. And so it starts out slow. But gradually it picks up speed. At very high speed, it’s way too dangerous to be in the room. (The engineers work in a separate control room during actual tests.) If even a small bit of hardware were to fly off the centrifuge, it could cause a serious injury. My friend Jay Friedlander (the cameraman) and I were very grateful to the engineers for letting us witness an actual spin-up of the centrifuge — an uncommon site at Goddard.

Here comes the sun on the Goddard Flickr channel: The Goddard Flickr channel was all aglow this week with images of the sun, courtesy of NASA’s solar observing fleet. A web feature by one of Goddard’s newest solar scribes, Karen Fox, announced the 400-year anniversary of the first scientific publication about sunspots. Goddard’s Flickr photomistress, Rebecca Roth, obliged with an entire set of spectacular sun imagery. Here is my favorite, a super-high-resolution image of a sunspot by the Hinode spacecraft. Go to the Flickr set to see the rest.

hinode spacecraft image of sunspot

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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The eagle has landed — at Goddard Space Flight Center

February 28, 2011 6 comments

On Friday, I was surprised to see a photo — posted on the Goddard Flickr site — of a majestic bald eagle (named Harry) perched on a tree at Goddard Space Flight Center. I had no idea they were here! It makes you want to look up more often. Here is the photo that one of the staff photographers here, Bill Hrybyk, shot with his trusty Nikon D3. Scroll past the image to read more about bald eagles in Maryland. . .

"Harry" the bald eagle perches in the rain near Building 27A at the Goddard Space Flight Center on February 25, 2011.

"Harry" the bald eagle perches in the rain near Building 27A at the Goddard Space Flight Center on February 25, 2011.



It turns out that Goddard is benefiting from a national upturn in bald eagle populations. According to an article I found online, Bald Eagles No Longer Rare in Maryland:

“If you told someone 30 years ago that you spotted a bald eagle in Maryland, they’d be impressed. But these days, that’s not the case. The bald eagle population has increased dramatically over the years. That’s prompted Maryland wildlife officials to propose removing the bird from the state’s list of threatened species. . . Only 44 breeding pairs of bald eagles were found in Maryland in 1977. In 2004, the population rebounded to 390 pairs.”


According to a source from the state Department of Natural Resources referenced in the article, there may be more than 500 breeding pair in our fair state by now. Bald eagles went off the federal list of threatened species in 2007; on April 5, 2010, Maryland followed suit. Read more about bald eagles in Maryland at the Dept. of Natural Resources website.

I’m just glad they’re here, where I work. What a nice surprise! Here are two more shots of Harry. I think I’ll try to get some video of the critter.

photo of Bald Eagle perched at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center


photo of Bald Eagle perched at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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Goddard Space Flight Center scientists, engineers, and technologists get their geek on at this year's "Science as Food" competition

February 4, 2011 3 comments



photo of sun cake


One afternoon per year, scientists and engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center get together to share and discuss their research and projects with their colleagues. Hundreds of large and sometimes elaborate posters are on display in the sunlit atrium of Building 28. People mill about, asking questions, and learning. Sometimes they form completely new collaborations and projects.

Poster sessions are a time-honored tradition at scientific meetings. But at Goddard we also try to lighten things up a bit by holding a “Science As Food” contest.

Below is a video is about this year’s winner. Computer programmer Joe Hourcle created a cake that erupts simulated solar plasma (pudding, actually). The confection itself was a spicy and delicious carrot cake.

The demonstration was intended to simulate a coronal mass ejection, or “CME.” These massive eruptions of solar material are the topic of much research and observation at NASA, since they can have negative effects by stirring up stormy “space weather.”

Joe’s sense of mischievous and geeky fun is one of the reasons it’s such a pleasure to work at Goddard. In between all the high-stakes spacecraft projects, advanced scientific research, and never-ending struggle to maintain budgets and secure new funding, we have a pretty good time.





Here are some shots of the poster session, set to some groovy music. . .


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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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