This article follows my previous post on my trip to NASA in Langley, Va. in early March 2019. This is the second and last part of this article.
Before going back to our Langley tour, I felt I should share with you another fun fact of my relationship with space.
When I was in troisième (9th grade in the US), my best friend’s dad was working at ESA (European Space Agency). The year was 1986. That was the year Halley’s comet would come closest to us, in its 75 years or so orbital period. ESA planned to send a probe, Giotto to gather as much info on the comet as we could. On March 14th, 1986 (another Pi day), Giotto encountered Halley at less than 600km. Thanks to Frank’s dad, I could attend the event live at the European space research and technology centre (ESTEC) in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.
Back to Langley, Va. After the presentation from NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, Dr. David E. Bowles, Langley Research Center’s director welcomed us. It was brief and efficient. Time for us to go to the wind tunnel.
14×22 wind tunnel
Frank Quinto is the 14×22 Facilities Manager. He greeted us and took time to explain what the wind tunnel is.
After the theoretical explanations, we went to visit the tunnel itself, where Jeremy Pinier, SLS aerodynamics researcher, continued the explanations.
With a few humans in front of the propeller, you can easily imagine the size. The nine blades are made of wood and not metal. If they were made out of metal, if one would leave its socket or break, it could seriously damage the equipment within the wind tunnel. Of course, everything is designed to lower turbulences so the experiments can be more successful.
When you look at the size of engine behind the propeller, you can imagine the power to move the wooden blades.
Integrated Engineering Services Building
After the wind tunnel, we went back to the Integrated Engineering Services Building. There, we could exchange with scientists, researchers, and engineers working on day to day projects at NASA Langley.
The first experiment, I could participate in was visiting a space station using virtual reality (VR). Wearing a VR headset, you can walk in a station, carry boxes around, look through windows, walk through doors… And that was a bit freaky: you walk through the door and… you’re in space! It’s black, it’s dark, you lose all sense of where you are, and I promise you, I was colder! Amazing experiment, awesome experience.
I had a great chat with Glenn Hines. Glenn is working on some new technology capable of measuring very precisely at which altitude and velocity a space craft is from the ground. It’s called a Navigation Doppler Lidar (NDL). See that as some next generation altimeter with speed measure. The NDL is smaller, lighter, and consumes less energy than the existing equipment. We chatted about how NASA works internally for developing such components.
“Star missions”, like sending a rover to Mars, want proofed equipment, so there’s no way that NASA will send experimental tech on such a mission. Those teams want seriously proofed equipment, so, when Glenn and his teams want to develop a new component, he has to find internal funding (like seed funding or love money for a startup). The next step is to convince some privates companies to use the technology, then, when it’s proofed and debugged, it may come back as part of a component for a mission. That’s where a close partnership between NASA and the private sector makes all its sense.
Landing and impact research facility
Our next stop is at the landing and impact research facility. You can see that as a giant playground where engineers and researches take full size planes, helicopters, spacecrafts and throw them on the ground and look what happens.
And at your question, do people are even getting paid to have fun, the answer is yes. Lisa Jones is a perfect example of those passionate engineers whose passion is communicative. Needless to say that she has so many stories about throwing stuff on dirt, on water, that she can keep you captivated for hours.
Of course, she debunked a few conspiracy theorists, who keep saying we never landed on the moon. Some footage of the training that took place at this exact spot were used by those conspiracy theorists to say the whole moon landing was a hoax.
Finally, we could tour the outside facility around this Eiffel Tower-like structure where all kind of aircrafts are being craned and then throw on the ground or in the pool from 240 ft (about 74m).
NASA Langley Research Center published a video showing those crash experiments on YouTube.
This facility is being used both by NASA for testing their equipment, but also with the private sector to test helicopters, plane of various sizes, space vehicles… Once more, these partnerships between companies and NASA help building more reliable equipment.
That concludes this wonderful one-day-experience, in eastern Virginia.
This trip brought me hope in many and unsuspected ways. NASA has a diverse and rich culture. In a lot of organization, you see a lot of white dudes where NASA is colorful and gender full. I was pleased to meet strong and successful women in engineering.
It gave me hope as well for the future of science and space exploration. When climate skeptics seem to win on the politic front; science, as well as its budgets keep helping this Earth of ours. Hopefully the politics will change and the science will keep helping us.
It was fantastic being part of a team who included @stem_fem, @CreativeKinston, @NeusewayMuseum, @SrgntBallistic, HappytobeDee, @FarkasSTEM, @jasminentorok, @SydneyReising, @faridb2000, @CSJudd, @DullNathan, and of course, @NASASocial and @NASA_Langley.