It was a year in which the past was lauded – but always with an eye toward NASA Langley's future.
The Space Shuttle Program ended, but its technology will linger into the next generation of exploration. Included in that technology will be the NASA Langley-spawned Scientifically Calibrated In-Flight Imagery (SCIFLI), which came to be as the Hypersonic Thermodynamic Infrared Measurement (HYTHIRM).
Buildings disappeared at Langley, and in their places a new headquarters structure became the first of what will be a long-term/short-term program to change the face of the center toward the future.
A hole in the ground filled with water at a facility where landing on the Moon was tested almost two generations ago, is now a place to test the capsule that will take the next generation of astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit.
An airplane, spiraling down and back up between Washington and Philadelphia offered a look at Earth through the prism of instruments that determine the planet's pollution, the first step in figuring out how to fix it.
A new look at communications – 140 characters at a time – offered a new look at Langley, and a center project, the Mars Science Laboratory Entry Descent and Landing Instrumentation suite, will offer a look at Mars next summer.
An old idea for a space plane, the HL-20, was resurrected and turned into the Dream Chaser, which could become a taxi from Earth to the International Space Station.
It's the way things work at NASA. You look back into the previous 12 months and realize that the stories then were really about the future. It's the way things are at Langley, which will celebrate 95 years of work in aeronautics and aerospace this year with a look back to where the center has been, and a look forward, as always, to beyond the horizon.
#1 - A New Building Portends Langley Future
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Lesa Roe, the center director, is all smiles while holding up a plaque
signifying NASA Langley's "platinum" status in the U.S. Green Building
Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. With Roe
are architect Dana Pomeroy (left) and GSA Regional Director Rob Hewell. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith
After Lesa Roe had watched New Town Phase I go up for 23 months, after hearing about the environmentally friendly technology in it, even after working in the building for six weeks, there remained an unknown at the June 17 ribbon-cutting ceremony at NASA's Langley Research Center.
Accompanied by a standing ovation from more than 300 on hand under a large tent adjacent to the new structure, architect Dana Pomeroy presented Roe, Langley's center director, with a plaque signifying "Platinum" status in the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.
"This building dramatically signifies a new Langley and is the first element in our revitalization plan," Roe told the assembly. "This is strategy to create the future."
The new headquarters is the first new building at NASA Langley in 35 years, since Building 1209 was constructed. Building 2101 is a $26 million, 79,000-square-foot structure that houses NASA Langley Headquarters and all or parts of six administrative organizations. It's the first of a planned $330 million program to replace and upgrade center facilities with the future in mind.
Next up: New Town Phase II, which is scheduled to break ground in 2012. All told, six new buildings are planned. Along with them is an evolving plan for the future, being created by the VIbrant Transformation to Advance LaRC (VITAL) Committee, which is charged with ensuring that the center's capabilities are accommodated with people and tools.
Video from the ribbon-cutting ceremony including samples from previous splash tests.
First, there was a $1.7 million, 1-million gallon, 20-foot deep water basin built at NASA Langley. Then they dropped in a capsule built by fabricators at the center.
By the time a ribbon was cut to officially open the Hydro Impact Basin, three tests of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle's 18,000-pound mockup had been copnducted.
By year's end, there had been eight tests. Each drop simulated different conditions, and each earned more data toward a future in which the capsule will be used to carry astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit, to an asteroid, another planet's moon, eventually to Mars before a water landing back on Earth.
Ahead, one more test for the mockup in January, and then work toward tests for another article, that with more than 600 sensors offering more data that will edge the United States closer to reaching out toward the horizon and beyond.
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: NASA/Darrell L. McCall
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The crowd watches at the Virginia Air & Space Center in Hampton as the rocket carrying Mars Science Laboratory and its Curiosity rover climbs through Earth’s atmosphere on its way to Mars. Credit: NASA/Kathy Barnstorff
Years of research and hundreds of thousands of simulations were invested in the Mars Science Laboratory and its Curiosity rover that rocketed aloft on November 26.
NASA Langley was charged with developing the entry, descent and landing dynamics.
The process includes dealing with atmospheric influences, parachutes and eventually rocket engines that will slow the lander to allow a soft landing.
A NASA Langley team also designed and built MEDLI, the MSL Entry Descent and Landing Instrumentation suite, that will measure temperature and pressure as the spacecraft flies through the superhot Martian atmosphere on the way to the surface.
Mars Science Laboratory is set to land next August. Some of Langley's Mars team members will move to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California the month before to monitor the spacecraft and fine tune its entry to help Curiosity land safely.
That will be no easy task. "When we get to Mars, we’ll have 7,000 lbs of spacecraft traveling at 13,000 mph," said engineer David Way. "In just about seven minutes, we’ll slow the spacecraft all the way down to just under two miles an hour gently landing Curiosity right on her wheels. To do that the onboard computer will have to autonomously execute a complex sequence of events, first using atmospheric drag, then a parachute, and finally rocket engines to slow down."
And the hardest part may be that they won't know immediately if they have had success because it takes 10 to 20 minutes for a communications signal to travel from Mars to Earth.
On September 23, 2011, NASA Langley hosted a Shuttle Celebration at the Virginia Air & Space Center in Hampton, Va. More than 650 guests attended, including STS-135 Commander Chris Ferguson and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. Langley's Center Director Lesa Roe honored past and present civil service and contractor employees for their contributions to the 30-year Shuttle program. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith
Many of the Langley engineers and technicians who invested large portions in their lives in getting the first space shuttle (and STS-1) off the ground were in the Pearl Young Theater to watch it leave Earth for the last time when STS-135 went aloft on July 8.
"Nervous," said George Ware, who worked with a team that conducted wind tunnel tests to determine the shape of the shuttle almost four decades ago. At that first launch, he had a model "sitting there," Ware added, ready to put into another tunnel to make changes based on lessons learned.
Bill Scallion watched in the Pearl Young and remembered the first launch, which he saw from Kennedy. "I was excited," he said. "It was something new, and it was less than a mile away."
Scallion said he put 17 years of his life into the shuttle, some of that time spent investigating the Challenger and Columbia incidents.
Langley technology was present for the first launch, and part of the shuttle's legacy includes technology developed at the center, including tools to monitor and measure damage on a spacecraft that will carry into space programs of the future.
In good times and bad, NASA Langley was there.
"After we lost the Challenger, your engineers tested the O-ring and came up with a whole new SRB (solid rocket booster) joint design," said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden at a celebration at the Air and Space Center. "After Columbia, over 200 Langley engineers contributed key engineering support for the massive return-to-flight effort.
"In both instances, you all used your expertise to help the shuttle program office understand what happened and how to avoid a similar tragedy in the future."
NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver (right) speaks with engineer Bill Piland, who worked on the HL-20 program and spoke at the HL-20 recognition ceremony at Langley. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith
The story began on June 3, 1982, when a camera in an Australian P-3 patrol plane captured images of a Soviet ship recovering a spacecraft from the Indian Ocean. It continued on June 22, when Sierra Nevada Corp. honored the employees -- many now retired -- at NASA's Langley Research Center who used those photos to carve a cherry wood model of the Soviet craft, a BOR-4, then used that model as the jumping-off point to the HL-20 (for horizontal lander) personnel space vehicle.
A proper ending, says Sierra Nevada chairman, Mark Sirangelo, would be for its version of the HL-20, the "Dream Chaser," to ferry crews from Earth to the International Space Station and back.
On April 18, NASA awarded Sierra Nevada -- a Louisville, Colo., firm -- $80 million to continue work on the Dream Chaser after it was judged among four winners of the second round of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program.
Lori Garver, deputy NASA administrator, represented the agency and put the role of the space taxi competition into perspective.
"After we retire the space shuttle, we will be relying on our international partners to provide this capability to and from the space station," she said. "In the not-too-distant future we believe that we will have that U.S. capability to take American astronauts to and from the space station as we envisioned more than 20 years ago."
Mark Hilburger (left), senior research engineer in the Structural Mechanics and Concepts Branch at Langley and the principal investigator of the NESC's Shell Buckling Knockdown Factor project, and Mike Roberts, an engineer in Marshall's structural strength test branch and center lead, review real-time data from the "can crush" test. Credit: NASA/MSFC/D. Higginbotham
With ominous building-shaking booms and rumbles, the world's largest can crusher put the vertical smack down on a huge aluminum-lithium test cylinder with almost one million pounds of force.
Some of the visitors who witnessed the March 23 successful can crush at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., described it as the sound of an ocean-going ship breaking up or thunder in the next room.
Others referred to it as rocket science.
The NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC) based at NASA Langley calls it the Shell Buckling Knockdown Factor Project (SBKF) - an innovative and long overdue research effort that examines the safety margins needed to design future launch vehicle structures. Test results will be used to develop new shell buckling knockdown factors – a complex set of engineering design standards essential to heavy launch vehicle design.
Launch vehicles that will weigh less and have cheaper development costs.
The current aerospace industry's shell buckling knockdown factors date back to Apollo era, when high-tech materials, manufacturing processes and advanced computer modeling were things of the future. The new analyses will update design considerations for large structures like the main fuel tank of a future heavy-lift launch vehicle.
Extra-vehicular activity (EVA) with Langley-built avionics box. Credit: NASA
After much work and anticipation, STORRM, or Sensor Test for Orion Relative Navigation Risk Mitigation, was successfully demonstrated during Endeavour’s recent mission to the International Space Station.
During two different flight days astronauts tested out the new navigation and docking system, first on their initial approach to the ISS and later during an unprecedented on-orbit maneuver where Commander Mark Kelly took the shuttle on an Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle-like approach to the ISS.
NASA Langley provided engineering management, design and build of avionics and design, build and testing of retro-reflectors and computer hardware.
The goal of STORRM is to validate a new relative navigation sensor based on advanced laser and detector technology that will make docking and undocking to the ISS and other spacecraft much easier and safer.
#8 - A Day at NASA Langley: 140 Characters at a Time
NASA Langley Research Center's first tweet-up, held on November 9, involved a diverse group of more than 40 that included an astronaut's daughter, a physics student from Wisconsin, one of NASA's newest space camp crew trainers, an actor and singer, a pilot, a kindergarten teacher and a medical museum worker.
All had at least two interests in common: NASA and Twitter.
Using smart phones, tablet computers, laptops, chargers and cameras, they toured the center and met astronaut Susan Kilrain, ending the day by watching – and tweeting about – a drop test at Langley's Hydro Impact Water Basin. All the while, using 140 or fewer characters (the limit set by Twitter), the "tweeps" shared photos, quotes and information about their Langley visit with their followers.
Almost every tour stop included "tweetoids" or facts that could be used.
#9 - NASA’s Low-Flying Air-Quality Campaign Concludes Phase I
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Stephanie Vay measures carbon dioxide in the air. A veteran Langley scientist, she has taken measurements from airplanes since 2003. Credit: NASA/Jim Hodges
Motorists in the Baltimore-Washington area had one less thing to keep an eye on as of July 30.
NASA's field study to assess air quality over northeast Maryland has concluded. Over the last month, two research airplanes – one flying high and the other low – completed 14 flight days sampling in coordination with ground sites monitoring air quality. These flights were able to sample pollutants in the lower atmosphere over major interstates, densely populated areas, small towns and the Chesapeake Bay.
"These flights have allowed us to gather an unprecedented dataset for evaluating the factors governing air quality over the Maryland-DC area," said Jim Crawford, the mission’s principal investigator, who is based at NASA's Langley Research Center. "We look forward to sharing the data and results over the coming months."
One of the planes, a NASA P-3B, spiraled over six ground stations in Maryland, flying as low as 1,000 feet and gathering just over 250 soundings. The 117-foot aircraft gathered air-quality data for the mission called DISCOVER-AQ (Deriving Information on Surface conditions from Column and Vertically Resolved Observations Relevant to Air Quality).
A second aircraft, a UC-12, used a lidar (laser) to observe "profiles" of particulate pollution in the atmosphere, while a second instrument took measurements of gaseous pollution beneath the aircraft flying at 26,000 feet.
By analyzing data from instruments on both airplanes, scientists hope to get a clearer picture of how satellites in space might be used to provide a broader geographical view of air quality near the Earth’s surface beyond what can be provided by ground sites.
#10 - Langley Technology Attracts New NASA Partnerships
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During a visit to NASA Langley, members of the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) and the president of Keystone talked with Langley engineers and a technician during an Electronic Beam Freeform Fabrication (EBF3) Space Act Agreement demonstration. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith
The center's Electronic Beam Freeform Fabrication (EBF3) technology lured members of the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) to NASA Langley in October for partnership talks that can help all of the parties mature the technology, which would result in a 3-D structural part that does not require a mold.
Bryant Walker, president of Keystone, has a facility in Connecticut that uses fabrication technology for manufacturing. Walker was looking to Langley as subject matter experts in the EBF3 technology as a source to do process development, research and EBF3 demonstrations on a Space Act Agreement with NASA in support of his NAVAIR Small Business Innovation Research.
It's all part of NASA's approach in luring partners as a way to help deal with budget constraints. That approach already has resulted in talks with both the Navy and Air Force on partnering on future projects.