SCIENCE ON THE WING

Promoting Science and Science Education

New Image From Curiosity’s MAHLI Cam

New Image From Curiosity’s MAHLI Cam

A fantastic image from the MAHLI cam onboard the Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity showing the penny that is mounted on the calibration target.

Spotting the International Space Station During Overflights

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Our clear summer nights offer up great opportunities to gather ’round the family and neighbors to spot some easily seen man-made satellites.  We spent this evening with our neighbors and their young children watching our local overflight of the International Space Station; instant awe!  

One of the most easily seen objects in the night or early morning sky is the International Space Station.  Traveling at 17,000 miles per hour, the ISS is generally one of the brightest objects in the night sky and easily seen with the naked eye making it an excellent opportunity to introduce even quite young children to sky watching and the concept(s) of space and how close “space” really is; after all, if there was a road, you literally could drive there in a day.  

There are several APPs available for tracking near earth objects, I like the ease of “Star Walk” available for iPhone and iPad as it allows you to track man made objects as well as constellations and planets. However, for tracking the International Space Station (ISS), there is a NASA notification system that will send you an email notification or a text message when the ISS visible in your area: http://spotthestation.nasa.gov 

Alternately, you can access NASA’s Human Space Flight page to find information regarding each ISS Mission, science, photographs, Mission Control updates and history as well as an option that allows you to select viewing opportunities from most geographic locations.  It’s a great page with a wealth of information about manned space flight:  http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/home/index.html

 

Last, but certainly not least, NASA has an APP that has information on most of the current and past missions as well as Press Releases, a Consolidated Launch Schedule, videos and so much more!  Available in the App Store and on the main NASA website, www.nasa.gov 

NASA – New NASA Online Science Resource Available for Educators and Students

NASA – New NASA Online Science Resource Available for Educators and Students.

Time lapse coverage of the Shuttle’s move!

Curiosity Gives A Wink And A Nod To JPL

Some of you are probably asking why are they using Morse Code code on the Curiosity Rover tires instead of just printing the letters JPL on the tires for Visual Odometry?

The original Engineering design and indeed the original Rover tested in the desert had tires that read JPL as they covered the landscape.  Apparently, someone at NASA HQ (we are told by a reliable source) said “no, no, and no” to JPL on the tires.  However, Visual Odometry remains an important part of this mission; a decision had to be made about how to accomplish this task.

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Original engineering model tires in the back of a garage in the Mars Yard at JPL.                      photo credit: Hellwinger

Although we can’t say for certain, it would seem that using letters rather than random holes makes sense and given that there are three horizontal treads are devoted to odometric encoding on the Rover’s tires that would give them three letters to work with.

The rest is history as they say; a decision to use Morse Code gives the science and engineering team its Visual Odometry while conveying a sence of wonder and whimsy.  For me, I like to think that every time Curiosity looks back at where it’s been, she sees a reminder of her first home, Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Rovin’, Rovin’, Rovin’

This panorama is a great series of shots of Curiosity’s beefy tires.  You notice the strategic holes in the tires?  They are actually Morse Code, spelling out   J – P – L, the acronym for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  This unique pattern is used by Curiosity to accurately gauge how far it’s been by creating a unique pattern to use for visual odometry.

By using a known pattern, the Rover can look back and assess any number of situations; when traveling in a relatively featureless area, it can see where it has been, judge traction in high slippage areas, such as sand dunes and compare how far it has actually come along with its actual location.   All of this by seeing this unique pattern in the Martian regolith!

. – – – (J),   . – – . (P),   . –  .. (L)                                   photo credit: NASA

To learn more about Visual Odometry visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/news/msl20120829f.html

ASPX Cal Target

One of the tools that Curi uses to do science on Mars is a part of our earth.  This is a calibration target for Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) instrument. This cal target is made from a piece of dark rock collected in Socorro, N.M. You can use anything as a cal target, provided its well known and characterized.

black rock cal target made from a rock slab from Socorro, New Mexico                                            photo credit: NASA/JPL

Calibration Targets

I’ve seen them referred to as “eyeshadow”, “paint” and “whatever those are” but in truth,  they are an important part of the Mars Science Laboratory’s science mission: calibration targets.

One of the cal targets onboard Curiosity; the colored targets are doped silicone rubber                     photo credit: NASA/JPL

In the shake, rattle and roll of liftoff, flight and, in the case of Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory, seven minutes of terror as it falls to the planet’s surface, things can shake loose, degrade over time or stop working altogether.  Calibration activities remain the best way to assure data collected are correct.

When conducting science remotely, it’s important that scientists are sure of what they are looking at and of various findings they make.  In other words it’s one the ways scientists can say “how we know what we know”.  The best way to achieve this is by including a well-known and characterized source to check your data against.  These  are referred to as calibration targets or cal targets.

There are many types of cal targets and infinite uses for them from calibrating the white balance on your digital SLR camera to telling a spacecraft light-years away that indeed, what it is looking at is white or, it is blue not white or that the chemical signature we are seeing is cadmium, which shows up as a particular color in the spectrum.

Whatever the composition of the target, the process is the same; a reading is taken from the cal target, from the subject and often from a third source.  The readings from each of the sources are compared against each other and if they are in agreement, the instrument is correctly calibrated.  If there is disagreement, data from each source is analysed to determine the location of the error.

Pondering My Belly

I iz checking out my BELLY! Curiosity checks out her belly pan. Result = A-OK good for go.

Although it may seem inconsequential, it’s very important for Curiosity to methodically go through all of her vital systems prior to embarking on the journey of her lifetime.  A hole in her belly pan or a small piece of gravel wedged into a joint could spell disaster for a Rover.

Pondering my belly

Pondering my belly. What?!! No navel?                     photo credit: NASA/JPL

What’s happening?!!

Here’s hoping that you all can survive the laborious process of me moving content over to the SOTW page.  There will be duplicates of things you’ve already read however, I am building up to new and current content.  For now, thanks for hanging in there and I hope to wow you with content as time goes on.

Third Rock ON!       Ms. Winger

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Promoting Science and Science Education

Promoting Science and Science Education

SCIENCE ON THE WING

Promoting Science and Science Education