Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Houston...We've Got a Pr.... NASA Social - POST #1

N A S A   R O C K S  ! ! !

I decided, a day or so before the deadline, to apply for the ISS (International Space Station) NASA Social that was held in Houston at the NASA Johnson Space Center. I found out that I was accepted for the event on my way to Dallas, Texas for the national ACDA (American Choral Directors Convention)!!! WOOHOO!!! So, my rejoicing and nerding out began a week before the event :-) We returned to New Orleans from Dallas on Sunday afternoon. Monday after classes, I hopped back in the car and drove straight to Houston, fortunately avoiding traffic during the entire trip. I will split this fabulous experience into a few different blog posts!

The NASA Social description is here: "Go Behind the Scenes of the ISS"

Needless to say, I was SUPER EXCITED! Back in October, I was lucky to attend the NASA Social event at the Goldstone Deep Space Network (DSN) (previous blog post here) which was an amazing adventure and a chance to learn much more about how radio astronomy works. Considering my favorite spacecraft is Voyager 1, it was the experience of a lifetime!

This event in Houston was MARVELOUSLY done! Every step well-planned and full of awesome.

Some of the highlights of our NASA Social tour included:

  • Speaking with science researchers whose work is enabled by the ISS
  • Asking questions of NASA Astronaut Karen Nyberg, European Space Agency Astronaut Luca Parmitano and Russian Cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin during a March 19 press conference about their upcoming Expedition 36 to the International Space Station
  • Touring unique facilities, including:
  •      - the Robonaut Laboratory
         - the Mission Control Center - I had always wanted to see this in person!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
         - the Exercise Equipment Training Facility

    We got to Learn about:
  • Current scientific experiments underway aboard the space station and new experiments planned to launch in the future
  • Commercial and educational research opportunities enabled by the station's microgravity environment
  • How researchers study the effects of a weightless environment on the human body to help protect astronauts for long-duration spaceflight missions in the future
  • How the space station is being used to test groundbreaking, new technologies that will help astronauts safely reach new deep space destinations, including an asteroid and eventually Mars

    • Our tour opened at the Space Center Houston with a welcome from enthusiastic Joel Montalbano, the Deputy Manager for ISS Utilization. Then, we 

      moved into a small auditorium and had a terrific presentation by fabulous Liz Warren, of Barrios Technology, [ @Spasmunkey ] on the science and other activities on the ISS.  and we could ask questions about anything.

      I hadn't know it, but at any given time, there are between 100 -125 experiements going on in the ISS! The majority of what the astronauts do is scientific research.

      We then moved to our shuttle buses, for which I quickly created a Foursquare "Cool Bus" check-in :-)  #nerdmoment  Susan Henderson was the escort on our bus and she was awesome! Lynette Madison was the other escort and equally awesome! So full of information and enthusiasm for the day!

      Our first stop was Bldg 5 - the Space Mission Simulation Facility (including the recently retired Shuttle Mission Simulators, or SMS, the ISS Mission Simulator, and the Orion Mission Simulator). Here, it was so cool to walk through the hall and see various mission programs honored with plaques and pictures.

      We made our way through to the ISS astronaut training facility! This is a mockup facility where astronauts train for moving through the ISS and for problems that may arise. It was HUGE! 

      To our delight, Rick Mastracchio, astronaut, was our tour guide! What a great guy! He showed us all through the mockup and talked to us about what it is like to be aboard the ISS and the level of athletic training one needs to stay fit up in space. We got to ask him a ton of questions! He graciously took his time out to have a picture with us in small groups - so nice! He also told us "Don't press any buttons" :-)  the facility was laid out exactly as the ISS is and it was VERY cool to be walking through there, seeing what the astronauts see. This is as close as I will ever get to actual space exploration and I'll take it!

      Astro Rick showed us some computer areas and issues, how they maneuver around, alcoves, how there is as much technology on the ceiling as there is on the walls, and explained that there is constant science going on. This is one of my favorite pictures because the mockup is life-sized and you gain perspective on how the astronauts live and move within a confined setting. Just remove gravity and we're all set :-)

      There are storage facilities, labs, sleeping areas, etc. The permanent crew is six people. Astro Rick mentioned that people must get used to weightlessness and be well before launching.

      When asked how they avoid getting sick, he talked to us a little bit about how astronauts were quarantined for two weeks before going to the facility from which they would launch. 

      The actual living space on the ISS is about the 
      equivalent of one-and-a-half Boeing 747s (roughly).
      The main ISS area was put together piece by piece,
      by bolting giant modules to one other to form one 74m-long tube. Inside, most everything is built into the walls and the ceiling to provide for space to get around. To the right, you see a computer station with at least five monitors.

      Below, you see an ISS hatch diagram schematic with hatch closure directions. This also shows you how the modules are connected. Here is a link to a YouTube video of hatch closure as the crew of Expedition 33 begins their return home. It is from Nov 2012.

      The ISS moves at 17,500 mph relative to the Earth and It takes 90 min to circle the planet which turns out to be 16 complete laps every day. I asked both Astro Rick and Susan Henderson (whose husband is Astro Clayton Anderson) whether or not they knew that some people wave and say hello outloud to the ISS as it passes overhead  : )

      The above is a picture of several #spacetweeps with Astro Rick (I'm on far left) :-)

      The next post will cover our visit to Building 9 and the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. My pictures are posted on Facebook  here.

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