Monday, February 15, 2010

Labs and Apollo and Quarantine, o my


Wrapping up the tour of NASA Marshall, I'm adding the rest of my pictures to my Picasa Albums today... here are just a few of the highlights! I could go on for weeks about all the amazing Apollo, Saturn, Skylab and Shuttle program artifacts in their wonderful museum adjacent to Space Camp... however, I don't want to ruin everything for folks who make the trip to northern Alabama, truly the birthplace of our space program. Click on any of the pictures to see the full gallery.

They have artifacts from each mission, the original Gemini and Apollo flight simulators, and of course, the "Casper" Apollo 16 capsule.

Mobile Quarantine Facility
Apollo Airstream Mobile Quarantine Facility

They also have an MQF! I saw Apollo 11's in the Smithsonian, and thought that was the lone display, so I was surprised to see this... (I suspect it is Apollo 12's, because I've since researched MQFs and found Apollo 14's in California on the USS Hornet.)

The Mobile Quarantine Facility was used by astronauts and medical staff almost immediately after splashdown of Apollo 11, 12, and 14 to prevent any possible spread of returning lunar contagion. After these three, it was decided our lifeless satellite posed no bacterial threat.

People often express surprise that I spent 50 days in "micro-gravity" for the space program, but I have to say, I don't think I could spend 21 days in this tin can! But after their moon missions, that's precisely what three astronaut crews and their doctors had to do. Pretty cramped accommodations! Small sleeping stalls, even smaller living quarters, a tiny kitchen and bathroom...that was it!

I also have a few pictures from our tour through the Marshall Center's Technology Development labs...

NASA Marshall
Well, I finally found a simulation I would
definitely NOT go anywhere NEAR...

The facility and the signs on the walls are fascinating in and of themselves, and speak to the monumental amount of research being conducted by some of the finest minds in the world. I was particularly interested in the Ares projects, and the workings of the Electric Propulsion/Plasma Experiments.

Over the past few years I've read numerous articles on plasmadynamics, and of course was fascinated by the ion thrusters of NASA's Deep Space 1 and Dawn Space probes, the latter of which dubbed the "Prius of Probes."

The European Space Agency's work on SMART1 and JAXA's asteroid explorer Hayabusa are great starting points for study, and more in-depth information can be found in the Journal of Propulsion and Power or Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets.

Electric Propulsion Research and Development Laboratory
Electric Propulsion Research and Development Laboratory

At a more accessible level for the basics, this month's issue of Scientific American has a wonderful article about the growth in these fields, proclaiming that the more fuel-efficient electric plasma engines will propel the next generation of spacecrafts.

The way to Mars or the way to bankruptcy? Science or science fiction? Wishful thinking versus eventual financial reality? Time will tell.