It was a quiet Friday morning. I got up, got dressed and headed out. Not to work but to the #NASATweetup at @NASAAmes Research Center in Mountain View. Rather than having to travel to Texas, like I did for the STS-132 #NASATweetup at JSC, I had to hop in my car and drive for an hour or so. To see all the pictures I took of the event, go to the Flickr set.
The morning started off with an informal breakfast with fellow tweeps at a restaurant near @NASA_Ames. It was great to meet some more space minded folks and to get an idea of how far people had traveled to come to the tweetup. After breakfast, we headed over to the Ames Exploration Center and started our day by milling about outside.
Once we got inside, we had some time to wander around and look at the various exhibits. My favorite, as could have been predicted was the moon rock brought back to earth on Apollo 15.
We then sat down and were greeted by John Yembrick, who is a #NASATweetup veteran, working for NASA HQ, but on loan to Ames. The Center Director, Pete Worden, then told us about the history of Ames, which was founded as a NACA (yes, I mean NACA) center and was second only to Langley in Virginia.
Following Gen. Worden, we jumped into the meat of the presentation. Natalie Batalha, Deputy Science Team Director for NASA’s Kepler Mission, told us how the Kepler probe, while looking at a fairly small portion of the sky, has found many planets outside out solar system, some of which are in the habitable zone of their star systems.
We learned how the scientists working on Kepler locate and confirm their planet candidates. It was an amazing presentation, but the best slide was of the first globe of an exoplanet ever made.
Unfortunately, it was lost by American Airlines on the flight back from the conference where Dr. Batalha received it as a gift, but it’s the thought that counts.
Next we learned about SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, which is a telescope mounted in a 747 that flies above 99% of the Earth’s atmosphere and does infrared astronomy.
Photo © Kate Arkless Gray
We then had a conversation with Dr. David Morrison, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe. Dr. Morrison was an incredibly engaging speaker, who told us interestingly, looking at life on other planets, it’s most easy for us to detect life o the scale of microbes OR life on the human scale, but hard to find anything in between. He also quoted his thesis advisor by using the term, “Billions and Billions…”
- Photo © Kate Arkless Gray
After Dr. Morrison, we headed to lunch in the Ames cafeteria, right next to the famous Hangar One, built for the USS Macon.
After lunch, the tour began. We headed over to the Control center for NASA’s Kepler spacecraft. On the way in, we came across undeniable proof that we were visiting a NASA Center.
Once inside, we visited the Kepler Control Center, the server room (No pictures allowed there) and then had a great presentation of how the Kepler mission works. In the control room there was a model of the spacecraft, conveniently sitting next to a box of sweet tarts.
The real presentation began with a profile of the Kepler mission:
Then they showed Kepler’s data analysis process:
Kepler locates planet candidates by seeing the changes in light as they pass in front of their respective stars. The data is expressed in different light curves. Jon Jenkins, a researcher with the Kepler program has put some of these light curves to music. The curves are very different, some sounding high, others low, some steady, some oscillating…
After visiting Kepler, we headed out to see some of the other parts of the Ames campus. Our next destination was the Future Flight center, one part of which is their Air Traffic Control Tower simulator… They first showed us a simulation of a yet to be built airport outside of Las Vegas. The simulation was so real that controller input can be combined with changes in traffic patterns and weather to accurately predict how traffic will move around the airport.
After they showed us the ATC simulation, they up some 360º pictures taken my the Mars rovers. The photos of this display didn’t work out too well, so none are featured here.
We then headed over to the Fluid Dynamics Lab, which houses some of Ames smaller wind tunnels, including the ones used by the Mythbusters in a couple of their shows. Once inside, we saw several different wind tunnels and assorted models used in the tunnels.
Of course, there was the “Things I don’t see in my office” moment.
And for a Shuttle geek like me, seeing this file cabinet with mission stickers from missions which the FDL worked on was extra cool.
Ames Research Center was the second research center founded by the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, in 1939. Twenty years later, ARC was transferred to NASA. Some remnants of NACA remain on the site:
One of our hosts for the day was a part of NASA’s Information Security group and had this patch on his uniform, which I thought was particularly awesome.
We then visited the Vertical Motion Simulator, which is the world’s largest. Every Space Shuttle Commander and Pilot has trained a this facility. It has a range of motion of 60 vertical feet and 40 horizontal feet. The cab on the VMS the day we were there was the Space Shuttle Cockpit. We later also got to see the mockup of the new lunar lander.
Here’s a plaque of all the astronauts who have been trained at the VMS:
This is the view inside the Lunar Lander cab… (sorry for the image quality)
After viewing the VMS in action, we got to meet Astronaut Karol Bobko. He was the pilot on STS-6, the maiden voyage of Challenger; was the commander of STS-51-D on board Discovery; and also commanded STS-51-J on board Atlantis. He now runs the VMS at Ames.
At the end of the day, we gathered in front of the Ames Research Center headquarters building for our group photo.
After the official Tweetup ended, about 30 of us gathered for some food and libations at the Tied House in Mountain View. It was a great conclusion to a great experience. Thanks to @NASA_Ames, @spacesooner, and @yembrick for a great day!
Oh, I forgot to mention that I met @Camilla_SDO too!