International Space Station
This week we launched Space Shuttle Discovery into orbit to conduct one of the most challenging and complex missions on the International Space Station (ISS). Discovery’s crew will install an Italian-built U.S. multi-port module onto the ISS. The node, called Harmony, will allow future Shuttle crews to attach the European and Japanese science laboratories to the ISS so we can increase the size of our science crew. The additional crew and lab space will significantly increase amount of important research we can do on this one-of-a-kind orbiting facility.
When I think about how this mission is going to benefit our ability to do science on the ISS, I also focus on the broader picture of NASA’s overall science portfolio. NASA’s science program is amazing. We study the Earth and we explore the Universe, and everything in between. We land on planets and orbit others. We puzzle over some of the most profound questions of our time: how the did the universe begin and what is its ultimate fate, is the Earth changing, and are we alone. The results of our science missions feed our innate intellectual curiosity, but the innovations required to answer these questions also spark new technologies that help maintain our quality of life and benefit the lives of every person on Earth.
So, how do we tell the public about our incredible discoveries? I think one of the most powerful tools we have for communicating with people is the amazing images our missions produce, and the visualizations that can be created from the scientific data being returned from our orbiting explorers.
We’ve seen pictures from two landers that have been operating from the surface and craters of Mars since January 2004. We’ve seen stunning up close images of the rings of Saturn and active volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io. And, of course, there’s the Hubble Space Telescope which has produced some of the most compelling and enduring images ever taken. The famous picture of the stellar nursery in the Eagle Nebula taken by Hubble is among the most iconic in NASA’s history.
Being understood matters to us at NASA. After all, the value of our work reaches only as far as it contributes to the pursuits of the American ideal, or “the Progress of Science and useful Arts” as the Preamble to the Constitution puts it. That’s why we place so much importance in developing tools to make our work meaningful and clear. NASA operates a fleet of Earth orbiting satellites to collect the information that scientists use to understand our dynamic planet. Each day, these satellites send the data equivalent of the entire Library of Congress to the ground where it is collected, stored and made available to scientists around the world.
While getting the data to the scientists is of course critical, is it equally important that we tell the American taxpayers how we are spending their money and what we are learning from our science programs. Let’s face it. Science is complex, and some of our findings are difficult to explain.
GSFC’s Scientific Visualization Studio
At NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, scientists and expert storytellers are teaming up in what Goddard calls its Scientific Visualization Studio to create visualizations of complex scientific processes using actual data . People say a picture is worth a thousand words. So, if we want to be more effective communicating with the public, why not show them what’s going on in the world around them using actual data. That’s where Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio can help.
Working together, scientists, computer experts and skilled communicators turn millions and billions of 1’s and 0’s into stunning images that can tell a story. They can show the historical ebb and flow of massive ice sheets at the North and South Poles, pinpoint the location and movement of forest fires like those in California, track the global distribution of dust and pollution, and demonstrate how the abundance of tropical rainfall and the temperature of the oceans provides vital clues for predicting hurricane activity and intensity.
Science on a Sphere
Additionally, Goddard’s Science on a Sphere is an exciting way to communicate science to the public. It provides a unique canvas to view our planet and the universe. The genius of Science on a Sphere is it reminds us neither the Earth, nor much else that we come in contact with every day, is flat. It uses advanced 4-projector, computer controlled technology to present advanced satellite data and other visual effects on a large globe that is suspended on an invisible wire. The first time you see an earth image, or a planet, or other data set projected on the sphere in an otherwise dark room, it takes your breath away. You see the planet the way it actually looks — round, and three dimensional, a complete 360-degree view of whatever is on the screen. Walk around to the other side and you’re suddenly seeing the other side of the world.
The system was developed at NOAA as a means of depicting planetary data sets, like cloud movement, temperature gradations, atmospheric chemistry, and more. Taking the concept one step further, a small but incredibly talented and devoted team from Goddard developed a way to put some of NASA’s most compelling images, animations and visualizations on the Sphere.
On the Sphere we can show the pulse of the planet as satellite sensors measure global chlorophyll concentrations to indicate the distribution and abundance of vegetation which feeds most of the world’s animal life. We can track the evolution of Atlantic hurricanes from their birth off the African coast to their eventual demise over land. We can see what the planet looks like as it crosses from day to night and the city lights turn on. But Earth is not the only star of the show. We can also show planets and their moons as they would look to an orbiting spacecraft, or what the universe looked like in the moments after the Big Bang. The first full-length program created for the Sphere, a movie called “Footprints,” proved so novel and innovative that it was awarded one of Time magazine¹s greatest innovations of 2006.
A Busy Year Ahead
Next year will be one of the busiest for NASA and for Goddard with the launch of the GLAST, the Hubble Servicing Mission, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), and the Solar Dynamic Observatory. With its detailed map of the lunar surface, LRO is the first and a most critical step in our plans to move boldly to implement the Vision for Space Exploration. The science delivered by these new and exciting spacecraft, and a practically brand new Hubble, will revolutionize our understanding of the influence the life-giving Sun has on Earth, and unlock many questions about the universe still shrouded in mystery.
But what I really can’t wait for is to see the data returned from these extraordinary missions projected on the Sphere, and finding other ways to share these amazing adventures with the public. It’s going to be an exciting time and through the wonders of technology and innovations like those at Goddard, we’re going to be able to take everybody on the journey with us.
15 thoughts on “Launching into Space and Beyond”
Well, I was not sure how to posit this question and to whom it should be addressed, but I have a concern about the program and I need to talk about it to someone.
The Discovery mission was exciting and I note that much EVA work is left before the next mission in December.
What concerns me is that you will have two space walkers outside on a couple or more EVA’s doing a large amount of scheduled work with only three people on the station. This one individual will have to outfit and dress the EVA crew and monitor the activities while at the same time doing the things he is responsible for within the station.
He will have to be in three places at once at times, and this situation will occur multiple times for egress and ingress and mission tasks before the December launch.
It looks like a risk to me, and I wondered if you had considered leaving Clay in orbit until December to alleviate this risk of burnout or mistakes. Dressing, undressing and monitoring two space walkers while keeping the station safe and nominal could be problematic is something happened.
It seems appropriate now to have 4 people on the station and not three. There is too much to do for three with the current needs, in my humble and likely somewhat ignorant opinion, but I’d like to run this by NASA and see what the thinking is in Houston.
Thanks…..(a concerned fan of the program)
Mike in Arkansas
I agree with Mike in my concerns about this mission. I haven't seen a reply to his concerns yet. Are they unfounded?
I am not a NASA employee but I think I can give you a good reason why NASA can’t leave an extra person on the ISS for a couple of months.
NASA has an iron policy of having one or more spacecraft permanently attached to the ISS to allow the crew to escape to Earth in the case of a major emergency, eg a fire getting out of control. Currently the only type suitable for this purposes is the Russian Soyuz, so one is always attached. However, even this will only last a few months in space, so when crews are changed, the new crew comes up in a new Soyuz, and the old crew comes back down in the old one.
The problem is that a Soyuz will only carry three people. So, under current arrangements, at any one time the ISS has a crew of three and escape facilities for those three but no more. So the shuttle cannot leave without at least as many people as it came with, and everybody has to live with that regardless of how inconvenient it might be.
I am not sure what you mean by a messy earth-room but I can comment on the heat shield.
The replacement for the space shuttle is called Orion and it has a very different design. It is very similar to the Apollo spacecraft used to go to the Moon between 1969 and 1972. In this design, the heat shield is much tougher than it is on the shuttle, and also it is always protected, right up to the time when it is used. So repair in space is not needed (because it cannot get damaged unless the spacecraft itself is so badly damaged that it cannot be used) and also it actually cannot be repaired because it is inside where astronauts would not be able to access it.
I fully understand that safety issue Alex, but what I am doing is prioritizing the risk.
With the current availability of Russian escape modules, there are indeed only three seats, but I believed the personnel situation to be more important at tis time. Secondly, why is there only one Soyuz? Should there not be two?
How can the new labs be staffed without increasing the evac seats by at least three more people? Is there a problem perhaps with our Russian friends not holding up their end?
All this leads me to a series of important basic questions as we build out the station. Two more labs are coming, and should there now be a much increased evac capability to accommodate at least two to three more people and should this occur before the labs are added.
That’s just my logistics, and I could be missing a bit of the picture, but it seems the workload on the current crew is excessive at this point in time. Too few for the needs, and I see a need to develop a escape system that does not depend on a Russian spacecraft with a short shelf life. (I assume this is partly due to it’s not having a independent power supply and being dependent on two smallish solar wings to recharge batteries that for some reason are deployed 100% of the time and vulnerable to micro meteoroids.)
This leads me to a bigger question. How can NASA possibly expand the station safely and quickly before the shuttle program goes dark, without a stable and dependable evacuation system for the station that is easily scaled to personnel needs?
I remain puzzled……..but hopeful.
Mike in Arkansas
I think people lost their belief in future of space research.
Great photographs won’t help. I afraid we need another cold war to push the research. Sounds sad…
But I'd love to see more exposure to a space research and definitely more photographs.
I'm not sure if those questions will ever be answered…
Ane even if they will, perhaps we're not ready for them.
Unfortunately in a face of current economic situation less people will care about this.
THANK YOU FOR BRINGING THIS ARTICAL UP AGAIN. ITIS PROBELY GOING TO BE MORE OF WHAT WE SEE IN A PUBLIC PROFESSIONAL VIEW OF WHAT WE REALLY ARE AND BECOME WITH OTHER ENGINEERING FIELDS THAT EXISIST TODAY . AS I AM AN ELECTRONICS ENGINEER IN INSTRUMENTATION INTERFACE AND MANUFATURING ASSEMBLY O0F COMPUTER SCIENCE AND MEDICAL TEST EQUIPMENT IN PHYSICS OF ELECTRONICS .WHERE WE ARE AT ON THAT DATE YOU RAN THIS IS IN GREATER NEED NOW OF USE AND PUBLIC VIEW .PUBLIC OUTREACH IS GREAT WHAT NASA HAS STARTED WITH NOW AND I HAVE BEEN HERE ON THIS ISSUE FOR 33 YEARS . AT 53 I THINK I GET THE FULL PICTURE AND OUTLOOK TO NEW VIEWS.ON SCIENTIFIC VISUALIZATION STUDIO IT IS WHERE WE START ALL BASE REAL BEING VIEWS OF BEGINNINGS THE SCIENCE WE USE TO APPLY .THE FASCIATS WE ARE IN AT THIS RESABLE BEING IN TIME FOR GENERAL PUBLIC USE. AS A SCIENCE SPHERE IF WHAT YOU MEAN IS A HABITATE IN SPACE TO HOUSE A SCIENCTIFIC FACILLATY TO GO PLANET AND DEEP SPACE ORBIT .THIS IS OF GREAT INTERIST TO ME BECAUSE WE REALY TRAVEL OUTER SPACE HIGHLY ADVANCED IN TODAYS WORLD AND MUCH FUTHER IN THE NAER FUTURE AND FAR BEYOUND OWER NEEDS NOW.ABOUT A BUSY YEAR AHEAD I AM THERE ,THEY ARE THERE , WE ARE THERE AS PUBLIC MIGHT WELL WILL THEM SELVES TO BE BUT WE MUST BE AS A WHOLE WORLD OF REAL FINE TRUSTED FAITH .I AM SEEING WHAT I NEED TO SEE AND FOLLOW FR5ON NASA AND THANK YOU THAT IS GREAT AS A PRESENT ACHIVEMENT GOES FOREWARD AND BEYOUD OWER PRESENT LIMITS TO BRING THIS INTO OUTER LIMITS AN BACK WITH OUT A BREAK IN MOVEMENT.
Excellent post. I look forward to more.
I think many people are short sited when it comes to space exploration, we are only a tiny spec in the universe and its important to find out as much as we can about what's out there. The answers to the questions could considerably help manking in understanding more about our planet.
I would love to see the day that NASA is able to put not just a solar-powered rover, but a man (or woman) on Mars. I think that the public interest generated by such an event would revitalize the space program. I'm no public relations expert, in fact I'm only an everyday guy working as a . But that's my $.02
I personally hope they keep the shuttles flying until the next gen vehicle is ready. I hope we launch today and it does the launch does not get delayed until October. Oh well, just gives me more time to learn some new .
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