Kennedy ‘Swarmed’ as Students Develop Computer Code to Support Exploration

Swarmathon 2017

Students from colleges and universities from across the nation recently participated in a robotic programming competition at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Their research may lead to technology which will help astronauts find needed resources when exploring the moon or Mars.

In the spaceport’s second annual Swarmathon competition, aspiring engineers from 20 teams representing 22 minority serving universities and community colleges were invited to develop software code to operate innovative robots called “Swarmies.” The event took place April 18-20, 2017, at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

In her welcoming remarks, Kennedy’s deputy center director, Janet Petro, pointed out to the students that their endeavors to develop robotic software code are more than an academic exercise.

“All of the work that you have done – designing, coding, testing – will soon be put to the ultimate test,” she said. “You should be extremely proud of your accomplishments. You have shown tenacity, problem-solving, teamwork and innovation – all qualities that NASA highly values.”

A team from Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) in Albuquerque, New Mexico won this year’s Swarmathon capturing a $5,000 cash prize.

The small, four-wheeled Swarmie robots were designed through a collaboration between Kennedy’s Swamp Works laboratory and the University of New Mexico. It is a technology that could revolutionize space exploration by more effectively and efficiently locating hidden resources while astronauts explore distant destinations.

Computer scientists are developing Swarmies to focus not so much on the hardware, but the software. The Swarmathon is designed to help students improve their skills in robotics and computer science, as well as integrating software with hardware. What makes these robots noteworthy is the coding each carries in its silicon brain that makes them search for water, minerals and elements that could be refined into useful resources such as building materials or rocket fuel.

NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) selected the University of New Mexico to manage the Swarmathon challenge in a joint effort with the agency. Through the MUREP program, NASA’s goal is to increase the number of NASA-focused science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, experiences that engage underrepresented groups in active education.

Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Engineers Tickled Pink to Help Kennedy Robotics Team

The robotics group known as the "Pink Team."
Comprised of students from Cocoa Beach, Rockledge, Viera and Space Coast high schools, the robotics group known as the “Pink Team,” its mentors and support personnel celebrated a successful season near the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on April 5. The Pink Team fared well in the two regionals it competed in this year in West Palm Beach, Florida, and the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
Photo credit: Charles Babir

A robotics team that did not exist six months ago stormed back into competition this spring after a new group of engineering mentors at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida opted to work with high school students to build intricate machines capable of performing by remote control some of the same functions NASA asks its own robots to perform.

Called the “Pink Team,” the Kennedy-sponsored group competes in the FIRST events, short for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.” Two of the three team mentors retired last year leaving the group devoid of the mentorship necessary to compete.

So the Kennedy Engineering Directorate stepped up with 10 or so mentors eager to help.

The team was led by engineers Greg Clements and Andrew Bradley. Those involved celebrated the successful season April 5 at a facility near the Shuttle Landing Facility.

“It took a lot of teamwork, skill, communication, and a whole lot of brain power to get where we are,” said Bradley, a control systems engineer at Kennedy and Pink Team mentor since its inception 20 years ago. “It was great to see our engineering group step up and help make this happen.”

The team kicked off the season in January. They had six weeks to prepare for a pair of regionals, the first in West Palm Beach, Florida, and the second at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. With teams from Google, Microsoft, General Motors and representatives from each of the space centers, the competition was extraordinary.

The Pink Team faired very well in both competitions.

“Despite this being a rebuilding season, we couldn’t have been more proud of our group of students,” Clements said. “And it looks like nearly everyone is coming back for next year, so we have high expectations.”

Comprised of students from Cocoa Beach, Rockledge, Viera and Space Coast high schools, Kennedy’s house robotics team chose the phoenix mascot as a sign of rising from the ashes, Clements said.

And of course, the phoenix was pink.

Radiological Control Center Renamed Honoring Randy Scott

Radiological Control Center (RADCC) Renaming Ceremony
Dr. David Tipton, left, chief of Aerospace Medicine and Occupational Health at the Kennedy Space Center, presents Myrna Scott, widow of Randy Scott, with a replica of the emblem noting that the spaceport’s Radiological Control Center has been named in honor of her husband who died last year.
Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

A ceremony in the NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Radiological Control Center honored the extensive contributions of Randy Scott, during which the facility was named in his honor. A professional health physicist of more than 40 years, Scott served as the Florida spaceport’s Radiation Protection Officer for 14 years until his death June 17, 2016.

During the March 31, 2017, ceremony, Director of Spaceport Integration and Services Nancy Bray spoke of Scott’s efforts to establish the Radiological Control Center.

“Randy had a vision, and he knew what it would take to make this a first-class spaceport and support the radiological mission,” she said. “This room serves a dual purpose. When we are not using it for a major radiological mission, it’s available to our emergency operations team.”

Bray then joined Dr. David Tipton, chief of Aerospace Medicine and Occupational Health, and Myrna Scott, Randy Scott’s widow, in cutting a ribbon dedicating the Randall E. Scott Radiological Control Center.

Scott is best known for his contingency planning efforts supporting planetary missions that included a plutonium-powered radioisotope thermalelectric generator (RTG). Spacecraft such as New Horizons, launched to Pluto on Jan. 19, 2006, and the Mars Science Laboratory with the Curiosity lander, lifting off on Nov. 26, 2011, take so long to travel so far from the sun that batteries and solar panels are impractical. Electrical power is provided by an RTG which produces electricity from heat generated by the natural decay of plutonium.

Located in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout building, the Randall E. Scott Radiological Control Center is staffed by technical and radiological experts from NASA, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing and the state of Florida. The group performs data collection and assessment functions supporting launch site and field data collection activities.

Scott was awarded NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal in 2012 for coordinating multiple federal agencies’ radiological contingency preparedness and the Interagency Nuclear Safety Review Panel prior to launch of the Mars Science Laboratory.

Successful Deployment of the Integrated Health Management Architecture in Firing Room 1

Successful AGSM IHM Deployment
Engineers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center were recognized recently for creating and deploying the IHM Architecture. The deployed IHM Architecture is one of the main elements in the Advanced Ground Systems Maintenance (AGSM) project, formulated to provide Health Management capabilities to Ground Systems to reduce O&M costs and increase systems’ availability.
Photo credit: NASA

Engineers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center were recognized recently for creating and deploying the Integrated Health Management (IHM) Architecture — hardware, software and network components — that will be instrumental in accessing the health of ground support equipment, predicting breakdowns, isolating components that have failed, and recommending corrections if failures occur. The deployed IHM Architecture is one of the main elements in the Advanced Ground Systems Maintenance (AGSM) project, formulated to provide health management capabilities to ground systems to reduce operations and maintenance costs, and increase systems’ availability.

Operating in Firing Room 1 of the Launch Control Center, the IHM Architecture will oversee the hardware at the launch pad for NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft. When specific ground systems are incorporated in the IHM Architecture, it will be capable of collecting the information from the Spaceport Command and Control System (SCCS) and advising launch controllers of its status.

Taken together, the system is meant to reduce the likelihood of surprises during the countdown and launch activities of the massive SLS vehicle and Orion spacecraft as they prepare to conduct missions beyond Earth orbit.

The work was led by Kennedy’s Engineering Directorate and has been turned over to the teams of NASA and contractor engineers that will use and maintain it during operations.

Progress in Central Campus Construction Adding Modern Facilities

Central Campus Construction progress at Kennedy Space Center.

Now that NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is a premier, multi-user spaceport, ongoing construction is adding new, ultra-modern facilities. A key element of the Central Campus makeover is a new, seven-story, 200,000-square-foot headquarters building that has taken shape in the heart of the spaceport.

The project is taking place in several phases. Phase 1 includes construction and outfitting of a shared services and office building to function as the first half of the new headquarters.

The headquarters building’s glass facade, as seen from NASA Causeway, is complete. The exterior skin of the building also is nearly finished. The remainder of the glass components are being installed on each floor. Construction of interior walls and utilities on most floors is well underway.

The construction approach will provide a campus-like setting with several buildings surrounding a pedestrian-friendly outdoor courtyard. The concept, similar to what is used by many educational institutions, provides close proximity and access to several buildings. It also promotes the use of pedestrian walkways instead of vehicle traffic used today because of the distances between buildings.

Construction of the headquarters building is targeted for completion in November 2017 and employees are expected to be able to move in soon after.

Additionally, Central Campus phase 1 construction includes a separate facility to operate as a consolidated Kennedy Data Center which opened in October 2015. This 16,500-square-foot building operates year-round, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Kennedy’s current headquarters and the Central Instrumentation Facility are among the oldest at the spaceport, more than 50 years of service since they were built in the mid-1960s. The overarching central campus construction will consolidate several buildings and administrative spaces in what is known as the space center’s Industrial Area.

Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

ULA Atlas V Arrives for Next Orbital ATK Space Station Resupply Mission

OA-7 Atlas V Booster arrives at the Army Wharf, is offloaded and transfered to the ASOC.

NASA recently took another step in preparations for Orbital ATK’s seventh commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station. The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V booster arrived at the Army Outpost wharf at Port Canaveral, Florida, near the Kennedy Space Center.

The Atlas V rocket was assembled at the ULA plant in Decatur, Alabama, about 20 miles southwest of Huntsville. After completion, the Atlas V was shipped aboard the Mariner cargo ship down the Tennessee River and Tombigbee Waterway, a canal, through the Gulf of Mexico to Port Canaveral.

From the port, the booster was transported to the hangar at the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center, located south of Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The Atlas V will undergo final testing in that facility. When processing is complete, the Atlas V booster will be moved to the Vertical Integration Facility for stacking approximately .3 miles from SLC-41.

Scheduled for launch at approximately 10:56 p.m. on March 19, 2017, the Atlas V rocket will boost an Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft loaded with thousands of pounds of supplies and equipment for the crew aboard the space station. Additionally, scientific experiments will be aboard for research by the crew on the station to improve life on Earth and drive progress toward future space flight.

Photo credit: United Launch Alliance


Kennedy Space Center’s NASA Day of Remembrance to be Observed Jan. 26


NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida will pay tribute to the crews of Apollo 1, the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, as well as other agency colleagues, during Kennedy’s NASA Day of Remembrance on Thursday, Jan. 26. The ceremony, which will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 tragedy, is scheduled for 10 a.m. EST at the Astronauts Memorial Foundation hall at the Kennedy visitor complex.

The first Apollo crew, Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, perished when a flash fire broke out in their spacecraft on Jan. 27, 1967.

Speakers are scheduled to include NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot, Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, Sheryl Chaffee, daughter of Roger Chaffee, as well as Apollo astronauts Mike Collins and Charlie Duke.

A wreath laying will follow the ceremony on site at the Space Mirror Memorial.

The observance is hosted by the Astronauts Memorial Foundation, paying tribute to those who acknowledged exploration of space is an unforgiving environment but believed it worth the risk.

Photo credit: NASA/Tim Jacobs

The Day of Remembrance ceremony will be carried live on NASA Television at:

CYGNSS Given a GO for Thursday Launch

At Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Skid Strip the Orbital ATK L-1011 Stargazer aircraft is being prepared to launch NASA's Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System, or CYGNSS, spacecraft. The eight micro satellites are aboard an Orbital ATK Pegasus XL rocket strapped to the underside of the Stargazer. CYGNSS is scheduled for its airborne launch aboard the Pegasus XL rocket from the Skid Strip on Dec. 12. CYGNSS will make frequent and accurate measurements of ocean surface winds throughout the life cycle of tropical storms and hurricanes. The data that CYGNSS provides will enable scientists to probe key air-sea interaction processes that take place near the core of storms, which are rapidly changing and play a critical role in the beginning and intensification of hurricanes.

NASA managers have given a GO for the next attempt to launch of the agency’s Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) mission now scheduled for Thursday at 8:26 a.m. EST.

Mission personnel uploaded new flight parameter data to the CYGNSS spacecraft this morning, correcting an issue discovered during routine testing on Tuesday. There is no change in status of the Pegasus XL rocket and the Orbital ATK L-1011 Stargazer carrier aircraft. Both also are ready to fly.

Meteorologists with the U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron are predicting an 80 percent chance of favorable weather for the launch.

The CYGNSS spacecraft will ride into orbit aboard an Orbital ATK air-launched Pegasus XL rocket. Orbital ATK’s modified L-1011 aircraft will deploy the Pegasus XL and its CYGNSS payload from an altitude of approximately 39,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean 110 nautical miles east southeast of Daytona Beach.

During the two-year mission, the eight CYGNSS microsatellites will fly in formation about 316 miles above Earth’s surface, focusing on the tropics and studying wind speeds and intensification of tropical cyclones such as hurricanes.

Live updates from the countdown will begin at 7 a.m. here on the blog and on NASA Television. NASA EDGE will provide prelaunch coverage beginning at 6 a.m.

Photo credit: Bill White

John H. Glenn Jr. — The Quintessential American Hero

STS-95 Payload Specialist John H. Glenn Jr., senator from Ohio, gives a thumbs up on his arrival at Kennedy
Above: STS-95 Payload Specialist John H. Glenn Jr., senator from Ohio, gives a thumbs up on his arrival at Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility aboard a T-38 jet. Glenn and his STS-95 crewmates were preparing for their Oct. 29, 1998 liftoff aboard space shuttle Discovery. Middle right: Glenn in his Mercury spacesuit prior to Mercury-Atlas 6. Lower right: Glenn in his space shuttle launch and entry suit prior to STS-95. Photo credits: NASA

John H. Glenn Jr. was the quintessential American hero. He died Dec. 8, 2016, at the age of 95.

As a member of the Original Seven Mercury astronauts, he was a frequent visitor to Florida’s Space Coast, becoming the first American to orbit the Earth. After serving more than 24 years in the U.S. Senate, Glenn returned to space a member of the crew of the space shuttle Discovery.

Born in Cambridge, Ohio, Glenn served in the U.S. Marine Corps, flying 59 combat missions in World War II. During the Korean conflict, he few another 90. In the last nine days of fighting in Korea, Glenn downed three MIGs fighters in combat along the Yalu River.

When NASA was formed in 1958, one of its first tasks was to select pilots to serve as the nation’s first astronauts. During the April 9, 1959, news conference that introduced the Mercury astronauts, the seven military pilots discussed their views on the fledgling space program.

Responding to a reporter’s question, Glenn compared Project Mercury to the Wright Brothers’ first powered aircraft flight in North Carolina in 1903.

“My feelings are that this whole project with regard to space is like the Wright Brothers standing at Kitty Hawk about fifty years ago, with Orville and Wilbur pitching a coin to see who was going to shove the other one off the hill,” he said. “I think we stand on the verge of something as big and as expansive as that.”

Astronaut John Glenn in his Mercury spacesuitOn Feb. 20. 1962, millions of Americans watched as Glenn was strapped into the couch of the spacecraft he named Friendship 7. As the sun rose over Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 14, flight controllers worked through last-minute problems leading to lift off of the Mercury Atlas-6 mission.

During the four-hour, 55-minute mission, Glenn orbited the Earth three times, splashing down in the Atlantic before sundown. His comments aboard the recovery ship typically understated the historic event.

“I don’t know what you could say about a day in which you have seen four beautiful sunrises and sunsets,” he said.

Three days later, Glenn returned to a hero’s welcome at the Cape. Ceremonies included President John F. Kennedy presenting him NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal.

Glenn resigned from NASA on Jan. 16, 1964. A decade later he was elected to the U.S. Senate from his home state of Ohio. Glenn’s time in the Senate included a bid for the presidency in 1984.

Astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn's official portrait for space shuttle mission STS-95.Glenn announced that he would not seek re-election in the 1998 fall campaign. Instead, he was given an opportunity to return to orbit as a payload specialist with the STS-95 crew of the shuttle Discovery.

On Oct. 29, 1998, Glenn launched as part of a seven-person crew including astronauts from the United States, Japan and Spain. At the age of 77, he was the oldest person to date to fly in space.

Glenn’s flight provided NASA with an opportunity to gain valuable data on the effects of weightlessness on a person 36 years apart. It easily was the longest length of time between flights by the same person. Medical data was also gathered on the effects of spaceflight and weightlessness on the elderly.

Over the years, Glenn collected many awards and accolades. In May 1990, he and the other six Mercury astronauts became the charter class of the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. During a ceremony at the White House on May 29, 2012, President Barack Obama awarded Glenn the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Glenn’s last visit to the Space Coast took place in February 2012. He was joined by fellow Mercury astronaut, Scott Carpenter, the second American in orbit. They came to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the nation’s first orbital spaceflights.

Looking back on the early days of human spaceflight, Glenn explained that preparation was the key to success.

“You became the best-trained person you could be and that’s what we did,” he said.

Glenn noted that the challenge of spaceflight continues to depend on today’s designers and engineers to keep making strides along with the thousands of individuals working as a team in America’s space program.

“These things depend on people,” Glenn said. “Nothing’s going to happen unless you have the people to do it.”

To view a collection of photographs of John Glenn during his career as an astronaut, see:

GOES-R Set to Lift Off Nov. 19

GOES-R Encapsulation
Team members with United Launch Alliance (ULA) prepare the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES-R) for encapsulation in the payload fairing inside the Astrotech payload processing facility in Titusville, Florida near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. GOES-R will be the first satellite in a series of next-generation NOAA GOES Satellites. The spacecraft is to launch aboard a ULA Atlas V rocket in November.

An Atlas V rocket is set to lift off Nov. 19 at 5:42 p.m. EST to deliver NOAA’s latest-generation weather satellite, GOES-R, into orbit. NASA is conducting the launch through its Launch Services Program. United Launch Alliance engineers are processing the rocket at Space Launch Complex 41 ahead of launch. After several months of processing at Astrotech in Titusville, Florida, the GOES-R spacecraft has been encapsulated inside a payload fairing for protection during the climb through Earth’s atmosphere on the way to orbit. Carrying the most advanced sensors of their kind, the GOES-R spacecraft will fly more than 22,000 miles above Earth where it will offer weather forecasters an unblinking eye on conditions on the planet below.