NASA Gears Up for Orion’s Underway Recovery Test Part 2

Orion capsule test in NASA's NBLThe Underway Recovery Test (URT) is the NASA demonstration of open water recovery of the Orion capsule utilizing the Department of Defense (NAVY) ship LPD (amphibious recovery ship), NASA support equipment and personnel.  During the Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1), the capsule is expected to splashdown approximately 700 miles southwest of San Diego, CA.

During these training exercises conducted approximately 100 miles off-shore of San Diego, CA the integrated Navy/NASA team practices an open water recovery operation.  This includes using a small boat flotilla to safely secure this capsule at sea, and then transferring and securing the capsule on-board the ship.  Post recovery operations include providing services for ship-based Orion processing, off-loading and preparation for ground transport back to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

Navy crew with FBC in NBLTo date the joint team has conducted two Navy/NASA URTs, with the next open water test (URT2) planned for July 31 – Aug 5th of this year.  Other open water exercises are planned for September.  These series of progressively more challenging test are based on the Landing & Recovery (L&R) training philosophy of “crawl, walk, run” to prepare the team for mission operations.  The Imagery Science and Analysis team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center are an integral part of the NASA ship-based efforts providing the oversight, planning and operational imagery on behalf of the KSC Landing & Recovery team for all phases of testing and the mission.


Orion Stationary Recovery TestSee more about our Image Science & Analysis team here:

Celebrating the Apollo 11 Mission and the First Lunar Samples Returned to Earth

Apollo 11 launch, landing, rock collection, and sample delivery to the Lunar Receiving Laboratory. Picture of lunar rock shown on bottom right.

Apollo 11 launch, landing, rock collection, and sample delivery to the Lunar Receiving Laboratory. Picture of lunar rock shown on bottom right.

Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the surface of the Moon, uttered a statement heard around the world in July 1969…“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Apollo 11 launched on July 16, landed on the Moon on July 20th, and safely returned to Earth on July 24, 1969. This extraordinary mission, 45 years ago, was also the first time astronauts collected and brought back samples from the lunar surface. These precious Apollo 11 samples, and others collected during other Apollo missions to the Moon, continue to help scientists investigate and better understand the history of the Moon. All collected lunar rocks and soils are housed in the specialized lunar curational facilitates maintained by the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science (ARES) staff at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

The Eighth International Conference on Mars


The 8th International Conference on Mars is being held at California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena, CA. The conference and presenters are summarizing the current understanding of Mars as well as looking at scientific questions to be investigated in the future. Scientists from NASA ARES are among the amazing presenters sharing their research this week!  Check them out below!

PNiles_Mars8Paul Niles, presented “Sedimentary Mounds on Mars: Tracing Present-Day Formation Processes Into The Past”. His talk focused on the similarities between modern and older processes on Mars, focusing on mounds found in craters. Present day processes on Mars may provide insight into the past.

PCraig_Mars8Post-doctoral Research Scientist Patricia Craig presented her work as well. Her research, and the research of all the scientists presenting at the Mars 8 Conference, aims to further the understanding the history of Mars.

LRampe_Mars8Liz Rampe answers questions from other Mars scientists after her oral presentation. Liz’s presentation, entitled, “Amorphous Phases on the Surface of Mars” generated a lot of interest and discussion! Her work includes the analysis of data from Mars orbiters and landers, including the Curiosity Rover.

DMorris_Mars8Dick Morris discusses his poster with fellow ARES researcher, Brad Sutter. His work compares minerals found in rocks analyzed by the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover with minerals in rocks found in California.

DArcher_Mars8Doug Archer chats with another Mars scientist. Doug’s poster presentation is entitled, “Nanophase Carbonates on Mars: Formation, Detection, and Implications”. His research focuses on data obtained by the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover.

BSutter_Mars8Brad Sutter is presenting his work to another scientist. His work also includes the analysis of data from the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument onboard the Curiosity rover.



MSBell_Mars8Mary Sue Bell discusses a series of experiments she is working on designed to support the interpretation of data from Mars. She presented her work entitled, “Experimental Alteration of Basalt to Support Interpretation of Remote Sensing and In-Situ Measurements from Mars”.

CAllen_Mars8Carl Allen is sharing his research. His work, “The Formation and Erosion History of Mt. Sharp” is investigating how the central mound (referred to as Mt. Sharp) in Gale Crater, formed and may have changed over time. The Curiosity Rover landed in and has been exploring Gale Crater since August 2012.

NASA’s MCAT Facility – opening 2015!

MCAT, Ascension Is

Meter Class Autonomous Telescope Site, Ascension Island

NASA will break ground for their newest observatory facility this year on Ascension Island. The telescope at the center of the project, the Meter Class Autonomous Telescope or MCAT, will be used to characterize the space debris environment as its primary mission. Its chosen location on Ascension Island will allow NASA to see a portion of the sky that is difficult or impossible to view from other sites in the world. For additional background information on this optical telescope and why Ascension Island was the chosen site, see Principal Investigator (PI) Dr. Sue Lederer’s abstract on the topic.
The MCAT team spans the globe, but many key players reside within ARES. Dr. Sue Lederer (PI) and Lisa Pace (PM) are working closely with critical JETS contractors Drs. Heather Cowardin, Brent Buckalew and James Frith to bring this project to fruition. The concept was originally conceived by Orbital Debris Program Manager, Gene Stansbery.
Ascension Island is a volcanic island in the South Atlantic Ocean about halfway between Africa and Brazil. The island is only 34 square miles in area and is home to United States and British Air Force bases. The island is a British overseas territory rich in protected green sea turtles and a variety of birds with only about 700 (human) inhabitants (mostly military).
The climate is tropical and beaches beautiful, but it’s not much of a tourist destination given its remoteness and the need for a government sponsor or entry permit before traveling. Just one hotel exists on the island and everyone knows each other’s name. Locking doors isn’t necessary; in fact, most vehicles are left with the key in the ignition!
The island’s infrastructure is surprisingly great. Good food and hospitality are similar to a friendly small town in the U.S. The one major distinction is technology. Cell phones serve as cameras or a clock, but are useless for making phone calls. Land-line phones with cords are the best option in the rooms on base (the kind with those old fashioned rotary dials). Calls from the U.S. to the island can be made by just dialing the 321 area code first (Orlando, Florida) as their parent base is Patrick Air Force Base. Despite this, an existing multi-million dollar facility tasking a suite of radars for various military operations exists on the base in a very secure location with excellent maintenance and operations support. MCAT’s control room will reside in this state-of-the-art facility while the new MCAT observatory facility will be constructed just outside of it.
The MCAT facility will not only provide much needed optical data to the orbital debris community, but will offer a unique travel destination for ARES Scientists and Engineers fortunate enough to be involved in the project.
Ground-breaking is slated for September 2014!