I had the unique opportunity to spend a whole day at NASA Langley Research Center learning about the next steps in space exploration for NASA . There were about 15 of us there in the capacity of social media influencers covering the event. They were an amazingly diverse group of women & men, including a pilot, a teacher with a flair for interviewing, a homeschooling mom of 3 gifted kiddos, 2 women who run planetariums, an engineer, and many more. I was honored to be among such creative and warm folks…we were a bit of a family by the end of the day 🙂
Here are a few photos/video of what I saw and experienced. God really blessed me to be able to attend, especially in my own hometown of Hampton, and I am just so thankful.
A Visit to the Virginia Air & Space Center
I was born and raised in Hampton, Virginia. All of this fabulous space history was around me growing up, and yes, I did see some of it as a child. However, taking it in as an adult space enthusiast is a whole ‘nother experience!
The Virginia Air & Space Center is where air travel/space travel history and the projected future of the space program intersect. I got to see things like the Apollo 12 command capsule Yankee Clipper, as well as a proposed model of a Mars habitat.
I love that we can see the start of aviation and the future of space flight and more, all under the same roof. In addition, a space nerd like myself can learn more in-depth about the whole solar system 🙂
…And Then We Were Off to NASA Langley!
We then made our way NASA Langley for the main portion of the Moon to Mars event. Here we would be witness to the historic announcement from Administrator Jim Bridenstine on the future of the US space program, learn about wind tunnel testing at Langley, visit a wind tunnel, and visit the research facility. We were going to see a lot!
Moon 2 Mars
We started off with lunch and a talk given by Rob Wyman, Communications Director at NASA Langley. He gave us a wonderful overview of the history of NASA Langley from its inception to the present, as well as insights about the major components involved in getting back to the moon and to Mars (things that we would hear referenced in Jim Bridenstine’s announcement).
A few of the key points that stuck with me:
- Orion is the new Apollo for this era. It is the next level command capsule that holds 4 astronauts, 1 more than Apollo could carry.
- SLS is the propulsion system for this next phase. and it is the most powerful rocket system ever made, eclipsing the power of the Saturn V.
- There is a launch abort system built into this next phase that can remove the astronauts out of harms way should something go awry with the SLS.
We then relocated from our conference room to a much bigger auditorium setting for the big announcement! The venue was filled with NASA employees, VIPs, and our NASA social crew (grateful to be in the room where it happened). This is some of what was shared:
Overview of the Moon to Mars Mission Objective, from nasa.gov website:
“Working with U.S. companies and international partners, NASA will push the boundaries of human exploration forward to the Moon and on to Mars. NASA is working to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon within the next decade to uncover new scientific discoveries and lay the foundation for private companies to build a lunar economy.
Right now, NASA is taking steps to begin this next era of exploration.
It all starts with delivery services to the lunar surface from U.S. companies for scientific instruments and technology demonstrations as well as a spaceship, called the Gateway, in orbit around the Moon that will support human missions to the surface with reusable lander elements for decades to come. The Gateway will, for the first time, give NASA and its partners access to more of the lunar surface than ever before, supporting both human and robotic missions. The agency’s powerful Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft will be the backbone to build the Gateway and transport astronauts to and from Earth.”
Some Key Points From the Announcement:
- “The Gateway will enable months-long crew expeditions with multiple trips down to the lunar surface, enabling exploration of new locations across the Moon.” ~ NASA website
- The Gateway will go to the poles of the moon and more. In addition, Canada is partnering with us to make this a reality.
- Reusability is key for this return to the moon – reusable command capsules, rovers and more.
- 9 teams will be analyzing pristine unopened lunar samples from the Apollo era. Wow!
- The moon is the proving ground and Mars is the horizon goal. ~ NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine
I penned this thought while listening to this announcement: “We are bearing witness to the future of space travel and space habitation. I really am in awe, this is history in the making, the future being unveiled.”
Visiting a Wind Tunnel
Have you even visited a wind tunnel? Here is where they test scaled-down models for the space launches. Testing aerodynamics is critical to the success of every vehicle that goes into space and beyond.
The 14- by 22-foot subsonic tunnel that we visited is quite a space. I was intrigued when I first saw the fan at this facility because the blades are made of elm instead of metal. According to Frank, our host and guide, this is for three reasons. First, wooden blades are less costly, easier to repair. Second, they respond better to the high heat environment while tunnel is running. Third, if a blade breaks, the high speed wooden debris is more contained than metal, less dangerous.
We also stopped by the Integrated Engineering Services Building. Here some of us experienced some very cool virtual reality tech which simulated walking and navigating everyday life in habitation in space. We also got to hear about the Navigation Doppler Lidar from Glenn Hines. It is like GPS tracking for the moon – it will help track driverless vehicles on the moon with lasers instead of GPS. This is technology that is actually going to the moon!
Last Stop: NASA Langley Impact and Research Facility
Built in 1963, this facility has been used to help astronauts practice moon landings, to crash test aircraft, and to drop test the Orion capsule that will carry astronauts back to the Moon and to Mars. There is a lot of history here, and it was a treat to hear about it from Linda, our host for this visit.
There are many departments and LOTS of individuals and teams that put NASA on the cutting edge of space travel and exploration. It was a dream come true to attend this event and visit the NASA Langley Research Center.
I just want to give a special thanks to Natalie Joseph (social media manager at NASA Langley Research Center) and her team that made this day happen for us: George Simones, Andrea Lloyd, and Kristyn Damadeo. This is one event that I will never forget!
Have you visited one of the NASA Space Centers? Have you attended one of the NASA social events? If so, I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!
Here’s to the next steps in space exploration,