Friday, July 24, 2009

The Marshall Space Flight Center: Interns Tour

On Thursday, all of the interns were invited to go on a tour of some of the key sites at the Marshall Space Flight Center! It was really fun and neat to see all of the "other" things that go on here, besides just the happenings in my building, 4487.

The first stop on the tour was the HOSC, or Huntsville Operations Support Center. One of control rooms we got to see was actually for the Space Shuttle Launch Operations. Since the Marshall Space Flight Center is in charge of all of the propulsion elements on the Space Shuttle they have a "back-up" room to the Johnson Space Center. Controllers check the numbers and make sure all of the engines are "GO" for launch. Since the launch was successful last week, the controllers did their job and hence, the room was empty!

Next, we saw a mock up of the US payload module on the ISS. Here are some of the "racks":

The next few pictures show the inside of the Payload Operations and Integration Center (POIC). This is basically a "mission control" for all of the science experiments and payloads aboard the International Space Station. Employees here actually talk to the astronauts daily, build schedules and maintain a database that describes the location of all the tools aboard the ISS. It was pretty interesting to see and we got to talk to a real "PAYCOM" which is the person who talks to the astronauts!

Here is a mock up of the ISS inside the HOSC. And I totally want one of these in my house someday!

During another leg of the tour we got to go in this room:

The giant thing in the picture above and below is a huge robot arm. The room is entirely black and they test rendezvous maneuvers inside it. They need to be able to test the optical sensors under very real conditions so that is why the room is all black; they turn off the lights and have a set of 6 movie lights perfectly tuned to mimic the amount of luminosity from the sun. It's pretty cool.

This picture may be hard to see since the room is all black, but they also have an epoxy "frictionless" floor which they move machines around to also simulation rendezvous activities.

The room right next to the "black" room had several vacuum chambers inside, here is one of the largest!

The vacuum chamber below was used by the "Mythbusters" on the Discovery Channel to break the myth about the first footprint on the moon. Some thought that since the moon had no atmosphere and no moisture that once the foot was removed from the soil, the "regolith" or moon sand would just return back over the print. However, it was proved in this vacuum chamber that that was not true! I love the Mythbusters, but really guys?!?!? We totally went to the moon, come on!

This picture shows me inside a full scale, wooden engineering mock-up of the Ares-1 Instrument Unit. Basically, this is where the brains of the rocket live and it was cool for me, because I have worked on a lot of these avionics boxes shown in the next few pictures.

Here is a picture of the Thrust Cone on Ares-1, which leads down to the Upper Stage J-2X Engine.

The man leading this part of the tour said that they had had about 50 blind students come to the center and they wanted to know what Ares-1 "looked" like. So, they built this scale model of the Ares-1 rocket out of soup cans and a funnel for the top! It was awesome, and I'm totally making my own when I get back to Arizona!

These next few pictures are a model of the lower 1/3 of the Upper Stage, the big black thing is representative volume-wise of the J-2X engine.

Here is an old test article which tested chemical/nuclear propulsion.

The next few pictures are of a linear aerospike engine. If you know nothing about engines...I would skip these, but if you are at all curious, I would "wikipedia" it because its a really interesting design. This type of engine was going to be used on the X-33 VentureStar which was cancelled, but my mentor here at Marshall worked on it!

Another vacuum chamber!

The inside of the vacuum chamber!!!