2011

Goddard Space Flight Center

This feature profiles NASA’s ten field centers located across the country. Each month, we’ll highlight a NASA center’s unique facilities, capabilities, and areas of research, as well as specific missions and projects underway at each center. If you are interested in partnering with a particular center, or in licensing specific technology, check out the More Information section at the end of each profile for contact information.

Goddard Space Flight Center’s (GSFC) primary role is to develop science and technology to support unmanned missions to study the Earth, Sun, solar system, and universe. GSFC is responsible for several of NASA’s highest-profile accomplishments, including the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). GSFC has one of the world’s largest teams of engineers and scientists dedicated to advancing our knowledge of Earth and space. The Center is located in Greenbelt, MD, 15 miles from Washington DC and 30 miles from Baltimore, MD.

altGSFC’s areas of research and technology are centered on four broad categories:

  • Earth science: This includes the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), a collaboration with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA); and ICESat, a mission to monitor our planet’s ice mass and other environmental variables.
  • Astrophysics: In addition to the HST and the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE), developed to measure the diffuse infrared and microwave radiation from the early universe to the limits set by our astrophysical environment (for which GSFC scientist Dr. John C. Mather shared the 2006 Nobel Prize), current missions also include Swift, a mission to study gamma ray bursts (GRBs), and the Fermi Gammaray Space Telescope, a mission to study the the most extreme environments in the universe, where nature harnesses energies far beyond anything possible on Earth.
  • Heliophysics: Missions include the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), designed to study the internal structure of the Sun, its extensive outer atmosphere, and the origin of the solar wind (the stream of highly ionized gas that blows continuously outward through the solar system); and the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO), two nearly identical observatories (one ahead of Earth in its orbit, the other trailing behind) that have traced the flow of energy and matter from the Sun to Earth. STEREO has revealed the 3D structure of coronal mass ejections, violent eruptions of matter from the Sun that can disrupt satellites and power grids.
  • Planetary and Lunar Science: Among these are the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN), set to launch in 2013, which will provide information about the Red Planet’s atmosphere, climate history, and potential habitability in greater detail than ever before; and the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite of instruments that will search for compounds of the element carbon (including methane) that are associated with life and explore ways in which they are generated and destroyed in the Martian ecosphere, as part of the upcoming Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission.

altGSC-16287-1) is used to demonstrate X-ray Communications (XCOM), as Innovative Partnerships Program Chief Nona Cheeks and Goddard Chief Technologist Peter Hughes look on." class="caption" align="right" width="300" height="191" />GSFC is also very active in the design and development of advanced communications and navigation technologies that have application across diverse scientific and technical requirements. The Center has developed civilian weather satellite systems, and continues to partner with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in this capacity. In all, Goddard is currently involved in over 40 active missions, providing end-to-end technology design, development, and implementation capabilities, from science phenomena observation/measurement to science results, for the full mission lifecycle.

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