Special Coverage

Supercomputer Cooling System Uses Refrigerant to Replace Water
Computer Chips Calculate and Store in an Integrated Unit
Electron-to-Photon Communication for Quantum Computing
Mechanoresponsive Healing Polymers
Variable Permeability Magnetometer Systems and Methods for Aerospace Applications
Evaluation Standard for Robotic Research
Small Robot Has Outstanding Vertical Agility
Smart Optical Material Characterization System and Method
Lightweight, Flexible Thermal Protection System for Fire Protection
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Terahertz Tools Advance Imaging for Security, Industry

On January 16, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia launched on mission STS-107. At T plus 82 seconds, with the orbiter rocketing upwards at 1,870 miles per hour, a briefcase-sized chunk of insulating foam broke off from the external fuel tank and struck Columbia’s left wing. During reentry on February 1, hot gasses entered the wing through the damaged area of the orbiter’s thermal protection system, causing devastating structural failure that led to the destruction of Columbia and the deaths of the seven crew members onboard.

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Innovative Techniques Simplify Vibration Analysis

As the launch clock counts down, astronauts in the space shuttle prepare for the fastest ride of their lives. More powerful than any plane, train, or automobile, NASA space shuttles boast the world’s most sophisticated rocket engines: three 14-foot-long main engines that produce more than 375,000 pounds of thrust each. This thrust is approximately four times that of the largest commercial jet engine—and produces an extreme amount of vibration.

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Modeling Tools Predict Flow in Fluid Dynamics

Knowing what will happen before it happens is no easy task. That is why new spacecraft and technology are constantly being tested and refined—including the J-2X engine, which may power the upper stage of future NASA rockets. Data from tests like these help to ensure that the next generation of space explorers will travel safely into orbit.

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Verification Tools Secure Online Shopping, Banking

Much is made of the engineering that enables the complex operations of a rover examining the surface of Mars—and rightly so. But even the most advanced robotics are useless if, when the rover rolls out onto the Martian soil, a software glitch causes a communications breakdown and leaves the robot frozen. Whether it is a Mars rover, a deep space probe, or a space shuttle, space operations require robust, practically fail-proof programming to ensure the safe and effective execution of mission-critical control systems.

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Toolsets Maintain Health of Complex Systems

Monitoring the health of a machine can be just as tricky as monitoring the health of a human. Like in the human body, a variety of subsystems must work together for a machine to function properly—and a problem in one area can affect the well-being of another. For example, high blood pressure can weaken the arteries throughout the body, and weakened arteries can lead to a stroke or kidney damage. Just as a physician may prescribe medication, a special diet, or a certain exercise routine to maintain the health of a person, NASA employs a systems health management approach to ensure the successful operation of its rockets, crew vehicles, and other complex systems.

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Framework Resources Multiply Computing Power

For the last 25 years, the NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) Division at Ames esearch Center has provided extremely fast supercomputing resources, not only for NASA missions, but for scientific discoveries made outside of NASA as well. The computing environment at NAS includes four powerful high-performance computer systems: Pleiades, Columbia, Schirra, and RTJones. The collective capability of these supercomputers is immense, and in 2010, Pleiades was rated as the sixth most powerful computer in the world, based on a measure of the computer’s rate of execution.

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Tools Automate Spacecraft Testing, Operation

Using the Spitzer Space telescope, NASA scientists detected light from two Jupiter-sized extrasolar planets for the first time in 2005. Findings like these are enabled in part by the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, which conducts scientific research enabled by access to space—such as Earth science, planetary science, heliophysics (the study of the Sun and its effects on Earth and the solar system), and astrophysics (the study of the universe and Earth-like planets).

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