Who's Who at NASA

Dr. Greg Chavers, Test Lead, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL

Dr. Greg Chavers, test lead at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, helped to design the “Mighty Eagle” robotic prototype lander. The vehicle, which can guide itself to a specified target, flew “open loop” to an altitude of 100 feet in late August. NASA Tech Briefs: What is the Mighty Eagle? Dr. Greg Chavers: The Mighty Eagle is a test vehicle, and it was built originally to demonstrate that we can control a small vehicle that is dynamically similar to a small robotic lander that could land on the moon or other airless body. We started with a flight design concept and built this vehicle with a propulsion system that uses pulse-width modulated thrust, with very fast-acting valves so they’re either on or off. They’re not throttled to control the altitude and the attitude of the vehicle.

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Dr. Neil Cheatwood, IRVE-3 Principal Investigator, NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA

Neil Cheatwood is principal investigator of the Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE-3). In July, the IRVE-3 team tested an inflatable heat shield that protects spacecraft from extreme temperatures and hypersonic speeds when entering a planet's atmosphere or returning to Earth. NASA Tech Briefs: How does IRVE-3 differ from traditional heat shields? Dr. Neil Cheatwood: Whenever we go to another planet that has an atmosphere, we try to make use of the atmosphere to help us either slow down to go into orbit, or slow down enough to actually land. Otherwise, we need to carry propellant. We typically use an aeroshell. That structure serves as a cocoon to protect a payload, and we need to make it an aerodynamic shape so that it performs properly in the atmosphere.

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Steve Gaddis, Program Director for NASA Space Technology's Game Changing Development Office, NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA

Steve Gaddis runs the newly created Game Changing Technology Development Program Office. Gaddis leads the program’s efforts to develop innovative technologies that will revolutionize space exploration. NASA Tech Briefs: What are we talking about when we say “Game Changing Technology Development?” Steve Gaddis: That’s a question that we get asked a lot. The program is one of ten programs within OCT, the Office of the Chief Technologist. In OCT, they have the Space Technology Program (STP), which is being managed by Mike Gazarik and James Reuther.

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Marcia Domack and John Wagner, Engineers, NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA

Marcia Domack and John Wagner, engineers in the Advanced Materials and Processing Branch at NASA Langley Research Center, have worked with Boston-based metal fabricator Spincraft, focusing on a one-piece manufacturing process called spin forming. The team used the spin-forming technique to create a model of the forward pressure vessel bulkhead (FPVBH) of an Orion-type crew module. NASA Tech Briefs: What is spin forming? Marcia Domack: Spin forming is a metal fabrication method that enables us to form launch vehicle components in one piece. The way the process works is we start with a flat piece of plate, and put that essentially on a machine, kind of like a very large lathe, a piece of metal turning equipment. The plate spins in the plane, which is analogous to a record spinning on a turntable, and we use torches to heat up the material to an elevated temperature. Using a roller on the outside surface of the plate, we push it over a tool that is a shape of the component we want to make, and basically cause that material to drape over the tool and take on its shape.

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Sandeep Yayathi, Robotics Engineer, NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX

NASA robotics engineer Sandeep Yayathi works on Robonaut 2, or R2, a humanoid robot built and designed at Johnson Space Center in Houston. As a robotics engineer, Sandeep Yayathi is developing a battery-based power system that will allow the Robonaut 2, now aboard the International Space Station, to move about freely without having to be plugged into the ISS power grid. NASA Tech Briefs: What does the R2 look like? What kind of tools are on it? What is it made up of? Sandeep Yayathi: The Robonaut is a humanoid robot, so it’s a robot that looks very much like a person. It has two arms, similar degrees of freedom, and some complex dexterous hands. The hands are also very similar to what we have on our arms. The goal is for the Robonaut to be able to interface with the same interfaces that the crew uses now, and be able to handle the same tools that they use in orbit. Currently we have an (intra-vehicular activity) IVA version of the Robonaut, so it’s inside the space station mounted to a stanchion that the crew’s been working with. Looking forward to the future, we are currently working on a battery-based power system, as well as a pair of legs. Not so much legs like you and I have, but similar to the arms, with specialized end effectors for grabbing on to fixtures, tracks, and hand rails available on the station. This will set the stage for eventually having a robot that goes EVA [extra-vehicular activity].

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Who's Who at NASA: Jack Vieira, Range Project Manager

In March of 2012, NASA successfully launched five rockets from its Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The launch was part of NASA's Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment, or ATREX, which will help scientists better understand the jet stream. Jack Vieira, range project manager for the ATREX mission, helped to launch five suborbital rockets more than 60 miles above Earth.

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Stephen Merkowitz, Project Manager, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

NASA is helping to lead an international effort to upgrade the systems that supply crucial location information and earth science measurements. Stephen Merkowitz, the project manager of NASA's space geodesy initiative at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the budget and schedule for the upgraded ground station that will help serve satellites of the future. NASA Tech Briefs: What is NASA's international geodesy initiative? Stephen Merkowitz: NASA currently offers a network of space geodetic ground stations that do Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI), satellite laser ranging (SLR), and [global navigation satellite system] GNSS or GPS tracking. The new space geodesy project will develop and implement the next-generation systems. The current systems are 20-30 years old. One of the primary drivers for upgrading the system is sea-level measurement, where you would like to be able to make those measurements at the millimeter level and have them be stable over the years, so you can do repeated measurements.

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