Who's Who at NASA

Dr. Andrew Watson, Senior Scientist for Vision Research, Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

Dr. Andrew Watson works on models of human vision and applies them to visual technology. The Founder and Editor in Chief of the Journal of Vision, he is also a Fellow of the Optical Society of America, of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, and of the Society for Information Display. Watson received a 2011 Presidential Rank Award from the President of the United States.

NASA Tech Briefs: What is the Spatial Standard Observer (SSO)?

Dr. Watson: For many years we’ve been working on computational models of the early stages of human vision. Part of the purpose of that research is to develop engineering tools that could be used in the design of display technology, compression algorithms, and things of that kind. We have taken a lot of our research and compressed it into a simple engineering tool, the Spatial Standard Observer, which can be used to predict the visibility of artifacts, for example, in a display, or the legibility of information in a display — any case where you have imaging technology that is going to be used by a human observer.

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Bob Reisse, ALHAT Project Manager, Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA.

Bob Reisse coordinates the design and testing of ALHAT (Autonomous Landing Hazard Avoidance Technology) sensors. In December, ALHAT instruments were melded to HUEY helicopters, which used sensors and an integrated computer system to provide guidance and assist pilots. The technology will also enable landing near specific resources and locations across the solar system, including the moon, Mars, and other asteroids.

NASA Tech Briefs: What does Autonomous Landing Hazard Avoidance Technology look like?

Bob Reisse: ALHAT is a series of sensors that can determine or measure the area of interest that we’re trying to get to on the ground. In addition to that, we have a standard altimeter just to help us navigate to the right location. The third [part] is a laser Doppler system, which measures attitude and velocity relative to the ground. As you can imagine, an inertial measurement unit (IMU) tells you your velocity, but it doesn’t tell you how you’re doing relative to the ground or to the area of interest as you’re approaching a planetary body.

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David Mitchell, MAVEN Project Manager, Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD

David Mitchell is the project manager of the MAVEN mission, which will examine environmental changes on Mars. MAVEN instruments will look beyond the planet's surface and provide a better understanding of solar interactions, magnetic fields, and the atmosphere in general.

NASA Tech Briefs: What is the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft?

David Mitchell: MAVEN is a Mars orbiting spacecraft, which will study the Mars upper atmosphere, the interactions with the Sun, and will obtain a better understanding of climate change at Mars over time. It will go into an elliptical orbit with an orbital period of 4.5 hours. The closest that MAVEN will get to the Mars surface in this orbit is approximately 125 kilometers.

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Chuck Jorgensen, Chief Scientist for Neuro Engineering, Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

Chuck Jorgensen, Chief Scientist for the Neuro Engineering Lab at NASA Ames Research Center, in Moffett Field, CA, currently studies biolelectrical interfacing and the detection of human emotion and visualization. His research in subvocal speech was a 2006 finalist for the Saatchi & Saatchi international prize for world-changing ideas.

NASA Tech Briefs: What are some of the applications for bioelectrical interfacing?

Chuck Jorgensen: If you put someone in a constrained suit, like a space suit or a firefighter or hazmat suit, the pressurization that’s occurring from the breathing apparatus, as well as the limitations on finger movement in a pressurized suit, make doing tasks like typing or small joystick control very difficult to do, or actually dealing with, say, an external robotics device that you might want to control with this system.

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Dr. Carlos Calle, Lead Scientist, Electrostatics and Surface Physics Lab, Kennedy Space Center, FL

Dr. Carlos Calle, lead scientist in Kennedy Space Center’s Electrostatics and Surface Physics Lab, is developing instrumentation that addresses the problem of electrostatic dust. The technology will be used for future exploration missions on Mars and the Moon.

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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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