Who's Who at NASA

Chuck Taylor, Principal Investigator, NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA

Chuck Taylor is principal investigator of in-space propulsion and space power generation within the Game Changing Development Program. He is responsible for a portfolio of technologies, including large-scale solar electric propulsion systems. NASA Tech Briefs: What is solar electric propulsion (SEP)? Chuck Taylor: Solar Electric Propulsion is a form of spacecraft propulsion used in space. It relies on the acceleration of ions using electricity generated by solar arrays instead of the chemical energy stored in the propellant itself. It is attractive because by using the Sun’s energy in the process we can bring considerably less propellant mass into orbit; this reduces our launch mass and cost. An SEP system is usually considered to consist of the large arrays that generate electric power, the power processing units or PPUs that convert this power, and the thruster which uses the electric power to ionize the inert propellant and accelerate it out of the spacecraft to generate thrust.

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Lora Koenig, Glaciologist, Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD

Dr. Lora Koenig, an expert in remote sensing of ice sheets and snow, provided scientific input for the design of the Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research, or GROVER. The autonomous vehicle will rove through Summit, Greenland and monitor how much snow falls over the country’s ice sheets.

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Huy Tran, Deputy Director, Aeronautics Directorate, Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

Huy Tran is the Deputy Director of the Aeronautics Directorate that performs research in air traffic management, advanced aircraft design, and thermal protection. Tran has made significant contributions to flight hardware on several NASA missions and was lead inventor of the Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator (PICA), an innovative heat shield material. NASA Tech Briefs: What is a typical day for you? Huy Tran: Because I’m up at the management level, my typical day will start with meetings in the morning at the executive level. We talk tactical issues concerning budget and latest events. Eventually that kind of information needs to be flowed down to our divisions and their programs and projects. I normally attend programmatic telecoms, talking with NASA Headquarters and program directors in the research areas that we work on to address any issues, concerns, or strategic planning that we have for our program and projects. Then, I also meet with the project managers, technical leads, and line management to ensure that we execute the projects that were assigned to us, and ensure that we have technical excellence in our research in air traffic management or in software.

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Rob Mueller, Lead Senior Technologist, Kennedy Space Center, FL

Rob Mueller is the Lead Senior Technologist for the RASSOR (Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot) project, as well as all Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Human Robotics Systems. The RASSOR mining robot will collect soil (known as regolith) on the moon or Mars so it can be processed into rocket propellants, breathable air, water, and other consumable commodities as well as manufacturing and construction materials feed stocks.

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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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