MOUNTAIN VIEW, California -- It's déja vu time as America celebrates the first astronauts to walk on the moon 50 years ago this July. At the same time, a new generation of explorers are preparing to return. Now, as then, teams of scientists and engineers at NASA Ames Research Center are involved.
Liftoff was July 16, 1969, as America launched Apollo 11 with a mission to put two men on the moon. History was made by astronaut Neil Armstrong on July 20 as he spoke the words, "That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind."
Engineers and scientists at NASA Ames are supporting plans to put astronauts back on the moon and beyond with their own critical missions. One of them, a miniature satellite called a CubeSat, is slated to go into space next year to study radiation impact on humans, using yeast. Astronauts who have gone into deep space developed heart disease and vision problems from radiation exposure.
"The longest that humans have been in deep space is the Apollo astronauts that went under two weeks to this environment, and they were affected," said Dr. Sergio Santa Maria, a project research scientist.
So the BioSentinel Lab's experiment will focus on the radiation impact on humans on the moon for extended periods.
Heat shield development continues at NASA Ames' Arc Jet Complex, so a spacecraft can withstand extreme temperatures when returning to Earth or landing on other planets. Even the shape of the spacecraft has to be considered.
"How you operate the mission dictates the materials and the shapes or the geometries you choose for your entry program," said Dr. Alan Cassell, a NASA Ames aerospace engineer.
This test chamber at the Ames Vertical Gun Range helps to determine where it's safe to land on the moon by shooting projectiles at up to 15,000 miles per hour. It was used for the Apollo program.
In this era of supercomputing and simulation modeling, one has to wonder, would technology dating back to 1966 still be applicable today?
"There's a lot more complexity and details of what's going on during these impact events than they originally theorized. That's why we've been doing this for 50 some odd years," said Charles Cornelison, gun range facility manager.
NASA Ames and its predecessor agency have been working on aeronautics research for 80 years.
NASA Ames working on new missions to the Moon and beyond