Space Studies Program NASA Ames – Part IV

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The last three weeks of the Space Studies program were dedicated to team projects. The three different team projects were Mars Caves, Space Aid, and Disaster Relief Management. Generally, everyone was looking forward to a change of pace in the program and having only one dedicated task focus for the remaining weeks. Team meetings kick-started the projects, in an effort to merge any literature surveys and preliminary work done individually. Participants met with experts and project chairs to sort out all the project details and establish timelines for deliverables. Challenges in the logistical aspects of the project including creation of a team structure were certainly underestimated. We were soon all aware of the amount of time that would be required to complete the final reports. The Bob Richards building on the Ames campus became a second home to many, where students sprawled out in almost any orientation at almost every hour of the day.

Working on the team project for the remaining days of SSP reminded me of a few sentences from a previous internship at Goddard Spaceflight Center:

Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your character, Your character becomes your destiny.

The team project for the most part is an experience unlike any other, simply due to the sheer magnitude of work in an incredibly short amount of time while trying to coordinate with a massive group of people. Given all the resource constraints, it is important to remember that our behaviour during this project is a large factor in its success. An objective thought process, working hard, and remembering to help each other whenever possible should make the team project a rewarding experience for all involved. Given the interdisciplinary nature of all the team projects, consideration of actions and personal character definitely helped with the flow of communication and ease of cooperation in conflicting situations.

Given the location of the SSP this year and the focus NASA Ames places on international cooperation, NASA organized a few key events to encourage networking opportunities between participants and Ames employees. The two bi-weekly events included Two Degree Tuesdays and Tee Minus at the Mountain View golf course on Thursday evenings. The event on Tuesday evenings was held on base and facilitated round table discussions between attendees. Each week, representatives from various NASA departments came to mingle with students, discussing current events and projects at NASA. Students were able to rotate around the tables and interact with employees in a variety of different fields. One of the sessions gave students the opportunity to chat with the Deputy Center Director. In between conversations of football, soccer, and basketball, the Deputy Director outlined three problems that NASA Ames faces:

The first issue is the largely aging workforce, with over fifty percent of employees retiring in the next five years. While transitional processes are demanding for any company, NASA Ames is an innovation center so attempting to pass down pioneering knowledge developed by individual employees to new generations is especially cumbersome. Next, NASA Ames aims to become a `science` center similar to Goddard Space Flight Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, developing missions in accordance with space exploration and expanding the frontier of scientific knowledge. However, it seemed from this discussion that the decision to change the mandate at Ames would be purely political even if Ames has the infrastructure and resources to focus on science. Lastly, NASA Ames would like to increase the level of international cooperation and research conducted on base. Thus hosting the International Space University was a logical first step. As hosts of the SSP `09, NASA Ames forged a foundation for the exchange of international knowledge. This summer Ames Research Center has succeeded in bringing interdisciplinary experience to Silicon Valley, potentially the `central nervous system` of the aerospace brainpower.

The last SSP panel focused on research at Ames, specifically exploring the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) project. The mission objective of LCROSS is to confirm either the presence or absence of water ice existing in a crater at the South Pole of the Moon. Ames Research Center is responsible for overall mission management and analysis of data retrieved by the satellite. This is an example of a NASA project that is trying to make science and exploration more accessible by working within the constraints of a limited budget.

SSP students happened to be in the right place at the right time for the annual Perseid meteor. Students gathered in a large field with blankets and food at the center of the research center for a chance to catch just one meteor. The scene was reminiscent of an old drive-in movie, except our screen was a hazy black sky as we watched the universe unknowingly pass by in awe. For those never having seen a meteor shower, their brightness and speed was impressive.  While the skies were clear, interference from urban light pollution significantly restricted the intensity and frequency of the meteors. Many students hoped Wednesday evening would provide equal, if not better opportunities to catch the encroaching flares of light. A few Canadians went sailing and a glowing ring from the communities surrounding the San Francisco Bay lit up the night sky, making even the most common constellations almost unrecognizable. While on the sailboat, we could only imagine the intensity of a meteor shower seen from the middle of the ocean with the sky wrapping around the boat and viewing an endless horizon.

Towards the end of last week, students frantically worked towards synthesizing presentations for the Internal Review scheduled on Friday. Team members stayed up most of Thursday evening trying to streamline slides in order to create a coherent structure for the presentations. The review was a success for all teams, with presentations running smoothly, followed by an informative question and answer period. The Internal Review was one task accomplished on a long list of deliverables.

As the SSP was quickly coming to a close, the last cultural night saw the remaining countries going out in style. Of the most memorable were Spain and India. Spain’s charisma emanated from the presenters as they traveled with the audience along an audio and visual journey through their country. A mock ‘running with the bulls’ and an excerpt from a dance called the Seviyanas by the Spanish female team heightened the experience and buzz in the room. The Indian team organized three demonstrations of traditional dances, accompanied by a professional DJ. The costumes and movements were a complete stimulation of the senses and the dancers deserve much respect for the length of time it surely took to learn such intricate and complex sequences. The three dances were Hindustan or Bharatanatyam, Kathak, and Bhangra. Each dance contained three key elements: Karanas (the traditional key movements), Hastas (expressive hand gestures), and Behdas (elaborate eye, neck, and head movements). As soon as the DJ played the Bhangra music and the dancers found the beat, the entire audience gave an uproarious cheer and became fully enraptured by the rhythms. The dances kicked off an Indian dance party complete with a conga line and an amazing array of food.

 The rest of the weekend saw students’ traveling in many different directions to fit in last adventures in California, as our time was ending. Some traveled to Las Vegas, others to San Francisco, and others (usually the editing teams) sticking around to get preliminary work done on the report structures. Of course working on the weekend requires frequent breaks. Some scheduled mandatory time to play Laser Quest, see the sci-fi movie District 9, enjoy a few relaxing meals, and soaking in the sunshine at cafés in Mountain View.

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