On a rainy Saturday last week, D. and I visited the NASA Exploration Center at the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field right here in town. It was full of cool stuff related to NASA's technology and space missions, and we took a bunch of pics. Here they are, with mine first.
We arrive at the center. It is inside a huge tent-like structure.
The first thing we see inside the door are space shuttle tires on display. Like most aircraft tires, space shuttle tires are filled with nitrogen because of its stability at different altitudes and temperatures. The shuttle has four main landing gear tires -- 44.5 x 16.0-21, 34 ply -- that weigh 205 pounds each and are rated to a speed of 263 mph. They are inflated to 340 psi. The shuttle also has two nose landing gear tires -- 32 x 8.8, 20 ply -- that weigh 50 pounds each and are rated to a speed of 250 mph. They are inflated to 300 psi.
A space shuttle tire is not much larger than a truck tire. But a main landing gear tire can carry three times the load of a Boeing 747, thus the high psi inflation. The main landing gear shuttle tires are used only one time, and the nose landing gear tires are used for two landings. Since weight is of extreme importance when launching into outer space, the tires are designed with a minimum amount of tread to conserve weight, allowing for larger payloads.
Cue Star Trek music.
This wall has panels showing imagery of stem cells and nebulae, the micro to the macro. From inner space to outer space, NASA is there.
One of the heady questions NASA grapples with.
D. apparently channeled Marie Antoinette when he suggested, "Give them all cake." (I don't think that's the kind of answer NASA is coming up with.
A large Mars globe. The orange footlights are to provide the globe with "Mars light," according to a docent (the camera's flash washes out the effect, though). The surface relief is not to scale.
Lunar sample glove boxes were developed at Ames Research Center in 1968. A Lunar Receiving Laboratory biological research team used these glove boxes to search for the existence of pathological micro-organisms in the original lunar soil samples. The glove boxes allowed scientists to handle and study the lunar samples without contaminating them by exposure to the Earth's atmosphere. No such life forms were found in the samples analyzed.
NASA Ames has designed a lot of rovers and robotic explorers. Here is a model of an early version of one (yes, it's called K9), which is still in use, according to a docent.
Here is a moon rock on display.
It is inside a glass case which itself is behind glass. Hands off!
The moon rock is in a room with a panoramic lunar landscape photograph covering the walls (I guess in case the moon rock gets homesick).
They are serious about not harassing the moon rock.
Cardboard astronauts with face cut-outs for silly pics stand in front of mannequins wearing actual space suits.
How odd to see a child-sized cardboard astronaut. And why are ukeleles hanging from their utility belts?
Spacewear takes on a whole new level of effortless chic when it hits the fashion runways this fall. All the best-dressed astronauts will be sporting flame-resistant nomex comfort liners next to the skin for those long EVA spacewalks . . . Neoprene-coated nylon along with mylar and dacron insulation layers combine to provide a smart and stylish dash of elegance . . . And teflon-coated outer coverall fabric for haute couture micrometeoroid and fire protection completes the ensemble with plenty of spacefaring panache to spare.
What's it like inside the International Space Station? Glad you asked.
(Next to the entrance is an actual Mercury space capsule, Mercury Redstone 1A, the first one launched by a Redstone rocket in 1960. It was the last of the unmanned missions.)
Half of the stuff looked like actual hardware, the other half was just cardboard mock-ups.
NASA Ames manages SOFIA science and mission operations.
Yes, that's a block of polystyrene on the wingtip. (It's behind a velvet rope but right at kids' eye-level.)
A peek inside the model of SOFIA's airborne telescope.
The air in the stratosphere is drier and more stable than the lower parts of the atmosphere, making it better for astronomical observations.
It probably makes the telescope do something, but we'll never know because I was too chicken.
A scale model of the wind tunnel.
It is said you can feel the ground shake when it's in use (you must have to be closer than the three miles from it than I am currently, though, because I never feel anything). It is also said that when they turn it on, they not only have to warn the local electricity providers, but also all of the local air traffic control towers. When in use it vents a pillar of air straight up, strong enough to mess up a plane flying overhead. It’s marked as a wind shear hazard on aviation navigational charts . . . or so it's said.
There is so much cool stuff about wind tunnels. Hypersonic wind tunnels are designed for speeds of up to Mach 15, which require the air to be heated to thousands of degrees Fahrenheit to stop it from liquefying when they let it loose. Every major airline and almost every military jet built in the United States over the last 40 years, plus the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space capsules as well as the Space Shuttle have all been tested in this NASA Ames wind tunnel. (Plus, their domes are really, really cool.)
This enormous object is not part of a boat, but is one of the original wooden blades from the huge fan in the 40x80 foot wind tunnel. It had six sets of 40-foot diameter fan blades. Each of these 6 sets consisted of 6 large laminated wooden blades. Each drive motor had 6000 horsepower, which had the capability of producing wind speeds of up to 230 mph in the test section. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
The gift shop is closed for the Thanksgiving weekend, but we peek through the gate to see the kinds of space tchotchkes NASA wants us to buy.
[*imagines astronauts fishing in their pockets for change to buy space food from space vending machine*]
The last of his kind, this cute little space guy (space bear? space dog?) is all by himself on the shelf.
Patriotic NASA space ducks, $5.
If you have been saying to yourself, "Moon rocks, wind tunnels, space ducks, pssh! What has NASA done for me lately?", well, fret no more. Here's a tiny bit of some of the cool stuff developed by NASA.
You can thank them for cordless tools and invisible braces, too.
Outside, in the far corner of the parking lot, we see a mystery object.
Since it is not fenced off or anything, we approach for a closer look.
We see hatches.
We see fans.
We see what looks like a door lying on the floor of one section.
We peek underneath the mystery object.
We suspect it may be part of some kind of space flight simulator, because of the hatches and stuff, but we really have no idea. And we especially don't know why it's out in the back corner of the parking lot, with banks of large storage containers on one side and miscellaneous debris on the other, neglected and exposed to the elements.
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And here are D.'s pics.
Welcome to the NASA Exploration Center.
Models of some of NASA's space probes.
Valles Marineris, or the Martian Rift Zone, is prominent on the Mars globe.
A detail of the lunar sample glove box.
This moon rock is mostly basalt.
"Sometimes I think we're alone. Sometimes I think we're not. In either case, the thought is staggering." (R. Buckminster Fuller)
A model of the space shuttle that was tested in NASA Ames's wind tunnel.
Running the board for the show in the center's high-resolution, interactive Immersive Theater.
Some images from the show presented in the Immersive Theater while we are there. The man in silhouette is narrating the live show and using a little hand-held joystick-like device to control the animation.
A peek inside the closed gift shop.
Earth, Moon and Mars light the way along one corridor.
A mystery part of the mystery object at the rear of the parking lot.
Not all mysteries lie in outer space.