Month: August 2016

NASA Needs Your Help

NASA Space Robotics Challenge Prepares Robots for the Journey to Mars

Robonaut 5
The Space Robotics Challenge offers a $1 million prize purse for teams that successfully program a virtual Robonaut 5 robot through a series of complex tasks in a simulated Mars habitat.
Credits: NASA

NASA, in partnership with Space Center Houston, the Official Visitor Center of NASA Johnson Space Center, and NineSigma, a global innovation consultant organization, has opened registration for a new competition — the Space Robotics Challenge. This event seeks to develop the capabilities of humanoid robots to help astronauts on the journey to Mars.

The Space Robotics Challenge is a $1 million prize competition designed to push the boundaries of robotic dexterity. Teams must program a virtual robot, modeled after NASA’s Robonaut 5 (R5) robot, to complete a series of tasks in a simulation that includes periods of latency to represent communications delay from Earth to Mars.

NASA is interested in enhancing robot capabilities to push the boundaries of what’s possible in human exploration and to improve lives on Earth. As missions grow longer and more complex, robots like R5 could be used as precursor explorers that precede crewed missions, as crew helpers in space or as caretakers of assets left behind. Sturdy R5 technology could also benefit life on Earth by operating in dangerous or extreme environments on our home planet.

“Precise and dexterous robotics, able to work with a communications delay, could be used in spaceflight and ground missions to Mars and elsewhere for hazardous and complicated tasks, which will be crucial to support our astronauts,” said Monsi Roman, program manager of NASA’s Centennial Challenges. “NASA and our partners are confident the public will rise to this challenge, and are excited to see what innovative technologies will be produced.”

The competition will be held in a virtual environment. Each team’s R5 will be challenged with resolving the aftermath of a dust storm that has damaged a Martian habitat. This involves three objectives: aligning a communications dish, repairing a solar array, and fixing a habitat leak.

Registration for the Space Robotics Challenge begins today, with a qualifying round running from mid-September to mid-November. Finalists of that round will be announced in December and will engage in open practice from January to early June 2017. The final virtual competition will be held in June 2017, and winners will be announced at the end of June at Space Center Houston.

Software developed through this challenge will be transferable across other robotics systems, allowing the technology produced to be used both with older robotics models, such as the Robonaut 2, and any future models developed.

With the technology generated by this challenge, robots could participate in precursor missions to selected landing sites, arriving long before astronauts to set up habitats, life support systems, communications and solar apparatuses, and even begin preliminary scientific research.

NASA’s Centennial Challenges program is part of the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, and is managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. STMD uses challenges to gather the best and brightest minds in academia, industry, government and the Nation to drive innovation and enable solutions in important technology focus areas. Innovators from diverse backgrounds, within and outside of the aerospace industry, are invited to be contributors to our Journey to Mars.

Space Center Houston is a part of the Manned Space Flight Education Foundation, a nonprofit science and space learning center.

NineSigma, based in Cleveland, Ohio, connects organizations with external innovation resources to accelerate innovation in private, public and social sectors.

For more information on the Space Robotics Challenge, visit:

http://nasa.gov/spacebot

Last Updated: Aug. 18, 2016
Editor: Loura Hall

US High School Students Work at SpaceX

At Hawthorne-based SpaceX, high school students learn to reach for the stars

Hundreds of standout college engineering students launch their careers each year as SpaceX interns, working long hours beside some of the country’s best rocket engineers at the trailblazing Hawthorne commercial spaceflight company.

But only a few high school students get the same opportunity.

A handful of teens are chosen annually from Hawthorne’s three high schools to walk through the glass doors at 1 Rocket Road and join the visionary team at Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s headquarters.

They aren’t tasked with building rockets, of course. But they are assigned work that’s crucial to keeping the round-the-clock company running smoothly. They’re stationed in the heart of the operation, in the information-technology lab, where they troubleshoot computer problems and maintain employee work stations.

“We try to have close partnerships with Hawthorne high schools,” said community outreach manager Lilian Haney. “We treat it like our regular college intern program. The students have to submit resumes and cover letters.”

Teachers recommend their best science and engineering students from Da Vinci science, design and communications charter schools, Hawthorne Math & Science Academy and Hawthorne High School. SpaceX then chooses a few of those hopefuls each year.

Inside the giant gleaming white rocket-building warehouse, students learn about the real world from the perspective of a company focused on expanding human access to Mars and beyond.

“I find it amazing that humans can send stuff to space and how far we’ve come,” said Vincent Ornelas, a new graduate of Da Vinci Schools in Hawthorne who snagged one of the coveted spots this summer. The 19-year-old is about to start college classes at Loyola Marymount University studying mechanical engineering.

When he began his SpaceX internship, Ornelas said he’d built robots at school but they were just toys. Working among top-notch engineers taught him that, above all, success takes a lot of work.

“I had no idea what I was getting into. I knew they wanted to go to Mars but I learned there’s a lot to that. It’s a real situation here. It’s important.

“On the robotics team at school, we went from designing a robot to making a finished product in six weeks. I have a couple mentors who work here. There’s a lot of structure behind what’s done.”

There are three Da Vinci Schools students, including Ornelas, working as interns there now. Natasha Morse, the school’s director of real-world learning, said students covet the spots.

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“Students are just always so excited to be in the environment of SpaceX,” Morse said. “They feel like an adult employee. It really motivates them for college.”

Rachael Tucker, manager of the company’s high school interns, said she looks for candidates who are great students and eager to learn.

“Most of them are in awe of the sheer volume of work. It can be a little overwhelming,” Tucker said. “But most are eager to go out and explore and learn what they can. This job really gets them out of their shells. You can’t be shy here.”

Interns participate in weekly classes about the company’s specialties — complex electrical hardware and software built from the ground up, computer science, mathematical modeling, rocket manufacturing, structural engineering and launch pad infrastructure.

The challenges are constant. Since the inaugural launch of the Falcon 9 in 2010, SpaceX has suffered crashes, an explosion, and aborted and delayed launches. But there were more successes than failures and, last year, the company became the first to bring a rocket back to Earth from orbit intact.

SpaceX continues to grow rapidly and is increasing the number of launches as it works toward creating a near-perfect reusable rocket. Reusability, company founder Elon Musk believes, is the key to expanding access to space.

Musk, who also founded Tesla Motors — which has a design studio next door to SpaceX in Hawthorne — and now owns SolarCity, among other ventures, regularly works at the SpaceX office’s open-air cubicles and engineering and testing labs.

Molly Mettler, 19, has been interning at SpaceX for two years, and hasn’t had a full conversation with the famous inventor-engineer-entrepreneur, but has heard him speak at lectures.

“He’s really smart,” she said, adding that Musk is one of the topics her friends usually ask about, along with what the rockets and work environment are like.

Mettler recently started college at UC Davis, where she hopes to mesh her love of engineering with animal science. Veterinary medicine often lags behind modern advances, she said, and there is room for engineering innovations in fields like prosthetics.

She started her internship after her sophomore year but has continued to return because she enjoys the work. The experience she got fixing computers also landed her a part-time job at college.

“It’s a very fast-paced company that’s always constantly moving forward and changing,” Mettler said. “In a sense, your work is never finished and the time pressure makes problems more difficult.”

Day to day, she gets to watch the rockets and Dragon capsules being built, piece by piece. And she can hobnob with the engineers to learn more about their cutting-edge creations. New spacecraft can be seen at all stages of development on the work floor, attended by teams of workers. A cafeteria that looks over the operations provides low-cost, healthy meals.

In the midst of work stations, launch operations and feeds from the International Space Station are constantly monitored on giant screens in a glassed-in command center.

“I was definitely more to myself when I started,” she said. “As a high-schooler working at SpaceX, you want to live up to and exceed expectations.”

Students at the Barboza Space Center are looking to collaborate with other high school students that are working in related space intern  programs.  We are using distance learning and hands on programs at the Columbia Memorial Space Center.   We will come your letters of intent and student resumes.

http://www.BarbozaSpaceCenter.com