david hubler


By David E. Hubler
Contributor, In Space News

The National Mall between the Capitol and the Washington Monument often becomes “America’s Main Street” for special occasions such as inaugurations, ethnic festivals, and Fourth of July festivities.

This weekend, however, crowds began to gather on the Mall early Friday to mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20. From Thursday through Saturday, NASA, Raytheon, and other aerospace specialty companies will give visitors a peek at what lies ahead in space ventures and Earth-bound travel.

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On a huge sound stage and screen, musicians will entertain visitors with space-themed music, and space scientists will talk about the stars. Children can explore the stars with cartoon characters on the screen.

Late-night space enthusiasts will have an extra treat. Each night, a life-size color projection of the Saturn 5 rocket that took the Apollo 11 crew to the moon will appear on the side of the Washington Monument.

NASA’s X59 QueSST Supersonic Aircraft Will Reduce the Sonic Boom to a Short Thump

Most of us will never journey into space. But in one tent, NASA experts explain some of the space agency’s latest aerospace engineering concepts. The plans include return flights to the moon and then to Mars. NASA is also developing a prototype supersonic plane, the X59 QueSST (Quiet Supersonic Technology), whose goal is to greatly reduce the sonic boom to just a thump and perhaps reintroduce commercial supersonic flight.

The thump — rather than a boom — comes from the novel design of the aircraft. The plane has a long, thin nose, swept wings, and an engine that sits on top of the aircraft. The design deflects some of the shock waves up into space, greatly reducing the noise.

NASA’s “Seeing Sound” STEM Learning Module uses a special photographic technique to capture images of shock waves forming around an airplane flying at supersonic speed. The phenomena of sonic booms can teach students about wave properties, the transfer of energy and forces and motion.

The goal is to make it possible for the public to fly at supersonic speeds over land. That’s something its predecessor, the Concorde commercial SST flown by British Airways and Air France, was not permitted to do because of the sonic boom the aircraft generated. The Concorde went supersonic only over the Atlantic.

The plan for NASA’s Low-Boom Flight Demonstration mission is to fly over selected American communities and measure the public response to the noise level it produces. If the sound level is low enough, NASA hopes to provide U.S. and international regulators with sufficient scientific data to lift current sanctions against flying faster than sound over land.

Derek Dalle

If the noise level is close to that in the earphone demonstration on the Mall, the X-59 QueSST should pass with flying (sic) colors.

Derek Dalle, of the computational aerosciences branch of the NASA Advanced Supercomputing Division in Mountain View, California, is on hand to talk about the NASA program to return astronauts to the moon by 2024.  He shows models of the new booster ascent rocket and talks about the aerodynamics of the mission.

Dalle refutes the notion that the computers onboard the Apollo 11 were “toys” compared to today’s supercomputers. The astronauts “really knew how to utilize every bit and every coding operation on that computer,” he said. “They were really, really capable of doing the job they had to do.”

Lego spacesuit by Chris Heninger

One major difference Dalle says is the way problems were identified on the Apollo missions. A four-digit warning code would appear in the capsule that the crew would relay back to Mission Control for correction. “Now we would have more information available, a lot more automation,” he said. The crew can handle most issues on their own.

That’s not to say that NASA won’t have the latest computers on hand for a return to the moon. Dalle’s colleague Michelle Moyer notes that the NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) Facility in Mountain View, has four supercomputers — Pleiades, Merope, Endeavour and Electra. “With Electra, we have a new way of deploying supercomputers quickly in a container module. It can take [only] a matter of a few months instead of a few years to build a new facility.” Perhaps a future NASA voyage will include installing one of these supercomputers on the moon?

Lego Exhibits Saturn 5 Rocket and Astronaut in a Space Suit

Two exhibits that are drawing large crowds are the life-size moonwalker outfitted in a spacesuit and a mockup of the Saturn 5 — both are made entirely from Lego bricks.

Chris Heninger of Lego with the Saturn 5 model

Chris Steininger is a Lego master builder who helped design and build the two Lego models. “We can’t just go ahead and plan Lego pieces just like that,” he said, snapping his fingers.

Company designers use the same 3D software mesh program that is used to make the Lego animated movies. Once designed by the mesh program, “we take it into Lego Brickbuilder, which turns that 3D mesh entirely into one-by-one [inch] Lego bricks.” The next step allows the builders to refine the image more, add or remove pieces and sculpt it further.

They can also change the colors of the bricks if they don’t turn out right. “Once we get all that the way we like it, we actually start to build the model from the ground up.” The builders construct each layer of bricks one at a time. “So it kind of looks like a CAT scan,” he explained. The process is similar to a 3D printer, “but it is all done manually by layer model builders and master builders.”

Steininger and his master builder team are based at Lego’s U.S. headquarters in Enfield, Connecticut. Another 300 or so builders are located in the Czech Republic.

Steininger estimated that it took about 40 hours to build the Saturn 5 rocket model, whereas it might have taken 80 to 100 hours to build the life-size astronaut suit. Judging by the crowds examining both models, it was time well-spent.

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