NASA Social Follow-Up (For Nov 18 2014)

Late last night I got some great news – I’m going to another NASA Social! Next Monday, February 2nd, I’ll be up in Palmdale for the “State Of NASA” event being hosted there by the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center. There will actually be ten simultaneous NASA Socials going on next Monday at NASA Centers all over the country, including Kennedy in Florida, Johnson in Houston, Goddard in Maryland, Langley in Virginia, Marshall in Alabama, Stennis in Mississippi, Glenn in Ohio, JPL in Pasadena, and Ames in San Jose.

Each center will have their own unique activities and presentations, and all centers will join together for a 1:30 PM ET (10:30 AM PT) news conference with NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. The news conference will be shown live on NASA-TV.

The NASA Armstrong presentation will center around how NASA performs astronomical research from aircraft, as well as other aircraft-based experiments. The highlight of the day will be a presentation and viewing (dare we hope for an actual tour inside?) of the Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). Rest assured, you’ll get plenty of information about SOFIA from me over the next few days, but the short version for those unfamiliar with the program is that it’s a honkin’ huge infrared optical telescope mounted into the open side of a 747. It’s an incredible vehicle, telescope, and program – I’m really looking forward to seeing it!

The schedule currently says that we’ll also see the DC8 ATV-5 Reentry Mission, briefings on the ER-2 (civilian version of the U-2 spy plane) and C-20A (modified Gulfstream III business jet) research platforms, electric propulsion systems (for aircraft or for spacecraft, I wonder), FOSS (Fiber Optic Sensing System) technology, the Towed Glider Air Launch System, and more.

I’ll be reporting on activities in Palmdale all day Monday. My primary methods of communication during the day will be Twitter and FaceBook. If you’re on Twitter, you can see my tweets at @momdude56. If you’re not on Twitter, you can see my tweets and photos showing up in the sidebar on the right. And, of course, there will be many pictures and much blatheration about it all here on Monday night and beyond. If you’re on Twitter, you can also see what’s being tweeted by other event attendees at all ten sites by following the hashtags #NASASocial and #StateOfNASA.

You’ll remember that I spent two days (here and here) at NASA Armstrong last November at my first NASA Social. It. Was. Freakin’. AWSOME! I also was at a NASA Social in December at JPL, which was also amazing almost beyond description. So, yeah, I’m looking forward to another one.

In reviewing those articles, I realized that I those posts had only used pictures from my cell phone, not the higher quality pictures from my DSLRs. No time like the present to fix that!

Tonight, the hi-res pictures from Day One at NASA Armstrong on November 18th. I’ll try not to repeat too much of the material already in the original post.

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At the gates of Edwards Air Force Base there are a dozen or more retired planes parked, many of them “century” fighters (F-101 “Voodoo”, F-104 “Starfighter”, F-105, F-106, F-108, and so on), as well as other fighters and cargo aircraft. Shown is the F-104 “Starfighter”.

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On base, outside of the NASA Edwards facilities, is the Bell X-1E. A sister aircraft to the Bell X-1 which Chuck Yeager used to break the sound barrier in 1947, the X-1E flew twenty-six test flights from 1955 through 1958, reaching a top speed of Mach 2.24.

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Protecting the test pilots is a key activity at NASA Armstrong and Edwards AFB. Here we see demonstrations of flight suits and ejection seats.

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We toured the model shop, where scale test vehicles are built to be flown by remote control to test new systems. This is a newer large-scale model, while other smaller models can be seen around on the walls and in the background. If you want to see what these kinds of drones are used for, there’s a great video here of a recent breakthrough program, showing how the models were used, and featuring interviews with several of the people we talked to during our visit.

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The scale models are often flown out in remote locations, where they need to be controlled using line-of-sight radio and data connections. In order to do that, this truck is outfitted as a mobile command base for remote operations. Given how hot it can get out in the Mojave Desert in the summer, I suspect that most important piece of equipment in the whole place is that air-conditioning unit on the ceiling.

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NASA Armstrong uses a number of high performance aircraft, often modified military fighters. This is one of their newest, an F-15D.

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We had a great talk with four of the NASA Armstrong test pilots who fly the whole range of test aircraft, from the slow and small propeller-driven planes (used for noise studies) to the F-15s and the P3-B used for the Operation Icebridge. They also fly the remotely controlled drones which conduct atmospheric research all over the world.

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This is one of the two mission control rooms which run the test flights.

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This is the modified Gulfstream III with the experimental shape changing wing that could someday reduce aircraft weight, noise, and fuel costs.

IMG_2539 (small)Finally, this is the Ikhana Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, a modified Predator B drone equipped with advanced optical systems and capable of carrying instrument packages all over the world. A couple of weeks after we were there in mid-November, Ikhana was used off the coast of Baja California to record and show us the re-entry and splashdown of the first Orion spacecraft.

Yeah, it was a pretty fantastic day for a space cadet like me. Next Monday’s going to be another one!

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