Friday, October 16, 2015

Inspiration at the Kennedy Space Center Innovation Expo

Each year, Kennedy Space Center hosts an Innovation Day to bring together the neat things that NASA scientists and engineers are doing. This year, it was held at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. I met up with my friend Stephen this morning to check it out. Fun times!

Our first stop was the industry booths set up outside one of the buildings. I spent quite a bit of time at the SpaceX booth chatting with colleagues and got a new nifty Dragon floater pen, this one traveling to the International Space Station instead of Mars. Boeing was giving away little foam CST-100 Starliner capsules, though they were made before the Starliner name was released. I met former astronaut Bru Archambault (astronaut #45 I've met) at the Sierra Nevada table along side a Dream Chaser model.

Posing with the inflatable capsule at the Expo booths

Astronaut Bru Archambault and me with Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser model

We ate an early lunch before our colleague Dr. Phil Metzger took stage at noon. I had the privilege of working with Phil for a summer in 2012 and just caught up with him over lunch a few weeks ago, so I had some advanced knowledge of the topics presented. Along with lots of pretty New Horizons images of Pluto, he spoke about robotically mining regolith on other planetary bodies and utilizing that material (in-situ resource utilization) to create products such as water, fuel, and building materials. Through long-term thinking, we can eventually build up infrastructure in space around the Moon to collect and beam solar power to Earth (space-based solar power) for all of Earth's energy needs. “I wake up every morning thinking that this is so audacious, but it works,” he said.

Phil Metzger showing off amazing Pluto imagery

Unscheduled, I was pleasantly surprised to see colleague Stephanie Bednarek speak about SpaceX next. The backlighting and ambient noise made it difficult to watch the videos that she was playing, but I had seen them before and knew that they were awesome. She showed an image that I hadn't seen before of Mars as it is now versus a projection of Mars terraformed. I'll have to look up the source of that research!

Stephanie Bednarek giving an overview of SpaceX

I returned to the booths next to browse more of NASA and industry's innovative work. I had seen robotic astronaut torso Robonaut 1 at Johnson Space Center a few years ago, and today I met its newest sibling R2. I admired the healthy lettuce being grown in the Earth ground-based version of the Veggie experiment on the International Space Station. I cheered on the team for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission (MAVEN) which I saw launch in 2013.

NASA's Vegetable Production System Veggie

In another area of booths, I got into a very interesting conversation with a young engineer who works on self-healing metals, metals alloys that revert back to their original state and fuse together when heat is applied. I'm a big fan of the LVX System lights since I got a tour of their facility a couple of years ago and was happy to hear of their recent successes. I replaced my old “remove before flight” red tag that I carry on my purse with a bright new one from United Launch Alliance. I said hello to colleagues at Craig Technologies who I had just seen at Manufacturing Day.

The booths were so interesting that I lost track of time and arrived 15 minutes late for a talk by astronaut Nicole Stott, who I had met in the bleachers earlier (astronaut #46). At that point, she was talking about the importance of art and the STEAM movement (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics). She took audience questions which included many popular astronaut inquiries such as what it's like to train to be an astronaut and did she experience sickness in microgravity. I did note an interesting comment when talking about bone degradation in microgravity: “To travel to Mars, I'd prefer artificial gravity, but if we can't do that, we need to keep learning to adapt our bodies to microgravity.”

Nicole Stott answering audience questions about being an astronaut

Meeting Nicole Stott in the audience bleachers

Knowing that I can spend a fortune in space gift shops, I usually avoid the temptation. But I've already learned that spending for my child is a different category of spending. I couldn't resist browsing the baby items in the KSC gift shop. So many cute things to choose from! Josephine will grow up to become whatever she wants to be, but her mama is a space geek. Knowing how fast kids grow, I opted for a one-size-fits-all spacesuit bib and a bath toy rubber ducky piloting a space shuttle.

Astronaut baby bump!

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