DiscoverTech Briefs: Who's Who at NASA
Tech Briefs: Who's Who at NASA
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Tech Briefs: Who's Who at NASA

Author: Tech Briefs

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This monthly Tech Briefs podcast features interviews with NASA's top
experts and professionals, from chief technologists and environmental
engineers to project scientists and facility directors. Learn about the
range of careers within the agency and find out "Who's Who at NASA."
65 Episodes
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On February 19, The Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment (SAGE) III instrument launched aboard a cargo capsule to the International Space Station (ISS). Brooke Thornton is in charge of operating and monitoring the payload once it reaches the ISS. SAGE III — equipped with a telescope, grating spectrometer, and charge coupled device detector array — will use the light from the Sun and Moon to provide a profile of the atmosphere, including the Earth's ozone layer.
In outdoor locations, firefighters and emergency responders can use GPS technology to track one another. Indoor environments like high-rises and steel-reinforced structures, however, frequently block radio signals. With the development of POINTER (Precision Outdoor and Indoor Navigation and Tracking for Emergency Responders), Darmindra Arumugam has addressed the sensing challenge, and provided a potentially game-changing tool for search and rescue teams.
Since 2003, Farzin Amzajerdian has worked on the Navigation Doppler Lidar (NDL), a sensor designed to support safe and precise vehicle landings on Mars and other destinations. The breadbox-sized NDL contains three lasers, a small electronics box, and lenses connected by fiber-optic cables. Amzajerdian will soon oversee the testing of the technology in California's Mojave Desert.
During his time with former employer Science and Engineering Services, LLC, Branimir Blagojevic helped build a remote-sensing device that detected biological agents. Blagojevic currently leads the development of the Bio-Indicator Lidar Instrument (BILI), a device that could be used to spot organic molecules and signs of life on Mars.
On September 8, NASA launched OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer). The probe will spend two years in space, chasing down an asteroid known as Bennu. Discoveries from the mission could help scientists understand clues to the origins of life.
Edward Chow leads the development of AUDREY, the Assistant for Understanding Data through Reasoning, Extraction, and sYnthesis. The artificial-intelligence system captures a variety of sensor data, including gases, temperature, and GPS signals. By sending alerts through a mobile device or head-mounted display, AUDREY could soon be used to guide first responders through dangerous conditions.
Stevan Spremo is the project manager of COTSAT-1, or Cost Optimized Test of Spacecraft Avionics and Technologies. The ongoing development project aims to build a fully functional spacecraft for $500,000 in parts and $2 million labor. The prototype is the first of what could be a series of rapidly produced, low-cost flight vehicles.
Dr. Patrick Fink leads technology development of radio frequency identification (RFID) systems. The RFID technology will support NASA's efforts to track its various inventories on the International Space Station, from personal supplies to equipment components. A new smart container innovation tracks individual items, regardless of placement.
Using the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory satellite, launched in 2014, NASA and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency researchers have taken the first 3D images of raindrops and snowflakes. The GPM snapshots will help research meteorologist Joe Munchak determine precipitation rates and support the improvement of weather models.
On December 6, 2015, two CubeSats successfully launched to the International Space Station. As part of NASA's Nodes mission, the CubeSats will soon communicate with each other and demonstrate the benefits of a networked "swarm" of spacecraft.
Jim Heidmann of Glenn Research Center (Cleveland, OH) and Jason Welstead of Langley Research Center (Hampton, VA) have led NASA efforts to develop all-electric and hybrid-electric designs for large passenger aircraft. Using low-carbon propulsion technology, they are exploring how planes can be redesigned and configured.
Two NASA-developed tools - the Dynamic Weather Routes (DWR) tool and a national implementation of DWR called the National Airspace System Constraint Evaluation and Notification Tool (NASCENT) - will help pilots identify and evaluate opportunities for more efficient paths around convective weather and other airspace constraints. Dave McNally and Kapil Sheth are the lead developers of the technologies. DWR was tested operationally by a major US airline for three years.
As NASA plans launches to Mars, Europa, and beyond, the agency's Office of Planetary Protection ensures that the environments are shielded against contamination, especially bacteria and microbes from Earth. Dr. Catherine Conley oversees and audits the planetary protection strategies for NASA's exploration missions.
Dr. Santo Padula has developed testing techniques to support the development of advanced materials like metallic foams and shape memory alloys (SMAs). SMAs are metals that "remember" their original shape. With the application of heat, a deformed SMA returns to its initial form.
Al Bowers is the program manager of Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to Lower Drag, or Prandtl-d. The project's researchers validated elements of a boomerang-shaped wing design that could greatly improve the efficiency of future aircraft.
Environmental engineer Amy Keith and her team developed a low-cost detector of contaminants in plants and surrounding groundwater. The non-destructive technology scans the surface of a leaf for spectral signatures. NASA currently seeks a development partner for the hyperspectral estimator.
After a 2013 wildfire led to the loss of 19 elite Arizona firefighters, Langley Research Center engineers, including Walt Bruce and Anthony Calomino, worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service to see how NASA’s spacecraft thermal protection system could be used to create new emergency fire shelters on Earth.
Kim Hambuchen is currently building user interfaces for Valkyrie, a six-foot-two, 286-pound humanoid robot. The two-legged Valkyrie builds on NASA’s Robonaut, a robotic assistant currently onboard the International Space Station.
Project Lead Kurt Leucht has spent recent months testing the software of NASA's "Swarmie" robots. Using an evolving genetic algorithm, the robots operate as connected, ant-like swarms. The technology could prove to be valuable as humans explore harsh, remote, or inaccessible locations where teleoperation and resource gathering is required.
Dr. David Miller began his term as NASA’s Chief Technologist on March 17, 2014. He currently serves as the Agency’s principal advisor and advocate on NASA technology policy and programs. Miller, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, previously worked with a range of NASA programs, including the space shuttle, the International Space Station, and the CubeSat Launch Initiative.
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