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Advanced Composite Solar Sail System Successfully Launches

On April 23, the Advanced Composite Solar Sail System CubeSat mission launched successfully aboard an Electron rocket launched by Rocket Lab and carried Ames’ payload from Māhia, New Zealand. The CubeSat was subsequently delivered to a Sun-synchronous orbit around Earth.

Ames has pioneered the use of CubeSats and small satellites to run innovative, cost-effective missions and test technologies in space, providing leadership in cost-effective spaceflight missions for NASA.

An artist’s concept of NASA’s Advanced Composite Solar Sail System spacecraft in orbit.
NrediASA/Aero Animation/Ben Schweighart

Under the auspices of STMD’s Small Spacecraft Technology Program, the Advanced Composite Solar Sail System mission demonstrates next-generation solar sail technology for small interplanetary spacecraft. It will test a new way of navigating our solar system when the mission’s CubeSat hoists its sail into space – not to catch the wind, but the propulsive power of sunlight. This technology could advance future space travel and expand our understanding of our Sun and solar system. 

NASA, FAA Partner to Develop New Wildland Fire Technologies 

Recently, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) established a research transition team to guide the development of wildland fire technology. 

Wildland fires are occurring more frequently and at a larger scale than in past decades, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Emergency responders will need a broader set of technologies to prevent, monitor, and fight these growing fires more effectively. Under this Wildland Fire Airspace Operations research transition team, NASA and the FAA will develop concepts and test new technologies to improve airspace integration. 

Artist’s rendering of remotely piloted aircraft providing fire suppression, monitoring and communications capabilities during a wildland fire.
Credit: NASA

Current aerial firefighting operations are limited to times when aircraft have clear visibility – otherwise pilots run the risk of flying into terrain or colliding with other aircraft. Drones could overcome this limitation by enabling responders to remotely monitor and suppress these fires during nighttime and low visibility conditions, such as periods of heavy smoke. However, advanced airspace management technologies are needed to enable these uncrewed aircraft to stay safely separated and allow aircraft operators to maintain situational awareness during wildland fire management response operations. 

Over the next four years, NASA’s Advanced Capabilities for Emergency Response Operations (ACERO) project, in collaboration with the FAA, will work to develop new airspace access and traffic management concepts and technologies to support wildland fire operations. These advancements will help inform a concept of operations for the future of wildland fire management under development by NASA and other government agencies. The team will test and validate uncrewed aircraft technologies for use by commercial industry and government agencies, paving the way for integrating them into future wildland fire operations.  

ACERO is led out of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley under the agency’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. 

Studying the Ocean with NASA Computer Simulations

A tool developed at NASA Ames’ Advanced Supercomputing division provides researchers with a global view of their ocean simulation in high resolution. In this part of the global visualization, the Gulf Stream features prominently. Surface water speeds are shown ranging from 0 meters per second (dark blue) to 1.25 meters (about 4 feet) per second (cyan). The video is running at one simulation day per second. The data used comes from the Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean (ECCO) consortium.
Credit: NASA/Bron Nelson, David Ellsworth

“Every time I help with visualizing [ocean] simulation data, I learn about an entirely new area of ocean or climate research, and I’m reminded of how vast and rich this area of research is. And…the real magic happens at the intersection and interaction of simulated and observed data.

It is a great honor – and a thrill – to collaborate with devoted, world-class scientists doing such important, cutting-edge research and sometimes to even help them learn something new about their science.”

Dr. Nina McCurdy, a data visualization scientist with the NASA Advanced Supercomputing division at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley

Luxembourg Leaders Focus on Lunar Exploration During Visit to NASA Ames

by Abigail Tabor

The challenges of working on the surface of the Moon are at the center of a facility at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. The Lunar Lab and Regolith Testbeds help scientists and engineers – from NASA and industry alike – study how well science instruments, robots, and people might be able to safely work, manipulate, navigate, and traverse the tough lunar terrain. On March 7, three visitors from the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg – Deputy Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, Minister of the Economy Lex Delles, and Ambassador to the United States Nicole Bintner – learned more about the work happening here. 

Left to right: Ames Deputy Center Director David Korsmeyer, Ames Center Director Eugene Tu, Deputy Prime Minister of Luxembourg Xavier Bettel, Luxembourg Minister of Economy Lex Delles, and Ambassador Nicole Bintner meet at Ames on March 7, 2024.
Credit: NASA Ames/Brandon Torres

During the visit, lunar rock and crater features crafted from lunar soil, or regolith, simulant were lit by harsh, low-angle illumination to simulate sunlight conditions at the Moon’s poles. Members of the VIPER mission (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover) discussed their work testing optical sensors at the lab for NASA’s water-hunting Moon rover. Engineering versions of VIPER’s hazard-avoidance cameras and lighting system, tested in the facility, were also on display. The lab is managed by NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI). 

The Regolith Testbeds enable research applicable to places beyond our Moon as well, including Mercury, asteroids, and regolith-covered moons like Mars’ Phobos. 

Luxembourg was one of the first nations to sign the Artemis Accords and has taken steps to enable commercial space exploration. At Ames, the visitors learned about the center’s support of NASA’s Artemis exploration goals, including with VIPER, agency supercomputing resources, and the development of advanced tools for lunar operations. 

AI, Robots, Autonomy Software Discussed at Star Trek Convention

Above: Left to right are Abigail Tabor of the Office of Communications Division, J. Benton, computer science researcher; and Dr. Jennifer Blank, senior scientist in the Space Science and Astrobiology Directorate speaking on a panel at the March Star Trek Convention held in Hyatt Regency SFO, Burlingham, California. They spoke about artificial intelligence for a future space station that will orbit the Moon and the use of legged robot technology, autonomy software, and remote science operations in a volcanic cave. At least 7,000 attended the Star Trek Convention.

Majoring in Liberal Studies: Giving Back, Honoring Culture, and Working at NASA

Choosing a major can be intimidating, so finding Liberal Studies was perfect for community-centered Maria Lopez, deputy operations manager for the NASA Ames Exchange.  Maria was interviewed by the Puente Project, a mission to increase the number of educationally underrepresented students who enroll in four-year colleges and universities, as part of the “Puente Major 2 Career Video Series.” The Major 2 Career video series, which is on YouTube, focuses on different majors. The project highlights various professionals’ journey from college to their career.  The premise is to feature two professionals who earned the same bachelor’s degrees but following different professions to show the range and opportunities to first-generation college bound students currently at the middle school, high school, and community college levels.

Maria highlighted how she landed on Liberal Studies after trying a few majors, the challenges she faced along the way, and her unexpected and exciting career with NASA.  She started out in STEM education and has supported the NASA mission in different roles with the technical publications office, international office, protocol office, and the office of diversity and equal opportunity.  Maria shares an array of mission enabling positions with NASA and how NASA fuels her passion for celebrating culture and community outreach.  In the video, she demonstrates by example that NASA is within reach and inspires students to pursue their dreams.

Watch and learn more about Maria’s journey!

Maria on detail with the Protocol Office supporting a presidential visit in 2023.
Credit: photo by Lisa Lockyer

Ames Engineer Natasha Schatzman Excites Kids about the Mars Helicopter

On April 13, the Sunnyvale Public Library hosted “Space Camp 2024” with space-themed activities for kids, such as crafts, scavenger hunts, speakers, and more. Apollo 16 lunar samples were displayed at the event and Ames engineer Dr. Natasha Schatzman of Code AV gave a presentation to an enthusiastic crowd of a few hundred people about her NASA journey, her work on the Mars helicopter efforts, and led a Mars paper helicopter activity with the children. Students young and old enjoyed the fun of learning about vertical flight. Mayor Larry Klein attended the event and did a reading for the kids.

Ames Staff Shares NASA Mission Info with Cal Academy Nightlife Attendees

Ames Office of Communications (OComm) supported a NASA exhibits booth at the California Academy of Sciences Nightlife festivities on the evening of Feb. 29, in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. About a third of the 2,000 plus attendees interacted with the NASA booth and presenters, experiencing many high-quality interactions with many of the attendees. The QUESST (NASA’s mission to demonstrate how the X-59 can fly supersonic without generating loud sonic booms), VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover), Artemis, Orion missions were discussed and many attendees were asked if they’d like to send their names with VIPER on its upcoming launch. Hillary Smith of OComm is seen below interacting with visitors at the event.

Hillary Smith at Academy of Sciences in San Francisco interacting with event attendees.

Lego Exhibit Brings Out the Engineering Creativity with the Kids

On April 13 and 14, the Office of Communications team members facilitated VIPER’s (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover) subject matter experts Vandana Jay and Hans Thomas who interacted with audiences at LEGOLand Bay Area in Miliptas, California. The experts worked alongside “master builders” supplied by LEGOLand to help younger engineers design and test moon rovers of their own creation, creating a fun engineering challenge. During the day, the team interacted with about 80 families and close to 500 individual attendees. See below for photos from the event.

Kids enjoying making their own little lego Moon rovers.
Building rovers at the April 13 LegoLand Bay Area event.
Moon rovers built by students at the April 13 LegoLand Bay Area event.
Building model lego rovers.

Ames Space Biology and Astrobiology Teams Engage Kids with Science Demos

Tri-Valley Innovation Fair at Alameda County Fairgrounds was held April 18 – 19 and is an annual event featuring STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) providers and vendors across the Bay Area. The Ames booth highlighted the Space Biology and Astrobiology groups. The space biology team highlighted how model organisms, such as tardigrades, drosophila, yeast and C. elegans give researchers insights into the effects of space on living organisms and the astrobiology team highlighted the search for life in the universe and Earth’s extremophiles. Attendees to the event enjoyed posing with the astronaut cutouts and learning about the electromagnetic spectrum and the James Webb Space Telescope with an interactive infrared demo. Close to 1,000 interactions occurred during the event.

SJCU Research Week Event Highlights its Partnerships with NASA Ames

​San Jose State University (SJSU) Research Week, April 15 – 19, consists of a series of events at the campus that highlight the university’s engagement in research with partners such as NASA Ames. The Ames booth at Paseo de Cesar Chavez on campus on April 15 featured the TechEdSat small sat project, the Ames Aeronautics directorate and OSTEM. Marcus Murbac and his team comprised of many SJSU alumni, showed off their latest iteration of the TechEdSat and Zach Roberts spoke about Ames aeronautics projects as well as a couple of drones. Francesa Bura, an intern at Ames, talked about internship and OSTEM resources. Information about Ames Atmospheric Sciences and NASA jobs also were shared. About 200 students visited the display and the event supported the activities that Ames has with the university.

PASIFIKA STEM Fair Provides Engaging Hands-on STEM Experience

The Bay Area PASIFIKA STEM Fair is an annual event organized by the Pacific Islander Encouraging Fun Engineering Science and Technology (PIEFEST) organization dedicated to improving Pacific Islander representation and access to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) related careers. The event brings STEM organization and enthusiasts in the Bay Area together to provide Pacific Islander students and families an Interactive, hands-on STEM experience. The NASA booth featured a new VIPER mission demo, permanently shadowed craters of the Nobile region, and emissions spectra of various elements and molecules, the astronaut cutouts, as well as an electromagnetic spectrum demo. More than 1,000 students of varying grade levels and their parents and families attended the event, with more than 20 vendors participating with hands-on activities and demonstrations.
Interacting with the exhibits at the Bay Area PASIFIKA STEM Fair.
Jonas Dino of the Ames Office of Communications Division at the Bay Area PASIFIKA STEM fair, connecting with and inspiring kids of all ages as to the wonders of science.
Kids enjoying the interactive exhibits at the NASA booth during the Bay Area PASIFIKA STEM Fair.

Future Aspirations, the Importance of STEM Discussed at Grimmer Career Day

Jonas Dino from the Ames Public Engagement team was the featured speaker at the Grimmer Elementary Career Day on April 26. He presented to the entire school body of more than 300 TK to 5th grade students, teachers and administrators talking about careers at NASA and the need for the students to be STEM literate and possibly entering the NASA workforce pipeline in the future. He also interacted with the students at lunch talking to them about their future aspirations and answering specific questions they had about NASA. The career day featured members of the Fremont community including fire, police, engineers and medical personnel visiting classrooms talking about their careers.

Starling Stuns at Golden Gate Park Planetarium Show

Bay Area audiences got a unique look at a NASA Ames CubeSat mission during a full-dome planetarium show as part of the Benjamin Dean lecture series at the Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, on March 4. NASA Ames aerospace flight systems engineer and Starling mission deputy project manager Scott Miller shared Ames’ legacy in CubeSats and swarms and how technologies used in NASA’s Starling mission aims to tackle crowding in low Earth orbit and enhance how we study deep space, in his presentation, “NASA Spacecraft Swarms for Low Earth Orbit and Beyond.”
Credit: photos by Josh Roberts

In Memoriam

Dr. Anna McHargue (Colonel, USAF, Ret.) passed away peacefully on March 26, 2024, at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Palo Alto, California. Hospital staff honored her with a brief ceremony for passing veterans, which her close friends attended. 

Dr. Anna McHargue

Dr. McHargue began her higher education at Murray State University in Kentucky, graduating in 1956 and eventually being selected as Distinguished Alumna. She pursued her medical degree at the University of Louisville School of Medicine in Kentucky, at a time when women were not very welcome in the field. She persevered and finished at the top of her class in 1962. She chose not to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology until later at the Stanford University Hospital, where she was a faculty member from 1974-1980. She practiced in the specialty for several years in Oakland and in Redwood City, California, and became a Fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.  

She served in the United States Air Force (USAF), joining in 1966, was promoted to colonel, and was trained as an aviation medical examiner qualified to perform Federal Aviation Administration flight physicals. She enjoyed flying all over the world with transport aircraft crews on military and humanitarian missions. In the USAF Reserves, she was named the 1999 and 2000 Flight Surgeon of the Year by the 312th Airlift Squadron. She retired in 2001 after 25 years of service.  

From 1989-2020, she served as a part-time physician at the Health Unit at NASA’s Ames Research Center. Ultimately, she dedicated herself to the field of medicine for 58 years. Dr. McHargue was actively involved in the Church of the Advent as a deacon and on the Board of Trustees of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.  

Her funeral service and internment are planned at her hometown in Kentucky. Friends can donate and send condolences online to:

Dignity Memorial

Equal Opportunity if the Law

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