Monday June 23, 2008 – Panera Bread – North Olmsted, OH
Mark Hyatt came to speak with the NASA Glenn Academy, where he spoke to the group about his path through NASA, the challenges facing the engineers of NASA when going back to the moon, and the specific techniques his group is trying to study the effects of dust on the myriad moon systems that are being designed.
Hyatt received a degree in ceramic engineering from the University of Raleigh, and after graduation, learned that NASA was looking for engineers and that his degree could apply to the aerospace industry. He has been based primarily at the Glenn Research Center, but worked stints at Langley, working on a supersonic transport that would have replaced the Concorde, and at Marshall, where he studied launch technologies for air-breathing propulsion access to space.
Hyatt spoke with us about how NASA has changed since he first started working there. NASA has had trouble keeping pace with the decline of the aerospace industry from the time of the space race. The President can bring space into the national policy, but Congress must set the budget, which may or may not yield adequate funding. He was very interested in how he could get the "Generation Y" and "Millennials" interested in the space program and the aerospace industry, as he recognized the important differences between those and the older generations. He related a story from an international project management class, where European engineers from the European Space Agency got frustrated with the NASA engineers who didn’t want to listen to anyone else’s point of view. It’s important to realize, he said, that a badge isn’t anything special and doesn’t in and of itself confer experience – that has to be earned.
As we ate, Mr. Hyatt showed us a number of videos from the Apollo era that many of us had never seen. In one of the films, an Apollo astronaut dropped his hammer on the Moon and had a very hard time picking it up, jumping and bouncing around and getting very filthy with regolith. As a result of this, picking up a dropped tool is now a mobility test for new spacesuits. He also showed us some footage from the "Lunar Grand Prix," with the astronauts riding around on the rover. Much of this footage hadn’t been widely available, not because it was proprietary, but because it wasn’t essential knowledge – until it was decided we were going back to the moon.
At this point, we got into the design decisions involved with the lunar project. One of the questions has been whether to try for a lunar sortie mission of a few days or an extended-duration outpost mission, which could limit the explored region of the moon. "Is this a habitat-focused or mobility-focused mission?" he asks. It turns out it will be some of both, but the specific timetable for those different types of missions had not yet been decided. He then compared the different rockets used for Apollo, the shuttle, and the Ares I and V for the future Moon and Mars missions. With recent design updates to ensure structural stability, the new Ares V will be just bigger and just taller than the Saturn V! Depending on design choices, the Centaur upper stage could be the largest composite structure ever made.
Next, Hyatt spoke with us about regolith, the particular type of soil that is on the moon. Not enough was brought back from the moon to do testing on, so artificial soil has been produced, called simulant. However, the soils on the moon are different across different regions, and only some "highland" soil was collected, as opposed to "mare stimulant", which is predominant where the astronauts landed. The dust is so fine, it would kick up and reflect underneath the spacecraft, making it difficult for the astronauts to land. The regolith kicks up underneath the rovers as they are driving, which means fenders to keep the dust out are very important. However, during Apollo 16, one of the astronauts knocked a fender off of the rover because he had a hammer hanging from his pocket. In a rather humorous turn on events the exact same thing happened on Apollo 17 because the procedures weren’t changed! The Apollo 17 astronauts used a map, duct tape, and spring clips to make a repair to the rover’s fender.
The Dust Mitigation Project has looked at how to fill in the knowledge gaps left from Apollo by looking at old footage and artifacts that came back from the moon. They examined some suits the astronauts wore to determine how much damage the dust caused. When testing new materials, they need to see if the synthetic simulant can cause the same type of damage to the suits that the moon dust did.
Our evening ended watching a short video narrated by Gene Krantz, a longtime NASA flight director. Krantz spoke to the Millennial generation, telling us that we must believe in ourselves and our team. If we could do so, then we most definitely will be able to achieve great things.