Feb 4, 2013

NASA Swamp Works Research and Technology Lab Features RASSOR and OVEN Prototypes

He had me at hello.

You can't see me (I'm hidden behind Tim) but I'm sitting across the table from the guy in the white shirt, NASA Physicist and Planetary Scientist Phil Metzger and I'm totally entranced by his stories of innovative research that will enable long term exploration of space.  That and the stories about stuff he found digging through Apollo leftovers as they cleaned out the building formerly used for Apollo flight training.  By the end of the evening, we were tweeting like old friends.  OK, maybe just 2 or 3 tweets, but still.

NASA's Kennedy Space Center just celebrated the grand opening of its Swamp Works, a Technology and Research Lab in the EDL building (Engineering Development Lab) formerly used in the Apollo days.  The Apollo crew trained here on simulators and also had a boulder garden out back where they would test drive the lunar rover.....
Swamp Works is built on the Apollo legacy and pays homage accordingly with warm, fuzzy stories about discoveries made while cleaning out the building, digging through the boulder garden and sorting through decades neglected debris.  Tribute is also given through a lobby dedicated to the memory of the Apollo years.

The place is pristine and full of gadgets.  I had tweeted the night before to Metzger  that we would arrive prepared for a white glove test. He assured me they were ready for us.  And they were.

I went through the Apollo-devoted lobby, nodded to the Apollo dedications on the wall and furtively entered the GMRO lab with James Bond music in my head.  The Granular Mechanics and Regolith Operations lab is impressive and not just because of its name.  The lab is a combustible combination of adamant autonomy, empowered team members, innovative and hands-on technology and wide open collaboration outside of NASA's doors, including privateers and entrepreneurial commercial enterprises.

Philip is seen here showing us sand samples used as lunar regolith simulants used in a study to mitigate the damage sandblasting would cause on lunar landing pads at an outpost on the moon - or - eventually Mars.

We each got to hold a piece of camera lens that Conrad and Bean brought back from Surveyor 3 for analysis of the damage it sustained from lunar regolith sandblasting. Watch a short video of  the Survey Trip here.  This is just one study currently in process at this lab, there are thousands more, all designed, as Dr. Mason Peck, NASA's Chief Technologist said,
"with an overall strategy of ensuring innovation.  NASA has always been innovative.  This is work we do for the sake of the nation, investing in technology that will make our lives better."
He then gave the famous example of NASA researchers that first conceived nutritional supplements which later led to the formula for baby food.
"NASA is #1 in invention disclosures."  Peck added, "We are sharing technology with the rest of the nation, sharing discoveries for small and large companies."
We moved on to see and almost touch the OVEN (Oxygen & Volatile Extraction Node).  The biggest problems we have for living in space is the need for water, air and fuel to return home.  That brings us to the OVEN, the purpose of which is to release volatiles from lunar regolith and extract oxygen via a hydrogen reduction reaction.  It either is - or uses - something that identifies hydrogen hot spots before drilling.  These ladies were hot off a trip to Hawaii where they field tested the OVEN 13,000 feet above sea level this past July.  They assured us it was not a pleasure trip, it was research.

And that all leads us to . . . drum roll please . . .

The RASSOR ("Razor") 

A/k/a the Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot.  A/k/a the robot that can extract water and fuel from a rock and lunar regoliths. (I just like saying regoliths)  Theoretically.  It's a shape shifter and can get into all kinds of positions to climb over rocks and stuff.  Read more about the RASSOR.

KSC Swamp Works is focused on rapid, innovative and cost effective exploration mission solutions through leveraging of partnerships across NASA, industry and academia.  I know that's a mouthful, but there is no better way to say it.  In addition to the GMRO lab, the Electrostatics and Surface Physics lab,  the Swamp Works also houses the Regolith Activities Testbed and Robotics Integration, Checkout and Assembly Area.  It is obviously extracting from Kelly Johnson's Skunk Works and Werner von Braun's development shops and uses the alligator as it's mascot in respect for, I suspect, the alligator we saw in the swamp just outside the door.

Photo credit: Kevin Simkins, from the back of the Cool Bus

Click the logo below to go to the Swamp Works Facebook page.

Huge thanks to #NASASocial for inviting me and close to 59 others for this Grand Opening tour and 2 days of scientific bliss.  Read more details of my visit here:

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Does all this stuff thrill you? Are you a science, technology, engineering or math university student with a clever idea?  Enter NASA's Lunabotics Mining Competition.

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