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ATO #110 - May 26, 2000

PART 1: NASA Quest Survey
PART 2: Project News
PART 3: Watching the Sparks Fly!

NASA Quest Survey

NASA Quest will be undergoing some significant evaluation this summer, and
we anticipate several changes. Now, more than ever, we count on your
inputs based on your experience this past year - Enter the NASA Quest
Survey. In response to your requests in the past, we have formulated ONE
survey to cover all NASA Quest projects. Those of you who participate in
more than one project need only respond to the survey once! Please
consider sharing your comments and opinions at:

Let me include you in on one specific issue that is being addressed this
summer so you can be a part of the solution. It relates to Updates like
this one (There are four:  updates-sto, updates-aero, updates-ltc and
updates-won.) There is a plan on the table that suggests combining these
into one, multi-topic email. If you wish to express your opinion on this
possibility, please address email to me at slee@quest.nasa.gov and
include: to which lists you subscribe and whether you would like the four
lists to remain as they are or to be combined into one newsletter.
 Susan Lee


Summer Chats

This summer we will do two chats and two updates each month
because we find every summer our attendance and hits plummet. Hopefully
all the kids are outside interacting with gravity, and the atmosphere by
flying kites, and gliders for fun and airplanes to visit grandparents and

I hope you will join us for chats this summer. We have an exciting theme
for our chats, something we haven't covered at all before that
will bring new team members to Aerospace Team Online. Well, have I made
you curious? We will be chatting and with researchers from the Space
Technology Division at NASA Ames Research Center. I think you will find
this fascinating and a worthwhile topic. This will introduce you to the
topic of materials for thermal protection and the use of computer models
for predicting the heat generated by vehicles entering different planetary
travel in space in the near future.

Next Year's Projects

With the time we are not preparing chats and and writing updates we will  
be busy writing up two new projects for next school year!!

Virtual Skies is an air traffic management project for students and
teachers in Grades 9-12. It will be a "project based learning activity"
with hands on multimedia to enhance student decision making and problem 
solving skills. Materials will be tied to the National Standards in
Mathematics, Science, Technology, Geography and Language
Arts. Stay tuned for more news as we crank up over the summer!

Planetary Flight is an aerospace project for Grades 4-8. (more reason to
attend summer chats). This will be an inquiry based learning project to
design an airplane to fly on Mars. The stuff dreams are made of!! We will
also be keeping you posted on this one this summer.

I am looking forward to the summer, we'll be very busy! I am also looking 
forward to sharing our summers work in the fall.

Wishing you all blue skies (or rain if you have a drought)!
Susan Lee

[Editor's Note: This spring I had the opportunity to meet with Pat Jones of the Space Technology Division she gave me a tour of the Arc-Jet Facility, this is my journal of that tour. To learn more about the Thermal Protection Branch visit: http://spacetech.arc.nasa.gov ]

Watching the Sparks Fly

by Susan Lee

May 26, 2000

I am old enough to remember before the Orbiter, or space shuttle,
flew. While it was being built one of the developments I remember hearing
about in the news was "shuttle" tiles. These are the special tiles on
the bottom of the orbiter that protect the astronauts and the vehicle
from the high temperatures generated as the orbiter flies back into
Earth's atmosphere.

When I went on my first tour of NASA Ames Research Center I learned that a
great deal of research on the development of these tiles was done here.
The Space Technology Division has a facility called an arc jet testing
facility that simulates the temperatures experienced in high altitude
atmospheric flight.

When I heard I was going to get to see this facility I expected it would
look like something on a Star Wars set, very futuristic and modern. I
couldn't imagine where it was located at NASA Ames because I hadn't seen
any buildings that had that look. I was very surprised to find out that I
had driven right past this facility many hundreds of times without knowing
what important things were happening inside.

From the outside it looks a lot like an old fashioned garage or gas
station. Those of you who are tax payers will be glad to know that lots of
expense was spared in the choice of materials for this building. Think  
corrugated metal. Little did I know that inside the boundaries of
materials research were being pushed to the limit. The research done here
is being applied to the X-33 and X-34.

I can't explain to you how an arc jet works, but I can tell
you that it involves heat, electricity, pressure, and water cooling.
I'll have to get back to you on this. Instead I'll tell you what it looks
like when it's working. First I went into the control room. Everyone was
getting ready for the test. This involved lots of radio communications,   
only one test facility can operate at a time because they need so much

Then the operators started flipping switches and checking dials on a long
wall of instrument controls. I had to put on some special goggles and ear
plugs. We left the control room and went out next to the arc jet which has
a small window the size of your monitor screen you can look into. I was
told things would happen very fast so I paid close attention.

There is a loud roaring sound when things start up and then an arm-like   
strut which holds the material sample swings up into view. All of a sudden
an arc of light aimed at the sample appears and gets day glow bright. The
tile lights up too. Sparks were flying! I felt very excited and scared but
then the test was done. Computer sensors have recorded data about the
test. The researchers were anxious to find their results. Hopefully they
learned something about how to keep space travelers from burning up!

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