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NASA Destination Tomorrow #8
Closed Caption File Transcript

COMING UP ON DESTINATION TOMORROW, NASA IS DEVELOPING NEW CATALYTIC CONVERTERS THAT WILL GREATLY REDUCE THE POLLUTION COMING FROM OUR AUTOMOBILES. PLUS, NEW TECHNOLOGIES WILL HELP PILOTS AVOID TURBULENCE IN THE SKIES AND HELP LOWER INJURIES ABOARD COMMERCIAL AIRCRAFT. AND WE TAKE A LOOK BACK AT THE SUCCESSES OF THE T.D.T., OR TRANSONIC DYNAMICS WIND TUNNEL. OUR OWN JOHNNY ALONSO FINDS OUT THE SECRET BEHIND LASERS AND HOW THEY WORK. ALL THIS AND MORE NEXT ON DESTINATION TOMORROW. HELLO, EVERYONE. I'M STEELE McGONEGAL. AND I'M KERA O'BRYON. WELCOME TO DESTINATION TOMORROW. THIS PROGRAM WILL UNCOVER HOW PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE RESEARCH IS CREATING TODAY'S KNOWLEDGE TO ANSWER THE QUESTIONS AND SOLVE THE CHALLENGES OF TOMORROW. A UNIQUE EXPERIMENT MOUNTED ON THE EXTERIOR OF THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION CALLED MISSE, OR THE MATERIALS INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION EXPERIMENT, WILL TEST THE DURABILITY OF HUNDREDS OF SAMPLES, RANGING FROM LUBRICANTS AND PAINTS TO SOLAR CELL TECHNOLOGIES. THE SAMPLES WILL BE SUBJECTED TO THE HARSH EFFECTS OF THE SPACE ENVIRONMENT, 220 MILES ABOVE THE EARTH. BY EXAMINING HOW THE SAMPLES FARE IN SPACE, RESEARCHERS SEEK NEW INSIGHT INTO DEVELOPING MATERIALS FOR FUTURE SPACECRAFT AS WELL AS MAKING MATERIALS LAST LONGER ON EARTH. MISSE WILL BE RETRIEVED AND BROUGHT BACK TO EARTH ON THE SPACE SHUTTLE. THE SAMPLES WILL BE RETURNED TO RESEARCHERS AND ANALYZED TO DETERMINE WHICH MATERIALS ARE THE MOST DURABLE AND SUITABLE FOR TOMORROW'S SPACECRAFT. JAMES JONES SPOKE WITH DR. BILL KINARD ABOUT THIS FASCINATING EXPERIMENT. THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION IS THE LARGEST AND MOST COMPLEX INTERNATIONAL SCIENTIFIC MISSION IN HISTORY. WITH THIS ORBITING LABORATORY, THERE WILL NOT ONLY BE NEW ADVANCES IN SPACE TECHNOLOGY BUT A CHANCE FOR ALL TYPES OF DIFFERENT SCIENTIFIC FIELDS TO HAVE NEW THEORIES TESTED AND EXPERIMENTS COMPLETED IN SPACE ENVIRONMENTS. AND NOT ALL OF THESE EXPERIMENTS WILL BE TESTED INSIDE THE STATION. NASA IS CONDUCTING EXPERIMENTS OUTSIDE THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION WITH A NEW PROJECT CALLED MISSE, OF THE MATERIALS INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION EXPERIMENT. THE FIRST EXPERIMENT MOUNTED EXTERNALLY ON THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION, MISSE WILL INVESTIGATE THE EFFECTS OF LONG-TERM EXPOSURE OF MATERIALS TO THE HARSH SPACE ENVIRONMENT. MISSE WILL ALSO EVALUATE MATERIALS CURRENTLY BEING USED AND THOSE PLANNED FOR USE IN FUTURE SPACE MISSIONS. I SPOKE WITH DR. BILL KINARD AT NASA LANGLEY RESEARCH CENTER TO FIND OUT MORE. MISSE IS A TECHNIQUE TO UTILIZE THE SPACE STATION TO DO SPACE EXPOSURE EXPERIMENTS. OF COURSE, THE NAME SAYS IT'S A MATERIALS INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION EXPERIMENT, BUT IT'S A LOT MORE THAN THAT. MISSE'S NOT ONE EXPERIMENT, BUT ACTUALLY, IT'S A COLLECTION OF OVER 1,000 DIFFERENT EXPERIMENTS. MISSE INVOLVES SOME PASSIVE EXPERIMENT CONTAINERS THAT HAVE BEEN DEVELOPED HERE AT THE LANGLEY RESEARCH CENTER, AND THESE ARE BASICALLY SMALL SUITCASES. WE CAN PUT TEST SPECIMENS INSIDE THESE SUITCASES, CLOSE THEM UP, AND THEN WE CAN TRANSPORT THEM TO SPACE BY THE SHUTTLE, TAKE THEM OUT DURING AN EXTRAVEHICULAR EXERCISE. WE'LL OPEN THE SUITCASES UP TO EXPOSE THE SPECIMENS ON THE INSIDE, AND THEN CLAMP THEM TO HANDRAILS ON THE SPACE STATION. BILL, YOU MENTIONED SPECIMENS. WHAT SORT OF SPECIMENS ARE WE TALKING ABOUT? SECTIONS OF MATERIAL, SMALL PIECES OF MATERIAL THAT WE CAN EXPOSE IN SPACE THAT ARE LARGE ENOUGH TO LET US UNDERSTAND HOW THE SPACE ENVIRONMENT'S GOING TO AFFECT THEM. OR, IN OTHER CASES, SOME OF THE SPECIMENS ARE COMPONENTS: SOLAR CELLS, FOR EXAMPLE, OR ELECTRICAL SWITCHES; PARTS OF A FIBER-OPTIC CABLE THAT MIGHT BE USED ON A SPACECRAFT. WE ARE TESTING COMPOSITE MATERIALS AND CERAMICS AND POLYMERS THAT MIGHT BE USED TO CONSTRUCT MORE CONVENTIONAL SPACECRAFT. WE DON'T HAVE TO MODIFY THE SPACE STATION TO ACCOMMODATE THESE EXPERIMENTS. THERE ARE LOTS OF HANDHOLDS ALL AROUND THE STATION, AND WE CAN LOCATE THESE EXPERIMENTS IN VARIOUS PLACES, SO IT'S A VERY ECONOMICAL MODE TO UTILIZE THE SPACE STATION FOR SOME VERY CRITICAL-TYPE TESTING. MISSE IS A PASSIVE EXPERIMENT, WHICH MEANS THAT ASIDE FROM DEPLOYMENT AND RETRIEVAL, NO OTHER INTERACTION IS INVOLVED. THE TWO CARRIERS WILL BE RETRIEVED APPROXIMATELY ONE YEAR AFTER DEPLOYMENT AND RETURNED TO EARTH ON A LATER SHUTTLE FLIGHT. BILL, WHY DOES NASA FEEL THE NEED TO DO THESE EXPERIMENTS IN OUTER SPACE AS OPPOSED TO HERE ON EARTH? I THINK EVERYONE IS AWARE OF THE CONTRIBUTIONS WE GET EVERY DAY FROM SATELLITES IN SPACE, BUT I DON'T THINK PEOPLE ARE AWARE OF THE FACT THAT THE ENVIRONMENT THESE SATELLITES HAVE TO OPERATE IN TO GIVE US THIS INFORMATION EVERY DAY IS AN EXTREMELY HOSTILE ONE. SPACE IS COMPOSED OF A HARSH VACUUM. THIS VACUUM CAN CHANGE THE COMPOSITION OF MATERIALS THAT SPACECRAFT ARE MADE FROM, AND THIS CHANGES THE PROPERTIES OF THESE MATERIALS. SPACECRAFT ARE EXPOSED TO UNSHIELDED, HARSH ULTRAVIOLET RADIATION. THIS RADIATION CAN VERY QUICKLY DARKEN AND EMBRITTLE MOST OF THE PLASTICS THAT WE USE EVERY DAY ON EARTH. WE CANNOT SIMULATE THESE ENVIRONMENTS IN THE LABORATORY ADEQUATELY TO DO TESTING TO ESTABLISH WHETHER MATERIALS CAN FUNCTION IN SPACE. SO WHAT HAPPENS TO THE MATERIALS WHEN THEY COME BACK TO EARTH? WE GET THEM BACK; WE'LL BRING THEM INTO A CLEAN ROOM SUCH AS THIS, AND THE INVESTIGATORS WILL LOOK AT IT, AND THE FIRST THING THEY'LL DO IS ESTABLISH WHETHER OR NOT THE MATERIALS SURVIVED. WAS IT COMPLETELY DESTROYED BY THE EXPOSURE IN SPACE? IF IT SURVIVED THE SPACE EXPOSURE, THEN THEY WILL DO TESTING TO SEE IF IT STILL HAS THE UNIQUE PROPERTIES THAT ARE NEEDED FOR FUTURE SPACE MISSIONS AND SEE WHETHER OR NOT THAT IT CAN FUNCTION AND DELIVER THE DATA OVER THE EXTENDED MISSION THAT'S REQUIRED. HOPEFULLY, WITH MISSE, WE GET ADEQUATE DATA ON THESE MATERIALS SO THAT THE DESIGNERS CAN SELECT THE RIGHT MATERIALS AND BE CONFIDENT THAT THE SPACECRAFT THEY DESIGN AND BUILD WILL FUNCTION. THE MISSE EXPERIMENT WILL ALLOW RESEARCHERS TO NOT ONLY DISCOVER THE STRENGTH AND DURABILITY OF THE RETRIEVED SAMPLES BUT ALSO GAIN INSIGHT THAT WILL HELP THEM DESIGN AND MANUFACTURE NEW MATERIALS THAT WILL LAST LONGER ON EARTH, IN SPACE, AND OTHER PLANETS. COMING UP, NASA HAS DEVELOPED A NEW CATALYTIC CONVERTER THAT WILL HELP DRAMATICALLY REDUCE POLLUTION EMITTED BY AUTOMOBILES. BUT FIRST, DID YOU KNOW THAT THE MISSE EXPERIMENT IS NOT THE ONLY PASSIVE EXPERIMENT BEING TESTED ON THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION? A NEW EXPERIMENT CALLED THE PHANTOM TORSO IS BEING USED TO TEST THE EFFECTS OF RADIATION ON ASTRONAUTS. THE TORSO CONSISTS OF HUNDREDS OF RADIATION-MONITORING DEVICES WHICH ARE EMBEDDED INTO ARTIFICIAL SKIN, REAL BONE, AND SPECIAL PLASTIC ORGANS THAT REPRESENT THE DENSITY OF HUMAN TISSUE. AMERICANS HAVE ALWAYS HAD A LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE AUTOMOBILE. WITH OUR VAST OPEN SPACES, THE AUTOMOBILE HAS PROVIDED US WITH CONVENIENT, RELATIVELY INEXPENSIVE TRANSPORTATION. BUT UNFORTUNATELY, THIS CONVENIENCE COMES WITH A PRICE: POLLUTION. IN RECENT YEARS, THE GOVERNMENT HAS MANDATED NEW LAWS REQUIRING CARS TO RUN CLEANER. IN AN EFFORT TO DO THIS, CAR MANUFACTURERS BEGAN INSTALLING NEW POLLUTION-REDUCING DEVICES, LIKE THE CATALYTIC CONVERTER. ALTHOUGH THESE CONVERTERS HAVE HELPED TO REDUCE POLLUTION, THEY ARE STILL NOT AS EFFECTIVE AS THEY COULD BE. NOW RESEARCHERS AT NASA HAVE DESIGNED AND BUILT A NEW TYPE OF CATALYTIC CONVERTER TO HELP REDUCE POLLUTION EVEN FURTHER. USING TECHNOLOGY FIRST DESIGNED FOR SPACE, THESE NEW CONVERTERS MAY PROVE TO BE MUCH MORE EFFICIENT THAN CURRENT CATALYTIC CONVERTERS. TONYA ST. ROMAIN FINDS OUT MORE. AT ONE TIME IN THE U.S., AIR POLLUTION CREATED BY CARS HAD ALMOST REACHED EPIDEMIC PROPORTIONS, ESPECIALLY IN LARGE CITIES. TO HELP REDUCE THE POLLUTION, CLEAN AIR LAWS WERE CREATED, DRIVING CAR MANUFACTURERS TO REDUCE THE AMOUNTS OF POLLUTION PRODUCED BY CARS. ONE OF THE DEVICES DEVELOPED TO HELP REDUCE THESE POLLUTANTS WAS THE CATALYTIC CONVERTER. THROUGH A CHEMICAL PROCESS, THIS INGENIOUS DEVICE HELPS CONVERT EXHAUST GASSES INTO LESS HARMFUL EMISSIONS, CAUSING LESS POLLUTION. EVEN THOUGH THE CATALYTIC CONVERTER'S BEEN VERY SUCCESSFUL IN REDUCING POLLUTION, ONE OF ITS WEAKNESSES IS THAT IT MUST REACH A HIGH TEMPERATURE BEFORE THE CHEMICAL CONVERSION CAN TAKE PLACE, SO WHILE THE CATALYTIC CONVERTER IS STILL COLD, A SUBSTANTIAL AMOUNT OF POLLUTION STILL ENTERS THE ATMOSPHERE. TO HELP SOLVE THIS PROBLEM, RESEARCHERS AT NASA HAVE INVENTED A NEW TYPE OF CATALYTIC CONVERTER, CALLED THE LOW-TEMPERATURE OXIDATION CATALYST, WHICH BEGINS WORKING AS SOON AS THE CAR IS STARTED, GREATLY REDUCING THE AMOUNT OF POLLUTION THAT REACHES THE ATMOSPHERE AND MAKING THE AIR WE BREATHE MUCH CLEANER. I SPOKE TO DR. JEFF JORDAN AT THE ADVANCED MEASUREMENT AND DIAGNOSTICS BRANCH TO FIND OUT MORE. THE CONVENTIONAL CATALYSTS ACTUALLY RELY VERY HEAVILY ON SO-CALLED PRECIOUS METALS, SUCH AS PLATINUM AND PALLADIUM, TO DO MUCH OF THE WORK. UNFORTUNATELY, THESE SYSTEMS DON'T BEGIN TO CONVERT POLLUTANTS INTO LESS TOXIC GASSES UNTIL THEY GET VERY HOT. SO WHEN YOU START YOUR CAR UP EVERY DAY, PARTICULARLY WHEN ITS COLD OUTSIDE, YOU ARE EFFECTIVELY EMITTING ALL OF THE POLLUTANTS FROM YOUR TAILPIPE DIRECTLY INTO THE ENVIRONMENT. NOW, IF YOU THINK OF THAT HAPPENING BILLIONS OF TIMES EACH DAY, THAT'S A LOT OF POLLUTION. A TYPICAL CAR PRODUCES HARMFUL POLLUTANTS LIKE CARBON MONOXIDE, HYDROCARBONS, AND NITROGEN OXIDE, WHICH, WHEN RELEASED INTO THE AIR, ARE VERY DESTRUCTIVE POLLUTANTS. TO HELP REDUCE THE HARMFUL EFFECTS OF THESE POLLUTANTS, MOST MODERN CARS ARE EQUIPPED WITH CATALYTIC CONVERTERS, WHICH ACTUALLY CONVERT THESE POLLUTANT GASSES INTO LESS HARMFUL GASSES. IT DOES THIS BY CHEMICALLY CHANGING THE COMPOSITION OF THE NOXIOUS GASSES INTO LESS HARMFUL GASSES. CATALYTIC CONVERTERS ARE GENERALLY CERAMIC STRUCTURES COATED WITH A PRECIOUS METAL SUBSTANCE LIKE PLATINUM OR PALLADIUM. MOST CATALYTIC CONVERTERS ARE ENCASED INSIDE A METAL HOUSING THAT'S MOUNTED ALONG YOUR CAR'S EXHAUST SYSTEM. WHEN THE HARMFUL GASSES COME IN CONTACT WITH THE PRECIOUS METAL, THE CHEMICAL REACTION THAT OCCURS IN THE CATALYST ACTUALLY CHANGES THE COMPOSITION OF THE GASSES, CAUSING FEWER POLLUTANTS TO ENTER THE ATMOSPHERE. IN ORDER FOR THIS CHEMICAL PROCESS TO TAKE PLACE, THE CATALYTIC CONVERTERS MUST BE HEATED TO A HIGH TEMPERATURE. UNFORTUNATELY, WHEN YOU START YOUR CAR, THE CATALYTIC CONVERTER'S COLD, DOING ALMOST NOTHING TO REDUCE THE POLLUTION IN YOUR EXHAUST, ALLOWING HUGE AMOUNTS OF POLLUTANTS TO CONTAMINATE THE AIR. THIS IS WHERE THE NASA CATALYTIC CONVERTER COMES IN. NASA RESEARCHERS HAVE CREATED A NEW CHEMICAL PROCESS WHICH CAN ACTUALLY CONVERT THE POLLUTANT GASSES INTO LESS NOXIOUS GASSES ALMOST IMMEDIATELY, EVEN WHILE THE CATALYTIC CONVERTER'S COLD. THIS DRAMATICALLY REDUCES THE AMOUNT OF HARMFUL POLLUTANTS WHICH ARE DISTRIBUTED INTO THE ATMOSPHERE. MANY BELIEVE THAT THIS NEW DEVICE COULD CUT POLLUTANT GASSES BY AS MUCH AS 30%, MAKING THE AIR WE BREATHE MUCH CLEANER. THE NASA CATALYST HAS SOME UNIQUE QUALITIES AND CHARACTERISTICS. OF COURSE, ITS GENESIS WAS FOR SPACE-BASED CARBON DIOXIDE LASER SYSTEMS, SO IT WAS ORIGINALLY DEVELOPED TO OPERATE IN THE COLD VACUUM OF SPACE. AS SUCH, WHEN WE BRING IT DOWN TO A GROUND BASE, AN EARTH APPLICATION, WE SEE THAT IT IS MUCH MORE EFFECTIVE IN ELIMINATING POLLUTANTS UNDER WHAT WE CALL COLD START EFFICIENCY, OR WHEN YOU FIRST START YOUR CAR. THE NASA CATALYST STARTS TO CONVERT POLLUTANT GASSES TO ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY GASSES ALMOST IMMEDIATELY BECAUSE OF ITS LOW-TEMPERATURE CAPABILITY. SO WHAT OTHER APPLICATIONS CAN THIS KIND OF TECHNOLOGY BE USED FOR? OUR GROUP IS WORKING CLOSELY WITH SEVERAL EXTERNAL COMPANIES TO DEVELOP PRODUCTS FOR A WIDE VARIETY OF APPLICATIONS THAT INCLUDE GAS SENSORS--LIKE THE CARBON MONOXIDE SENSOR IN YOUR HOUSE-- INDOOR AIR PURIFIERS, AND EVEN GAS MASKS. JEFF, FOR YOU, WHAT IS THE MOST SATISFYING THING ABOUT DOING THIS TYPE OF RESEARCH? MOST THINK OF THE NASA MISSION IN TERMS OF EXPLORING THE UNIVERSE OR OUR OWN PLANET, BUT NASA'S SUCCESS IS ALSO JUDGED LARGELY ON THE EXTENT TO WHICH OUR RESEARCH CAN IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF LIFE FOR OUR CUSTOMER, THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, THE LOW-TEMPERATURE OXIDATION CATALYST IS A PERFECT EXAMPLE OF A SPACE-BASED TECHNOLOGY THAT'S BEING TRANSITIONED IN ORDER TO IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF LIFE FOR ALL AMERICANS. SO THE NEXT TIME YOU HAVE YOUR CATALYTIC CONVERTER IN YOUR CAR REPLACED OR BUY A NEW CAR, THERE'S A VERY GOOD POSSIBILITY THAT A LITTLE BIT OF NASA SPACE TECHNOLOGY IS RIDING ALONG WITH YOU TO IMPROVE THE AIR. BY THE MID-1950s, WITH THE ADVENT OF RELATIVELY THIN AIRCRAFT WINGS, A NEW AND DANGEROUS PHENOMENON RELATED TO WING FLEXIBILITY WAS BEING ENCOUNTERED. MANY PILOTS WERE EXPERIENCING SEVERE WING OSCILLATIONS, CALLED FLUTTER, DURING FLIGHT, WHICH THREATENED THE SAFETY OF THE AIRCRAFT. THE NEED TO BETTER UNDERSTAND THIS NEW PHENOMENON LED TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE T.D.T., OR TRANSONIC DYNAMICS TUNNEL, AT NASA LANGLEY. THIS NEW WIND TUNNEL NEEDED TO NOT ONLY TEST THE ELASTIC PROPERTIES OF AIRCRAFT, BUT ALSO TEST A HOST OF OTHER AERODYNAMIC SITUATIONS IN AN EFFORT TO SAVE LIVES. EARLY AIRPLANES WERE BUILT WITH MATERIALS THAT COULD EASILY WITHSTAND THE RELATIVELY LOW SPEEDS THAT AIRCRAFT WERE FLYING AT THAT TIME. [engine rumbling] BUT AS AIRCRAFT BEGAN USING THINNER WINGS WITH MORE POWERFUL ENGINES FOR HIGH-SPEED FLIGHT, PILOTS BEGAN REPORTING ENCOUNTERS WITH FLUTTER IN SOME AIRCRAFT. THERE WAS VERY LITTLE DATA TO EXPLAIN THIS PHENOMENON AT TRANSONIC SPEEDS, SO RESEARCHERS AT NASA DECIDED TO BUILD A UNIQUE WIND TUNNEL WHICH COULD HELP ANSWER SOME OF THE QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS NEW PHENOMENON. THIS IS WHERE THE IDEA FOR THE T.D.T. WAS BORN. THE DECISION WAS MADE TO CONVERT THE 19-FOOT PRESSURE TUNNEL INTO THE NEW, MORE MODERN T.D.T. EARLY IN 1960, AFTER YEARS OF INTENSIVE DESIGN AND CALIBRATION, THE WORLD'S FIRST AEROELASTIC TESTING TUNNEL WAS READY FOR SERVICE. UNFORTUNATELY, FATE HAD ALREADY SELECTED THE T.D.T.'S FIRST OCCUPANT, THE LOCKHEED ELECTRA. AFTER TWO FATAL CRASHES OF THE LOCKHEED ELECTRA, INVESTIGATORS FOUND THAT IN BOTH CRASHES, THE AIRCRAFT'S WINGS HAD SEPARATED FROM THE BODY OF THE PLANE DUE TO VIOLENT FLUTTER. A 1/8 SCALE MODEL OF THE ELECTRA, COMPLETE WITH ROTATING PROPELLERS, WAS QUICKLY READIED FOR THE T.D.T.'S TEST CHAMBER. AS TESTING BEGAN, ENGINEERS FOUND THAT THE ELECTRA'S STRUCTURAL SAFETY MARGINS FAR EXCEEDED ITS REQUIREMENTS. HOWEVER, AS THE STIFFNESS OF THE ENGINE MOUNTS WERE REDUCED, THE TORQUE OF THE ENGINE/PROPELLER COMBINATION LED TO A WOBBLING MOTION. THE WRENCHING OF THE ENGINE REINFORCED THE WING OSCILLATIONS UNTIL THE WING FELL OFF. THE ENGINEERS HAD A TERM FOR THIS PHENOMENON: PROPELLER WHIRL FLUTTER. WITH THIS INFORMATION IN HAND, ALL THE ENGINE MOUNTS ON THE ENTIRE ELECTRA FLEET WERE STRENGTHENED, AND THE AIRCRAFT HAS BEEN OPERATING SUCCESSFULLY AND SAFELY EVER SINCE. THE ELECTRA BREAKTHROUGH WAS JUST THE FIRST OF MANY SUCCESSFUL EXPERIMENTS COMPLETED INSIDE THE T.D.T. THROUGH ITS OVER 40-YEAR HISTORY, THE T.D.T. HAS TESTED NEARLY EVERY TYPE OF COMMERCIAL AND MILITARY AIRCRAFT IN THE AIR TODAY, WHILE ALSO TESTING A MYRIAD OF OTHER FAR-REACHING APPLICATIONS, INCLUDING HELICOPTERS, LAUNCH VEHICLES, AND OTHER AIRCRAFT DESIGNED TO FLY ON PLANETS LIKE MARS. THIS UNIQUE FACILITY CONTINUES TO TEST BOUNDARIES WHILE MAKING FLIGHT SAFER FOR ALL OF US. THE T.D.T. HAS CONDUCTED OVER 550 INDIVIDUAL TESTS ON 26 SPECIFIC AIRCRAFTS, COMMERCIAL AND MILITARY. FLUTTER TEST RESULTS PROVIDE VALUABLE INFORMATION TO THE DESIGNERS, ALLOWING THE DEVELOPMENT OF LIGHTER, MORE EFFICIENT, AND SAFER AIRCRAFT. COMING UP, WE'LL SEE HOW NEW NASA TECHNOLOGY IS HELPING PILOTS AVOID DANGEROUS TURBULENCE, MAKING FLYING SAFER. BUT FIRST, DID YOU KNOW THE LOCKHEED ELECTRA WAS FIRST MADE FAMOUS BY PILOT AMELIA EARHART? IN 1937, EARHART ATTEMPTED TO BECOME THE FIRST PERSON TO FLY AROUND THE WORLD ALONG THE EQUATOR. UNFORTUNATELY, ON JULY 2, 1937, AFTER SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETING 22,000 MILES OF THE 29,000-MILE JOURNEY IN THE ELECTRA, SHE WAS REPORTED MISSING NEAR HOWLAND ISLAND. TO THIS DAY, NO TRACE OF THE WORLD'S MOST FAMOUS FEMALE PILOT OR HER PLANE HAS EVER BEEN FOUND. MOST PEOPLE WHO HAVE FLOWN IN AN AIRPLANE HAVE EXPERIENCED TURBULENCE. UNFORTUNATELY, PASSING THROUGH SEVERE TURBULENCE CAN CAUSE A PLANE TO DROP HUNDREDS OF FEET WITHOUT WARNING. PASSENGERS AND CREW MEMBERS NOT BUCKLED IN THEIR SEATS CAN SUFFER SERIOUS INJURIES. IN FACT, TURBULENCE IS THE LEADING CAUSE OF INJURIES TO PASSENGERS AND FLIGHT CREWS, COSTING AIRLINES AN ESTIMATED $100 MILLION A YEAR. IN AN EFFORT TO REDUCE INJURIES AND ACCIDENTS, NASA IS WORKING ON NEW WARNING SYSTEMS TO HELP PILOTS AVOID DANGEROUS TURBULENCE. PAULA VAIDEN HAS MORE. IF YOU'VE EVER FLOWN IN AN AIRPLANE, YOU ARE PROBABLY FAMILIAR WITH TURBULENCE. EVEN FOR THE MOST EXPERIENCED FLYERS, THE SUDDEN, SOMETIMES VIOLENT IRREGULAR AIR MOTION CAN BE AN UNSETTLING EXPERIENCE. IN MOST CASES, TURBULENCE IS MERELY AN INCONVENIENCE THAT PASSENGERS AND FLIGHT CREWS MUST ENDURE, BUT IN CASES OF SEVERE TURBULENCE, THE VIOLENT SHAKING CAN NOT ONLY CAUSE SERIOUS INJURY TO PASSENGERS AND CREW; IT CAN ALSO BE FATAL. IN AN EFFORT TO HELP AIRCRAFT AVOID TURBULENCE, RESEARCHERS AT NASA ARE TESTING NEW ONBOARD AIRCRAFT SYSTEMS. THE AIRBORNE RESEARCH INTEGRATED EXPERIMENT SYSTEM, OR ARIES, USES EXPERIMENTAL SYSTEMS THAT DETECT TURBULENCE MINUTES BEFORE AN AIRCRAFT ENCOUNTERS IT. THIS NEW SYSTEM MAY ALLOW PILOTS TO AVOID SEVERE TURBULENCE, MAKING FLYING SAFER. I SPOKE WITH NEIL O'CONNOR IN THE CREW SYSTEMS BRANCH AT NASA LANGLEY RESEARCH CENTER TO FIND OUT MORE. YOU CAN THINK OF TURBULENCE AS ANY PHENOMENA IN THE ATMOSPHERE THAT'S GONNA UPSET THE AIRPLANE, CHANGES IN WIND THAT CAN CAUSE THE AIRPLANE TO BE DISRUPTED FROM ITS NORMAL FLIGHT. YOU CAN ALSO GET TURBULENCE WHENEVER YOU HAVE WIND RUSHING OVER THE TOP OF A MOUNTAIN. THE LEEWARD SIDE OF A MOUNTAIN CAN BE VERY TURBULENT. YOU CAN ALSO GET TURBULENCE WHEREVER THE JET STREAM IS ACTIVE, 'CAUSE THERE'S A HIGH SPEED-- HIGH WIND SPEED IN THE REGION OF THE JET STREAM, BUT SLOWER RIGHT NEARBY. THUNDERSTORMS CAN CAUSE TURBULENCE RIGHT NEAR THE STORM, BUT SOMETIMES EVEN 50 OR 100 MILES AWAY, IN THE CLEAR AIR, YOU CAN GET TURBULENCE FROM A THUNDERSTORM. SO, NEIL, HOW ARE PILOTS AVOIDING SEVERE TURBULENCE NOW? FOR THE MOST PART, PILOTS HAVE SEVERAL SIMPLE OPTIONS. THEY LISTEN TO THE RADIO TO HEAR IF OTHER PILOTS HAVE ALREADY ENCOUNTERED TURBULENCE IN THAT AREA, SO THAT MEANS SOMEBODY'S ALREADY BEEN HIT. THEY CAN ALSO LOOK AT THEIR ONBOARD RADAR AND TRY TO-- BASED ON THEIR EXPERIENCE, CAN EXTRAPOLATE WHAT THEY THINK MIGHT BE, BUT IT'S NOT REALLY FOOLPROOF. AND THEY CAN ALSO GET A GENERAL FORECAST FROM THE GOVERNMENT SOURCES OR FROM THEIR OWN AIRLINE. [man over radio] We've got some turbulence now. We're about 3 miles short. THOUGH SELDOM DAMAGING TO MODERN AIRCRAFT, TURBULENCE IS THE LEADING CAUSE OF IN-FLIGHT INJURIES AMONG PASSENGERS AND FLIGHT CREWS. ON AVERAGE, 58 INJURIES ABOARD AIRCRAFT ARE REPORTED EACH YEAR. 98% OF THESE INJURIES OCCUR WHEN UNSUSPECTING PASSENGERS OR CREW ARE UNBUCKLED OR OUT OF THEIR SEATS WHEN AN AIRCRAFT ENCOUNTERS TURBULENCE. CURRENTLY, THERE ARE NO INSTRUMENTS ON BOARD AIRCRAFT TO DETECT TURBULENCE BEFORE A PLANE ENCOUNTERS IT. NASA RESEARCHERS HOPE TO CHANGE THIS BY INCORPORATING NEW TURBULENCE RADAR SYSTEMS WITHIN EXISTING ONBOARD WEATHER RADARS. WITH THIS NEW RADAR SYSTEM IN PLACE, RESEARCHERS HOPE TO PROVIDE PILOTS WITH ENOUGH WARNING TO EITHER AVOID THE TURBULENT AREA OR AT LEAST GIVE PASSENGERS AND FLIGHT ATTENDANTS ENOUGH TIME TO RETURN TO THEIR SEATS AND BUCKLE UP. THE SYSTEM ITSELF WILL JUST BE A SOFTWARE UPGRADE TO THE EXISTING WIND SHEAR RADAR THAT'S ALREADY ON BOARD THE AIRPLANES. THE BEAUTY OF THAT, OF COURSE, IS THAT SINCE IT'S JUST AN UPGRADE TO AN ALREADY-CERTIFIED PIECE OF HARDWARE, IT SHOULD BE RELATIVELY INEXPENSIVE, BECAUSE YOU'RE JUST INCREMENTALLY CHANGING WHAT'S OUT THERE ALREADY. SO, NEIL, TELL ME HOW EXACTLY THIS NEW SYSTEM'S GOING TO WORK. THE WAY IT'LL WORK FOR THE PILOT IS THAT HE'LL FLIP A SWITCH LABELED "TURBULENCE," AND HE'LL HAVE THAT NEW SOFTWARE RUNNING. IT'LL BE RUNNING MOSTLY AT CRUISE ALTITUDES, WHERE THE PILOTS TYPICALLY ALLOW PEOPLE TO MOVE AROUND THE CABIN. IT'S NOT A PROBLEM WHEN YOU'RE CLIMBING OR DESCENDING, BECAUSE EVERYONE'S ALREADY STRAPPED IN, SO IF YOU HAVE A TURBULENCE ENCOUNTER THERE, AGAIN, IT'S NOT A BIG ISSUE, BECAUSE EVERYONE'S ALREADY BUCKLED IN. WE WANT TO HELP MAKE A DIFFERENCE AT ALTITUDE WHEN YOU DON'T ALWAYS KNOW THERE'S GOING TO BE TURBULENCE OUT THERE, AND THIS NEW PRODUCT WILL BE ABLE TO INCREASE THE CAPABILITY OF THE SYSTEM AND INCREASE THE PILOTS' CONFIDENCE IN THE ACCURACY OF THE SYSTEM, LEADING TO A BETTER, SAFER ENVIRONMENT. BESIDES RADAR, IS THERE ANY OTHER KIND OF RESEARCH WITH TURBULENCE? WE'RE DOING OTHER RESEARCH, BOTH ON BOARD AND OTHERWISE. THE ONBOARD SYSTEM IS CALLED THE IN SITU TURBULENCE WARNING SYSTEM, AND THAT'S A SYSTEM THAT USES ACCELEROMETERS ON THE AIRPLANE TO MEASURE WHAT THE AIRPLANE FEELS AT A GIVEN MOMENT. THAT'LL BE TRANSMITTED AUTOMATICALLY TO ALL OTHER AIRPLANES IN THE GENERAL AREA, ALONG WITH THE LOCATION. AND A RECEIVING AIRPLANE WILL TAKE THAT DATA AND ADAPT IT TO ITS OWN SIZE AND CLASS OF AIRPLANE AND THEN ASSESS WHETHER OR NOT IT'S A THREAT TO THAT AIRPLANE. AND IF IT'S A THREAT, THEN IT'LL TELL THE PILOT. ANOTHER WAY OF ENHANCING WHAT WE HAVE NOW IS IMPROVING OUR FORECAST CAPABILITY, AND THAT GETS INTO MODELING OF THE WEATHER AND OF THE PHENOMENA OF THE ATMOSPHERE TO BETTER UNDERSTAND WHAT THE POTENTIAL IS FOR TURBULENCE. NEIL, WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES FOR THIS PROJECT? THE ULTIMATE GOAL IS TO INCREASE SAFETY AND REDUCE INJURIES CAUSED BY TURBULENCE ON AN AIRPLANE. RIGHT NOW, IT'S VERY EASY TO PREVENT INJURIES WHEN YOU KNOW YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE TURBULENCE. THE PILOT SAYS, "BUCKLE UP FOR A FEW MINUTES." EVERYONE DOES IT; NOW ONE GETS HURT. BUT YOU DON'T ALWAYS KNOW THE TURBULENCE IS COMING, SO SOMETIMES IF YOU DON'T KNOW, PEOPLE ARE WALKING AROUND, AND THE PLANE GETS A LURCH. SOMEONE'S GOING TO GET HURT. WE KNOW WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE BY IMPROVING THE PRODUCT. NASA RESEARCHERS ARE ALSO EXPERIMENTING WITH A LASER SYSTEM CALLED LIDAR, WHICH MAY BE USED TO HELP DETECT CLEAR AIR TURBULENCE, MAKING FLYING EVEN SAFER. LASERS ARE NOT ONLY BEING USED FOR TURBULENCE DETECTION, BUT THEY ARE ALSO BEING USED IN DEVICES LIKE CD AND DVD PLAYERS, LASER POINTERS, AND SUPERMARKET CHECKOUT SCANNERS. ALTHOUGH MOST OF US USE LASERS IN SOME SHAPE OR FORM, VERY FEW OF US KNOW EXACTLY HOW THEY WORK. WE ASKED JOHNNY ALONSO TO VISIT NASA LANGLEY RESEARCH CENTER TO FIND OUT HOW IT WORKS. YOU MIGHT JUST THINK LASERS ARE IN SCIENCE FICTION FILMS, BUT IN FACT, THEY SURROUND US IN OUR EVERYDAY LIVES. DID YOU KNOW THAT THERE ARE LASERS IN CD PLAYERS, POINTING DEVICES, SUPERMARKET SCANNERS, AND ALL KINDS OF MEDICAL INSTRUMENTS? AND LASERS ARE NOT AS COMPLICATED AS YOU MIGHT THINK. NOW, I SPOKE WITH RESEARCHER GARY FLEMING AT NASA LANGLEY RESEARCH CENTER TO FIND OUT HOW IT WORKS. WELL, THE WORD LASER ACTUALLY STANDS FOR "LIGHT AMPLIFICATION BY THE STIMULATED EMISSION OF RADIATION." SO HOW MANY DIFFERENT TYPES OF LASERS ARE THERE? WELL, JOHNNY, THERE'S A LOT OF DIFFERENT KINDS OF LASERS, BUT THEY ALL BOIL DOWN TO FOUR BASIC TYPES. WE'VE GOT GAS LASERS, SOLID-STATE LASERS, SEMICONDUCTOR LASERS, AND DYE LASERS. THE GAS LASER USES A GAS TO CREATE THE PHOTONS THAT IT EMITS AS LIGHT. OKAY. A SOLID-STATE LASER USES A CRYSTAL INSTEAD OF A GAS. A SEMICONDUCTOR LASER USES ELECTRON HOLES IN THE SEMICONDUCTOR MATERIAL TO GENERATE ITS LIGHT, WHEREAS A DYE LASER USES A FLUORESCENT DYE TO GENERATE LIGHT AND CHANGE LIGHT COLORS. USING A TYPICAL GAS-CHARGED LASER AS AN EXAMPLE, HERE'S HOW IT WORKS. THE LASER HOUSING CONTAINS A GLASS CYLINDER WITH AN INERT GAS INSIDE. A POWER SUPPLY IS CONNECTED TO THE LASER, WHICH PROVIDES ENERGY TO THE GAS MOLECULES. RAISING THEIR ENERGY LEVEL TO AN EXCITED STATE. ONCE THE MOLECULES' ENERGY LEVEL IS RAISED TO THE EXCITED STATE, THEY RELEASE THE EXCESS ENERGY IN THE FORM OF LIGHT, OR PHOTONS. THE PHOTON EMITTED HAS A VERY SPECIFIC COLOR, OR WAVELENGTH, DEPENDING ON THE GAS USED IN THE LASER. WHEN A PHOTON RELEASED BY A MOLECULE HITS ANOTHER MOLECULE, THE SECOND MOLECULE RELEASES ANOTHER PHOTON THAT IS IDENTICAL TO THE FIRST. SO NOW WE HAVE TWO PHOTONS, WHICH WILL HIT MORE MOLECULES TO MAKE FOUR PHOTONS, THEN EIGHT PHOTONS, AND SO ON. THIS IS THE STIMULATED EMISSION PART OF THE WORD LASER. THE GLASS LASER TUBE HAS MIRRORS ON EACH END. ONE OF THE MIRRORS IS ONLY PARTIALLY REFLECTIVE, ALLOWING SOME OF THE LIGHT TO PASS THROUGH. THE MIRRORS HELP THE PHOTONS WITHIN THE TUBE BECOME ORGANIZED INTO A BEAM OF LIGHT BY ALLOWING THE PHOTONS TO BOUNCE BACK AND FORTH THROUGH THE TUBE. IN DOING SO, THEY STIMULATE MORE PHOTONS, WHICH ALL TRAVEL IN THE SAME DIRECTION ALONG THE LIGHT BEAM. THIS IS HOW THE LIGHT ENERGY BECOMES AMPLIFIED. EVENTUALLY, ENOUGH PHOTONS ARE GENERATED SUCH THAT SOME OF THE PHOTONS CAN EXIT THE LASER THROUGH THE PARTIALLY REFLECTIVE MIRROR. THESE ARE THE PHOTONS THAT MAKE UP THE LASER BEAM. SO WHY DO WE NEED DIFFERENT TYPES OF LASERS? WELL, YOU NEED DIFFERENT KINDS OF LASERS BECAUSE THE LIGHT THAT COMES OUT OF EACH LASER HAS A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENT CHARACTERISTIC AND DOES EACH JOB A LITTLE BIT BETTER. FOR EXAMPLE, WE'VE GOT THESE SEMICONDUCTOR LASERS, WHICH YOU WOULD TYPICALLY FIND IN COMMERCIAL ELECTRONICS LIKE YOUR CD PLAYER OR YOUR DVD PLAYER, OR EVEN THESE LASER POINTERS. OTHER LASERS, LIKE SOLID-STATE LASERS OR GAS LASERS, YOU MIGHT FIND IN THE MEDICAL INDUSTRY. OR POSSIBLY THE DENTAL INDUSTRY, OR OFTEN USED IN RESEARCH FOR TAKING MEASUREMENTS. ARE ALL LASERS THE SAME COLOR? NO. ALL LASERS ARE NOT THE SAME COLOR. IN FACT, YOU CAN HAVE LASERS THAT RANGE FROM ALL THE COLORS IN THE VISIBLE SPECTRUM, AND YOU CAN EVEN HAVE LASERS THAT ARE IN THE DEEP ULTRAVIOLET AND IN THE INFRARED SO THAT YOUR EYES CAN'T SEE THOSE LASERS. THE REASONS THAT WE NEED DIFFERENT COLORS ARE A LOT OF TIMES FOR MEASUREMENT APPLICATIONS, OR, FOR EXAMPLE, IN A MEDICAL APPLICATION. YOUR SKIN WILL RESPOND TO DIFFERENT COLORS BETTER THAN OTHERS. REALLY? SO FOR LASER SURGERY, YOU MIGHT NEED TO USE GREEN LIGHT ON SOME TYPES OF TISSUE, WHEREAS YOU MIGHT NEED TO USE RED LIGHT ON DIFFERENT TYPES OF TISSUE. SO HOW DOES NASA USE LASERS IN RESEARCH? OH, NASA USES LASERS IN A VARIETY OF DIFFERENT WAYS FOR RESEARCH, BUT PRIMARILY, WE USE THEM FOR MEASUREMENT APPLICATIONS. FOR EXAMPLE, WE USE LASERS TO MEASURE THE AERODYNAMIC PROPERTIES OVER WIND TUNNEL MODELS BEING TESTED IN OUR WIND TUNNELS. WE ALSO USE LASERS TO MEASURE THE OZONE CONCENTRATION AND WATER CONCENTRATION IN THE ATMOSPHERE. LASERS CAN ALSO BE USED FOR MEASURING STRUCTURAL VIBRATIONS AND ACOUSTIC EMISSIONS TO TRY TO MEASURE HOW WE CAN MAKE AIRCRAFT QUIETER SO THAT WE CAN HAVE INCREASED TRAFFIC THROUGH AIRPORTS. PERSONALLY, I USE LASERS TO MEASURE STRUCTURAL VIBRATION, AND WE ALSO USE LASERS TO MEASURE HOW WIND TUNNEL MODELS BEND AND DISTORT WHILE THEY'RE BEING TESTED IN THE WIND TUNNELS. WE CAN TAKE THIS DATA AND APPLY A NUMBER OF CORRECTIONS TO THE WIND TUNNEL DATA SO THAT WE CAN HAVE THE MOST ACCURATE MEASUREMENTS POSSIBLE OF THE AIRCRAFT PERFORMANCE. WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR LASERS? WELL, LASERS HAVE A TREMENDOUS GROWTH OPPORTUNITY IN ALL SECTORS OF SOCIETY, RANGING ANYWHERE FROM MEDICAL TO RESEARCH TO TELECOMMUNICATIONS, AND THEY'LL EVEN BEGIN TO PROPAGATE MORE AND MORE INTO YOUR DAILY LIFE, INTO THE CONSUMER PRODUCTS THAT YOU USE IN YOUR HOME, LIKE CD PLAYERS, DVD PLAYERS AND RECORDERS, HIGHER CAPACITY DISK DRIVES, ALL OF THOSE THINGS-- TREMENDOUS OPPORTUNITIES IN THE COMPUTING FIELD, AS WELL AS SOME OF THE OTHER AREAS THAT WE TALKED ABOUT. HOW ABOUT, LIKE, A DARTH VADER LIGHT SABER? THAT'S STILL A FEW YEARS AWAY, BUT YOU'LL BE THE FIRST TO SIGN UP FOR ONE, I'M SURE. TOTALLY. THAT'S ALL FOR THIS EDITION OF DESTINATION TOMORROW. THANK YOU FOR JOINING US. I'M STEELE McGONEGAL. AND I'M KERA O'BRYON. FOR ALL OF US HERE AT NASA, WE'LL SEE YOU NEXT TIME.

 
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