Category Archives: Science, Space, Technology

Practicing with an Iron Rocket

Rocket science isn’t easy. Rockets are basically complex systems of other complex systems that all have to work together perfectly. Also, they’re highly explosive. So creating a brand new rocket can take a while. It’s careful and methodical work.

Take SLS, or the Space Launch System. (Yeah, I know it’s a terrible name. That’s not under my control, though.) SLS is going to replace the retired Space Shuttle. It will loft humans and spacecraft into low earth orbit and beyond.

SLS was funded starting in late 2010 and it’s first uncrewed test flight called Artemis 1, as of this writing, is scheduled to launch in late 2020. A lot of smart people will argue about why it took so long and who is at fault. But a lot of that time is simply due to the fact that rocket science isn’t easy.

All that to say, by the time the actual rocket arrives at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida from the factory at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, there won’t really be any time to spare. All the equipment and facilities and personnel at KSC will need to be ready to support. So we’ve been testing and rehearsing and practicing.

NASA has even built an Iron Rocket called the SLS Core Stage Pathfinder to practice with and to verify and certify all of our facilities, our equipment, and our processes and personnel. It arrived recently onboard a barge … the same barge that will deliver the real core stage.

Since it’s arrival, we’ve performed and practiced several different types of operations with this Iron Rocket inside the giant Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). These pretty awesome 360 degree videos show us lifting it up inside the VAB and then lowering it down into its resting place on the mobile launcher. Unless you’re watching these videos with a Virtual Reality rig, just click and drag your mouse to change the point of view! It feels like you are right there inside the VAB with the workers!

Thanks for your interest!

Kurt

What was Kurt doing 25 years ago?

During the summer of 1994, I had recently graduated from college with my Electrical Engineering degree and I was now working full time at NASA/KSC in Florida. That summer I was spending time with other groups at KSC in an effort to learn more about the entire KSC organization. I was also working on a special project for my own group.

Here are the statuses that I submitted each week to let my boss know what I was doing and how I was doing. It’s kinda fun to look back 25 years and remember exactly what I was doing back then.

June 16, 1994

When I came to work on Monday, my supervisor, Gary Bassett explained to me what he wanted me to work on. He needed me to put all my efforts, at least initially, into getting our video lab back in working order. The new video-computer system has been in place for almost a year and has been very intermittent and unreliable since its initial installation. The system has many different components that need to work together, instead they seem to be fighting each other all the time.

I got the video-computer system’s ATVista card working so we could take photographs of the fathers and sons that came through the labs during KSC Son’s Day, which was Tuesday. I spent most of the week troubleshooting the video-computer system which stopped printing to the Kodak XL7700 printer since a new motherboard and SCSI card were installed a few weeks ago. I also got a computer desk and three workbenches moved into the lab and started setting up my new work area.

June 24, 1994

During the early part of this week, I got the video/computer system working again by installing new Twain drivers for the Kodak DCS-200 digital camera and by installing updated print drivers for the Kodak 7700 printer. A network startup problem was also corrected by changing the IRQ settings on the communication card. I’m in the process of troubleshooting a problem that presented itself in the RIO image design software.

This week I contacted someone at Johnson Space Center (JSC) who can fairly easily get an experiment flown on NASA’s KC-135 Zero-G simulation airplane. Gary and I are trying to make a decision between two different ATP projects. One would fly a fuse-blowing experiment on NASA’s KC-135 to find out if there’s a difference between fuses blowing at 1-G and zero-G.

The other project would entail getting a system working in which the engineer’s Failure Analysis Reports would get electronically published on the World Wide Web (WWW) system on the internet and also be easily found by searching the Wide-Area Information Servers (WAIS) database system which is also on the internet.

July 1, 1994

The RIO problem encountered last week was traced to a video synchronization inconsistency which was due to an incorrect connection on the RGB monitor. I attended the orientation session for the ATP Tours on Tuesday and got to meet all the other ATP’ers.

The Electronic Document (E-Doc) Project was chosen as my ATP project and Bill Dearing was chosen as my mentor. I started working on my project by becoming more familiar with the World Wide Web. I read a document titled ‘A Beginner’s Guide to HTML’ that helped me start writing HyperText Markup Language (HTML) files which can be read and displayed by www servers all around the world. I practiced writing documents and composed ‘Kurt’s Home Page’ which has many photos and subdocuments which are HyperText-linked to each other.

July 8, 1994

This week I was in charge of a burn-test in the lab. I worked with technicians and the job requester to get the test set up and running. We ran three burn-tests on a SpaceLab Terminal Junction Box by running excessive current through it to catch it on fire and observe the flame propagation. The tests went well.

On Thursday afternoon, I attended a WAIS meeting along with my supervisor and my mentor. We discussed ways that we might be able to get our Failure Analysis Reports searchable using the WAIS database and also viewable to someone who wanted to view them. I started some HTML documents on the Materials Science Labs so that we can get an MSL Home Page and corresponding sub-pages viewable on the WWW.

I am currently troubleshooting a file conversion problem which presented itself when we started getting pictures from our new digital still camera. This week I also searched the Web to find more documentation on the WWW and also HTML pages. I found a number of documents and downloaded them and am currently studying them. I’m also searching for more information on WAIS systems.

July 14, 1994

With the burn-test over with, I got a good chunk of the MSL Web pages completed this week. I scanned in images to try and decide on a standard for images on my Web pages. I also toyed around with a menu driven interface for accessing pages on the Web and did have some luck.

July 22, 1994

All week was spent in the ‘Introduction to C Programming’ Class.

July 29, 1994

This week was spent on a Diverse Work Assignment (DWA) with Jim Dumoulin and his Artificial Intelligence/Software Research group which is in the Information Systems Division of the Payload Management and Operations Directorate. He taught me about the Payload Data Management System (PDMS) and how it works to get the day to day information and to process a payload into one central computer system for every user to access.

Jim showed me the wonderful world of software development by fixing a few ‘bugs’ in the WinVN newsreader program which his group helped develop. He showed me how he gets information into his Web server and how he wrote PERL scripts to translate text into linked hypertext documents. By the end of the week, Jim helped me get my Web server up and running to serve documents to users on Center.

August 5, 1994

I finished my Individual Development Plan (IDP) early this week and acquired a PC-workstation from my supervisor to do my work on. I spent a few days getting the PC configured correctly and getting the software loaded and working properly.

I experimented this week with different screen capturing schemes so I can capture and print Mosaic screens. For presentations and meetings, I will print these screens on our Kodak XL7700 printer.

I also looked around the Web quite a bit to find out how different administrators are doing searches of their documents. I’m interested in how the other NASA centers are searching and serving documents to NASA centers and also to the public. I sent E-mail to some NASA people to find out some specifics about their current document search system. I’m awaiting a reply.

August 12, 1994

Earlier this week, I supported two ‘hot jobs’ in the lab by taking digital photographs and by getting them onto MSL’s anonymous FTP site. I spent a lot of time on the phone to Downey, CA and JSC helping people download files from our site.

This week was my week in Pete Clements’ Networks group. Pete and I couldn’t get together until Wednesday, however. I spent one day in the Network Control Center (NCC) with Steve DeWitt. I got an introduction to bridges and routers and got to modify access lists and work some trouble tickets. I spent Thursday and Friday in Bob Raymond’s group where they do hands-on hardware and software configuration of their network users.

I attended three different training sessions: two were for new PON Server Administrators and one was for new Network LAN Administrators. This was a very productive and educational week. I read the following material this week: Network and Electronic Mail User’s Guide; Handouts on Excelan Training Course

August 19, 1994

I spent this week in the Data Processing and Sofware Systems Section of the Digital Guidance and Control Branch in the Vehicle Engineering Directorate. Scott Chandler, the Section Chief, took me around to the different working areas of his group: LCC Firing Rooms, VAB Labs, and offices in the OSB.

I spent some time in Firing Room # 1 observing the loading of software onto the orbiter’s Mass Memory Units (MMU’s) and also the transitioning of the orbiter’s General Purpose Computers (GPC’s) from a ground testing configuration to a flight configuration. I also got a tour of the Kennedy Avionics Test Site (KATS) laboratory where they do off-line testing and configuration of GPC’s, displays and electronics, MDM’s and other hardware related to the DPS System. I attended a status meeting for second-level managers with Scott, and then spent some time in the Main Engine shop in the VAB to observe a main engine system power-up and valve test.

The mission scheduled to launch this week had a main engine abort on the pad and I went into Firing Room # 1 for a while to observe the pad close-outs of each system being performed. I also watched a MMU load / verify from the console in Firing Room # 4 . And finally, on Friday, I went back to the KATS lab to see a new MMU simulation computer being tested for applications in the lab.

I had some time in-between testing to read some material: DPS (Hardware and Systems Software) Training Manual; Design of an Anonymous FTP Site (LTRS); Zen and the Art of the Internet; XV User’s Guide

August 26, 1994

The first half of this week was spent with Bev Merrilles in the Personnel Offices. I attended a staff meeting with Bev after getting an overview of the Human Resources Management Directorate and their recent reorganization. I met all the personnel in the Training Section and spent a day with them. I also spent an afternoon with one of Marge Elrod’s personnel teams which are the heart of the personnel office. All actions get finalized through this office.

I spent another day with Ken Aguilar working on Special Programs and Labor Relations and attended a meeting with Chris Beidel concerning possible changes to the co-op program.

Thursday and Friday was spent in the ‘Effective Communications’ class in the training auditorium. .

September 1, 1994

I spent this week with Jose Garcia in the Electrical and Telecommunications Systems Division of the Vehicle Engineering Directorate. Most of my time was spent in Mike Kraus’s Electrical Systems Section. I got trained for crew cabin access and payload bay access by watching video courses but didn’t get the chance to enter either area this week.

I attended a Pyrotechnic Initiator Circuit ( PIC ) test in Firing Room # 4 where a problem presented itself and an IPR had to be written and the test was aborted. I spent a couple of days in the KATS Lab where the engineers were testing a new Engineering Main Events Controller (EMEC) by programming the UBIC computer to talk to it and read data back to tape.

I read ‘Learning Perl’ this week which is a UNIX based programming language. This programming experience will help me to automate some of the tedious tasks of keeping the Web server up to date.

September 9, 1994

Due to the Labor Day holiday and one sick day, I was only in the lab two days this week. I reformatted some of my old Weekly Notes that were done on Alis and gave Bill copies of all my Notes to date so he could turn them in for my 3-month evaluation which is due on Tuesday. I sent an MSL Weekly Note to Gary to sum up my work and advertise my Web Pages. I made an (ATP) IDP template and retyped my (ATP) IDP for Bill to turn in with my evaluation.

September 16, 1994

This week was spent with Larry Ellis who is the Deputy Director of the Launch & Landing Projects Division of the Shuttle Management & Operations Directorate. This gave me the opportunity to see first-hand what a Projects Office does.

We attended a project demonstration by the Mitre company which is a non-profit, non-competitive Systems Engineering & Research Organization which often does work for NASA, NOAA, EPA, and other government agencies. Mitre’s been studying NASA’s Shuttle Processing System and trying to improve and streamline it to save the government money and resources.

I spent a few days with Brian Harris who is the Chief of the LLP Integration Office. LLP reports directly to Brewster Shaw in the Space Shuttle Program Office in Houston. We sat in quite a few teleconferences this week which were headed up by Brewster Shaw who is an ex-astronaut. One telecon on Wednesday was between Mission Management Teams where each system manager talked about their problems that affected the mission currently in orbit.

Larry Ellis is the Environmental Officer for LLP and we attended many meetings dealing with environmental issues. On Thursday morning, we attended a monthly Dredging Project Meeting. In early 1997, the northern half of the river will be dredged again so as to prevent the External Tank Barge from running aground. Many expensive environmental surveys have to be studied and implemented to keep from impacting the environment.

Also on Thursday, I attended three Shuttle Program Planning Board teleconferences and a meeting to take care of some problems that occur when you upgrade the Space Shuttle Main Engine Combustion Chambers.

We spent quite a bit of time on Friday talking about the current problems with NASA’s Technology Transfer Program and discussing ways to improve the program without impacting NASA’s budget concerns.

Larry impressed me as a great ‘Idea Man’ and it was a terrific learning experience working beside him this week

September 23, 1994

I spent this week with Jim Sudermann who is the head of the Experiments Test Section of the Systems Engineering and Experiments Division of the Payload Flight Operations Directorate. Most of the week was spent in the Payload Checkout Unit Control Rooms on the third floor of the O&C Building which is where they simulate the SpaceLab computers and the orbiter itself for the experiments they’re processing.

I sat in on a demonstration of their new Data Logging and Retrieval System which was just delivered and set up. The last half of the week was spent preparing for Astro-II testing which started on Friday morning. Two very unique data buffer boxes were not working correctly. One was sent to a repair shop and the other one was being trouble-shot by CS-EED personnel. Progress was made in troubleshooting, but the other box was repaired in time to use it for Astro-II testing on Friday. I also watched a complete software load of the system.

September 30, 1994

I spent this week in Bill Helms’ laboratories in the EDL and LETF buildings. Mr. Helms is the Chief of the Instrumentation and Controls Systems Division of the Electronic Engineering Division of DE. He oversees the Transducer Lab, Data Acquisition Lab, Hazardous Gas Detection Lab, Optical & Acoustic Lab, Special Instrumentation Lab, Toxic Vapor Detection Lab, Contamination Monitoring & Control Lab, and the Control Systems Lab.

These offices have the unique authority to authorize the use of GSE in any area at KSC. They can take off-the-shelf items and qualify them for use after testing them. They sometimes systems-engineer different off-the-shelf items together into a package or build around an existing item to improve upon or make it work specifically for KSC’s needs. In special cases, they build items up from the component level because they’re so specialized that there’s nothing in industry that can be even partially used.

I spent about a day and a half in the Transducer Lab and the Data Acquisition Lab and another day and a half in the Special Instrumentation Lab, Optics Lab, and the Hazardous Gas Lab.

October 7, 1994

This week was spent with Charles Tucker who is Chief of the Data Systems group of the Communications Division in the Ground Engineering Directorate in Shuttle. This group is in charge of all the networking cables/fiber and the networking hardware like bridges/routers/hubs and they also handle the Network Control Center for Shuttle. They provide connectivity for about 1300 users.

I attended many status meetings on various projects and got extensive tours of some of the facilities this week. I spent quite a bit of time in the Control Distribution & Switching Center (CD&SC) and also the VAB repeater facility and I also saw the network center in the OSB. Most of their systems in Shuttle are premise wired where they run two data lines, phone lines, and cable TV lines to a box by each desk in the area.

I learned a lot about this premise wiring system this week, including the design process and the implementation of the design. I attended a lot of planning and scheduling meetings and design reviews for the Integrated Work Control System (IWCS) project.

October 14, 1994

Monday was a holiday. I attended Hazardous Waste Training earlier this week and also attended a NASA WebMaster’s ViTS meeting on Thursday.

I made an appointment with Shawn Riley and Richard Hall to go over the WAISifying process with some sample reports on the DE-VAX.

I got the photos from some of the sample reports scanned in this week and am struggling with WORD limitations that don’t allow me to paste all the images into the sample document. I got two of the five sample documents completed this week.

October 21, 1994

I was sick two days this week, but still managed to get photos scanned from another sample report and also get all my MSL Personnel pages automated with a Perl Script by finishing an MSL Personnel Database.

I spent more time trying to get pictures linked to documents as opposed to just pasting them there and ran into more trouble. Bill talked with the ULead people to try and straighten out some of these problems.

I spent quite a bit of time late in the week getting the video lab reconfigured for editing of tapes. This was done in preparation for a hot job which is supposed to come into the labs early next week

October 28, 1994

I fixed my sample page on the Web this week and added the PDF’s and PS’s for the four sample documents that were complete.

I browsed the LTRS system for documents and downloaded and read the following: Electronic Document Distribution:Design of the Anonymous FTP Langley Technical Report Server; World Wide Web Implementation of the Langley Technical Report Server; The World Wide Web & Technology Transfer at NASA Langley Research Center; A Comparison of Internet Resource Discovery Approaches; Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) Archive System.

I got my Web pages transferred to the Development Area on the DE-VAX and made sure there weren’t any obvious problems. I’m still waiting on Perl for the VAX so that I can test out my automated personnel page script.

I sent my ATP Project Plan to Steve Chance on Friday afternoon.

November 4, 1994

I finished up the last of five sample reports this week, but I had to resample the photographs to get them small enough for MS-Word to handle them. I copied postscript and PDF forms of the sample reports to a WAIS directory on the anonymous FTP site for retrieval by the WAIS lookup engine. I also prepared refer citations for each report to be sent to Langley Research Center and WAISified.

Shawn Riley got Perl running on the DEVAX and after some slight modifications, my script that makes all the personnel pages was running without problems.

November 10, 1994

I spent the first part of the week helping the Physical Testing group prepare for a chamber test on some temperature probes from the Mobile Launcher Platform.

I also downloaded and installed a bunch of software on the Macintosh to get it set up to test out our Web pages. I spent some time working with PowerPoint to become familiar with the program, so I could get started on my presentation next week.

I added some finishing dates to my ATP IDP and printed out all my Weekly Notes for my final evaluation which is due on Monday.

Michael Nelson at Langley received our refer citations late this week and WAISified them. Now our WAIS search demo is working from the MSL Web pages.

End

So that’s basically what I did at NASA for my first 5 months as a full time non-intern employee! And the rest is history! Thanks for your interest! Kurt

Watch some of Kurt’s NASA speaking events

In recent years, I’ve been able to do a bit of public speaking for NASA.  Several of my talks or speaking events have been recorded and published online.  They are all different lengths.  They are all about different topics.  And they are all meant for different audience types and audience ages.

The list below should help organize the chaos and help you find the talk or presentation that’s right for you!

If you’re interested in having me come speak to your club or organization or event, there are a couple ways that we can start a dialog.  You can either message me on my LinkedIn account, or you can email me directly from this website.

Thanks for your interest!  Please comment below if you found this information helpful!

Here is a simple and shareable address for this page:  https://tinyurl.com/KurtsTalks

Kurt

My Trip to Berlin, Germany: The Conference

Delivery of Things World

Last week I had the honor of giving the opening keynote presentation at the Delivery of Things World enterprise software developer conference in Berlin GermanyEnterprise software is just another way to say business software.

source: Facebook

Here is the Delivery of Things World conference website!  (Check it out!  It actually has my face on it!)

source: deliveryofthingsworld.com

Delivery of Things World is a 2 day conference for enterprise software developers.  During those 2 days, Delivery of Things World packed in 7 separate keynotes, 27 technical sessions, and many interactive and intimate group workshop sessions!  It was a pretty great event and the organizers were very professional and they did a wonderful job!

The Delivery of Things World organizers feel strongly enough about using only live speakers, that they pay for their airfare,  hotel,  and food.

Keynote

My keynote presentation is story-based and it is called “Pioneering Mars!”  It presents the story of how we will get to Mars in the year 2034.  It describes all the missions that will pave the way and all the technologies that have to be invented first.

source: Facebook

My keynote presentation was very well received and I got a ton of compliments and attendees lined up afterwards to talk to me and to ask me more questions.

Science Center & Planetarium

While I was in Berlin, I also gave two other shorter presentations on the topic of NASA’s plans to live off the land on Mars. I gave the first presentation to a small audience of about 20 junior high and high school aged students at the Science Center Spectrum. The students in attendance were very interested in the topic and they asked a lot of great questions afterwards.

© SDTB / Foto: Oelke

I gave the second presentation to an audience of about 100 members of the general public at the Planetarium am Insulaner. It’s pretty cool to give a presentation inside the large dome of a planetarium!  It was kinda dark in there, so I don’t have any photos.  But it was a pretty great experience!  This particular audience asked so many great questions that we went way past our scheduled time of one hour and had to actually cut off questions after more than 2 hours had elapsed!

Thanks

This trip was only the third time I’d ever left the United States.  It was a pretty great trip and I had a lot of fun!  In my next post, I will talk about the sightseeing I was able to do in Berlin during my personal time there!

Thanks for your interest!

Kurt

My Trip To Malmo, Sweden: The Students

Cool Minds

Last week after I finished speaking at the Öredev software developer conference in Malmo, Sweden, I had the opportunity to give a talk to students at the Cool Minds Play and Knowledge Center.

Cool Minds holds organized activities for school aged children after school and also on weekends.  The facility is very open and playful and welcoming.  The students are encouraged to explore their own ideas and be creative during the sessions.  Cool Minds makes it fun and exciting for students to learn about concepts such as creative ceramics & candles, electronics/robotics, programming/gaming, biology/chemistry, and film/media.

Watch this short promotional video about Cool Minds.  It’s pretty great.  We need some more places like this here in the US.  Large children’s museums and large science centers are great, but a small intimate instructor-led hands-on activity center like Cool Minds has several benefits over those others.

Here is the Cool Minds website link to my speaking event:  http://coolminds.se/fran-nasa-manniskor-pa-mars/

Presentation

First I gave an introduction about myself and where I grew up and how I was always bent towards science and engineering.  Then I talked to the students about Mars and gave them fun facts, like the length of a year, the length of a day, and the average temperature.

I had some NASA patches and pins, so I gave those away to students who raised their hands and guessed some of these fun Mars facts.

Then I talked a little bit about the Mars rovers and described what they are doing there and what their capabilities are.

Hands-On Activity

And then we went into the fun hands-on activity.  I’m really excited about this particular activity because it’s easy enough for them to repeat at home with their parents and siblings.  And they can add to it and improve it at home too.

The activity has each student create a robotic finger for a Mars robot using common everyday items like a drinking straw, some string, a button, and a washer.  And then at the end, we combine students and they combine 4 robotic fingers to make a working robotic hand.

Overall

The students really seemed to enjoy this hands-on activity.  And they were pretty excited to have someone from NASA come to talk to them.

It was a great experience for me too.  I enjoyed seeing the Cool Minds facility and meeting its creator, Farzin Saber.  Farzin is passionate about exposing kids to fun learning activities that they might never otherwise experience.

Here is a 15 minute Ted talk about Cool Minds that Farzin gave back in January of 2017:

Tomorrow I’ll publish a blog post about some of the sightseeing my wife and I did in Malmo Sweden.

Thanks for your interest!

Kurt