Dr. Key gives lecture on NASA technology and exploration

On Monday, March 21,  Dr. Andrew Keys spoke in Watkins Auditorium. His talk was titled “The Technology and Science of NASA’s Journey to Mars.” Dr. Keys is the Center Chief Technologist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Since May 2010, he has guided the center in defining and developing the latest technologies to help Marshall scientists and engineers accomplish NASA’s exploration mission.

He began by speaking about the history of NASA. In response to the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik 1 on Oct. 4, 1957, the Eisenhower administration signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), whose headquarters is in Washington, D.C. It was established to comprise several existing agencies and commands, including four centers from the national Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA), which has been researching flight technology for 40 years prior. NASA continued the aeronautics research pioneered by NACA and conducted purely scientific research and worked on developing applications for space technology, combining both pursuits in developing the first weather and communications satellites.

Next, NASA focused on manned space missions, leading to man’s first steps on the moon in 1969. There are four mission directorates of NASA: Aeronautics Research, Space Technology, Science, and Human Exploration and Operations. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville supports three of the four directorates. NASA has many themes and priorities: Earth right now, the International Space Station, technology, aeronautics, the solar system and beyond, and the next big step: Mars.

Dr. Key’s focus during this speech was the technology being developed in order to make the journey to space in the modern era possible. While most of his points about technology went over the heads of the students in attendance, he informed the group about many exciting innovations. The first is the new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) which carries the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and supports national and international missions beyond Earth’s orbit.

The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle is designed to take humans farther than they have ever gone before and will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities. This vehicle will, ideally, take a crew to Mars in 2018.

Mars is the next frontier, and these technological advancements are the next steps in the journey to the red planet. Before making the journey, Keys stated that NASA must have strategic principles for the sustainable exploration campaign. NASA’s strategic principles for the campaign are:
• The campaign must be implementable in the new term and in future terms.
• The exploration must enable science and in turn the science must enable exploration.
• The application of high Technology Readiness Level technologies must be used to address challenges of future missions.
• Near term mission opportunities must have incremental buildup of capabilities.
• There must be opportunities for U.S. commercial business.
• There must multi-use, evolvable space infrastructure so that each mission can leave something behind to support further missions.
• The mission must leverage the current International Space Station partnership while building new cooperative ventures.

With these strategic principles, NASA hopes to create an evolvable Mars campaign that expands human presence into the solar system to advance exploration, science, innovation, benefits to humanity, and international collaboration. The three stages of the evolvable Mars campaign are being reliant on the Earth, proving there is sufficient ground objectives in transportation, working in space, and staying healthy, and becoming Earth independent.

The sustainable exploration campaign will continue until it is possible to send humans to Mars, and bring them safely home. In a speech on space exploration in the 21st century, President Barrack Obama stated, “By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth.” And after Dr. Key’s speech, the students that attended the lecture can more certainly visualize the possibility of life on Mars.

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