Our new Year 9 Elective iSTEM Course commenced yesterday with a live stream presented by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre (GSFC). This involved meeting a panel of expert scientists and engineers, who worked across various divisions within the GSFC including: Dalia Kirschbaum, Antti Pulkkinen, Knicole Colón and Mitchel Ammato. Topics covered included Heliophysics; NASA Earth Science; Astrophysics, Cosmology and space technologies and capabilities.
Knicole Colón spoke to us about Astrophysics at GSFC and specifically extrasolar planets. At Goddard they use satellites to find out where extrasolar planets are and basic information about them. She demonstrated how they use the light from the stars to identify whether there is a curve, having a light curve signifying there is a planet. The size of the curve indicates the planet’s size. Knicole advised us that her team had found planets similar in size to Earth and some that are the right temperature to have liquid water. It was fascinating to learn that planets are being discovered all of the time. Knicole commented that in the week since she completed drafting her presentation 9 new extra solar system planets had been discovered.
Dalia Kirschbaum a PHD student in the NASA Earth science division, discussed how at the GSFC they focus on understanding our changing planet using technology and satellites to look down towards earth. The opposite to what is normally associated with NASA. Using data obtained through the Earth Observing system, comprising many satellites, models have been built to follow weather patterns and natural disasters, assisting in understanding the effects of previous natural disasters and enabling better understanding and forecasting on when natural disasters will happen and the likely damage.
Antti Pulkkinen, a heliophysicist, focused on space weather and how it affects other things in space and here on Earth. Heliophysics is a concept that was new to me that relates to the connections between the sun and the solar system. Antti explained space weather in this context and its effect on the power at NASA.
Mitchel Ammato delivered a very interesting presentation on technologies and capabilities at GSFC. He covered many things during his part of the presentation, including in space robotics, advanced avionics and different types of fuels used. Mitchel utilised the exploration on Mars, describing the wide range of materials in the creation and coding of satellites, including: computers, robots, specific propellers and specialised tools used in the process.
He explained how different missions require different types of satellites and fuel depending on how long the mission is. Planning for a mission and identifying specific requirements takes several years to develop the concept on paper then a further 5 years for the engineers to put together the satellite and start doing test runs so that they are sure that the engine and propellers work properly before it is launched into space. Mitchel was very engaging especially when he covered exploration on Mars and the traces of water recently discovered.
Hopefully through reading this article you get a sense of the diverse and interesting conversation we are grateful to have been a part of. There were many new and different concepts and applications of science and technology that were practically demonstrated. Perhaps like me, you discovered NASA, whilst focussed primarily on space and exploring solar systems utilising advanced robotics actually does so much more than that, including understanding Earth and its environment through the Earth Observing System, how space weather affects power and much more.
Patricia Eriksson, Year 9