Tag Archives: NASA

Mars

Out of this world

If you can’t be an astronaut, why not eat like one?  The University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and Cornell University are on a joint mission: Find eight people with qualifications similar to those required by NASA astronaut applicants to take part in a NASA-funded Mars analog habitat study, Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or HI-SEAS. 

According to the HI-SEAS website, lengthy space exploration missions have required specialized foods to sustain an isolated crew over long periods of time in places with limited or no access to food in the local environment. Enter prepackaged rehydratable or ready-to-consume foods for meals. Nevertheless, astronauts eating a restricted diet over a period of months ultimately experience “menu fatigue,” also known as food monotony.  This notion of “menu fatigue” puts astronauts at risk for nutritional deficiency, loss of bone and muscle mass, and reduced physical capabilities.  Compounded with the notion of “menu fatigue,” only a few of the many available astronaut foods have the three- to five-year shelf life required of foods for a Mars mission. 

Kim Binsted

“I got involved in this study because I served as a crew member in another long-term analog study, in the Canadian High Arctic,” said UH Mānoa Information and Computer Sciences Associate Professor Kim Binsted.  “So I was highly motivated to figure out how to make tasty food out of shelf-stable ingredients.”

The HI-SEAS food study is designed to simulate the living and working experience of astronauts on a real planetary mission and to compare two types of food systems – crew cooked vs. pre-prepared – in the context of a four-month Mars analog mission. Specifically, participants in this group will explore the impact of food preparation, food monotony, nasal congestion and smelling acuity on food and nutrient intake in isolated, confined microsocieties. 

In addition, the study explains that crewmembers will wear “spacesuits” whenever they need to venture outside and consume a diet including both freeze-dried and dehydrated foods similar to present-day astronaut foods, plus foods that they prepare themselves from shelf-stable supplies—an alternative approach to feeding crews of long-term planetary outposts. The study will also track the use of habitat resources related to cooking and eating to provide data for future designs of planetary habitats.  

Once the eight finalists are selected, they will embark on a five-day training workshop in early summer 2012 on the Cornell University campus in New York to train in research procedures and use of the research equipment, learn how to plan menus and prepare appealing meals from shelf-stable ingredients, and work together to plan their activities for the habitat experiences. The group will then be divided, with six forming the habitat crew and two serving as research support specialists/alternates.  

A two-week-long training mission to test research procedures and experience living in a Mars-like environment is planned for the fall of 2012. The last phase of the study, a four-month analog experience, is planned for early 2013.

For more information, visit: http://www.manoa.hawaii.edu/hi-seas.

2011-ht-frontiers

Charting new space frontiers

Using an ion microprobe, HIGP scientists seek to understand the earliest events in our Solar System by studying the isotopic composition of meteorites.

Although NASA’s space shuttle program may have come to an end, the excitement has not dwindled for researchers and faculty at the University of Hawaii at Manoa who have been actively involved in the exploration of the Solar System for more than 30 years.  The planetary and remote sensing programs within the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology’s Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP) have had a long history in working with NASA to send robotic spacecraft to explore the planets, including missions to Mercury, Moon and Mars.

Seven HIGP faculty members are currently members of the science teams of spacecraft in orbit around Mercury, the Moon and Mars.  For example, Jeffrey Gillis-Davis is a member of the MESSENGER Team exploring Mercury as well as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter radar team investigating the Moon.  Jeffrey Taylor, an expert on the geochemistry of planets, compares compositional differences of Mars and the Moon in order to see how these worlds differ from the Earth.  Paul Lucey studies the Moon using thermal infrared data to not only search for differences in rock compositions but also studies the temperature differences of the surface between the day- and night-sides of the Moon. Computer models and laboratory experiments involving lava flows are the particular interests of Sarah Fagents.

 

“The researchers search for signs of former water on the surface of the Red Planet, investigate the geologic processes in the earliest parts of the history of the planet Mercury, and map impact craters and volcanic rocks on the Moon,” said HIGP Director Peter Mouginis-Mark.  “HIGP is actively involved in designing new instruments that might fly to the Moon within the next decade, as well as fly instruments in Earth orbit to study analog terrains.”  Venus is another planetary target of great interest to HIGP, with faculty members conducting research that would bring new measurement techniques for spacecraft that might one day land on the surface, as well as map the surface from orbit in unprecedented detail.

One of HIGP's star planetary scientists, G. Jeffrey Taylor, recently won the prestigious Shoemaker Award from NASA for his outstanding contributions to lunar petrology and geochemistry.

Graduate students of the HIGP program have also made a mark for themselves in planetary research. “Former HIGP students are now in charge of instruments in orbit around Saturn, an ultra-high-resolution camera in orbit around the Moon, and the cameras on the robotic vehicles driving over the surface of Mars,” shared Mouginis-Mark.  “Our former graduate students have been instrumental in studying asteroids from the NEAR and Dawn missions, and they are targeting cameras on lunar spacecraft to identify the most interesting volcanic features and impact craters!”

 

The planetary program at HIGP offers a wide range of courses, ranging from an introduction to the Solar System for freshmen undergraduates to specific courses on the geochemistry and physics of the planets.  Field analysis of analog sites for the Moon and Mars is particularly popular with the students.  Because the active Kilauea volcano is one of the most similar volcanoes on Earth to the ones that are found on Mars, HIGP routinely runs workshops on the Big Island to introduce students to the ways that lava flows and craters form, and how they appear in satellite data that are comparable to the measurements made from spacecraft in orbit around Mars, the Moon and the moon of Jupiter called Io.

Central to HIGP’s planetary mission is the ability to study rocks from space.  Using world-class facilities in the W.M. Keck Foundation’s Cosmochemistry Laboratory, faculty and students study the isotopic composition of meteorites from the asteroids and Mars.  “They search for minerals found during the very first few million years of Solar System history, not only to understand how the planets formed, but also to search for materials that originated from other stars and that were then included within the rocks that we now study on Earth,” explained Mouginis-Mark.  Particles from the Sun are also investigated by HIGP faculty and students through their detailed analysis of particles returned to Earth by the Stardust spacecraft.

 

Finding meteorites is another aspect of HIGP’s planetary research.  Over the years, more than a dozen faculty members, post-docs and graduate students have traveled to Antarctica, camping for up to six weeks on the frozen continent so that they can search for rocks from space.  HIGP members have found hundreds of meteorites over the last two decades, adding not only to our own research, but also contributing significantly to the national collection of samples from space.

Mouginis-Mark is excited for the future of planetary exploration. “NASA has just put the Dawn spacecraft into orbit around the asteroid Vesta, the Mars rover ‘Opportunity’ is perched on the rim of a big meteorite crater, and amazing things are being found on the Moon with the high resolution camera,” said Mouginis-Mark.  “All of these opportunities will significantly help further build HIGP’s planetary research.”

Looking to the future, HIGP is working with colleagues in Canada and England to get a new mission to the Moon funded.  HIGP would play a major role in the science goals of this mission, as well as instrument development and the landing of the spacecraft.

For more information on planetary space missions and the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, visit http://www.higp.hawaii.edu/.

Top photo: Kilauea volcano provides an outstanding opportunity for students to learn about volcanic processes that have also shaped the Moon, Mars and Venus.

 

 

cell

Fueled by a cell

Rick E. Rocheleau, HNEI Director
Imagine powering your car with a fuel that doesn’t pollute and will never be depleted.  In a state-of-the-art test lab in downtown Honolulu, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa researchers are turning such a dream into a revved-up reality.

The Hawai‘i Fuel Cell Test Facility (HFCTF), operated by the Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) on the Mānoa campus, opened its doors in 2003 to help turn the 50th State into a world leader in hydrogen power. Today, the secure 4,000-square-foot facility ranks among the best academic laboratories in the nation—concentrating on the testing of fuel cells for commercial and military applications, in keeping with its mission to accelerate their acceptance and deployment.

A fuel cell, according to HNEI Director Rick Rocheleau, is an electrochemical energy conversion device that directly converts chemical energy into electricity without the need for combustion.  “Fuel cells are similar in many ways to a battery,” explains Rocheleau.  “In both, electrons generated at one electrode, circulate in an external circuit to the other producing electrical power which can drive, for example, an electric motor.  However, while battery electrodes are consumed in the process, the fuel and oxidant for fuel cells are supplied from an external source.”

HFCTF primarily focuses its efforts on the Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell, which operates on hydrogen and air or oxygen.  PEM fuel cells can be used for automobiles, for small stationary applications such as back-up power, and defense applications that include unmanned aerial and undersea vehicles.

HFCTF has continued to expand its facilities and capabilities with funding support from its partners, including the Office of Naval Research, the US Department of Energy, and a variety of industry partners..  The test facility started with two test stands in 2003 and now houses a dozen test stands including several for testing of small stacks (ca 5kW).  It also boasts a host of supporting equipment including on-site hydrogen generation, on-line high resolution gas analysis, and sophisticated spatial performance measurements. These advanced capabilities allow for long-term life testing and cell performance characterization over a wide range of operating conditions.

Researchers at HNEI have just completed a large project to understand the impact of fuel contaminants on fuel cell performance, and another to detect and understand the impact of localized non-uniformities in membrane electrode assemblies originating from manufacturing variations. They are now currently working on the effects of contaminants from different sources (in atmospheric air or released from fuel cell system materials) on fuel cell performance and degradation.  Other projects in the works include an evaluation to understand the performance of PEM fuel cell power plants for unmanned aerial and underwater vehicles fed with oxygen/nitrogen mixtures, as well as exploring the use of fuel cell technology to separate helium from helium/hydrogen mixtures, in partnership with NASA and Sierra Lobo.

If that’s not enough, future projects for HFCTF researchers also include more fundamental research on catalyst development to increase the expensive platinum catalyst utilization and new techniques to understand the transport of reactants within the porous electrodes of the fuel cell.  In support of this work, HFCTF is acquiring additional testing equipment, including a rotating ring/disc electrode system that precisely controls hydrodynamic conditions and allows the extraction of the intrinsic catalyst performance, and a unique tracer system to precisely measure the amount of product liquid water in flow field channels and gas diffusion electrodes.

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye is credited for helping to jump-start the facility as part of his position with the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Over the years, he has continued to back the program along with U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, both of whom are instrumental in supporting the U.S. Department of Energy and the Office of Naval Research to allow funding of these valuable research efforts.

The facility continues to seek new projects to advance fuel cell technology for commercial applications and support integration of these technologies in Hawai‘i and beyond. “Commercial interest worldwide for transportation applications and U.S. Department of Defense interest appears very strong,” says Rocheleau.  “In the U.S., General Motors and others in the industry remain very positive about the opportunity for fuel cells to contribute in the energy and transportation sectors.”

For more information on the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute and the Hawaii Fuel Cell Test Facility, visit http://www.hnei.hawaii.edu/default.asp.

Top photo:The Hawaii Fuel Cell Test Facility in downtown Honolulu, where fuel cells for military and commercial applications are tested.

The HFCTF testing area.