Research Projects

Project A1: Advanced Rotorcraft Aeromechanics Research
Principal Investigators: William Warmbrodt, Code AUA
The Aeromechanics Branch of the Flight Vehicle Research and Technology Division is responsible for aeromechanics research activities that directly support the civil competitiveness of the U.S. helicopter industry and the Department of Defense. Branch programs address all aspects of the rotorcraft which directly influence the vehicle's performance, structural, and dynamic response, external acoustics, vibration, and aeroelastic stability. The programs are both theoretical and experimental in nature.
Advanced computational methodology research using computational fluid dynamics and multidisciplinary comprehensive analyses seeks to understand the complete rotorcraft's operating environment and to develop analytical models to predict rotorcraft aerodynamic, aeroacoustic, and dynamic behavior. Experimental research seeks to obtain accurate data to validate these analyses, investigate phenomena currently beyond predictive capability, and to achieve rapid solutions to flight vehicle problems. Databases from the flight and wind tunnel experimental programs are validated, documented and maintained for the benefit of the U.S. rotorcraft technology base.
Fellowship opportunities for interested and highly motivated students include experimental projects conducted in the Ames 7- by 10-Foot Wind Tunnel, full-scale helicopter or tilt rotor tests in the National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex (the world's largest wind tunnel), and in flight with resident U.S. Army UH-60A Black Hawk helicopters. Analytical research projects include new vertical lift aircraft assessment and analysis (manned and unmanned), comprehensive analysis of current and new helicopter and tilt rotor aircraft, as well as CFD modeling of rotary wing systems and airfoil aerodynamics. Many of these projects include collaboration with the Department of Defense (U.S. Army, DARPA, ...) and the U.S. helicopter industry.

Project P1: Lunar Spacecraft Development
Principal Investigators; Butler Hine and Will Marshall, Code P
The student shall be working in the NASA-Ames Small Spacecraft Division on a lunar orbiter or lander spacecraft design and development project. The student may contribute to the design and development of one of a number of potential subsystems, including the avionics, the structure, the trajectory analysis or the propulsion. He or she may also write test plans, inventory parts, and update drawings and schematics.
The student works under the supervision of a Mentor who has discussions with the student relative to methods and procedures to be followed and provides direction on the specific duties the student will accomplish. The student's tasks are occasionally checked during progress, and are routinely reviewed upon completion.
The above activities are in the context of a project with hardware deliverables. The student will work along-side engineers who tackle many difficulties in developing the satellite.

Project S1:Airborne and ground-based observations of natural and artificial meteors
Principal Investigator: Peter Jenniskens, Ph.D., The SETI Institute
This research is dedicated to the study of meteor showers, fireballs and the reentry of spacecraft. Recent projects included a ground-based meteoroid orbit survey to bring in focus the minor meteor showers in the sky and find their parent bodies. Recent airborne observing campaigns were focused at unusual meteor shower activity and the reentry of space craft. The most recent mission set out to observe the reentry of ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicle over the South Pacific Ocean on September 29, 2008. Mission websites are accessible through: Be aware that at the time of writing it is not known yet if, and when, other such missions may be executed in 2009.
The student will work with principal investigator Dr. Peter Jenniskens, author of the 2006 book "Meteor Showers and their Parent Comets" (Cambridge University Press). Several research opportunities are available over the summer, depending on the inclination of the student. These include:
(1) Development of interactive software tools for the analysis and presentation of meteor orbit survey data.
(2) Hands-on experience with the adapting and using of spectrographic cameras for the study of natural and artificial meteors.
(3) Participation in the analysis of resuts from past observing campaigns and preparation of the results for publication.

Project S2: Lunar Dust, its Surface Properties and Potential Toxicity
Principal Investigators: Friedemann T. Freund, San Jose State University Physics Dept. and Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute, Code SGE
When humans will walk on the surface of the moon again, one of the major concerns is the lunar dust. It is easy to stir up and, due to the low gravity forces on the moon, will take long time to settle. Its sharp-edged micro- and nano-sized grains adhere to any surfaces. The finest fraction will pass through any filter system and enter living spaces. Mechanically corrosive and chemically reactive, lunar dust presents many challenges.
This project is about characterizing the extremely reactive, highly oxidizing surface centers that arise from the suspected presence of oxygen anions in the valence 1- in lunar surface material. They are subject to activation by mechanical stress or UV irradiation. They can be studied by means of electric and spectroscopic measurements. Results from this study are expected to also cast light on the genesis of lunar rocks some 4.5 billion years ago.

Project S3: Understanding Warning Signs before Major Earthquakes
Principal Investigators: Friedemann T. Freund, San Jose State University Physics Dept. and Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute, Code SGE
Of all natural disasters, earthquakes are the most feared in terms of loss of life and economic damage. They strike - or seem to strike - without warning. Yet, it has been known for a long time that the Earth sends out early warning signals. These signals come in a bewildering array. There are old stories of strange animal behavior and human sensitivity. There is hard evidence based on modern technology involving ground station and satellite data: electromagnetic emissions from the ground, radio interference, ionospheric perturbations, enhanced infrared flux from the land surface, earthquake lights and similar strange phenomena. In spite of the wealth of information pre-earthquake signals have had "a bad name" in the science community. The main reason is that nobody could identify a physical cause how the Earth would produce these signals. The situation has recently changed. We now know that rocks, when stressed, turn into a battery. They can generate electric currents that are carried by electrons and holes. The hole currents propagate through unstressed rocks, travel over distances on the order of a meter in laboratory experiments, probably on the order of over tens of kilometers in the field. When the charge carriers arrive at the surface, they build up electric fields high enough to ionize the air. Understanding the nature of these currents, how they become activated, how and under which conditions they flow provides an opportunity to re-assess pre-earthquake signals.
Students have the opportunity to select out of a range of projects one that interests them most. Preference will be given to an experimental study though suggestions to analyze existing data sets from satellite or ground stations are also welcome.

Project S5: Functional and Mechanistic Analysis of the Bystander Effect in the Nervous System
Principal Investigator: Dr. Richard Boyle, Research in Radiation Biology, Code SLR
Radiation-induced bystander effects (BSEs) are biological responses in cells that are not themselves traversed by an ionizing radiation track or in the field of radiation. In fact new studies show that an even larger portion of bystander cells, sometimes at considerable distance from the irradiated cells, are affected. At present two modes of transmission from the irradiated cell(s) to the bystander cell(s) are known: intracellular communication mediated by gap junctions and the other via factors secreted into the extracellular matrix from the directly hit cell. BSEs have been clearly established in cell culture systems, and a few studies are starting to provide evidence that BSEs occur in vivo. Because BSEs amplify or exaggerate the action of low dose radiation, they will likely have a significant impact on radiation risk assessment and estimation of tissue-induced damage. For example, the extension of damage beyond the cells directly targeted, could result in non-linear dose-response relationships at doses well below where one would expect single hit kinetics. This may be particularly important for ionizing radiation tracks through the nervous system, where BSEs could lead to loss of sensory, motor, vegetative, and cognitive functions.

Project S6: Mars Habitability and Life Potential Through Mission Data Analysis and Exploration of Terrestrial Analogs
Project No.1: Mars Exploration Rover (MER) data analysis
Principal Investigators: Nathalie A. Cabrol and Edmond A. Grin, Code SST
Both Principal Investigators (PIs) are directly involved in the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission as members of the science team. The overall goal of the project is to characterize the morphology and sedimentology of rocks and soils along the rover traverse at Gusev crater and establish their classification. This work will provide important clues about processes, including aqueous, volcanic, and eolian, that have shaped and modified those rocks and soils at various geological times, first when Mars was habitable for life as we know it, and later, after the end of the favorable climate conditions (between 3.7 and 3.2 Ga ago).
The student will assist the PIs in the analysis of data from the rover Spirit. The work will involve the analysis of the Pancam, Navcam, and Microscopic Imager (MI) datasets, mapping and statistical, and preparation of manuscripts for publications. More information about the MER mission and related data can be found at: An introduction to mission results and methodology associated with the interpretation of data from the various rover instruments can be found in the Science Special Issues on Spirit and Opportunity: Science, August 2004, Volume 305 No. 5685, pp 737-900: Spirit at Gusev crater; and Science, December 2004, Volume 306 No. 5702, pp 1633-1844: Opportunity at Meridiani planum. Overall, the duties of an Astrobiology Academy student would involve observational, analytical, and theoretical work. The duties can involve one or several aspects of the following: analysis and interpretation of Mars mission data from MER. Training will be provided at the beginning of the project on morphology, geology, and sedimentology analysis based on remote sensing data and image interpretation. The skills required are a background in geology and/or physics (both preferred but not mandatory), interest in statistical analysis (preferred but not mandatory), and a strong interest in astrobiology, planetary surface missions, and exploration. Candidates should type well and have experience with Macintosh computers, and programs such as Word, Excel, and Adobe Photoshop. Introductory training with the NIH application will be provided if necessary. Our team has a history of long-term association with Astrobiology Academy students who after the Academy became directly involved in the MER mission as participants.

Project S7: Mars Past and Present Habitability: Detection of Caves, Cave-Bearing Geology, and Subsurface Shelters on Mars
Project No.2: Mars Data Analysis for the Search for Life Habitat
Principal Investigators: Nathalie A. Cabrol and Edmond A. Grin, Code SST
Preliminary results from terrestrial caves study have shown they are detectable in the thermal infrared. Diurnal and seasonal temperature variations have been determined. They are most detectable when the temperature contrast between the entrance and ground surface is greatest. Analysis of visual and thermal imagery reveal possible cave-like structures on Mars, some with thermal characteristics similar to terrestrial sample sites. The student will assists both PIs in the identification of cave-bearing geology on Mars, potential subsurface shelters, and possible cave entrances by analyzing visual and thermal infrared imagery from the ongoing missions orbiting Mars.
The skills required are a background in geology and/or physics (both preferred but not mandatory), and a strong interest in astrobiology, planetary surface missions, and exploration. Candidates should type well and have experience with Macintosh computers, and programs such as Word, Excel, and Adobe Photoshop. Their work will contribute to a project currently funded by NASA.

Project S8: Life on Mars: Past, Present, and Future
Principle Investigator: Chris McKay, Code SST
Our investigations start with Mars' warm wet past and its potential to have harbored life. This can be explored here on Earth though terrestrial analogs including, but not limited to, Siberian permafrost, Arctic polar deserts, or perennially ice covered lakes. Life in extreme environments such as these can give us a better idea of where life's last foothold on Mars may have been. Calculations and models of thermal decay, heat transfer and other physical parameters have been a center piece of this work. We combine theoretical modeling, spacecraft data analysis, and terrestrial field work to better understand past, present, and future conditions on Mars that may be hospitable to life.

Project S9: Charting the History of Earth's Earliest Microbial Ecosystems
Principal Investigators: Dr. Leslie Prufert-Bebout, Code SXX
Microorganisms are the primary engines of our biosphere, and so they play major roles in the biogeochemical cycles of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur and metals. The hierarchical organization of microbial ecosystems determines the rates of processes that shape Earth's environment, create the sedimentary and atmospheric signatures (biosignatures) of life, and define the stage upon which major evolutionary events occurred. To learn how microbes fulfill these roles on Earth and, potentially, other worlds, we must therefore understand the structure and function of microbial ecosystems. Photosynthetic microbial mats have been major players for billions of years. They are self-sustaining, complete ecosystems in which light energy that is absorbed over part of a diel (24 hour) cycle drives the synthesis of spatially organized, diverse biomass. Thus microbial mats offer an opportunity to study how microbial populations associate to control the biogeochemical cycles.
This project involves experiments with cyanobacterial microbial mats that are maintained in a simulated natural environment. We will explore various conditions that represent stages in the long-term (billion-year) evolution of Earth's environment. The effects of seawater composition, oxygen and dissolved inorganic carbon contents will be measured for ecosystem properties such as population sizes, elemental cycling and gas production. We will seek a better understanding of how the environment influences biosignatures such as atmospheric gases and also chemicals and minerals preserved in sedimentary rocks.
The student will participate in experiments with microbial mats as part of a team. He/she will measure rates of growth and migration, as well as the production and consumption of various key chemical compounds using microelectrodes and chromatographs. These measurements will be interpreted as components of ecosystem processes that can vary in response to changing environmental conditions. The student will thereby contribute to an improved understanding of how ancient photosynthetic ecosystems interacted with changing environments and recorded their legacy.
#1 Flow Dynamics in Microbial Ecosystems This project will focus on looking at the dynamics of water flow on the physical integrity and structure of microbial communities (microbial mats and stromatolites). Focus will be on the effects of physical flow dynamics on sedimentation, diffusion, microbial growth and gas flux in microbial systems.
#2 Environmental Effects on Microbial Growth and Biomarker Production. This project will examine the effects of various growth conditions (irradiance, nutrients, temperature, flow conditions) on motility and biomarker production in cyanobacteria.
Coursework in chemistry and/or biology, and a working knowledge of word processing and spreadsheets, is necessary.

Project T1: Studies in Virtual Environments Human Information Processing Research Branch
Principal Investigator: Dr. Stephen R. Ellis, Code THH
The primary purpose of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Air Traffic Control (ATC) system is to prevent collisions by separating aircraft, to organize the flow of air traffic, and to provide support for National Security and Homeland Defense (FAA, 2010). In order for air traffic controllers to fulfill these duties, new equipment and technology need to be incorporated into the ATC system. One of the principal areas of improvement targets the integration of panoramic or virtual display systems in airport control towers. Air traffic controllers who are stationed in airport control towers guide aircraft as they take off or land and taxi from or to respective gates, which means they need to have a clear view of the airport surface to control and maintain air traffic. However, airport control towers may soon implement panoramic displays in place of the direct far view out of the tower window, so it is necessary to examine the effects of different video update rates on human perception. In addition, examining the various types of visual cues used to anticipate aircraft motion can aid in the design of the new displays. Therefore, research needs to be done on the effects of update rates and visual cues on the anticipation of aircraft motion.

Project T2: The Automation for Operations Project: Development of advanced software prototypes for manned mission operations.
Principal Investigator: Dr. Jeremy Frank, Code: TI
There are significant challenges in devising software for manned and unmanned spaceflight mission operations. Individual spacecraft operations disciplines such as thermal control, power systems management, attitude control and science planning each require software support. Furthermore, these tools must be employed both singly and collectively while missions are operating, in order to successfully manage changing operations goals, contingencies, and fresh information influencing mission plans. Finally, judicious use of automation when circumstances permit can increase mission safety in a cost-effective manner, or increase mission operations team productivity by automating well-understood functions.
The Automation for Operations project develops advanced software prototypes for manned mission operations. These prototypes include software environments for procedure development, procedure verification and validation, procedure automation technologies, automated planning systems, and software interoperability technologies. The project offers numerous opportunities for Masters and Ph.D. students in computer science to both learn about and contribute to these tools. These opportunities include automation algorithm development, software tools development, empirical algorithm analysis, and infrastructure development.

Principal Investigator: Terry Fong, Code TI
This goal of this project is to study how robotic rovers may be used as scouts deployed in advance of humans in order to increase lunar surface science return
NASA currently plans to return humans to the Moon around 2020 with a campaign of regularly spaced surface missions. Prior to these surface missions, spacecraft in lunar orbit will be used to map the surface. However, remote sensing data may not be of sufficient resolution, nor view angle, to fully plan lunar surface activity, such as crew traverses for field geology. Thus, it will be important to acquire supplemental and complementary data on the lunar surface. One method to do this is robotic reconnaissance, i.e., using a planetary rover to scout planned sorties prior to human activity. During recon, robot-mounted instruments can be used to examine the surface at resolutions and from viewpoints not achievable from orbit. Several research opportunities are available over the summer, depending on the interest and background of the student. These include:
(1) Studies of how robotic scouting or robotic followup would have impacted Apollo 11-17 missions, integrating historical mission data with "what-if" studies.
(2) Robotic scouting mission concept, site selection, and surface scenario development, for potential future robotic scouting missions.
(3) Development of software for the analysis and visualization of data from the NASA Ames K10 rover for use in terrestrial field work.
This project is suitable for a student interested in robotics and/or field geology. The project is hosted within the Exploration Technology directorate, but is interdisciplinary in nature and will require interaction with both scientists and technology developers.

Project T4:Intelligent Spacecraft Interface Systems (ISIS)
Principal Investigator: Rob McCann, Code TH
Intelligent Spacecraft Interface Systems (ISIS) Lab at NASA Ames Research Center proposes to employ a summer student as part of the NASA Academy at Ames for Space Exploration. One of the goals of the ISIS Lab is to record and classify operators¹ oculomotor (i.e., eye movement) characteristics while acquiring and acting on information encoded from cockpit visual displays in support of targeted spacecraft operations. These data are being used to build a human oculomotor performance (HOP) model of visual information extraction behavior that captures, simulates, and predicts inter-observer variability in information sampling behavior (fixation sequences and fixation durations). This summer, we plan to extend the HOP model to simulate the performance impacts of the substantial vibration levels that may occur during the launch of Orion, the successor spacecraft to the Space Shuttle. The student's work in support of this effort will focus on analyzing and understanding perceptual and performance data collected from astronauts and general population subjects under different levels of vibration. The data to be analyzed may include operator videotape, eye fixations, and results of HOP model simulations following targeted parameter modifications. This experience will provide the student with the opportunity to understand the challenges associated with a human-centered approach to operational concept development for next-generation spacecraft. Principal Investigator: Robert McCann, Ph.D.