NASA AMES RESEARCH CENTER (CBS SF) — Earth and the Sun may be 93 million miles apart, but cosmic explosions between the two celestial spheres occur often and with devastating effects–unleashing waves of X-ray radiation and disrupting GPS communications, and it is with this danger in mind that next month, NASA will launch four “Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission” satellites, studying these “magnetic reconnections” and better predicting the consequences of these cosmic phenomena.
NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View uses supercomputers to create theoretical models of the magnetic fields on the sun, but the new mission will be able to actually observe what is happening, from a lofty vantage point `far above the Earth’s pole.
The mysterious magnetic reconnections actually transfer energy and physical particles from the Sun to Earth. The forces at work can accelerate particles to nearly the speed of light, with devastating consequences. In October 2003, a massive release of X-ray radiation hit Earth in what became known as the Halloween Storms. The energy triggered the first ever radiation warning to aircraft, alerting pilots that high altitude flights could expose passengers and crew to unhealthy levels of radiation.
Simultaneously, the GPS location system was impacted. Back then, this wasn’t as great a concern for the general public. It mainly affected the military, pilots, and sea captains, but were the same event to occur today, it may be much more noticeable with today’s smartphone world where everything we do is geo-tagged and coordinated using the GPS signals. In the future, it could evven impact autonomous self-driving vehicles and airborne drones that rely on GPS.
Karen C. Fox from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland writes, “Understanding vast systems in space requires understanding what’s happening on widely different scales. Giant events can turn out to have tiny drivers — take, for example, what rocked near-Earth space in October 2003.” The Halloween geomagnetic storms had a beautiful side too. The Northern Lights were visible clear down to Southern California, and even Texas.
The Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, mission will be the first ever mission dedicated to studying this universal process by orbiting Earth, and passing directly through nearby magnetic reconnection regions. “Armed with this data, scientists will have their first chance to watch magnetic reconnection from the inside, right as it’s occurring. By focusing on the small-scale process, scientists open the door to understanding what happens on larger scales throughout the universe,” wrote Fox. View Article Here Read More
Mike Snyder, lead engineer for the company Made In Space, which designed and built the 3D printer currently aboard the International Space Station, contributed this article to Space.com's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
Human spaceflight reached an important milestone this week. An additive manufacturing device or 3D printer, was turned on, and initiated the first official 3D print on the International Space Station (ISS).
The print took slightly more than an hour, and once it finished, the world changed. At the Made In Space Operations Center in Moffett Field, California, the rest of the team and I had the ability to command the printer and see inside it as the machine received and executed our commands. For the first time, humans demonstrated the ability to manufacture while in space. At this moment, if the space station absolutely needs a part that the 3D printer can build, I can start producing the part onboard the ISS within minutes — from my chair in California.
The ability to deliver components on demand without the need of a launch vehicle can redefine how space-mission strategies work. Before last week, every object that humans have ever put in space was launched there and not made in space. Of course, many experiments and efforts have been able to form items such as crystalline structures and latex spheres, as well as assembly-type construction. 3D printing is completely different. This capability does more than just build predetermined articles that were designed months or years before launch. The 3D printer can build files that are created after launch and sent to orbit when needed.
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