Applications for High-Altitude Balloon Program due soon

Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium (WSGC) is soliciting applications through Feb. 20, for students interested in space science and engineering for: (i) a payload team, to design and build a balloon science payload; or (ii) a launch team, to conduct balloon flights. Selected students will receive a stipend ($4,000 or $3,000) for summer work on either team. Please encourage any students that you think would be interested to apply. See more. If you have questions, please email UW-Green Bay’s WSGC representative Brian Welsch at welschb@uwgb.edu.

Deadlines approach for Space Grant Scholarships

Please forward this opportunity to your students… Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium Scholarships opportunities close Feb. 6, including: $2,000 awards for students pursuing any space-related studies; $4,000 for undergrads to pursue space-relevant research projects of their own design (relevance is construed broadly!); and $1,000 renewable awards to outstanding sophomore undergraduate students identified as a member of a federally recognized minority group (African American, Native American, Hispanic/Latino, or Pacific Islander) enrolled in a STEM program of study. See more details. E-mail UWGB’s representative to WSGC, Brian Welsch, if you have any questions, welschb@uwgb.edu.

Research funding available from Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium

Opportunities for funding of faculty equipment and projects from the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium are now open. Last year’s Research Infrastructure Program (RIP), primarily for equipment, received just five proposals, and each was awarded $10,000. The Higher Education Incentives (HEI) program will award grants of $5,000 or $10,000 for teaching/training projects related to space/aerospace. Relevance of research / teaching to space is construed very broadly, so many topics in (for instance) biology, geology, and psychology are relevant. For more details, go to https://spacegrant.carthage.edu/funding-programs/faculty/.  Proposals are due Dec. 12. If you have any questions, please contact Brian Welsch (welschb@uwgb.edu).

Out of this world… Two UW-Green Bay students get a chance to pursue space projects

GREEN BAY –The Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium (WSGC) has recognized two University of Wisconsin-Green Bay students for their outstanding academic work. James Vasquez has been awarded the STEM Bridge Scholarship for the 2016-17 academic year, and Justin Rasmussen is recipient of the Elijah Balloon Payload Fellowship award — June 1 to August 13 at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) in Milwaukee, Wis.

Both students are Green Bay natives and have been interested in aeronautics and space-related topics since they were young. They also will have the opportunity to attend the 2016 Annual Wisconsin Space Conference, held at UW-Superior, in August.

The STEM Bridge Scholarship supports outstanding sophomore undergraduate minority students who are pursuing undergraduate, space-related studies. Recipients are awarded $1,000 for the academic year.

James Vasquez
James Vasquez

Vasquez, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering technology, has a history working on similar types of projects. He has participated and volunteered at the Barlow Planetarium Summer Space Camp, where he helped build model rockets and researched astronomy topics.

“I have been enamored with space and everything related to aeronautics and flying. It will always be a dream of mine to float in space,” Vasquez said. “Being part of NASA’s mission in any way would be a dream come true. I hope to contribute my skills and training in manufacturing and design to propel mankind into a new-age of space travel,” he said.

The Elijah High-Altitude Balloon Launch Program is an innovative NASA project that provides opportunities for students to fly their science experiments in a near-space environment. Student teams will design and build science payloads to be launched and retrieved from a high-altitude balloon that will ascend up to 100,000 feet or more before bursting. Team members receive a $4,000 stipend and present their results at the Wisconsin Space conference.

Justin Rasmussen
Justin Rasmussen

“Ever since I was very young I have been fascinated by the vastness of space,” Rasmussen said. “I remember being in awe while watching the early Mars rovers land. As a species we are rare, privileged, and unique. We have the intelligence and ability to unify and accomplish so much more. The exploration of the universe is the one task that ties us all together for our own survival and growth.”

Rasmussen is a non-traditional student working toward an engineering degree and eventually hopes to study astronautics engineering, aeronautics engineering or engineering physics.

“Our carbon footprint is becoming increasingly critical, so I would like to work toward solving that,” he said. “We need many more scientists and engineers on this planet.”

For more information regarding the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium, visit https://spacegrant.carthage.edu/

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WisBusiness’ Still says Yingst’s rover work an example of state’s space know-how

UW-Green Bay’s R. Aileen Yingst continues to receive local and state media attention for her role in the Mars rover mission, with the latest piece coming from WisBusiness.com. Tom Still’s opinion column says the Mars Curiosity mission is a reminder of the state’s space know-how — and that know-how doesn’t end there. Yingst’s work here — she is the director of the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium, headquartered on campus — is indicative of other good work being done throughout the UW System, Still says. Full column.

More from Mars: Journal Sentinel story on Yingst and the Curiosity mission

As the Mars Curiosity mission continues, so too does the public’s curiosity about the SUV-sized rover and the images it’s beaming back from the red planet. As we’ve told you here previously, UW-Green Bay’s own R. Aileen Yingst is in the thick of it all, using her Mars Hand Lend Imager camera to capture detailed images of the planet’s surface. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel caught up with Yingst Tuesday (Aug. 7), and she shared how the mission has gone so far. Links to that story and our own feature on Yingst (in case you missed it) are as follows:
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
UW-Green Bay news feature

Monitoring Mars: With successful rover landing, Yingst’s work has just begun

R. Aileen YingstDue to the successful and historic landing of the Mars rover Curiosity Monday, UW-Green Bay’s Aileen Yingst will be away for a while.

About 90 Martian days, in fact.

Yingst, director of the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium, headquartered at UW-Green Bay, is the deputy principal investigator for the Curiosity mission’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera, an instrument so powerful it can return images of individual grains of sand on the planet’s surface. She watched the rover land from mission headquarters early Monday (Aug. 6), joining in a jubilant celebration with “about 400 of my best friends” at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.

Reached by cell phone midday Monday, Yingst was preparing to obtain the first color image from the surface, having grabbed a few hours sleep before what’s likely to be a late night. She expects to be in Pasadena into November, returning home from her NASA-funded position permanently after 90 Martian days — each day on Mars is about 37 minutes longer than a day here.

“We’re living on Mars time,” Yingst said. “I keep trying to remind myself that this is a marathon, not a sprint.”

One can, of course, forgive the enthusiasm of Yingst and her colleagues, who are part of what’s been called the Apollo 11 of the unmanned space program. The unprecedented rover landing was so complex it was dubbed the “seven minutes of terror,” a highly coordinated and precise maneuver during which the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft carrying Curiosity decelerated from about 13,200 mph (about 5,900 meters per second) to allow the rover to land on the surface at about 1.7 mph (three-fourths of a meter per second).

And the landing lived up to its name.

“It was terrifying,” Yingst said. “All the scientists were kind of put into the basement of one of the JPL buildings, in part so we could all experience it together. It was awesome. It was exactly as they billed it — it was terrifying, in part, not because we distrusted the engineers … but Mars can throw you a curveball, and there’s nothing you can do about that.”

The unpredictable nature of space is something Yingst knows all too well, having been part of a not-so-successful mission years ago. She was working as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Arizona when the Mars Polar Lander crashed on Dec. 3, 1999. A picture of a dejected-looking Yingst ended up on the front page of the L.A. Times, making the frustration of the mission failure even more inescapable.

“So this is a pretty righteous moment, I’ve got to admit,” she said. “I can’t take credit for it, but it’s still sweet.”

What Yingst can take credit for is the work of her instrument, the MAHLI, which will return pictures of the Martian surface at 12 microns/pixel (for comparison, a human hair is about 80 microns across). At this scale, Yingst said, the surfaces of individual minerals, or even sand grains, can be seen. The MAHLI camera will be critical in determining what rocks are made of at the Mars Science Laboratory landing site, where Yingst and her colleagues expect the rocks will be sedimentary (broken up bits of other rocks, transported there by wind, water or volcanic activity).

There’s a lot of pressure, but also a lot of excitement for the instrument’s potential.

“(This is a) priceless resource from the surface, and we want to use it well,” Yingst said. “There will be rich rewards if we do this right.”

And while Yingst’s work will take her away from home and family for a while, her husband and kids — 9-year-old Josh and 8-year-old Rebecca — are having a wonderful time witnessing history in Pasadena. They attended a landing event at the California Institute of Technology, attached to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, communicating via text message about what was going on. A phone call placed once the rover had landed quickly was ended, as neither party could hear over the jubilant roar of assembled scientists. Yingst will come home for such milestones as the first day of school, but for now, her home base is Pasadena.

And while few got to experience the historic rover landing the way Yingst did, the moment truly belongs to everyone, she said.

“When the first images came down, and I realized we were looking at a place in the universe that no human being had ever seen, there’s a moment of elation there,” she said. “That comes from not only having worked so hard at this, but realizing I was seeing this at the same time as everyone else in the world. … That shared moment was made possible because of the technology that we have derived from the space program.

“I don’t know any other way of putting how beautifully this has come full circle. I think everybody back home should be tremendously proud of this moment, because it belongs to everybody.”

Click the links for more on the Curiosity mission and Yingst’s role therein.

Mission to Mars: With rover landed, Yingst’s work is just beginning

You’ve no doubt heard that the landing of the Mars rover Curiosity — so intense and complex it was dubbed the “seven minutes of terror” — was a success early Monday (Aug. 6) morning, with NASA and the larger scientific community at once relieved with the landing’s outcome and excited about the mission’s possibilities. Green Bay’s own R. Aileen Yingst, director of the campus-headquartered Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium, continues to be in the thick of the action in Pasadena, preparing to use the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera to obtain the first color image from the red planet’s surface. We spoke to Yingst midday Monday, obtaining a firsthand account of the landing and what’s next for the mission. You can read all about it below, where we’ve also linked to a couple of pre-landing stories, from WLUK, Fox 11 and Wisconsin Public Radio:
UW-Green Bay News
WLUK Fox 11
Wisconsin Public Radio
 

Yingst heads off on NASA Mars mission

The buzz is building in anticipation of the Aug. 6 landing of NASA’s most advanced planetary rover — and R. Aileen Yingst, director of the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium, headquartered at UW-Green Bay, is one of the scientists at the heart of the operation. The Curiosity rover is scheduled to land beside a Martian mountain to begin two years of unprecedented scientific detective work. Its planned landing is so complex that it’s been dubbed the “seven minutes of terror,” and Yingst will have a critical role in the daring endeavor. Learn more.

Space Grant Consortium’s Yingst to play critical role in Mars rover mission

The buzz is building over an early August landing planned for NASA’s most advanced planetary rover — and R. Aileen Yingst, director of the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium, headquartered at UW-Green Bay, is one of the scientists at the heart of the operation.

R. Aileen Yingst
R. Aileen Yingst
The Curiosity rover is scheduled to land in the early morning hours (local time) Monday, Aug. 6 beside a Martian mountain to begin two years of unprecedented scientific detective work. Its planned landing is so complex that it’s been dubbed the “seven minutes of terror,” and Yingst will have a critical role in the daring endeavor.

“This mission is the unmanned equivalent of Apollo in terms of how tremendously difficult it has been, is and will be,” said Yingst, who left July 29 for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “I tell my kids you have to dare big to accomplish big — and that’s what we’re doing here.”

She isn’t kidding. To achieve the precision needed for landing safely inside Gale Crater, the spacecraft will fly like a wing in the upper atmosphere, instead of dropping like a rock. To land the one-ton rover, an airbag method used on previous Mars rovers will not work. Mission engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena have designed a “sky crane” method for the final several seconds of the flight. A backpack with retro-rockets controlling descent speed will lower the rover on three nylon cords just before touchdown.

During a critical period lasting only about seven minutes — the aforementioned “seven minutes of terror” — the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft carrying Curiosity must decelerate from about 13,200 mph (about 5,900 meters per second) to allow the rover to land on the surface at about 1.7 mph (three-fourths of a meter per second). Curiosity is scheduled to land at approximately 12:31 a.m. local time Aug. 6.

“Those seven minutes are the most challenging part of this entire mission,” said Pete Theisinger, the mission’s project manager at JPL. “For the landing to succeed, hundreds of events will need to go right, many with split-second timing and all controlled autonomously by the spacecraft. We’ve done all we can think of to succeed. We expect to get Curiosity safely onto the ground, but there is no guarantee. The risks are real.”

If Curiosity’s landing is successful, Yingst could be in Pasadena for several months in her role as deputy principal investigator for one camera on the mission. Her instrument, the Mars Handlens Imager (MAHLI) will return pictures of the martian surface at 12 µm/pixel (for comparison, a human hair is about 80 microns across). At this scale, Yingst  said, the surfaces of individual minerals, or even sand grains, can be seen. The MAHLI camera will be critical in determining what rocks are made of at the Mars Science Laboratory landing site, where Yingst and her colleagues expect the rocks will be sedimentary (broken up bits of other rocks, transported there by wind, water or volcanic activity).

And while Yingst will be across the country for this unprecedented event, she’s also bringing a bit of Wisconsin to mission control. Yingst’s camera is mounted on the instrument package at the end of the turret (the “arm”). The turret is informally known by some engineers as the “cheesehead.” (Yingst, for the record, is a Packers fan).

During the initial weeks after the actual landing, JPL mission controllers will put the rover through a series of checkouts and activities to characterize its performance on Mars, while gradually ramping up scientific investigations. Curiosity then will begin investigating whether an area with a wet history inside Mars’ Gale Crater ever has offered an environment favorable for microbial life.

Curiosity will use tools on a robotic arm to deliver samples from Martian rocks and soils into laboratory instruments inside the rover that can reveal chemical and mineral composition. A laser instrument will use its beam to induce a spark on a target and read the spark’s spectrum of light to identify chemical elements in the target.

Other instruments on the car-sized rover will examine the surrounding environment from a distance or by direct touch with the arm. The rover will check for the basic chemical ingredients for life and for evidence about energy available for life. It also will assess factors that could be hazardous for life, such as the radiation environment.

The chosen landing site is beside a mountain informally called Mount Sharp. The mission’s prime destination lies on the slope of the mountain. Driving there from the landing site may take many months.

“Be patient about the drive. It will be well worth the wait and we are apt to find some targets of interest on the way,” said John Grotzinger, MSL project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “When we get to the lower layers in Mount Sharp, we’ll read them like chapters in a book about changing environmental conditions when Mars was wetter than it is today.”

Mars Science Laboratory is a project of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The mission is managed by JPL. Curiosity was designed, developed and assembled at JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

You can follow the mission on Facebook and on Twitter. Information about the mission, along with the new video game and other education-related tools, is available online, here and here. You can also watch the “Seven Minutes of Terror” video.