On Tuesday, May 4th, the second annual New Mexico Space Grant Student Launch will be held at Spaceport America. On Thursday, May 6th, the Orion Pad Abort Test will be conducted at White Sands Missile Range.
The SL4 rocket built for the student launch is a sounding rocket, technology that has been around since the 1950s and is used to conduct experiments in the atmosphere. The technology used in the Pad Abort Test is a technical leap into the future. It is technology designed to assure the safety of human spaceflight. Both are commitments to assuring the next generation of manned spaceflight.
What are we doing spending money on space programs when we have people who need...? I hear this often. We are aware of the economic difficulty of the current economy. Yet, we plan for the future, we build, we have children some dream of going to space. We go to space because part of our future as a species is in space. We are a species of explorers. I have spoken to groups across the globe. When I ask the audience how many people want to go to space, without hesitation, at least half the hands in the room go up. Automatically, no hesitation, they know they want or have to go to space.
Creating a program to help students get to space is what the Student Launch Program is about. The Student Launch Program (SLP) provides students annual access to space. During the past year, students designed then built experiments to fit into a container a little larger than a Frisbee with a bottom. On May 4th, these experiments will head straight up, 70 miles, through the 3 layers of the atmosphere; the Troposphere, Stratosphere and the Mesosphere. Better known in the scientific community as the Ignorosphere.
If you have ever tried to learn a new language or anything new, in the beginning, it's a struggle. I have studied Spanish, music, mathematics, are all different languages, different ways to communicate. This column is a way to communicate. What's the message? Don't worry about the vocabulary right now. Just enjoy the ride.
The Ignorosphere? It is a non-technical term describing the part of the atmosphere we know very little about. Our rocket will be going over a mile a second through the atmosphere. Most of the vehicles going to space go through the atmosphere at five times the speed of sound, or Mach 5. We can't learn much about the atmosphere going through it that quickly.
Over the next five years, Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo will be operating its' tourism business in this part of the atmosphere. The Student Launch Program will allow us to take apart the atmosphere, measure it's temperature, particles and layers with instruments the students design and build. By the time Virgin Galactic starts flying, we hope to have lots of minds and instruments ready measure the Ignorosphere in partnership with Virgin Galactic and others.
If you want to attend the Student Launch or see what we are doing with our Student Launch Program, go to http://www.launchnm.com/ Click on register to attend the launch, videos to watch the video of last year's launch, or watch our test program for this upcoming launch.
Pad Abort Test. Pad=the Launch Pad. Abort=Stop. Test=Test.
Picture a rocket with people in a room on top of the rocket and there is an emergency . What if they hit an eject button and the room separates from the rocket and floats back to earth? The test of the system that quickly separates the room or crew module from the rest of the rocket, in case of emergency, is being tested on May 6th at White Sands Missile Range. The system is designed to carry the Orion crew vehicle during a pad abort to 5,000 feet altitude and to a "soft" landing downrange. This module called the Orion crew module, is being designed to eventually take people to the International Space Station and beyond.
NASA is funding this program. It is part of a much larger program to take humans to space called the Constellation Program. The Orion crew module is one part of the Constellation Program that may continue. You can see an animation of this test on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cd--3KgoUzo. They've even got the wind blowing at White Sands. Watch these videos and enjoy the ride.