MOUNTAIN VIEW — This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon. The Ames Research Center that broke ground with that historic mission is once again helping astronauts prepare to go back to the moon and perhaps deeper into space.
In the Arc Jet lab, scientists test heat shields in a chamber that gets up to 15,000 degrees Fahrenheit, said Scott Edelman, a thermophysics chief at the Ames center.
Edelman said that they are now experimenting with a new type of heat shield that deploys like an umbrella during re-entry.
"As it comes back in, you have this nice big heat shield in front of you so you can slow down much gentler and not come in quite as fast," said Edelman.
Over at NASA's Vertical Gun Range scientists are doing target practice. They shoot bullets into a chamber where they reach speeds of 16,000 mph hour. That simulates the impact of meteors, and may shed information on how those impacts will affect the astronauts' habitats, said manager Charles Cornelison.
And in the BioSentinel lab, scientists are preparing to launch a mini-satellite full of yeast. Mike Pagen, a NASA fluidics engineer, says they need to know more about how DNA reacts to radiation in deep space and studying yeast could yield some insights.
"So we want to start learning how to protect astronauts. We can start by learning what happens to yeast," he said. "It seems like a big jump, but you've got to start somewhere."
NASA plans to return astronauts to the moon in 10 years and maybe reach Mars after that.