Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium

Expanding Frontiers Spring 1999

Expanding Frontiers is a publication of Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium. To join our mailing list, please send us an e-mail with your request.

Table of Contents:


Ambassadors wanted

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is looking for 40 more science educators to serve as Solar System Ambassadors to produce community events linked to NASA exploration programs. The deadline is May 17. For information and applications, go here.


New take offered on solar sails

M2P2, artist's conception

If UW Professor Robert Winglee and his research partners are right, the fastest path out of our solar system may be in mimicking what the sun does naturally.

Mini-Magnetospheric Plasma Propulsion - or M2P2 - would use existing technology to create an electromagnetic bubble around a spacecraft and let the solar wind push the craft into deep space.

"The enabling technology is pretty much available today," said Winglee, who works in the Geophysics Program studying the magnetosphere, the region of space around the Earth where the solar wind is deflected by the Earth's magnetic field.

Gregory Landis of the Ohio Aerospace Institute at NASA's Glenn Research Center has said the problem with interstellar travel is the weight of the propellant.

In the Star Trek universe, solar sails are described as actual sails carrying space probes out on the right winds in much the same way early explorers sailed out on earth's oceans looking for new lands. The problem, Winglee said, is that such sails would need to be anywhere from one to 10 kilometers in size.

Winglee has proposed injecting plasma (ionized gas) that would drag the magnetic field lines out and generate a bubble 30 to 60 km (18-36 miles) in diameter.

"The field would be very small, but the pressure would deflect the particles over an area the size of Seattle," he said. A prototype is now under construction and a grant proposal to begin vacuum testing will soon be submitted. Two Space Grant undergraduate researchers will assist with the pilot study this summer.

How fast could such a craft go? Winglee noted that Voyager 1 was launched in 1977 and is not expected to reach heliopause - the spot where the solar wind runs into the interstellar wind - until 2019. An M2P2-powered probe launched in 2003 could reach heliopause in only 10 years.


Survey results shape new Space Grant services

The Washington NASA Space Grant survey showed strong interest in teacher education programs, mini-grants and NASA educational materials.

Of the 325 people who responded to the survey in the last newsletter, 197 were K-12 teachers. Of the rest who replied, 45 were university students, 14 were university faculty and 69 identified themselves by checking other. About a third had been receiving the newsletter for more than a year.

Surveys were included in all mailed copies of the Winter newsletter, as well as in copies handed out at the University of Washington Department of Astronomy Open House in March. Only surveys received by April 23 are included in these statistics.

The goal of the survey was to identify areas where Space Grant can better meet the needs of the educational and research communities. Space Grant Director Dr. Janice DeCosmo said the surveys will provide a basis for developing electronic mailing lists and Web page announcements that can get information out to the people who can use it more quickly and efficiently.

"There are so many opportunities that we would like to share with the larger community and we couldn't because of the long lag time between newsletters," she said. The first group to receive the targeted e-mails will be teachers. Space Grant plans to continue publishing the newsletter three times a year. About 185 respondents said they preferred to receive their newsletter by regular mail rather than fax or e-mail.

Among teachers, 66 ranked teacher education as the topic that most interested them. Fifty-eight teachers ranked research first, as did the largest number of University faculty and students. Fifty-five teachers ranked Space Grant's mini-grant program first.

Only 94 people indicated that they had visited the Space Grant Web site. Of those, 66 were teachers. Among both those who had seen the Web site and those who had not the biggest area of interest were resource materials for teachers.

Several teachers suggested providing either a forum for the exchange of curriculum ideas or more materials that could be used in the classroom. DeCosmo said she hopes the e-mail lists and an expanded Web site will fulfill that need.

The posters and NASA materials offered to the first 200 survey respondents will be mailed in May.


Microgravity experiment by UW seniors featured in Seattle Times

Lisa Couret

University of Washington seniors Lisa Couret (left) and Trevor Olson's experiments aboard the KC-135A reduced gravity aircraft were recently featured in the Seattle Times' weekly science focus.

Reporter Dierdra Henderson accompanied the seniors during their flights March 15 and 16. The students conducted their experiment on sonoluminescence as part of a program funded by NASA and administered by Texas Space Grant.

"Thrills - and Spills - Aboard the 'Vomit Comet'" and "Weightless Research Produces Solid, Cutting Edge Data" appeared March 30 and are available at the Seattle Times Web site archive.


Educational Opportunities

Free Spacemobile school visits are now available

The NASA Spacemobile, part of the Aerospace Education Services Program, is now scheduling visits for the 1999-2000 school year.

The free programs are tailored to the school's needs and Washington EALRs, with the first priority being teacher workshops, said Brain J. Hawkins, the program's aerospace education specialist for Washington. In some cases, clock hours or college credit may be earned.

Topics have included lunar science, microgravity, and earth science, A recent program at Bainbridge High School focused on careers in engineering and aerospace. Free NASA materials are provided.

The Spacemobile makes about 140 visits a year in Washington, mostly to elementary and middle schools. For more information, or to arrange a visit, call the Aerospace Education Services Program at (650) 604-6077.

Quakes class

Geophysics 480A, the July 6-21 class taught by Professor Michael Brown, still has openings.

Designed for middle school and intermediate-level elementary teachers, the class covers the history of Pacific Northwest earthquakes. Washington EALRs and National Science Education standards will be discussed, along with innovative curriculum materials and techniques.

For registration and scholarship information, call (206) 543-1943.


NASA scholarships awarded to promising high school grads

The winners of this year's Washington NASA Space Grant undergraduate scholarships at the University of Washington reflect a variety of backgrounds and interests, but they share a commitment to excellence.

In their letters of reference, their teachers used phrases such as "thrives on problem solving." They described the students as graduating seniors with leadership ability and an intrinsic interest in learning.

Let us introduce just three of the 31 outstanding scholars who will be joining the Space Grant community this year.

albert wong

Albert Wong, a Ballard High School senior from Seattle, combined honors in piano studies with advanced placement in computer programming and a stint as opinion page editor for his high school newspaper.

Miriam Ceja

Miriam Ceja, a Wapato High School senior from Toppenish, interned with Battelle at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Hanford with an eye toward a career in environmental engineering in her home community. An accomplished cross country athlete and an active volunteer, her community service has ranged from delivering Christmas baskets to neighborhood cleanups.

Sudhi Tyagi

Sudhi Tyagi, a senior at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle, established a literacy program for elementary students and consistently carried off awards in the Science Olympiad while earning varsity letters in tennis and swimming. Her senior project, conducted during an internship at the Seattle Aquarium, compared the growth rates of penguin and puffin chicks to explore evolutionary issues among species.

The UW Space Grant Scholarship program is designed to ease the transition from high school to college by creating a "small college atmosphere" within the larger university. The scholars enjoy informal, quarterly gatherings, guidance from a faculty mentor, and a chance to participate in undergraduate research, as well as residence on the Space Grant dormitory floor.

The scholarships range from $600 book scholarships to $3,544 full-tuition scholarships, and are renewable for up to four years.

Matching funds are provided by the UW Office of Student Affairs and the Mary Gates, Donnergaard Family and the Sigurd Olsen Endowments. Since 1990, undergraduate scholarships have been awarded to 163 students entering the University of Washington


Don't miss these...

A Meteorite Hunt in central Washington is tentatively set for the weekend of June 19. Participants will carpool to the Waterville-Withrow area and stay the weekend. If they don't find meteorites, they will have fun contemplating giant "haystack" basalt boulders, and perhaps a visible shower of Martian meteorite #15! For more information, contact Tony Irving at the UW Department of Geological Sciences, (206) 543-9544.

GLOBE training dates are set. Institute of Marine Science Outreach Program Director Chris Burt is now serving as a local training coordinator for GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment). The next teacher workshop will be June 2-4 and June 8-10 at the Lake Washington School District in Redmond. For more information on the June workshop, or future GLOBE training opportunities, please contact Chris Burt at (360) 331-6034.