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    • By NASA
      The latest crew chosen by NASA to venture on a simulated trip to Mars inside the agency’s Human Exploration Research Analog. From left are Sergii Iakymov, Erin Anderson, Brandon Kent, and Sarah Elizabeth McCandless.Credit: C7M3 Crew NASA selected a new team of four research volunteers to participate in a simulated mission to Mars within HERA (Human Exploration Research Analog) at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
      Erin Anderson, Sergii Iakymov, Brandon Kent, and Sarah Elizabeth McCandless will begin their simulated trek to Mars on Friday, Aug. 9. The volunteer crew members will stay inside the 650-square-foot habitat for 45 days, exiting Monday, Sept. 23 after a simulated “return” to Earth. Jason Staggs and Anderson Wilder will serve as alternate crew members.
      The HERA missions offer scientific insights into how people react to the type of isolation, confinement, work and life demands, and remote conditions astronauts might experience during deep space missions.
      The facility supports more frequent, shorter-duration simulations in the same building as CHAPEA (Crew Health and Performance Analog). This crew is the third group of volunteers to participate in a simulated Mars mission in HERA this year. The most recent crew completed its HERA mission on June 24. In total, there will be four analog missions in this series.
      During this summer’s simulation, participants will perform a mix of science and operational tasks, including harvesting plants from a hydroponic garden, growing shrimp, deploying a small, cube-shaped satellite (CubeSat) to simulate gathering virtual data for analysis, “walking” on the surface of Mars using virtual reality goggles, and flying simulated drones on the simulated Mars surface. The team members also will encounter increasingly longer communication delays with Mission Control throughout their mission, culminating in five-minute lags as they “near” Mars. Astronauts traveling to Mars may experience communications delays of up to 20 minutes.
      NASA’s Human Research Program will conduct 18 human health experiments during each of the 2024 HERA missions. Collectively, the studies explore how a Mars-like journey may affect the crew members’ mental and physical health. The work also will allow scientists to test certain procedures and equipment designed to keep astronauts safe and healthy on deep space missions.

      Primary Crew
      Erin Anderson
      Erin Anderson is a structural engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. Her work focuses on manufacturing and building composite structures — using materials engineered to optimize strength, stiffness, and density — that fly in air and space.
      Anderson earned a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2013. After graduating, she worked as a structural engineer for Boeing on NASA’s SLS (Space Launch System) in Huntsville, Alabama. She moved to New Orleans to support the assembly of the first core stage of the SLS at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility. Anderson received a master’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, in 2020. She started her current job in 2021, continuing her research on carbon fiber composites.
      In her free time, Anderson enjoys playing rugby, doting on her dog, Sesame, and learning how to ride paddleboard at local beaches.

      Sergii Iakymov
      Sergii Iakymov is an aerospace engineer with more than 15 years of experience in research and design, manufacturing, quality control, and project management. Iakymov currently serves as the director of the Mars Desert Research Station, a private, Utah-based research facility that serves as an operational and geological Mars analog.
      Iakymov received a bachelor’s degree in Aviation and Cosmonautics and a master’s in Aircraft Control Systems from Kyiv Polytechnic Institute in Ukraine. His graduate research focused on the motion of satellites equipped with pitch flywheels and magnetic coils.
      Iakymov was born in Germany, raised in Ukraine, and currently splits his time between southern Utah and Chino Hills, California. His hobbies include traveling, running, hiking, scuba diving, photography, and reading.

      Brandon Kent
      Brandon Kent is a medical director in the pharmaceutical industry, supporting ongoing global efforts to develop new therapies across cancer types.
      Kent received a bachelor’s degrees in Biochemistry and Biology from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He earned his doctorate in Biomedicine from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, where his work primarily focused on how genetic factors regulate early embryonic development and cancer development.
      Following graduate school, Kent moved into scientific and medical communications consulting in oncology, primarily focusing on clinical trial data disclosures, scientific exchange, and medical education initiatives.
      Kent and his wife have two daughters. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his daughters, flying private aircraft, hiking, staying physically fit, and reading. He lives in Kinnelon, New Jersey.

      Sarah Elizabeth McCandless
      Sarah Elizabeth McCandless is a navigation engineer for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. McCandless’ job involves tracking the location and predicting the future trajectory of spacecraft, including the Mars Perseverance rover, Artemis I, Psyche, and Europa Clipper.
      McCandless received a bachelor’s in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Kansas in Lawrence, and a master’s in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, focused on orbital mechanics.
      McCandless is originally from Fairway, Kansas, and remains an avid fan of sports teams from her alma mater and hometown. She is active in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) outreach and education and enjoys camping, running, traveling with friends and family, and piloting Cessna 172s. She lives in Pasadena, California.

      Alternate Crew
      Jason Staggs
      Jason Staggs is a cybersecurity researcher and adjunct professor of computer science at the University of Tulsa. His research focuses on systems security engineering, infrastructure protection, and resilient autonomous systems. Staggs is an editor for the International Journal of Critical Infrastructure Protection and the Critical Infrastructure Protection book series.
      Staggs supported scientific research expeditions with the National Science Foundation at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. He also previously served as a space engineer and medical officer while working as an analog astronaut in the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) atop the Mauna Loa volcano.
      Staggs received his bachelor’s degree in Information Assurance and Forensics at Oklahoma State University and master’s and doctorate degrees in Computer Science from the University of Tulsa. During his postdoctoral studies at Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Falls, he investigated electric vehicle charging station vulnerabilities.
      In his spare time, Staggs enjoys hiking, building radio systems, communicating with ham radio operators in remote locations, and volunteering as a solar system ambassador for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory — sharing his passion for astronomy, oceanography, and space exploration with his community.

      Anderson Wilder
      Anderson Wilder is a Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne graduate student working on his doctorate in psychology. His research focuses on team resiliency and human-machine interactions. Wilder also works in the campus neuroscience lab, investigating how spaceflight contributes to astronaut neurobehavioral changes.
      Wilder previously served as an executive officer and engineer for an analog mission at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah. There, he performed studies related to crew social dynamics, plant growth, and geology.
      Wilder received bachelor’s degrees in Linguistics and Psychology from Ohio State University in Columbus. He also received a master’s degree in Space Studies from International Space University in Strasbourg, France, and is completing a second master’s in Cognitive Experimental Psychology from Cleveland State University in Ohio.
      Outside of school, Wilder works as a parabolic flight coach, teaching people how to experience reduced-gravity environments. He also enjoys chess, reading, video games, skydiving, and scuba diving. On a recent dive, he explored a submerged section of the Great Wall of China.
      NASA’s Human Research Program
      NASA’s Human Research Program (HRP) pursues the best methods and technologies to support safe, productive human space travel. Through science conducted in laboratories, ground-based analogs, and the International Space Station, HRP scrutinizes how spaceflight affects human bodies and behaviors. Such research drives HRP’s quest to innovate ways to keep astronauts healthy and mission-ready as space travel expands to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
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    • By NASA
      6 min read
      Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)
      To view this video please enable JavaScript, and consider upgrading to a web browser that supports HTML5 video
      In this time-lapse video of a test conducted at JPL in June 2023, an engineering model of the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) instrument aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover places itself against a rock to collect data. NASA/JPL-Caltech Artificial intelligence is helping scientists to identify minerals within rocks studied by the Perseverance rover.
      Some scientists dream of exploring planets with “smart” spacecraft that know exactly what data to look for, where to find it, and how to analyze it. Although making that dream a reality will take time, advances made with NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover offer promising steps in that direction.
      For almost three years, the rover mission has been testing a form of artificial intelligence that seeks out minerals in the Red Planet’s rocks. This marks the first time AI has been used on Mars to make autonomous decisions based on real-time analysis of rock composition.
      PIXL, the white instrument at top left, is one of several science tools located on the end of the robotic arm aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover. The Mars rover’s left navcam took the images that make up this composite on March 2, 2021NASA/JPL-Caltech The software supports PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry), a spectrometer developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. By mapping the chemical composition of minerals across a rock’s surface, PIXL allows scientists to determine whether the rock formed in conditions that could have been supportive of microbial life in Mars’ ancient past.
      Called “adaptive sampling,” the software autonomously positions the instrument close to a rock target, then looks at PIXL’s scans of the target to find minerals worth examining more deeply. It’s all done in real time, without the rover talking to mission controllers back on Earth.
      “We use PIXL’s AI to home in on key science,” said the instrument’s principal investigator, Abigail Allwood of JPL. “Without it, you’d see a hint of something interesting in the data and then need to rescan the rock to study it more. This lets PIXL reach a conclusion without humans examining the data.”
      This image of a rock target nicknamed “Thunderbolt Peak” was created by NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover using PIXL, which determines the mineral composition of rocks by zapping them with X-rays. Each blue dot in the image represents a spot where an X-ray hit.NASA/JPL-Caltech/DTU/QUT Data from Perseverance’s instruments, including PIXL, helps scientists determine when to drill a core of rock and seal it in a titanium metal tube so that it, along with other high-priority samples, could be brought to Earth for further study as part of NASA’s Mars Sample Return campaign.
      Adaptive sampling is not the only application of AI on Mars. About 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers) from Perseverance is NASA’s Curiosity, which pioneered a form of AI that allows the rover to autonomously zap rocks with a laser based on their shape and color. Studying the gas that burns off after each laser zap reveals a rock’s chemical composition. Perseverance features this same ability, as well as a more advanced form of AI that enables it to navigate without specific direction from Earth. Both rovers still rely on dozens of engineers and scientists to plan each day’s set of hundreds of individual commands, but these digital smarts help both missions get more done in less time.
      “The idea behind PIXL’s adaptive sampling is to help scientists find the needle within a haystack of data, freeing up time and energy for them to focus on other things,” said Peter Lawson, who led the implementation of adaptive sampling before retiring from JPL. “Ultimately, it helps us gather the best science more quickly.”
      Using AI to Position PIXL
      AI assists PIXL in two ways. First, it positions the instrument just right once the instrument is in the vicinity of a rock target. Located at the end of Perseverance’s robotic arm, the spectrometer sits on six tiny robotic legs, called a hexapod. PIXL’s camera repeatedly checks the distance between the instrument and a rock target to aid with positioning.
      Temperature swings on Mars are large enough that Perseverance’s arm will expand or contract a microscopic amount, which can throw off PIXL’s aim. The hexapod automatically adjusts the instrument to get it exceptionally close without coming into contact with the rock.
      “We have to make adjustments on the scale of micrometers to get the accuracy we need,” Allwood said. “It gets close enough to the rock to raise the hairs on the back of an engineer’s neck.”
      Making a Mineral Map
      Once PIXL is in position, another AI system gets the chance to shine. PIXL scans a postage-stamp-size area of a rock, firing an X-ray beam thousands of times to create a grid of microscopic dots. Each dot reveals information about the chemical composition of the minerals present.
      Minerals are crucial to answering key questions about Mars. Depending on the rock, scientists might be on the hunt for carbonates, which hide clues to how water may have formed the rock, or they may be looking for phosphates, which could have provided nutrients for microbes, if any were present in the Martian past.
      There’s no way for scientists to know ahead of time which of the hundreds of X-ray zaps will turn up a particular mineral, but when the instrument finds certain minerals, it can automatically stop to gather more data — an action called a “long dwell.” As the system improves through machine learning, the list of minerals on which PIXL can focus with a long dwell is growing.
      “PIXL is kind of a Swiss army knife in that it can be configured depending on what the scientists are looking for at a given time,” said JPL’s David Thompson, who helped develop the software. “Mars is a great place to test out AI since we have regular communications each day, giving us a chance to make tweaks along the way.”
      When future missions travel deeper into the solar system, they’ll be out of contact longer than missions currently are on Mars. That’s why there is strong interest in developing more autonomy for missions as they rove and conduct science for the benefit of humanity.
      More About the Mission
      A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).
      Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.
      The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.
      JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.
      For more about Perseverance:
      News Media Contacts
      Andrew Good
      Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
      Karen Fox / Alana Johnson
      NASA Headquarters, Washington
      202-358-1600 / 202-358-1501
      karen.c.fox@nasa.gov / alana.r.johnson@nasa.gov
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    • By NASA
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      Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)
      HyAxiom’s 440-kilowatt phosphoric acid fuel cell is now its flagship product, and it still builds on technical know-how developed under the Apollo and space shuttle programs.Credit: HyAxiom Inc. NASA’s investment in fuel cells dates to the 1960s when most of the world was still reliant on fossil fuels. A fuel cell generates electricity and heat when hydrogen and oxygen bond through an electrolyte. Because its only by-product is water, it’s an environmentally friendly power source. 

      The agency’s interest in fuel cells came when NASA needed to fuel missions to the Moon. Engineers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston looked to fuel cells because they could provide more energy per pound than batteries could over the course of a long mission. At that time, fuel cells were just a concept that had never been put to practical use. 
      NASA funded development of the first practical fuel cells because they were necessary to cut weight from the Apollo spacecraft for Moon missions. Three fuel cells in the Apollo service module provided electricity for the capsule containing the astronauts. The division of Pratt & Whitney that made the fuel cells later became UTC Power, now a subsidiary of Doosan Group known as HyAxiom Inc.Credit: NASA NASA funded three companies, including a portion of Pratt & Whitney, to develop prototypes. For Apollo mission fuel cells, NASA selected the Pratt & Whitney group, which soon became UTC Power, as the supplier of all the space shuttle fuel cells. With the agency funding and shaping its technology development, UTC Power eventually started offering commercial fuel cells. The company is now known as HyAxiom Inc. and operates from the same plant in South Windsor, Connecticut, that produced fuel cells for the agency. 

      The company released its first commercial fuel cell in the mid-1990s and introduced its current product line about a decade later. 

      “The models they built for these products we use today had a lot of the electrochemistry understanding from the space program,” said Sridhar Kanuri, HyAxiom’s chief technology officer. 

      HyAxiom now produces around 120 units per year but expects to ramp up as government investments in fuel cells increase. The U.S. government plans to use fuel cells to store energy from renewable sources. 
      Today’s commercial fuel cell companies received much of their knowledge base from NASA. John Scott, NASA’s principal technologist for power and energy storage said, “All these companies trace their intellectual property heritage, their corporate heritage, even the generations of personnel to those companies NASA funded back in the early 1960s.” 
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      In a groundbreaking NASA study set against the remote backdrop of North Dakota, Spc. 4 William Wallace, 4th Space Operations Squadron payload engineer, played a pivotal role in advancing the science community’s understanding of extraterrestrial agriculture.

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    • By NASA
      Portrait of retired NASA astronaut Joe Engle wearing flight suit in front of an X-15 fighter circa 1963. Retired NASA astronaut and U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Joe Engle died July 10, surrounded by his family at home in Houston. Among his many honors, he is the only astronaut to pilot both the X-15 and space shuttle. He was 91.
      Engle became an astronaut at age 32 while flying the X-15 for the U.S. Air Force, becoming the youngest pilot ever to qualify as an astronaut. When selected as a NASA astronaut candidate in 1966, he was the only person selected that was already engaged in spaceflight operations. He was the last surviving X-15 pilot.
      “A natural pilot, Gen. Joe Engle helped humanity’s dreams take flight – in the X-15 program, the Apollo Program, and as one of the first commanders in the Space Shuttle Program,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “He was one of the first astronauts I met at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. I’ll never forget his big smile, his warmth, and his courage. We all will miss him.” 
      Engle was born in Dickinson County, Kansas, and attended the University of Kansas, Lawrence, where he graduated with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 1955. He received his commission through the Air Force Reserve Officers Training Course, earning his pilot wings in 1958.
      As a NASA astronaut, he supported the Apollo Program, and was backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 14. In 1977, he served as commander of the space shuttle Enterprise, which used a modified Boeing 747 shuttle carrier aircraft to release Enterprise for approach and landing tests. In November 1981, he commanded the second flight of the space shuttle Columbia. He was the first and only pilot to manually fly an aerospace vehicle from Mach 25 to landing. He accumulated the last of his 224 hours in space when he commanded the space shuttle Discovery in August 1985, one of the most challenging shuttle missions ever. On that mission the crew deployed three commercial satellites and retrieved, repaired, and redeployed another malfunctioning satellite that had been launched on a previous shuttle mission.
      “As we mourn the immense loss of Joe, we’re thankful for his notable contributions to the advancement of human spaceflight,” said Vanessa Wyche, center director, NASA Johnson. “Joe’s accomplishments and legacy of perseverance will continue to inspire and impact generations of explorers for years to come.” 
      Engle flew more than 180 different aircraft types and logged more than 14,000 flight hours. His military decorations include the Department of Defense Distinguished Service Medal, U.S. Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, and the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster. He has received the NASA Distinguished Service Medal and Space Flight Medal, as well as the Harmon International Aviation Trophy, the Collier Trophy, the Goddard Space Trophy, the Gen.
      Thomas D. White Space Trophy, and the Kinchelow Experimental Test Pilot’s Trophy. In 1992, he was inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor.
      “Joe Henry was a loving husband, father, and grandfather. Blessed with natural piloting skills, General Joe, as he was known to many, was at his happiest in any cockpit. Always with a smile, he lived a fulfilled life as a proud American, U.S. Air Force pilot, astronaut, and Kansas Jayhawk,” said his wife, Jeanie Engle. “His passing leaves a tremendous loss in our hearts. We take comfort that he has joined Tom Stafford and George Abbey, two of the best friends anyone could ask for.”
      Learn more about Engle’s life as an astronaut and pilot:
      Faith McKie / Cheryl Warner
      Headquarters, Washington
      faith.d.mckie@nasa.gov / cheryl.m.warner@nasa.gov
      Chelsey Ballarte / Courtney Beasley
      Johnson Space Center, Houston
      chelsey.n.ballarte@nasa.gov / courtney.m.beasley@nasa.gov  
      View the full article
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