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    • By NASA
      In the Pose Bowl: Spacecraft Detection and Pose Estimation Challenge, solvers will help NASA develop algorithms that could be run on inspector (chaser) spacecraft. There are two tracks, with different associated prizes. In the Detection Track, solvers develop object detection solutions that identify the boundaries of spacecraft in an image. In the Pose Estimation Track, solvers develop solutions that identify changes in the position and orientation (pose) of the chaser spacecraft camera across a sequence of images.
      Award: $40,000 in total prizes
      Open Date: February 20, 2024
      Close Date: May 14, 2024
      For more information, visit: https://www.drivendata.org/competitions/group/competition-nasa-spacecraft/
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    • By NASA
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      When a physical condition limits mobility, getting around is easier with EyeGaze Edge. The eye-tracking technology integrates with the Ability Drive application used with motorized mobility devices, enabling hands-free control of a wheelchair’s motion. Credit: EyeGaze Inc. Communicating when a traumatic brain injury, stroke, or disease has made speech impossible can be daunting. Specialized eye-tracking technology uses eye movement to enable people living with disabilities to connect one-on-one, over the phone, or via the internet.

      Eye-tracking systems for computers pinpoint a person’s gaze – where the eye is looking at a screen – by reflecting infrared light off the cornea and capturing it with a camera, using image-processing software to determine the eye’s orientation. The technology isn’t new, but it has become much more widely accessible, thanks in part to a collaboration between NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and a Fairfax, Virginia-based company called Eyegaze Inc.

      When the company built the first model in 1988, its computers were bulky, requiring three shipping boxes for equipment and a company staff member to set up the system. That cost limited access, and the learning process could be intimidating. 

      In 1998, NASA and Eyegaze entered a public-private partnership via Congressional funding to make the hardware smaller, more portable, and affordable without compromising efficiency. It also reduced the weight of the original system by six times and its volume by nearly the same factor. Other advancements served as a springboard for two more decades of development. By collaborating with JPL, the two entities were able to miniaturize and improve the company’s Eyegaze Edge system and lower costs, eliminating barriers to ownership of this communications technology.

      “Working with NASA, we were able to make the device less bulky,” said Preethi Vaidyanathan, an engineer with Eyegaze. “Since then, we integrated the external components into a small camera.” It mounts above or below a standard computer screen and requires less than 15 seconds to calibrate to an individual’s gaze.

      Visual Surfing
      Minesweeper and other video games adapted to use eye-tracking technology are just one form of entertainment made possible by EyeGaze for people living with disabilities.Credit: EyeGaze Inc. As personal electronic devices and internet access became commonplace, Eyegaze customers wanted to do more than type. The company’s work with NASA and other government partners put it in a position to meet that demand.

      Eyeworld integrates with computers, mobile phones, and tablets, allowing the Eyegaze camera to function as an external mouse and keyboard. By enabling almost any computer function, it lets users chat online, post to social media, send emails, text, or make phone calls. It’s also possible to change room lighting, adjust thermostat settings, and operate other environmental controls using Amazon Echo and Google Home via pages of specialized buttons with one-glance button controls. 

      During the COVID-19 pandemic, Eyegaze integrated communications programs such as Zoom and WhatsApp to allow people to connect with their family and friends. To help combat a sense of isolation, the company added meditation apps and Window Swap, which stream the views from different windows worldwide. Virtual museums take the viewer on guided tours. A music streaming service syncs to favorite music apps and offers the International Radio Garden app to sample music from other cultures. Access to online gaming communities provides another way to connect.

      “We are constantly thinking about what the customers want. One thing is freedom of movement, so controlling a wheelchair gives them that to some extent,” said Vaidyanathan. Eyegaze Edge integrates with the Ability Drive application used with motorized mobility devices. Looking at a specific button enables hands-free control of a wheelchair’s motion.


      The Right to Speak
      Eye-tracking hardware and software make it possible for a person to communicate using the movement of their eyes. This keyboard screen is one of many Eyegaze developed for people with a full range of eye motion. A vertical keyboard is available for those who can only look up and down. Credit: EyeGaze Inc.
      Numerous medical conditions can lead to the kind of physical paralysis making it impossible to speak. Well-publicized brain and spinal cord injuries in athletes have led to broader awareness. But there are a host of other causes, such as cerebral palsy, ALS, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and spinal muscular atrophy. These conditions can result in locked-in syndrome, which paralyzes all voluntary muscles except those that control eye movement. Eye-tracking software is a lifeline for patients, using what may be their only remaining voluntary movement, but even that can be impeded. 

      Eyegaze Edge measures several eye features, making it possible for the tracker to work even when less of the pupil is visible. The company employs clinical specialists who can troubleshoot issues that may prevent customers from using the system, eye conditions like cataracts, dry eyes, and eyelids that droop, partly covering the pupil.

      The company now serves individuals in 44 countries, including nations in Southeast Asia and Africa. Adults, children as young as 18 months old, military veterans, and others can communicate using only their eyes. If only vertical eye movement is possible, Eyegaze Edge offers a special vertical keyboard screen. Pages of commonly used phrases communicate a statement with a single glance. Large, easy-to-use buttons allow patients to communicate directly with healthcare providers and caregivers for everyday needs.

      Clinicians use Eyegaze Edge and teach their patients how to communicate using the technology. In some cases, Vaidyanathan said, this technology even allows people to share their final thoughts with family and friends.
      “NASA helped us get our technology to the size of a laptop – small and sleek. But we continue to investigate and design our solutions to meet ongoing needs. Communication is a key right, so we must accommodate these different challenges,” she said.

      NASA has a long history of transferring technology to the private sector. The agency’s Spinoff publication profiles NASA technologies that have transformed into commercial products and services, demonstrating the broader benefits of America’s investment in its space program. Spinoff is a publication of the Technology Transfer program in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD).

      For more information on how NASA brings space technology down to Earth, visit:
      spinoff.nasa.gov

      By Margo Pierce
      NASA’s Spinoff Publication
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    • By NASA
      In the left two photos, workers with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) paint the bright red NASA “worm” logo on the side of an Artemis II solid rocket booster segment inside the Rotation, Processing and Surge Facility (RPSF) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024. The EGS team used a laser projector to mask off the logo with tape, then painted the first coat of the iconic design. The booster segments will help propel the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on the Artemis II mission to send four astronauts around the Moon as part of the agency’s effort to establish a long-term science and exploration presence at the Moon, and eventually Mars. In the right photo, the Orion spacecraft for NASA’s Artemis II mission received its latest makeover. Teams adhered the agency’s iconic “worm” logo and ESA (European Space Agency) insignia on the spacecraft’s crew module adapter on Sunday, Jan. 28, inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.NASA/Glenn Benson and Rad Sinyak Art and science merge as teams add the NASA “worm” logo on the SLS (Space Launch System) solid rocket boosters and the Orion spacecraft’s crew module adapter at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the agency’s Artemis II mission.
      The iconic logo was introduced in 1975 by the firm of Danne & Blackburn as a modern emblem for the agency. It emerged from a nearly 30-year retirement in 2020 for limited use on select missions and products.
      NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems and prime contractor Jacobs began painting the red logotype onto the segments that form the Moon rocket’s two solid rocket boosters Jan. 22. To do so, crews used a laser projector to first mark off the location of the logo with tape, then applied two coats of paint and finished by adding several coats of clear primer. Each letter of the worm logo measures approximately 6 feet and 10 inches in height and altogether, stretches 25 feet from end to end, or a little less than the length of one of the rocket’s booster motor segments.
      The location of the worm logo will be moderately different from where it was during Artemis I. While it will still be located on each of the rocket’s 17 story boosters, the modernist logo will be placed toward the front of the booster systems tunnel cover. The SLS boosters are the largest, most powerful solid propellant boosters ever flown and provide more than 75% of the thrust at launch.
      Workers with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) paint the bright red NASA “worm” logo on the side of an Artemis II solid rocket booster segment inside the Rotation, Processing and Surge Facility (RPSF) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024. The EGS team used a laser projector to mask off the logo with tape, then painted the first coat of the iconic design. The booster segments will help propel the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on the Artemis II mission to send four astronauts around the Moon as part of the agency’s effort to establish a long-term science and exploration presence at the Moon, and eventually Mars.NASA/Glenn Benson Around the corner inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy, personnel adhered the worm logo and ESA (European Space Agency) insignia Jan. 28 on the spacecraft’s crew module adapter. The adapter houses electronic equipment for communications, power, and control, and includes an umbilical connector that bridges the electrical, data, and fluid systems between the main modules.
      In October 2023, technicians joined the crew and service modules together. The crew module will house the four astronauts as they journey around the Moon and back to Earth on an approximately 10-day journey. The spacecraft’s service module, provided by ESA, will supply the vehicle with electricity, propulsion, thermal control, air, and water in space.
      The Orion spacecraft for NASA’s Artemis II mission received its latest makeover. Teams adhered the agency’s iconic “worm” logo and ESA (European Space Agency) insignia on the spacecraft’s crew module adapter on Sunday, Jan. 28, inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.NASA/Rad Sinyak NASA is working to land the first woman, first person of color, and first international partner astronaut on the Moon through Artemis. SLS and the Orion spacecraft are central to NASA’s deep space exploration plans, along with advanced spacesuits and rovers, the Gateway space station planned for orbit around the Moon, and commercial human landing systems.
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    • By NASA
      3 min read
      Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)
      A sample of fabric burns inside an uncrewed Cygnus cargo craft during a previous Spacecraft Fire Safety Experiment investigation, Saffire-IV.Credit: NASA NASA recently concluded the final mission of its Spacecraft Fire Safety Experiment, or Saffire, putting a blazing end to an eight-year series of investigations that provided insights into fire’s behavior in space.
      The final experiment, Saffire-VI, launched to the International Space Station in August 2023 and concluded its mission on Jan. 9, when the Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft it was flying on safely burned up during planned re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.
      Dr. David Urban, principal investigator, and Dr. Gary Ruff, project manager at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, have led the Saffire project from Northeast Ohio since its initial spark in 2016. Throughout the experiment series, researchers gathered data NASA will use to enhance mission safety and inform future spacecraft and spacesuit designs.
      “How big a fire does it take for things to get bad for a crew?” Urban said. “This kind of work is done for every other inhabited structure here on Earth – buildings, planes, trains, automobiles, mines, submarines, ships – but we hadn’t done this research for spacecraft until Saffire.”

      Like previous Saffire experiments, Saffire-VI took place inside a unit on an uninhabited Cygnus spacecraft that had already departed from the space station, ensuring the safety of the orbiting laboratory and a more representative flight environment. However, this final iteration of the experiment was unique because of the higher oxygen concentration and lower pressure generated in the test unit to simulate the conditions within crewed spacecraft.
      To view this video please enable JavaScript, and consider upgrading to a web browser that supports HTML5 video
      NASA ignited the final set of space fire experiments for Saffire-VI inside Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft at the end of the NG-19 resupply mission to the International Space Station. Saffire, or Spacecraft Fire Safety Experiment, was a series of six investigations that provided insights into how fires grow and spread in space. This research is especially important as it will inform future spacecraft designs bound for the Moon and Mars. Video credit: NASA During the 19 Saffire-VI experiment runs, the NASA team and counterparts at Northrop Grumman made various adjustments to air conditions. They then ignited a flame on materials such as plexiglass, cotton, Nomex, and Solid Inflammability Boundary at Low-Speed fabrics. A bead-lined wire inside the unit ignited the materials.
      “The Saffire flow unit is a wind tunnel. We’re pushing air through it,” Ruff said. “Once test conditions are set, we run electrical current through a thin wire, and the materials ignite.”
      Cameras inside allowed the team to observe the flame while remote sensors outside the Saffire flow unit collected data about what was happening in the Cygnus vehicle. The images and information were gathered in real-time before being sent to Earth for scientists to analyze.
      “You’ve got a heat release rate and a rate of release of combustion products,” Ruff said. “You can take those as model input and predict what will happen in a vehicle.” 
      The next decade of exploration and science missions will see astronauts flying deeper into space and to locations that have yet to be explored. Though the Saffire experiments have been extinguished, NASA has learned valuable lessons and gathered mountains of data on fire behavior that will help the agency design safer spacecraft and accomplish its ambitious future missions.

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      Sunlight glints off patches of ice in the Chukchi Sea, a part of the Arctic Ocean. NASA’s PREFIRE mission to Earth’s polar regions will explore how a warming world will affect sea ice loss, ice sheet melt, and sea level rise.NASA/Kathryn Hansen Launching in spring 2024, the two small satellites of the agency’s PREFIRE mission will fill in missing data from Earth’s polar regions.
      Two new miniature NASA satellites will start crisscrossing Earth’s atmosphere in a few months, detecting heat lost to space. Their observations from the planet’s most bone-chilling regions will help predict how our ice, seas, and weather will change in the face of global warming.
      About the size of a shoebox, the cube satellites, or CubeSats, comprise a mission called PREFIRE, short for Polar Radiant Energy in the Far-InfraRed Experiment. Equipped with technology proven at Mars, their objective is to reveal the full spectrum of heat loss from Earth’s polar regions for the first time, making climate models more accurate.
      PREFIRE has been jointly developed by NASA and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with team members from the universities of Michigan and Colorado.
      The mission starts with Earth’s energy budget. In a planetary balancing act, the amount of heat energy the planet receives from the Sun should ideally be offset by the amount it radiates out of the Earth system into space. The difference between incoming and outgoing energy determines Earth’s temperature and shapes our climate.
      The PREFIRE mission will send two CubeSats – depicted in an artist’s concept orbiting Earth – into space to study how much heat the planet absorbs and emits from its polar regions. These measurements will inform climate and ice models.NASA/JPL-Caltech Polar regions play a key role in the process, acting like Earth’s radiator fins. The stirring of air and water, through weather and ocean currents, moves heat energy received in the tropics toward the poles, where it is emitted as thermal infrared radiation – the same type of energy you feel from a heat lamp. Some 60% of that energy flows out to space in far-infrared wavelengths that have never been systematically measured.
      PREFIRE can close that gap. “We have the potential to discover some fundamental things about how our planet works,” said Brian Drouin, scientist and deputy principal investigator for the mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
      “In climate projections, a lot of the uncertainty comes in from what we don’t know about the North and South poles and how efficiently radiation is emitted into space,” he said. “The importance of that radiation wasn’t realized for much of the Space Age, but we know now and are aiming to measure it.”
      Launching from New Zealand two weeks apart in May, each satellite will carry a thermal infrared spectrometer. The JPL-designed instruments include specially shaped mirrors and detectors for splitting and measuring infrared light. Similar technology is used by the Mars Climate Sounder on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to explore the Red Planet’s atmosphere and weather.
      Miniaturizing the instruments to fit on CubeSats was a challenge for the PREFIRE engineering team. They developed a scaled-down design optimized for the comparatively warm conditions of our own planet. Weighing less than 6 pounds (3 kilograms), the instruments make readings using a device called a thermocouple, similar to the sensors found in many household thermostats.
      Ground Zero for Climate Change
      To maximize coverage, the PREFIRE twins will orbit Earth along different paths, overlapping every few hours near the poles.
      Since the 1970s, the Arctic has warmed at least three times faster than anywhere else on Earth. Winter sea ice there has shrunk by more than 15,900 square miles (41,200 square kilometers) per year, a loss of 2.6% per decade relative to the 1981-2010 average. A change is occurring on the opposite side of the planet, too: Antarctica’s ice sheets are losing mass at an average rate of about 150 billion tons per year.
      The implications of these changes are far reaching. Fluctuations in sea ice shape polar ecosystems and influence the temperature as well as circulation of the ocean. Meltwater from mile-thick ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica is responsible for about one-third of the rise in global mean sea level since 1993.
      “If you change the polar regions, you also fundamentally change the weather around the world,” said Tristan L’Ecuyer, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the mission’s principal investigator. “Extreme storms, flooding, coastal erosion – all of these things are influenced by what’s going on in the Arctic and Antarctic.”
      To understand and project such changes, scientists use climate models that take into account many physical processes. Running the models multiple times (each time under slightly different conditions and assumptions) results in an ensemble of climate projections. Assumptions about uncertain parameters, such as how efficiently the poles emit thermal radiation, can significantly impact the projections.
      PREFIRE will supply new data on a range of climate variables, including atmospheric temperature, surface properties, water vapor, and clouds. Ultimately, more information will yield a more accurate vision of a world in flux, said L’Ecuyer.
      “As our climate models converge, we’ll start to really understand what the future’s going to look like in the Arctic and Antarctic,” he added.
      News Media Contacts
      Jane J. Lee / Andrew Wang
      Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
      818-354-0307 / 626-379-6874
      Written by Sally Younger
      2024-014
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      Last Updated Feb 12, 2024 Related Terms
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