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September 16, 2009

Host: Ted Simons

Desert RATS and Human Space Exploration

  |   Video
  • NASA scientists spent some time in a lunar-like Arizona environment this month conducting their Desert RATS (Research and Technology Studies) tests of technology they hope to take to the moon, Mars and beyond. See what they’re working on. And hear what Kip Hodges, Director of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration has to say about the future of U.S. human space flight.
  • Kip Hodges - Director of ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration
Category: Science   |   Keywords: asu, nasa,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Five years ago, former president George w. bush endorsed the constellation program and its goal of returning humans to the moon by the year 2020. Today, the future of manned spaceflight is uncertain, the constellation program is underfunded, and it's unclear what path President Obama will want NASA to take. The Augustine report is expected to provide answers and options. It’s due out next month, but a summary has already been released, and this week on Capitol Hill, lawmakers are questioning the lead author. More on the report in a moment with the director of ASU's school of earth and space exploration. But first, we go to northern Arizona where NASA scientists are testing technology they hope to take to the moon. David Majure and photographer Scot Olson show us some off the things they're working on.

David Majure: Something is going on in the Arizona desert. Something that's out of this world. Or rather, something NASA hopes to send out of this world to the moon, Mars and beyond.

NASA researcher: I’m Certainly the father of that.

Mike Gernhardt, Ph.D.: I sort of have had the concepts and vision.

John Olson, Ph.D.: This is the big synergistic event. This is probably our cap stone.

Kip Hodges: Every year something new is happening out here and we're learning lessons that change the technology.

David Majure: For two weeks, NASA worked on the black point lava flow about 40 miles northeast of Flagstaff.

NASA researcher: That vehicle then can walk off the lander because the legs are sufficiently long and thereby transport that cargo anywhere in the vicinity of the lander.

David Majure: They’re desert rats taking part in the annual desert research and technology studies. It’s one of NASA’s analog missions where technology is tested in places with characteristics similar to the lunar surface.

NASA researcher: Under realistic conditions, we test them out so we can continue to evolve and refine their designs.

David Majure: Media and guests were invited to see what the researchers have been up to. They’re testing rovers and robots designed to make manned missions more efficient and productive.

Mike Gernhardt, Ph.D.: So the first step is the moon, and Mars we don't have the technology yet to go there. So what we want to do is combine the experiments we're getting on the international space station with this new lunar program. We learned how to operate on a planet for extended periods. We think vehicles similar to this would be used on mars but will validate them in the real-world environment.

David Majure: A centerpiece of desert rats is the lunar electric rover.

Mike Gernhardt, Ph.D.: We can climb 30-degree hills.

David Majure: Veteran astronaut mike againhardt and another team member spent 14 days living inside the LER.

John Olson, Ph.D.: This is a big milestone event for us. Essentially what we're doing is we're trying to validate that yes, we can have folks live in a vehicle for 14-day extended mission. So succeeding here in the initial results were very positive. That helps anchor our design assumptions and our architecture assumptions for building our whole integrated system on either the moon or the mars or wherever.

Mike Gernhardt, Ph.D.: We lived in it two weeks this year. I think we can do four. In four weeks you can do a lot of traversing on the moon. We averaged probably 35, 40-kilometers a day. It’s actually pretty easy to drive. So now I’m going to go into high gear. The top speed is 50 kilometers per hour. You can smoothly go from going straight to going sideways where you're traveling along a geological content line. You know, I’ll go over this pile of rocks to show you the active suspension system. If you were doing this in your car or truck, you would certainly be spinning your tires. With the active suspension, it handles it like nothing.

David Majure: When astronauts are ready to leave the rover for a moon walk, they enter their spacesuits through suit ports at the rear of the vehicle.

Mike Gernhardt, Ph.D.: This is backpack. It stays with the suit.

David Majure: This saves time and air, because you no longer have to depressurize the cabin.

Mike Gernhardt, Ph.D.: Rather than having an airlock, You have to reclaim all this to pump which is an hour. It takes seconds to dump this volume.

David Majure: Plus the suits and any dust they accumulate stay outside. Kip hodges, director of ASU’s Earth and space exploration is a science team member of desert rats.

Kip Hodges: One thing that I think is wonderful for us at ASU is we have a strong history, a strong tradition of field scientist, of field geology on the planet that we call home. Now we have an opportunity to think about doing field science again for the first time since Apollo on other planetary surfaces. It’s very gratifying that NASA recognizes the need for that they're very enthusiastic about getting folks, particularly in academia for this.

David Majure: Despite many uncertainties about spaceflight in the U.S., the desert rats remain focused on their goal.

John Olson, Ph.D.: The senior decision makers at NASA and the white house are deciding what the future paths will be. However, I think this activity, whether it's the moon or mars or any future destination is fundamental to proving out, as we already mentioned, those technologies, those systems, and the interaction between. So it's been evolving and refining those for the future. So we're pretty excited about the results here this year.

Tim Simons: Joining me to talk about the future of manned U.S. spaceflight is kip Hodges, director of ASU’s school of earth and space exploration. Thank you so much for joining us again on "Horizon."

Kip Hodges: Thank you.

Ted Simons: That is fascinating stuff. I want to get to that rover in a second. Desert rats, desert research technology studies. How important is it to have what exists in northern Arizona, such a similar atmosphere or I should say landscape to the moon? How important is that?

Kip Hodges: It’s really critical. I think a lot of work being done for exploration is being done in places that are really difficult to get to. For example, they're done in the high arctic desert, but it's really valuable for NASA to have places like northern Arizona, like portions of Arizona that don't have all that much pesky vegetation so they're easy to work in and very similar to the kind of terrains that might be encountered on the moon and mars.

Ted Simons: How similar? I imagine lunar dust is a major concern for a variety of things. Do you get close to that up there?

Kip Hodges: It’s a really difficult thing to really get an analog for the lunar soil, because basically that's an unusual -- because basically that's an unusual event in the solar system. Because there's no atmosphere on the moon, it's constantly pounded by meteorites for billions of years so it has consistency of talcum powder. We don’t have anything quite like that here on earth.

Ted Simons: talk to us more about the lunar rover. That’s an engineering marvel. I love that thing, I love the big window at the bottom. You can be in short sleeves at the moon looking at the bottom of the surface.

Kip Hodges: One of the dangerous things about planetary exploration is anything can go wrong. It’s like you're diving an literally only surviving because of the technology survive surrounding you. It’s much more dangerous than that because of meteorite impacts, solar activity could have a tremendous negative effect. What the l.e.r does, it allow you to be in a larger, safer environment to do some science. One of the great things about that vehicle right now, besides its technological capabilities of moving around, it has all of the beautiful windows you saw in the clip; all of this sort of bubble on the very front of it that gives you this up-close view of the rocks. So if you're a geologist like I am and you want to be able to really look at the rocks carefully, you can do so, as you say, in your shirt sleeves and not have to get out of the rover, get in the suits and put yourself in excess danger. That was the plan when it was built.

Ted Simons: It’s all very encouraging and exciting but now we have the Augustine report coming out. First of all, what is this? How important is it?

Kip Hodges: This was a commission created by the Obama administration principally to advise it on the future of U.S. human spaceflight. To go and review the constellation program. Ask whether it was viable and ask if there's something else perhaps we should be doing instead. So the report has not been released yet, but the summary report has. In this case, the summary report would indicate lots of options but no really specific recommendations. I think that's one of the things that has people in congress a little bit concerned about the outcome of the final report.

Ted Simons: One of those folks in congress is Gabrielle Gifford’s. She was critical of the summary. She said it was basically like a cartoon with no details on cost, schedule and these sorts of things. What is the future of manned spaceflight? The summary report says that basically NASA is underfunded and under resourced and under everything. They got a point there, don't they?

Kip Hodges: Absolutely. I think the concern in congress and I think the concern for the president will be that that's something we knew already. Every administration, including the Obama administration, has looked to functional cuts in the budget for NASA as it's moved forward. And this year the budget is a little bit on hold pending the release of the Augustine report and what the administration decides it wants to do with that report. So that's absolutely fair. I think one of the most interesting things that's come out of the summary report so far has been the recommendation that in order to do much of anything with regard to deep space exploration, we'll probably have to spend on the order of $3 billion more a year. That’s obviously a significant amount of money, but if NASA’s budget increased by $3 billion a year, the total NASA budget would be about 1/10 of 1% of the total federal budget. People I don't think understand that all of this technology is actually costing the American government relatively little compared to a lot of things it's spending money on.

Ted Simons: People may not understand that, may not be aware of, is NASA doing a good enough job? I think what we just saw I think would fire the imagination of a lot of people. It looks like a science fiction movie going on up there. That rover is amazing. Is that message getting out?

Kip Hodges: I don't think it's getting out enough. I think there are a lot of people at NASA working hard on this, but it's like they've never quite connected with the American public. I think the press can do a great deal; the media can do a great deal as well to try to help get the word out. It’s just not there yet. I think it should be. As you say, it's absolutely true that having things like this running in the field, these tangible assets that NASA has to build toward the future are fundamentally important. They’re there, real, and functional today. Having them ready to go to the moon by 2020 is an entirely doable thing. It’s just having the resource to make it happen.

Ted Simons: The space shuttly ends in 2011, right?

Kip Hodges: Right.

Ted Simons: What will happen then?

Kip Hodges: The original plan was to retire the shuttle in 2011 and have a new rocket that was available to take humans from the U.S., to take humans into low earth orbit. In other words, the relative portion of space that the space shuttle typically goes to that the international space station is in. This new rocket, what is called the Aries I rocket was the first phase of the constellation program. Then they would build the Aries V rocket. The problem is that Aries I has been behind schedule. It’s been somewhat over budget but not as over budget as a lot of things that NASA actually does. It just recently, I believe it was last week, had its first successful test firing of the engine system for the Aries I rocket which is a long way from flying but at least the engine works. That was the original plan. I think one of the things the Augustine commission has to consider is the fact that Aries I is sufficiently behind schedule, that it will probably be in excess of five years before we have the capacity to get back to low earth orbit if the shuttle is retired. So that's what some people have a concern about. We’re going to continue to fund and continue to work in the international space station as a partner. However, we will have to depend on Russian rockets to get us to it until Aries I or something similar to that is ready. That has a lot of people concerned.

Ted Simons: Real quickly, your colleague, Lawrence Krauss, has an idea of send astronauts one way. That would be the most effective way to do it. Send them there and don't send them back.

Kip Hodges: Essentially colonize Mars. Lawrence is sort of one of the latest of people to popularize that. It’s an interesting idea. I think you would find a lot of people, space scientists and engineers, would take a one-way ticket to mars and be colonists. I think it would be difficult to convince the American public that we want to send people on a one-way ticket to Mars at this juncture.

Ted Simons: Thank you for this.

Kip Hodges: Thank you.

Race to the Top

  |   Video
  • Find out what Arizona’s doing to get a slice of more than $4 billion in federal “Race to the Top” money that will be awarded to states that implement educational reform and bring innovation into the classroom. Representative Rich Crandall, Chair of the House Education Committee, and Debra Duvall, a Special Advisor to the Governor, back from a trip to Washington, D.C. to meet with “Race to the Top” officials, discuss Arizona’s effort to compete for the money.
  • Rich Crandall - State Representative and Chair of the House Education Committee
  • Debra Duvall - Special Advisor to the Governor
Category: Education   |   Keywords: education,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. More than $4 billion are available to states that reform education and bring innovation to the classroom. But states will have to win their share of the money in a competition called "Race to the Top". Last week, Arizona officials were in our nation's capitol learning what it will take to win that race. Among those making the trip -- Representative Rich Crandall, who chairs the house education committee. And Dr. Deb Duvall, former superintendent of Mesa schools, who is now a special adviser to the governor overseeing the state's involvement in "Race to the Top." Thank you both for joining us tonight on "Horizon."

Dr. Deb Duvall: Certainly.

Ted Simons: How much is the state realistically looking at as far as this money is concerned?

Dr. Deb Duvall: Well, we don't have an exact figure. We know that the total amount available is $3.4 billion. And we're anticipating that the funds will be distributed to a few number of states, less than ten, maybe five. So do the math.

Ted Simons: Is this the kind of thing where they award achievement or do they award ideas?

Dr. Deb Duvall: Actually, what this grant requires is that you give proper evidence that your state is already in a reform movement. And Arizona is in good shape for that piece of it. The conditions that we have existing in our state across the four reform areas really puts us in good stead for this application. Once you show that information, the next thing you have to do is, what is going to be your next steps? So you have to present a plan to move from where we are to where we want to be in each of those four reform areas.

Ted Simons: I want to get to those four reform areas in just a second. Do you agree, because I think some people might be surprised to hear that Arizona is in good shape as far as education reform.

Rep. Rich Crandall: The reason we're in good shape is we need to make some strides forward. you look at our opportunities for school choice, the ability that parents have to decide where their kid goes to school, that's probably number one on the administration, the federal administration's list, is parent choice. We lead the nation in parent choice. We have fantastic districts, charters, we have great private schools.

Ted Simons: Let’s get to the four areas now quickly. Making progress toward college career ready standards. Standards and assessments basically. Talk to us about it.

Rep. Rich Crandall: We’ve been working on this for about two years. We won a grant two years ago focusing on college and career readiness. We’re one of the lower states in kids who go to high school to college. Not just four-year degrees but even community college. We’re looking to improve that, we have the AIM exam in 10th grade. What do we do to prepare and challenge kids for the junior and senior year?

Ted Simons: Another one of these standards is losing longitudinal data to measure teacher performance, student learning, these sorts of things. What in the heck are we talking about?

Dr. Deb Duvall: What we're talking about is statewide longitudinal data system so that youngsters, students and their teachers would have an identifier and we would be able to track the achievement and the success of students as they enter the system all the way through high school graduation and ultimately as they move through community college or even the university or other college system within and actually outside of our state. What we're attempting to do and we've had some grants in the past. Our Arizona department of education is on a good track. That’s another one of the reasons that Arizona is in good stead for this competition. We’ve been making progress toward the implementation of a longitudinal data system that would impact all students and all teachers at all levels of our education in Arizona.

Ted Simons: Those first two criteria that we talked about, are you seeing the state in good shape on both of those?

Rep. Rich Crandall: The state of Arizona is in good shape. However, think about this, you have $3.4 billion, 50 states are competing for it. States are pulling out their A - game. Louisiana hired Tony Blair’s education minister. Minnesota with Governor Paul Pawlenty pulling out A - games. You are seeing incredible efforts in this. We’ll have to be at our best to win this.

Dr. Deb Duvall: But Arizona is benefiting from observing some of those situation that include consortiums that include some of the states so we know what they're doing.

Ted Simons: That’s a good point. There are things we can learn from some of the other states.

Rep. Rich Crandall: Not only that, if I could, ted. The governors made a very good move. Dr. Deval has been involved in the state. Bringing back the p-20 council. We’re going to have to have that P-20 if we’re going to win any of this money.

Ted Simons: Explain the p-20 council.

Rep. Rich Crandall: It’s a group of education experts from business, higher ed, foundations, everybody coming together to move forward in the same direction.

Ted Simons: Third guideline, teacher effectiveness.

Dr. Deb Duvall: Great teachers, great leaders.

Ted Simons: That’s basically it?

Dr. Deb Duvall: That’s basically it. You use your longitudinal data system and those standards and assessments to make some of those judgments as to who are those effective and great teachers and effective and great leaders.

Ted Simons: You’re going to get the longitudinal data system in each one, aren't you?

Dr. Deb Duvall: Well, it fits each one.

Rep. Rich Crandall: It does. Another interesting point. This is bipartisan. You look where Arnie Duncan and president Obama are going with parent choice, charter schools, performance pay for teachers, the Democrats for Education Reform, a national website. It’s got some of the great principles this republicans have been fighting for. The governor rates across the aisle with Dr. Deb Duvall. It's complete bipartisan also.

Ted Simons: Guideline number four, improve achievement in low performing schools. First of all, what's the explanation here? Secondly, how are we doing?

Rep. Rich Crandall: Our AIMS testing has done a great job of bringing up the bottom tier. Where do we go from here now? We still have kind of a high dropout rate. We’re not performing all that well. There are lots of things that can be done. I think that's where the p-20 comes in.

Dr. Deb Duvall: That’s referred to for support for low-performing, struggling schools. If you look at the federal register that identifies the guidelines and rules and regulations associated with the "Race to the Top" grant application, low-performing schools is defined. We know exactly what they mean when they talk about low-performing schools. In our case, we have great diversity within this state. As we look at our plan and develop our plan for the "Race to the Top" grant application, we need to make sure that we're addressing the diversity that exists in northern Arizona and the diversity that exists within the metropolitan areas and most definitely our rural areas. again, going back to Arizona being in good stead, when you look at our state and those areas of our state, if our plan can address those particular areas, in addition of course to the metropolitan areas, that will put Arizona's plan possibly a notch above some of the other states who would not have that kind of diversity to address.

Ted Simons: You went and had a meeting at the nation's capitol regarding this. Relatively quickly, talk about the meeting and what kind of response you got.

Rep. Rich Crandall: They brought in the head of "Race to the Top" for the U.S. department of ed. We were there with 34 other states. Very blunt, here's how it's going to work, here's what we're looking for, very much laid out for us. One thing we have going for us, the Gates Foundation. I got the meet with Bill Gates to talk about education reform. They’ve taken a keen interest in Arizona. They’re putting resources into the state to help us with our application process. It doesn't hurt to have a man like Bill Gates behind you.

Ted Simons: Not at all. A final date for proposal and when does money get allocated?

Dr. Deb Duvall: Again, according to the published rules and regulations, which are possibly in a state of flux, we're expecting a December application date for the first phase. What we hear is, if that date holds, there will probably be very few, one or two states that might get awarded in the first phase. The second phase would be mid-spring. If you submit an application in the first phase, which we're intending to do, if we're not one of the few states awarded, we'll resubmit in the second phase.

Ted Simons: You can find out who won in the first phase and look.

Dr. Deb Duvall: Right.

Rep. Rich Crandall: They’ll give you feedback on your application.

Ted Simons: Fascinating stuff. Good luck and thank you for joining us tonight on "Horizon."

Both: Thank you, ted. We appreciate it.