It's impossible, even two months after the landing, to avoid writing about
the Mars Pathfinder and the pint-size rover, Sojourner. Talk about projects
that have put engineering on the front page! With the massive media coverage, is
there anyone in your neighborhood who didn't know about the mission? Anyone who
wasn't agog, even if only for a few minutes, at the brilliance behind a project
that lands a spacecraft with nearly pinpoint accuracy on a planet about 120
million miles away?
The mission's success brings at least three things to mind:
NASA Administrator Dan Goldin keeps his word. Four years ago, he told
Design News that the space agency would follow prudent business procatices
while continuing to take risks. "You can't go to the cutting edge without
taking risks," he said. The "faster, cheaper, better" mode NAS has embraced
under his leadership is both risky and prudent. And it can work. At about $170
million for design and construction, Pathfinder and Sojourner certainly prove
NASA's seriousness, and is ability to achieve its economizing goals while
scoring technical triumphs.
While some consumers might have misgivings about the design of automotive
airbags, the aerospace industry in general and NASA in particular, have no
such qualms. One of the triumphs of Pathfinder was the successful activation
and retraction of the airbag system that cushioned the spacecraft's landing.
The four bags, made from hoechst Celanese's Vectra(R) liquid crystal polymer,
enveloped Pathfinder in a protective cocoon that enabled it to survive the
three-bounce landing. In 1996, this magazine named Jet Propulsion Lab engineer
Tom Rivellini winner of an Excellence in Design Award for leading the air-bag
system design effort. The award was a Computervision grant of $5,000.
H.G. Wells and orson Welles had it wrong. The former, in 1898, wrote
The War of the Worlds, about an invasion of Earth by malicious
Martians. in 1939, Orson Welles produced a radio version of the novel that
caused panic among listeners. The Pathfinder mission has turned up no monsters
on the red planet. And the interplanetary travelers, far from war-like
invaders, turn out to be gentle machines from Earth that only want to take
pictures and gather data.
From home enthusiasts to workers on the manufacturing floor, everyone's imagination is captured by the potential of 3D printing. Prototyping, spare parts creation, art delivery, human organ creation, and even mass product production are all being targeted as current and potential uses for the technology.
Solar and wind energy are becoming more viable as a source of energy on the electric grid. For decades, the major drawback to solar and wind was that they’re temperamental. A cloudy day kills solar and a still day renders the wind turbines useless. Automation tools, however, are providing a path to help these renewables become practical.
In honor of Earth Day, the National Security Agency has launched the STEM Recycling Challenge in Maryland schools to encourage kids to think about where the garbage they throw out every day actually goes. The agency has also introduced “Dunk,” a muscular blue cartoon recycling bin wearing shorts and sneakers.
Samsung's Galaxy line of smartphones used to fare quite well in the repairability department, but last year's flagship S5 model took a tumble, scoring a meh-inducing 5/10. Will the newly redesigned S6 lead us back into star-studded territory, or will we sink further into the depths of a repairability black hole?
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.