Friday, February 12, 2016

NASA Engineering Leader Jill Prince Comes to JMU

This past week, JMU was fortunate enough to host NASA Engineering Manager Jill Prince for a series of talks. 

Ms. Prince has a deep history in astronomical research, joining NASA Langley in 2001 and supporting the flight mechanics team for the years that led up to the Phoenix Mars landing in 2008.  Afterwards, she served in an array of NASA administration positions for many years, eventually leading her to be appointed to Manager of the System Engineering Office in 2015.  Ms. Prince has also been awarded a number of accolades, including the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal and the Women in Aerospace Achievement Award.  She first spoke at Wilson Hall on Thursday to the general James Madison student body, and then again to the JMU Physics & Astronomy Department on Friday.

The NASA engineer opened up her talk discussing the prospects, goals, questions, history, and philosophy of NASA.  She then went into the more current Mars-based operations, such as MAVEN, the Mars Orbiter Mission, and the Curiosity Rover.  She also discussed future missions, such as perfecting the Trace Gas Orbiter and the ExoMars Rover.

Ms. Prince then went on to discuss how NASA plans to continuously study and eventually land advanced systems on Mars, starting with Earth-based systems and then slowly reaching farther towards the Red Planet with satellites and such.  The focus of these steps, Prince explained, is to make future missions to Mars self-sustaining Earth-independent, which involves mining asteroids and increased solar tech.  These processes also include fulling mapping the topography of Mars, cataloging the materials available at its surface, and understanding Martian weather patterns, such as dust storms.

Also displayed in her presentation were the rockets, Block 1 and Block 2, to be used on the eventual manned mission to Mars.  Block 1 is meant to transport people, while Block 2 is meant to transport the majority of the equipment to Mars.  She also discussed the sophisticated Orion spacecraft, which will be used to land the astronauts on Mars, and the various challenges it faces, most notably Mar’s thin atmosphere and rugged terrain.  Many of the other challenges she discussed involved protecting our astronauts, such as radiation poisoning and providing/creating enough fuel for the trip home.

Many thanks to Ms. Prince for taking a break from her astronomically important schedule to talk to us here at JMU!