Kennedy Space Center's holiday poster, depicting Santa Claus and NASA's programs at the Florida spaceport.
Image Credit: NASA

With the aid of a new clock, NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida is counting down to support Santa Claus during his annual mission to deliver toys and other presents to children around the world.

Located at the spaceport's Press Site, the new display screen is nearly 26 feet wide by 7 feet high, a foot taller than the spaceport's original countdown clock.

Claus also may have an opportunity to take advantage of numerous other agency technology advances made during the past year. One such development is the heat shield used on NASA's Orion spacecraft.

On Dec. 5, Orion became the first human-rated spacecraft to leave low-Earth orbit in 42 years, soaring 3,604 miles above Earth. The spacecraft then returned safely to Earth making a fiery plunge through the atmosphere at 20,000 mph, fast enough to produce temperatures of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The flawless flight test was a first step in the agency's plans to send humans to Mars.

Should Claus wish to visit future astronauts living and working on Mars, the Red Planet, a high-tech heat shield, such as the one used on Orion, would aid in his return to Earth. That's great news for any future Earthling-turned-Martian children, as Santa will be able to make the trip across the solar system safely.

Almost uninterrupted communications services will be available between Claus and his mission control center at the North Pole thanks, in part, to NASA tech.

NASA added to its Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) system with the launch of TDRS-L from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Jan. 23. Part of the next-generation series of space-based communication satellites, the TDRS system can provide tracking, telemetry, command and high-bandwidth data return services (allowing NASA to keep a constant fix on the jolly man in the red suit).

NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on July 2, could give Claus up-to-date information on carbon dioxide concentrations he may encounter as he flies his sleigh through the atmosphere. OCO-2 is providing about 100,000 high-quality measurements a day of carbon dioxide around the globe, and this will help Santa keep his reindeer safe.

While OCO-2 studies the Earth's environment, NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, spacecraft arrived at the Red Planet on Sept. 21. The spacecraft was launched from Kennedy in 2013 and now is studying the Martian upper atmosphere. Data returned also could aid Claus in a future visit.

As always, Claus and his reindeer are invited to use Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility if a rest stop is needed during their long Christmas Eve trip.

Claus could check out a rock and crater-filled planetary scape that has been built at the north end of the runway for testing of a prototype planetary spacecraft called Morpheus. The unpiloted lander is being used in developing instruments called ALHAT, short for Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology.

Capable of vertical takeoff and landings, even at night, Morpheus is serving as a test bed for advanced spacecraft technologies. The technology may be useful to Claus, helping him avoid rocks and other hazards when touching down on diverse landscapes around the world.

To prepare for his future Journey to Mars, the jolly old fellow could fly to the International Space Station to test out some of his toy making and delivery skills just as astronauts are using the microgravity platform to learn more about what it takes to live off our home planet for long periods of time. This year, for example, astronauts aboard the station tested 3-D printing technology and the tensile strength of golf clubs, which could prove useful if Claus decided to relocate his shop from the North Pole to low-Earth orbit. Although, he may be more interested in the strength of tinsel.

In a few years, astronauts will launch from Florida’s Space Coast to join Claus and their Expedition crew members who currently fly to the station aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. American-built systems developed and certified as safe to fly through the agency’s Commercial Crew Program will add an additional crew member to the station, which will double the amount of time dedicated to research. On Sept. 16, NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX to finalize their CST-100 and Crew Dragon designs, respectively, and begin transporting astronauts to the station in 2017.

Like Claus' sleigh, the space station can be seen flying through the sky from locations around the world. To learn when the space station is visible in your area, visit:


Provided by Bob Granath at NASA

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