Blazing a New Trail

Dolores Petropulos
After retiring from the Orlando police force, Dolores Petropulos aimed for a new career in computer science. An internship with NASA's Undergraduate Student Research Project, or USRP, helped her advance her passion for computer programming and spark a new dream of working in robotics and artificial intelligence.

In which NASA student opportunity project did you participate, and how did you get involved in it?

I was offered a USRP internship by NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. I applied on SOLAR (Student Online Application for Recruiting Interns, Fellows and Scholars).

Explain the research you conducted through your NASA involvement and why this topic is important.

I developed, tested and used simulation software for Project Morpheus, the second prototype (version 1.5) of an autonomous rocket/moon lander. In classical mythology, Morpheus is a god of dreams. He appeared in the dreams of mortals and had the ability to take any male human form. In the NASA Johnson Space Center research project Morpheus, the next moon lander/rocket is designed for autonomous flight or many different types of flight. It is portable and could be used to send a robotic or manned mission to a distant planet. Morpheus has an onboard navigation and guidance system and a precision landing and hazard avoidance system (ALHAT). These systems will allow Morpheus to fly autonomously, or with limited interaction from mission control. The ALHAT project stands for Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology and involves active sensors for terrain-relative navigation and hazard avoidance. Morpheus' propulsion system consists of an oxygen/methane fuel-type system, which also can be derived from space and terrestrial atmospheres, providing potential in situ resource use opportunities. My work on this project involved developing, testing and using simulation and flight software. In particular, I have been incorporating portions of the capabilities of the Autonomous Flight Manager into the NASA Goddard Core Flight Software, which was obtained at the beginning of the Morpheus project. Reuse of the proven Core Flight Software with new software components specific to Morpheus is an experiment in affordable extensibility of a vehicle's capability. The software components specifically involved in my project are the Autonomous Flight Manager, the Sequencer and the Limit Checker.

Mindi Capp/NASA Educational Technology Services
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Engineers in Training

Sometimes I think that taking the exploration work we do to the public is as important for us as it is for them.

We'd cordoned off three sides of Morpheus at Space Center today to prevent unauthorized pinching, patting, or souvenir sampling of the lander. However, Tom Campbell, the Morpheus GNC hardware engineer, had the great idea to take kids that showed interest onesy-twosey down on the ground to look under the lander and see the rocket motor. The effect was striking. You could see the light in the kids' eyes after they got up from the baking concrete. They'd just seen a rocket engine that changes the temperature of its propellant almost 3000 degrees F in less than a foot and a half of travel.

Tom's words after one kid got up and walked away chatting to his parents:

"We just made another engineer."