Visitors voyage from NASA to Iowa State

Jennifer Dostal

“Houston, we have a problem.”

“No kidding, Tom. The space shuttle just flew through me.”

Don’t worry, the speaker was in the Cave, one of the virtual reality labs in Black Engineering Building, and he didn’t have an actual run-in with a space ship.

One of the top NASA administrators, David Goldin, visited campus this week to tour and experience technology on campus.

Areas of interest for Goldin included the three virtual reality labs, where he donned navigator glasses with astronaut Mary Ellen Weber and U.S. Representative Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa), to experience the shuttle simulation.

Stuart Hadley, associate director of ISU governmental relations, said he enjoyed showing the new facility to Goldin, Weber and Boswell. He said NASA is interested in the ISU virtual reality lab because of its potential as a training tool. He said eventually a combination of the shuttle simulation and touch simulation designed at ISU will train NASA astronauts.

Weber said the virtual version of the shuttle imitates the feeling of floating, even for those who have already experienced the real thing.

“The simulation where you are floating over the cargo bay, you really get the sensation of floating,” Weber said.

With faster, more powerful computers, the simulation will improve the illusion of floating and touch, she said. Weber predicted that the technology will merge into a training device for astronauts.

“We’d like to do research projects that involved [virtual reality] in training,” said Kurt Hoffmeister, research and development assistant at the Iowa Center for Emerging Manufacturing Technology.

NASA would like to have this type of training technology, too, Goldin said. NASA funded ISU Ph. D. student Christopher Clover, who wrote the computer program that makes the shuttle simulation move.

Goldin said people should not expect to see this technology at the local department store anytime soon. It takes years to develop technology to filter into the marketplace and impact American society, he said.

“Things we do at NASA don’t touch America for 25 years,” Goldin said.

The delay between discovering a new technology and widespread implementation in American life and culture discourages people from supporting organizations like NASA, Goldin said.

“I don’t think the people of Iowa realize the technology that’s in their backyards,” Goldin said.