NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, won the 2013 NASA Government Invention of the Year award for the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) X-ray diffraction instrument aboard the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity. CheMin’s identification of minerals in rocks and soil is crucial to the mission's goal of assessing past environmental conditions and habitable environments.
The CheMin instrument was invented by David Blake of Ames; Phillipe Sarrazin of the SETI Institute and Inxitu Inc. in Mountain View, California, as well as Olympus Corp. in Scotts Valley, California; Friedemann Freund of the SETI Institute; and Charles Bryson of Apparati Inc. in Hollister, California.
The Extreme Low Frequency Acoustic Measurement System, developed by Qamar Shams and Allan Zuckerwar from NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, won NASA's Commercial Invention of the Year award for 2013. The system works by detecting infrasound, or sound waves at frequencies below 20 hertz. Sounds at those frequencies are inaudible to the human ear. The system also reduces the effect of ambient winds.
Infrasonic sound is emitted by many natural and man-made phenomena, including tornadoes, clear air turbulence, nuclear explosions and the wake vortices created by airplanes. There are clear advantages to being able to detect those kinds of phenomena from a distance. It's something researchers have been working on since the 1960s. In fact, infrasonic detection technology already existed before Zuckerwar and Shams developed their system. But those technologies tended to be excessively large, taking up space the size of an athletic field. They use extensive hose systems to filter out wind noise, but the hoses are ineffective if winds get beyond a certain speed.
The Software of the Year award for 2013 was awarded to the Mars Science Laboratory Flight Software, developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, an important factor in the success of the Mars Science Laboratory mission for exploration of the planet. This software provides a strong heritage for reuse by future NASA missions (e.g., MSM 2020). The MSL software has been thoroughly tested both from a verification and validation perspective. In addition to nominal testing, stress testing, scenario testing, and fault testing with fault injections have been conducted in simulation and hardware in the loop test environment. The software has performed extremely well and it was certified to be operating on Mars with the R10.5.9 version. Since the start of System and ATLO testing in 2009, there are approximately 2400PFRs written against this software and many have already been resolved. There are currently approximately 100 open PFRs that will be resolved with additional testing in the next release of R11.0.