Here is an interesting image that I created after we landed (I have it in a 3d point cloud). It is based on something called “structure from motion”. It had laser references (I was in the plane at the time, recording LIDAR data). I have no idea why they decided that this technology was not worthy of being interesting or investigated in. Politics, probably – but there had been so many years of resistance to upgrade hardware – so I am not surprised that this was the attitude. Upper management was not interested in upgrading hardware for years, aside from petty things like Raspberry Pi’s controlling very expensive cameras that nobody used at all. Let’s fire people and buy cameras nobody uses? Yeah. Good plan.
I am not sure why. This was just another example of policy and culture in NASA that does not encourage progress, but rather denies it. Actively discourages – and I’ve been seeing it for many years. There are so many people that are now gone from the NASA that I knew because they were dispensable, like me. Like a manager of mine told me often, and kind of made it clear often and in front of others, I was dispensable after almost 18 years of basically supporting the livelihoods of 20 people . I guess that was his job – but that was not cool. Why cut off the cash flow for a program? That is not good management.
And I know people that have been there longer than me that were let go just as easily as me, which is a shame for the branch I worked in.
In around 2005 I consulted with another US agency, and I told them that we could do much better with commercially available higher rate lasers, with much shorter pulse widths, and different hardware. In theory, we could possibly do UXO detection, among other things. They were very interested.
The result? NASA management (in our group, the ATM group) decided on slower lasers, wider pulses – in the end worse resolution and more complicated setups, with worse results – not considering the advantages of shorter pulsed lasers and better digital hardware. I am surprised that the science community tolerated that. The accuracy went backwards. There was a lot of investment, but no improvement. Until lately.
Once the “new” lasers were bought in – 2017? 2016? 2015? – and everything was changed, it seemed like things were going for the better. Kind of – that is, they broke often. We shipped them back many times to be repaired, and they broke randomly while just sitting there in our lab. I drove more than once to FedEx to overnight them back to Northrup Grumman.
Switching to 10kHz (10,000 laser measurements per second, multiplied by 2 due to recording IR and 532nm at the same time) was a challenge that I took on and made sure it happened. It did work, and now they have that to use as they please. I hope for them that they all have employment for at least a little while, but I don’t have a great outlook on the future of the group due to the existing culture at NASA.
Edit: It is a 3D point cloud of millions of data points, all from images and can be referenced to laser data above a glacier. Who would not be interested in that? Apparently, NASA was not.