To those who see the Space and Rocket Center’s mission as housing the artifacts and keeping alive the vision of America’s space program, the center’s new Net Zero energy conservation and sustainment program might seem somewhat out of place. But CEO Dr. Deborah Barnhart says the initiative is right at home with the center’s rocket displays and Space Camp activities.
She shows a visitor chapter and verse from the Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission charter, empowering the commission “to establish an energy information and exhibit center in order to provide information to the public on research and development in the field of energy as developed by the National Aeronautic and Space Administration,” and a host of other agencies.
“So in 42 years we never did anything,” says Barnhart, who took over as center director in December 2010. “It’s really the ‘third leg’ of our mission, along with space exploration and defense technologies.”
Thus was born The Power of Zero, the center’s energy exhibit that opened last month. Its mission: to help educate visitors on energy, energy usage, and how energy is part of NASA’s efforts. Its goal: to be a leading public exhibition for sustainable energy and energy conservation.
“We want for this to become the first Net Zero science center in the U.S., she says. “It’s all about energy, and about more intelligent ways to use energy.”
That education aspect of the Power of Zero is best told through the Energy Trail, an outdoor energy exhibit that seeks to be an “energy primer.”
A 20-minute electric-powered tram ride takes visitors to 40-foot solar panel arrays, a 150-foot-tall wind turbine, and signs explaining the technology behind them.
They see that solar arrays are really nothing new. Back in 1974, America’s first space station, SkyLab, relied on solar arrays for electric power. A nearby sign helps visitors calculate how many solar arrays it would take to power their homes.
Another sign near the Lunar Crater tells about the Helium-3, an non-radioactive isotope of helium that could produce huge quantities of energy through fusion, and do it without the drawbacks of radiation from typical reactors. Scientists know there are millions of tons of Helium-3 on the lunar surface, far more than Earth’s proven reserves of oil and natural gas.
Various models of energy efficient cars are on display, ranging from the all-electric Chevy Volt to hybrid and clean diesel models, courtesy of the Landers McClarty Automotive group.
The idea is to get people thinking. “Our goal with this exhibit is to inspire, implement, and teach as we move toward adopting energy efficiencies in every area of life,” Barnhart says.
The center is even providing public disclosure of its own energy usage with a large month-to-month graphic in the Davidson Center for Space Exploration.
As Alabama’s largest paid tourist attraction and the venue for Space Camp, the center is a major energy consumer.
The park’s mechanical simulators consume huge amounts of energy: the popular G-Force Accelerator, for example, can use 875 KW of power each day, about what a 1,400-square-foot house uses in a month.
To begin generating its own power, the center will rely largely on large-scale usage of solar arrays. Pointing from her third floor office window to the Center’s large parking lots, Barnhart explains that within a few years those spaces will be covered with such arrays. The first are slated for installation by July.
Redstone Energy Group is one of several partners the center is counting on to bring this grand vision to reality.
“We’ll be doing the solar arrays in the parking lot, and work with energy conservation technology that could be applied to those buildings to help conserve energy. It will take a combination of energy conservation, on-site energy generation, and battery storage, which adds a buffer for energy production. You have to have the ability to store energy produced,” says Redstone Energy Group’s Greg Cox.
Barnhart also wants visitors to understand, as they learn about the progress of America in space, that NASA has considered many energy technologies for space travel.
That interest goes back to the days of Von Braun himself. “Von Braun hoped to use solar energy for space travel, what we would call heliophysical energy,” she says. “He recognized that travel to Mars and other distant destinations would call for energy sources beyond chemical sources like liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.”
Source: The Huntsville Times