NNSS News

Preparing for Perseverance

ECAM Mars Perseverance
NNSS Principal Technologist Bert Cochran completes setup and configuration of an Environmental Continuous Air Monitors system at Kennedy Space Center.

The NNSS’ Remote Sensing Laboratory is providing radiological emergency response during NASA’s next launch.

Among the most iconic events in Americana are space launches. From Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins’ historic Apollo 11 launch with the Saturn V to 135 space shuttle liftoffs, Kennedy Space Center is a pillar in U.S. space history. As the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) prepares to write history once again with the launch of the Mars Perseverance rover at nearby Cape Canaveral, the Department of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) Remote Sensing Laboratory (RSL) has been an integral part of the planning for radiological and emergency response support for this summer’s landmark event.

The Perseverance rover that will explore the red planet’s surface is equipped with an energy source that employs Plutonium-238 to maintain the system’s power and electrical systems, known as the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG). The technology – designed, built and tested by the DOE – uses multiple layers of protective measures to contain radioactive material in the event of an accident during launch. While there is high confidence that the MMRTG design will prevent a release of radiological material, it is prudent to have the capability to quickly assess whether there are any radiological consequences resulting from a launch area accident. Enter RSL.

Based out of Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, RSL is one of the nation’s leading entities for nuclear incident response and remote sensing, providing essential elements of the DOE/NNSA’s Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST). RSL specializes in radiation sensor development and execution of air and ground radiation detection, surveillance and radiological assessment missions. A fixture for radiological emergency response at major national and international events, including the 2011 Fukushima incident, the RSL element of the NEST – which includes scientists, pilots, engineers and operational specialists – stands ready to respond to a nuclear incident 365 days a year.

RSL’s support to NASA dates back to the 1997 launch of the Cassini spacecraft. The partnership continued throughout the ensuing decades, with RSL providing essential technical planning and operational support for subsequent launches. Since the 2011 launch of the Mars Curiosity rover, the RSL team has been conducting radiological contingency planning and sensor development for the Mars 2020 mission.

“This has been an amazing team effort during the last eight years,” said NNSS Nuclear Response Team Lead James Essex. “After supporting both the Mars Curiosity launch and the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster in 2011, we proposed a win-win solution to both NNSA and NASA. The proposal to NASA was to improve their real-time air sampling network for their next MMRTG launch. The proposal to the NNSA Office of Nuclear Incident Response was an early-warning capability that DOE could use in the event of an ongoing release at a nuclear power plant. Eventually, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed to share the capability between agencies, saving taxpayers millions of dollars from duplication of effort. Then we began the process of developing, testing and manufacturing the capability at RSL.”

Mars Perseverance system verification test
NNSS Principal Engineer John Istle and Principal Scientist Jeremy Gwin work with the NASA field team supervisor to deploy 25 field teams during a full field system verification test.

The result of that proposal is an extensive static air monitoring network that can characterize data, which provides emergency responders the information required to make operational decisions. A total of 30 sensor units will be deployed around the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral site prior to launch day. Several field exercises have been completed, and a seven-person team from the NNSS is supporting operations leading up to launch day.

“The launch of Perseverance is deemed a critical activity by the U.S. government,” said Essex. “NASA is working hard to execute the launch safely under the circumstances. This has required shifting schedules, expectations, and safety considerations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These shifts have translated into needing to make things happen on short notice, which has required asking for support from many people across the NNSS. Ensuring this is a safely executed success has required support from numerous teams: information services, cybersecurity, medical, material coordination, procurement, travel, shipping, finance, the Emergency Communications Network, all levels of management, facilities and janitorial staff, and all of the Nuclear Response Division. The takeaway is that there are many people from all over the NNSS who are making this possible.”

For real-world events and exercises alike, RSL coordinates emergency response efforts with federal, state, local and tribal entities through the Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center. Mars 2020 has enabled RSL the opportunity to further build communication plans with other organizations.

“This has given response communications an opportunity to work on new methods and ways to organize ourselves and the systems in place to answer questions a little differently from what we do with state and local partners,” said NNSS Nuclear Response Manager Rajah Mena. “With NASA, this is one of those things you know where you’re going, the items of interest and timeline. It affords you an opportunity you don’t have other places.”

Execution of the NNSS’ support to Mars 2020 real-time air sampling network was an integral effort between multiple NNSA entities – including Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories and Kansas City National Security Campus – through the DOE’s Strategic Partnership Projects (SPP) directive, which encompasses work performed by NNSA personnel for non-DOE entities, such as NASA. Out of all projects assessed through NNSA’s external review process, the enterprise’s support to the Mars 2020 launch was deemed among the top 10 best executed.

“This is the perfect execution of what was intended for SPP—leverage NNSA capabilities to help out other federal entities while providing collateral back to NNSA,” said NNSS Nuclear Response Director Alexis Reed. “This is exactly what we try to achieve when we engage in SPP projects: a win for the federal government.”

For more information about RSL, see https://www.nnss.gov/pages/facilities/RSL.html. To follow the Mars 2020 Perseverance launch, visit https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/.


NNSS Fire & Rescue supports local volunteer fire departments

F&R Amargosa support
Photo courtesy of Nye County Sheriff’s Office

While the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) is known both locally and nationally primarily for its national security mission work, what’s perhaps lesser known—but also vitally important—is the ongoing life safety response NNSS Fire & Rescue paramedics provide throughout Nye County, including to volunteer fire departments, at no charge.

A recent example of just one of the approximately 100 emergency response actions provided to rural Nye County annually between Beatty and Indian Springs took place in June.

NNSS Fire & Rescue received a request for paramedic support from Amargosa Fire, an all-volunteer team that had been battling a five-acre structure fire blaze for hours. The area was filled with everything imaginable, including two school buses, vehicles in various stages of decay, household appliances and numerous types of vegetation. While the 10-15 volunteer fire personnel had managed to keep the fire away from the main structure and completely save it, the effort had taken its toll.

Upon arrival to the scene and receiving an update from Beatty EMS, NNSS paramedics Rhonda Beauchene and Edgar Vargas began triaging the firefighters identified as in need of assistance, determining the two most serious patients who would require immediate transport to the closest hospital, Desert View Hospital in Pahrump. A second unit was requested to transport two additional firefighters.

After receiving verification that a Pahrump ALS unit would be transporting the two additional patients, NNSS updated Beatty EMS that they would be leaving with their two patients and advised that the remaining firefighters should be rotated through rehab and be cooled as quickly as possible.

Beauchene and Vargas returned to the scene after clearing Desert View Hospital ER. Assessing that two firefighters and the captain were in immediate need of rehab, they set up a formal rehab area to provide on-scene treatment, which they continued to provide as needed until the fire was extinguished.

In all, the effort was supported by Amargosa Fire, Beatty Ambulance, NNSS Fire & Rescue, Pahrump Fire and Rescue, Station 51 Fire, and BLM Fire. Personnel admitted to the hospital with heat-related illnesses have since been released.

“I am proud of Rhonda and Edward for the exemplary service they provided to our neighboring brothers and sisters who were on the job,” said NNSS Battalion Chief Michael Worthen. “Not only did they provide excellent patient care, but they also served as a great example for what our department stands for.”

It’s instances like these when the NNSS’ memorandum of understanding (MOU) to provide Nye County with ongoing life safety response at no charge is especially impactful. The more than 100 emergency response actions provided to rural Nye County annually by NNSS paramedics represent an in-kind contribution of $285,000 annually to Nye County.

“At the NNSS, we embrace a culture of caring for one another and looking out for one another,” said Mark Martinez, president of Mission Support and Test Services, the management and operating contractor for the Nevada National Security Site. “This isn’t a culture we want to keep to ourselves; we feel it’s our responsibility to serve the communities in which we live and work as well. I’m extremely proud of our Fire & Rescue team for their work assisting the all-volunteer Amargosa Fire department. I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

In addition to the NNSS’ MOU with Nye County, the Emergency Management program routinely coordinates with first responders at the local and state level to ensure integrated emergency response. Approximately 27 exercises in the last three years have had local emergency response participation, and 1,600 responders, representing 40 Nevada communities, participated in 125 classes as a part of the Department of Energy’s Transportation Emergency Preparedness efforts.

For more on the NNSS’ Emergency Services and Operations Support, click here.


High-stake sensing

laser technology MASTR-E
A paratrooper from the 82nd Airborne Division demonstrates marksmanship using laser technology at a MASTR-E exhibition at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Gin-Sophie De Bellotte)

The NNSS and U.S. Army are teaming to develop tactical readiness technology.

The long history of the Nevada National Security Site developing and deploying unique sensor technology has led to a partnership with the Department of Defense to advance U.S. Army combat personnel performance. This joint agency effort represents another facet of the NNSS expanding its national security mission.

The Measuring and Advancing Soldier Tactical Readiness and Effectiveness program, known as MASTR-E, will utilize wearable sensors – developed in partnership with the NNSS’ Special Technologies Laboratory (STL) – to measure, predict and enhance the dynamic decision making and readiness status of combat soldiers under stress. STL specializes in custom devices, measurement instruments and analysis methods for field deployment.

“I believe what NNSS is bringing to the table is the first of its kind,” said U.S. Army MASTR-E Program Manager George Matook. “Any high-stake, high-consequence environment that requires rapid decision making needs the ability to assess and understand how that affects the physiology of the person, whether shooting or making a financial transaction.”

The NNSS first engaged with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center during a Special Operations Command event in late 2019 for human performance initiatives.

“We’ve grown into partnership at numerous levels and have developed an ongoing habitual relationship from organization to organization,” said George Papageorge, program manager for the NNSS’ Global Security Strategic Partnership Programs. “It’s really about how people in high-stress jobs regulate their physiology or understand their physiology so that can continue to operate under high-stress situations.”

Analyzing human performance data will not only enable soldiers to monitor their individual cognitive and motor factors, but will serve as the narrative for future training and operational posture. Cognitive, emotional, physical and social factors will be evaluated in order to find solutions to performance issues in high-stress environments.

“Army Futures Command is corralling all the forces to make one cohesive answer to human performance and what it means to helping our operators on the ground,” said NNSS Senior Principal Intelligence Analyst Ian O’Keefe. “It’s a multi-year effort. We’re working with a small group on prototype designs and introducing them to the training protocols. We collect data and metrics, then start to refine in order to determine formal training and development of formal products.”

Pilot testing for the program, slated through 2024, is scheduled to begin at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, in September.

“We're really excited to have the partnership with the NNSS,” said U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center Director Doug Tamilio. “One of the greatest parts of MASTR-E is the professional networks it brings for all invested in human performance. We're getting closer to putting a tremendously useful capability in our Soldiers’ hands today, and making them more survivable and lethal. We are assessing the ability to make decisions under stress-in the moment and in the moments that matter.”


How EM Nevada’s route monitoring ensures safety of waste shipments

Lee Stevens HAZTRAK
Lee Stevens, a transportation expert with Navarro Research and Engineering, the lead environmental program services contractor for EM Nevada, uses the Nevada National Security Site-based Hazardous Materials Notification System to monitor and manage shipments from waste generators.

A 5.8-magnitude earthquake centered near Lone Pine, California, recently prompted urgent notifications from the EM Nevada Program to waste generators shipping classified and low-level, and mixed low-level radioactive waste to the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS).

That rapid reaction to ever-changing regional road conditions is a routine occurrence that demonstrates the EM Nevada Program’s commitment to the safe transportation of waste for the protection of people, workers and the environment.

Following the earthquake, Lee Stevens, a transportation expert with Navarro Research and Engineering, the lead environmental program services contractor for EM Nevada, immediately relayed key information concerning regional road closures and conditions to waste generators with shipments en route to the NNSS. His quick thinking and proactive communication helped ensure the safety of drivers and their loads, minimized rerouting or shipping delays, and facilitated continuous situational awareness for U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) staff supporting NNSS waste management operations.

“EM Nevada is doing great work to keep waste generators across the DOE complex aware of road and weather conditions on routes to the NNSS,” EM Nevada Program Manager Rob Boehlecke said. “Lee’s rapid response on June 24 not only helped to ensure the safety of drivers and their cargo, but also demonstrated that EM Nevada is ready, willing, and able to respond decisively to a more significant event if the need arises. I thank Lee and all of our transportation partners for their continued commitment to collaborative communication.”

EM Nevada uses the NNSS-based Hazardous Materials Notification System (HAZTRAK) to monitor and manage such shipments. Applicable information from HAZTRAK is also accessible to intergovernmental partners and the general public on the NNSS website here.

EM Nevada also recently worked with personnel from the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) to publish guidance that ensures NDOT route approvals are consistent with agreements between DOE and Nevada stakeholders.

Since 1999, more than 31,000 radioactive and classified waste shipments have been safely transported to the NNSS. To learn more, click here for the EM Nevada waste transportation fact sheet.


NNSS partners with USGS, NDOW to study Site’s pronghorn antelope, mule deer

Home to more than 1,500 species—from spring snails, to big horn sheep, to mountain lions—the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) has an extensive wildlife population. NNSS biologists track and study several of these species, for a variety of reasons.

Most recently, the NNSS teamed up with the U.S. Geological Survey and Nevada Department of Wildlife to study the Site’s pronghorn antelope and mule deer populations. NNSS Principal Scientist Derek Hall guesses there may be up to 800 mule deer living in the hills, mountains and mesas. As for antelope, up to 50 of them roam the Site’s open valleys and flat areas.

While hunting isn’t allowed on NNSS property, these animals can travel offsite. Studying them closely can yield more data on their migration and movements, and their role in the hunter/food chain. For the full story, please enjoy this short NNSS-produced documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYmK-rDXbzc.



NNSS partners with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes to aid in military personnel’s transition

Cynthia Ellis
Hiring Our Heroes participant Cynthia Ellis

The U.S. Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)’s Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) formed a partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes this year.

Hiring Our Heroes is a nationwide initiative to connect veterans, service members and military spouses with various employment opportunities. Its goal is to create a movement in hundreds of communities across America where veterans and military families return to the civilian workforce smoothly. The program lasts 12 weeks, and then it is up to the employer whether the participant stays onboard full-time. Four participants from the program are placed with the NNSS: Randall Bach, Ladetra Collins, Cynthia Ellis and Michael Howard.

Randall Bach served in the military for 25 years. Now, he is working for the Emergency Communications Network department.

Ladetra Collins is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in transportation and logistics management while working for the NNSS in the Material Coordination department. Collins adds, “After serving 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, transitioning back to civilian life is not easy. Many of us joined as kids, well 18, and it is all we know. Any assistance that we can receive to help smooth our transition is a weight lifted off our shoulders and our families.”

Cynthia Ellis is currently working in the Counterterrorism Testing Operations department after having served in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years. When she originally joined, she signed up to be an intercontinental ballistic missile maintainer, who helped maintain the facility that held the ballistic missile. After 10 years in that position, she cross-trained to be a sensor operator. In that role, she was responsible for watching over an assigned area through the eyes of drones.

“Being in that role made me feel like I truly was impacting the military, even if it was emotionally difficult,” commented Ellis. “When you are doing an over-watch mission, you are keeping the military members safe by scoping out an area prior to them entering. And if you miss something, you can imagine what that leads to.”

Ellis is ready to settle down into her civilian life in Las Vegas. After being away from her family for years, she is excited to be home. The Hiring Our Heroes program has given her the opportunity to do so by matching her with the NNSS for a 12-week program. This period will allow her time to adjust to civilian life and work, while hopefully ending in a full-time job offer.

Michael Howard is currently working within the NNSS Material Coordination department during the program. After serving 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, he finally decided to call one location home, Las Vegas.

Howard has enjoyed his time with the NNSS thus far and personally identifies with the family atmosphere he has witnessed during the internship, something he is all too familiar with given the comradery of people during his military and dependent careers.

Transitioning from one career to another is not very easy; however, the NNSS experience has given Howard an advantage to realign goals and simplify his transition. He looks forward to his future with the NNSS.

These four veterans will conclude their 12-week program at the end of the summer. The NNSS will then determine whether to hire them full-time, and the participants will decide if they would like to stay with the NNSS.

For more information about U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes, visit https://www.hiringourheroes.org/.


NNSS modifies internship program to allow for telework amid COVID-19 pandemic

virtual internship map
NNSS interns are logging in from 13 different states this summer.

The U.S. Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration’s Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) continues to invest in the future workforce and to grow capabilities within the enterprise by transforming the student programs into a virtual setting.

In 2019, the student program was developed to allow hands-on work experience, mentorship in various disciplines and professional development opportunities for college students. More than 70 students participated in the 12-week program last summer.

This year, more than 70 students were again ready to begin their summer internship at the NNSS, but amid the COVID-19 pandemic, an in-person internship was no longer feasible. On April 17, the decision to switch the platform to a virtual format was made by the senior leadership team. NNSS management and operating contractor Mission Support & Test Services (MSTS) President Mark Martinez is passionate about engaging students with the NNSS’ national security mission and made the final decision to switch to a virtual format as opposed to canceling the program. "Our success depends upon talented people who are interested in our national security missions as well as living in Las Vegas or near one of our satellite locations," said Martinez. "After experiencing tremendous success with our 2019 intern program, I couldn’t see us taking a step backward in this opportunity to develop talent for our future."

The NNSS acknowledged the challenges associated with a virtual internship; however, the Talent Acquisition department worked with many other directorates to transform the program from an in-person internship to being completely virtual in just five short weeks.

The team prepped for a summer never experienced before by developing a fully functional collaboration program website, where all program information is saved and easily accessible remotely; converting all professional development sessions to online presentations; working with the Information Technology department to ensure that students would be able to have remote access; collaborating with other departments; and creating online chatrooms so students could communicate with one another. One chatroom feature includes having a member of the senior leadership team in it at all times to ensure students are able to actively engage with leadership throughout the program.

Now six weeks into the virtual program, the NNSS continues to offer students a robust experience that is personable, interactive and informative in order to prepare them for a professional career within the enterprise.

Olivia Dockery, a returning civil engineering intern, shares her experience about how the program has helped her adapt to change: "Transitioning from an in-person to virtual internship has presented its challenges, but the NNSS has provided me a variety of resources that allow me to feel confident in the work that I am doing and comfortable communicating with others in the enterprise."

Ryan Jensen, a returning mechanical engineering intern, added, "I feel the virtual internship program has been going very well thanks to the NNSS’ effort to make sure it was a smooth transition for each of us. We've been able to gain real-world knowledge, experience and teamwork skills all from a virtual environment. I think I can speak for all of the interns in saying that we are very thankful to have been given this opportunity."

These students, along with more than 70 other students, began teleworking May 27, logging in from 13 different states: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

For more information about NNSS Student Programs, visit https://www.nnss.gov/pages/NFO/MSTSStudentPrograms.html.