Art Center Designs and Yuri's Night

The Art Center College of Design

On Thursday, April 10, I, along with several other NASA officials, was on hand to view presentations designed and developed by students attending the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. About a year ago, NASA partnered with the Art Center to hit a target generation known as Millennials (those born after 1982 — and my senior year in high school). The Art Center is in a unique position to offer ideas and strategies on communicating with and engaging the Millennials.

NASA employees know what the acronym NASA stands for and NASA has far-reaching brand recognition, right? How many of you would be surprised that while most people recognize the acronym and know that it is associated with “space,” some people actually have no specific knowledge about this Agency’s missions, achievements or contributions? When you consider the Millennial generation in particular, you realize that NASA is not even on their radar screen. This realization and our commitment to inspire and engage the next generation motivated us to work with the Art Center to design two projects for NASA.

The first project, Mission: Millennial, focused on designing ways for NASA to more effectively communicate its missions, goals and benefits to young adults. The second, NASA Lunar Rover Project, focused on designing the optimal human lunar rover. In addition to the functionality of the designs, it was also meant to inspire those to want to go for a ride.

Mission: Millennial project teams with the names NASAtastics, NASAnauts and RedRocks, used a variety of mediums, such as nostalgia, retro cool approaches, redesigned websites with Facebook components and gaming, to project how NASA should look and feel to the Millennial generation. More importantly, the students shared how much they learned about the impact that NASA has had on their everyday life and how much the Agency has contributed to advancing technology. I even learned when to reach for my “stunnas” (note to my older generation: stunnas are a particular type of sunglasses).

Art Center students presenting their designs Art Center students presenting their designs

NASA Lunar Rover Project: Individual students produced some amazing designs for the lunar rover. With names like ALEX (Advanced Lunar Explorer), Moonstream, NASA THESEUS, Hotwheels, and T.O.A.D. (To Observe Analyze and Defend), these vehicles proposed a wide range of solutions to the issues astronauts will face on the Moon. While the complexity of the designs showed the extensive research and time invested by the Art Center students, the functionality and sleekness made you want to suit up and drive. It was quite exciting to be surrounded by the enthusiasm of the student design teams.

Rover model designed by Art Center students Shana Dale looks at rover model
Advanced Lunar Explorer (ALEX) rover model NASA 7 rover model
Rover model MEXR rover model

Yuri’s Night, Bay Area 2008

On Saturday night, April 12, I was at the Yuri’s Night celebration at Ames Research Center. This is the second year for this celebration on-site at Ames. It recognizes the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first spaceflight on April 12, 1961. He flew one orbit, at the age of 27, to become the first human to orbit the Earth. Celebrations also were held at Johnson Space Center and Goddard Space Flight Center, not to mention the other parties around the globe on this historic date. To open the festivities, Center Director Dr. Pete Worden appeared in a Soviet general’s uniform in recognition of Yuri’s homeland. Pete and I cut the ceremonial ribbon.

Dr. Pete Worden wearing uniform of a Soviet-era general Yuri Night ribbon cutting
Shana Dale with Astronaut Cagle at Yuri Night, Ames Research Center Shana Dale with Astronaut Cagle at Yuri Night, Ames Research Center

I wanted to attend as I had heard that it is very popular with Millennials. There was an air show, displays, bands, live performances, and interesting costumes. This did not have a traditional NASA-feel to it and that’s one reason it appeals to a younger crowd. As I was walking around, I was imagining this event (with this crowd) at HQ or most of the other centers — but I couldn’t get my head around that thought. I suppose you’d need to experience it to know what I mean. I didn’t stay very late, but from all that I saw, it looked like a very successful event and made Ames accessible, in a fun way, to the surrounding community. Pete makes it possible so my hat is off to him.

NASAnauts Message Life without NASA with Dr. Science
Art Center student presenting design Rover model

Space Economy

You may have heard Mike Griffin or me mention the Space Economy in our speeches and wondered what it is and why we are talking about it.  

First, let’s start with the competitive context in which NASA now finds itself. When NASA was created almost fifty years ago, it was under the competitive context of the Space Race and Cold War. That threat no longer exists. Today, we find ourselves in a new competitive landscape that centers on the global economy. In this global environment, innovation and competitiveness become keys to economic growth and an improved quality of life.  

Because of NASA’s uniquely challenging mission, our scientists and engineers are  constantly pushing the technological envelope and the limits of knowledge — this leads to advances that not only break boundaries in space but on Earth as well. These advances in science, technology, manufacturing, services, materials and other fields and products have contributed to economic growth, broadened our knowledge of our world and the universe, and improved the quality of our lives in countless ways.    

The Space Economy provides a platform to discuss the full range of benefits and relevance that NASA provides in new and compelling ways. With this discussion, we will be better able to define and understand the critical role that NASA plays as a key driver of innovation and competitiveness for the Nation.  

Based on expert internal and external advice, we are defining the Space Economy as “the full range of activities and resources that create and provide value and benefits to human beings in the course of exploring, understanding, and utilizing space.”

Examples of these activities include:

  • Infrastructure — Space operations, suppliers, contractors
  • Applications — Global Positioning System (GPS), weather, climate, defense, imagery
  • Transactions — Finance, medicine, communications
  • Commerce — Tourism, services, logistical support

Through the Space Economy, we demonstrate that space is ubiquitous in our daily lives and enhances our well-being. It provides a broad context that captures the myriad benefits and services that are enabled by space-based activities and resources such as telemedicine, long-distance learning, GPS, satellite radio/DirecTV, bank card transactions, and many others that touch and improve our lives every day. It also enables a dialogue on the role of space to innovation in potentially transformative fields such as quantum computing, artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology and hydrogen fuel cells.  

We have seen an explosion in space investment from emerging economic powers such as India and China. The most visible expression of technical leadership is through a robust and successful space program.  The nations at the top of that technical pyramid are positioned to successfully compete in the global economy. We must not be complacent in this new race for technical leadership and cede our hard-won leadership position. The Space Economy will provide a vital means of measuring, understanding and expressing the significance of this new paradigm, our position in it and the relevance of our Nation’s space program to our global economic leadership.
NASA is undertaking efforts to better understand the Space Economy and how NASA’s work contributes to such activities as well as leverages from those activities in the conduct of NASA’s missions. We are participating in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)1. OECD is also conducting case studies that examine specific economic and societal areas that benefit from space-based resources and technologies. 

We also are looking at other means of defining and understanding the implications of space exploration on our society and economy. I believe it will become an important issue area for policymakers and analysts interested in the vital strategic interests supported by NASA’s capabilities.  I’ll provide updates as our work progresses.

1Global Forum on Space Economics that is conducting analysis of the Space Economy, including a recent publication of the report, “Space Economy at a Glance.”

Workforce Transition and Aerospace Discussions

Workforce Transition

On Monday, 31 March, we submitted a now required bi-annual report to Congress regarding NASA’s workforce transition plan. Here you will find links to the report and other workforce related documents that you will find useful.  Please note these are considered living documents and will be revised and updated in the coming years as decisions are made.

When the decision to retire the Space Shuttle was made and to move forward with the next generation of human space flight in 2006, this was the first time in roughly 35 years that a major change was made to U.S. civil space policy.

Foremost on everyone’s mind was “what about the workforce?” and I can assure you this challenge is, and has been, receiving our utmost attention. It is critical that we retain our skilled workforce through retirement and transition because a safe Shuttle flyout, completion of the International Space Station assembly, and the successful development of our new Constellation vehicles depends on it. Our second Shuttle workforce survey, done in 2007, revealed that 65% of employees indicated they will stay through the end of the program. That is an excellent percentage and we hope to keep these individuals; they are highly skilled and we need them. During the six-year gap between Apollo and Space Shuttle we lost a great number of aerospace experts. We do not want that to happen during this transition, and we are continually strategizing, planning, and communicating to ensure that we are successful.

An important message I want to convey is the commitment that Mike Griffin and I share to keep the lines of communications open. We will use whatever means necessary (i.e., the website, NASA TV, town hall meetings) to keep the workforce informed. Rumors, gossip, and innuendo will happen, but hopefully we will be able to get the facts out quickly.  

The transition workforce team is comprised of individuals from the Space Operations Mission Directorate, Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, Office of Human Capital, and the Centers’ Human Capital and Program Offices. However, there are a lot of other offices and personnel involved as well. My thanks to all of you who are diligently working this issue.

Other Activities This Week

On Tuesday, April 1, Mike and I met with CEOs from over twenty aerospace companies to have an informal discussion about issues of mutual interest. It was a good exchange and last year we held a similar roundtable, so we hope to make this an annual tradition.

Also on Tuesday evening, the STS-122 crew was honored on Capitol Hill with a reception sponsored by the aerospace community. It was a huge turnout with 18 Members of Congress in attendance. These receptions are good opportunities to discuss the space program.

On Thursday, April 3, Mike Griffin testified on the FY2009 budget request before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies. And that evening, I attended the National Air and Space Museum Trophy Awards dinner to honor the Stardust Comet Sample Return Mission Team.

Next week the Operations Management Council meeting will be dedicated to financial issues. After that, I hit the road again for meetings on the West Coast, then off to the Strategic Management Council at Stennis Space Center, followed by the next Future Forum, which will be held in Miami. I will keep you updated with notes from the road.