Knowledge Management

Knowledge Management

I’ve mentioned the weekly mission support implementation meeting previously. This meeting presents an opportunity for those involved in the enduring, foundational issues of the agency to come together and discuss strategic issues (attendees include: Chief of Staff; Associate Deputy Administrator; Chief of Strategic Communications; Chief Financial Officer, Chief Information Officer (CIO); Chief Engineer; Executive Director of NASA Shared Services Center; Associate/Assistant Administrators (AAs) for Institutions & Management, Human Capital Management, Infrastructure & Administration, Procurement, and Security; and the Director of the Office of Program and Institutional Integration, among others).

On Tuesday the CIO’s shop brought forward a discussion about “knowledge management.” This is an issue that other federal agencies, the corporate world, and non-profits are dealing with — how does an organization effectively manage not just the information flow but the knowledge that people gain from working in specific areas. Knowledge management is defined as, “Getting the right information to the right people at the right time, and helping people create knowledge and share and act upon information in ways that will measurably improve the performance of an organization and its partners.”

Knowledge management is extremely complex. This is a challenge that affects the entire agency, not just information technology. There are no easy solutions. The CIO and Office of the Chief Engineer (OCE) have commissioned a knowledge management team to coordinate knowledge management efforts across NASA. This team has representation from across the agency — from each Center, Mission Directorate, and from many mission support offices. The team has developed a roadmap to accomplish the goals delineated above. My hat is off to the CIO and OCE shops for leading the effort as they tackle the various components of this challenging issue.

Future Forum

I currently am in Seattle to kick off the first Future Forum. Here’s the concept behind the Future Forum — we plan to go to different locations around the nation that are not usually associated with aerospace and discuss with academic leaders; local, state, and federal officials; and business leaders what NASA means to their region of the world and to the nation more broadly.

I gave the keynote speech and it is posted on NASA’s website. After my talk, the program included a presentation from Astronaut Janet Kavandi, Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office at Johnson Space Center, followed by a presentation on the next phase in space exploration by NASA Constellation Program Manager Jeff Hanley. The day then unfolded into three panels on innovation, discovery and inspiration. Innovation focused on the past and future impacts of NASA and space exploration on economic competitiveness and technology development. Discovery focused on how NASA science and research has led to greater knowledge and understanding of the universe and has provided critical information about our own planet and how to manage and protect it. Inspiration is geared towards education with a focus on STEM education and the NASA’s unique ability to inspire students to pursue studies in science, engineering and math. The panels included NASA officials and leaders from the Seattle business, academic and educational communities.

I met with the Governor of Washington Thursday night. On Friday I sat in on the Future Forum. I also did quite a bit of media outreach as a part of this Future Forum. Press opportunities include a meeting with the Seattle Times editorial board as well as print, radio and television interviews. There was also a press conference with Dr. Bonnie Dunbar, Museum of Flight President and CEO; Jeff Hanley; and Janet Kavandi. Bonnie Dunbar is a former NASA astronaut who flew on five Space Shuttle missions and logged 1,208 hours — over 50 days — in space. In addition to hosting the event, Bonnie opened the Future Forum and chaired the inspiration panel. I want to thank Bonnie and her team at Museum of Flight for hosting the event. We could not have done this without their invaluable support.

The ultimate goal is to get the discussion rolling in areas beyond our traditional aerospace presence and re-connecting with the American public and with business and academic leaders and state and local officials. The next Future Forum is scheduled to occur in Columbus, Ohio in February.

Cool Transportation Technologies

I received a comment clarifying that the article, “Cool Transportation Technologies,” should include the great work that Glenn Research Center is doing in de-icing research. This article has been revised and you can find it at:

The First 'A' in NASA

There is a fascinating new book out called America in Space: NASA’s First 50 Years.  It’s filled with many of the compelling images you would expect to see from NASA — astronauts, space shuttle launches, Hubble Space Telescope pictures.  But there are also images like the one of Neil Armstrong standing next to the X-15-1 aircraft, nearly a decade before his journey to the moon, and one of NASA test pilot Bruce Peterson standing next to the M2-F2 lifting body test aircraft, and dramatic images of the SR-71B.  These images convey, much more powerfully than words, the important role that the first “A” in “NASA” — Aeronautics — has played in our agency’s historic accomplishments over the past 50 years.

NASA evolved from its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which was formed by Congress in 1915 to undertake, promote, and institutionalize aeronautical research.  During the past 50 years, NASA’s aeronautical research has provided breakthrough concepts, tools, and technologies to make air travel more safe, efficient, and environmentally friendly.  Some examples include:

  • Digital Fly-by-Wire (1960s-1970s):  NASA explored the viability of replacing conventional mechanical controls with electronic flight control systems.  Digital fly-by-wire technology is now used on many civil and military aircraft, as well as on the Space Shuttle, to make them safer, more efficient, and more maneuverable.
  • Winglets (1970s-1980s):  The vertical tips you see today on the ends of many aircraft wings reduce drag and therefore save fuel.
  • Airborne Wind Shear Detection (1980s-1990s):  NASA’s research led to airborne sensors that today warn pilots of wind shear hazards.
  • Engine Nozzle Chevrons (1990s-2000s):  NASA developed the concept of asymmetrical scallops surrounding aircraft engines that reduce noise both in the passenger cabin and on the ground.  Chevrons are being implemented on many of today’s aircraft, including the new Boeing 787.
  • Air Traffic Management (1980s-today):  NASA has developed several air traffic management simulation tools, including the Future Air traffic management Concepts Evaluation Tool, or “FACET,” which rapidly generates thousands of aircraft trajectories to enable efficient planning of traffic flows at the national level.

There is a great link on the NASA aeronautics website where you can click directly on areas of a commercial plane, like on the winglets, and find out more: NASA Aeronautics Research Onboard.

Today, NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate builds upon this legacy and continues to develop new concepts, techniques, and technologies that will enable revolutionary capabilities for future aircraft as well as the airspace in which they fly.   Much of our focus is on the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or “NextGen,” a wide-ranging initiative involving six U.S. Government departments and agencies, as well as numerous industry and academic partners. The goal of NextGen is to transform our nation’s air transportation system so that, by 2025, it can handle the predicted two-to-three times increase in demand while maintaining safety and protecting the environment.  NASA aeronautics programs conduct fundamental research for NextGen in areas of safety, air traffic management and the environment. You can read more about NASA’s contributions to NextGen in NextGen White Paper (PDF).

As part of NASA’s aeronautics research role that contributes to NextGen, a recent aeronautical accomplishment that we are very excited about is the series of successful flight tests of the experimental aircraft known as the X-48B, or “blended wing body” (BWB).  We hope that the BWB may contribute to a future of cleaner-burning aircraft that produce less noise — such aircraft will be vital considering the large estimated increase in demand for air travel. The BWB flight tests began this past summer in partnership with the U.S. Air Force and Boeing. The wing of the BWB blends smoothly into a wide, flat, tailless fuselage, providing additional lift with less drag than a traditional circular fuselage, therefore burning less fuel and producing less CO2.  Because the engines can be mounted on top of the aircraft, this configuration also provides a potential to significantly reduce noise signatures on the ground. View X48B Flight Test Highlights (2007).

Now, every time that I fly, I think about NASA’s contributions to our air transportation system, and how remarkable our nation’s progress has been in creating a very safe system, over a relatively short span of time, that supports nearly 50,000 flights in a 24-hour period.  I am also excited about the possibility of a future system that safely meets our nation’s growing demand to take to the skies while ensuring that the environment is protected.