Last Entry – November 26,2008

This will be my last entry on this blog as I prepare to transition out of NASA in January 2009. When people, regardless of where they live around the world, find out that I work at NASA, their eyes light up. It is a tribute to this great Agency! People around the world hold NASA in the highest regard. And they should. This is a special place with exciting missions that push the frontiers of human knowledge, and it’s filled with people that love the work they do and are completely committed to America’s space program.

So, it’s been a great ride and I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the people of NASA and the broader aerospace community. It’s a tight-knit group and although it sometimes feels like a soap opera, it’s still family. 

I am moving on to this new phase of my life with a new look. On November 20, I had my long hair cut off and donated my long ponytail to Locks of Love. This public non-profit charity provides hairpieces and wigs to financially disadvantaged children in the United States and Canada suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis. As I move to this next stage of my life, hopefully, I can also help out a child in need in the process.

Most of us are in belt-tightening mode given the current financial situation, but please give consideration to those who are in even greater need. Food banks around the country are struggling as are many charities. Part of my family’s gift-giving, over the past couple of years, has been to include donations of clothes and toys to kids in need. That effort will be increased this year as I plan to give my three nieces a set amount for each one to spend on a charity of her choice. And remember to thank and support the men and women of our armed services – those who have been injured and those who will be spending the holidays away from their loved ones. This is my chance to say: Thank you for your absolute commitment and unrelenting resolve which are required to protect our great country and which allow all of us, as Americans, to live free.

Happy Holidays and best wishes for 2009!

STS-126 Crew is Busy at Work at the International Space Station

STS-126 marks the fourth and final shuttle mission of 2008 and is a very important one to the future of human spaceflight. Space shuttle Endeavour and its crew have delivered equipment to the International Space Station that will enable it to house six – instead of three – crew members for long-duration missions. Expanding the crew size is a key step to utilizing the space station to its full capability.

On the night of November 14, when the shuttle lifted off and lit up the sky in Florida, it carried 32,000 pounds of cargo, including two additional sleeping quarters, a second toilet system, and equipment to recycle urine into potable water. This water regeneration system will help to ensure the space station’s self-sufficiency, which is necessary before the space shuttle retires.

The STS-126 mission has been described as an “extreme home makeover,” but it’s really a home improvement that requires incredible coordination between the space station and space shuttle crews and ground teams. The servicing of the space station’s two Solar Alpha Rotary Joints (SARJ) is the focus of the flight’s four spacewalks. These wagon-wheel-shaped joints allow the space station’s solar arrays to rotate so that they’re always getting as much sun as possible. The SARJ on the space station’s starboard – or right – side has had very limited use for the past year. By lubricating both SARJs, we hope to extend the lives of the joints to ensure that the space station can generate the power for the larger station crews.

Due to their demanding work, the shuttle and station crews may not have time to celebrate an incredible milestone on November 20. But we here on the ground should do so. Ten years ago, the first element of the station, the Zarya module, was launched into space, kicking off the most complex engineering project ever.

The space station is now the size of a five-bedroom home and is a testament to the unique partnership among NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

There are thousands of people across this country and around the world who have worked to make this current mission not only possible, but also to make it the success it is turning out to be.

Lean Six Sigma NASA Style

This week I attended, along with managers representing offices from I&A, CFO, PA&E, and HCMO, a training session on how to realize better efficiencies within the internal NASA processes using the Lean Six Sigma process.  The exercise was lead by Patty Fundum from Marshall Space Flight Center and Mark Adrian with Adrian Technologies Incorporated.  Below is a brief explanation of Lean Six Sigma that I hope you find useful.  Many Centers and programs have already fully embraced Lean Six Sigma.  I look forward to the implementation of this management tool across NASA.

Lean and Six Sigma are widely used in industry as continuous improvement best practices.  They are also very complementary in nature and, if performed properly, can produce unprecedented results.  Lean focuses on eliminating non-value added activities in a process and Six Sigma focuses on reducing variation from the remaining value-added steps.  Lean provides speed ensuring products and services flow without interruption while Six Sigma ensures that critical product / service characteristics are completed correctly the very first time we do them.

Typical product service flow six sigma

NASA is using Lean Six Sigma (LSS) as an approach that combines Lean manufacturing and Six Sigma from a global perspective to take both suppliers and customers into account.  This approach tells us how to improve our processes in a way that considers both the costs of poor quality and issues critical to customer requirements. In addition to manufacturing processes, we have had great success in applying LSS to operational, transactional, and service processes.  Recognizing that the greatest value of LSS can be obtained during Pre-Proposal, Proposal Evaluation and Program Evaluation activities we are currently evaluating where best to begin this application of LSS.

Committed leadership, education, and institutionalization are essential to successful application of Lean Six Sigma.  Together, with Adrian Technologies Incorporated, we have developed our own training and deployment program to create “in house” Lean Six Sigma experts otherwise known as “Champions, Green Belts and Black Belts” who have successfully lead over 200 strategically aligned projects.

We are using LSS as a defined approach to synthesize the use of established tools and methods.  Its methods are divided into two approaches.  One approach is called Design For Six Sigma, and generally used when designing new systems or processes.  The other approach, used for process improvement, is called the Vision-Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control approach.

To date, nine Centers have personnel who have attended NASA’s Lean Six Sigma training program and three field Centers are actively engaging broad scale deployment.  Once again, I would like to thank Patty and Mark for their efforts.  If you would like additional information please contact Patty directly at the NASA Lean Six Sigma Management Office at 256.544.8436 or by e-mail at

LaunchFest at Goddard Space Flight Center

Also, this week I wanted to briefly mention LaunchFest which will be held Saturday, Sept. 13, at the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC).  LaunchFest will celebrate Goddard’s upcoming missions as well as highlight NASA’s 50th Anniversary.  The Center will be open to the public and they anticipate that more than 10,000 people will attend.  LaunchFest will be another great outreach effort to the Center’s community.

How NASA Helped Olympic Swimmers in Beijing

Many of us have been glued to the TV set, watching the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China.  Many may be unaware that NASA technology has been used to help the U.S. Olympic swim team.  As we watched U.S. swimmers shatter world record after world record, and win Olympic medal after Olympic medal, we take special pride in the fact that they were wearing swimsuits with NASA-tested fabrics.  

Researchers from Speedo’s Aqualab, its global research and development facility, and Warnaco, Inc., the U.S. licensee of the Speedo brand, approached NASA Langley Research Center to conduct research on drag reduction of swimsuits because of the center’s long history of wind tunnel testing on drag reduction for aircrafts and boats.  Aqualab worked with NASA aerospace engineer Steve Wilkinson, other U.S. and foreign research organizations, as well as U.S. Olympic swimmers, to develop the LZR Racer swimsuit.
Member of the US swiming team
As explained by Mr. Wilkinson, “Speedo’s Aqualab approached us after the 2004 Summer Olympics for help in evaluating the viscous drag and roughness characteristics of candidate fabrics for a new competition swimsuit for elite swimmers.  Working with Aqualab researchers, we developed a wind tunnel test protocol to assess fabric performance, based on extensive work done by NASA on drag reduction in the mid-1980s.  We entered into a Space Act Agreement whereby Speedo would deliver fabric samples and we would evaluate the viscous drag and surface roughness.  In all, more than 60 fabrics were tested in one of Langely’s small low speed wind tunnels to assess which fabrics and weaves had the lowest drag.  With computational studies indicating that drag or skin friction is about one third of the total restraining force on a swimmer, any reduction in drag should help swimmers go faster.”  

Michael Phelps with LZR Racer swimsuit
Obviously, wearing this swimsuit will not make everyone an Olympic champion – such a reward comes from the complete dedication and exceptional efforts of these men and women.  Nevertheless, NASA’s participation is an interesting story about how our testing can help reduce water resistance and may help swimmers go faster.  

All U.S. swimmers wore the LZR Racer. The U.S. won medals in 31 events, winning gold in 12 of them.  For 23 out of 25 of the world records broken at the Beijing games, the swimmers were wearing the Speedo LZR Racer.  Americans broke 11 of those records or 44 percent of the world records broken.  94 % of all gold medals and 89 % of all the medals were won by swimmers wearing the suit. Additionally, every men’s swimming event was won by an athlete wearing the LZR Racer.

Pretty Amazing.


On a previous blog regarding the proposed Agency commercial space policy, I received a number of excellent comments.  Any comments on that blog should be directed to Ken Davidian, and I have forwarded your reactions and suggestions to him for review as we develop the agency-level version of this policy.  I especially appreciate the clarification on point (5) regarding long-term “financial” government support.  Another comment concerned the potential for the federal government to take someone’s idea and pass it on without compensation.  I am in complete agreement with you.  It would not be fair for someone in the federal government to take someone’s unique idea and bid it with the sole intention of giving it to a favored contractor.  That’s why we have the unsolicited proposal process and procedures to protect company’s proprietary data.  Thank you again for your comments.  
Michael Phelps with LZR Racer swimsuit
When that blog was posted, comments were posted automatically without any prior check on content.  On a Federal website, we are obligated to screen for inappropriate language etc., before something gets posted.  We simply don’t have the manpower to screen incoming comments (real-time) for inappropriate language etc.  We are resource-constrained at HQ and that situation will not be alleviated any time in the near future.

Exploration Update

As you know, NASA is preparing for a return to the moon by 2020.  To accomplish this goal, NASA’s Constellation Program ( is designing and building the spacecraft and systems to once again propel us beyond low Earth orbit.  At NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California, a mock-up of the next full-size capsule to send humans to the Moon can be seen and also will be used in early testing. Click here, to see the photo of the Orion space capsule as it heads to its temporary home in a hangar at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

In 2006 and 2007, NASA awarded the major contracts to build the crew capsule, called Orion, and its launch vehicle, Ares I. Engineers from the NASA centers and aerospace companies around the country are designing the spacecraft, launch vehicle and systems. For example, earlier this month on July 17, Aerojet completed the second of two firings of full scale jettison motors for Orion’s launch abort system at their facility in California And, engineers from NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and Stennis Space Center worked with Pratt Whitney Rocketdyne to complete engine power pack testing in Mississippi at Stennis Space Center in May. This work is essential for development of the J-2X engine that will power the upper stage of the Ares I rocket.

On the return trip from missions to the International Space Station and the Moon, the crew and crew capsule will be protected during re-entry to Earth by the heat shield. Engineers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California are testing competing materials for the Orion heat shield, while assisting the NASA Science Mission Directorate and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the application of the heat shield for the Mars Science Lab. Click here to see a photo of the Orion crew capsule heat shield.

NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia is leading the way for the first test flight in development of the Ares I rocket.  The Ares I-X project engineers are working toward a launch next spring.  Inert upper stage sections for Ares I-X are being manufactured onsite at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio and ATK is manufacturing segments and other components of the first stage.  Parachutes for recovery of the rocket’s first stage — the largest parachutes of this type — are being tested.  The most recent test was a test of the drogue chute on July 24th.  Click here, to read the NASA press release.

In addition to development of the flight hardware, significant construction work is underway.  Several construction events are taking place at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.  The Operations and Checkout Building is being refurbished to prepare it for the final assembly of the Orion spacecraft.  Firing Room 1 at KSC Launch Control has been transferred to the Constellation Program.  And construction of a new lightning protection system for the launch pad is about 25 percent complete.  Later this fall, more significant modifications to the structure will begin in support of the Ares 1-X launch. In Louisiana, work has been initiated on the Michoud Assembly Facility for preparation of the manufacturing hardware for the Ares I upper stage and Orion capsule.  While in Ohio, major renovation of test facilities is progressing at the Glenn Research Center’s Plumbrook facility where vibration, acoustic and thermal vacuum testing of the Orion capsule will take place. 

While the near-term development work is progressing, Constellation also is taking steps to prepare for lunar missions.  The Constellation Program recently held the very first program milestone for lunar capabilities.  A very thorough analysis calculated the performance required to define the transportation systems needed for lunar missions.  This information was used to define the initial designs for the Altair lunar lander and the Ares V heavy-lift vehicle to launch it.

Separately, the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate is preparing the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite for missions to the Moon early next year. These spacecraft will provide information about the Moon that will be vital to preparing for human missions to establish a lunar outpost in the coming years. Additionally, NASA is testing several concepts for lunar rovers and technology; check out the photos (flash) from Moses Lake to find out more about the concepts and technology that we may use

These are just a few examples of the real progress we’re making in the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate and Constellation Program. NASA is building on our solid 50-year foundation to develop the future robotic and human spaceflight. I would like to thank Doug Cooke for his contributions to this blog. For additional information on NASA’s exploration efforts please go to

Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Image of NASA booth and DC Mall at Folklife Festival

Last week marked the opening of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. held at the National Mall. (see image at left)  This year, NASA, the State of Texas and the Kingdom of Bhutan are the honorees. The Folklife Festival is held for ten days June 25 – 29, and July 2-6, is free to the public and typically attracts more than one million visitors.







Image of the Prince of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel on the Moonbuggy

Image at left is  the Prince of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel on a NASA Moonbuggy

NASA: Fifty Years and Beyond will showcase the role that the men and women of NASA have played in broadening the horizons of American science and culture, as well as the role that they will continue to play in helping to shape the future by stirring the public imagination.

The NASA program includes presentations, hands-on educational activities, demonstrations of skills, techniques, and knowledge, narrative “oral history” sessions, and exhibits that will explore the spirit of innovation, discovery, and service embodied by the Agency. We have over 500 volunteer representatives that include astronomers, astronauts, astrophysicists, scientists, engineers, and other subject matter experts to answer questions from the public. 

The Festival kicked off with several exciting events, including a special advance screening of the Disney Pixar film Wall-E in Washington, D.C., and a special concert of Gustav Holst’s The Planets by the Space Philharmonic, a part of the National Symphony Orchestra, led by Maestro Emil De Cou. The concert, held in the Museum of the American Indian, included imagery from NASA and featured the playing of the new Wall-E theme song.  These special events set the stage for a great week of sharing NASA’s culture, mission and inspiration with tens of thousands of visitors on the Mall.

This week we have more exciting events in store for the more than 100,000 expected visitors per day over the Fourth of July weekend.  Please check out the NASA Folklife Festival activities and schedule at or NASA employees can visit our communications portal at   

Another Exciting Week for NASA Mission Success

 Last week was a great week for missions at NASA.  We successfully launched the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST); Space Shuttle Discovery safely returned with the STS-124 crew; and Phoenix scooped and scraped at the surface of Mars uncovering what may be either ice or salt immediately below the Martian surface.Panorama of Phoenix’s Solar Panel and Robotic Arm


GLAST, a powerful new observatory, was launched to explore the most extreme environments in the Universe.  Gamma rays are the highest-energy form of light, and the gamma-ray sky is spectacularly different from the one we perceive with our own eyes. GLAST data will enable scientists to answer persistent questions across a broad range of topics, including supermassive black hole systems, pulsars, the origin of cosmic rays, and searches for signs of new physics.  GLAST is a partnership between NASA and the Department of Energy with international contributions from France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Sweden.  This mission is expected to last five years with a goal of ten years of operation.  GLAST will be working with NASA’s Great Observatory missions (Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope) to provide full-spectrum coverage of the heavens for astrophysicists around the world.  Thanks to the GLAST team for their contribution to the blog.  For more information visit:  


After 14 days in space, Space Shuttle Discovery safely landed after another successful mission to the International Space Station (ISS).  Discovery completed a 5.7 million mile journey that included delivery of the Japanese Science Laboratory known as “Kibo” and picking up Astronaut Garrett Reisman who returned home after 95 days in space – 90 of which were aboard the Station.  There were three spacewalks totaling 20 hours, 32 minutes.  The crews transferred 1,787 pounds of resupply cargo and returned 1,807 pounds of cargo to Earth.  Discovery hauled up and delivered to the ISS 783 pounds of water, 135 pounds of nitrogen, 121 pounds of oxygen and as some would say the most important of all — toilet parts.  

Left behind on the station is the Expedition 17 crew, Commander Sergei Volkov, Flight Engineer Oleg Kononenko and Reisman’s replacement, Flight Engineer Greg Chamitoff, who will spend the next five months on the Station until his return home on STS-126.   Welcome home STS-124.


Last week, I had a unique opportunity to travel briefly to Vienna, Austria, to address the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS).  An important objective of my visit was to provide the Committee with an overview of NASA’s first 50 years in space, as well as communicate our future plans for space exploration that will encompass a need for global cooperation and partnership.

UNCOPUOS was set up as an ad hoc committee by the General Assembly in 1958, and as a standing committee in 1959, to review the scope of international cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space, to devise programs in this field to be undertaken under United Nations auspices, to encourage continued research and the dissemination of information on outer space matters, and to study legal problems arising from the exploration of outer space.  UNCOPUOS is comprised of sixty-nine member countries; observer organizations, such as the European Space Agency; and other UN organizations.    
With the Chairman of UNCOPUOS, Dr. Ciro Arevalo-Yepeswith the Director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, Dr. Mazlan Othman  
I also had meetings with the Chairman of UNCOPUOS, Dr. Ciro Arevalo-Yepes (see image above on the left),  the Director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, Dr. Mazlan Othman (see image above on the right) and the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in Vienna, Mr. Greg Schulte. 
On a personal note, while I did not participate in any soccer-related events during my trip, it was fun to be in Austria during the ongoing Euro 2008 soccer tournament, which Austria and Switzerland are hosting this year.  During my brief stay, the national team from Austria played the national team from Poland in Vienna and the entire town was alive with excitement surrounding the game.  Fans from both Austria and Poland were walking around town dressed in team colors.  I would like to thank the Office of External Relations for doing a great job with this trip.