Women Have Always Been NASA Pioneers

by Dr. Dava Newman and Dr. Ellen Stofan

If you ask someone about the history of NASA, they will likely talk about the Apollo moon landings, the space shuttle, the Hubble Space telescope, or landing on Mars. But the people of NASA, especially the women, behind these great achievements remain little known.

NASA Deputy Administrator Dr. Dava Newman explores a prototype Orion spacecraft. Photo credit: NASA
NASA Deputy Administrator Dr. Dava Newman explores a prototype Orion spacecraft. Photo credit: NASA

The men and women of NASA have achieved incredible things, working as a team to push back the frontiers of technology and science. But with women making up only about a third of our science, technology, engineering and math workforce, we are not tapping into the talent to solve the challenges of NASA and our society. In honor of Women’s History Month, we would like to highlight just a few of the many women who have moved this agency forward over its 58-year history.

NASA Chief Scientist Dr. Ellen Stofan meets with Melissa Trainer in the SAM Testbed Lab during her visit to Goddard Space Flight Center
NASA Chief Scientist Dr. Ellen Stofan meets with Melissa Trainer in the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Testbed Lab during her visit to Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Hrybyk.

Female pioneers from the entire history of aviation and space history have helped us get to the point where were are now – on a journey to Mars and with many capabilities to help us search for life elsewhere in the solar system and beyond.

One of those pioneers, Dr. Thora Halstead, passed away last week. Thora was a mentor to many, and her work benefited thousands. She’s been credited with helping to establish the field of space biology before there was such a discipline, and the mentors of many of today’s scientists working in the field can credit Thora with direct mentorship or inspiration.

Thora’s numerous experiments and more than 40 published papers explored how the cells of living organisms respond to a low-gravity environment. As we move closer to Mars, we see that work in many ways, from the VEGGIE experiment that has produced the first lettuce crop in space, or research to show us how plants communicate within their systems in microgravity. Thora also founded the American Society for Gravitational and Space Biology (ASGSB), a 500-plus member society with worldwide scientific community membership (now the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research). The legacy of exchange and collaboration that she began will continue to advance space biology for years to come.

By remembering the contributions that the women of NASA have already made, hopefully we can help to inspire the next generation of Thora Halsteads. There have been many. Katherine Johnson, for instance, was recently recognized with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contributions to NASA’s earliest days. A mathematician, her calculations helped the Mercury program soar, and helped land those Apollo astronauts on the moon. As an African American woman, she helped open the doors to many who followed, including Dr. Christine Darden who, in 1967, began crunching numbers and writing some of the complex programs for engineers at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia and developed a computer program for minimizing sonic boom.

Our first class of astronauts to include females was selected in 1978. While the legendary Dr. Sally Ride eventually became the first American woman to fly to space, her fellow classmates Dr. Shannon W. Lucid, Dr. Margaret Rhea Seddon, Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan, Dr. Judith A. Resnik, and Dr. Anna L. Fisher (who became the first mother in space) also went on to make their mark in space. Many of the women who helped their space shuttles return to flight again and again on many missions were also women, working diligently behind the scenes.

Dr. Joan Vernikos, former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Program, pioneered research on how living in a microgravity environment affected the health of astronauts.  Jeanne Crews was an engineer at NASA from the mid-1960s onward and helped us achieve many of the space program’s early milestones. Dr. Nancy Grace Roman, an astronomer known as “the Mother of Hubble,” not only helped design the great observatory, she worked tirelessly to get NASA and the Congress to make it happen.

Several women have served as NASA’s Chief Scientist, including Dr. France Cordova, Dr. Kathie Olsen, Dr. Shannon Lucid and, currently, Dr. Ellen Stofan.

Many women have led NASA in senior management positions, from Dr. Carolyn Huntoon, the first female center director, at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Dr. Ellen Ochoa, who currently leads Johnson, Lesa Roe, who led our Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and is now NASA’s deputy associate administrator, Dr. Harriet Jenkins, a mathematician who also served as NASA’s assistant administrator for equal opportunity programs, and Shana Dale, the agency’s first female deputy administrator – who has been followed by Lori Garver and Dr. Dava Newman.

There are many stories to tell, and many being written right now. The Women@NASA website is a good resource to find out more about how women today are more than ever involved in every aspect of NASA’s work.

In this field where milestones are the norm, we are standing on the shoulders of many giants, and we celebrate that legacy by advancing it and reaching new heights.

Dr. Dava Newman is NASA’s deputy administrator. Dr. Ellen Stofan is NASA’s chief scientist.

Where Shakespeare Meets Science

By Dr. Ellen Stofan

This blog from NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan reflects on the life and legacy of William Shakespeare on the 400th anniversary of his death April 23, 1616.

NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan. Photo credit NASA/Jay Westcott

“Sweet Moon,” William Shakespeare wrote in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “I thank thee for thy sunny beams; I thank thee, Moon, for shining now so bright.”

I wonder if Shakespeare ever envisioned worlds with many moons, such as the 27 moons of Uranus, many of which bear the names of Shakespearean characters. Each of these moons is its own little world, from the messy fractures of Miranda – pulled and twisted by Uranus and its companion moons – to the ancient and dark moon Umbriel. But it is right and good to pay homage to Shakespeare with these points of light in the night sky, to a man who has brought so much light to so many lives, encapsulating the joy, the sorrow, and the very nature of what it is to be human.

In 2011, I sat in the Theater Royal in Haymarket London, having the amazing experience of watching Ralph Fiennes as Prospero in The Tempest. The program noted that the play was first performed in London in 1611 for James I; the thought of that actually distracted my attention from the play for a moment!  For 400 years, people just like me had sat in theaters in this very town, hearing those very same words, laughing at those same lines such as, “We are such stuff as dreams are made of,” “What’s past is prologue,” and so on. I found as much relevance to my life and my modern era as the audience with James I likely found to their lives. The ability to bring all of life into art – and to make it last for centuries – that’s the gift of Shakespeare.

I find in the timeless appeal and relevance of Shakespeare the same thing that I actually love about the study of our Earth, our solar system, and our universe. For billions of years, stars and planets are born, they live, and they die. We came from stardust and we return to it. For the study of geology or stellar evolution or astrobiology is actually just a wonderful, complex, timeless story with depth and drama—just the kind of tale that Shakespeare told so well. I sometimes get frustrated with scientists who just want to tell “just the facts,” leaving out the stories behind the science, burying the message in jargon and method.

I was an art history minor in college, and now I promote science communication at NASA—helping our scientists and engineers bring not just the detail but the ‘why?’ the ‘who cares?’ and the ‘how did we get here?’ We need to bring context to our research: How does this affect my life or my place on this planet? And what is our future? Science not only informs us—it inspires us. The more we learn, the more we crave knowledge and understanding. Science fuels our innate curiosity. As we look to those points of light in the night sky, we yearn to know more—to understand our place in the universe.

When we plan at NASA to send humans to Mars, we do so to answer the fundamental question that humans have long pondered: Are we alone? Could life have evolved on another world and what could that life reveal about the very nature of life itself? When we look to the now thousands of planets we have found around other stars—how many of them are possibly not just habitable, but inhabited worlds?

That is why we need not just STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – we need the humanities. We need Shakespeare, we need the arts, and we need design, to understand our world and beyond. Shakespeare was a master at telling the story of the lives of people on this planet. In science, we try to take apart all that is behind that story – piece by piece – to understand how it works, where it is going, and where we’re going. But we need to approach these difficult challenges using both sides of the brain. We need to use our heads and our hearts.

Great science is about so much more than analyzing data. It’s about dreaming big. It’s about creativity, inspiration, and asking the right questions. It’s about perseverance and courage. It’s about heroes. It’s all the things we appreciate about Shakespeare’s works—powerful storytelling that stands the test of time.

As we work to solve the most pressing questions about our origins and our destiny, we come back to Shakespeare, to share the big story of science with everyone.

Ellen Stofan is among a diverse group of actors, community leaders, artists and scholars who will share their connection to Shakespeare through compelling performances and personal stories at noon EDT on April 23rd at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. This international event will be broadcast via C-SPAN2’S BOOKTV and live streamed at Folger.edu.


Dr. Ellen Stofan is NASA’s Chief Scientist.

Encouraging Diversity in Research

By Ellen Stofan and Gale Allen

At NASA, we tackle important issues such as how to send American astronauts to Mars in the 2030s (our Journey to Mars), understanding our planet’s changing climate, searching for potentially habitable planets around other stars, and trying to determine if life exists beyond Earth. We push the technologies that drive exploration and economic growth to new levels, work to make aircraft cleaner, greener, safer and quieter, and conduct research off-the-Earth, for the Earth on the International Space Station.

To do all this, we rely heavily on researchers all over this country who propose new and innovative research to NASA. We know that to best accomplish our goals and objectives, we need a research workforce that reflects the whole country, and leverages the power of America’s diversity—one of our nation’s greatest competitive assets.  To solve these tough problems, it’s “all hands on deck.” We need to ensure that we’re tapping into the talent of all of our population.

Starting this week, when researchers log into the NSPIRES NASA grant proposal site, they will be offered the opportunity to fill out a demographic information form. Providing this information will be totally voluntary and will not affect the outcome of the proposal.

Data obtained from this form – which will be kept separate from the proposal review process – will allow the agency to begin to assess the diversity of the research population and the pool of grant recipients. This voluntary data collection is similar to what’s been done by other federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation. It requires sufficient participation by the scientific community to obtain a meaningful dataset, so participation is highly encouraged.

At NASA, we always need to be funding the very best, competitive scientific research. We also need to ensure that everyone feels welcome, and that implicit bias does not play a role in diminishing our research population. With a diverse research community, we cast a wider net that invites more ideas, perspectives and solutions. This allows us to harness the talent of all of our population to tackle what lies ahead—in this solar system and beyond!

Ellen Stofan is NASA’s Chief Scientist and Gale Allen is NASA’s Deputy Chief Scientist

Working Off Earth to Save Millions of Lives Upon It

By David Miller, NASA Chief Technologist

W.H. Auden once wrote that while “thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”

Water is the most basic human resources. Yet, it’s been estimated that by 2050, three quarters of the world’s population could face freshwater scarcity. Already, 1.1 billion people across our planet do not have access to quality drinking water according to the World Health Organization, nearly a sixth of the world’s population. Meanwhile, the United Nations reports that each and every year, our world loses 3.5 million people due to inadequate water supplies, sanitation, and hygiene.

Today, the White House released a new report on the actions we in the United States are taking – and can take – to improve the health, management, and sustainability of water resources across our planet.

At NASA we are playing a central role. Throughout our history, we’ve developed technologies that not only drive the exploration of space, but improve the way we care for our sick, feed our children, and save and improve lives across the globe.

The very same technologies we’re developing to provide our astronauts with safe drinking water in space are being put to use throughout the developing world. For example:

The Environmental and Life Control Support System (ECLSS) that is used aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to purify water for drinking, cooking, and hygiene for astronauts working off-the-Earth for the benefit of Earth, has been deployed across the world in places like Chiapas, Mexico, where school children are now able to drink purified water.


NASA engineers have helped install water purification systems in places like the Northern Iraqi village of Kendala where the population was devastated after a deep-water well failed.

A NASA-derived tool discovered aquifers in Kenya holding 66 trillion gallons of water — enough to supply the area for generations.

In the 1990s, the government of Vietnam used iodine-based water purifiers based on NASA technology that was estimated to reach between 50 to 70 million people.

Meanwhile, NASA and our partners are working on new research projects that will advance water technologies even further.

Last month, The Cleveland Plain Dealer profiled a collaboration between NASA’s Glenn Research Center and Case Western University on how electronically charged plasma can be used to purify water.

Meanwhile just last week, a promising experiment which could impact water reclamation technologies arrived at the International Space Station. It’s called the “Packed Bed Reactor Experiment” or PBRE.

In a further example, NASA continues to partner with the California Department of Water Resources on tools to plan for and mitigate the impact of droughts.

As President Obama put it “for pennies on the dollar, the space program has improved our lives, advanced our society, strengthened our economy, and inspired generations of Americans.”   Nowhere is this more evident – and more important – than in the case of water technology.

DSCOVR’s First Light on the Future

I’m delighted to see the first light image from the Deep Space Climate

Former NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin
Former NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin

Observatory (DSCOVR) spacecraft – not only using its sensors to see Earth, but also capitalizing on the advantage of a Lagrange point. Doing so is a symbolic signpost of what’s ahead, not only to help take care of our home planet, but also furthering our future exploration of the Moon and reaching out with humans to the distant dunes of Mars.

 First of all, DSCOVR’s first image is being issued on a date that puts me back on the Moon – the first humans to land on a landscape 46 years ago today that I saw as “magnificent desolation.”

 There were many technical challenges this country faced, as well as acknowledging the magnitude and weighty implications of Apollo 11’s historic journey.Oddly, while Neil Armstrong and I stood there in that stark, foreboding Sea of Tranquility, we also knew we were not alone. An estimated 600 million people back on Earth, at that time the largest television audience in history, watched us both walk on the Moon.

 And from the Moon, Neil and I both looked upward at our glorious blue planet Earth, silently sitting there in the darkness of space. While we were farther away from Earth than two humans had ever been, we were simply the spearhead of a community of participants. Virtually the entire world took that treasured voyagewith us.

 Similarly, DSCOVR offers us a vantage point view – for all of us — of our beautiful Earth, as well as becoming part of a neighborhood watch program that looks for harmful solar activity. The spacecraft orbits between Earth and the Sun at a location called the Lagrange point 1, or L1. Being there gives DSCOVR a unique vantage point to see the Earth and Sun.

But let me fast forward into the years to come.

By matching Earth-Moon Lagrangian points with astronauts operating telerobotic hardware, this will allow the assembly of infrastructure on the lunar surface, carry out scientific research, scout out and unearth important resources, as well as help other nations establish their own “one small step” onto the Moon.

This capability is an innovative advance in redefining the word “exploration” – and also is a powerful stepping stone to practice similar operations at Mars and its moons to establish a settlement on the planet Mars.

Once again, I salute DSCOVR’s “observational switch” being thrown. As one of some 7 billion of ushere on this world, I eagerly await its findings.

Growing Food on a Changing Planet: NASA Brings Food Security Down to Earth at Expo Milano 2015

by Ellen Stofan

The theme of Expo Milano 2015 is Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life. When I visited in mid-May, even on a weekday, the Expo was packed with visitors from all over the world. At the USA Pavilion, with its beautiful and inspiring vertical farm wall, visitors received welcoming messages from President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry on the challenges and opportunities of feeding a growing population with a changing climate.

Caption: The USA Pavilion is a 35,000 square foot space within Expo Milano's 3.6 million square foot sustainable “smart city.” The building is a multi-level experience including a massive vertical farm that is harvested daily. Image courtesy of www.usapavilion2015.net
Caption: The USA Pavilion is a 35,000 square foot space within Expo Milano’s 3.6 million square foot sustainable “smart city.” The building is a multi-level experience including a massive vertical farm that is harvested daily. Image courtesy of www.usapavilion2015.net

I spoke to an enthusiastic audience at the USA Pavilion about the role NASA plays in ensuring food security. From our unique vantage point of space, and as the nation’s leader in developing cutting-edge capabilities, NASA plays a critical role in supporting agriculture at home and around the world.

California is suffering from a multi-year drought, consistent with what we expect from our changing climate. This is a concern for all of us in the United States, as California has a $46 billion dollar agricultural economy that helps feed this country. With agriculture using over 80% of the water in California, management of the water supply and reducing agricultural use of water is a priority that NASA is helping with. NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission has revealed the extent of the depletion of water from aquifers, while other NASA instruments have helped to quantify potential snowpack melt that is critical to estimating the state’s water budget. NASA scientists are in partnership with the private sector, the state of California and federal agencies to directly address drought-induced water resource challenges in agriculture. One NASA project uses Landsat and MODIS data to provide statewide maps of land being left fallow, helping state officials understand potential changing water demands. Another NASA project is using a combination of space and ground-based data to help farmers reduce water usage by about 30% for certain crops, showing a potential path forward to reduce agricultural water use. These examples illustrate the multiple and unique uses of space-based data in quantifying and managing water resources, to benefit our economy and our nation.

Caption: NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan delivers a keynote address “Growing Food on a Changing Planet: How Space Science Research Benefits Life on Earth” at the USA Pavilion on May 11 during Expo Milano 2015. Image courtesy of http://www.expo2015.org
Caption: NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan delivers a keynote address “Growing Food on a Changing Planet: How Space Science Research Benefits Life on Earth” at the USA Pavilion on May 11 during Expo Milano 2015. Image courtesy of http://www.expo2015.org

With over 2 billion people living on less than $2 per day, rising food prices can contribute significantly to hunger and malnutrition around the world, increasing global insecurity. NASA’s SERVIR program, a partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development, helps countries around the world utilize NASA data to help in response to natural disasters, manage resources including agriculture, and protect biodiversity. Through SERVIR, NASA data are helping Kenyan tea and coffee producers to reduce crop losses due to frosts, and helping African countries assess the potential effects of drought on their crops. Better food security around the world means better security for the United States.

Visitors to the Expo were surprised and energized to hear what NASA is doing, and to discover that NASA data are free and available to the public. We use the same tools and techniques to study our planet as we do other planets in our solar system. We bring NASA scientists, engineers and technologists together with citizen scientists to use the unique global view of this complex planet and gather the data we need to grow our economy through better resilience to disasters, managing our water resources and enhancing food security.

The author is NASA’s Chief Scientist.

NASA releases global climate change projections

By Ellen Stofan, NASA Chief Scientist

Earlier today, I presented newly released, high-definition climate assessment data, the latest product from the NASA Earth Exchange (NEX), a big-data research platform within the NASA Advanced Supercomputing Center at the agency’s Ames Research Center.

The release of this NASA data was a key aspect of the Climate Services for Resilient Development initiative, a new $34 million partnership announced by John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

I’ve reposted the blog from Dr. Holdren and Brian Deese, a senior advisor to the President, which outlines the administration’s announcement.

To view the Five-Year Global Temperature Anomalies from 1880 to 2014 video, visit: http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/details.cgi?aid=4252

For my slide presentation at today’s event, click here060915 Stofan Climate Services for Development Visualization.

Empowering Developing Nations to Boost Their Own Climate Resilience

Brian Deese and John Holdren

This blog was originally posted on the White House blog on June 09, 2015, 09:45 AM EDT

Today, at the U.S. Institute of Peace, the United States and partners from around the world are delivering on President Obama’s commitment to help empower developing nations to boost their own climate resilience.

The Climate Services for Resilient Development Partnership, initially announced by the President at the UN Climate Summit in New York last September, will provide actionable science, data, information, tools, and training to developing countries that are working to strengthen their national resilience against the impacts of climate change. The Partnership is launching with more than $34 million in financial and in-kind contributions from the U.S. government and seven other founding-partner institutions from around the world: the American Red Cross, Asian Development Bank, Esri, Google, Inter-American Development Bank, the Skoll Global Threats Fund, and the U.K. government.

Climate change threatens our entire planet. The impacts of climate change – including more intense storms and storm surge damage, more severe droughts and heat waves, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, and biodiversity losses – are already being experienced in different ways around the world. These impacts can be particularly damaging in developing countries, which often lack the resources and technical capacity to effectively prepare for and adapt to the effects of climate change.

The Partnership that is launching today recognizes that no single entity is capable of addressing the vast needs for improved climate services across the world’s developing nations – and that needs may vary from country to country and region to region. Communities, governments, and decision makers on the ground need a range of tools and services in order to effectively plan for the future. These may include projections of future sea-level rise that help planners identify places to build and develop that are out of harm’s way, to maps that overlay population, infrastructure, and climate data to help decision makers target resources to areas of greatest vulnerability.

To start, the new Partnership’s initial efforts will focus on developing and applying scalable, replicable climate services in Colombia, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh. Over time, these services will expand to the broader subregions represented by these three countries: the Andean region and Caribbean; East Africa and the Sahel; and South Asia and Southeast Asia. Throughout each step of the process, the Partnership will work hand-in-hand with stakeholders and entities on the ground, ensuring the utility and long-term sustainability of services provided.

The work of the Climate Services for Resilient Development Partnership builds on extraordinary progress already being made both internationally and here in the United States. For instance, the U.S. government already supports a number of successful programs that this new partnership will leverage and augment, including the Climate Services Partnership, NOAA’s International Training Desks and International Research and Applications Project (IRAP), NASA and USAID’s SERVIR program, and the Global Resilience Partnership (GRP). Likewise, there are many institutions and programs in focus countries that the partnership will build on as a core component of its efforts.

Here at home, the Obama administration is continuing to support communities across the United States as they strengthen their resilience to the impacts of climate change – including by supporting climate resilient investments, planning for climate related risks, and providing tools and information for decision-makers.

We are thrilled to launch this historic partnership with entities from around the world and to continue working together to ensure our planet, a shared and treasured resource, remains strong and resilient for generations to come.

Brian Deese is Senior Advisor to the President. John P. Holdren is Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.


Bright Blue Sky and a Sunny Day

By Ellen Stofan, NASA Chief Scientist

NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan and U.S. Ambassador to Chile Michael Hammer
NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan and U.S. Ambassador to Chile Michael Hammer prepare to board the DC-8 aircraft for an Operation IceBridge flight over the Antarctic ice sheet on October 28, 2014.

The sky was bright blue and the sun was shining, but the temperature outside was about -38°C (-36°F).

Two days ago, I was flying 2000 feet above the Fountain Ice Stream in Antarctica with Operation IceBridge, NASA’s airborne instrument platform that studies the Arctic and the Antarctic. The IceBridge team was in the Arctic this spring, measuring sea ice thickness and extent, and the elevation and thickness of the Greenland ice sheet.

Now the DC-8 aircraft is based in Punta Arenas, Chile, for about two months, flying carefully-chosen tracks across the Antarctic continent when the weather allows. The science instruments on the aircraft – radars and lidars – measure the height and thickness of the ice sheets, glaciers and ice shelves. NASA has been collecting this data for years, and combining it with data collected by the National Science Foundation, NOAA, and our international partners to see how these critical parts of our climate system – the polar ice caps – are changing.

The polar ice caps play a critical role in climate, as their white surfaces reflect heat and light from the sun. This is especially important in the Arctic. When sea ice disappears it is replaced by the dark ocean surface, which absorbs heat and warmth.

antartcia from ice bridge
NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan took this photo from the DC-8 aircraft, 1800 feet above the Antarctic ice sheet.

Meanwhile, ice sheets – several kilometers thick in some places – top the Antarctic continent and Greenland. Global temperature has risen due to human-induced climate change over the past several decades, but it has not risen uniformly in all places.

Warming has been accentuated in the Arctic and in the western part of Antarctica. In the West Antarctic, scientific data, including that from IceBridge, tells us that the ice sheet is collapsing and glaciers have accelerated towards the ocean, due to climate change.

But does what happens in a remote region like this really affect us? The answer is unfortunately yes. Collapse of the West Antarctic ice will possibly contribute as much as 30 cm (about 12 in) of sea level rise by 2100.

As I looked out the window at the seemingly endless expanse of white cracked and windblown ice below me, it was hard to think of tropical islands being inundated and tidal surges causing regular flooding in Florida and other US states.

But climate change is happening now, and ice loss here in the Antarctic and in the Arctic is already affecting people all over the world. I have seen it with my own eyes. The amount of warming humans have caused by putting greenhouse gases into our atmosphere will at this point result in some amount of West Antarctic ice sheet collapse, extensive ice loss in Greenland, and a smaller and smaller amount of Arctic ice each summer resulting in irreversible sea level rise and more extreme weather events.

Looking out at the pristine Antarctic ice, I hope that we can start to become better stewards of our planet, and prevent even more irreversible loss of polar ice and resulting sea level rise that will imperil our planet, and its inhabitants.

Dr. Ellen Stofan was appointed NASA chief scientist on August 25, 2013, serving as principal advisor to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the agency’s science programs and science-related strategic planning and investments.

Makers Lead Tomorrow’s Innovation

By David W. Miller, NASA Chief Technologist

Technology drives exploration. NASA’s traditional partners play a critical role in our work. But we need new, innovative ways of doing things, and a growing community of space-enthusiasts has the ability to contribute to NASA’s mission through their passion and technical expertise.

Driven by a desire to explore and understand the universe, the agency is constantly developing new technologies and improving upon old ones. Makers are driven by that same desire, and NASA is reaching out to them for new ideas and new ways to accomplish our goals. Makers have helped NASA peer into new galaxies. They are working to make air travel safer and more efficient, and building robots to explore other worlds. They are helping us understand Earth’s changing climate.

Inventing the future is a passion NASA shares with Makers.  We are working together to create the technology to drive exploration here on Earth and out in space.

At the first White House Maker Faire today, NASA announced new opportunities for Makers: a 3D printing challenge, an additive manufacturing competition, and a new way for Cubesat developers to work with NASA. These efforts with help inspire a new generation of space enthusiasts and bring new ideas into NASA.

In conjunction with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation, NASA will host a challenge for middle and school students to design an item that will be printed on the first 3D printer aboard the International Space Station. The winning student team will be able to watch as the item is printed in space, and other teams may have the opportunity to have their design printed at local Maker spaces.

NASA has an active Cubesat program, working with students and entrepreneurs across the country. Working through the Space Grant network of colleges and universities, we will release a new announcement of opportunity designed to reach out to states that do not have a Cubesat presence in space.

We are partnering with America Makes on an additive manufacturing competition to challenge participants to find new ways to create safe habitats using locally available materials and constructed at the point of use.

These new efforts complement the work NASA is already doing in the Maker community. Five NASA centers have Makerspaces on site. The Centennial Challenges program offers Makers a diverse set of prizes for building innovations like future astronaut suits, sample return robots, lunar landers, and environmentally friendly planes. Several Makers who participated in NASA challenges have established businesses, showing that Makers are a critical part of the American innovation economy.

Makers are also a key element of NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge, which is to find all asteroid threats to human population and know what to do about them. The AGC, which turns a year old today, is working with Makers through the Asteroid Data Hunter contest series, and partnerships with SpaceGAMBIT and Slooh designed to bring citizen scientists into the effort to find all asteroid threats to human population and know what to do about them.

The space community has always been a home for Makers. From rocket builders to satellite builders, and amateur astronomers to software coders, what we do at NASA is made better by the involvement of Makers.

The author is NASA’s Chief Technologist.


Commercial Crew: Part of NASA’s Stepping Stone Approach to Human Exploration

By Kathy Lueders

This is an exciting time to become a program manager in NASA’s human spaceflight program. We have already introduced a new way to develop spacecraft for low-Earth orbit with the cargo program. This is our stone in the overall agency’s stepping stone approach to unprecedented exploration. First, regular trips to the International Space Station aboard privately owned, American-made spacecraft so we can get the most out of the orbiting laboratory and its one-of-a-kind research capabilities, then human excavation of an asteroid in space followed by the boldest mission yet: sending humans to Mars. The Commercial Crew Program is committed to meeting our part of this critical strategy.

The Commercial Crew Program was created three years ago with two purposes. The first is to invest in a national capability for flying crews to low-Earth orbit. During the past three years, using the investment NASA has provided, the partners have risen to the challenge and have made tremendous progress toward developing safe, reliable and cost-effective space transportation systems for low-Earth orbit. Later this year, our partners will conduct some of the most dynamic and challenging systems testing yet.

The second purpose, to actually certify and fly missions to the ISS, will be executed with the award of one or more Commercial Crew Transportation Capabilities contracts in August. These contracts will culminate in missions that will fly NASA crew to the ISS.

I am honored and proud of my extremely capable team on both the NASA and industry side. The next three years will go by quickly as our partners test their systems, perform flight demonstrations, finalize certification and conduct flights in 2017. It may feel like 2017 is a long time away, but for the challenge in front of us – developing a privately owned spaceflight system – it is not. In addition, through our partnerships with industry, we are working to provide unique capabilities NASA has not had in 30 years. It will be the first time that a U.S. capability would provide not only transportation to and from, but also the “lifeboat” capability that ensures the crew always has a safe way home.

We are one step in the agency’s strategy. We look forward to placing that stepping stone out there for future generations to travel on.

More information on the lifeboat capability
More on the Commercial Crew Program