Editor’s note

Dava Newman resigned as NASA’s deputy administrator on Jan. 20, 2017. This blog is being kept online for historical purposes, but it will no longer be updated.

Embracing the Diversity of Our Journey: Aspirations for Infinite Diversity and Infinite Combinations

NASA continues to work hard to diversify our workforce and help to inspire the leaders of tomorrow. We’ve had numerous events at NASA Headquarters and our centers in the past few months to showcase the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics and Design (STEAMD) disciplines and how they relate to our Journey to Mars and all of our exploration and scientific missions. We have to take bold steps to ensure that we significantly increase the number of women and people of color in NASA’s STEM workforce because we need their perspectives and excellence. In order to be the best we can be,we cannot leave any untapped resources on the sidelines. I’m happy that this month, two more events, the Women of Color STEM conference, and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), gave us more opportunities to recognize leaders in these fields and to continue our efforts to expand inclusion.

At the Women of Color STEM conference (WOC) in Detroit Oct. 13-15, coordinated by Nola Bland at the Glenn Research Center (GRC) in Cleveland, we held a pre-college event for middle and high school girls that included a Living on Mars Habitat Design Challenge, and a Solar Arrays for the ISS Space Station Design Challenge. Dozens of girls participated and interacted with NASA women who are doing this work today. WOC builds the STEM pipeline and expands our reach into the pre-college student community for those who might not otherwise aspire toward a career in science, technology, engineering, or math due to social and economic barriers. We have to ensure that these young superstars are welcomed and ‘see’ themselves and also know that they ‘belong’ in STEM careers.

NASA’s workshops were facilitated by Tiffany Williams, who received a Technology Rising Star Award, and Rochelle May and Terrian Nowden — all three are engineers at NASA GRC.  The students shared in hands-on, competitive activities that engaged and challenged them to consider STEM careers as real options. The interactive workshops were very well attended, with over 160 middle school and high school students in the two one-hour sessions. Another panel we hosted was Women to Women: Up Close and Personal, a roundtable discussion led by Robyn Gordon (GRC) and Michelle Ferebee (LaRC) that was very well attended.

I also want to give a shout-out to all the women awardees we recognized at a Technology Awards Recognition Luncheon. Recognized as Technology Rising Stars were Erica Alston (Langley); Dr. Diana Santiago-DeJesus (Glenn); Devin Pugh-Thomas (Langley); Yolanda Shea (Langley); and Tiffany Williams. We also held a panel discussion to give attendees a perspective from NASA executives and trailblazers, with moderator Michelle Ferebee (Langley) and panelists Dr. Marla Perez-Davis (Glenn), Julie Williams-Byrd (Langley), Robyn Gordon (Glenn), and Dr. Dionne Hernandez-Lugo (Glenn). NASA’s Panel Discussion was packed, with all seats filled and many standing! At the Gala Peer Awards we recognized leaders Darlene Baxter and Victoria Chung, both of Langley.

Last week, at the Society of Women Engineers conference in Philadelphia that was coordinated by Elizabeth Walker, Tania Davis, and Courtney Myers of NASA Headquarters and Janie Nall of Goddard, we hosted a panel session on How NASA is Empowering Women in Engineering.  It was moderated by Dr. Danielle Wood of Headquarters. It featured women who are contributing to cutting-edge NASA missions discussing how they handle challenges on the job, including mentoring, leadership roles and career advancement. We also held a recruitment fair.

Congratulations to Tracy Van Houten of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who received an award.

All of this work lives on beyond these conferences. We’re creating forums for communicating information on NASA’s workforce needs of the future, and at the same time, sharing promising and emerging practices to help increase underrepresented and underserved populations at NASA and in STEM education and professions.

Throughout my career, I have worked alongside many colleagues to look for ways to welcome women and underrepresented superstars into academia. Now that I am serving in government, I see many common challenges across government, academia and industry as we strive to increase diversity and inclusion. But this challenge is not rocket science! There are promising solutions we must act on and implement at once.

We know that diversity is key to achieving excellence, and excellence is required for the bold missions we are pursuing at NASA and in all of our institutions. Our Journey to Mars, to succeed, demands excellence, and excellence demands diversity and inclusion! We know the numbers are not what we want them to be. For example in 2013 in the United States, women accounted for only 25% of all earned doctorate degrees in engineering, and just 16% of those in aerospace engineering. In Physics, women account for 19% of all earned doctorates. African Americans and Hispanics account for less than 5% each of all doctorates in engineering.

This is our pipeline to NASA’s doors, and if that pipeline is not diverse, we are not diverse. Our Journey to Mars – boots on Mars in the 2030s! – relies on the strength of our diversity and excellence.

If we are looking to truly be more inclusive, we need to invite participation by all, including those who may not see themselves as scientists and engineers, but who connect with the arts, design and the Makers Movement.

Art and science are very complementary and go hand-in-hand. There’s also an intersection of design and engineering that goes hand-in-hand, and we have so much to learn from each other. Through expanding who we reach out to, who we recruit, and also how we are teaching — by changing the conversation to filter everyone ‘in’, rather than filtering anyone ‘out’ — we can truly make a difference in creating not just more diverse student populations in STEM, but more excellence in our professional work environments.

Please join me in recognizing the participants and award recipients at these conferences and help the NASA Family continue its work to make the Journey to Mars truly represent the excellence that is America. In the words of Gene Roddenberry writing Star Trek, we seek, “infinite diversity and infinite combinations.”

A Revolution in Small Satelites and Community Resilience

One of the reasons that Earth observation is a priority at NASA is that we know that the more a community knows about an impending hurricane or storm event, the better they are able to prepare and make themselves resilient.  Likewise, the more we in the global scientific community learn about our planet’s changing climate, the better we are able to respond and perhaps even reverse its effects.

This year we will be launching the first of five small-satellite, next generation Earth observation missions that offer much promise when it comes to measuring hurricanes and other critical aspects of Earth’s climate and weather.  The first of these missions, the RAVAN CubeSat, will advance our ability to track Earth’s energy budget.

One of the things that is so remarkable about these small-satellite missions is that they can have such a large impact on our understanding, while carrying such a small footprint.  These small satellites range in size from a loaf of bread to a small washing machine.  Some weigh just a few kilograms!

We are in the midst of what we at NASA call the “Small Satellite Revolution.”  Today, NASA has 71 CubeSat missions to fly almost 100 small spacecraft, which support 27 science, 15 technology, 6 exploration, and 23 STEM related investigations.

These missions are helping NASA advance scientific and human exploration, reduce the cost of new space missions, and expand access to space.  As NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told the audience at the Satellite 2016 conference “…we recognize that when we’re able to make our launches more affordable and when we’re able to schedule our launches more rapidly, the results will be transformative and will potentially attract more young scientists and engineers into our field.”

From the standpoint of innovation, small satellite technology has the potential to be transformational.  Today, innovators both in and out of government are hard at work creating new architectures that were not feasible with traditionally sized satellites or spacecraft.  The innovation is staggering: the ability to take risk and significantly reduce the cost of demonstrating precursor technologies; the opportunity to flight test and demonstrate new sorts of revolutionary components; and the possibility of using swarms of multiple small satellites in tandem to achieve a broader array of coverage.

In the days, months, and years ahead we look forward to partnering across the public, private, academic, and non-profit sectors to leverage this innovative progress; progress that will help strengthen the resiliency of our communities for weather events and natural disasters, while strengthening our national economy.

Studying the Solar System and Beyond from 45,000 Feet

NASA science takes many shapes, and we’re always pushing the boundary of what is achievable. I’ve just had an incredible opportunity to take part in one of our amazing missions that is gazing beyond our solar system in a unique way.

NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman flies aboard the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) Photo Credit: U.S. Embassy New Zealand/ Ola Thorsen
NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman flies aboard the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) Photo Credit: U.S. Embassy New Zealand/ Ola Thorsen

The flying observatory called SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is in Christchurch, New Zealand, to study parts of the universe more easily visible from the Southern Hemisphere. It carries a 2.5-meter telescope inside a Boeing 747SP jetliner to observe the cosmos at infrared wavelengths. These observations are not possible from the ground, because water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere absorbs almost all the infrared light before it reaches the ground’s surface. SOFIA flies above 99 percent of this water vapor, at 38,000-45,000 feet in altitude, while carrying some of the world’s most powerful instruments not currently available on space-based observatories.

These unique capabilities enable scientists to study the origins of our universe in ways that no other observatory can. Last night I flew with the SOFIA team as they observed multiple targets in space: a nova (explosion of a star) in the constellation Sagittarius; one of the biggest stars known, named Eta Carinae, that will explode as a supernova relatively soon; and a large, newly forming star called IRAS 16562-3959. The science flight lasted ten hours, and at 61 degrees south latitude we witnessed the amazing aurora australis.

In addition to its powerful observing capabilities, SOFIA also has the unique ability to allow guest investigators, educators, journalists, and other related professionals to fly on an observing mission and see the research process first-hand. The educators fly on the observatory as part of NASA’s Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors (AAA) program, a competitive professional development opportunity designed to implement active teaching methods, inspire students, and enhance scientific literacy for learners of all ages. The educators take what they learn on SOFIA back into their classrooms and communities to convey the value of scientific research, the importance of scientific and design processes, and the wide variety of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) career paths available to students.

The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) carries some of the world’s most powerful instruments not currently available on space-based observatories. Photo credit: U.S. Embassy New Zealand/Ola Thorsen
The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) carries some of the world’s most powerful instruments not currently available on space-based observatories. Photo credit: U.S. Embassy New Zealand/Ola Thorsen

This program brings the excitement, challenges, discoveries, and teamwork of SOFIA operations to the public on a national and international scale. Indeed, SOFIA itself is a partnership between NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) – our wonderful partner in many areas that also flies educators to the stratosphere aboard this incredible airborne science observatory. This one-of-a-kind program seeks excellence by promoting both advancement and literacy in science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics, and design (STEAMD) to prepare a 21st Century, interdisciplinary workforce.

SOFIA investigates the infrared universe to make discoveries light years away. It’s an example of vital NASA science expanding our journey of discovery – and I look forward to following its scientific discoveries in the years ahead.

Building a Commercial Market in Low Earth Orbit

By Tom Kalil and Dr. Dava Newman

“By buying the services of space transportation – rather than the vehicles themselves – we can continue to ensure rigorous safety standards are met. But we will also accelerate the pace of innovations as companies – from young startups to established leaders – compete to design and build and launch new means of carrying people and materials out of our atmosphere.”

President Barack Obama
Kennedy Space Center
Cape Canaveral, Florida
April 15, 2010

This April marked the sixth anniversary of President Obama’s landmark address on space policy at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In his speech, the President set out the goal of sending American astronauts to Mars in the 2030s, using a strategy that encourages innovation and entrepreneurship in space exploration through investments in new space technologies and partnerships with the private sector as well as academia and other non-traditional partners.

Six years later, we have made great progress toward our goals, and the commercial space industry is expanding rapidly. The United States is closer to sending human beings to Mars than anyone, anywhere, at any time has ever been. In the next decade, NASA’s human space exploration program will shift its focus from operations in low-Earth orbit (LEO) to moving out in to Earth–Moon orbits, namely, cislunar and deep space, where astronauts are days, or weeks, away from Earth. Deep space exploration is the proving ground where NASA will prepare by flight testing technologies necessary for the immense challenge of sending astronauts to Mars and back in the 2030s.

As NASA moves in to cislunar orbits, its commercial partners will need to take the lead in low-Earth orbit by building a space economy based not solely on government contracts, but on private sector supply and demand. NASA’s commercial cargo program has reinvigorated the American launch industry by helping Orbital ATK and SpaceX develop the Cygnus and Dragon capsules to supply cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). NASA recently added a third US company, the Sierra Nevada Corporation, for ISS cargo resupply missions through 2024. Boeing and SpaceX are under contract to transport astronauts to the station within the next two years through NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.  For these vehicles to be economically successful in the long run, however, they will need to have private sector customers willing to pay to transport people and cargo to LEO.

Today, NASA is releasing Economic Development of Low Earth Orbit, a new collection of papers, written by prominent economists, that explores the question of how the private sector can take advantage of government investments in LEO.  As the NASA collection’s editors, Dr. Patrick Besha and Dr. Alexander MacDonald, explain, “after the government pioneers, develops, and demonstrates a space capability—from rockets to space-based communications to Earth observation satellites—the private sector realizes its market potential and continues innovating. As new companies establish a presence, the government often withdraws from the market or becomes one of many customers.”

We are currently at the threshold of this sort of opportunity when it comes to low-Earth orbit. We hope to advance the important conversation about the opportunities and challenges ahead of us; opportunities that can have a real impact for the exploration of space, and challenges that we will need to work together to overcome. We hope that through these discussions we will increase our ability to further expand economic opportunity and growth to more Americans and more American businesses.

NASA’s current partnerships with commercial cargo and crew providers are already putting Americans to work at more than a thousand companies across nearly all fifty states. With the recent, successful SpaceX and Orbital ATK resupply missions, our commercial partners have now delivered 24,874 kilos (54,837 pounds) of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). Astronauts on the ISS recently expanded an experimental habitat, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which was delivered on the most recent cargo resupply mission. Members of the crew also entered the module for the first time. Over the next two years, testing of the BEAM and the capability of expandable habitats could lead to future development of commercial habitation systems.   Commercial cargo missions have also included hundreds of experiments that utilize the unique microgravity environment on the ISS, such as a biomedical experiment from Eli Lilly and the first space-based 3D additive manufacturing facility, developed by Made-in-Space.  ISS National Lab manager CASIS continues to provide vital support for these and other commercial initiatives.

NASA’s mission is to explore and reach new heights for the benefit of all humankind. In transitioning LEO to commercial partners, we have an opportunity to do just that: expand economic opportunity for American business and hard-working families, while advancing new technologies, research and discoveries that benefit the entire human family.

Although the focus of the collection of papers being released today is on the potential for economic development in low-Earth orbit, commercial and international partnerships are also an important part of NASA’s Journey to Mars – and we encourage you to learn more about NASA’s plan here. At NASA, we are in the business of turning the impossible in to reality and raising the bar of human potential.

Dr. Dava Newman is deputy administrator of NASA. Tom Kalil is deputy director for policy for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Exploring Together

We are closer than ever before to sending American astronauts to Mars than anyone, anywhere, at any time has ever been. A new consensus is emerging around NASA’s plan and timetable for sending astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s. This consensus extends not only across the aisle in Washington, but across the world to the various corners of science, policy, academia, industry, non-profits, citizen scientists, students, and everyday dreamers who envision a future where there is a continuous human presence on Mars and where our own quality of life here on Earth is better because of the technologies that we develop to get there.

I find that less often are folks asking, “Why aren’t you doing things my way?” or “Is Mars the right destination?” Rather, they’re asking questions like, “How can we be a part of this?” and “What are some areas where we can work together?”

Mars exploration promises to answer enduring questions like: “Is it habitable and did life ever exist on Mars?”

One of the things I often find as I meet with stakeholders from across sectors and around the world is that our partners are looking to NASA (and to a larger extent the people of the United States) for leadership – and we’re happy to provide it!

In the international space community, gone are the days of the “space race” when the dominant theme was that of various nations racing against each other. Instead, we’re increasingly running together. Time and again I hear talk from our friends across the globe of how NASA’s Journey to Mars truly benefits all humankind.

At NASA, we have roughly 700 active agreements with more than 120 international partners. Tens of thousands of people from across 15 countries have been involved in the operations and construction of the International Space Station alone, and the Station has hosted more than 2,000 research investigations from researchers in more than 95 countries.

Here at home, we work with business partners to transfer 1,600 new technologies a year into the market for job creation and economic growth, and we’re constantly looking for partners both in and out of government who are interested in developing the technologies that drive exploration while also creating jobs and improving our quality of life on Earth.

One of many examples is the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, which launched earlier this month aboard a SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the space station for a two-year technology demonstration – one of two recent, successful resupply missions (the other being Orbital-ATK’s Cygnus launch in March). The BEAM demonstration is part of a public-private partnership contract with Bigelow Aerospace to study the radiation protection, thermal performance and general operations of expandable structures in space. President Obama’s budget proposal for the 2017 fiscal year provides $90 million for NASA to study approaches to creating the habitation systems astronauts will need for the journey to Mars, leveraging capabilities developed for the space station and using public-private partnerships.

With the award of our second space station Cargo Resupply Services (CRS-2) contracts, we added Sierra Nevada Corporation, bringing to three the number of American commercial cargo service providers, along with SpaceX and Orbital ATK. We’re also hard at work with our commercial crew partners Boeing and SpaceX to return human space launches to American soil on commercial carriers, allowing NASA to explore farther, with an expanded focus on deep-space exploration – the proving ground for the human missions to the Red Planet that follow as part of our Journey to Mars plan. Our Commercial Crew Program will increase the space station astronauts from six to seven, effectively doubling the amount of crew time dedicated to research on the orbiting laboratory.

We also have Space Act Agreements with dozens of American commercial, government, and non-profit partners – from Google’s work on embedded smartphones to Arizona State University’s work on thermography for prognostics of composite materials, the State of Hawaii’s work on STEM initiatives … the list goes on and on.

Among the many exciting things we’re doing with American businesses, we’re particularly excited about an upcoming SpaceX project that would build upon a current “no-exchange-of-funds” agreement we have with the company. In exchange for Martian entry, descent, and landing data from SpaceX, NASA will offer technical support for the firm’s plan to attempt to land an uncrewed Dragon 2 spacecraft on Mars.

As the saying goes, “spaceflight is hard.” Sending astronauts to Mars, which will be one of the greatest feats of human innovation in the history of civilization, carries with it many, many puzzles to piece together. That’s why we at NASA have made it a priority to reach out to partners in boardrooms, classrooms, laboratories, space agencies and even garages across our country and around the world.

We have more than half a century of experience and success exploring Mars to build upon, dating back to Mariner 4’s flyby in July 1965. Today, we continue to learn more about the Red Planet from NASA’s current robotic missions: the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity), Mars Express, Mars Odyssey, Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity), and Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN). We also work with the Indian Space Research Organisation, providing our deep space network for their Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), as well as the European Space Agency and Roscosmos supporting their ExoMars scientific spacecraft currently enroute to Mars. We firmly believe that humanity is empowered when we collaborate in the peaceful exploration of space.

When he laid out his plans for NASA and the Journey to Mars in 2010, President Obama spoke of how partnership with industry could have the potential to “accelerate the pace of innovations as companies — from young startups to established leaders — compete to design and build and launch new means of carrying people and materials out of our atmosphere.”

This is exactly what’s happening and it’s one of the reasons that we’re closer to sending humans to Mars than ever before.

“One Giant Leaf for Humankind”: Planting Out of This World Veggies With the First Lady

Thanks to First Lady Michelle Obama, gardening and eating healthy are increasingly becoming “cool” among young people. Meanwhile, after millions of people across the world watched fictional astronaut Mark Watney plant potatoes on Mars in Hollywood’s The Martian, the intersection of botany and exploration has been capturing the imaginations of young and old alike — and rightfully so, the ability to grow nutritious food in space can play an important role feeding astronauts on long duration missions to destinations like Mars.

First Lady Michelle Obama, holds up NASA Veggie stickers while posing with Brad Carpenter, NASA chief scientist, Space Life and Physical Sciences, left; NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman, second left; NASA astronaut Cady Coleman, second right; and Gioia Massa, science team lead, Veggie project, right; after planting the same variety of lettuce that was grown on the International Space Station in the White House Kitchen Garden on Tuesday, April 5, 2016 in Washington, DC. Photo Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)
First Lady Michelle Obama, holds up NASA Veggie stickers while posing with Brad Carpenter, NASA chief scientist, Space Life and Physical Sciences, left; NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman, second left; NASA astronaut Cady Coleman, second right; and Gioia Massa, science team lead, Veggie project, right; after planting the same variety of lettuce that was grown on the International Space Station in the White House Kitchen Garden on Tuesday, April 5, 2016 in Washington, DC. Photo Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

This week, my NASA colleagues, astronaut Dr. Cady Coleman, Dr. Gioia Massa and Dr. Brad Carpenter and I felt this excitement first hand, when we joined the First Lady along with school children from around the country at the White House. Together, we planted the White House Kitchen Garden – continuing an eight-year tradition the First Lady began in 2009 to inspire children to develop healthier habits, so we can raise a healthier generation of American children.

We talked to these students about the importance of studying science, technology, engineering, the arts, math and design. I was also able to share my motto:  love, act, discover, invent (LADI), which serves as my guiding principle.  They are part of what we at NASA call the “Mars Generation.”  Someday they might very well view a human presence on Mars as a fact of life,  much like the continuous human presence on the International Space Station has been for the last 15 years and counting.  

NASA is on a Journey to Mars that will send American astronauts – perhaps one of the students we met at the White House yesterday! – to the Red Planet in the 2030s. Science tells us that the healthier our children are outside of the classroom, the healthier and better prepared to learn their minds will be in school.

Therefore, in addition to some delicious and nutritious veggies, the seeds we planted today might grow into the discovery, imagination, and innovation that take us all the way to Mars.

With this in mind, we were thrilled to plant the same variety of lettuce that has been grown on the International Space Station and to do it mere days before NASA’s Veg-03 experiment will travel to the Station aboard SpaceX’s 10th Dragon spacecraft on its CRS-8 mission as part of our commercial cargo initiative.

Veg-03 will make use of the Veggie plant growth facility, a deployable plant growth unit that’s capable of producing salad-type crops in space, thereby providing astronauts with palatable, nutritious fresh food, along with a source of relaxation and recreation … gardening!

You may have read about astronaut Scott Kelly harvesting and sampling red lettuce grown with Veggie during his Year in Space.

As we advance further along our Journey to Mars and prepare to send astronauts on long – duration exploration missions, the ability to grow nutritious food in space holds tremendous promise.  Therefore, Veggie might very well lay the groundwork for feeding the astronauts who reach Mars in the 2030s, and give them a source of recreation.  At the same time, Veggie could also improve growth and biomass production at home here on Earth.

So “Let’s Move!” Let’s move to join First Lady Michelle Obama in raising a healthier generation of children. Let’s move to inspire America’s children to reach for new heights.  Let’s move to plant seeds of progress both here on Earth and in space.

The benefits are truly out of this world!

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.

Celebrating Women in STEM

NASA women are not just part of history. We are making history in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. To mark Women’s History Month this year, several of us spent the day with about 100 students from high schools in Washington, Baltimore and suburban Maryland. We met up at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and talked to them about our jobs – what we do, what we love most about what we do, how we prepared to do our work, and where we find our inspiration. This is the story I shared with them.

When I started college, I expected to become a lawyer. I enjoyed basketball and many sports agents were lawyers, so combining a law degree with athletics seemed like a sure way to succeed. I dreamed I would be the world’s best sports lawyer and I would represent one of the legendary names in my favorite game, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. My older brother, who already was a lawyer, reminded me I also was a whiz at science, math and loved art. He urged me to build a career on those talents instead. Great advice!

Later in my freshman year at Notre Dame, U.S. space policy ignited my passion for the peaceful exploration of outer space and changed my mind about my future. I ended up being one of two female aerospace engineering majors in my graduating class. I went on to earn advanced degrees in aeronautics and astronautics, technology and policy, and aerospace biomedical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I became a university professor and have loved teaching students and performing space research. I’ve flown four spaceflight experiments. I designed a spacesuit for Mars. I wrote a textbook to introduce college freshman to the field of engineering. I also taught leadership development at MIT. The proudest moment of my career was in 2014, when President Obama asked me to serve as deputy administrator of NASA.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my life, and I even used my scientific know-how to save it. Another dream of mine had been to sail around the world. My husband and I were making that dream come true in 2003 when our sailboat lost hydraulic steering. We were in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, far from any land. We tried everything to steer the boat, but fluid it needed had drained away. Nothing was working, until I remembered the gallon of extra virgin olive oil we bought for the Pacific crossing. Maybe we could substitute it. I did a mixing experiment or two to prove olive oil has the same viscosity as hydraulic fluid, and we rigged up an IV-like system to feed the autopilot that enabled us to steer and sail the remaining 1,000 miles to safety in the Marquesas islands. Eureka! I couldn’t have done that with a law degree!

It was a fantastic day at Goddard, but it’s not all about me. I was among my women heroes all day and honored to hear a keynote from Dr. Jo Handelsman, associate director for science in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, as well as eight NASA colleagues who are brilliant examples of what women can accomplish in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (and I also include art and design – STEAMD) careers. They are Julie Robinson, chief scientist for the International Space Station; Sandra Cauffman, deputy system program director for the GOES-R satellite program; Aprille Ericsson, manager of the SBIR/STTR Program; Lori Perkins, a scientific data visualizer; Ellen Ochoa, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center and a former astronaut; Ellen Stofan, NASA’s chief scientist; and Lesa Roe, NASA deputy associate administrator.

My message to the students was simple and I shared my motto: Love – Act – Discover – Innovate (LADI). Be open to possibilities. Know your talents. Rely on your strengths. Follow your passion. You will succeed!


NASA Communicates Harassment Policies to Grantees

All of us in our Agency’s leadership team believe very deeply that NASA’s most important asset is our people. It matters to us intrinsically that we reach for new heights not only in aeronautics and space, but also in how we treat one another, advance the cause of equal opportunity, and make NASA an inclusive, cooperative, and safe working environment worthy of the recognition we’ve received as the #1 best place to work in the federal government. This is the right thing to do; and it’s the right way to manage for results.

Today, Administrator Bolden sent a letter to institutions receiving NASA grants to remind them that “any behavior that demeans or discourages people from fully participating is unacceptable.” Specifically, it reminds our partners that NASA does not tolerate sexual harassment: not at our own Agency and not at any of our partner institutions.

To quote from Administrator Bolden’s letter: We view an inclusive working environment “not as ‘something nice to do’ if the time can be spared, or something that human resources or the diversity and equity offices are responsible for, but rather as an integral and indeed necessary aspect of all educational program environments.”

I encourage you to visit the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity’s website at odeo.hq.nasa.gov to learn more about our work to make NASA a model agency for equal opportunity and diversity.