Visiting NASA Innovators in California

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Armstrong Flight Research Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. These two innovative hubs are unique. At the same time they share the larger mission of NASA — to propel us on our journey to Mars and drive technologies that advance our missions and also improve life on Earth.

At JPL, center director Dr. Charles Elachi showed me the scale model of the Mars Curiosity rover. It’s like being next to this intrepid explorer! Later I also got to see Mission Operations, where so many great missions have returned their first data and images to Earth, and where we have celebrated many successes towards expanding the frontier of human achievement. It was a thrill to see the work that JPL is doing for the Mars 2020 rover, which will study the rocks on the Martian surface to search for signs of microbial life and help us understand how resources such as oxygen may be extracted from the soil in the future. All of our Mars missions are helping pave the way for human missions to the Red Planet. At JPL, you can definitely see that intersection between science and human exploration — both in science and technology development.

It was a great pleasure to visit with JPL’s Earth science team. Of course, a primary focus of NASA research is studying our own planet and continuing to improve our understanding of the dynamic global system.

Armstrong – auspiciously celebrating the birthday last week of namesake Neil Armstrong – is home to strong science as well as aeronautics under the leadership of center director David McBride. It was great to be onsite close to the place where so many space shuttle landings took place. It is also a place where so many aeronautics innovations are happening right now, such as recent work on engine health. Armstrong’s Flight Opportunities Program is doing cutting edge work, such as drop tests for future sample return missions and suborbital opportunities that help us prove technologies before they have to go to the harsh environment of space. At Armstrong, they’re supporting commercial launches that are happening right now out of the Mojave Air and Space Port.

Both Armstrong and JPL have their own personality, and I was happy to get to know both of these West Coast innovators better. The tour continues!