Reaching New Horizons at Ames

Even at a place like NASA, where our hardworking women and men are accustomed to reaching new heights, last week was special. It seemed like our entire country was taken with the dazzling new images of Pluto that were sent to us from billions of miles away by New Horizons.

After 3 billion miles and more than 9 years in space, New Horizons became the longest duration mission ever to reach its science target, and because of this, we’ve been able to receive the most detailed-close-up images and measurements of Pluto ever. For our country, this means that we are the first nation to reach Pluto, and we are the only nation to have completed an initial survey of our solar system. Our science and engineering exploration efforts represent remarkable new opportunities for learning, understanding, and innovating.

New Horizons truly was a team effort – an effort that spanned multiple states and sectors.

Many of the talented team members that made this mission possible work at NASA’s Ames Research Center, and I had the opportunity to meet with several of them last week, during my “homecoming” to Ames. I say homecoming because I spent every summer from 1989 through 1992 at Ames performing my Ph.D. research on Extravehicular Activity and new technologies to allow for mobile spacewalks.

In addition to meeting with some very dedicated members of the New Horizons team, I also met with folks who are innovating in all sorts of amazing ways. I was so impressed with the team at the NASA Advanced Supercomputing Facility and with all the cutting edge robotics research going on at Ames (I got to drive, but didn’t crash the planetary rover on a >40 downward slope!).

The work being performed at Ames on cutting-edge aeronautics research – including Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Air Traffic Management, and the unequalled Arcjet facility – is nothing short of remarkable.

I very much enjoyed meeting with the team at the National Full-Scale Aerodynamic Complex and the Air Traffic Management Lab, where I saw a demonstration of the Terminal Spacing and Sequencing tool. This could not be more important at a time when our skies are growing more crowded by the day. We like to emphasize that ‘NASA is with you when you fly.

Of course, the people of Ames are doing important work to advance NASA’s Journey to Mars. Their work on the Orion spacecraft and space life sciences are reasons that we’re closer to sending human beings to Mars than ever before in the history of science and exploration.

One of my heroes, Eleanor Roosevelt once said that the “future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” The women and men of NASA Ames clearly believe in the beauty of their dreams – and it shows. I’m very much looking forward to continuing to work with you and all of the NASA team as we continue to reach for new heights, to expand humanity’s presence into space, and to strengthen America’s leadership here on Earth.

Reaching for New Heights at Langley

From aviation to asteroids to earth science; from advanced composites to autonomous aircraft to bug guts, the men and women of the Langley Research Center are doing amazing things every day – continuing a legacy that spans a century. Last week, I had the opportunity to meet with many of them during an all-hands meeting.

NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman, second from left, visits the Langley Research Center and the ISAAC robot. Photo credit: NASA_Langley
NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman, second from left, visits the Langley Research Center and the ISAAC robot. Photo credit: NASA_Langley

While I’ve only been on the job as Deputy Administrator for a relatively short time, I’ve been a part of NASA’s extended family for decades, and in fact, my second and third spaceflight experiments were funded by Langley under the direction of the great Sherwin Beck. What I’ve long admired about the people at this Center is that the work they do is so cutting edge – and it can have a real impact on all our lives.

Take for example their work on heat shields and thermal protection systems. Next week a team of Langley engineers are headed to Canada to test personal fire shelters with the U.S. Forest Service.

I had the opportunity to tour another example first hand – Boeing’s 757 ecoDemonstrator airplane – which the company flew in partnership with NASA in order to test technologies that can make air travel, cleaner, quieter and even safer than it is today (even as our skies are more crowded).

One of the potential areas for cost savings is insect repellent. As my NASA colleague Christopher Wohl told the Daily Press newspaper, by reducing insert residue (or in less technical terms “bug guts”) from planes’ surfaces “the impact of that across the entire aviation industry can be really enormous.”

I also had the opportunity to talk with Langley team members about the important work they are performing to advance our Journey to Mars efforts. I saw demonstrations of robotic arm grapple research for our Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), an incredible robot named ISAAC (Integrated Structural Assembly of Advanced Composites) to further novel composite layups and manufacturing, and impressive unmanned aircraft systems at Langley’s autonomy incubator, which reminded me of a creative campus environment.

I very much enjoyed meeting with senior leadership and new employees and interns alike. The people of Langley are such a big part of the reason that we’re able to say “NASA is with you when you fly” and they are impacting our Journey to Mars and our work to reaffirm America’s leadership here on Earth. How lucky all of us are to be part of such a great team here at NASA who continue to reach for new heights for the benefit of humankind.

An Impressive Team at the Johnson Space Center

What an impressive team we have in Houston!  The best part of my job as Deputy Administrator is the opportunity to meet with the incredible employees that make NASA the special place that it is. As part of my visits to every NASA center, I had a chance to meet with inspiring folks at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) on Monday, and to talk with them about the work they are doing to move our Journey to Mars forward.

NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman visits NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston June 8, 2015.
NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman (left) visits NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston June 8, 2015. Photo credit: James Blair/NASA.

It was a bit of a homecoming for me.  Through the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with NASA colleagues at JSC on everything from my first Shuttle experiment on STS-42 to assess astronaut workload and ergonomics; to my NASA-Mir flight experiment (1996-1998); to recent work on preventing astronaut injuries during EVA training.

During my visit, Director Ellen Ochoa and Program Manager Mark Geyer showed me a mock up of the Orion spacecraft – which will transport American astronauts to deep space in the not-too-distant future.  Dr. Ochoa and I also had the opportunity to spend some quality time with “Robonaut,” a state-of-the-art “humanoid” robot – built and designed by the team at JSC – to work alongside our astronauts in space. Earlier in the day, we talked to the teams who are involved with designing next generation spacesuits and life support systems, passions of mine.

On a personal note, I very much enjoyed meeting some of the younger, recently-hired NASA employees (along with a few of my former students!), who represent the future of our agency and space exploration.  When American astronauts reach Mars in the 2030s I have no doubt that they will be a big part of the reason why.

With December’s successful flight test of Orion, to the exciting research taking place that will make crewed missions to Mars possible (including the One-Year Crew and twin studies) to all the advances the JSC team is making on developing the technologies to drive exploration, these are exciting times for JSC and for the entire NASA family.

Building on the Legacy of Our First Spacewalk

Fifty years ago today, Ed White took one of the first and most significant steps on a journey that will culminate on the surface of Mars. You see, he became the first American astronaut in history to conduct a spacewalk.

Ed White conducts America's first spacewalk
During the Gemini 4 mission on June 3, 1965, Ed White became the first American to conduct a spacewalk. The spacewalk started at 3:45 p.m. EDT on the third orbit when White opened the hatch and used the hand-held maneuvering oxygen-jet gun to push himself out of the capsule.

Having worked on the research and development of these smallest of spacecraft – the spacesuit — I can personally attest to the significance of this milestone. In many ways, Ed’s “Extravehicular Activity” or “EVA” as it’s known in space-lingo, was the modern day equivalent of Lewis & Clark’s portage across the Gates of the Mountains during exploration of the West. He had ventured into uncharted territory.

As a new consensus continues to emerge around NASA’s plan and timetable for American astronauts exploring cis-lunar space in the 2020s (where they will no doubt participate in spacewalks) and the Red Planet In the 2030s, Ed White’s 23 minute spacewalk is a big part of the reason why Mars is now within our sights after 50 years of spacewalking exploration.

Over the years, NASA has perfected the art and science of the spacewalk, and many astronauts have followed in Ed’s footsteps, from Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on Apollo 11 to Kathy Sullivan on STS-41G to Jerry Ross and Jim Newman, who began assembly of the International Space Station, to record holders Michael Lopez-Alegria (who undertook 10 spacewalks) and Suni Williams (who holds the records for most spacewalks and most spacewalk time by a female astronaut). The incredible achievements during the Hubble Space Telescope servicing repair missions highlight EVA’s criticality to mission success.

In the days, years, and decades ahead, we will continue to push EVA technological advancements as we move forward on our Journey to Mars.