“The state of our NASA is strong.”
This is the refrain NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Jr. repeated 12 times in 22 minutes during Tuesday’s State of NASA address, delivered at NASA’s Langley Research Center, simulcast to 9 other major NASA centers, and broadcast by NASA TV.
I was one of the fortunate social media enthusiasts invited to be at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to watch the simulcast and to tour key components of the center as part of the day leading up to (and following) the address, an event identified all over social media as #StateofNASA.
When I talk about NASA on social media, it is always interesting how people chime in with their memories. My friend Deb shared this letter that her father, a NASA engineer, received in recognition of his work in 1965 on the Apollo program:
My dad worked on the computer systems of the Apollo, the one that went to the moon. People worked long days about 12 hours day at the test site in Hancock County, MS-right by New Orleans. They then shipped the Apollo to Florida along the Gulf of Mexico. Van Braun, Rocket Scientist would stop by the engineers desks. My dad said he stopped by my dad’s desk and talked with him.
The people of Deb’s father’s 1965 NASA would probably be astounded at 2016 NASA, at:
Technology That Helps Diagnose Breast Cancer
Technological advances which originated at NASA, like Charge-Coupled Devices, which were initially created to help the Hubble Space Telescope produce more detailed images. This technology is now used to make the diagnostic process less invasive and more effective for women being examined for breast cancer.
Fitting Lots of Oxygen Into Compact Spaces
On my December visit and the #StateofNASA visit, I had an opportunity to hear from the Nitrogen Oxygen Recharge System (NORS) developers. (NORS is mentioned and described briefly here.) NORS enables NASA to deliver compressed oxygen to the International Space Station via a compact, lightweight container. This is a critical component for long-term survival needs of inhabitants of space.
The Cooperative, International, Public-Private Nature of Today’s Space Industry
In my two visits to Kennedy Space Center, as well as a visit by the head of Kennedy’s Tech Transfer office, Mike Lester, to Tallahassee’s DOMI Station, I have seen professionals of both genders, people of every ethnicity, those who have been NASA employees for decades, and been a guest of facilities who are most decidedly “private” and “corporate” in nature but “public” and “mission-driven” in purpose.
Would any of the men who signed Deb’s father’s letter have expected the upcoming roster of astronauts to be 50% female? Would those men have envisioned an American astronaut and a Russian astronaut living together on the International Space Station for a year? Would they have seen as “desirable” a mutually supportive relationship between Boeing, United Launch Alliance, Orbital, and multiple other commercial partners?
When Administrator Bolden referred to OUR NASA, he meant a NASA which would probably surprise the men of 1965 in its composition, its achievements (and yes, its failures), and in its resilience. Bolden reflected, “growing up in the segregated south, I never dreamed my own journey would take me to space. I certainly never thought it would take me to the administration of the first black president, or to be Administrator of NASA at a time when our people are preparing to return human space launches to American soil and laying the foundation for a journey to Mars.”
Two Additional Notes
The Astronaut Class of 2013
I have noticed this story several times, both on Twitter and during my visit to NASA: Would You Go to Mars? Meet the Four Women Astronauts Who Can’t Wait to Get There. The article in Glamour highlights the four women who compose 50% of the astronaut class of 2013. I so admire them, and loved hearing about their backgrounds, such as Army veteran Anne McClain, who said “…I have no doubt NASA will find solutions. Walking out to the launch pad, would there be … fear? Absolutely. But if you don’t face your fears, the only thing you’ll ever see is what’s in your comfort zone.”
I also loved the fact that the article quoted NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman, Ph.D., who made a huge impression on me when she spoke to our group during the December NASA Social. In this article, she stated, “This [MARS Mission] will be the longest, farthest, and most ambitious space-exploration mission in history.”
Here’s the thing for me: I am thrilled that these women received this coverage, I am thrilled that they will potentially be among the first Americans on Mars, but when will the day come that “our” NASA will be so thoroughly integrated that it won’t be an outlier or cause for unusual celebration that four women are part of an astronaut class? It seems to me that’s still a work in progress.
One of my fellow #StateofNASA attendees was Jillian Gloria, with the Earthrise Space Foundation, Inc. Jillian and her team have produced a book called Sagan’s Quest. The book, targeted to children, promotes Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and is inspired by her company’s real endeavor to the Moon. Sagan is a robot (named after the infamous astronomer Carl Sagan) who is led by his friend, Carla, through spaceflight history and his journey to the lunar surface. You can read a virtual copy for free, or order a physical copy, at www.earthrise-space.org/
From Mr. Huwaldt who was part of making space exploration a reality in 1965, to Administrator Bolden who 50 years later is leading a legitimate effort to go to Mars in the 2030s, accounting for every man and woman in between, the “OUR” of NASA has evolved and will continue to do so.
I can’t wait to see where “our” NASA goes!
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. My pronouns are she/her/hers.