How The “OUR” of NASA is Changing

“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:

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Photo courtesy of Deborah Huwaldt-Dunatov.

Deb shared:

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.

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One of the NORS Tanks, December 2015.

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.”

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NASA Astronauts Nicole Aunapu Mann, Anne McClain, Jessica Meir, and Christina Hammock Koch, as published in Glamour Magazine

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.”

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President Obama, Administrator Charles Bolden, Deputy Administrator Dava Newman, KSC Director Bob Cabana

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.

Sagan’s Quest

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/sagansquest. I was enchanted by Carla, a girl “with a dream”:

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A page from Sagan’s Quest courtesy of the Earthrise Space Foundation.

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!

Space Exploration

 

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

The Cancer Color of October is … (2015 Version)

NOTE: This is an update of a post I originally wrote in October 2014.

The Cancer Color of October is … not always PINK.

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It is October, and pink predominates pretty much everything because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is important to me because I am the daughter of a survivor and have seen countless friends, acquaintances, and fellow humans (women and men) be diagnosed with this disease. Some are (blessedly) still alive and thriving; others have passed away. As a woman, I face a 1:8 chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in my life. Therefore, for selfish reasons research should be supported. However not all “pink” is effective “pink,” and there are many other causes out there of which we need to be aware and for which we need to take action.

When Pink Makes Me See Red

I am wearing a lot of pink this month, and having been a multiple-year captain at Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, I am in full support of many efforts to raise awareness of breast cancer and fundraise toward support and research. Here in Tallahassee, October 2015 is fully in pink bloom, with many of our city’s leaders and brightest lights leading the way. However, it is important to know that not every product robed in pink does much good and to make well-educated purchasing decisions.

When Pink Has Gray Areas

It is also important to respect the connotations all that pink carries for people currently dealing with breast cancer, either for themselves or a relative. Sarah Thebarge writes eloquently of the evolution of her feelings about pink as a color representing breast cancer here.  She also wrote a superbly useful list of 31 Ways to Help a Friend Who Has Breast Cancer (visit it here) which goes beyond wearing pink.

But Paula You Said This Post Wasn’t Just About Breast Cancer!

It’s not. I want to encourage you to add some “blue” to your October observances (I know, now it’s feeling baby shower-ish up in here, isn’t it?). Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the US. It has affected many men I know.

Ed Randall’s Fans for the Cure seeks to “save lives by increasing awareness of prostate cancer and the life-saving value of early detection while providing education and information about cutting-edge research to reduce risk, detect, and treat prostate cancer.”

Fans for the Cure aims to encourage all men over 40 to consult with their doctors and schedule their prostate exams and PSA blood tests today because early detection saves lives.

See Tom Foley, Tampa Bay Rays Bench Coach, discuss prostate cancer and his father’s experience here:

Fans for the Cure envisions a world where all men are aware of their risk and know how to prevent prostate cancer. (Early detection can involve a simple blood test. Read more about detection options here or visit this site to donate.)

Fans for the Cure was present at nearly 175 minor-league games this baseball season. At these games, Fans for the Cure partners with local hospitals to offer prostate cancer screening and provides information. I hope to make one of these games next year.

Got it: PINK, BLUE, and … GRAY?

I had this “pink and blue” post planned for weeks before I wrote the original post in 2014. One individual’s story presented itself to me via friends, though, and it was important to add it. Andy Nichols was the brother-in-law of a friend (as she puts it “the brother of my heart.”). Andy had an aggressive glioblastoma brain tumor, which is in the same family of brain tumors as the one my friend Dustin had. When I learned that Poplar Head Baptist Church would be holding a 5K race in Blountstown on October 11, 2014, in Andy’s honor (to help with expenses not covered by insurance as well as raise awareness), and that his friends wanted help getting the word out and generating as much participation as possible, I knew in a heartbeat that I would be heading west that day.

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Tiffany, Debbie, Paula O’Neill and I had such a fun day at the fun for Andy!

Andy and his family chose the "I have hope" phrase to symbolize hope for a cure for ALL forms of cancer, not only brain cancer.

Andy and his family chose the “I have hope” phrase to symbolize hope for a cure for ALL forms of cancer, not only brain cancer.

NOTE: Andy passed away from complications caused by his brain cancer. He is not forgotten, even by those who did not technically know him.

So Many Causes … Where Do I Go From Here?

I wish I knew! I have only scratched the surface, with a bias toward the fact that it’s October, that my mom (pictured in this post with a pink bird of hope) is a breast cancer survivor, that Ed Randall is doing so much across the country to encourage men to get screened for prostate cancer, and that Andy and his family needed (and got) our support on October 11. My friend Mary Jane, a multiple myeloma survivor, organized a team for the NYC Half Marathon in March via Team in Training and our team ROCKED THAT RACE. As to “where do I go from here?”

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This graphic is from www.crochetforcancer.org.

In a sea of choices, the best recommendation I can make is the same one I would make if you were drowning in a literal sea: clear your head, get your bearings, look for the surface, orient yourself toward the shore, and take action. Your action may be donating funds, running in a race, running for a cause (hello, Charity Miles and Stand Up 2 Cancer!), or simply telling someone who has cancer “I am here for you” or asking their family what you can do to help.

Whatever you choose, don’t for a minute let yourself believe that your contribution is too small or won’t matter.

My mom, Ed Randall, Andy, and Mary Jane would surely feel differently …

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

#GlobalGoals: Using What We Have

It’s ridiculous. For our family of five, there are five functional mobile phones in the household (even for the 86 year old with short-term memory issues who has an extremely limited social calendar). In addition to the five functional phones, an inventory of our home would probably unearth another five abandoned phones, set aside in favor of newer technology, more memory, and the ability for Youtube videos of cute kittens to load EVEN FASTER.

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Philippa Kibugu-Decuir of Breast Cancer Initiative East Africa Inc. would be happy with one smartphone per village in Rwanda, East Africa, never mind five per household.

That one smartphone per village would make a difference in a place characterized by lack of knowledge and help-seeking behaviors, as well as fear and poverty. These factors result in many African women presenting their breast cancer at late stages when it is difficult or impossible to treat.

With a smartphone and an educational app, trained volunteer ambassadors can spread information about early detection among villagers. This makes it likely that women will catch signs of breast cancer much earlier than had previously been the case.

The app is currently in English, but Kinyarwanda and Swahili versions are being developed.

In the photos below, Valerie, in the village of Gisozi, Gasabo District, Rwanda, receives a smartphone which she will use to educate women.

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Photo Credit: BCIEA

Philippa says:

We believe we can use what we have to get where we want to be.

Our world needs people like Philippa to achieve Goal 3 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

Goal-3

One of the subgoals is: Strengthen the capacity of all countries, in particular developing countries, for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks. Philippa is directly impacting this goal, through improving early warning and risk reduction for women in Rwanda as it pertains to breast cancer.

In addition to this goal, the The UN has identified 16 other Sustainable Development Goals which will set the world’s agenda for the next 15 years. The 17 goals will be officially adopted at the UN Sustainable Development Summit, September 25-27 in New York City.

Philippa inspires me to think harder about what I have, to be more creative in how I use it, and to have a more ambitious goal for the change I want to make in the health of the world around me.

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Although I chose to focus this post on the BCIEA project, I want to give a shout-out to some other organizations and individuals who are “using what they have to get where they want to be”:

  • An organization near and dear to me, Shot at Life, which helps ensure children around the world have access to life-saving immunizations. Learn more by clicking here.
  • The Kupona Foundation, which works closely to provide maternal healthcare, disability services, and sustainable health care in Tanzania. Learn more by clicking here.
  • I am also inspired by Jennifer Kate Lovallo. When her travel plans landed her in Budapest at precisely the same time that Syrian refugees were streaming through on their way to (primarily) Germany, exhausted, hungry, thirsty, and disoriented, she arranged an impromptu effort to provide a relief station so the refugees could meet their basic survival needs. That particular situation may be over before the summit even convenes on September 25, but seeing her ability and willingness to initiate such an action on zero notice and to mobilize inspired me. Read more about her efforts here.

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To become more involved in the Global Goals, here are some resources:

Website:     Global Goals

Facebook:  The Global Goals

Twitter:       @UN and @TheGlobalGoals

Instagram:  The Global Goals

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UPDATE: Brenda of 1010 Park Place shared a great profile of Philippa here in October 2016.

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.