Status Report

NASA Advisory Council Meeting Minutes 10-11 Sep 2002 – Part 3

By SpaceRef Editor
September 25, 2002
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Innovation Catalyst

Dr. Scott Pace discussed some of the philosophical issues associated with commercial innovation. There is a role for commercial partners: (1) the classic “spin-offs;” (2) “spin-ons” (dual use products that support the NASA mission); and (3) market-driven research opportunities. The President’s Management Agenda talks about increased reliance on the private sector and doing more competitive sourcing to meet government needs for goods and services. Innovation at NASA occurs in a variety of ways. NASA needs to further organize and more effectively coordinate these tools Agency-wide to emphasize technology pull that is more mission-driven and to leverage areas of common technical interest with industry as part of a consistent operating strategy. Also, NASA is trying to articulate a clear governance and functional structure that is inclusive of institutional and programmatic requirements. The end objective is to catalyze innovation to accomplish the mission and vision of the Agency.

Two additional tools needed are: (1) a NASA-managed private funding instrument that would be the main driver for an Agency-wide shift from industry to Enterprise-focus; and (2) competitive prizes for a few key areas that are very high priority for the Agency. Other than CSCs, NASA is shifting the emphasis of current commercial initiatives from “pushing” NASA-funded technologies on industry to “pulling” industry in to help NASA develop technologies and applications that are of benefit to both. Looking across all of the commercial activities within NASA, the majority are within the Office of Aerospace Technology (OAT) and OBPR. Other resources will be brought to bear, e.g., innovative or low-cost hardware and partnerships to leverage industry resources to meet mission requirements. We need to be clearer about our objectives and a lot of effort has gone into metrics. The end goal is more efficient R&D management decisions and advancing the NASA mission.

Dr. Pace identified three concepts for NAC feedback: the shift in emphasis from pushing NASA technology out to partnering that more directly benefits NASA missions; creating incentives to ensure productive engagement of the Enterprises and addressing efforts of potential benefit to NASA as a whole; and clearly defining and communicating NASA technology needs to identify areas of mutual interest with industry.

Dr. Kennel asked Dr. Pace to amplify on the concept of an Incutel-like fund. In response to a question about the infrastructure needed for the new program, Dr. Pace noted that they have been thinking about the formation of an internal “tiger team” to look at implementation, reporting to someone in the Administrator’s office. Another thought is having someone on the financial side chair the group. In response to a comment, Dr. Pace indicated that there are a lot of technologies needed by NASA that are very specialized and for which there is no commercial market; at the same time, there are areas (e.g., biomedical, information technology) where NASA cannot duplicate the energies and forces in the market. The idea is to try to ride some of these commercial waves that could be of benefit to NASA.

One example is laptops with more advanced chips for on-orbit use. Automotive manufacturers have a need for laptops with more advanced chips, and automotive manufacturers are a large commercial market. This might be an area of joint research and where NASA might harness some of the information technology forces to meet its needs. There is a wider range of networks, and NASA needs to be a part of that process rather than standing alone. We are trying to get to the point where research in space is another competitive option for industry. Dr. Swain noted that it is much easier to transition technology when it is done within a partnership between industry and NASA, rather than NASA doing it alone. Dr. Mortazavian commented that it would be a great contribution if the innovative initiatives could be incorporated in a program using university students. Dr. Trimble commended the “prize” concept as a way to motivate innovation.

Dr. Kennel summarized that in regard to the change in philosophy, there was no opposition from the NAC to the change. With regard to the venture fund, the NAC advised proceeding, but proceeding cautiously. There was praise on the idea of the prize; however, the criteria for the prize should be clear and consistently applied over time.

Education Initiative

Via teleconference, Mr. Paul Pastorek discussed the status of NASA’s Education Office initiative. All of the recent work has been focused on the NASA mission-to inspire the next generation of explorers…as only NASA can. There are four priorities: (1) to motivate students to pursue careers in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (SMET); (2) to provide educators with unique teaching tools and compelling teaching experiences; (3) to seek to ensure that NASA is investing the taxpayer’s resources wisely; and (4) to engage minority and underrepresented students, educators, and researchers in NASA’s education program. With respect to the first priority, the focus is reaching out to all students (not just those near a NASA Center) as well as reaching students at an earlier age to help them make a connection to SMET in higher education. NASA will partner with others and use their infrastructure. In terms of teaching tools, NASA will not implement programs that are being provided by others-it will emphasize contributions to education that are unique to NASA, focusing on science and spaceflight.

The Education Office will extend the reach of education collaborations between NASA and the academic community that contribute to NASA’s research objectives. NASA is looking at how to tie together its education activities with hiring and is formulating an overarching strategy. The Agency will continue to strengthen the capacity for promising minority institutions to conduct leading-edge research and will work with others to increase the number of minority students pursuing SMET careers.

The New Explorers Opportunity (NEO) Initiative will capitalize on the excitement of NASA to recapture the imagination of the Nation’s youth and inspire them to pursue careers in SMET. The NEO Initiative is working with private enterprise, federal and state agencies, and education associations to develop a unified national strategy to increase the number of children who select careers in SMET. This initiative will endeavor to be integrated (taking best practices of existing models developed in NASA and elsewhere), continuous (aimed at students throughout all levels of education), systemic (matching what is going on in the classroom), and collaborative (reaching out to partners).

The NEO initiative has two major strategies: to expand the pool of students entering the SMET pipeline (pre-college); and to increase the number of individuals entering the SMET workforce (post-secondary). Mr. Pastorek discussed the key program elements of each strategy. Some of the elements in the first strategy include: NASA Explorer Schools; Educator Mission Specialists; telepresence technology; a Minority Program Initiative; a National Teacher Virtual Advisory Council; and collaborations with national television programming and national television personalities. Scholarship for Service is an important element of the second strategy. Currently, the legislation that would allow NASA to pursue the NASA Science and Technology Scholarship Program is pending in Congress, but is expected to pass. This Program would tie scholarship with recruitment into the NASA workforce. Mr. Pastorek briefly discussed the budget and how the new organization will be managed. In the very near future, a new Associate Administrator will be selected to lead the organization.

Dr. Minogue noted that a tremendous partner and the place that needs a lot of attention is the Department of Education in colleges and universities. There should be a focus of partnership with schools of education. Dr. Zoloth added that another goal should be educating students in all disciplines so that they can see how SMET should be a part of all education and civic commitment. Dr. Trimble reinforced Dr. Minogue’s comments regarding the importance of secondary education. The Scholarship Program should also include people who want to go into science and mathematics education. Dr. Mortazavian commented on the motivation of people to go into SMET. One of the common elements is motivation at an early age. The essentials are good books, good teachers, safe and secure environment for teaching and learning, and a love of learning and enthusiasm for education. NASA can play a role at every level of education to excite and inspire students and make them fall in love with learning.

Dr. Noonan added that there has been a lot of work done by other agencies and the Department of Education. NASA should look at smaller institutions that have colleges of education that are working well with their math and science departments. Dr. Noonan noted some of the comments from Dr. Christensen and the SScAC. The SScAC felt that it is essential to coordinate education across NASA. The Office of Space Science (OSS) has done a very good job in building education into all aspects of its endeavors, from mission planning to dissemination of products at the end of a mission. This has required leadership on the part of OSS senior managers. The SScAC has a concern regarding who will devise the overarching education program and in what form it will be shared with the scientific and education communities. The Committee doesn’t want to see the untended consequence of disrupting good relationships that have developed in the interest in having everyone conform to something different. In response to the concern, Mr. Pastorek noted that the specific mechanism will be a newly formed advisory committee, reporting to the NAC. OSS has done the best job among all of the Enterprises, and the Education Office is trying to get all of the other Enterprises to do the same sort of thing. So far, there has been good response from the other Enterprise leads. What OSS has done will not be abandoned unless something just doesn’t fit within the four priorities. There are a lot of initiatives in OSS (and elsewhere) that are very good; the question is how connected to the community they are.

Sen. Glenn noted that an area that needs additional help is the teachers themselves. About 25% of the math teachers in high school are teaching out of field; about 20% of the science teachers are teaching out of field; about 50% of the math and science teachers leave the teaching field within five years after entering. This is a big problem before we ever get to the students. Sen. Glenn offered to bring a copy of his report to the next NAC meeting. Mr. Pastorek agreed and noted that NASA needs to be focused on collaborating with teaching schools around the country. Dr. Swain commented that some recent data indicates that there is a huge cultural difference between Asian Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, with Asian Americans graduating in high numbers. We have to reach parents as well as students. We have to use role models and show how ordinary people have done extraordinary things. We must show parents how their children can also do extraordinary things. Dr. Kennel noted that there should be a strong coupling between the administrative things that stimulate education activities and inspirational things that NASA does with the public at large, in particular crafting a vision for the future.

In response to a question, Mr. Pastorek indicated that if there is not an overarching national strategy, NASA will still do its best to inspire the next generation of explorers. He noted that NASA needs to take benefit from of all of the studies. At the appropriate time, Mr. Pastorek requested the NAC’s support and help at the highest levels of government. In response to a comment, Mr. Pastorek agreed that teacher pay is a very serious problem and is one that will be difficult to attack any time soon. We have to figure out how to use technologies to bring certified teachers into classrooms where they don’t otherwise appear.

JPL Students Imagine Mars Project

Dr. Parvin Kassaie, Director of JPL’s Education and Outreach, provided a brief overview of some of the education and outreach activities, including Solar System Ambassadors, a partnership program with the California State University System, curriculum modules that are effective in the classroom, and hands-on experiential programs that engage students and take them through the pipeline. She introduced the Mars Student Imaging Project (MSIP), one of the best examples of a hands-on program. It is a partnership with Arizona State University. This project brings authentic Mars research to students in grades 5 – 14. It is a pilot program in its first year. It has achieved its goal of reaching underrepresented and underserved students. The program mimics all of the stages that the scientific community goes through in doing research on Mars. One hundred eighty students from 20 schools participated in the pilot phase. The students submit their own proposals to take pictures of specific regions of Mars, explaining the scientific questions they would like to answer. The project uses real Mars data sets, e.g., MGS.

Once the students have gone through the Program, they go back and become mentors to their individual schools. This Program can be extended to future Mars missions. It provides ongoing opportunities to a growing and increasingly experienced teacher network. In addition, the project provides the Mars Education/Public Outreach (E/PO) staff with experience in creating meaningful instructional access to data. The Program is managed by qualified K-12 educators who have backgrounds in curriculum development and teacher training. It is for everyone-there is an in-house ability to teach and communicate in Spanish and sign language, and a high percentage of the imaging team slots are reserved for underrepresented groups. One of the biggest strengths is a well-developed, free curriculum supplement, designed by teachers to be integrated into the regular science curriculum. The growth plan for the project is to reach about 500,000 participants. More information can be found on the Web site:

Dr. Kennel congratulated the project on providing a great deal of excitement and inspiration.

The NAC shared the Administration and NASA’s concerns with education, particularly in the science and technology area. It looks forward to the construction of a committee (under the NAC) to provide continuing advice on education. The NAC urged Mr. O’Keefe to inspire other agencies about this initiative, as only NASA can. One of the first tasks of the new NAC committee will be to find ways to assess NASA’s efforts.

Mr. Gregory acknowledged that success criteria are very important. He is working with Mr. Pastorek on the initiative. The NAC commended JPL and ASU for a very inspiring presentation. It showed what NASA can do when it uses its resources effectively.

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SpaceRef staff editor.