“On average, we serve 20-30 schools each year, most involving multi-year awards, although we also fund some 100 annual student internships at the 10 NASA centers – 10 weeks during the summer, 16 for fall and winter semesters,” MUREP Project Manager Joeletta Patrick said.
Another approach to expanding NASA’s outreach to academia and the wider public is through the SpaceApps NASA incubator innovation program. A current SpaceApps effort is the Near Earth Recognition Objective (NERO) Project, an open source initiative to leverage more than 20 million digital camera owners to capture images of space and classify the locations of near-Earth objects through a Web-based artificial intelligence recognition engine as part of the Asteroid Imagery Sharing challenge.
Research and analysis (R&A) offices throughout NASA’s 10 centers and four mission directorates are a major component in the agency’s relationship with academia, making awards to universities for specific research valuable to the space agency.
“NERO has an active solicitation out now for proposals. Once reviewed, awards are selected based on those that rank highest against the selection criteria outlined in the solicitation. There are no general criteria – each solicitation gives its own criteria. That’s also the case with the number of awards for any given solicitation,” Patrick said.
“NERO is looking at multiple awards of up to $1 million a year for up to five years. These are not grants, but cooperative agreements with NASA oversight, annual reports, site visits – even if virtual. The funds can be used for undergrad, graduate, and research projects.”
NASA also has funded some community college programs for curriculum improvement, with other projects supporting students through funded research. The agency’s University Research Centers (URCs) provide a broad-based competitive NASA-related research capability to foster new aerospace science and technology concepts, especially among Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). Awardees in recent years have authored hundreds of research papers, publications and presentations on such subjects as control systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, advanced computation and communications, biofuel combustion and jet propulsion – some of which led to patents.
“At its essence, the intention of the URCs is to build capacity so these universities can better compete for science missions and other NASA research opportunities,” NASA Associate Administrator-Education Donald G. James explained. “So we have to address a combination of people and facilities – we don’t build facilities, but we do deal with people – so they can compete with other institutions. The URCs are focused on NASA research so they can work with the agency and the centers.”
In 1989, NASA initiated the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program (aka, Space Grant) as a network of U.S. colleges and universities working to expand education and opportunities in aeronautics and space by supporting and enhancing science and engineering education, research, and public outreach efforts.