Defense Media Network

NASA and Academia

“Every program produces massive amounts of data. When ramping up to a project, you try to understand existing data and what we hope to achieve. Then we use data coming back from that program and extrapolate it, which raises more questions. So the more we understand about our universe and how it works, the more questions we have and the more exploration we need. That’s what we do at NASA – explore as far out as possible.”

Which takes the link with academia full circle. As a result of what NASA and university researchers have learned from Hubble, she estimates at least 75 percent of all basic astronomy textbooks produced before the space telescope have been rewritten to incorporate what has been learned from it.

“The uniqueness of NASA is [that] base science is the backbone of our existence, with space exploration and science being our specialization. …”

“But we have even more unanswered questions as we have looked back farther [in time] than ever before. And now we’re working on the Webb telescope to look back even farther,” Richey explained. “And the heavy lifting, from a science level, is being done by our R&A program, which in turn relies heavily on academia. In terms of actual scientific understanding, the R&A programs are the fundamental backbone to our relationship with academia.”

Using $10 million from the President’s Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative to complement its FY15 coordinated education portfolio, NASA will focus on:

  • STEM Engagement: Providing opportunities for participatory and experiential learning activities that connect learners to NASA-unique resources
  • NASA Internships, Fellowships and Scholarships: Utilizing NASA facilities and assets to provide work experiences and research and educational opportunities to improve retention in STEM and prepare students for employment in STEM jobs
  • Educator Professional Development: Preparing STEM educators and leaders to deliver quality STEM instruction utilizing unique NASA assets
  • Institutional Engagement: Improving the capacity of U.S. institutions to deliver effective STEM education

That educational focus complements and enhances academia’s programmatic work with NASA on both aeronautical and space programs, today and in the future.

“The uniqueness of NASA is [that] base science is the backbone of our existence, with space exploration and science being our specialization. There are plenty of other agencies who do similar things, but this really is what NASA has been excelling at since its inception. So when you’re doing this kind of research with NASA, you’re working with the best in that fundamental element,” Richey said of NASA’s outreach to academia. “I don’t want to say they’re essential, but they’re pretty close in developing our next generation of scientists and our future knowledge of science.”

This article first appeared in the NACA/NASA: Celebrating a Century of Innovation, Exploration, and Discovery in Flight and Space 1915-2015 publication.

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J.R. Wilson has been a full-time freelance writer, focusing primarily on aerospace, defense and high...