News & Events to Inspire STEAM Education

NASA Hosts 1st ‘State of NASA’ Event at the Agency’s 10 Field Centers

NASA Hosts 1st ‘State of NASA’ Event at the Agency’s 10 Field Centers

Feb 10, 2015

NASA hosts 1st ‘State of NASA’ event inviting press to one of the agency’s 10 field centers. Guests invited were able to go behind the scenes at the respective NASA center and experience the diverse work of the agency through tours and presentations with scientists, engineers and managers. The event highlighted the work of the agency’s journey to Mars, testing of cutting-edge technologies, making scientific discoveries while studying our changing Earth and the infinite universe as the agency makes progress on the next generation of air travel. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at Kennedy Space Center addressed the progress made and the exciting work ahead on the agency’s exploration initiative that secures America’s leadership in space.

Image Credit: NASA

QGITS had the opportunity to attend the 1st ‘State of NASA’ event that was held at Armstrong Flight Research Center which is the primary center for atmospheric flight research and operations in Palmdale, Ca.


The day begins with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden delivering a speech from NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida reaching us at Armstrong and all other NASA locations via TV Broadcast. Bolden announced details of the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2016 agency budget proposal recently submitted to Congress. He emphasized that the recommended increase of about a half-billion dollars over last year’s enacted budget would provide the necessary resources to continue advancing America’s bipartisan space exploration plans. The ongoing programs will ensure that the United States remains the world’s leader in space exploration and discoveries benefiting all humankind. Watch full video of state of the agency address by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden:

After the live TV broadcast, we met and heard from David D. McBride Director of NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center from the main campus in Edwards, CA as he welcomes us to the facility. He recaps the budget from Bolden’s speech and the mission of Armstrong for 2015 advancing technology and science through flight. Upon David’s talk about Armstrong’s vision for the coming year we next heard from Mike Thomson Mission Director of Science who talked to us about NASA’s Airborne Science program.

IMG_0037Photo: Mike Thomson

“The Airborne Science Program within the Earth Science Division at NASA is responsible for providing aircraft systems that further science and advance the use of satellite data. It’s importance of the program is that it provides the earth science program with the ability to do low cost sensor development as well as satellite calibration and validation. By supporting new sensor development it’s an opportunity to develop sensors at low cost at an airborne environment versus the spaceborne environment which has little flexibility. Process studies understanding the Earth system is just something that we do with an aircraft that you cannot do with satellites – it’s studying the atmosphere in the atmosphere. Additionally, NASA’s mission is to expose junior, senior and college level students into STEM fields and foster the development of the next generation of Scientists and Engineers.” – Mike Thomson, Mission Director of Science


We were then ready to take a tour of the hangar at Armstrong and learn more about what projects they are working on. Our first stop was hearing about SOFIA the Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy by Eddie Zavala Program Manager. SOFIA is an extensively modified Boeing 747 converted into a flying observatory fitted with a 2.5-meter (8.2 foot diameter) infrared telescope.

Sofia 1
After learning more about SOFIA from Eddie we were then able to walk inside the SOFIA aircraft and view the telescope that NASA provides scientist, educators and the Universities Space Research Association (USRA; Columbia, Md.) and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI; University of Stuttgart).


We later walked over to meet Tim Moes Project Manager of the DC-8 at NASA Armstrong to learn about the aircraft. The DC-8 is a highly modified Douglas DC-8 jetliner as a flying science laboratory. The aircraft is used to collect data for experiments in support of projects serving the world’s scientific community. Federal, state, academic, and foreign investigators are among those who use NASA’s DC-8.
Photo: DC-8 next to SOFIA

Also in the hangar we met with John McGrath who is the C-20 Project Manager. The C-20 is a modified military version of the Gulfstream-III business jet, as an environmental science research aircraft for a variety of geophysical research missions. The aircraft includes a sophisticatd synthetic aperture radar (UAVSAR) in an underbelly pod, a self contained on-board Data Collection & Processing System (DCAPS) and a precision autopilot that enables the aircraft to fly repeat passes over a target within 15 feet of the original flight path.
Photo: C-20 (Gulfstream III)

“We fly about 500 hours a year all around the world for surface defamation measurements we work in the earth science division back at headquarters basically looking into glaciers, volcanoes, fault lines, earth quake zones and anything that can move on the ground.” – John McGrath, C-20 Project Manager

On our way back to the building we also saw the ER-2 aircraft that uses readily deployable high altitude sensor platforms to collect remote sensing and in situ data on earth resources, atmospheric chemistry and dynamics, and oceanic processes.

Back at the NASA building we were able to meet Starr Ginn, NASA AFRC Aeronautics Chief Engineer to hear about low carbon propulsion research. She talked about affortable flight testing of Leading Edge Asynchronous Propeller Technology (LEAPTech) and Distributed Electric Propulsion (DEP) Integration Approach. See video for more info:

Photo: Starr Ginn

Following electric propulsion briefing, we heard from John Kelly, the Principal Engineer on the Towed Glider Air-Launch System .NASA has successfully flight-tested a prototype twin-fuselage towed glider that could lead to rockets being launched from pilotless aircraft at high altitudes – a technology application that could significantly reduce the cost and improve the efficiency of sending small satellites into space. Read also about parts made by a 3d printer for the Towed Glider:

Photo: John Kelly

Next, we had a demo presentation from Dr. W. Lance Richards, NESC Chief Engineer and Franciso Pena, Aerospace Engineer from Armstrong Fiber Optic Sensing Technology Suite. Francisco recapped after the demo, “We are utilizing a new strain shape technology that instead of using conventional foil gauges we use fiber optics technology. The benefit to fiber optics technology is that you can have thousands of sensors on one hair like structure that can replace several heavy components that come with a conventional strain sensing system. So the benefits of having thousands of sensors on this optical line is that you increase your chances of finding micro fractures, just by having so many sensors on the surface, you can have increased chances of finding flaws in a structure. The sensors are similar to what your muscles feel when you pick up something really heavy and you thought your back strained a little bit. These are the exact equivalent sensors that we can provide to an aircraft so that aircraft can now feel it’s surrounding sense when its overloaded.”
Photo (left): Francisco Pena and Dr. W. Lance Richards

Our final presentation at Armstrong was by Ron Young, Flight Opportunities Program Manager at Armstrong and Alex Van Kijk, Technology Management, Flights Opportunities Program at Ames Research Center, they presented on the Flight Opportunities Program. The program directly answers the call of the President’s National Space Policy, the NASA Strategic Plan, and Section 907 of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010. By purchasing flights on U.S. commercial vehicles, the program encourages and facilitates the growth of the commercial suborbital market while simultaneously providing pathways to advance the technology readiness of a wide range of new launch vehicle and space technologies.

Ron Young - ”Some of the technologies we are working on, we are testing the designs of various technologies such as robotic arms or ways to service satellites in space. For example, like refueling satellites or rendezvou with satellites and cubesat technologies that could actually be used as small constellations of satellites. Part of the idea of  purchasing flights is to show that it’s viable to utilize these platforms and build technologies. So we don’t want to be the only customer, we want to basically show other researchers, universities, government agencies or private sectors that they can go and purchase these opportunities to fly up in these commercial flights on their own, that way we are helping to spur the industry by creating this demand.”
Photo (left): Alex van Dijk and Ronald Young

Alex van Dijk - ” The program is trying to bring together supply and demand. So the supply would be the commercial flight providers that offer flight services that NASA and this program buys which it then offers to the demand side of this program, the researchers. The researchers have the technology that needs to be tested in its operational environment. If you want to design something for the International Space Station (ISS), then you need to demonstrate that it will work in microgravity. We offer microgravity as a relevant environment for researchers to test their hardware. The companies that we look at currently are part of the commercial suborbital industry, so these are companies that provide services that fly up to maybe 100 kilometers and come back. These companies do not go into orbit like SpaceX or Orbital Sciences. One of the companies we work with is Virgin Galactic which is based out here in Mojave and which is planning to provide flight services up to 100 kilometers and back. There is also a company out here in Mojave called Masten Space Systems, which provides test environments for Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) technologies. Most of these technologies consist of a combination of sensors and algorithms aimed to be able to autonomously maneuver vehicles that are going to land on the Moon or Mars. Now researchers at JPL, Astrobotic and a few other companies work directly with this commercial company Masten Space to test there algorithms on the commercial vehicle. This is a very good example of how NASA is able to both provide opportunities for technologists to mature their hardware but also to stir a commercial industry by providing researchers with this commercial flight. The value add of NASA in part is that it buys the ride from these commercial flight providers and offers those flights for free to the researchers.”

Highlights from the ‘State of NASA’ event:

To Learn more about NASA Armstrong and projects they are working on, visit:

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