On April 5th, CXO Fellows attended an in-depth tour and briefing at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center from senior NASA staff and scientists. Welcomed by Dennis Vandertuig, Director and CIO of the IT & Communications Directorate, Fellows learned about the Goddard Center mission and component projects. Mr. Vandertuig discussed the unique challenges faced by Goddard, which competes with other centers for projects within NASA itself as well as the integration of mission support functions with their wide-ranging scientific programs. Mr. Vandertuig address some of the challenges he faces as the CIO handling not only federal agency IT issues, but also the scientific discovery and exploration missions at NASA.
Fellows viewed the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) under the leadership of Dr. John Mather, Nobel Prize winner for Physics and JWST Project Scientist. Giving the Fellows an overview of the JWST project from its beginnings more than 20 years ago, Dr. Mather discussed the objectives of the mission, the Fall 2018 launch, and the coordination of a large-scale team of more than 1,000 from 17 countries from a project management standpoint. He also provided insight into the mechanics of Congressional appropriations for the project and the coordination of an audit in order to secure future appropriations.
Moving to the testing side of JWST, Fellows were introduced close-up to the environmental testing unit developed by NASA to test missions bound for space. Led by Ed Packard, Associate Head, Environmental Test Engineering & Integration Branch, Fellows explored the massive sound, motion, and gravity simulators built to test individual components used in space missions to assure they can withstand the rigors of space. This testing requires an enormous degree of project coordination among engineering teams and can have a significant impact on the engineering timelines and overall cohesiveness of the project itself.
At the NASA Center for Climate Simulation (NCCS), Fellows received a crash course in heliophysics and the use of data from senior Heliophysics Science Division staff Dr. Michael Hesse and Dr. Holly Gilbert. The division uses the Heliophysics Hyperwall, a series of 15 integrated 52” flat screens backed by supercomputers, to analyze the massive amounts of data received everyday from NASA satellites and other observational devices. These analytics allow the scientists to observe solar phenomenon and to create visualized models to aid their research and to analyze major trends in solar activity.
The Fellows concluded their NASA visit with the Earth Science Mission Operations (ESMO) team and a discussion of their mission to produce high-quality data for NASA research as well as numerous other government agencies, international partners, and the public. Briefing at satellite mission control, Fellows learned data is used by NASA and other agencies (both domestic and international) to analyze geographic trends in weather, major natural disasters and other phenomena, as well as mapping of the ice shelves. Our hosts Wynn Watson, EMSO Project Manager, and Greg Dell, ESMO Deputy Project Manager, presented ESMO’s mission of top-to-bottom responsibility not only for the data but also the maintenance, execution, and eventual deactivation of these satellite programs.