Entertaining the "What If’s?"
I have always been one of those people who asked “What if?” and “Why?” Sometimes that gets me into trouble or frustrates my colleagues, but it also helps me define and push the boundaries of what’s possible. Getting a glimpse of NASA’s innovation space is why I am excited to support NASA’s Innovation & Digital Services Team over the next several months. I am looking forward to putting a toe back into a world that has fascinated for almost as long as I can remember.
NoteStreams are readable online but they’re even better in the free App!
The NoteStream™ app is for learning about things that interest you: from music to history, to classic literature or cocktails. NoteStreams are truly easy to read on your smartphone—so you can learn more about the world around you and start a fresh conversation.
For a list of all authors on NoteStream, click here.
Read the NoteStream below, or download the app and read it on the go!
What If And Why
I have always been one of those people who asked “What if?” and “Why?”
Sometimes that gets me into trouble or frustrates my colleagues, but it also help me define and push the boundaries of what’s possible. Getting a glimpse of NASA’s innovation space is why I am excited to support NASA’s Innovation & Digital Services Teamover the next several months. I am looking forward to putting a toe back into a world that has fascinated for almost as long as I can remember.
Being on the back end of GenX, I remember life before computers and smart phones, and can appreciate how much the digital world has evolved. I still remember my father buying his first digital calculator.
Trash or Treasure?
The Evolution Of Technology
Consumer electronics were so new that my generation’s favorite gifts were Cabbage Patch dolls and Legos, not the latest electronic like my two girls beg for now.
But my father and grandfather both were fascinated with new technology. It seemed every year we would add something new to our collection, whether it was our first color TV or a “remote controlled” VCR (complete with wires), a video camera to record our memories or the trusty old Packard Bell. Technology evolved so quickly in those days.
What if we could light that spark around Space Exploration? Could we get to Mars sooner? Could we find a way to bring the cost of exploration down so the technology we need will be as common place as calculators or televisions have become?
Getting Into Coding
My Dad was always trying something new, and I watched alongside him with curiosity.
I began programming on our Atari 400 (complete with tape drive) and later typed lines of code from magazines to our TI-99. I loved how logical coding was, and hunting through the code to find what broke when it didn’t work quite the way I wanted it to.
Most schools didn’t have computer labs when I was in elementary school, but my transition into a public middle school gave me the chance to take one of the first programming classes offered in our school district. I remember using code to build my own rocket that lifted off.
I was fascinated with the fact that I could change the colors.
Now, my kids can do that kind of simple programming using MIT’s Scratch or Hopscotch without typing a single word. What will tomorrow’s galaxy explorers need to know?
The world of gaming moved fast too. We went from the Atari to the Ti-99 (Parsec was always my favorite) the first Nintendo and later a Sega. Exploring the worlds of Mario, Sonic and Zelda kept us busy on a rainy Saturday. When the school library got the internet, I played my first multiplayer game (Genesis) and for the first time I was connecting online with people I had never met before.
Soon after, I connected with my friends through instant messaging.
Now we can reach people wherever they are, and I watch my kids play Minecraft with friends on their own servers. What if we channeled enthusiasm for building in Minecraft to simulate materials we might build with on Mars?
Although my primary tool for papers was still a typewriter, my high school library had Macintosh computers to do our research and papers on. Card catalogues, microfiche readers and dusty shelves of periodicals were actively being replaced with online databases we would connect to through FTP. My Senior Year, I had my first AOL email address and the Packard Bell my Dad bought would save me so much time in editing my papers.
Building Up Skills
What processes could NASA replace that could help us access what we already know in a more efficient way?
My small liberal arts college, William Jewell College, installed computer labs during my Freshman year and began teaching all the basics to its students so we would be prepared to take on the Digital Age. Once again, I had the chance to learn some programming. This time HTML.
This skill came in handy when I went to work for Congress in the late 1990s and Members were looking to develop a web presence. As a Press Assistant for Missouri’s Senator Kit Bond, I learned Net Objects Fusion and built style sheets and templates that enabled staff to easily upload the latest press releases and newsletters.
How It Came Together
What do we need to know to prepare us for a future where the human race lives on two planets?
I never really considered being a programmer when contemplating careers. I had three dream jobs. Being an astronaut, being an elementary school teacher and being a community leader. As I moved through my career, I became more and more focused on working for and with Congress to make the world a better place.
Coding was just something I did as a hobby I guess. However, I always found myself in the position of beta testing new tools, whether it was document management tools, content management systems, contact databases or the latest handheld device.
Getting To Mars
While I have been an avid technology consumer, it has been a long time since I had the chance to be a part of creating technology.
But just like fashion repeats itself, my career seems to always bring technology, and specifically information technology, back in style. So, how can this part time hacking, story-telling, extroverted, policy wonk help NASA’s Open Government initiatives be even more Awesome?
One thing I have learned as I spent the last five years in NASA’s latest “start-up,” the Space Technology Mission Directorate, is that NASA has a pretty good ideas about what we need to do, but can’t build everything all at once. Mars is hard. Landing is even more challenging when you have humans and all the stuff they need to live and explore.
Living in space without easy access to Earth is impossible with today’s technology, but the exciting thing is we are working on it!
Even more exciting is that we have a whole army of people who would love to help us. If NASA could leverage the passion of the American people, we might just be able to pull this Mars thing off.
But how do we harness all those ideas? How can we identify synergies that will give us momentum explore further into space? How do we use YOUR passion as an engine to boost the human race beyond low Earth orbit once again? I am hoping to explore some of these questions over the next 6 months as I get creative with open.nasa.gov.