Monday, February 28, 2011

What Space Geeks listen to...

Tonight, while working on fellowship reviews and email discussions of Space Grant submissions, I was listening to...  Mission Control.

Yes, internet radio station Soma.FM  has a "channel," called Mission Control, which plays ambient music all the time, with background recordings of NASA mission control logs.  During live Space Shuttle missions, they actually play the audio of the NASA TV Public Affairs (PAO) console, with additional input of the Flight Director's (FLIGHT) voice "channel" (loop) and the space crew (A/G) loop that connects the Mission Control folks at Johnson Space Center in Houston to the astronauts on board the Shuttle and International Space Station.  Listening to these voice communications loops was the sort of work I did during my research with NASA on distributed team coordination in Mission Control.  I miss that work, so it's not surprising that I can find it relaxing and fun (even comprehensible) listening to conversations about reading back good words on the updates of the muxers and the cryo temps that the MPSRs wanted.

By the way, congratulations to Gary Payton, former NASA astronaut; and Wayne Hale, former NASA flight director, who were both inducted as the Purdue Distinguished Engineering Alumni last week.  (Wayne was one of my gracious hosts and experts while I was doing the Mission Control work.)  And in a trivia note... Today, Astronaut Alvin Drew became the 200th human to have conducted a space walk with his work to help repair one of the Space Station cryogenic pumps.  Congratulations, Al.

Back to work, off to bed, off to Washington on Wednesday for some Space Grant national meeting work.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

This week in State and National News…

Activity in the INSGC Central Office is certainly at a higher level over the past week—every time I think I’ll have a few extra minutes to write some notes, there has been another incoming request, student meeting, or other decision to discuss with Angie or Dr. Dawn.  Right now, we’re trying to make sure that all of this year’s awards are being set up appropriately, as well as begin the process of reporting on these awards (yes, NASA has a deadline for progress reports for 2010-11 awards due on March 28; this is why we’re so glad that you’ve been responding to Angie’s requests for information).  At the same time, we have had an explosion in the number of submissions for the 2011-12 application cycle.  It looks like the review process for this year will be much more competitive than in past years—if only because more people are aware of INSGC and its programs.  This is a good thing; although I hate sending out “your proposal / application was interesting, but…” notes (I call them “ding letters”, and I don’t like sending them any more than I like receiving them), everyone who gets a “congratulations” letter should be especially proud.

However, there is a lot going on this week that also keeps us busy, and is directly related to the question I can hear coming already: “How many of those congratulations letters will you be sending out?”  Next week, several INSGC folks will be in Washington, providing information on Space Grant activities in Indiana to our Congressional representatives (9 House representatives, and two Senators).  We’ve been contacting their offices to set up times to provide material and answer questions.  As you might guess, this is not an easy time to be trying to schedule even a 10-minute period with a Representative.  There is a very intense range of debates going on in Congress regarding federal funding, and of course, there is still a concern regarding whether government offices will be functioning past March 4.  Challenging times, indeed, and presenting material to Congress is a type of administrative experience that seems far from my teaching responsibilities and research meetings.

And yet, this is the part of the job description of a Space Grant Director.  I caught myself in a moment of surprise the first time I listened to the morning news on the radio about the passing of the federal budget, and thinking, “Oh, that’s relevant to what I need to work on today.”  Congressional budgets affect my daily life?  When did that happen?  (Well, of course—Space Grant is a NASA program, and is part of those federal budget negotiations.).  Of course, I am an employee of a public university, and a large fraction of my income comes directly from NASA.  I do not feel it appropriate to tell my Representatives, or anyone else, whether they should be voting a particular way on a budget item.  We provide education and information, and then it is our job to figure out how to provide the best and most effective and most successful program possible for the budget we are provided.  Unlike other grants programs, though, I find myself involved in discussions with the Executive Committee regarding the overall Space Grant budget, and with NASA Centers on timing of award notices and funding levels for summer interns.  Next week, we’ll have more information from Washington and the National Council of Space Grant Directors meeting.  Until then…

Congratulations to STS-133 and the final launch of Space Shuttle Discovery this afternoon at 4:53 EST.   

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

You need to communicate more...

Welcome to a new experiment from the Indiana Space Grant Consortium--the Director's Blog.  The goal of this blog is to respond to a concern that we at the INSGC have heard frequently over the past few years:  the INSGC Director (that would be me) does need to communicate more frequently, openly, and transparently.  People seem to like my Director's Notes in the INSGC Observer (print) and Voyager (electronic) newsletters, but those updates only come out a few times per year.  Especially at this time of year, there's a lot more to talk about, including grants competitions, Affiliate Meetings, progress reports, plans for next week, next month, next year...

It's taken me a while to set up this blog, even after encouragement and directions from the INSGC interns, Isa and Ben.  Part of the reason is just that this is not just a busy time of year for INSGC, but for all of the other aspects of my life as a faculty member in addition to being the Space Grant Director.  Last week, for instance, I travelled to Washington, DC--twice.  (One project was with the National Science Foundation; the other was for Housing and Urban Development.)  Dr. Dawn and Angie back at the Space Grant office do a wonderful job updating me with emails and responding to my late-night budget analyses, but sometimes the questions they ask come from students or professors or museum directors at our affiliates... and it's clear that if one person has that question, the chances are good that several people do have that question.  I do also get questions from the public about things NASA, and sometimes I can respond to them as well.

However, this is likely to be a fairly geek-rich process.  I'll try to limit the references to human factors analyses of mission control team coordination, information sharing among healthcare providers, and other things I think are unassailably cool.  (Well, maybe not.  It is a blog from a guy who enjoys his work as an engineering professor and has been wanting to do spaceflight work since he was six.)  But that is another value of this communication mode: I love science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).  I am a product of the US emphasis on STEM education in the 1970s and 1980s.  I am the Director of the INSGC in large part because I remember getting the chance to work on research as a college undergraduate, and realizing that those opportunities changed my life.  I now get the chance to help others have access to those opportunities, and meet and work with the sorts of people that I only dreamed about as a kid.  STEM is what I do, so don't be surprised if it just bubbles up to the surface on a regular basis.  (Hey, I was setting this blog up while watching Brad, Ken, and Watson on Jeopardy tonight.  I'm still impressed that Watson managed some of the wordplay, could answer "The Church Lady," and "take a guess" on one of the "Art of the Steal" questions... but Toronto as Watson's Final Jeopardy answer?)

As I continue to travel over the next few months, this blog may be a good way to stay connected, and continue to share updates with folks across our INSGC affiliates and partners.  I've joked that there are times where I need a tracking signal for my students and colleagues.  That signal would have four settings: one for campus movements, one for travel across Indiana, one for travels throughout the US, and one for worldwide wanderings.  (Kind of like the radio signals to follow the migrating birds or foraging bears, I suppose.)  Even if I am wandering, you should be able to find me "here".