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Investments in our Future: Exploring Space through Innovation and Technology

04/20/2011 4:00 PM 26"100
Dr. Robert D. Braun, Chief Technologist, NASA

Description: "I don't remember Apollo at all," confesses Robert Braun, NASA's chief technologist. "I feel really bad about it." Nevertheless, he has spent a lot of time reading and thinking about the mission to the moon, and its significance not just for space exploration, but for the nation's innovative edge and economy. Braun wonders, "What is my generation's space race?."

Braun offers not one but a handful of "game"changing civil space possibilities" that he feels certain could be accomplished in his lifetime. These include an asteroid defense system, forecasting major storms in time to move entire populations out of harm's way; and finding life in space. Braun notes that many others embrace these "lofty goals," but that NASA has been hampered in approaching them by a lack of investment in technology.

When Braun first graduated from Penn State decades ago, he worked on "human to Mars" programs. There were huge technological obstacles then that persist today. Says Braun, "We need a series of technological advances crossing multiple disciplines to make a human Mars mission feasible."

The recently minted NASA Space Technology Program (STP), under Braun's wing, intends to seed R&D ventures -- whether in early stage innovation, experimentation or pilot demonstrations -- that may ultimately solve the kinds of problems hampering human space exploration. The program will also yield numerous other benefits, Braun predicts, in many other areas of science and engineering. These investments in disruptive technologies will pay off in turn by creating spinoff high tech industries, spurring new jobs, economic growth and global competitiveness.

Initial STP R&D money is headed for the International Space Station, which offers unique opportunities to explore long"term human degradation in space, water reclamation, and human"robot collaborations. Other projects include different kinds of space telescopes that could be assembled in space. STP hopes to nurture many ideas, selecting the most promising for larger investment and potential mission status. But the R&D itself "will pay large dividends for scientists," he promises. As evidence, Braun points to NASA"spawned technology that has proved useful if not essential on our home planet: spacecraft tracking the Gulf oil spill; the capsule used to rescue Chilean miners trapped underground; protective armor for police and firefighters; nutritional supplements in baby formula. "Down"to"earth applications help us, and also create jobs, companies, products, and stimulate the economy," says Braun. The Apollo program was "actually all about technological leadership," he concludes, and "that's what it's still all about today."

About the Speaker(s): Robert D. Braun was named NASA Chief Technologist by NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden on Feb. 3, 2010. Braun serves as the principal advisor and advocate on matters concerning agency"wide technology policy and programs.

Braun has more than 20 years experience performing design and analysis of planetary exploration systems as a member of the technical staff at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., and the Georgia Institute of Technology. His research has focused on systems' aspects of planetary exploration, where he contributed to the design, development, test and operation of several robotic space flight systems.

Braun was a member of the Mars Pathfinder design and landing operations team from 1992 to 1997 and has been part of development teams for the Mars Microprobe, Mars Sample Return and Mars Surveyor 2001 projects. He also has provided independent assessment and served on NASA review boards for the Mars Polar Lander, Mars Odyssey, Mars Exploration Rover, Phoenix Mars Scout, Genesis, and Mars Science Laboratory flight projects.

Braun joined the Georgia Institute of Technology in Oct 2003. At Georgia Tech, he led a research and educational program focused on the design of advanced flight systems and technologies for planetary exploration. Recent research projects included the development of entry, descent and landing concepts and technologies for human Mars exploration.

Host(s): School of Engineering, Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium

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MIT World — special events and lectures

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December 16, 2011 18:45
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