[image-51]Meeting early career scientists was Dr. Ellen Stofan’s favorite part of visiting NASA’S Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., January 23. “They are the real future of this agency and they are the ones that are going to be inspiring the next generation.”
Stofan, NASA’s chief scientist, grew up around science. Her father worked at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and her mother was a science teacher. Stofan watched the Viking and Voyager launches and learned from other scientists that geology, what she was interested in studying, could be studied on other planets as well. Then, she was hooked.
Stofan has had other major roles during her time at NASA. “A lot of my role is advocacy, and as a scientist you’re an advocate too, because you are coming up with a theory and having to convince your fellow scientists that you’re right.”
Now, as chief scientist, she does that on a much broader scale. “Instead of being able to look at smaller interesting research projects, I am trying to see the links between all the research NASA does,” she said. “For me that’s extremely fun because I get to go play and learn about areas of science that I know nothing about. “
As Chief Scientist, Stofan has two main goals: improving science communication as well as science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, education. To improve science communication she focuses on one big question. “Are we as individuals and are we as an agency effectively talking about what we do and effectively talking about the links.”
Not only do scientists and researchers need to communicate their advancements, they need to show how the science done across the agency links together, Stofan said. “Communication is an issue where we can improve and if I can do anything to help, I am happy to.”
Stofan addressed this issue during her town hall meeting with Goddard staff, entitled, “Looking Outward, Inward and Homeward: The Value of NASA Science.” She addressed three fundamental questions: “Are we alone? How did we get here? and How does our universe work?” These questions ring through the four major themes within the scientific community at NASA: Astrophysics, Heliophysics, Planetary Science and Earth Science. Her discussion focused on how the different themes within NASA tie together and how we can communicate these advances to the public. In order to do this, scientists need to figure out how to tell the story, Stofan said.
The story is getting pretty exciting. Stofan realizes that she has taken on this role at a crucial time in space and Earth science. “We are so on the verge of understanding planets, solar systems and the potential for life within our solar system and beyond,” she said. NASA is taking measure to search for life off this earth with the Kepler Mission, The James Webb Space Telescope, Mars Curiosity Rover and a possible future mission to Europa.
“All that is going to happen in the next 20 years and we are going to all be there to watch it,” Stofan said. “It is going to rewrite all the science textbooks, and we are right at this moment in time that I think is tremendously exciting.”
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center