NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan visited NASA's Langley Research Center Nov. 13 to hold a Town Hall and get a first-hand look at some of the research taking place at the center.
During the Town Hall, Stofan, who was appointed chief scientist in August, talked about the value of NASA science. "To me, you can really encapsulate the science that we do here with this phrase," she said, calling attention to the title of her program, "Looking Outward, Inward and Homeward."
Further clarifying, Stofan said she thinks most NASA science falls into three categories — the study of the universe, the human body or the Earth. As she's been settling into her new role, Stofan has been sifting through the many missions and research projects that fall into those categories and looking for connective tissue. It's a search that's led her to three questions:
- Are we alone?
- How did we get here?
- How does our universe work?
"If you take those three questions, which are sort of the fundamental three questions that drive us here at NASA," she said, "I can think of two overall themes that connect what we do, and those two themes are origin and evolution."
At the agency level, Stofan specifically mentioned studies into colliding galaxies, the icy moons of Saturn, polar ice caps and solar flares as projects that will help determine how we got here and how things have changed over time.
She also cited the atmospheric research and Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) work taking place at NASA Langley:
"Langley's atmospheric research plays such a key role in making the measurements needed to show how and why our atmosphere is changing — without good data we won't have good models. Langley's entry, descent and landing work will help us to land larger and larger amounts to the surface of Mars — critical to delivering the robotic and then human scientists who will help us to understand whether life ever developed on Mars."
In addition to the Town Hall, Stofan's visit included a stop at the hangar, where researchers briefed her some of NASA Langley's airborne missions. She also attended briefings on nanomaterials, computational materials and the nondestructive evaluation of structures and materials.
Stofan came away from the briefings impressed.
"I was amazed at the depth of research taking place in areas that are critical to our future exploration goals," she said. "From developing the science and technologies for future Mars landings, to better techniques for studying Earth's changing atmosphere, to the research needed to build the safe fuel-efficient aircraft of the future, Langley has the skilled scientists and engineers that are critical to NASA's and the country's future."
NASA Langley Research Center