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STEM, Wallops Moon Launch the Big Talk at AeroSpace Day
More than 300 aerospace firms, universities and operational commercial spaceports reside in Virginia. Translated into monetary value, that’s a $7.6 billion industry. So why invest so much money, jobs and resources?

The answer was conveyed at the eighth annual AeroSpace Day at the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond, Va.

Aerospace Day

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Lesa Roe, Director of NASA's Langley Research Center and Dr. Bill Wrobel, Director of Wallops Flight Facility, participated in the eighth annual AeroSpace Day, during which they talked to policy makers about NASA’s contributions to the aerospace industry. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

Aerospace Day

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Aditi Joshi, who participated in AeroSpace Days held at the Virginia General Assembly Building in Richmond, Va., shared her experience as a former Virginia Aerospace Science and Technology Scholar (VASTS) and how it inspired her to want to pursue a career in aerospace engineering. The VASTS program is a partnership between NASA Langley Research Center and the Virginia Space Grant Consortium. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

Rooms throughout the assembly building filled with NASA senior leaders, aerospace industry and academia who met with senators and delegates to share with the Commonwealth the importance of the aerospace industry and what it offers to our future.

"We are making incredible things happen," said Lesa Roe, Director of NASA's Langley Research Center, to a room full of policy makers at a Hampton Roads caucus. "Our two NASA facilities in Virginia alone generate $1.2 billion and almost 11,000 jobs. The majority of that impact is right here in Hampton Roads."

At the same caucus, Bill Wrobel, Director of NASA Wallops Flight Facility, announced the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission, which will be the first Moon mission to launch from Virginia. Scheduled to launch in August of this year, LADEE is a robotic mission that will gather information about the lunar atmosphere, conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust.

Wrobel and Roe, along with other NASA leaders, exchanged information about NASA with policy makers for two days - and received some welcomed feedback.

"We’d like to see more jobs created," said Sen. Stephen Martin. "We understand the benefits of these public, private partnerships that can really help out."

Delegate Gordon Helsel voiced his desire to help NASA in any way that he could. Some of his confidence stems from his interactions with those at NASA — even if it’s just a phone call.

"What you say and how you say it is meaningful to people," Helsel said to Roe. "I believe I could pick the phone up and you would take the time to chat with me about anything, really. You just don’t find that."

Conversations like these went on, and one topic seemed to reoccur: growing and inspiring the next science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) generation.

In fact, alongside Roe and Wrobel was a STEM success story: Aditi Joshi, former Virginia Aerospace Science and Technology Scholar (VASTS). She was able to share her experience at the VASTS academy, a partnership between NASA Langley and the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, where she and a team spent a week planning a mission to Mars.

"My time at the VASTS was really eye opening to the aerospace fields because it’s something I don’t get in my high school and I got a really good hands-on learning experience," Joshi said. "It’s introduced me to aerospace engineering as a career and it’s something I want to further continue and hopefully work for NASA one day."

To Sen. Ralph Northam, the most important thing NASA has done is invest in education and children.

"There’s no question that our children are our future," he said. "And in order to move the mission of NASA forward, we need to get our children involved."

Policy makers were left at the assembly building with a resonating awareness of how vital NASA and the aerospace industry are to the economic well-being and future of the Commonwealth.

"When you’re here, you’re conveying information to us that is vital to us in order to make good decisions," said Delegate Joe May, smiling.

By: Sasha Congiu

The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
Executive Editor & Responsible NASA Official: Rob Wyman