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January 10, 2005

NASA Public Affairs Office
Stennis Space Center, MS 39529-6000
(228) 688-3341


Dr. Ed Johnson doesn't believe in coincidences. He prefers to call them "connections."

The director of the Applied Sciences Directorate (ASD) at NASA Stennis Space Center (SSC) in South Mississippi can rattle off a string of connections he feels helped bring him to his new position: professional relationships, crossed paths and shared goals.

"I believe people make connections happen," Johnson said. "But I love being the connector. Small groups like this staff are very appealing to me, because you can see the results of 'connecting' quickly."

Johnson lives in Picayune, Miss., with his wife, Michele. He earlier this year assumed his role as director of ASD, part of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. This division of NASA is dedicated to understanding the total Earth-Sun system and the effects of natural and human-induced changes on the global environment through data gathered by satellites, sensors, communication networks, computing capabilities and geographic information systems. ASD's work analyzes the data to improve predictions in weather, climate and responses to natural hazards, among other things. NASA's Science Mission Directorate and SSC's ASD combine data about the Earth and Sun from satellites, sensors and geographic information systems, then use the information to help respond to practical problems such as coastal erosion and public health threats. The work bridges the gap between research results and decision-support systems for community planners and emergency management agencies, among others.

Its programs aim to expand knowledge and accelerate the use of science and technology resulting from NASA's missions to improve predictions in weather, climate and natural hazard responses, and to help NASA fulfill its role in the Vision for Space Exploration, a journey that will take humans back to the Moon and eventually to Mars and beyond.

Johnson is uniquely qualified to mesh ASD's work with NASA's Science mission. The Clinton, Conn., native grew up on a steady diet of Jules Verne and Jacques Cousteau that inspired an intense scientific curiosity. His father was a World War II Navy pilot who used stories more than lectures to teach Ed and his brother, Steve. Johnson followed his father into a military career, graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1973.

Johnson earned his master's and doctoral degrees from the Naval Postgraduate School. There, he fed his curiosity by using satellite imagery to detect and model the ocean currents off California. In his dissertation, he analyzed the many forms of data used to create a model of the open ocean. On two previous military assignments to SSC, Johnson helped set up data quality evaluations for ocean forecasting and simulation systems, and helped work out technical problems for meteorology, oceanography and environmental quality.

He later worked for a contractor to the National Data Buoy Center, leading a team that designed and operated remote ocean sensors. In 2002, he became technical director of the Naval Oceanographic Office at SSC. In that position, Johnson directed the work of 1,200 oceanographers in global efforts to collect data, model the ocean and solve ocean-related problems for the Navy.

Johnson hopes his leadership of ASD will highlight some of the unique capabilities that reside in his 28-person staff and its numerous support contractors.

He believes one of his staff's most valuable assets is its ties to other agencies at SSC. "Our ability to walk down the hall and talk to the Commander, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command, or to the National Coastal Data Development Center or the Naval Research Laboratory or the EPA and share information with them is unique and gives us a phenomenal connection."

"There are some very talented people here," Johnson said. "Their work is making a real impact on issues like homeland security and public health. I want to give this staff the freedom to find their niche and contribute even more to NASA's mission of improving life here, extending life to there and finding life beyond. We can find analogies in our work here that apply to areas throughout our world. I just read the other day that, in Africa, 2 million children a year die for lack of clean drinking water. If our studies could lead to improved water quality for those children, that's a pretty dramatic impact."

Reading such secondary effects into the daily aspects of his work is a complication of connectivity, but Johnson feels it's necessary.

"We're obliged to provide something of value that helps people, whether it improves their quality of life or helps them survive. We need to look at what NASA has invested in scientific research and match it with the end user who needs the information. At the end of the day, you have to have done something with what you learned."

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For more information, call the NASA Public Affairs Office at Stennis at 1-800-237-1821 in Mississippi and Louisiana only, or (228) 688-3341.


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