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The new program is designed to provide 24/7, all-weather capabilities that will increase the ability to detect, track, identify and characterize objects in deep space.
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Erickson to Retire after Over 40 Years of Service
December 1, 2023
It is my pleasure to share information about new hires within NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) on this blog, and it is also my bittersweet duty to share information about retirements. After 40 years with NASA, Kristen Erickson – Director of NASA Science Engagement & Partnerships Division — will retire at the end of 2023.
Kristen has made many contributions to the agency. Over the years she has mentored dozens of scientists and engineers to carry on NASA’s legacy of sharing the science with audiences of all ages. Kristen started her career at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, in 1983. After witnessing the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy, she transferred to NASA Headquarters in Washington for Return to Flight and led the Space Operations Business office for nine years during the heyday of the Space Shuttle Program when eight missions per year were flown.
After graduating from Harvard’s Kennedy School on a NASA fellowship, she returned to work for at NASA Headquarters. She was chosen as the lead management executive for the new Office of Biological and Physical Research – which has since joined as a division in the Science Mission Directorate. She then moved to leading the new Office of Communications Planning under then Deputy Administrator, Shana Dale, where her role was to forge a more cohesive strategic public engagement environment. Her work there included leading the agency’s 50th anniversary activities, including “NASA at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival,” Future Forums to engage top-tier community leaders, and the Apollo 40th Anniversary events.
Kristen brought those goals of working for a more integrated approach to engaging with audiences to her new job with NASA science in 2009. There she created the Year of the Solar System campaign to transition awareness and excitement post-Space Shuttle to science events and missions. Comet encounters, Venus transiting of the Sun, science launches, and the historic landing of Curiosity Rover on Mars – all broke engagement records and helped show that working together on a common theme (and using data to drive decisions) was better than a siloed approach.
In addition to integrating messages and plans, Kristen worked hard to create integrated working groups as well. She helped create robust teams of diverse individuals, whose different skills and expertise combined together to pull off giant and complex projects.
One such project was NASA’s 2017 total solar eclipse communications efforts, which engaged over 88% of the US adult population and still holds agency records – though Kristen says she hopes those records will soon be broken with the upcoming April 8, 2024, eclipse broadcast.
When asked to say something about her career, Kristen said: “The power of the NASA team to do the impossible never fails to inspire, especially when all feel included in the process.”
I wish her luck in the next phase of her life and know that her legacy lives on with a robust team of science engagement experts – whose integrated skills will continue to bring NASA science to learners of all ages.
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Former NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk delivering remarks during NASA’s 60th anniversary.NASA/Joel Kowsky Former NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk passed away Nov. 23, at the age of 61, following a battle with pancreatic cancer.
During his career, which spanned more than three decades with the agency, Jurczyk rose in ranks to associate administrator, the highest-ranking civil servant, a position he held from May 2018 until January 2021. He ultimately went on to serve as acting administrator between administration changes, serving in that position from January 2021 until his retirement in May 2021.
“Steve dedicated his life to solving some of the most daring spaceflight challenges and propelling humanity’s reach throughout the solar system. The world lost Steve too soon, but his legacy of kindness and exceptional leadership lives on. My thoughts are with his family and loved ones during this difficult time,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
Preceding his roles as acting administrator and associate administrator, Jurczyk served as the associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, a position he had held since June 2015. He was responsible for formulating and executing the agency’s space technology portfolio, focusing on the development and demonstration of new technologies supporting human and robotic exploration within the agency, public/private partnerships, and academia.
Jurczyk joined the leadership team at headquarters after serving as director of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. He was named to that position in May 2014. He previously served as deputy center director from August 2006 until his appointment as director.
His NASA career began in 1988, serving as a design, integration, and test engineer in the Electronic Systems Branch at NASA Langley. There he worked on developing several space-based Earth remote sensing systems. He served in a variety of other roles at Langley including director of engineering, and director of research and technology.
At the time of his retirement, Jurczyk shared the following:
“It has been an honor to lead NASA and see the agency’s incredible growth and transformation throughout my time here. The NASA workforce is what makes this agency so special, and I’m incredibly grateful for their amazing work, especially throughout the coronavirus pandemic. At NASA, we turn dreams into reality, and make the seemingly impossible possible. I am so fortunate to have been a member of the NASA family.”
Among his awards, Jurczyk received a Distinguished Service Medal, Presidential Rank Award for Distinguished Executive, Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Executive, Silver Achievement Medal, Outstanding Leadership Medal, and numerous Group
Achievement Awards. He also was a finalist for Sammie management excellence award for his leadership in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jurczyk is a graduate of the University of Virginia where he earned a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in electrical engineering in 1984 and 1986. He also was an associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
An obituary for Steve Jurczyk is online. For more information about his NASA career, visit:
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Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)
The six satellites that make up NASA’s SunRISE mission are each only about the size of a cereal box, flanked by small solar panels. This fleet of six SmallSats will work together to effectively create a much larger radio antenna in space. Space Dynamics Laboratory/Allison Bills Most NASA missions feature one spacecraft or, occasionally, a few. The agency’s Sun Radio Interferometer Space Experiment (SunRISE) is using half a dozen. This month, mission members completed construction of the six identical cereal box-size satellites, which will now go into storage and await their final testing and ride to space. SunRISE will launch as a rideshare aboard a United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket, sponsored by the United States Space Force (USSF)’s Space Systems Command (SSC).
Once launched, these six small satellites, or SmallSats, will work together to act like one giant radio antenna in space. The mission will study the physics of explosions in the Sun’s atmosphere in order to gain insights that could someday help protect astronauts and space hardware from showers of accelerated particles.
“This is a big moment for everyone who has worked on SunRISE,” said Jim Lux, the SunRISE project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which manages the mission for the agency. “Challenges are expected when you’re doing something for the first time, and especially when the space vehicles are small and compact. But we have a small team that works well together, across multiple institutions and companies. I’m looking forward to the day when we receive the first images of the Sun in these radio wavelengths.”
Monitoring Solar Radio Bursts
They may be small, but the six satellites have a big job ahead of them studying solar radio bursts, or the generation of radio waves in the outer atmosphere of the Sun. These bursts result from electrons accelerated in the Sun’s atmosphere during energetic events known as coronal mass ejections and solar flares.
Particles accelerated by these events can damage spacecraft electronics – including on communications satellites in Earth orbit – and pose a health threat to astronauts. Scientists still have big questions about how solar radio bursts, coronal mass ejections, and solar flares are created and how they are linked. SunRISE may shed light on this complex question. Someday, tracking solar radio bursts and pinpointing their location could help warn humans when the energetic particles from coronal mass ejections and solar flares are likely to hit Earth.
This type of monitoring isn’t possible from the ground. Earth’s atmosphere blocks the range of radio wavelengths primarily emitted by solar radio bursts. For a space-based monitoring system, scientists need a radio telescope bigger than any previously flown in space. This is where SunRISE comes in.
To look out for solar radio events, the SmallSats will fly about 6 miles (10 kilometers) apart and each deploy four radio antennas that extend 10 feet (2.5 meters). Mission scientists and engineers will track where the satellites are relative to one another and measure with precise timing when each one observes a particular event. Then they will combine the information collected by the satellites into a single data stream from which images of the Sun will be produced for scientists to study – a technique called interferometry.
“Some missions put multiple scientific instruments on a single spacecraft, whereas we use multiple small satellites to act as a single instrument,” said JPL’s Andrew Romero-Wolf, the deputy project scientist for SunRISE.
More About the Mission
SunRISE is a Mission of Opportunity under the Heliophysics Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD). Missions of Opportunity are part of the Explorers Program, managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. SunRISE is led by Justin Kasper at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California. Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory built the SunRISE spacecraft. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, provides the mission operations center and manages the mission for NASA.
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Last Updated Nov 30, 2023 Related Terms
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Ham Radio in Space: Engaging with Students Worldwide for 40 Years
In May 2018, a student at Mill Springs Academy in Alpharetta, Georgia, Andrew Maichle, talked to NASA astronaut Scott Tingle on the International Space Station via amateur or ham radio. The experience profoundly affected Maichle, who went on to study electrical engineering at Clemson University in South Carolina.
“It was so cool to see in real time the utmost levels of what people in science are able to accomplish, and to talk to and interact with someone at that level,” Maichle recalls. “The space station is an incredible work of engineering and to interact with someone in space was just mind-boggling. I was extraordinarily honored and very lucky to have had the opportunity.”
40 Years of Contact
As of November 2023, students have been talking to astronauts in space for 40 years. Crew members on the space shuttle Columbia first used an amateur radio to communicate with people on Earth in 1983. That program, the Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment (SAREX), ended in 1999.
In October 2000, amateur radio equipment launched to the space station along with its first crew members, who deployed it on Nov. 13, 2000. ISS Ham Radio, also known as Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS), has operated continuously since then. Each year, the program hosts about a hundred contacts. It has now directly connected over 100 crew members with more than 250,000 participants from 49 U.S. states, 63 countries, and every continent. These experiences encourage interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and help inspire the next generation.
“The ham radio program represents an amazing opportunity to engage with kids all over the world,” said NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, who participated on each of his missions. “It provides the opportunity for educators and ham operators to encourage and inspire their students with STEM topics culminating in a real-time conversation with astronauts living and working on the space station.”
Before a scheduled contact, students study related topics. They have about nine minutes to ask questions, often discussing career choices and scientific activities aboard the orbiting laboratory.
NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren talks on the space station’s ham radio set. NASA Inspiration Beyond Education
These contacts go beyond inspiring students – sometimes they encourage entire communities. Students at Canterbury School in Fort Myers, Florida, spoke with crew members on Oct. 24, 2022. Just a few weeks earlier, Hurricane Ian displaced 30 percent of the school’s population.
“Before the hurricane, our had students spent months building their own satellite tracking antenna,” said Christiana Deeter, science department head at the school. “After the storm, so many people came forward to make sure that we had what we needed. It was a great opportunity for our kids to stop looking around and look up.”
The school spoke with NASA astronaut Josh Cassada. “He has kids of his own and was just as excited as our kids were,” said Deeter. “I asked him if he had a message for the families and he talked about coming together as a community and not giving up hope. Our school was on a high the rest of the year.”
Canterbury School student Isaac Deeter asks a question during the school’s ham radio contact while student Samantha Pezzi waits her turn. Canterbury School From an Astronaut’s Perspective
Ham radio also contributes to astronaut well-being. In addition to scheduled contacts, crew members often crank up the radio during free time to catch calls from around the world.
Lindgren spoke to amateur radio operators or “hams” on all seven continents. His favorite memory is connecting with eight-year-old Isabella Payne and her father Matthew Payne in the United Kingdom. “Hearing her young, accented voice cut through the static – I was very impressed to hear her calling the space station,” said Lindgren. “It made my day!”
Lindgren’s contact with Payne was on Aug. 2, 2022. On Aug.18, 2023, Payne’s school, St Peter-In-Thanet CE Primary, conducted a scheduled contact with NASA astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli.
UK student Isabella Payne, who contacted NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren via ham radio, is shown on Lindgren’s device floating in the space station.NASA The program also fosters international cooperation. Crew members are trained by multi-national teams. Italian teams designed and built antennas, while German teams built repeater stations that improve ham contacts. Amateur radio even serves as an emergency backup communications network for the space station.
How Schools Can Get Involved
ARISS is a partnership between NASA, amateur radio organizations, and international space agencies. While there is no cost to a host location for the contact, there may be some equipment-related costs. Scheduling is subject to mission operations and may change, so hosts need to be flexible.
The astronaut and the ham radio operator, who is the technical point of contact on the ground, must be licensed. While students do not have to be licensed, many choose to obtain their license after the experience.
Information about applying is available at www.ariss.org or can be requested from email@example.com.
The Next 40 Years
“I hope the program continues for a long time,” said Maichle. “It is so important for kids trying to figure out what you want to accomplish in life. It is cool to have that memory that sticks with you. It inspires so many people.”
And as those involved celebrate 40 years of ham radio in space, some are dreaming even bigger.
“I would love for there to be a continued amateur radio presence in human spaceflight,” said Lindgren. “I expect we’ll have a radio on the space station for as long as it operates. Then can we put a ham radio station on the Moon? Now that would be cool.”
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