We are fortunate to live in Las Cruces. The weather is perfect. Warm days, cool nights, no wind. I travel with my job, and love the feeling of coming home. Recently, I attended the annual Space Grant Director’s meeting in Washington, DC. All 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have Space Grant programs. NMSU is the Land Grant and lead Space Grant university in New Mexico. I also report to our Congressional representatives while in Washington. Informing them of our progress is part of my job.
My first meeting was in Congressman Pierce’s office, a ten minute walk from the subway. Spit out the other side of the security screeners as I hustled up the stairs, the Congressman almost mowed me down in the hall. He was deep in thought, hand behind his back and head down. I spoke gently, “Good Morning Congressman, it’s a fellow New Mexican.” He looked up with a big smile. Then he discovered we know each other. I gave him the quick 30 second update, let him know we are working hard back here and thanked him for his work. He needs to know what we are doing, that we are accomplishing things and he wants to know how we are doing it. Politics is not my job.
Right about then my NMSU colleagues in Washington appeared. They are young, extremely hard working, highly engaged and knowledgeable about our work and the work of our Congressional delegation. This is the generation we are leaving our legacy to and it is in good hands. I introduced them to the Congressman. He excused himself and headed off for a busy day. A full day of meetings followed. Our delegation is blessed with talented staff. We have two Ph.Ds, one from Sandia and one from Los Alamos working as Congressional fellows in our delegation, plus Dr. Steven Traver. It is a testament to both our Senators and Congressmen they have kept key staffers through these hard times.
The next day my NASA meetings started. NASA program management is constantly changing, new rules, new ways of reporting, it is part of being accountable, and getting it right the first time is a requirement. Pencils are out, eyes forward. Yet, the meetings also are sprinkled with scientific updates and presentations on NASA and university research. I heard the best talk on Exoplanet research results coming from the Kepler Telescope. If you go to this link you will see a table describing the planets this telescope has discovered in the last five years. http://kepler.nasa.gov/Mission/discoveries/. There are 3,845 candidate planets under investigation. As the Sun News reported on February 27th, 715 exoplanets, planets outside our solar system, were recently discovered. NMSU’s astronomy students and faculty are working on some of the data analysis from Kepler. The table will give you details on planet radii, mass, density, temperature, and more. Listening to a researcher describe what gets him and his students out of bed in the morning is inspiring. This energy, inspiration for investigation, along with lots of work, is what I also bring back with me.
The job of the Space Grant Director, whether on the road or here at home, is to take research done at the universities and bring it into the greater community for the purpose of creating economic benefits for our country. I learned about the RockSat program at Temple University, maybe they will do testing on their technologies from Spaceport America. They have developed a cube sat, a small satellite 10 cm x 10 cm, with a neutron detector. We have a particle astrophysicist at NMSU, Steve Stochaji, who has a passion for studying neutrons. He is building a 6 unit cube sat with a student team at NMSU. I hope to connect him with the Temple University team. The State of New Mexico has a number of successful cube sats in development. New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology is developing a cube sat, and they have just been notified they will fly on NASA’s ElaNa rocket with Space X. Got to http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/smallsats/elana/#.Ux01xj9dV8E and watch a very good video on the program.
I learned years ago, it is necessary to go out and get the business, it will not walk in my office, yet. We are growing amazing capability here in southern New Mexico, let’s expect it to pay off in jobs and economic prosperity. Our students deserve these opportunities in their backyard.