Innovation through Collaboration

The NASA Co-Lab, a group out of NASA Ames that looks for innovative ways for NASA both to outreach to the community and to collaborate with individuals outside of NASA's own employee and contractor base, holds a cool series of public events called "Luna Philosophie". Pretty much without fail, I am interested in the topics they discuss, but unable to attend in person.

The last Luna Philosophie featured a guest speaker -- Doug Comstock. I've gotten to know Doug relatively well through the NASA Centennial Challenges program, which falls under the Innovative Partnership Program (IPP) office, which Doug runs. In my opinion, IPP is running some of NASA's best, most important projects--but is also among the most-overlooked sections of NASA, by Congressional appropriators, at least. Doug and his team are doing great things both to carry forward the success of the various IPP programs and to raise the public awareness about them.

I was unable to attend Doug's talk, but a friend was kind enough to provide some notes. Thanks go out to Matt Reyes, a fellow NASA Academy alum and Zero G's former Director of Technical Operations, as well as an all-around nice guy with a fascinating career path. IN addition to just summarizing the talk itself, Matt was kind enough to provide some of the context surrounding this particular Luna Philosophie.

For the past week, I'd visited NASA Ames Research Center to participate in discussions on enhancing innovation Agency-wide using the next generation of communication and relationship building tools. My travel was sponsored by NASA's Code V, New Ventures and Communications, in support of the nascent NASA CoLab Council and Ambassador's program and their presentation to the Innovative Partnerships Program Quarterly meeting.

Throughout the week, friends that usually interact virtually via the various social networks met (in some cases for the first time) in physical coworking spaces. During full Moons, one physical meet-up place is at the Yahoo! Brickhouse, a archetypal Silicon Valley co-working space that currently hosts the developers of the geo-social network Fire Eagle. NASA CoLab has partnered with Yahoo! to coordinate a San Francisco Bay area outreach salon known as "Luna Philosophie": NASA brings the speakers, while Yahoo! generously hosts and feeds the audience with their stocks of free soft drinks, beer, wine, snacks and pizza. For example, here is the inspiring panoramic view from the coworking space:


On Tuesday 5-Aug, Doug Comstock was invited to give a presentation on the activities he oversees. He initially walked in with a group in suits, shirts, and ties, but quickly realized that it was time to adapt to the West-Coast atmosphere: Comstock took the tie off, and started his presentation with beer in hand. His talk opened with a classical NASA Spinoff example where Space Shuttle water purification systems are now being used to clean water in African tribal land, effectively eliminating waterborne disease.

The presentation started with a displaying some very cool, almost inspiring marketing videos that covered what was entitled the "Global Exploration Strategy", and some other marketing materials that "show-off" the capabilities of the Ares rockets--though many in the room agreed they're likely outdated now. Also, one video highlited the success of an SBIR recipient inXitu, which designed a portable X-ray rock and mineral analyzer for the Mars Science Laboratory, but which has also been used by the Getty Conservation Institute in art conservation. Lastly, he also pointed out other outreach examples such as a partnership with ILC Dover to create an Inflatable Antarctic Habitat and a recent Space Act Agreement where children at the Challenger Learning Center will be able to compete to name the habitat.

The audience of about 40, with an average age in the lower 30s, was interested and interactive. Comstock took some questions that range from the technical to programmatic. The Q&A theme was clear: NASA will spend money developing patents even if there isn't a great return on the investment. For those patents that do reap licensing reward dollars, the money that NASA gets in return is orders in magnitude less than what it spends.

Here, Doug Comstock and many other NASA Center IPP folks witnessed first hand the very different and inventive working spaces that have sparked Silicon Valley's innovation. The presentation at the Brickhouse was a great, necessary event that highlighted an effective form of communication that NASA CoLab is facilitating across the Agency. This meeting was also the start of a conversation on how NASA CoLab and the Innovative Partnership Program can revitalize the Agency with new forms of innovation, communication, and relationship building. The collective experiences of the nascent NASA CoLab Council and its Ambassadors at each NASA Center have a lot of excitement, passion, and are looking forward to helping connect the community of innovators across NASA.

Thanks again to Matt for providing this wonderful summary.

Sadly, I'll also be unable to attend the next Luna Philosophie event, which is titled Who Owns the Moon?. Hopefully, I can find another friend willing to pass along notes!

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