Features

Steve Gaddis, Program Director for NASA Space Technology's Game Changing Development Office, NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA

One of the major questions that we ask is: Can it transition? Is there some end-item customer that would be interested in this technology within NASA or another federal agency? We don’t go forward, unless there’s somebody interested in using this. Then, we get some sort of formal agreement with this potential customer that if we meet these specifications, they’ll take that design and go forward with it. That’s the “new start.” It gets approved. It gets off and running in a formulation of normally 6-12 months, and if they meet their performance metrics during formulation, there will be a review to let it go into implementation, which could be 2-3 years, working very closely with the customer and headquarters for approval. We have these continuation reviews, and the PI monitors those, and hopefully the end of the story is that they have this formal agreement with the customer, that they meet all the metrics, and we do a technology infusion, we do a hand-off, and some other NASA directorate or program like TDM, (Technology Demonstration Missions), Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD), or Science Mission Directorate (SMD), takes it on, and you see the technology was developed and used, and doesn’t go on a shelf somewhere.

NTB: Which one of these Game-Changing Technologies are ready to go, and we’re ready to see in action?

Gaddis: There are hypersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerators, and we have a demonstration that’s going to be out of Wallops [Flight Facility] this month [July, at the time of this interview]. It’s going to be suborbital, but we’re demonstrating this inflation technology and this certain material that can be used to do some sort of aerodynamic decelerations on a planet with atmospheres, say Mars or maybe Venus.

We’re also within about 8 months of demonstrating a 5.5-meter composite cryogenic tank. Most of these tanks, for folks that are in that field, know that a tank of that size would have to be cured in a huge autoclave. We’re doing all this work out of autoclave. It’ll be a huge impact not only for NASA, but for even companies like Boeing, SpaceX, or Orbital.

We’re also developing legs for Robonaut on ISS. Most folks know that Robonaut is up on [the International Space] Station, and Robonaut did some sign language a couple months ago, back down to kids here on Earth. But Robonaut needs its legs, and we should have those legs probably within the next 12 months. Those are some activities that are near-term for Game Changing.

NTB: You mentioned Airbus and Boeing. How important is private industry to making this all happen?

Gaddis: We want to partner with private industry. In the commercial space, we’re looking at how a lot of our technologies can help them. It’s very important to us that the work that we’re doing can be disseminated to all sectors in the aerospace field. It’s part of the vision of our chief technologist, Mason Peck, that we properly disseminate our findings so that folks in the aerospace field – whether it’s a Lockheed or a Boeing or a SpaceX or a Sierra Nevada, or some smaller corporation that’s interested in getting into the field – can use this information and apply it to what they have going on in their companies. We talk to private industry on a regular basis, and we team up with them wherever it makes sense. A lot of times they’ll use their own internal research and development funds, and we have a cost-share activity with them. I think it would be safe to say that we work very closely with industry.

NTB: To dig into your bio a bit: You were originally the deputy chief of the Launch Abort System.

Gaddis: I spent a year at Headquarters being the program executive in OCT for Game Changing. Before that, I spent five years being the deputy chief of the Launch Abort System within the Orion project, the former Constellation Program, and we had a major success on May 6 several years ago with the Pad Abort 1 [Orion Test]. We demonstrated a new launch abort system. It was picture perfect and worked just like it should.

Before that, I was working on station to develop a couple of modules, as program manager for developments and modules, for Station. I worked probably 10 years of my career on developing advanced technologies for the space shuttle main engines, and I did some advanced technology work with Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (JIMO), and I was the Marshall lead for that. I’ve had a lot of fun in my career, but I have to say, I’m having a lot of fun right now, doing all this technology work.