Gary Martin began his career with NASA in the Microgravity Sciences and Applications Division in 1990 where he served as Branch Chief for Advanced Programs from 1992 – 1994 and Deputy Director from 1994 – 1996. In 2002 he was named NASA’s first – and as it turned out, only – space architect. Martin currently heads up the New Ventures & Communications Directorate at Ames.
NASA Tech Briefs: You began your career at NASA in 1990 as the primary interface between the microgravity science community and the space station designers. How did you become an expert in the field of microgravity?
Gary Martin: The way I became an expert in that area was through my graduate school work. I went to graduate school at Langley Research Center through the Joint Institute for the Advancement of Flight program with George Washington University, and my thesis was on the design of a platform to conduct microgravity experiments. Part of my research focused on the range of different kinds of experiments you would do and then what kind of platform and what kind of requirements were needed. That was when the microgravity group was being asked what requirements they needed to design to for space station, so it was kind of lucky that I’d had the type of expertise they were looking for at NASA HQ.
NTB: As they say, “timing is everything.”
Martin: Yes. It really did fit well.
NTB: Your career advanced pretty rapidly at NASA’s Microgravity Sciences and Applications Division. From 1992 to 1994 you served as Branch Chief for Advanced programs, and from 1994 to 1996 you were the Acting Deputy Director. Tell us about that phase of your career and some of the projects you managed.
Martin: We were a small group, but we were getting ready for space station in those days so we were flying a number of space shuttle flights with various kinds of microgravity experiments to see what kinds of things you could do in space, what were the types of experiments and the areas we were going to focus on for the space station, as well as doing real world-class science in orbit.
My work was focused more on understanding the effects of the vehicle and the space lab on the experiments. I had an acceleration unit that we flew on almost all of the microgravity missions. We had a low frequency accelerometer looking at the very steady state gravity in orbit. When you talk about micro-Gs, it’s kind of steady state. People thought by going into space, they could do any kind of experiment. What they didn’t realize was that in the shuttle there are compressors and all kinds of different mechanisms moving all the time, and they shake the space shuttle in a way that a normal laboratory on Earth doesn’t shake. So you have a lot of high-frequency vibrations, and we were looking at that issue and trying to make sure that the space station would be designed so that we could do the sensitive microgravity experiments that we’d been considering.
So, we characterized the microgravity environment on Space Shuttle, and we did small experiments through a microgravity glove box. We also put accelerometers on Mir to look at the effects of the compressors and the machinery there. That same family of accelerometers, the Space Acceleration Measurement System (SAMS) is on the space station today.
NTB: On October 11, 2002, you were named NASA’s first space architect. What is a space architect, and what were your primary responsibilities?
Martin: Before we jump from the microgravity phase into the space architect phase, let me tell you a little bit about the time in between because it answers your question.