From our perspective, another big challenge is whether there will be any long-term impact to aircraft systems, such as combustors and the fuel system and so on. We have been hearing already that there is some contamination in the pipeline for biofuels, certainly not just aviation applications but for other applications, so it is important that we understand the long-term impact of biofuels to aircraft systems.
So, as you pointed out, NASA has been working with many partners to stay engaged with the proper progress, and also to make appropriate contributions. For the time being we have a very modest investment in biofuels research and trying to figure out what NASA’s unique contribution should be.
To this day our partners are telling us that they rely on us to conduct research in figuring out the long-term impacts to the aircraft systems and also developing technologies that will be fuel flexible. What I mean by that is future combustors – 20 or 30 years out – they may actually work on 100 percent biofuels, so the technology we’re developing for future combustors needs to be able to handle various types of fuels. Again, with a very modest amount of investment to start with, we’ve been working in this area for 2 – 3 years now.
I don’t know what the future will be in this area. Certainly NASA Aeronautics is not the agency that would be able to make anything comparable to the investment that the DOE (Department of Energy) or DOD (Department of Defense) are making in the biofuel area. So we will continue to coordinate and collaborate with these mainstream agencies and also industry, and make appropriate contributions.
NTB: You co-chaired a National Science and Technology Council of Aeronautics Science and Technology sub-committee, a group made up of the federal departments and agencies that fund aeronautics related research. In 2006 they wrote this country’s first presidential policy governing aeronautics research and development. Considering how long NASA has been in this business, what do you think took so long to establish such a policy, and what governed aeronautics R&D before this policy was instituted?
Dr. Shin: I actually don’t know why such a policy has not been developed earlier. I don’t have that historical perspective. But I do know the current policy and plan have helped quite a bit, actually very significantly, all government departments and agencies that have any role in conducting or funding and fostering aeronautics R&D.
I think the benefit of having a policy and plan certainly has been bringing these various departments and agencies together to coordinate and collaborate in working on the most important problems. So policy, as you might have imagined, is a very high-level, only a few pages long, document. Policy sets the tone and it is a very important document, but to us at the working level, what’s more beneficial is the plan itself, because the plan has actual goals and objectives in various areas such as mobility, national security, safety, and energy and environment. Those are some of the areas that we focus on in the policy and plan.
These national level goals and objectives are certainly going to be helpful to provide us with coordination and collaboration points, and we just updated the national R&D plan’s goals and objectives this year. The plan is supposed to be updated every two years and this was the year for it to be updated, so we are just completing that. So I think having these new policy and plans has been very helpful for the aeronautics community.
NTB: You spent a good part of your career working at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and now you’re at Headquarters in Washington, DC. How different is it working in that environment compared to working at one of the centers like Glenn? Does it require a different skill set, or did you find it to be an easy transition?
Dr. Shin: Interesting question. I think what I learned at Glenn in leadership, program management, organizational excellence, and all those things, was very helpful and I certainly use the skills that I acquired and the lessons I learned while I was working at Glenn even in the current position that I have at Headquarters. I think those were really valuable lessons and experiences that I bring to Headquarters. Also, the perspective of how centers work and the issues and difficulties that we go through at the center level, I think, are also very valuable for doing my daily job.
I certainly wouldn’t call it an easy transition, and the reason I’m saying that it wasn’t very easy is not because I felt that I didn’t have the right skills. It was mostly the different surroundings and different setting at the national level scene here. There are so many competing interests, and individually all are very legitimate and have the right rationale, but when you put them together many of them are competing against each other so how do you harmonize those competing interests with the present budget? How do you prioritize and set the right direction? That is a different kind of challenge, and certainly the skills and experience that I acquired working at Glenn helped me quite a bit, but I had to work pretty hard to do the right things in that environment.
Another aspect that made the transition interesting was the pace and intensity of the work at Headquarters. I’m not suggesting by any stretch of the imagination that working at a NASA center was a breeze, but working at Headquarters is intense. That was kind of an eye opening experience for me