Michael Gazarik, Director of Space Technology Programs, NASA Headquarters, Washington DC
- Sunday, 01 April 2012
NTB: You came to NASA Headquarters from NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where you were the deputy director for programs in the Engineering Directorate. In this role, you worked on projects that ranged from conceptual design to spaceflight operations. What lessons from that experience help you to do your job now?
Gazarik: One is a focus on the people. We talk a lot about technology, but at the end of the day, it’s the talent and the workforce, whether it be at NASA or in industry. So getting the right teams in place and allowing them to innovate is key. There are a lot of ideas out there. There are some really, really sharp people, and so one of the things I learned from this job is to set up a framework — funding and requirements and all the aspects that I have to do — to really let the talent go to work.
NTB: You've also served as the project manager for the Mars Science Laboratory entry, descent and landing instrumentation project during the formulation and design phases. Can you give us an update on the MSL mission?
Gazarik: We put an instrumentation package on the heat shield of the Mars Science Laboratory, and this will enable measurements as it slides through the atmosphere on its way to landing on the surface. It is on its way to Mars, scheduled to arrive in early August, and we’re all going to be excited about that. The rover is managed by the Science Mission Directorate, but from the reports that I’ve seen, it’s doing well. The checkouts are doing well, they’ve made some course corrections, which are a natural part of the process, and it’s going on a very long distance millions of miles to the “Red Planet.”
NTB: You have a wide range of experience, also working as chief engineer of NASA's earth science CLARREO mission, principal investigator for the shuttle program's extravehicular infrared camera project, and a developer of an advanced laser-based rendezvous and docking sensor system. Is that range of experience critical for a role like yours as director of space technology programs?
Gazarik: I think it is a major advantage. I think it really has helped to be as broad as you can across a range of technologies and the range of applications, hitting all the mission directorates. Obviously from a space technology program level, we are very broad, and we look at technologies across the board. But I think that experience has really helped me to understand all of the different applications and the different challenges for the technology that’s needed for all of NASA’s missions.
NTB: Can you take us through a typical day? What is a typical day for you?
Gazarik: NASA Headquarters is really a great place to work because of the ability to really have an impact at the agency level. Like most folks in Washington, we have a variety of meetings. There are a whole lot of topics we have to look at. With the breadth of ten programs, my day ranges across those ten, again making sure that we’re on track, our solicitations are under development, evaluations are under way, and, of course, we’re tracking the technical progress. We have thousands of innovators, engineers, and scientists supporting the program across NASA and the industry. And we’re checking the progress and making sure to get rid of any roadblocks that teams are facing.
NTB: What would you say is the biggest goal for 2012, and then what are your goals beyond that?
Gazarik: For 2012, it’s a big year for us. The Space Technology Program was funded in July of 2011. We have turned a corner from last year, where we were formulating the program, to this year, where we’re on to execution. We have technologies in the laboratories and test chambers, and flying in the skies above all the NASA centers in evaluation and testing this year. We have a whole series of milestones for a number of our technologies as we’re making progress in getting these technologies in testing environments, understanding what’s going to work, and what’s not going to work. Either way, we’re going to learn along the way about which technologies are really going to prove to be useful for NASA and for the community.
The NRC has said in their report, and this is really true for the Space Technology Program, that the future of this nation’s leadership in space requires a foundation of sustained technology advances, and so that’s really important for this program in 2012: to execute, implement, and get the technologies developed.
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