Who's Who at NASA

Who's Who at NASA: Jack Vieira, Range Project Manager

In March of 2012, NASA successfully launched five rockets from its Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The launch was part of NASA's Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment, or ATREX, which will help scientists better understand the jet stream. Jack Vieira, range project manager for the ATREX mission, helped to launch five suborbital rockets more than 60 miles above Earth.

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Stephen Merkowitz, Project Manager, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

NASA is helping to lead an international effort to upgrade the systems that supply crucial location information and earth science measurements. Stephen Merkowitz, the project manager of NASA's space geodesy initiative at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the budget and schedule for the upgraded ground station that will help serve satellites of the future. NASA Tech Briefs: What is NASA's international geodesy initiative? Stephen Merkowitz: NASA currently offers a network of space geodetic ground stations that do Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI), satellite laser ranging (SLR), and [global navigation satellite system] GNSS or GPS tracking. The new space geodesy project will develop and implement the next-generation systems. The current systems are 20-30 years old. One of the primary drivers for upgrading the system is sea-level measurement, where you would like to be able to make those measurements at the millimeter level and have them be stable over the years, so you can do repeated measurements.

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Michael Gazarik, Director of Space Technology Programs, NASA Headquarters, Washington DC

As NASA’s Director of Space Technology Programs, Michael Gazarik contributes to the development of technology that can be applied to NASA’s exploration systems, space operations, and science missions. Gazarik integrates and tracks all investments across the agency. Prior to this appointment, he served as the Chief Technologist at NASA headquarters. NIAC NASA Tech Briefs: The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts, or NIAC, program is seeking proposals for revolutionary ideas that have the potential to transform future aerospace missions. What kinds of ideas are we talking about? Michael Gazarik: NIAC is one of our most exciting programs. We have ten programs that cover a broad range of technology development. This is a program that actually ran for a number of years and then went dormant. Last year, we resurrected it, got it up and running again, and we’re looking at advanced concepts that will someday enable us to do great things in exploration and exploring the universe. They range from new and advanced power systems, to new types of propulsion, to ways to protect our astronauts from radiation.

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Donald Wegel, Lead Engineer, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD

Donald Wegel, Lead Engineer, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD Scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt Maryland are in the early stages of designing a sample-collecting comet harpoon. NASA Goddard’s Donald Wegel, lead engineer on the project, will work with researchers to send a spacecraft to rendezvous with the comet, and then fire a harpoon to acquire samples from specific locations. NASA Tech Briefs: Why sample comets? What can we learn from comets? Don Wegel: Comets are early remnants of the solar system’s formation and might give us clues to the possible origins of life on Earth. They have some of the building blocks of life and could contain the primordial ooze of where we came from.  Also, comets and asteroids are potential threats for the Earth, so to understand them better may help us find the best solution to avoid their impact.

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Dr. Bruce Wielicki, Senior Earth Scientist, Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA

Dr. Bruce Wielicki, senior Earth scientist within the Science Directorate at Langley Research Center, works as lead of the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) mission. The Tier-1 earth science decadal survey initiative will anchor a future climate observing system.

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Sam Ortega, Program Manager, NASA Centennial Challenges, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL

Sam Ortega, manager of the NASA Centennial Challenges Program, leads progressive aerospace initiatives, encouraging the participation of independent teams, individual inventors, student groups, and private companies. Most recently, the program’s Green Flight Challenge awarded the largest prize in aviation history.NASA Tech Briefs:  What is the Green Flight Challenge? Sam Ortega: The Green Flight Challenge was our biggest challenge ever conducted. The purpose was to really push the innovation levels for green aviation itself. We wanted teams to manufacture or build an aircraft that would have the efficiency of a [Toyota] Prius; that would get 200 passenger miles per gallon of gas or gas equivalent; and would be as fast as a Corvette. It would also have to fly at 100 mph.  Prior airplanes only had the efficiency of 40 passenger miles per gallon, as opposed to the 200 that we were trying to shoot for.

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Dr. Robert Okojie, Research Electronics Engineer, NASA Glenn Research Center, Cleveland OH

Dr. Robert Okojie, Research Electronics Engineer at the NASA Glenn Research Center, develops harsh-environment microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). Okojie currently processes, fabricates, tests, and packages silicon carbide pressure sensors, accelerometers, and fuel injectors.  NASA Tech Briefs:  What kinds of work have you done with MEMS, particularly the silicon carbide sensors?Dr. Robert Okojie: I have focused on the area of MEMS-based pressure sensors using silicon carbide, which allows us to extend the operational capability of the pressure sensor from the conventional silicon pressure sensors that operate around 200 °C. We are looking at applying MEMS–based silicon carbide pressure sensors in temperatures that exceed 600 °C.

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