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Meeting NASAs Chief Scientist on American Soil – Sort Of

This post has been written by Nancy Harman, a student from Brighton who recently entered and won one of our OtotheB competitions.


On Tuesday 19th January I crossed over the border to American soil and visited the residence of the US Ambassador in Regent’s Park. Not quite a normal afternoon for a 16-year-old studying for her A-levels. (I’m not complaining). Even better, it was to hear Dr. Ellen Stofan, Chief Scientist at NASA speak about her current work and experiences.

Ellen addressed a small group of us on NASA’s projects at the moment and its plans for the future (including Mars 2020). She gave us a better insight into what NASA does; dispelling the myth that it simply sends US taxpayers’ money into space! I was particularly interested in the SERVIR mission, a little-known facet of NASA which is operating in many developing countries. It provides state-of-the-art, satellite-based Earth monitoring, imaging and mapping data, geospatial information, predictive models and science applications to help researchers and government officials in developing countries evaluate ecological threats and advise them on how to quickly respond to natural disasters when they strike. For me, it was riveting to hear about NASA’s ‘other job’ – what it does on Earth, as I think that many people don’t realise the real-life impact that satellites placed in space by organisations such as this one can have.

My question for Ellen was “What is your favourite experiment currently running on the ISS and what prospects will its results bring to the future of space travel?”. Her reply centred around the ‘Veggie’ experiment, which focuses on growing flowers. vegetables and hopefully soon, fruits on the space station in microgravity. Ellen emphasised the importance of this research in creating a sustainable way to produce our food on longer journeys into space. On this front, I agree with her, because even if only for the psychological benefits of eating fresh food whilst thousands of miles from home, development in this area is pivotal to the human race’s journey to Mars.

My experience in London was a fantastic one, from seeing some slightly bizarre artwork in the Ambassador’s house to hearing Dr Ellen Stofan’s views on how to encourage more girls into STEM subjects, and I can only thank the Stemettes for providing me with this opportunity and encourage all of you to sign up and take part in their competitions.

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