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Centers as Settlements

Discussing the new directions contained in the 2011 budget roll-out with employees, Charlie Bolden announced a new Headquarters office called Misson Support, to be lead by Woodrow Whitlow from NASA Glenn Research Center. Mission Support will bring all NASA facilities and their operations under one umbrella, recognizing the important role these groups play in achieving NASA’s mission. This will allow greater insight into operational challenges, and more strategic investments into creating an integrated NASA workforce.

by Raymond Cassel, 1st place 2009 NSS Art contest

The first Yuri’s Night at NASA Ames Research Center in 2007 was an amazing experience for numerous reasons.  Most relevant to this discussion, is that it brought together the Mission Support organizations to do something truly new and innovative at NASA. These guys are amazing – and they can do anything!  They understand the facilities, power generators, roads, traffic flow, structures, sound, electricity capacity, safety requirements, machine shops, rules to bend, and rules to not bend.  That day/night, we doubled NASA Ames’ normal capacity of 2500 people.  In 2008, it was quadrupled.

It takes 2.5 people to operate the International Space Station (ISS), and each person above this makes it possible to perform experiments and other additional construction tasks.  A similar thing is true within NASA – it takes quite a bit of effort to run a NASA center and be productive in 70-year-old facilities, complying with all the environmental and safety procedures bestowed from 50 years of processes and regulations.  But with these facilities, we can and do, do amazing things.

We may take for granted the amount of infrastructure that is around us to allow us to live and be productive.  Think about the infrastructure you need when you are at a NASA Center.  Some centers have their own power generators and distribution plants, but there is running water, sewage, large auditoriums for gatherings, heating and air conditioning, Internet, roads, places to eat, places to work.  There is NASA security, police service, emergency response, and medical treatment.  This is a place of work, but it is also a community and at times acts like a little city.

Kaylee the Mechanic onboard Serenety in television show FireFly

NASA is an aeronautics and space agency, and part of our long-term commitment is to become a multi-planetary species.  Government will now invest in creating an industry to support this commitment, while continuing to push the boundaries of knowledge and research to allow colonies/settlements to emerge on other heavenly bodies and space stations.  I can imagine a colony on the moon or Mars where there would be 2500 people working productively together, much like the size of NASA Ames.  We’ll need the same things in place, and more.  We will need electricians, plumbers, technicians, medics, and cooks, in addition to managers, technologists and scientists. In short, our Mission Support teams are probably the first people you’d want to take to space with you.

Perhaps under Dr. Whitlow’s new organization, we can begin to think of Mission Support as more integrated with space missions, and begin to see our NASA Centers through the lens of colonies.  We can do some science around the notion of connected cities, put in sensors to measure energy usage, work flow, productivity and happiness.  We can track how people use the facilities and feed that back into the planning cycle.  All of these things will be necessary when living at a colony on another planet, and it is something that NASA can research with our own workforce and facilities.  These studies can feed into current decisions made for our facilities, but also explore requirements for future habitats and colonies.

Cross-posted with openNASA.

Posted in openNASA.

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