NASA runs on data

Data is at core of the space agency’s digital transformation efforts, and key to advancing everything NASA does, the agency’s chief data officer says.

Data is at the heart of everything NASA does, whether it’s pandemic response or landing rovers on Mars, according to Ron Thompson, the space agency’s chief data officer and deputy digital transformation officer.

Speaking at a May 12 session of Pure Storage’s Accelerate Digital conference, Thompson said data is key in today’s increasingly hyper-connected world and is at the core of NASA’s digital transformation efforts.

NASA mission and program leaders have met over the past nine months to establish and build support for enterprisewide capabilities that will advance everything the agency does, he said. One goal of the transformation is to use data to accelerate NASA technologies’ time to market by 25% in the next three to five years.

“This is something that is absolutely quantifiable, it is understandable across all of our domains at NASA, and absolutely we have the buy-in not only from the senior leadership, but from the rank-and-file as well,” Thompson said.

Most recently, data’s usefulness has proved itself in two headline-making events: COVID-19 and the landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars.

Early in the pandemic, NASA leaders, like many public-sector leaders, realized they needed data to make decisions about when to close centers. Thompson and other members of the Federal CDO Council met to determine, for instance, how the government should define COVID cases or the number of beds in a hospital. Then they determined how they would study longitudinal data over time and share data among agencies.

“We made a decision based on data we actually stood up and visualized for our key decision-makers to move our agency out into a virtual space,” Thompson said.

In a mission more specific to NASA, data powered Perseverance’s Feb. 18 landing on Mars. The autonomous robotic vehicle landed on its own using artificial intelligence and continues to learn about the Red Planet through AI. It’s just one example of the possibilities that AI and machine learning hold, Thompson said.

“That area in artificial intelligence and machine learning is one that we’re just scratching the surface on,” he said. “Robotic process automation is another. That’s a more mature area, and we’re very excited about that because we can elevate what our talent is using right now -- manual processes -- and really look at bringing in robotic process automation to automate and eliminate the human out of the routine task and elevate them to more cerebral work that we need to do.”

Another new technology Thompson is excited about is digital twins. In the past, he said, NASA engineers would design empirical models, build them and put them in a wind tunnel. It was a continuous cycle of building, testing and revising. But through an aspect of digital transformation called “model-based everything,” the agency can build and test digital twins before assembling a physical aircraft.

“Before you cut any metal, you have a digital twin in the cloud,” Thompson said. “We can tie in cloud-based offerings and analytics … before we actually make a physical model of a particular aircraft, a wing or an element of an aircraft,” he said. We’re absolutely able to test, validate and verify before [building] anything.”

The biggest challenge to all these changes is not in technology, but culture, Thompson said. To make the most of the technology, NASA must first get employee support for using it.

“I believe there are many advances in technology that we could bring to bear today, but the largest hurdle is doing something differently than we have done in the past,” he said.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.