The Fall 2017 Class of Datanauts joined previous classes and the Datanauts organizing team at NASA Headquarters for the kickoff event in Washington, DC. (NASA/Michael Porterfield)
At NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., Datanauts both new and old convened for the kickoff of the Fall 2017 class. The new class was represented by a PhD student in electrical engineering, a non-profit leader with a background in epidemiology, an English teacher turned data scientist and other Datanauts of a variety of disciplines. They were welcomed by NASA Chief Information Officer Renee Wynn, who underscored the pertinence of their engagement with data.
“With data, you will be facing different ways of how to live and work and recreate,” Wynn reminded the group. "Data is the seed to all of that.”
Throughout Thursday’s kickoff, data exploration was a key theme. Dr. Gale Allen shed light on the important applications of data in her role as acting Chief Scientist. Dr. Brian Thomas, data scientist, spoke about data science at NASA and the need for collaborative, diverse, and interdisciplinary teams. Kathy Nado of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate explored the need to make technology and science accessible and digestible for outside audiences. Special guest astronaut Alvin Drew spoke of his feelings of insignificance when observing the vastness of the Earth from the International Space Station.
Datanauts have always been keen to explore the world with and through data, and new Datanaut Jordi Frank is no different. A 2016 University of Buffalo graduate, Frank wants to use data science to make an impact in her community.
“I really hope that I harness the power of NASA’s data so that I could do more inspirational types of projects, more investigation on my own community,” Frank indicated. “We’re going through a lot of economical and racial changes in the area, and I want to figure out what is happening.”
Jordi Frank’s drive to use data science to find solutions to our world’s pressing challenges was solidified at 2017’s Space Apps Challenge, where her hackathon team took on a data analysis and exploration project connecting the dots between environmental effects and low-income New Yorkers.
All of the Datanauts in attendance had a chance to engage with hardware and binary directly through a hands-on soldering workshop with NASA Jet Propulsion Lab Engineer Michelle Easter. Later in the day, veteran Datanauts shared their wisdom and advice for the new Datanauts in attendance. Jennifer Lopez and Leslie Birch both of the Founding Class, spoke about the Datanauts projects they were most proud of.
Michelle Easter of NASA JPL helped Datanauts experience the crossover between hardware, software and data as part of a hands-on workshop at the kickoff. (NASA/Michael Porterfield)
Birch, who introduced Jordi Frank to Datanauts at Space Apps NYC, reminisced about designing a skirt with LED lights tracking the orbital location of the International Space Station. She also spoke about the significance of the collaborative spirit of the Datanauts initiative: “My favorite thing about Datanauts is knowing that you're passing the torch. We all have the ability to encourage the next group coming in.”
With the kickoff of the Fall 2017 Class, the newest Datanauts are set to begin an experience that will include learning with subject matter experts from the data and tech fields, conversations with many of the more than 100 existing Datanauts and co-creating projects with one another. At the heart of it all is collaboration and experimentation, which NASA CIO Renee Wynn zoned in on during her opening talk.
Wynn told those in attendance to persevere, likening learning data skills to learning to walk as an infant: falling down, getting back up and trying again.
“You need to take a lot of steps to learn,” Wynn shared. “Get uncomfortable, network and rely on each other to have a super successful experience.”
While this fourth class of Datanauts is ready to expand their knowledge and exposure to novel data practices, so is the NASA team of Lori Parker and Ronnie Phillips, who will help guide the data problem-solving voyage.