As my 6-month fellowship at NASA comes to a close, the Open Data team asked me to reflect on my time here. First and foremost, I must recognize my teammates’ talent and hard work: Beth, Jason, and Sandeep – how lucky NASA is that the three of you have chosen the civil servant career path. Your contributions not only to NASA but to all of government, and to the open data community at large, cannot be emphasized enough. I’ve learned much by watching and listening in our many meetings these past months. You are proof that virtual teams can be more than just successful – they can flourish.
The most profound outcome of my NASA tour of duty is witnessing an open data program team hard at work at the agency level. Historically I have advised agencies from a pan-government viewpoint up at a 30,000 foot level. It has been invaluable for me to witness open government implementation at an agency level – to experience the true nuts and bolts of a program. I will head back to my agency with eyes open, and with a far greater appreciation for the hard work our sister agencies undertake every day to meet the constant and ever-changing barrage of open government and open data mandates. It’s easy to proffer opinions regarding what an agency should do. It’s much harder to be boots on the ground navigating agency culture to accomplish those mandates. I tip my hat to those mired in the nuts and bolts of getting decades of government data open and machine readable for widespread use. And I have nothing but respect for the way in which the mandates are accomplished in short timeframes with little to no funding, further stretching already thin budgets. I’m certain NASA isn’t alone in this regard.
The amount of data that this agency collects is staggering. And it’s not just space data – what has really blown my mind is the incredible amount of climate data obtained by the agency’s many satellites. In my ignorance when someone mentioned climate change I would immediately think of NOAA or EPA as the leaders – but now I realize that those agencies are able to see what they see and do what they do because of NASA satellites and scientists sharing what they collect.
In 1982 my love affair with NASA began when I saw the space shuttle Columbia make an emergency landing at White Sands Missile Range. You can read about it here and you can watch a video of the landing here. In the 30 years since, I have watched with awe the incredible mixture of science, engineering, technology, and humanity that interplays in NASA’s mission. This awe only increased upon seeing the nuts and bolts of the agency’s inner workings. I will always be grateful for the time I spent here.
Thank you for keeping the dream alive for all of us, NASA.