At the close of the first day's briefing, Edward Stone, Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, presented Executive VP John Crawford a plaque expressing appreciation for Sandia's work on the Mars Pathfinder airbag. The Pathfinder mission, managed by JPL, landed the Sojourner rover on the Martian surface and returned photos and data for several months. The airbag, which enabled a "soft" landing on Mars, was a critical component of the Pathfinder mission. As NASA Administrator Dan Goldin said at the time: "The first four minutes [of the landing] were on [Sandia]" (see Lab News, July 18).
The NASA delegation visiting Sandia last week included JPL Director Stone and several of his key lieutenants. High-ranking technical leaders from Ames Research Center, Stennis Space Center, Goddard Space Flight Center, Marshall Space Flight Center, Johnson Space Center, Langley Research Center, NASA headquarters, and the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base, also attended.
"The hope is to get some joint projects going," Bob said. "Based on what I've seen and heard, I think that's going to happen." Bob said it is "in everyone's interest to find areas where the Labs and NASA can work together."
Gary DuBro, a NASA HQ representative based at the Air Force Research Laboratory, agreed. Gary worked with Bob and VPs Dan Hartley (4000) and Bob Eagan (1000) to set up the NASA visit. After the presentations, an upbeat DuBro said he is "very confident" that some joint projects will emerge out of the interactions.
"I'm talking about long-term strategic alliances; that's the way I think we ought to be looking at this," he said. "When we identify areas where our program needs and our missions are complementary, it just makes sense to work together; we get twice as much result for our money."
Gary noted that NASA's interest in working with Sandia comes from the very highest levels. NASA Administrator Dan Goldin and Sandia President C. Paul Robinson had dinner during a recent visit by Paul to Washington. Since then, the momentum for partnering, which had been building slowly and mostly on an ad hoc basis by a handful of committed individuals, has gained steam.
"When you see all the briefings laid out together, you really get a sense, an appreciation, of just how broad and deep Sandia's expertise runs," Bob Blewer said.
Subjects of briefings included: robotics, manipulators, intelligent machines and semi-autonomous technology; radiation-hardened high-reliability microelectronics/ component development; systems on a chip/micronavigator; microelectromechanical systems; synthetic aperture radar; scannerless terrain mapper technology; deep penetrators/seismic sensors and high-impact packaging; space subsystems; space communication; nuclear propulsion/space power; chemical microsensors; advanced materials R&D; advanced manufacturing technology; high-integrity, high-reliability software; advanced information-processing technology; combustion R&D; information mining and technology mapping; knowledge management; advanced information-processing technology; and smart agent based modeling.
These were the subjects of formal briefings. As Bob Blewer noted, the subjects generated such interest that Sandians and NASA counterparts often paired off during the two days to talk in more detail about areas of mutual technical interest.
At the close of day two of the briefings, Dan Hartley, VP of Laboratory Development Div. 4000, offered a short course - call it "Doing business with Sandia 101" - explaining to the NASA team the various ways that formal and informal relationships can be structured. He charted the various stages of a business relationship: vendor, critical supplier, partner, principal partner, and strategic ally.
"I hope we're working somewhere in the upper end of this chart, eventually. It does take some time," Dan said.
Dan noted that in addition to lab-to-lab agreements of various degrees of formality, there are cases of congressionally mandated collaborations. Such collaborations between DOE/DP labs and DoD have resulted in about $36 million annually to Sandia since 1986. Similar opportunities may exist between DOE and NASA, he said, in areas such as supercomputer modeling of humans in space, nuclear power and nuclear propulsion, solar energy in space, and microelectronics in space.
"These are all areas where there is a high level of joint interest," he said.
NASA representative DuBro told the group the next step is to proceed with reciprocal technical briefings. A Sandia entourage is to visit JPL in January or February and Goddard Space Flight Center in March or April to learn more about NASA's specific needs and capabilities.
"When we get those under our belt, I think we'll be ready to get specific," he said.
"Mr. Goldin has a term: 'Faster. Better. Cheaper.' I think this approach is a way to do that."
Col. Brian Duffy from Johnson Space Center closed the wrap-up session by thanking all the Sandians involved, from Bob Blewer and the staff who coordinated the technical briefings to Bobbie Burpo and Julie Butler from Protocol Dept. 12670, who handled the logistics arrangements.
"If I could summarize the last day and a half with one word, I would say 'impressive,' " Duffy said. "The range of topics presented here was fabulous. The people you have here are an incredible group."
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