Monday, October 1, 2018

Celebrating NASA’s 60th Birthday—and Girl Scouts’ New Space Science Badges!

Photo Credit: NASA

Today the National Aeronautics and Space Association, which we all know as NASA, celebrates its 60th birthday. This incredible milestone reflects six decades of U.S. leadership in space exploration, of incredible technological innovations that have cascaded down into our everyday lives, and of an unrelenting search for answers about the universe. Established in July 1958, when President Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, NASA officially opened for business on October 1 of that year.

NASA is a valued partner of Girl Scouts that has worked with us to create exciting experiences and badge activities for our girls—and it’s an organization with a mission that is near and dear to my heart. I first discovered my passion for space and astronomy as a young Girl Scout on a camping trip with my troop, and I went on to study engineering and realize my dream of becoming a rocket scientist. I began my career as an engineer working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, working on the Voyager 2’s exploration of Jupiter’s moons, Io and Europa, as well as the Parker Solar Probe, known at the time as the Solar Polar Solar Probe.

Working at NASA I learned the value of “blue sky thinking”—of generating and ruminating on big ideas regardless of practical constraints—and the important role that each team member plays in the pursuit of big goals. And what could be bigger than a project dedicated to sending a spacecraft to the sun, 93 million miles away? The Solar Polar Solar Probe was our “mission to touch the sun” and would bring us as close as 4 million miles away from it. Now, you might think that 4 million miles is still a pretty long distance, but think of it this way: in football, how much more can you see of the end zone and the goal post from the 4-yard line as opposed to the 50-yard line? Quite a lot!

Photo Credit: NASA

With a spacecraft making such a long and treacherous journey, we had to plan for all sorts of elements that it might encounter: radiation, asteroids, extreme cold, extreme heat, solar wind, and solar sunbursts, to name a few.

So part of my job as an engineer on this project was to create algorithms defining all the factors we had to consider as we were evaluating the equipment that would be doing tests inside the space capsule. We only had a certain amount of space, after all, so we had to consider the instruments the craft would carry, how much they weighed, how big they were, and the effect gravity would exert on them. I had to develop programs to analyze and factor all of those things.

It was a lifelong dream to work at NASA and a true honor to take part in such fascinating and world-changing projects. And the work I did on Solar Polar Solar Probe and Voyager 2 had an incredible impact on the way I think and approach problems. I had to consider the breadth of the universe and the complexities it contained. I didn’t just have to think big—I had to think literally as big as the universe! The infiniteness of the questions and the quest for answers to them inspired me—and it continues to inspire me.

That’s why I’m so excited about Girl Scouts’ new Space Science badges for Girl Scout Daisies, Brownies, and Juniors, funded by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate through a multi-party collaboration led by the SETI Institute. GSUSA developed each badge with support from the SETI Institute’s subject matter expert partners from the University of Arizona, ARIES Scientific, and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and with the participation of Girl Scouts of Northern California.

Daisies' Space Science Explorer

Brownies' Space Science Adventurer
Juniors' Space Science Investigator badge

Daisies who earn their Space Science Explorer badge examine the sun and moon and look at the night sky. Brownies who pursue their Space Science Adventurer badge dig into the solar system, the phases of the moon, and the constellations, and then share their findings. And Juniors who tackle their Space Science Investigator badge research a planet and develop models that explain celestial motion, the three-dimensional nature of a constellation, and the size and scale of the solar system.

I get so excited thinking about how many girls across the country are right now discovering a passion for space and astronomy just as I did as a young Girl Scout, thanks to Girl Scouts and our incredible partners at NASA!

So on behalf of the entire Girl Scout Movement, I want to congratulate NASA on 60 years of discovery, innovation, and incredible, visionary work. And here’s to the next 60!

- Sylvia Acevedo, CEO, Girl Scouts of the USA