NASA Organization and the Communication of Knowledge

Most of NASA's knowledge is officially disseminated to various segments of the American population via informal and structured processes used by the public affairs, scientific and technical information, education, and history offices working with the Enterprise offices at Headquarters and the 10 NASA Centers. NASA information dissemination is enhanced and can be preserved for future generations through these offices, working in cooperation with the data base administrators, librarians, and records managers across NASA. Knowledge is also imparted through official and unofficial partnerships with other Agencies and organizations, interaction with Congress, and NASA's technology transfer initiatives.

Functional Office CK Activities

Public Affairs Office CK Functions

Public affairs has a variety of services and products designed to present and distribute NASA information to the American public. Headquarters provides policy guidance, advice, and consultation to program offices and management, and it directs Agencywide programs and activities to coordinate, target, and direct resources (for example, NASA Television, exhibits, speakers bureau, astronaut appearances, audiovisual products, news operations, and web sites) to the news media and the American public. Public affairs also monitors trends in public opinion and technology developments in the news, entertainment, and electronic and Internet industries and consequently modifies its programs to communicate effectively with the public.

The Media Services Division at Headquarters issues press releases, organizes press conferences, and schedules editorial boards across the Nation, clips the news wires, monitors local and national television news programs, and targets specialized-audience press. The division provides daily satellite video to television stations across the country to use in news story development and arranges interviews with the press and "live shots" for scientists on national and local television news programs.

NASA public affairs officials oversee the current collection of 371,000 World Wide Web pages, all independently authored by NASA personnel throughout the Agency. They work with television producers or motion picture industry personnel who are writing or filming space productions, advertising agencies using NASA in promotions, publishers verifying NASA facts, and toy and game manufacturers producing facsimilies of NASA products. They work with video and photo organizations to disseminate aerospace footage, satellite imagery, and aerial views of Earth.

The dramatic visual component of the space program is also captured and shared with the American public through a touring collection of commissioned paintings by prominent artists depicting aeronautics and space travel, IMAX movies that chronicle various NASA missions, and exhibits at museums, fairs, and conventions. In addition, public affairs coordinates the preservation and display of space artifacts with the Smithsonian Institution.

The personal "NASA message" is also conveyed. The NASA Administrator and speakers from all NASA professions address audiences across the Nation throughout the year. In 1997, astronauts participated in 4,500 appearances. Thousands of visitors tour NASA's 10 Centers every day, learning about and experiencing the excitement of aerospace. During 1997, nearly 170,000 guests viewed Space Shuttle launches at Kennedy Space Center. Stamp, coin, and medal commemoratives are created, plane and spacecraft modelers are guided in their portrayal and development of NASA products, and contractors disseminating NASA memorabilia start their ideas for merchandising ventures through the auspices of Public Affairs.

Of these responsibilities, a typical Center public affairs office performs the following:

  • Writes press releases, fact sheets, status reports, and significant events reports
  • Provides video on Center news releases (where appropriate) to Headquarters to post via satellite to television networks for news broadcasts
  • Maintains a home page that informs the public of the activities of that Center
  • Develops, schedules, and staffs exhibits, national conferences, technical symposia, and community events
  • Holds public lectures and coordinates a speakers bureau
  • Maintains a visitor center
  • Conducts tours and briefings for specific interest groups
  • Answers public affairs inquiries
  • Hosts open houses
  • Publishes a newsletter for employees and community leaders

Education Office CK Functions

The NASA Education Program supports the achievement of educational excellence in science, mathematics, technology, engineering, and geography. NASA Headquarters provides direction and policy guidance to its counterparts in the Enterprises and Center offices in the implementation of the NASA Education Program. Educators participate in NASA research and development activities, apply methods for integrating NASA resources, science, and technology into their instruction, and are informed about available NASA resources, such as the Educator Resource Centers, daily NASA television educational programming, and the Internet.

The program also develops, uses, and disseminates instructional materials to support higher education curricula. A comprehensive dissemination system ensures access to materials through a distribution point in each State, electronic networking resources, the integration of instructional products into teacher workshops, and partnerships with organizations involved in systemic educational reform. Videoconferences and comprehensive Internet educational materials on NASA Spacelink supplement instructional products, as well as education and public outreach forums. The Education Program establishes partnerships, convening NASA principal investigators, NASA-trained teachers, and commercial contractors with the State's education leadership to determine how NASA assets may best be utilized within each State.

Precollege students are provided information and research opportunities. Graduate students and faculty are provided support opportunities through the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program, the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, and Graduate and Faculty Fellowships. Through these avenues, the NASA Education Program contributes to the NASA Communicate Knowledge Process.

A typical center education office:

  • Provides precollege education programs, products, and services to a specific geographic region
  • Provides support to the university community through research grants, graduate student and faculty fellowships, and programs such as the Space Grant College and Fellowship Program and the Summer Faculty Fellowship Program
  • Conducts teacher/faculty enhancement programs, such as NASA educational workshops, NASA Opportunities for Visionary Academics (Project NOVA), the Aerospace Education Services Program, and the Summer Faculty Fellowship Program
  • Facilitates the development of curriculum support products in partnership with NASA scientists, engineers, technicians, and professional education organizations
  • Disseminates educational products through Educator Resource Centers, professional education conferences, and electronic systems
  • Provides student programs, such as the Summer High School Apprentice Research Program (SHARP), the NASA Student Involvement Program (NSIP), and the Graduate Student Researchers Program (GSRP)
  • Supports systemic education through partnerships with State education leadership
  • Provides online resources for educators through educational technologies such as the Learning Technology Program and NASA Spacelink

History Office CK Functions

The NASA History Program provides the public and the technical community with the resources to gain a comprehensive understanding of the Agency's institutional, cultural, social, political, economic, technological, and scientific development of aeronautics and space. The public has access to Agency documents, taped oral history interviews, biographical files, news clippings, press releases from public affairs, correspondence, annual reports to Congress, numerous serial publications, monographs, and special publications created periodically. In addition, it sponsors special symposia on current topics of historic significance. These offer forums for discussion by prominent scientists, which are often covered by the press.

The categories of publications include reference works, management histories, project histories, NASA Center histories, and general histories. Historical reports and monographs that focus on public policy formulation and administration issues are also available.

The program has extensive information for the public on the Internet. Its research and development programs contract with historians at universities and industry to produce publishable manuscripts, research reports, documentary collections, finding aids, or a combination of these, which benefit the entire scholarly community. The program periodically invites scholars to submit proposals for research, writing, and documentation projects on subjects of current historical interest to the Agency, and it offers (with other history organizations) a fellowship competition for predoctoral or postdoctoral research in any area of NASA-related aerospace history.

All of the NASA Centers have historical monitors who supervise resources and assist researchers with specialized topics. A typical history office at a Center:

  • Contracts monograph or oral history work
  • Answers historical inquiries
  • Archives Center information
  • Researches data bases and develops activities

Scientific and Technical Information Office CK Functions

The NASA Scientific and Technical Information Program acquires, processes, archives, announces, and disseminates information for the scientific community. The information records basic and applied research results from the work of scientists, technologists, engineers, and other technical management personnel. It is available on paper, film, microfiche, multimedia, and electronic media.

The program collects information from the NASA Centers, acquires information from more than 50 countries worldwide, maintains the largest collection of aerospace information in the world, and provides worldwide access to advance the frontiers of knowledge rapidly. The knowledge contained in more than 3 million bibliographic records is a critical component in the worldwide activity of scientific and technical aerospace research and development.

The group, headquartered at Langley with managers at each Center, produces technical reports, conference reports, technical memoranda, contractor reports, technical translations, and special publications. The program produces eight periodic bibliographies, which range from technical, medical, and aeronautical subjects to NASA space flight video and NASA patents. It also provides yearly publications on NASA technological spinoffs and produces a NASA Thesaurus, as well as a university program report.

The search and distribution vehicle used for the information retrieval is housed at the Center for Aerospace Information in Hanover, Maryland. Much of the report data base is available on the Internet in text or abstract format.

A typical scientific and technical information office at a Center:

  • Oversees the graphics, photography, print, video, and library operations for the Center
  • Helps the scientist conduct research for refereed journals
  • Coordinates graphic, editorial, and print services for technical reports, conference reports, technical memoranda, contractor reports, technical translations, and special publications
  • Answers technical inquiries

Legislative Affairs Office CK Functions

NASA's Office of Legislative Affairs informs congressional members of all NASA's scientific accomplishments throughout the year, and it provides responses to congressional public inquiries regarding NASA's programs. It provides the Administration with NASA's position on legislation and advises NASA officials regarding congressional testimony. In addition, the office informs congressional members of NASA activities in their districts and States, including procurement awards, astronaut selections, and expenditures going to their districts and States. This prepares congressional members to be conversant on NASA issues in speeches and outreach activities to constituents.

In response to constituent requests, NASA makes arrangements for various NASA officials, as well as astronauts to visit various districts and States and give presentations on NASA programs. The congressional members are continually advised on NASA launches and landings, and arrangements are made for them to attend, enabling the members of Congress to experience, firsthand, the excitement and discoveries of the space program. The members also visit the various NASA Centers to observe the work in progress of the NASA Enterprises.

Enterprise Office CK Responsibilities

Human Exploration and Development of Space

In July 1996, the Human Exploration and Development of Space (HEDS) Enterprise identified the need to strengthen and improve communications not only within the Enterprise but also with its stakeholders, customers, and partners. Given the Enterprise's diminishing resources and the desire to strengthen communications, the Office of Space Flight and the Office of Life and Microgravity Sciences and Applications chartered an Enterprisewide Integrated Communications Team (ICT) for Outreach. The ICT was formed to create an infrastructure to coordinate communications activities; develop, unify, and better communicate HEDS themes, messages, and rationale; collaborate and focus diminishing resources; reach target audiences; cultivate and engage customers; and eliminate duplicative efforts. It is composed of a multidisciplinary group from the program, technical, legislative affairs, public affairs, and education offices appointed by the Center Directors.

One of the first actions taken by the ICT was to conduct a comprehensive review of current and planned HEDS outreach activities. Next, the ICT identified eight customer segments for HEDS outreach: the Administration and Congress, other Government agencies, industry, media, research and scientific communities, international agencies, educational communities, and the general public. The ICT continues to hold regular collaborative meetings to share information and to identify, prioritize, and fund high-impact outreach opportunities to reach its customer segments.

Space Science

The Office of Space Science has appointed an Assistant Associate Administrator of Education and Outreach and has developed strategic and implementation plans for education and outreach in support of the NASA Education Program. Their objectives are to:

  • Have a substantial education and outreach program associated with every space science flight mission and research program
  • Increase the fraction of the space science community directly involved in education at the precollege level and in contributing to the broad public understanding of science
  • Develop a presence in every State in the United States to serve as a focal point for encouraging and assisting scientists and educators to develop partnerships and, in so doing, contribute in a meaningful way to space science education and outreach
  • Organize a comprehensive, national approach for providing information on and access to the results from space science education and outreach programs
  • Continue and refine or enhance, where appropriate, programs dedicated to the development and support of future scientists and engineers
  • Provide new opportunities for minority universities in particular and for underserved/underutilized groups in general to compete for and participate in space science missions and research programs
  • Develop the tools to evaluate the quality, effectiveness, and impact of space science education and outreach programs

The Space Science Enterprise is developing the use of a broker/facilitator network that will encompass every region of the United States and search for high-leveraging opportunities for education/outreach across the country. The Enterprise is planning to establish four major centers for space science education aligned with the four principal scientific themes—Structure and Evolution of the Universe, Astronomical Search for Origins and Planetary Systems, Solar System Exploration, and the Sun-Earth Connection.

Two exhibits are being developed. The Space Science Institute has been awarded funds from the Informal Science Education Program of the National Science Foundation's Education and Human Resources Directorate in support of an innovative 5,000-square-foot, hands-on traveling exhibition called "MarsQuest." The science exhibition will feature the opportunity for exploration of the Red Planet via electronic links to NASA Mars missions. Approximately 2 to 3 million people will visit the exhibit during its 3-year tour of nine American science centers. Electric space exhibits are also being developed to intrigue the video generation and offer a variety of hands-on displays with eye-catching graphics and "sounds" of space.

Earth Science

The Office of Earth Science is planning to reach four major audiences: the public through weather broadcasters, science journalists, and environmental journalists; the educational community through the National Science Teachers Association and curriculum developers; other Government Agencies, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Geological Survey, as well as urban planners and regional water authorities; and industry through Earth Science contractors, flight and ground system providers, and data firms.

The office is in the process of drafting an outreach strategy and is planning to develop 16 regional global-change-impact workshops across the country. In 1997, the office sent representatives and information to 14 conferences, reaching a variety of audiences in the insurance industry, agricultural community, agronomy community, and land satellite information industry, as well as influential professionals, such as environmental journalists and science teachers.

Five projects under consideration for funding are the development of: (1) the Urban Heat Island Characteristics of U.S. Cities; (2) an Earth Science Writers Summer Workshop for Professional Journalists; (3) an Earth Science elder hostel; (4) the Challenger Center's Window on the Universe; and (5) a partnership to produce/disseminate Earth Science information products.

Aeronautics and Space Transportation Technology

At NASA Headquarters, the Office of Aeronautics and Space Transportation Technology has formed the Alliance Development Office (ADO) to develop, integrate, and coordinate communications internal and external to NASA. The broad external groups considered include Congress, the Administration, other Government agencies, industry, advisory committees, the education community, international partners, and the general public.

The ADO has worked closely with industry partners in creating the Enterprise's strategic goals and developed a document to communicate these goals to each of the external groups. ADO members each have key responsibilities in working with the various external groups, facilitating the mechanisms, and developing the "tools" necessary to communicate the work of the Enterprise and its value to the Nation. The group has been active in reaching out to citizens in both traditional and nontraditional forums and in seeking feedback on its programs and performance.

The ADO team is currently developing a long-term communications strategy to focus the Enterprise's efforts. The charter is to create a solid foundation for clearly and succinctly presenting and describing this complex Enterprise in a manner meaningful to its key customers and stakeholders, as well as the public at large.

Technology Transfer CK Functions

NASA's Commercial Technology Program is based on the NASA Commercial Technology mission, which requires that each NASA program be conducted in a way that proactively involves the private sector from the onset to ensure that the technology developed will have maximum commercial potential. To facilitate this mission, NASA's Commercial Technology program established the NASA Commercial Technology Management Team (NCTMT). The NCTMT is an internal mechanism (consisting of the commercial technology manager at each Center and a representative from each of the NASA Strategic Enterprises) responsible for overseeing NASA's technology transfer and commercialization process.

The NASA commercial technology transfer CK function supports the Provide Aerospace Products and Capabilities Process and is focused to encourage, facilitate, and manage the transfer and use of NASA-developed technologies in aerospace and nonaerospace industries. This focus provides opportunities for the application of NASA-developed technologies through programs that ultimately contribute to growth in American commercial products and services and strengthen the national economy.

The NASA Commercial Technology Transfer Program communicates with the public largely through its technology transfer network mechanisms (Regional Technology Transfer Centers (RTTC), National Technology Transfer Center (NTTC), and Internet-based information systems. These entities are considered agents that seek out opportunities for partnerships between NASA and industry by matching industry needs with NASA technology deemed potentially ready for commercialization.

Technology Transfer Center Offices provide the public with information about their technologies through Tech Briefs and Technical Support Packages (via controlled access). Presentations, conferences, trade shows, and industry workshops are other media by which the program communicates technologies with commercial potential. Technology transfer opportunities are relayed to interested parties through conferences, seminars, publications, web sites, and the NASA TechTracs data base. Publications and brochures (Spinoff, Aerospace Technology Innovation, and Small Business Innovation Research) are developed and distributed to provide information about the results of NASA technologies that have been commercialized into new and improved products and services. A data base of success stories is also a primary means of relaying accrued benefits to the public.

Technology partnerships can be achieved in many ways, including a host of agreements (both funded and nonfunded), partnership arrangements tailored to industry needs, and leveraging of mutual interests among parties. The licensing of NASA technology depends on intellectual property rights. Technology transfer and commercialization are a central element of the CK plan in that they relate the value of NASA (beyond its aeronautical and space research) to the public by emphasizing how the commercial successes derived from NASA technologies contribute to enhancing the quality of life.

A typical technology transfer office:

  • Identifies existing technologies and innovations with commercial potential
  • Conducts industry outreach activities (conferences, workshops, and open houses)
  • Develops technology opportunity sheets (for outreach distribution)
  • Provides technical assistance (to industry, Government, and academia research and development efforts)
  • Develops outreach material/media for specific target audiences
  • Utilizes the technology transfer network (RTTC's, NTTC, Computer Software Management and Information Center (COSMIC), and incubators) to communicate technologies available for commercialization
  • Prepares/provides technical support packages
  • Prepares/provides technical briefs for publication
  • Guides the new technology reporting process
  • Develops success stories
  • Provides technology information input to the NASA TechTracs data base
  • Facilitates the patent and licensing process
  • Seeks out partnerships (via cooperative projects) with industry, Government, academia
  • Tracks partnerships
  • Periodically measures technology transfers and commercialization results/performance
  • Sponsors program specific training
  • Facilitates/supports small business development

Collaborative Possibilities for the Future

The CK function at NASA has been conducted most effectively when professionals from each of NASA's CK functional offices consulted with the scientist/engineer on a collaborative level at the beginning of the project process. If this were done consistently rather than on the current informal or ad hoc basis, the Centers could ensure that projects across NASA had similar support systems, and a Communications Plan for the life of the project could be created for the scientist's or engineer's benefit as well as the Enterprise's benefit. There would be a capability for collecting metrics on project activities for the Enterprises and for the NASA Performance Plan, which would provide information necessary to meet the requirements of the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993.

The only irreplaceable capital an organization possesses is the knowledge and ability of its people. The productivity of that capital depends on how effectively people share their competence with those who can use it.

Andrew Carnegie