Tag Archives: sustainability

LAUNCH Borg: Collective Genius

“Resistance is futile!” The Borg, Star Trek Next Generation

We are the LAUNCH Borg, the Collective Genius for a Better World. For all you Trekkies out there, you know what I’m talking about. For those of you non-Trekkies, the Borg is a fictional collective of multiple species connected together by a “hive mind.”

Star Trek Captain Jean-Luc Picard as Borg

Star Trek Captain Jean-Luc Picard as Borg

In Star Trek Next Generation, the Borg assimilated populations by force, absorbing their collective intelligence. At LAUNCH, we have no need for force. Folks come to us by choice to participate as innovators, LAUNCH Council, and non-traditional partners. We assimilate ideas and expertise through associations within our extended network — the collective genius (think hive mind) — in order to support transformative innovations and propel them into the world to solve intractable problems.

Astronaut Ron Garan sharing orbital perspective at LAUNCH: Beyond Waste forum

Astronaut Ron Garan sharing orbital perspective at LAUNCH: Beyond Waste forum

We concluded the LAUNCH: Beyond Waste forum last weekend at the Jet Propulsion Lab in California. I’m still processing all the conversations (as well as pictures) from the event. I came away energized and renewed. LAUNCH is a brain feast for me — an opportunity to talk about what if, and why not, and let’s do it. New ideas bubble up and collaborations are born. The atmosphere of generosity by all the participants is, quite frankly, humbling. One of our new LAUNCH team members from NIKE told me LAUNCH filled him with hope for the future. And that’s what it’s all about.

Together, we can make a difference!

Impact rotations at LAUNCH: Beyond Waste forum

Impact rotations at LAUNCH: Beyond Waste forum

We asked our LAUNCH Council and Innovators to provide feedback on their experience at the conclusion of  the LAUNCH: Beyond Waste forum. Here are a few quotes:

  • “LAUNCH plays an important role in society”
  • “best investment of time to connect with future collaborators, best example of true collaboration, inspiring to be a part of selfless, genuine desire to help launch these ideas and change the world”
  • “this is the most work fun I’ve had in YEARS!”
  • “intense and rejuvenating”
  • “inspiring, creative, bold with the potential for real impact”
  • “energizing, optimism, game changing things for the world”
  • “amazing brain food” 
  • “the most transformative and impactful weekend”
  •  “phenomenal, soul food, humbling”
  •  “youthful enthusiasm matched with high intellect and professionalism–usually one gets two out of these three”
  •  “the conference for a new millennium”
  • “one of the highlights of my life and career so far”

I’m so thrilled to be a part of LAUNCH. Not only can we promote innovative solutions for the problems facing humanity, we can offer our NASA problem-solving expertise and potentially pick up unexpected solutions to long-duration human space challenges. We have an opportunity to demonstrate the relevance between the extreme environment of space and constrained resources on Earth, while creating new ways of conducting public-private partnerships that other government agencies can follow.

Cool story: One of our LAUNCH partners told me that when asked by the airport customs official why he was coming to the US from Indonesia, he told him all about LAUNCH and how NASA’s challenges in the extreme environment of space mirror our struggle with extreme resource constraints on Earth. Score! He’s telling our relevance story for us. Such a fab validation for non-traditional outreach approaches, like LAUNCH. His circle of influence is outside any we could touch through our normal space network.

LAUNCH Panorama of Beyond Waste forum

LAUNCH Panorama of Beyond Waste forum

The quote below from Nader Khalili really put LAUNCH in perspective for me.

“My quests became more meaningful when my goals met with others’ needs and goals. And I became more important, in my own heart, only when I reached the others, as a drop of water becomes important only when it reaches the sea.” Nader Khalili, Racing Alone

The nine innovators associated with LAUNCH: Beyond Waste are but a drop of water. But, when connected to the sea of resources through the LAUNCH collective genius, the innovations collectively expand their potential impact toward solving the problems of humans living sustainably within constrained and finite resources available on (and off) this planet.

LAUNCH: Collective Genius for a Better World — or — LAUNCH: Better than Borg! ;)

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LAUNCH: Innovating the Way We Create

Upcycled waste becomes Robot Art

Upcycled waste becomes Robot Art

The amazing LAUNCH core team from NASA, USAID, State Department and NIKE is gathering in San Francisco to host a brainstorming session with thought leaders in the field of “sustainable waste” — creating less and creating more value from existing and future waste. We call this brainstorming session, LAUNCH: Big Think. Waste is a huge issue for long duration human spaceflight. Engineers at NASA are grappling with ways to creatively design closed loop systems that use waste as feedstock for additional needs. A simple example is using wasted package material to line module walls as radiation protection on orbit.

On the plane, I read the book “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things” by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. What a great summary of the state of waste for the past, present, and future. Even the book is printed on “technical nutrient” (synthetic paper) rather than wood pulp or cotton fiber.

The book promotes a vision of eco-effectiveness rather than eco-efficiency. The prevailing winds of eco-efficiency rely on a notion of doing less harm. Eco-effectiveness pushes a “do NO harm” approach to how we create products and services for the future.

The authors use the ant as a model for how humans could exist on this planet –

“all the ants on the planet, taken together, have a biomass greater than that of humans. Ants have been incredibly industrious for millions of years. Yet their productiveness nourishes the plants, animals, and soil. Human industry has been in full swing for little of a century, yet it has brought about a decline in almost every ecosystem on the planet. Nature doesn’t have a design problem. People do.” — Cradle to Cradle

For the LAUNCH: Waste forum in July, we’re sifting through the innovation space around waste — reuse, remake, recycle, upcycle, net-zero, closed loop, cradle-to-cradle, etc. to determine where we should focus our search for ten innovations. From the perspective of the Cradle to Cradle authors, we should aim to eliminate all waste products by ensuring discarded products become feedstock for new valued processes.

“To eliminate the concept of waste means to design things — products, packaging, and systems — from the very beginning on the understanding that waste does not exist.” — Cradle to Cradle

I’m intrigued by the conversations we’ll have tomorrow about the waste innovation space — and hopefully a better name than LAUNCH: Waste which, let’s face it, kinda’ stinks (pun intended.)

In the end, this is the kind of world I’d love to live in — one with trees and birds and flowing streams. Stay tuned.

Mosaic forest art from DFW airport.

Mosaic forest art from DFW airport.

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Filed under innovation, LAUNCH

Heavenly Answers for Earthly Problems

I’m SO excited to share details about NASA’s newest, coolest, never-been-done-before sustainability initiative, LAUNCH:Water.

LAUNCH:Water

Launch:Water logo

Accelerating Innovation for a Sustainable Future.

We’ve been working on this project for some time — an innovative collaborative process to “launch” ideas, or disruptive green technologies, that address some of this planet’s growing pains.

All props to NASA’s Robbie Schingler, who envisioned a barcamp-type atmosphere to discuss sustainability challenges. We’d been looking for ways to tell our Space Station green story, and this concept fit the bill. We pulled together a team of creative folks, all bringing together different strengths, to birth the LAUNCH:Water incubator we’ll debut next week.

We wanted a TED-style event but with teeth, where we can chomp into issues and mash-up new approaches and solutions.

We created LAUNCH as a global initiative to identify and support the innovative work that is poised to contribute to a sustainable future. We want this process to accelerate solutions to meet urgent challenges facing our society. That’s the goal: to make a difference, leave this world better tomorrow than it is today.

We chose water as a logical starting point because it’s an issue we deal with on Space Station every day in orbit. Not only is water a critical commodity for our orbiting pioneers, but for so many living on our home planet.

Scarcity within a hostile environment is something we Earthlings and space travelers share.

So what is LAUNCH:Water? We are working with our founding partners, USAID, State Department, and NIKE, to allow 10 water-related emerging technology innovators the opportunity to present their ideas to a small group of thought-leaders from varied disciplines for a two and a half day conversation about possibilities. We break into small impact rotations to discuss content-focused issues/opportunities that affect each innovator individually. We have a team working with the innovators to develop how we shape these impact sessions for maximum benefit. Our hope is to use these structured conversations to leap-frog these ten innovators further down the path toward success in solving water issues facing our planet.

Why NASA? Because we’re problem-solvers — against all odds.

We solve problems. That’s what we do. I like to call it our brand reduction sauce– after all the ingredients are thrown into the pot and cooked and the essence is left behind. So why not convene a group of expert problem-solvers in various disciplines to address issues we face both on Earth and in the heavens above? LAUNCH is a gathering of problem-solvers to solve one MAJOR problem:

how to sustain life ON and OFF Earth.

We’ll live-stream the innovators’ presentations on Tuesday March 16th and Wednesday March 17th, so you can be part of this glorious experiment with us. We have a LAUNCHorg twitter account that we’ll keep updated, as well.

Astronaut Ron Garan

Astronaut Ron Garan

I’m looking forward to meeting all the innovators in person next week. I’m particularly excited about one of the innovations that bubbled up in the process: Manna Energy, run in his spare time by astronaut Ron Garan or @astro_ron on Twitter. You can go to their website or @MannaEnergy twitter feed to learn how they’re deploying water filtration devices in more than 400 schools in Rwanda, along with biogas generators and high efficiency cookstoves at 300 locations. Gives me goosebumps.

We’ll have so much to share as we move toward our inaugural event next week. We plan to serve “recycled water” just like our astronauts drink on Station, BTW. I guess we can’t serve it in paper cups or plastic bottles — neither are friends of the environment. Yet, if we serve in glass cups, we’ll have to wash them with water and detergent — not nice to the our planet either. Our most sustainable option will be to squirt “reformed urine” directly into the mouths of our guests. Now that will be a sight to see, won’t it? Good thing we’re live-streaming the event. ;)

Stay tuned for frequent updates from the field.

Crosspost on OpenNASA and GovLoop.

C

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Filed under Africa, Earth, environment, federal government, humanitarian aid, leadership, NASA, social media, space, water

Southern Africa: Story Behind the Eyes

Growing up as a kid in Texas, I remember trick-or-treating for UNICEF, an organization that helps at -risk children in developing countries. We collected donations instead of candy. Going to school in Nova Scotia following high school, I organized a 40-mile walk-a-thon to benefit UNICEF. Only three of us completed the forty miles. I only remember dehydration and an emergency room visit upon finishing. The rest is a blur. I have no recollection, what-so-ever, of how much we earned for our efforts. Probably not much.

All that seems so long ago. UNICEF never went away. At-risk children never went away.

Perhaps I lost sight of the cause once my own life got complicated.

I’m looking at it now though. My daughter’s passion for children orphaned by the AIDs pandemic focused my attention again.

Girls dressed in Sunday best.

Girls dressed in Sunday best.

According to UNICEF:

“About 29,000 children under the age of five –  21 each minute – die every day, mainly from preventable causes.”

Boys in the bush.

Boys in the bush.

The UNICEF website cites frightening statistics for the southern part of Africa:

“The number of children orphaned and made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS is projected to reach 25 million by the end of the decade, 18 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa. This, along with only modest progress fighting malaria, means the threats facing child survival are as grave as ever.”

I’m just now researching the United Nations Millennium Development Goals for 2015. Yes, I know. I haven’t been paying attention.

  1. End Poverty and Hunger
  2. Universal Education
  3. Gender Equality
  4. Child Health
  5. Maternal Health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS
  7. Environmental Sustainability
  8. Global Partnership
Kids on street in Zambia

Kids on street in Zambia

Goal 6, combatting HIV/AIDS, directly relates to my daughter’s passion for the alarming number of children orphaned by the great killer.  Projections point to 18 million parentless children in Sub-Saharan Africa by next year. These children must assume the parental role of finding food and caring for their siblings, forcing many to drop out of school.

In South Africa, the statistics on the number of individuals, of all ages, living with HIV/AIDs — simply staggering.

This girl's got spunk!

This girl's got spunk!

Everywhere we went during our time in South Africa, the topic came up. Parents are dying. If family members aren’t available to care for the children, the social services steps in. But often, the children slip through the cracks because their parents never informed the schools of their illness. The children simply stop coming to school. As we learned from our interview with the school principal in Soweto Township, she often serves as a detective/social worker at times, trying to determine where the child is, once he disappears from class.

I really started this blogpost to show you the faces of the children we met. Somehow, I felt compelled to add a bit about their world. I don’t know their individual stories to share with you, only the aggregate.

Just look into their eyes. I’ll let the children speak for themselves.

Pretty in pink.

Pretty in pink.

Fighting for the shot

Fighting for the shot

South Africa school uniform

South Africa school uniform

Simply gorgeous

Simply gorgeous

I'm getting a HUGE hug!

I'm getting a HUGE hug!

Now THAT's a pose!

Now THAT's a pose!

Such a tiny one.

Such a tiny one.
He elbowed everyone to get near me.

He elbowed everyone to get near me.

Hopeful, yet measured

Hopeful, yet measured


My daughter is taking a pic of me taking a pic...

My daughter is taking a pic of me taking a pic...

Best friends

Best friends

Full of promise

Full of promise

Not sure of me...

What a dumplin'

She never once smiled

She never once smiled

Play buddies

Play buddies

Thumbs up

Thumbs up

He wanted a "sweetie."

He wanted a "sweetie."

She's not sure about me yet.

She's not sure about me yet.

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Filed under Africa, AIDs, poverty

One Drop of Water for Space Acrobat, One Giant Bite Out of Poverty?

This week’s announcement by Space Adventures that Guy Laliberté will be Canada’s first private citizen in space really captivated my imagination.

Fire-breathing, stilt-walking Guy Laliberté is the founder of Cirque du Soleil. Repeat after me: CIRQUE du SOLEIL! No really. CIRQUE du SOLEIL!!! Incredibly talented individuals performing amazingly awe-inspiring feats that defy the imagination. (Hmmm. Does that sound like NASA?)

So here’s the deal:

For years, I’ve tried — unsuccessfully – to connect with folks at Cirque du Soleil to collaborate on a “Space-themed” traveling show. I can only imagine what a Cirque du Soleil Space Show might look like, but it could be no less than FABulous. NASA content shaped by wildly inventive interpretations? Oh, I’d buy a ticket. Wouldn’t you?

How ironic. While I’ve been dreaming of a traveling “Space on Earth” Cirque du Soleil show, their founder has been dreaming of traveling from Earth to space. So much so, he purchased a seat with the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, to ride a Russian Soyuz up to the International Space Station.  I guess we shouldn’t be so surprised. He’s accustomed to defying gravity here on Earth on his stilts. Why not extend his reach? (And Guy, no FIRE-BREATHING on Station, PLEASE!)

Now here’s another cool fact that excites me. His 12-day visit to Station is billed as the first social/humanitarian mission in space. His cause: clean water through his foundation, One Drop.

“Guy Laliberté’s POETIC SOCIAL MISSION in Space is a unique opportunity to share information about water-related issues with the world. His messages will spread ONE DROP’s dream of “Water for all, all for water.”

Some of you may wonder why we should care about water. After all, 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. Easy access to drinkable water, that’s the issue.

Here’s a quick overview: Less than 5% of the Earth’s water supply is freshwater and 1.7 billion people have no direct access to that 5%, according to the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development. In addition, fresh water is polluted in many developing countries. Guy’s One Drop website states: “90% of sewage is dumped into the water untreated.” The World Bank links water and poverty. Their 2006 report points out that inaccessibility to safe water traps developing countries in a cycle of poverty. People in 40% of the world in 80 countries suffer from extreme water shortages, hitting women the hardest. UNICEF estimates an average woman in rural areas can spend “one-quarter to one-third of her time fetching water” which leaves little time for school.  

Sobering. Shocking. Humbling.

And here I have a choice every day for my fill of tap, bottled, or sparking water, depending on how much I’m willing to pay. Now, let’s be clear, I’m absolutely unequivocally UNqualified to weigh in on this subject. I can, however, offer this thought:

Water is crucial for life ON and OFF this planet.

At NASA, we’ve been working water issues for decades. Traveling long distances in space means we can’t rely on re-supply. We have to carry or generate our own water. Exciting news! NASA recently reached a major milestone on Station: COMPLETE waste-water reclamation (including the dreaded liquid…urine). We have a spiffy new system to process six gallons of crew urine in six hours.

Distasteful, yes. But not bad-tasting. Really!

Expedition 20 astronaut Mike Barratt reports that Station’s new recycled water tastes like what you would expect in store-bought bottled water. Here’s how it works. Our technology onboard Station collects crew urine from the US toilet, boils off the water (to separate it from the briny nasty stuff we don’t keep), captures the vapor and mixes it with air condensation collections, and filters any impurities. Clean, purified water ready for drinking. Yum.

And who knows, our recycled water technology could be coming to a home or office near you! We bring you space technology, you apply it on Earth. Could be as common as your average water heater in the next decade, or sooner.

I’m excited about the world’s newest private citizen in space. Maybe, just maybe, we can make progress toward a cool “Cirque du Soleil-Orbital High,” based on Guy’s personal experience in space. Even more important, perhaps we can leverage NASA technology and know-how to help One Drop meet it’s goal,

Water for all, all for water.

Hey! It can happen. We’re NASA. We make the impossible possible!

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Filed under NASA, space