My name is Andy and if you haven’t guessed it yet, I am one of the reporters here at the Federal Times. For the last few weeks we have had a new feature on our blog, “Silver Screen Feds,” where we look at famous federal employees in cinema and television. This week my partner-in-crime and colleague Steve Losey is spending time with his family, so instead of doing all the work myself, you guys get a clip-show version of everything we have done so far.
Below are each of our entries in the ongoing series, so feel free to read and enjoy them. Post your own suggestions in the comments and let us know what you think.
In our first entry I took a look at the postal workers who save the day in the 1947 classic “Miracle on 34th Street.” And Stephen examined the tragic flaws that brought down the Environmental Protection Agency’s Walter Peck in 1984′s “Ghostbusters.”
Next, we examined a far less-honorable mailman — Newman from “Seinfeld” — and the surprising heroism of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Hank Schrader in “Breaking Bad.”
In our third entry we picked two federal employees who couldn’t be any more different: Dr. Edwin Jenner, the doomed researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the zombie apocalypse show “The Walking Dead,” and Ranger Smith, the hapless National Park Service ranger who can’t stop Yogi Bear from stealing them pic-a-nic baskets.
In our fourth entry we took a trip back to the Roaring Twenties and the lawless days of Prohibition, to look at the best and worst Treasury agents who ever busted up a still on-screen: Legendary lawman Eliot Ness from the 1987 film “The Untouchables,” and deeply disturbed Agent Nelson Van Alden from HBO’s series “Boardwalk Empire.”
And in our latest entry I took a look at the best team of federal employees ever to grace the big screen: Mission control from “Apollo 13.” And keep reading for Stephen Losey’s take on Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Russ Cargill, from “The Simpsons Movie” — the first character we’ve profiled who descends into outright super-villainy.
Today on Silver Screen Feds, Andy Medici takes a look at the best team of federal employees ever to grace the big screen: Mission control from “Apollo 13.” And keep reading for Stephen Losey’s take on Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Russ Cargill, from “The Simpsons Movie” — the first character we’ve profiled who descends into outright super-villainy.
BEST FEDS: Mission Control, NASA, “Apollo 13″ (Andy Medici)
Most of the time, being a good federal employee requires working well as a team. Being able to finish projects on tight deadlines while dealing with multiple other priorities is a staple of any fed’s tenure in government.
And in this case, there may be no better federal team in cinema than NASA’s mission control from “Apollo 13.” The 1995 film — directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and lots of other people everyone recognizes — follows the journey of the Apollo 13 astronauts as they attempt to reach Earth safely after a disaster onboard the ship renders it nearly useless.
Lower than expected usage rates have forced NASA to decommission its three-year-old social networking website Spacebook.
NASA plans to shut the site down on June 1 and archive all user accounts and content uploaded to the website, according to an internal email sent to employees last month.
“When Spacebook came, we were on the initial cusp, but with Facebook and MySpace…the marketplace is a far more challenging space,” Sasi Pillay, NASA’s chief technology officer for information technology, said during a telework event inWashington. “Even getting some tools adopted internally is hard.”
NASA launched Spacebook in June 2009 to facilitate collaboration among new and established staff and the agency’s community of scientists, engineers, project managers and support personnel, said Emma Antunes, web manager for Goddard Space Flight Center.
The internal website allows users to create profiles, show their status update and current projects, join forums and groups and share files, Antunes said in an interview Wednesday. If you had a small team, this was a great way to get around not having to email everyone and users could view past discussions.
She said the concept evolved from NASA’s need to improve teamwork, communication and access to information across its diverse projects and centers.
But “participation has not been as high as anticipated,” according to the email. “On average, only 14 users log on per weekday and zero on the weekends. There are alternate internal social media tools, such as Yammer,” that employees can access using their nasa.gov email addresses.
Users were encouraged to download any documents or media saved on Spacebook before the June deadline. Although the website is shutting down, Antunes said Spacebook is viewed as a success because it was innovative and NASA learned a lot from the project.
“In 2009, there were not a lot of products out there that could do what we wanted,” Antunes said. But social collaboration tools have evolved since then, and NASA will adopt new technology that best supports the mission.
“We need to be agile and not be wedded to any one thing,” she said.
The ideal approach is for the government to partner with vendors and influence their product offerings early on so that agencies can readily adopt them upon release, Pillay said
“Why would someone want to recreate something available in the commercial [sector]?” he said. “We should use these tools and adopt them as necessary.”
Washingtonians will be treated to a once-in-a-lifetime sight on April 17: The Space Shuttle Discovery buzzing the nation’s capital.
NASA yesterday announced that Discovery will cross over Washington and surrounding areas that day as it makes its way to its final home at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport. If you’re anywhere near its flight path, expect to get a good look — the Boeing 747 carrying Discovery will only be 1,500 feet off the ground at times. (The Hill points out that the Washington Monument is roughly 555 feet high, to give you a frame of reference.)
The exact flight path hasn’t been set yet, but NASA plans to fly it by the National Mall, Reagan National Airport, National Harbor, and the Udvar-Hazy Center before landing at Dulles.
So if you’re in or around Washington next Tuesday, get your cameras ready and expect all work to grind to a halt between 10 and 11 a.m. It’ll undoubtedly be something to see.
NASA has named Cornell University Professor Mason Peck its new chief technology officer, the agency announced this week.
As CTO, Peck will be NASA’s chief advisor and advocate for technology policy and programs, according to a news release. His office is responsible for coordinating, tracking and integrating NASA’s technology investments and communicating the impact of those investments on society.
Peck, who starts his new position in January, will replace former CTO Robert Braun. Braun resigned in September and has since resumed his teaching and research positions at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.
Peck’s new assignment is through an “intergovernmental personnel agreement” with Cornell University, which allows him to remain teaching in the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Systems Engineering Program.
His experience with aerospace technology dates back 20 years and includes work as a NASA engineer on various technology programs, such as the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System and Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites.
Tags: chief technology officer
Seven companies have been selected to create new vehicles to test the use and recoverability of technology in near space, NASA announced Tuesday.
Each successful vendor will receive a two-year indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract, worth a combined total of $10 million.
Armadillo Aerospace, Heath, Texas
Near Space Corp., Tillamook, Ore.
Masten Space Systems, Mojave, Calif.
Up Aerospace Inc., Highlands Ranch, Colo.
Virgin Galactic, Mojave, Calif.
Whittinghill Aerospace LLC, Camarillo, Calif.
XCOR, Mojave, Calif.
The work is part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program at Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif., which fosters the development of commercial reusable transportation to near space, the region of Earth’s atmosphere between 65,000 and 350,000 feet.
“ The program is an example of an innovative teaming relationship with industry to provide affordable access to near space while evaluating the microgravity environment for future science and technology experiments,” NASA spokesman David Steitz said in an e-mail.
Examples might include autonomous landing systems that can guide unmanned cargo vehicles while avoiding hazards like boulders and pits, fuel transfer systems that work in micro-gravity to allow for the refueling of space vehicles while still in orbit, and propulsion engines that may reduce travel time to Mars by half, Steitz said.
There were mixed feelings last month when the federal chief information officer proposed giving federal workers a $2,000 subsidy to buy their own laptops and smartphones.
Some balked at the idea and raised concerns that security would be at stake. But federal CIO Vivek Kundra’s proposal isn’t exactly far-fetched.
When NASA asked several of its chief technology officers where NASA technology is headed over the next five years, mobile computing took center stage.
James McClellan, CTO at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, said “I don’t think it’s much of a leap to say that 5 years from now the average NASA employee will be using a mobile computing platform that is essentially a nice display with a browser connected to all their content and social connections through the ubiquitous ‘cloud.’”
McClellan added that “employees may even be supplying their own preferred device (Bring Your Own Device-BYOD), enabled by the ability for NASA applications to be securely used on even a personal device via mobile app management profiles.”
Kundra has made it clear, the marriage of mobile applications and mobile environments will be “hardwired in the DNA of any new system that’s actually developed.”
At NASA, the use of smartphone technology skyrocketed from 5,300 connected devices in January 2010 to 11,300 the same time this year. In NASA’s monthly publication from the Office of the CIO, agency managers had this to say about mobile computing:
Mobile device management technology will continue to improve, enabling NASA to secure, monitor, and manage corporate data on both Government-issued and employee owned devices. Tablets will continue to gain acceptance in NASA with increased vendor diversity, though Apple will remain the leader.
The end of January brings heartbreaking memories for NASA each year. Today is the 44th anniversary of the launchpad fire on board Apollo 1, which killed three astronauts. Friday marks 25 years since the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after takeoff, killing all seven astronauts on board. And next Tuesday, Feb. 1, is the eighth anniversary of the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia and its seven astronauts.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden earlier today laid a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery in their honor and declared today a Day of Remembrance. And in his message marking the occasion, Bolden reminded NASA’s engineers and other employees how important it is that they not stay silent when they see something wrong, and that that lives may depend on them standing up.
NASA has learned hard lessons from each of our tragedies, and they are lessons that we will continue to keep at the forefront of our work as we continuously strive for a culture of safety that will help us avoid our past mistakes and heed warnings while corrective measures are possible. In memory of our colleagues, I ask the NASA Family once again to always make its opinions known and to be unafraid to speak up to those in authority, so that safety can always be our guiding principle and the sacrifices of our friends and colleagues will not be in vain.
President Reagan’s address to the nation after the Challenger disaster is embedded below.
Tags: Space Shuttle
The Washington Post has an advance peek at the big announcement NASA has scheduled for later today. It’s not aliens, but it is pretty interesting nonetheless — researchers have found a bacterium that relies on arsenic, not phosphorus, as one of its six essential components.
The Post said this doesn’t prove that some forms of life on Earth evolved from a different common ancestor than the rest of us — the so-called “second genesis.” “But the discovery very much opens the door to that possibility, and to the related existence of a theorized ‘shadow biosphere’ on earth.”
The Mono Lake discovery highlights one of the central challenges of astrobiology — knowing what to look for in terms of extraterrestrial life. While it remains uncertain whether the lake’s microbes represent another line of life, they show that organisms can have a chemical architecture different from what is currently understood to be possible.
“One of the guiding principles in the search for life on other planets, and of our astrobiology program, is that we should ‘follow the elements,’” said Ariel Anbar, an ASU professor and biogeochemist. [Biochemist and researcher] “Felisa [Wolfe-Simon]‘s study teaches us that we ought to think harder about which elements to follow.”