The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration agency (NASA) is a civil space agency focusing on science and technology to serve the society, regardless of the political disagreements between major countries, affirmed both James J Miller, deputy director of the Policy and Strategic Communications Division with the Space Communications and Navigation Programme at NASA, and Lisa Mazzuca, NASA Search and Rescue (SAR) mission manager.
“When you look at the larger political environment, yes, of course, there are many disagreements between the US, Russia, and China, recent trade disputes is one perfect example. However, we focus on the technological impact on the society, rather than the disagreements,” said Miller.
“We were able to form a partnership with Russia even during the cold war through my programme, dating back for more than 40 years, to make sure that we have international rescue efforts, to save lives no matter where the citizens are from,” noted Mazzuca.
Daily News Egypt interviewed Miller and Mazzuca during their latest visit to Egypt last week, to get a hold of the aim of the visit, meetings they had in the country, and the latest developments in regards to the cooperation between NASA and Egypt, the transcript for which is below, lightly edited for clarity:
Initially, what is the main reason for your visit to Egypt? Can you elaborate on the meeting you held during the duration of the visit?
Miller: the Arab Institute of Navigation’s (AIN) president, Refat Rashad, invited us to participate in a conference held in Cairo in early October which is “ The 9th Melaha 2018 International Conference & Exhibition”.
AIN is a Nongovernmental, Non-profit Professional Society established in 1978 in Egypt, gathering international members for navigation and its related science. it is also an active member of the International Association of the Institute of Navigation (IAIN), and a remarkable institute among operational international and local bodies in the field of maritime industry, working closely with the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Civil Aviation Organization(ICAO), and the International Labour Organization (ILO), in order to foster human activities at sea, in the air, in space, and on land, that may benefit from the development of the science, and practice of navigation, according to AIN’s website.
Rashad is serving in the US National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) Advisory Board, so he has been conducting Global Positioning System (GPS)-related activities in Egypt for many years, while I manage NASA’s activities overall, so my work is related to GPS signals, which is very well-known for using for cars, phones, as well as in space, to understand the environment, as it helps in weather forecasting, and to predict if there is an earthquake or Tsunami, making it a useful tool to serve the society in different ways.
Participating at the aforementioned conference is a very valuable opportunity for us to get the Egyptian perspective on what the US can do better to serve this region of the world. As an example, what Egypt is doing to benefit from the GPS for water management and precision agriculture (PA), which is a farming management concept based on observing, measuring, and responding to inter and intra-field variability in crops.
I came to AIN’s latest conference in Cairo to maintain the information exchange, and keep the partnership at a very good level.
Mazzuca: for me, I am responsible for the Search and Rescue (SAR) programme, so I am working on how to develop technologies to help victims around the world, in case of emergency, to help with citizen relocation, and assist rescue forces. For example, aircrafts use our products to transmit signals in helping rescue forces to relocate passengers and planes when they crash.
How do you assess the outcomes of your visit to Egypt?
Miller: Egypt’s visit was a great opportunity for us to meet the young Egyptian scientists and researchers and to build these kinds of relationships. We will be glad to meet them again in other countries and international conferences; we are very keen to build long-term relations with Egyptian scientists.
Egypt is full of the young people with a passion to learn, and the most important thing is that they have the opportunity, for us to be here, and interact and provide them with the knowledge and information was a very good experience. We view Egypt as a very growing country in the global community. I visited Egypt six years ago and now I can notice the development of GPS infrastructure, all that I noticed is a positive change.
I was happy to know that Egyptian scientists have the same concerns that NASA has regarding GPS developments, like space weather for example. Overall, Egypt’s visit was mostly an academic one, we didn’t have any governmental meetings. However, several governmental officials attended the AIN’s latest conference.
Mazzuca: I just want to add that there is an understanding that advanced education is needed to improve society. I was very happy to see Egyptian women participating at the AIN’s latest conference, and asking how they can become an engineer, or scientist at NASA, and other reputable agencies. I believe women everywhere can achieve anything they set their minds to.
Would you please elaborate if there are any programmes planned in collaboration with Egypt and future plans?
Miller: AIN’s president is a member of the NASA sponsored advisory board, so we sponsor him to come and provide his guidance, as he is working with the Egyptian government.
Mazzuca: I would like to affirm that we want to maintain communication with Egypt.
Miller: GPS is very important for serving the society, as it opens the world for free. We are trying to cooperate with the Russians to make sure that that the systems are open and transparent, as the US has been with GPS. It is not a two-way communication system like a cell phone, but the GPS satellites are broadcasting the signals whether you receive it, or you don’t, but if you receive it you gain the benefits. Reporting such GPS-generated important information to the responsible ministries will help the government to use the data to help the society. We are cooperating with the GPS systems of Russia, Europe, and China to build strong relationships.
Mazzuca: I want to affirm that the GPS doesn’t hear or listen to anything, on the contrary, it actually transmits the signals, enabling the society to become more efficient, and helps people to use technology, to plant suitable crops more efficiently.
We know that NASA is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2018; how did NASA enrich the American economy over the years?
Miller: NASA has an annual budget of $20bn, this year we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the agency’s founding by Congress in 1958, and we are very excited because we are moving forward towards putting astronauts back into space on US-built rockets.
We are witnessing a new evolution of space exploration with the retirement of the International Space Station (ISS) in the 2020s, and the start of the long-term efforts to visit Mars. I think the government realises that we stayed away from the moon for quite some time, now we understand there is water, ice, as well as numerous minerals and resources, which will require an extensive international partnership to exploit their benefits.
For six decades, NASA has led the peaceful exploration of space, making discoveries about our planet, our solar system, and our universe. At home, NASA’s research has made great advances in aviation, helped to develop a commercial space industry, enriched the US economy, created jobs, and strengthened national security. Outside the US, our international partnerships shine as examples of diplomacy. Space exploration has brought together people of diverse backgrounds, working for the good of all humankind, according to NASA’s website.
As we celebrate NASA’s first 60 years of achievement, we honour the sacrifice that came with it: the tragic loss of lives including aviation pilots, and the crew members of Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia. Sacrifice has also come in the countless hours of dedicated NASA personnel—on the ground and in space—spent away from families, to plan and execute missions. The next decade is poised to be full of adventures that only science fiction writers dream of, and only NASA, along with its partners, will accomplish.
Mazzuca: From the very beginning, NASA has been trying to invent, and rethink, of a new way to tackle existing problems.
Since NASA is working with China and Russia, how do you deal with political differences?
Miller: NASA is a civil space agency, we are focusing on science and technology that serves society. When you look at the larger political environment, yes, of course, there are many disagreements between the US, Russia and China, such as the recent global trade disputes, but we keep political disagreements away.
Mazzuca: We rise above political disagreements. We managed to form a partnership with Russia during the cold war, through my 40-year-old programme, to ensure that we have international rescue efforts, to save lives no matter which country the citizen belongs to.
Miller: a little friendly competition is always good because it prompts growth.
What about space tourism programmes?
Miller: Eight years ago, when NASA began to push the commercial section I was sceptical, but now it is different, as we collaborate with the private sector on the commercial front, so we can send people to space regardless of their nationality, for example there is a US company planning to fly a Japanese millionaire into space.
Would you please elaborate on NASA’ scholarships?
Miller: My organisation offers internship programmes every summer, mostly for the undergraduates and sometimes for the graduate students. Participating in those types of programmes is open for non-US citizens.
Mazzuca: Students can participate at NASA scholarship programmes, and other reputable programmes, such as the ones offered at Space Telescope Science Institute, where all that students need to do is purely scientific research.
Do you have any programmes tackling global warming?
Miller: NASA does a lot of research on climate change, which we all agree is happening to the degree that we can monitor, and take steps to mitigate it. We are committed to the environment, and work with other nations to share information.
Mazzuca: We are always trying to get data that helps the environmental aspects, and data does not lie.