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October 30, 2009 Vol. 2, Issue 10


The Academy and NASA’s Environmental Management Division co-hosted a Green Engineering Masters Forum in San Francisco.

The forum focused on exploring green engineering methods and practices that can be used to reduce the environmental impact and associated health risks of NASA’s systems, processes, and hardware.

James Leatherwood, Environmental Division Director, set the context for the forum in terms of the challenges and opportunities for the agency. Leatherwood noted that NASA faces roughly $1 billion in unfunded liabilities in association with the release of hazardous materials. At the same time, NASA has several new renewable resource initiatives, such as the Enhanced Use Lease solar photovoltaic system at Kennedy Space Center and the photovoltaic system at White Sands Test Facility.

Olga Dominguez, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Infrastructure and Management, emphasized that green engineering initiatives have to support mission needs and requirements first. “Understand that the mission of NASA is the most important thing,” she said. “If we can’t support the mission, everything else isn’t needed.”

Alan Epstein of Pratt & Whitney offered an overview of the challenges facing the aviation sector. He noted that on a historical basis, the efficiency of jet engines has improved by 2.5 percent annually, but at the same time air traffic has increased by 5 percent annually. Climate change and aviation represents a global challenge for NASA, he said. “Only you (NASA) have the deep technical expertise to save aviation.”

Jeff Smith of Ames Research Center spoke about the Greenspace initiative at Ames, which aligns research and development with green activities in four focus areas: green aviation; global prediction, monitoring, and response; clean energy; and sustainable systems. “Making this happen at center level gives hope that it can happen at the agency level,” he said.”

Nick Johnson of Johnson Space Center, one of the world’s leading authorities on space debris, noted that “green engineering” and “orbital debris” are two terms that are not typically used together — experts in orbital debris speak of “sustainability of space operations,” he said. Most space missions today are debris-free by design, he said, though that was not the case in the early years of space flight. There has been strong international collaboration to address the growing problem of space debris, he said, which have resulted in the development of effective and workable technical solutions. “Long-term removal of orbital debris is essential,” he said.

Brian Nattrass of Sustainability Partners, Inc., drew on his experience working with the U.S. Army to identify five key factors for successful integration of sustainability initiatives: 1) support the mission — know the business case for sustainability; 2) be an effective agent for change; 3) have a sustainability “North Star” — a guide point to stay on track in terms of goals; 4) use a sustainability planning framework; and 5) use life-cycle analysis. “Think in systems, and see connections,” he said.

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