Meet NASA’s Datanauts

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On Tuesday, December 8, the Datanaut Founding Class gathered together at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. to debrief progress over the last six months. This group is made up of women who were chosen by NASA as thought leaders who could spearhead and support the program in years to come. During the day, we talked about how to use NASA’s vast amounts of data to change their communities, educate students, or create data solutions that are relevant to issues they face on a daily basis. We also spent time making a Starry Night interactive journal that connects with Spacey Sounds from the 2015 Space Apps Challenge.

NASA will soon open applications for the next Datanaut class. Watch the website for announcements. We’re looking for people from all fields who are interested in learning about NASA’s wealth of public data and how to use it to change communities. If you’re an artist, designer, coder, teacher, or hardware or software engineer, apply to be a Datanaut! NASA is looking for a diverse group of people with a variety of coding experiences and professional backgrounds.

I enjoyed meeting Tiffany Linzan who, at the age of seven, built her first robot out of cardboard and aluminum foil, and had to figure out how to fit all the pieces together and hook up flashlights to be the eyes. She sees that project as her introduction to data and coding, as she loved planning and putting together puzzles. While her parents were always supportive of her goals, she wishes that she could have had mentors and peers who could have inspired each other in the field.

Leslie Birch and Tiffany Linzan.

Leslie Birch and Tiffany Linzan.

“I didn’t really have the support in a community like that, [living] in the suburbs. It feels like being an alien on another planet and no one understands what you love,” Linzan said at the second meeting of NASA’s Datanauts inaugural class. She continued talking about the value of creating a strong Datanauts program, “bringing a discussion to the table about code, this is a great way to inspire.”

She later turned her passion into a business, and founded a startup called T.E.I.L.S. that focuses on “developing innovative human-computer interactive solutions within the biotech industry, ranging from aerospace to civilian health.”

Leslie Birch is another member of the founding class, a jane-of-all-trades who described herself as a hardware hacker, among other roles. In her perspective, Datanauts’ success so far is its ability to attract women from all skills and professions to converge around data.

“I’m really starting to merge my art and my hardware hacking with the issue of climate change,” Birch said. “So where I hope this goes, at least for me, is how can I bring all of these things together including live data for art installations, to help educate the world about what is going on with our planet and what we need to do to prepare for the changes that are happening to our planet?”

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Jerelyn Rodriguez working on her Starry Night Journal.

During the event, between conversations on the future of the Datanauts program, the participants got a chance to use bluetooth-enabled hardware to play space sounds from their notebooks.

Lea Shanley is a former Presidential Innovation Fellow with NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist who has worked to improve public participation in characterizing asteroids. Even before she was invited to be a Datanaut, Shanley had worked to get the public excited about using data for public good.

“While I was a Presidential Innovation Fellow, I founded and co-chaired the federal community practice on crowdsourcing and citizen science,” Shanley said. “So working to build capacity in federal agencies to engage the public in scientific research, and solving real-world problems.”

One of the goals of Datanauts is for each member of the class to host events where they can engage with their communities and NASA data at the same time. Watch out for events near you in 2016.

“We’re looking to expand our network and expand involvement in communities throughout the country,” Lopez said. “And our first event that we’re going to be hosting is in New York City, and hopefully bringing in a wide variety of participants that are interested in getting engaged in data science, and finding out more about how they can engage with NASA’s data.”

You can follow Datanauts and their activities on the Open.NASA.gov website. On social media, you can track the conversation with #NASADatanauts. Datanauts video produced by Davar Ardalan of SecondMuse.

Eleanor Greene

About Eleanor Greene

Eleanor works on the communications team for LAUNCH and SecondMuse, where she has co-created a storytelling toolkit. Prior to joining these teams, Eleanor interned in digital communications in multiple fields including nonprofit, public media, and government, and was the editor-in-chief of AWOL Magazine. She is the 2013 recipient of the Margery Kraus Scholarship for the study of global communications and public affairs and is a member of Kappa Tau Alpha national journalism honors society. She holds a BA in journalism from American University.

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