Resignation Letter of NASA Chief Technologist

Dr. Robert Braun, SpaceRef, September 1, 2011

Charlie,

Thank you for the opportunity to serve the nation as the NASA Chief Technologist. It has been a privilege to serve in this capacity and I have greatly enjoyed working with you to help reposition the Agency for the next chapter in our nation’s exciting spaceflight story. As the end of my two-year Intergovernmental Personnel Act agreement approaches, I have been thinking about the future of the Agency and the tremendous value it offers our nation. While professionally fulfilling, my service has been exceedingly difficult for my family and me. This letter is to respectfully inform you of my desire to return to the Georgia Institute of Technology in October 2011.

While challenging and at times difficult, this experience has also been educational and uplifting. I leave the Agency filled with pride for the people that make this Agency tick. It has been a pleasure to witness what, together, our people can do. The engineers and scientists at NASA are among some of the most talented people on this planet. There is no challenge too great for our people to solve. Their work builds our nation’s technological capability, stimulates our global economic competitiveness, impacts our daily lives, and serves as an inspiration to many others by answering questions and addressing challenges at the core of the human spirit. It has been a true honor to serve as a public representative for our engineers and scientists. I hope that my tenure as Chief Technologist has encouraged these talented individuals to continue to dream big and realize that we serve the nation in many ways, only some of which can be measured by the number of rocket launches.

I believe NASA has a bright future. In these challenging fiscal times, we sometimes forget that the Agency’s future missions in science, aeronautics and exploration are grand in scope and bold in stature. Reading a Decadal Survey, a human exploration Design Reference Mission, the National Plan for Aeronautics R&D, it is clear that we have significant and compelling work to do. I remain convinced that a NASA focused on grand challenges and operating at the cutting-edge is not only critical for our Nation’s future in space, but also for our Nation’s technological leadership position in the world. These outcomes can only be met by a NASA that balances its three long-standing core competencies: basic and applied research, spaceflight development, and mission operations. While these three competencies do not require equal budgets, they must each be nurtured and funded at a level that provides critical mass. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to represent, nurture and begin to rebuild the Agency’s basic and applied research competency. At NASA, these three core competencies are truly, and perhaps uniquely, interconnected. Sustained investment in research and technology is required to enable the compelling missions of NASA’s future. These same missions focus and sharpen NASA’s research and technology investment portfolio. The symbiotic relationship between innovative technology development and mission development drives the pace of our nation’s future in space, builds our technological capability and creates jobs.

I want to express my gratitude and admiration to the people who came from across NASA as well as external to the Agency to work with me in forming the Office of the Chief Technologist, an organization that had not existed at NASA in a decade, and now reaches into all ten NASA centers, providing the foundational, crosscutting advances required for the NASA mission directorates. In short order, this team formulated and initiated implementation of the ten Space Technology programs, integrating and accelerating existing Agency high-priority technology activities within programs designed to engage innovators across the nation. Through the early-stage innovationawards recently announced by the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts and Space Technology Graduate Fellowship programs, the laboratory and ground-based testing moving forward through the Game Changing Development program, and the Technology Demonstration Missions now entering development, NASA’s space technology maturation pipeline is taking the ideas of our nation’s innovators from concept to flight. Today, there are space technology projects in development across all the NASA Centers. Examples of these cutting-edge, multi-organizational team activities include the robotic satellite servicing and optical communications projects led by GSFC, composite cryotank manufacturing and testing led by MSFC, the low-density supersonic decelerator testing and deep space atomic clock projects led by JPL, hypersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator testing led by LaRC, small satellite development led by Ames, next-generation robotics research led by JSC, the in-space fluid-transfer ISS experiment and in-situ resource utilization activities led by KSC, cryogenic propulsion storage and transfer activities led by GRC, the small business and technology transfer successes at SSC and the commercial reusable suborbital vehicle development efforts facilitated by DFRC. Under the leadership of the Deputy Chief Technologist, Joe Parrish, and the Space Technology Programs Director, Mike Gazarik, I am confident that these activities and this growing team will continue to serve the Agency well, providing critical capabilities required for our future missions in aeronautics, science and exploration.

I also want to thank the members of the Agency’s senior leadership team for the way in which they welcomed me back into the Agency, shared their past experiences with me, communicated openly, and allowed me to contribute to a wide range of significant and challenging Agency issues. I leave the Agency a better leader than when I arrived as a result of their guidance and example.

The past few years have been a challenging time for the Agency as we have dealt with major transition in the human spaceflight enterprise, budget uncertainty, a wide range of collaboration opportunities, new partners, reduction of our institutional footprint, and initiatives designed to help our talented workforce retool and reinvent itself for success in the 21st century. For NASA, I believe that these changes have just begun. While such change is difficult, I believe that the more desperately an organization tries to hold on to today, the more likely it is that this same organization will not have a tomorrow. Please remember that the future starts today.

To me, NASA represents all that is best in this country. We are a nation of explorers. We are a nation never satisfied with the status quo. We are a nation continually striving to out-innovate ourselves in the creation of new knowledge and new capabilities. While facing significant fiscal challenges, we are a nation that remains full of opportunity. When I look at NASA, these are the same characteristics I see. These are also the characteristics required for success in the 21st century.

Thanks again for the opportunity to serve the nation as a member of your senior leadership team. It has been an honor and a privilege to work with you in this time of transition towards the betterment of this storied Agency. I wish you and the Agency all the best in the future. Godspeed.

 

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