NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Dr Christyl Johnson explains how NASAs STEM innovations are addressing the challenges of the future.

In her talk, Dr Christyl Johnson showcases the way NASAs space technologies are being used in consumer goods, to care for the environment, for public safety, in transportation, and across health and medicine. She also outlines NASAs plans for a future beyond Earth.
As NASA Goddard's Deputy Center Director for Technology and Research Investments, Dr. Johnson manages the Center's research and development portfolio, and is responsible for formulating the Center's future science and technology goals and leading an integrated program of investments aligned to meet those goals.

Watch 'Addressing the challenges of the future' (11:32)

Dr Christyl Johnson

(Duration: 11 minutes 32 seconds)


[Red and blue logo revealed reading ‘STEM 2022 on demand’.

Screen shows images of space and the NASA logo. Screen reads, ‘NASA’s Innovative Engine – addressing the challenges of the future. Christyl Johnson, Goddard Space Flight Center, Deputy Director for Technology and Research Investments.]

Dr Christyl Johnson:

[Dr Johnson appears on screen.]

I'm Christyl Johnson, and I'm excited to share with you a slightly different perspective of NASA.

[Screen reads, ‘NASA’. Screen shows images inside a spacecraft and of an astronaut in space.]

So many times when someone says the word NASA, the first thing that comes to mind is an astronaut floating inside the International Space Station or in a full space suit working outside of the space station.

[Screen shows images of air crafts in the sky.]

Some people are aware that the first A in NASA stands for aeronautics, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, so they're familiar with the research we do in streamlined aircraft bodies, quieter jet engines, techniques to prevent icing, and software tools to help with air traffic control.

[Screen reads, ‘Operating and Future Science Fleet’. Screen shows planets, a galaxy and the sun marked with various names, colour coded green for earth science, yellow for heliophysics, purple for planetary science, blue for astrophysics.]

And most people know that NASA has a fleet of hundreds of science missions studying the earth and understanding how we can thrive here, heliophysics or studying the sun and its effects, astrophysics and other planetary bodies. And yes, it's all true. Our astronauts, our scientists, our engineers, and the whole NASA family stay quite busy doing these things every single day.

However, I'd like to help you shift your view of NASA and what it is that we do. For those of you still thinking about your future and what kind of career might excite you, pay close attention because a career in STEM may be more appealing than you realise.

From this day forward, when you hear the name NASA, I'd like for you to think about innovation, ‘In my world, NASA is an innovation engine.’

[Screen reads, ‘NASA in your life’ and shows images that Dr Johnson goes on to explain.]

You may not know it but you're all seeing the benefits of NASA investments in just about every aspect of your lives today: in consumer goods, environment and resource management, public safety, transportation, health and medicine, and computer technology.

[Screen reads, ‘Consumer goods’ and shows images that Dr Johnson goes on to explain.]

To highlight just a few of the consumer goods you're enjoying right now, the same command and control concepts that we had to develop to remotely control experiments on the International Space Station have brought you the programmable ovens so that you can put your food in a refrigerated oven before you leave in the morning, send the command home to start cooking your meal just as you're about to leave work, and then send another command after it's done to keep it warm if you have errands to run on the way home.

NASA physiology experts used research into how to monitor astronauts on the International Space Station to help an industry company to improve the company's wearable vital sign monitors which are now used to monitor the health and fitness of soldiers, first responders, professional athletes, and the average consumers looking to just get in shape.

Because of NASA's experience in studying the forces of friction and drag, Los Angeles-based Speedo, USA asked us to help them design a swimsuit shortly after the 2004 Olympics. The LZR Racer reduces skin friction drag 24% more than previous Speedo racing suits. And the research seems to have paid off. In March of 2008, the month after the suit was released, swimmers wear the LZR Racer broke 13 world records. Amazing.

[Screen reads, ‘Energy and environment’ and shows images that Dr Johnson goes on to explain.]

We are out in front and behind the scenes producing energy efficiency and protecting our wonderful environment. Our dual solar and wind power technologies that we developed for extreme conditions that will be experienced during our extended stay on Mars have been incorporated into durable wind turbines for use at the North Pole. We started with only three of them in remote Alaskan communities saving $201,000 per year. Now there are well over 200 in operation in 25 states and four countries. And it saves a lot in gallons of diesel fuel, over 45,000 gallons of diesel fuel as well.

[Screen reads, ‘NASA algorithm helps track rare animals’ and shows images of a whale shark and polar bears, with a focus on their spots.]

And our algorithms that were designed to map the stars are helping to track rare and endangered animals.

[Screen reads:

  • Growth algorithm invented to map stars for Hubble Space Telescope.

  • Data helps scientists keep track of individuals and monitor fragile populations more accurately.

  • Adapted to recognise unique patterns in whale sharks and polar bears.

  • 47,000 whale sharks reported and more than 9,204 whale sharks identified.]

Apparently, the spots on whale sharks and polar bears are just as unique as fingerprints are on human beings.

[Screen reads, ‘Public safety’ and shows images that Dr Johnson goes on to explain.]

The work that we're doing to contribute to public safety truly warms my heart because it's just so incredibly impactful. The water recovery systems that we develop for the International Space Station make use of available resources by turning wastewater from respiration, sweat, and even urine into drinkable water.

Our carbon Nanomesh, which can remove more than 99% of bacteria and viruses and numerous chemical contaminants, is being used in filtration systems around the world to bring clean water to remote locations.

[Screen shows a group of football players.]

And one other example that I wanted to share with you is our football players and many sports around the United States. In one particular year, we had some college students that were out practising football and it was a very, very hot day, and one of the football players, a college student, ended up having a heat stroke in all of the heat and he died. And of course, everyone was sad, everyone was very concerned about the fact that he's practising and dies of a heat stroke, but that very week, one of the National Football League professional players also had a heat stroke during practise and he also died. So everyone was very, very concerned and even the media got really engaged and everyone was asking, "What are you doing? Why are you having these people outside practising in all of this heat?" And of course the coaches are saying, "Well, how in the world would we know? How do we know when someone is in danger of having a heat stroke or any other kind of medical situation?" And so they came to NASA and they said, "Could you please help us with this?"

[Screen shows a close-up image of a hand holding a white capsule with the thermometer beside it.]

And so we used the ingestible thermal monitoring system technologies that we developed to remotely monitor the body temperature of our astronauts during flight to create a thermometer pill which you can swallow and then when it goes down into the core of your body, it constantly sends us readings of what your core temperature is. And now these are being used by professional football teams around the United States to prevent heat strokes and other elevated body or lower body temperature illnesses.

And when I say elevated body, it's a wonderful thing that even our firefighters can use these thermometer pills, and when they go into a major fire and they get surrounded and the firefighter body temperatures start to elevate, we know that it's time for us to send in extra services to be able to extract those firefighters.

It also works on the extreme opposite, in cold, cold climates. If you have a deep sea diver that swallows this little pill and goes down deep into the water, sometimes you get to a place where you get confused and you're not able to respond and to get back up to the surface quickly, so when we see that body temperature lowering, lower than it's supposed to, we know that it's time to help that person get up to the surface.

[Screen shows an image of a helicopter at sea with a person on a rescue cord. On the left-hand side of the screen, a box contains a close-up image of a hand holding a yellow box that reads, ‘Micro PLB, Personal Locator Beacon’,]

And the Search And Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking, or SARSAT system, that we develop to improve distress signal communications for astronaut recovery is now being used to locate emergency beacons activated by aircraft, ships, and backcountry hikers in distress. The SARSAT requires that only one signal burst is received by four satellites, and then we can find you anywhere you are in the world. We've saved tens of thousands of lives since the system went online in 1982.

[Screen reads, ‘Transportation’ and shows images that Dr Johnson goes on to explain.]

In the area of transportation, anti-icing formulas that NASA developed to keep ice from sticking to the surface of aeroplanes was licenced to a private company for use in train tracks and switches, which has now significantly improved incidences of train delays in increment weather.

NASA also funded the design of a simple and reusable patch repair system for servicing structural components in space. These patch systems are now widely used in the race car industry. You'll probably see 'em many times when they have those crashes and they come into the pit and they're able to make those repairs very, very quickly.

[Screen reads, ‘Health and medicine’. Screen shows Dr Johnson indicate with her hand to an image of large honeycomb shaped mirrors.]

And in health and medicine, some of the algorithms developed to test the James Webb Space Mirrors, which are these big mirrors right over here that we are actually developing at my centre, Goddard Space Flight Centre, they've been spun off to help develop an ophthalmology system that can do a complete mapping of the eye in only three seconds to obtain four different measurements for conditions like nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and others.

[Screen shows an image of a machine in the top-left. Below this is a translucent image of a person’s chest, with a machine connected to their heart. To the right of this image is a picture of two doctors and a patient in an operating theatre.]

A collaboration between NASA engineers, two doctors, and a private company has resulted in the development of a cardiac pump that keeps patients alive while they so desperately wait for their transplant.

[Screen reads, ‘What does the future hold?’]

So we have thousands of these kinds of examples of NASA in your life today, but what does the future hold?

[Screen shows an image of planet Earth in space. Screen reads, Earth reliant, now – mid 2020s:

  • International Space Station operation through 2024

  • commercial development of low-Earth orbit

  • development of deep space systems, life support and human health.’]

The global space community envisions going from being totally reliant on planet Earth, operating the International Space Station at least through 2024 while we develop deep space systems,

[Screens shows an image of the moon in space, surrounded by satellites. Screen reads, ‘Proving ground, 2018 – 2030:

  • regular crewed missions and spacewalks in cislunar space

  • verify deep space habitation and conduct a yearlong mission to validate readiness for Mars

  • demonstrate integrated human and robotic operations by redirecting and sampling an asteroid boulder.’]

to using the moon as a proving ground where we test out technologies and we verify deep space habitation in preparation for a human journey to Mars

[Screen shows Mars surrounded by satellites. Screen reads, ‘Earth independent, now – 2030s and beyond:

  • science missions pave the way to Mars

  • demonstrate entry, descent, and landing and in-situ resource use

  • conduct robotic round-trip demonstration with sample return in the late 2020s

  • send humans to orbit Mars in the early 2030s.’]

with the ultimate goal to become earth independent with the ability to have sustainable human habitation on Mars sometime in the 2030s.

Just imagine all of the innovation that will have to happen between now and then for us not only to survive but also to thrive on another planet so far away from Earth, power systems, the internet of things around Mars, we'll have to harvest food in extreme conditions, and we'll have to survive the extreme radiation that we will experience on the surface of Mars. We'll have to invent technologies that may not even exist today.

[Screen reads, ‘How do we get there?’]

And how can we make that happen?

[Screen reads, ‘We need you!!’]

Innovation requires diversity. We need people with different backgrounds different exposures, different life experiences to bring their different solutions to the table. Only when you encourage out of the box thinking, can you make revolutionary change. We need you to bring your uniqueness to the table to help achieve the impossible and to make this vision a reality.

[Screen shows the NASA logo. Screen reads, ‘’]

You can get more information at or the website of the space agency in your country. Thank you.

[Video concludes by displaying the NSW Government logo.]   

[End of Transcript]   

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