The Coweta County School System could not have selected a more fitting person to address the entrants in the school system’s annual Science Fair held earlier this month. Speaking to the students responsible for submitting the 69 science fair entries was NASA Chief Technologist and Coweta County resident Dr. Robert Braun.
Braun during his remarks to students in the auditorium of the Coweta County School System’s Centre for Visual and Performing Arts stressed the value and the need for scientific interest and inquiry. That quest, as Braun’s resume shows, lends itself to academic and career fulfillment.
Braun spoke about his interest in NASA as a child and the impressions he formed from the Mars Viking I and Viking II missions in the 1970s.
“My goal was to do what those guys did, to send vehicles, and maybe people, to Mars,” Braun explained.
And that is what Braun did. He was a member of the Mars Pathfinder design and landing operations team from 1992 to 1997 and has been part of development teams for the Mars Microprobe, Mars Sample Return and Mars Surveyor 2001 projects, according to NASA. Braun also provided independent assessment and served on NASA review boards for the Mars Polar Lander, Mars Odyssey, Mars Exploration Rover, Phoenix Mars Scout, Genesis, and Mars Science Laboratory flight projects.
“It was the greatest thing to be involved in,” Braun told the students, smiling as recalled the emotionally-charged atmosphere in the control room when the Pathfinder rover touched ground and began its exploration of the Martian surface. “Thousands of people spent years working on this project. And when we landed it we felt like we’d won the Superbowl. The people operating those rovers today are people just like you, interested in science and engineering. And now they work at NASA.”
Braun was named NASA Chief Technologist by NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden on Feb. 3, 2010. Braun serves as the principal advisor and advocate on matters concerning agency-wide technology policy and programs, according to NASA.
Braun has more than 20 years experience performing design and analysis of planetary exploration systems as a member of the technical staff at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., and the Georgia Institute of Technology. His research has focused on systems’ aspects of planetary exploration, where he contributed to the design, development, test and operation of several robotic space flight systems.
From 1998-2000, he managed the development of the Mars Sample Return Earth Entry Vehicle, an innovative, risk-based entry system design, NASA said.
Braun also has been an active participant in the development of advanced methods for multidisciplinary design and optimization. As a member of the Aircraft Design Group at Stanford University from 1991-1996, Braun developed the Collaborative Optimization architecture.
In 2006, Braun began service on NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Advisory Council. In 2008, he began service on Advisory Councils of the Aerospace Engineering Department at the Pennsylvania State University and the Space Systems Department of the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory. In 2009, he was appointed associate editor for the AIAA Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets and began service on the Advisory Council of The Planetary Society.
Braun received a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Penn State in 1987, M.S. in Astronautics from the George Washington University in 1989, and Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Stanford University in 1996.
Braun has received the 1999 AIAA American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) Lawrence Sperry Award, two NASA Exceptional Achievement Medals, two NASA Inventions and Contributions Team Awards, and seven NASA Group Achievement Awards. He is an AIAA Fellow and the principle author or co-author of over 175 technical publications.