Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • A DIY Space Race: Unleashing Space Innovators through Prize Competitions

    Earlier this month, more than 150 designers, engineers, technologists and explorers gathered at the NASA Ames Research Center in Palo Alto, California, for the Cube Quest Challenge Summit. The Summit kicked off a multi-faceted quest to compete for the opportunity to launch a small satellite – known as a CubeSat – into space and then continue in a race around the moon and beyond. Teams that best complete the tasks outlined in the prize rules could win up to $5 million. As one attendee at the event shared via social media, “#CubeQuest has that feel of early days of history in the making. Sitting among giants in the cubesat field!”

    Attendees at the 2015 Cube Quest Challenge summit listen as Centennial Challenges Program Manager Sam Ortego kicks off the event, held at NASA Ames Research Center in Palo Alto, California. (Image: NASA/Ames/Dominic Hart)

    NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge is a great example of an ambitious prize that strives to drive national breakthroughs in science and technology. Since the authorization of its Centennial Challenges Program in 2005, NASA has been a leader in Federal technology development and demonstration prizes. The Centennial Challenges Program is part of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, which solicits the help of the best and brightest minds in academia, industry, and government to drive innovation and enable solutions in important technology areas. The Cube Quest Challenge takes NASA’s challenges to a new level — literally out of this world — by including a chance for competitors to fly their very own CubeSat to the moon and beyond as secondary payload on the first integrated flight of NASA's Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. This will be the first prize competition sponsored by the US Government where any potion has been conducted in space.

    The challenge and prize purse are divided into three major areas:

    • Ground Tournaments:  $500,000 in the four qualifying ground tournaments to determine who will have the ability to fly on the first SLS flight;

    • Lunar Derby: $3 million for demonstrating the ability to place a CubeSat in a stable lunar orbit and demonstrate communication and durability near the moon; and

    • Deep Space Derby:  $1.5 million for demonstrating communication and CubeSat durability at a distance greater than almost 2.5 million miles (4,000,000 km), 10 times the distance from the Earth to the moon

    The Obama Administration has taken steps to make prizes a standard part of every Agency’s toolbox, and to encourage Federal agencies to use prizes to drive national breakthroughs. In his September 2009 Strategy for American Innovation, President Obama called on all Federal agencies to increase their use of prizes to address some of our Nation’s most pressing challenges. Such efforts grew with the signing of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, which provided Federal agencies with expanded authority to pursue ambitious prizes with robust incentives. In fiscal year (FY) 2013, 25 Federal agencies conducted 87 prize competitions: a more than 85 percent increase from FY 2012.

  • Unleashing Data and Tools to Boost Climate Resilience in India

    Last September, at the UN Climate Summit in New York City, President Obama committed to work with partner nations to empower local authorities to better plan for the impacts of severe environmental changes such as drought, glacial retreat, flooding, landslides, coastal storm surges, agricultural stresses, and public-health-relevant challenges. As part of this commitment, he announced an interagency effort to, within one year, release higher-resolution elevation data for regions around the world – beginning with Africa. Datasets for the Caribbean, Mexico, and other regions have subsequently been made freely and publicly available.

    Today, the Administration announced the release of the next tranche of higher-resolution elevation data for India. Until now, these elevation data for India were freely and publicly available only at 90-meter resolution. The datasets being announced today resolve to 30-meters and can be used to better assess and monitor the impacts of sea-level rise, conduct environmental monitoring activities, and support local resilience-relevant decision-making. These datasets are being made available on the U.S. Geological Survey’s Earth Explorer website.

  • Microbes, Apps, and Backflips-in-Space at 3rd Annual White House “State of STEM” Event for Kids

    Yesterday, the U.S. Chief Technology Officer, Megan Smith, kicked off an afternoon of conversation between senior Obama-Administration scientists and technologists, outside innovators, and one of the toughest, most inquisitive audiences that could be conjured: DC-area elementary, middle, and high-school students.

    SoSTEM-Smith

    United States Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Megan Smith answers questions from kid reporters prior to the annual White House State of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (SoSTEM) address, Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015, in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

    CTO Smith launched the event by recapping the multitude of science and technology references in the prior evening’s State of the Union Address—including STEM education, climate change, tech-skills, and space exploration, to name a few. She then shared a personal account of the beauty of being a techie in public service, and the importance of bringing all of America’s talent to the table when it comes to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers – especially including women and minorities.

    Next, NASA Administrator (and former astronaut… and former Marine) Charlie Bolden took the stage, revving the kids up for a special surprise: a live video Q&A with astronauts currently in space aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Students eagerly lined up to ask about life in zero-gravity, how the astronauts got their awesome jobs, and even what the weather’s like up in space. (Captain Barry "Butch" Wilmore half-joked that the weather is “consistently clear” aboard the ISS, just one of the many perks of his job.) Wilmore was joined by Colonel Terry Virts, and Captain Samantha Cristoforett, who answered students’ questions one-by-one, all while sporadically flipping upside down in their gravity-free environment.

  • Precision Medicine: Improving Health and Treating Disease

    Last night, at his 2015 State of the Union Address, President Obama announced that he is launching a new precision medicine initiative that will help deliver the right treatment to the right patient at the right time.

    Many of you may be wondering: What exactly is “precision medicine,” and how can it transform medicine as it is practiced today?

    Today, most medical treatments have been designed for the “average patient.” In too many cases, this “one-size-fits-all” approach isn’t effective, as treatments can be very successful for some patients but not for others. Precision medicine is an emerging approach to promoting health and treating disease that takes into account individual differences in people’s genes, environments, and lifestyles, making it possible to design highly effective, targeted treatments for cancer and other diseases. In short, precision medicine gives clinicians new tools, knowledge, and therapies to select which treatments will work best for which patients.

  • Promoting Science-Based Stewardship, Security, and Opportunity in the Arctic Region

    Today, President Obama issued an Executive Order to help coordinate Arctic-related activities across the Federal Government and enhance collaboration with State, local, and Alaska Native tribal governments and similar Alaska Native organizations, academic and research institutions, and the private and nonprofit sectors.

    The Arctic region provides critical ecological, cultural, and economic services to our Nation. Arctic-based activities that advance the national interest range from defense and security, to maritime safety; to environmental stewardship; the promotion of science and research, and more.

    But we know based on decades of rigorous scientific research that climate change is causing the Alaskan Arctic to warm twice as rapidly as the rest of the United States – and that climate change will continue to transform the Arctic in the future as its consequences grow more severe. Dramatic seasonal reduction in Arctic sea ice, widespread glacier retreat, acidifying oceans, earlier spring snowmelt, and thawing permafrost are changing the ways people can access, live, and work in this remote region. 

    At the same time, there are significant changes in the social, economic, and political landscapes across the Arctic. Many Northern communities are keen to protect and sustain their unique cultures and relationship with the land and ocean, but they also recognize the need to embrace economic opportunities to support improvements in their wellbeing. We are interested in working with these communities to explore new opportunities for economic development while protecting the region that is their home and the core of their cultural heritage.

    The United States has a responsibility to strengthen international cooperation in the Arctic, mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change, better understand and manage the impacts of climate change in this region, develop and manage resources responsibly, and serve as stewards for valuable and vulnerable ecosystems.

  • U.S.-U.K. Digital Government Partnership

    Today, we are building on a long history of innovation and collaboration on digital technologies with the United Kingdom.  The President and Prime Minister Cameron just announced a commitment to strengthen and expand the ongoing digital partnership between our two countries.  Both countries have made real progress in working to improve how our governments use digital services to better serve citizens and businesses, and to build a stronger digital economy.  We will expand our already existing collaborations in these areas as well as continue to support open data and open government initiatives for our own countries as well as for all countries.

    U.S.-U.K. innovation and collaboration on digital technology dates back to WWII, when both countries were in need of extraordinary amounts of mathematical computation capacity.  Teams from both countries did the seminal work that created modern digital computing.  Breakthrough work included the United Kingdom’s Bletchley Park code breakers, the ENIAC ballistics calculation advances in the United States, and many other groundbreaking programs in both countries. 

    The U.S. and U.K. have also been ongoing innovators of open government and open data; from very early releases and collaborations on weather and mapping data to full data portals now hosted at the United Kingdom’s data.gov.uk, and data.gov in the United States, which host hundreds of thousands of government data sets released to the public.  And for decades, United States and United Kingdom innovators have been at the forefront of including children in learning computer coding – from early work at Dartmouth to MIT Media Lab’s Seymour Papert’s seminal work on Logo in the 1970s and 80s, to the UK’s BBC Micro from Acorn, a computer designed with an emphasis on education created during those same early years.

    Each of us, personally, has our own digital history with the United Kingdom:

    “This shared digital history is personally powerful to me because of my own connection to it: as a young student in England during the 1950's, my father fell in love with these new digital gizmos, learning to "program" them by changing out transistors and watching what would happen next.  He followed this passion to MIT and a graduate degree in electrical engineering ("computer science" hadn't been invented yet). The magic of those machines never left him - he went to work for IBM and then started a technology company headquartered in New York and London that he still runs today.”Office of Management and Budget Director, Shaun Donovan

    “I learned about the deep U.S.-U.K. digital history through many years of joining the Silicon Valley Comes to the U.K. events held in London each November.  This is an annual program to bring together the two country’s tech /entrepreneurship communities --- it was during a session at 10 Downing where I first learned of the U.K.’s Lady Ada Lovelace, who is often referred to as the world’s first programmer.  This started my personal work to uncover the lost history of technical women and minorities.  At another session, Dr. Sue Black first told me about Bletchley Park– the subject of the new film The Imitation Game’ celebrating the work of WWII code breaking heroes including Alan Turing, Joan Clarke, and others.  Our chance meeting kicked off collaboration to help secure that museum’s future and further teamwork with Code.org and others on coding skills for youth and adults in both countries.”U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith

    The next stage of the U.S.-U.K. partnership will focus on three core efforts:

    • First, transforming how government delivers digital services to better meet the needs of citizens.
    • Second, continuing to lead on global open government efforts through the Open Government Partnership, which enhances government transparency and public access to government data.
    • And finally, increasing our nation’s technological capabilities by training the next generation of digital experts and expanding the reach of high quality Internet access.

    Both countries have already stepped up their efforts in this area, learning from each other’s best practices. In 2011, the United Kingdom created the Government Digital Service (GDS), a centralized group of digital experts who have vastly improved citizen experiences when using government digital services.  This team has worked to make public services digital by default, simpler, less costly, and faster to use. 

    In the United States, we recently launched the U.S. Digital Service, a small group of highly skilled tech experts who are working with agencies to improve their citizen-facing digital services and hire their own embedded team of highly skilled digital service leaders.  In addition, GSA, the home of USA.gov, Data.gov and many other Federal websites, has built its own digital service team named 18F which is working with more than a dozen agencies to help them deliver on their missions digitally in a design-centric, agile, open, and data-driven way.

    Together, our two countries can continue to be leaders in all of these arenas.  We look forward to further collaboration, which now also includes sharing code through the best-practice of open source.  Next up, Mikey Dickerson, and members of his U.S. Digital Service team, alongside other innovators across the U.S. government, will head to the United Kingdom in coming months to continue the teamwork with the U.K. GDS.  Meanwhile, it has been a pleasure to host the United Kingdom leadership and some of the digital team here in the United States this week.

    Shaun Donovan is the Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

    Megan Smith is the U.S. Chief Technology Officer in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

     

    ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND

    U.S.-U.K. DIGITAL GOVERNMENT PARTNERSHIP:

    Advancing our Nations’ Digital Services and Building Strong Digital Economies

     

    Today, President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron committed to continuing the decades-long collaboration between our two nations on advancing digital technologies.  This collaboration has already allowed our countries to make significant strides in upgrading government’s technology infrastructure and capacity to deliver services in order to build stronger digital economies.

    As digital technologies reshape the global economy, countries will increasingly depend on the free flow of information and data, a high-quality digital infrastructure, and public servants with the skills to drive innovation and deliver critical services and benefits to citizens.  The United Kingdom and the United States have made a commitment over the last few years to increase the effectiveness of government digital service delivery, open up government data for public use, and increase public access to technology.  Today’s announcement builds on that partnership by:

    • Transforming Government Digital Service Delivery:  Our governments interact every day with citizens and businesses, delivering services aimed at improving lives and strengthening our economies.  Both governments have developed digital service teams who seek to transform the way the government interacts with citizens and businesses.  Through the partnership we are forging, these teams will continue to work together to share best practices and tackle shared challenges.
    • Advancing the Global Effort on Open Government: The United States and United Kingdom jointly founded the global Open Government Partnership, a group of 65 nations who are working to champion the values of open government and spread its benefits around the world.  We will jointly commit to build on the landmark agreement of G8 leaders to an Open Data Charter, promulgated under the UK G8 Presidency in 2013, and further promote these principles in other international forums.
    • Increasing our Nations’ Tech Capability and Promoting the 21st Century Citizen: The United States and United Kingdom are committed to expanding access to high quality internet for all of their citizens. We are also investing in training children and adults to code, a key skill which will allow them to understand the basics of programing which can help address real world problems.

    The rich partnership between our nations on digital technologies dates back to World War II, when both countries were in need of extraordinary amounts of computation capacity.  Together, teams from both countries did the ground-breaking work that created modern digital computing.  In the coming months, we will agree to a Memorandum of Understanding to solidify this exciting opportunity and strengthen and enhance our longstanding partnership to transform the way governments deliver for our citizens.

    BUILDING ON PAST PROGRESS

    Digital Service Delivery

    • The United Kingdom created the Government Digital Service (GDS), a centralized group of digital experts who have vastly improved citizen experiences when using government digital services. This team has worked to make public services digital by default, simpler, less costly, and faster to use.
    • Last year, the United States launched the U.S. Digital Service, in many ways modeled on the GDS. This group is comprised of some of the country’s best and brightest tech talent and has worked with agencies like the Veterans Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services to improve the digital experience that American citizens and businesses have with their government. In addition 18F, a new delivery unit within General Services Administration (GSA), is working with more than a dozen agencies to help them deliver on their missions in a design-centric, agile, open, and data-driven way.
    • The United Kingdom developed a comprehensive Digital Strategy which consists of 14 actions to fundamentally redesign digital services. These actions include building common technology platforms and making digital services the default for transactions with the government. This strategy, once fully implemented, will save taxpayers in the United Kingdom £2.7 billion per year. 
    • The United States launched a comprehensive data-driven review of agency Information Technology (IT) portfolios to identify and eliminate duplicative systems and rein in wasteful IT spending. This effort, PortfolioStat, has led to over $2.2 billion in savings over the past three years. In addition to the adoption of new technologies and approaches such as cloud computing and agile development, PortfolioStat has helped agencies save taxpayer dollars and deliver greater value in IT.

    Open Government/Open Data

    • The United States has shown its commitment to open government by implementing an Open Data Policy, ensuring that data released by the government is accessible and useful to all. The Administration has released 138,470 data sets to date, and more are released every day. The United States is continuing to support this effort and identify data sets that will benefit the health care, energy, education, employment, public safety, tourism and agriculture sectors.
    • The United Kingdom has created GOV.UK, a single location on the Internet for citizens to access all government information and services. This single site has replaced over 1,500 websites.
    • Together, the United States and United Kingdom launched the Open Government Partnership in 2011. This global effort has grown to include 65 countries committed to making their governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens.  The United States and United Kingdom are world leaders on opening government data and will continue to expand this work.

    Next Generation: Coding at School, Connectivity and Tech Entrepreneurship

    • Last month, millions of U.S. and British students participated in Computer Science Education Week events that included a coding hour hosted by each leader where President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron tried coding to set examples and to encourage youth to join “Hour of Code” efforts.  To date, more than 40 million people from both countries have participated in this program. 
    • These Computer Science Education Week events are held each year during the second week of December specifically timed to coincide with the birthdays of our two elite computer science pioneers: U.S Rear Admiral Grace Hopper on December 9 and the United Kingdom’s Lady Ada Lovelace on December 10.

     

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