Part 2 of 2: As Director of the Glenn Research Center, Carthage Native Dr. Janet Kavandi deals with an interesting set of opposites: she's on the cutting edge of 21st Century research while working to maintain a research center that's more than 70 years old.
Editor's Note: This is the second of two stories about Carthage Native Janet Kavandi and the latest in her career with NASA, in light of the news that she was being considered for NASA's No. 2 position. President Donald Trump announced on July 10 the nomination of James Morhard to the post. In this article, Kavandi talks about the work being done at the Glenn Research Center and how it impacts everyone, including Carthage residents, and the center's work on the future of aircraft safety and space flight.
As Director of the Glenn Research Center, Carthage Native Dr. Janet Kavandi deals with an interesting set of opposites: she's on the cutting edge of 21st Century research while working to maintain a research center that's more than 70 years old.
Kavandi was named Deputy Director of the Glenn Research Center in March 2015, then promoted to Director of the center in March, 2016.
After graduating as Valedictorian of the Carthage High School Class of 1977, Kavandi graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science Degree in chemistry from Missouri Southern State University in 1980, then obtained a Master of Science Degree in Chemistry from Missouri University of Science and Technology in 1982, and then went to work for Eagle-Picher in Joplin, using her chemistry degree to assist in new battery development for defense applications.
In an interview on July 3 with The Carthage Press, Kavandi said her job as director at Glenn neatly combines many of her past experiences and education, including her administrative experience in Houston as NASA Director of Flight Crew Operations.
“This particular research center focuses a lot on power for spacecraft and propulsion for spacecraft and aircraft,” Kavandi said. “So it's about half aeronautics and half space. So I still get to do my space stuff, which is good, but I also get to do some of my chemistry. My PhD dissertation was on aeronautics projects, so having some of the aero background has been very helpful, plus having a degree in chemistry has helped with the materials research that's done here and the power research. The energy storage, battery stuff is something I worked on at Eagle Picher there in Joplin for years. So everything I think I've worked on throughout my career either in energy storage, chemistry background, the crew office, and aeronautics and space, it's all come together and helped me do this job here.”
Kavandi said the center is deeply involved in finding materials and systems to make everyday flying on airlines safer, using the center's collection of wind tunnels.
“A lot of the work we do in the wind tunnels is involved in making engines more reliable and able to withstand icing conditions, where we know we've lost aircraft to icing, either the fuselage or the engine seizing up due to icing,” Kavandi said. “We do research that helps engine manufacturers make safer engines either using materials or new designs, they can develop aircraft that have a better ability to survive these conditions.”
Kavandi said Glenn Research center is also working on new communications systems to help keep aircraft from running into each other in skies that are becoming increasingly crowded.
“There's a lot of aircraft in the skies, planes are flying a lot closer together,” Kavandi said. “So we work with folks to develop good reliable separation capabilities, how the planes communicate with each other, how they see each other, how they communicate with the ground and maintain positioning so we can avoid each other in flight.”
She said that work could extend into new forms of transportation.
“Uber wants to do an Uber Lift capability where you come outside and a vehicle can fly you to your destination,” Kavandi said. “So there's a lot of work that would have to go into that to enable that to happen safely, going into separation and how they would fly in the weather and how they'd fly a defined path. There's a lot of work to be done there.”
This research can also impact more grounded industries, such as telemedicine for hospitals and doctors, and improved materials for a variety of manufactured products.
The International Space Station, a station in low Earth orbit that is a partnership between the U.S. and many other nations, is the focus of most current space activity, and the Glenn Research Center is supporting that work while also working toward a future after the ISS.
Kavandi said NASA is looking to contract out space flights supporting the ISS to companies such as SpaceX, while NASA focuses on putting the next space station in orbit around the Moon in the 2020s and 2030s.
She said Glenn Research Center is supporting both efforts.
“We work both sides. In fact, at Plum Brook, where we test these rockets and these spacecraft, we were testing for SpaceX, we had them out there for the last three weeks,” Kavandi said. “We brought their Dragon Capsule our here to test in a variety of our facilities. Right now since the Shuttle retired, we're using the Russian Soyuz Rocket to get our astronauts and the Russian astronauts to the Space Station. What we're trying to do is replace that transportation capability, being dependent on the Russians, using commercial spacecraft.
“Then what we're building is a bigger rocket, even bigger than the Apollo era rocket where we went to the moon, and we're going to launch a platform that we'll put in Lunar orbit, it's a cislunar orbit, and then we'll have a platform where we can do lunar landing operations from that, and then we can also push either that or a portion of that to Mars.”
Kavandi said this plan allows NASA the flexibility to test equipment and systems on the extremely harsh environment on the Moon before using that equipment and those systems on Mars or for even longer missions.
It also allows for more exploration of the Moon itself.
“It gives us the flexibility of going to a variety of different locations on the moon,” Kavandi said. “So we could do polar missions and look for the water that is theoretically on the surface of the moon, we can build, possibly a habitat and check out life support systems in that dusty, no-atmosphere environment, high-radiation environment. And once we check it our there, if it all works on the Moon, we know we can send it to Mars and be pretty confident it will work there as well.”
In the meantime, Kavandi told Carthage residents she was thinking of them and working hard to make improvements for life in Carthage and around the world.
“Tell them to rest assured, we're working really hard to create an enduring space program for them and one that ensures their safety in the air as well,” Kavandi said. “We're still NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, so we don't forget about the aeronautics side of it and that's something we work on just as much as we do the space side.”