NASA Tries To Explain The NASA iTech Thing

Keith's note: As I have noted before NASA does not really seem to be interested in letting people know about their NASA iTech thing. Last Friday I posted some comments about the NASA iTech activity. I never heard from STMD so I sent NASA STMD and NASA PAO some questions, NASA PAO replied rather promptly. I have added some follow-up comments to the NASA responses.

In summary: This NASA iTech effort is supposed to engage companies with innovations that could benefit NASA as well as help innovators realize potential space applications of their technologies that may have been designed for another purpose.Hopefully that will inspire companies to invest their own money in the use of NASA technology. NASA makes claims that this program has led to $500 million in private sector investments - but they cannot actually verify that claim. Nor does NASA iTech bother to interact with the rest of the agency's various commercialization activities wherein much more technology awaits wider distribution and use. Most paradoxically, the NASA itTech folks are incapable of generating standard PR for their supposed successes. Also NASA cannot decide if NASA iTech is a NASA thing or something that a vendor does - or both - and NASA STMD clearly did not think this through when it allowed the NASA iTech folks to run around promoting this effort.

I am posting everything here as an example of just how scattered NASA can be when it comes to demonstrating its value to the public and private sectors. The fact that NASA STMD and NASA HQ refuse to give NASA iTech more visibility (given the $500 million claim) and that the NASA iTech folks seek to distance themsleves from NASA's global branding and visibility speaks to a lot of entrenched dysfunction within NASA's technology efforts. I hope someone fixes this. A lot of real value from NASA's abundant technology expertise is being woefully under utilized. And NASA iTech is not doing the best job it could to avail itself of the opportunity to highlight this technology.

1. Why don't the @NASAiTech and @NASA_Technology Twitter accounts mention one another? Why does Kira Blackwell, the NASA iTech Program Executive use her official NASA Twitter account @KiraBlackwell to only promote NASAiTech and yet make no mention of anything else that NASA STMD (or NASA) does?

NASA PAO: In addition to other NASA technology-related news, @NASA_Technology shares information about NASA iTech:

At this time @NASAiTech is not an official NASA social media account. NASA/STMD is reviewing the need for this account (and others) and will make the decision whether to make it an official NASA account or shut it down by directing followers to the broader agency technology account. This is something NASA/STMD did last year with an unofficial NASA Flight Opportunities account (@NASAfo). @KiraBlackwell is a personal account.

NASAWatch follow up: if you look at @NASAitech it says "The Official NASA iTech Twitter account. NASA's program searches for cutting-edge tech's external to NASA & that have potential to be a solution for NASA. NASA HQ -Space Tech Office". [screengrab] If you look at @KiraBlackwell it says "Program Executive for @NASAiTech searching for innovative solutions to solve some of NASA's challenges." and it is used for official business purposes. There is no mention that it is a personal account. [screengrab]

2. Why does the NASAiTech activity exclusively use its own logo on its social media posts and on all of its large event displays and promotion materials and not use the official NASA logo? Is the NASAiTech logo officially recognized - and owned by - NASA?

NASA PAO: The NASA iTech identifying mark was created as "work for hire" under an existing cooperative agreement with NIA and is therefore owned by NASA. The identifying mark has been used since NASA iTech started under NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist.

NASAWatch follow up: But why is NASAiTech special - no other NASA programs seek to distance themsleves from NASA by purposefully not using the NASA logo?

3. Why aren't the NASAiTech "Ignite the Night" events promoted on the NASA STMD website? Why are they not mentioned in media advisories or press releases/media advisories? Why is there no mention of these events on the calendar?

NASA PAO: As we work to move the current .org NASA iTech website content to the portal, we are building out this information. There is a page dedicated to upcoming events where you can find information about the next Ignite the Night:

The primary audience for Ignite the Night events is local innovators. Media are welcome to attend as well. NASA regularly interacts with local media who may be interested in covering iTech events.

The main calendar is, for the most part, limited to NASA TV coverage and launch/mission operations.

NASAWatch follow up: but NASA STMD and NASAiTech never send out media advisories? If this is so important why are live webcasts not promoted as are a myriad of other NASA activities - many of which have a local focus?

4. This item "Entrepreneurs Travel from Near and Far to NASA iTech Forum, Judges Select Three Winners is was posted on 11 October 2019 at" yet NASA STMD and NASA PAO never issued a press release. Why?

NASA PAO: The web feature linked here is the official NASA winners' announcement. What content is published as a web feature versus press release is a decision made by the Office of Communications. In the case of NASA iTech, because the companies are not awarded money, we typically issue these announcements as web features.

NASAWatch follow up: Once again: If this is so important why are these news items not sent out to the national media? NASA PAO regularly sends out press releases and media advisories for live ISS webcasts to specific schools with perhaps 100 kids in the room at the time.

5. The 2019 Cycle II NASAiTech finalists were posted on 19 September 2019 at yet NASA STMD and NASA PAO never issued a press release. Why? FYI NASA regularly issues releases for SBIR and STTR awardees.

NASA PAO: See the answer to question 4. In the case of SBIR/STTR selections, NASA awards contracts to those companies.

NASAWatch follow up: you are just deliberately burying your own good news.

6. In the 2019 Cycle II posting is says "finalists in this release it says "NASA has selected 10 competition finalists to present their ideas Oct. 7-8 at the iTech forum in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Chief technologists from various NASA centers and industry will listen to the presentations and meet with participants. NASA judges will then choose three winners of the 2019 NASAiTech Cycle II competition." Did NASA - the government agency - select these companies or did NIA as a NASA grantee select these companies? Or was this a joint effort? Does NASA give out these awards as official agency awards or does NIA as a NASA grantee? Can NASAiTech award winners openly make claims about winning NASA or NASAiTech awards as part of their business and marketing/advertising activities? Can they display the NASAiTech or NASA logos on their websites and promotional materials?

NASA PAO: While both NASA and external experts can ask participants questions during NASA iTech events, only NASA civil servants select the Ignite the Night and Cycle Forum winners. For one 2018 Cycle, NASA partnered with the Department of Energy, in which case both government agencies made the final selections and recognitions.

The National Institute of Aerospace delivers submissions to NASA for Ignite the Night and Forum participants that go on to be reviewed by NASA center chief technologists.

Companies who participate in NASA iTech can issue factual statements related to the event/Forum and the results. They cannot use the official NASA logo and are provided guidelines on how they may use the iTech identifier.

NASAWatch follow up: why are the rules for selection not made public?

7. How much is NIA paid to conduct its responsibilities with regard to NASAiTech? Does NIA make the decisions on which companies are selected for NASA iTech awards and participation by itself or do NASA civil servants participate? Are the rules for these selections by NASA/representing NASA published anywhere?

NASA PAO: The NASA iTech effort is managed by the National Institute of Aerospace through an existing cooperative agreement. NASA spends approximately $700k annually in support of NASA iTech. See question 6 regarding NASA and NIA's role in the selection process. The selection criteria are not published anywhere at this time.

NASAWatch follow up: (again) why are the rules for selection not made public? Are they actually written down and formalized in a standardprocess? Are they proprietary? Why the lack of transparency?

8. If you go to the NASAiTech website at it says that NASAITech "NASA iTech searches for and identifies advancements in technologies, NOT already funded by NASA, that are solving problems on Earth and have the potential to address existing challenges to enable NASA missions." and "NASA iTech provides a platform for NASA's Center Chief Technologists to vet the start-up companies' technologies for their space application, and volunteer investors and external Subject Matter Experts to vet the technologies for their commercial market viability. The first 50 finalist companies that have participated in the NASA iTech Forums have been able to raise 410+ million in private investment dollars in 2.5 years."

That certainly sounds impressive. Everyone wants NASA technology to find wider value among the public and private sectors. And the $410 million raised in private investments in 2.5 years sounds impressive too. But where do these numbers come from? How do these companies or NASAiTech staff show that NASAiTech was responsible for investors writing checks to these companies - and if so what private research these investments were made in and their connection to NASA technology?

NASA PAO: These investment numbers are self-reported by companies to NASA iTech and treated as proprietary information. There are limits to verifying these numbers and attributing them to participation in NASA iTech. We recognize this statement should be presented with more context.

9. The claim that NASA has caused or inspired or otherwise encouraged private sector companies to invest half a billion dollars into the use or development or furtherance of NASA technology seems to be something that the agency would be making prominent mention of yet I am unaware that NASA has ever done so. Why has NASA not made more prominent mention of NASAiTech and its achievements?

NASA PAO: Please see the answer to the previous question. We're encouraged by the feedback from participants who express their appreciation of and value for NASA iTech and the fact that they can interact with NASA without proposing to an agency solicitation right away.

There have been success stories in which NASA iTech participants have gone on to propose to and win SBIR awards and test their technologies at NASA centers. Successes that highlight how STMD programs work together are something NASA could highlight more going forward. In addition to exposing NASA to commercial innovations, iTech educates entrepreneurs about other NASA opportunities. This element of iTech is key to its role within STMD.

NASAWatch follow up: In other words NASA simply accepts whatever numbers are given to them without doing any due diligence to verify their veracity and that the numbers given are referring to the same things for every company who submits them 9apples to apples)? NASA simply repeats them to the public as if they are verified and true when in fact NASA does not really know if they are true?

10. If you use the search engine to look for "NASAiTech" no search results are returned. Why is a program that can generate this much private sector interest not findable on the agency's own website search engine?

NASA PAO: The search function does come up with results when you add a space between "NASA" and "iTech:" Searching only "iTech" also works:

NASAWatch follow up: NASAiTech - one word - is often used by NASA. Someone needs to tweak the database and search parameters.

11. Is there any formal interface between NASAiTech and the various ISS commercialization efforts, NASA's flight opportunities flight program, or the public/private partnerships NASA seeks to develop for the Artemis program? If so where can I find that information?

NASA PAO: No, but every NASA iTech event informs participants about other agency opportunities. The participants interact with NASA center chief technologists at iTech events and gain an understanding about NASA's programmatic and technical priorities.

NASAWatch follow up: this probably the most baffling response. The Administrator of NASA regularly talks about commercial partners, joint endeavors, the commercialization of LEO, spinoffs, benefits, etc. yet an activity overtly designed by STMD to seed NASA tech into the private sector does not even bother to check what the agency itself is actually doing in this regard? This sounds like a critical flaw in the overall execution plan for this whole NASAiTech thing.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on February 4, 2020 4:13 PM.

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