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Q&A: The World’s First Science Park in Space With Jeffrey Manber

Given the increasing maturity of the LEO ecosystem Nanoracks is ready to take the next step in driving LEO utilization operations. After intensive investigation and discussion with industry experts, Nanoracks is delighted to announce that the company’s collection of hardware on the International Space Station will henceforth be operated as a Science Park. A Science Park is a well-known business model that brings together companies and organizations in a shared endeavor.

Nanoracks is thrilled to announce that the Science Park will be named for the great American agriculture scientist, Dr. George Washington Carver.

Please enjoy this Q&A with Jeffrey Manber on why Nanoracks chose to organize as a Science Park, the meaning behind the name, and what this means for the future of commercial in-space research.

 

Q: Why a Science Park?

A: For the past several years Nanoracks has extensively researched and documented how Science Parks create value for their members and foster an environment in which business operations and research thrive. It is a known model which provides a pathway from research to the marketplace.

We benefited greatly by talking with officials, and becoming a member of, the International Association of Science Parks (IASP).

As defined by IASP, a science park is an organization managed by specialized professionals, whose main aim is to increase the wealth of its community by promoting the culture of innovation and the competitiveness of its associated businesses and knowledge-based institutions. Science Parks stimulate and manage the flow of knowledge and technology amongst universities, R&D institutions, companies, and markets; they facilitate the creation and growth of innovation-based companies through incubation and spin-off processes; and provide other value-added services together with high quality space and facilities.

The IASP brings together science parks from Iceland to Dulles, Virginia, from UAE to Ann Arbor Michigan.

Nanoracks could not imagine a more aligned mission. The GWC Science Park will conduct operations based on our lessons learned from over a decade on the ISS, combining them with the wisdom of seasoned science park operators, to create a seamless experience for all our customers aboard the ISS. Taken together, we will begin developing the systems, procedures, and metrics to facilitate additional capital, allow a more sophisticated dialog with NASA and CASIS, and ultimately, prepare for the coming era of commercial space stations.

Under the organizing entity of the GWC, Nanoracks will achieve greater commercial sustainability and a clearer organizational focus on space station utilization. A science park is a well-known terrestrial business model that brings together companies and organizations. Together, under one roof, there may be researchers working on grant-funded basic research and those undertaking commercial and applied activities such as high-speed computing for genetic research. Working near one another’s research both on the Earth and in space, and adhering to science park principals and metrics, as organized by the GWC, these scientists will have the opportunity to inform and inspire each other’s work.

 

Q: What services and hardware comprise the GWC Science Park?

A: The GWC Science Park offers a broad range of research activities and services. Starting with the smallest hardware, scientists can perform research on our MixStix hardware, graduating to more advanced research within the Nanolabs or our Science Box, all within the short sleeve environment inside the Station. Outside the ISS in the vacuum of space, researchers and businesses use our External Platform. The Science Park will also accommodate those wishing to deploy CubeSats from the Space Station for educational, research and technology demonstration purposes. The anchor of the Science Park is the Bishop Airlock, which permanently docked to the ISS in December 2020. Via the Airlock, a range of scaled-up research applications and commercial services are possible.

All told, the GWC Science Park will continue the extraordinary history of Nanoracks, which has conducted over 1,300 experiments on and inside the ISS and deployed nearly 300 satellites. Our customers range from space agencies to high schools, from established companies to start-ups, from all around the United States and 30 countries.

Nanoracks’ Mission Control Room, the “Bridge”, and a broad range of on mission-enabling ground services offered as part of the payload flight experience, make up a key part of the infrastructure enabling customers’ research.

 

Q: How does the Science Park change Nanoracks’ working relationships with NASA, CASIS, and commercial customers?

There is no change to Nanoracks relationship with NASA, as we are guided by multiple established Space Act Agreements. Nanoracks and CASIS, the NGO which operates the US National Lab on the ISS, have a strong and close relationship coordinating Nanoracks’ payloads, crew time and other ISS resources which will be maintained in the service of all future customers.

The primary change will be for Nanoracks’ customers, both the researchers and for R&D executives, putting ISS activities closer to a known research model. We’re streamlining procedures and providing access to a global network.  

 

Q: Why is it named for George Washington Carver?

My father, a writer, landed an assignment to write a book about George Washington Carver. Even though I was young, I clearly remember him on the phone interviewing people, taking trips and then sitting at the typewriter writing his manuscript. At dinner, I remember stories about this remarkable man, born into slavery, who pursued his dream of agricultural research. Dr. Carver became the first Black man to earn a Bachelor of Science, and is credited with saving the Southern rural economy by introducing the peanut and soybean into the ecosystem after the fall of cotton production in post-Civil War America. Importantly, Dr. Carver is also credited with introducing the important concept of crop rotation. “Carver learned that years of growing cotton had depleted the nutrients from soil, resulting in low yields. But by growing nitrogen-fixing plants like peanuts, soybeans and sweet potatoes, the soil could be restored, allowing yield to increase dramatically when the land was reverted to cotton use a few years later In all, Dr. Carver developed more than 300 food, industrial and commercial products from peanuts, including milk, Worcestershire sauce, cooking oils and salad oil, paper, cosmetics, soaps and wood stains. He also experimented with peanut-based medicines, such as antiseptics, laxatives and goiter medications. Many of these discoveries remained as curiosities, with widespread applications to come by predecessors.”

In thinking about naming the Science Park, and as we began our efforts to undertake AgTech research in the space environment three years ago, I immediately thought of Carver. I pulled down a copy of the book and was, honestly, blown away by the opening and closing pages. Allow me to share with you words from Wizard of Tuskegee, the Life of George Washington Carver:

 

 “The noise is awesome and the excitement is electric as the huge slender rocket rises majestically to meet its destiny in outer space. It is a dramatic moment for mankind; a triumph for science. Yet the irony remains: in his bold leap to the stars, man must rely on synthetic substances whose origins can be traced to the humble farm. The truth is that synthetics play an important role in space flights, as well as in our daily lives. We have learned to accept synthetics as blandly as we now accept space satellites, miracle drugs and television. This was not always the case…rocket flight would have made the old Planet Doctor smile in delight. As the silver rocket roared into limitless space, a product of synthetics, he might well have marveled at how far we have come, reaching for the stars with the help of his plants.”1

 

I had truly forgotten that my father had weaved together the AgTech research of Dr. Carver with that of the new Space Age. How much did this influence me as a young teenager? Whatever the answer, it made the decision to name the world’s first in-space science park after this great scientist an easy one. This is a powerful way for our community to honor and continue Dr. Carver’s research.

And as always with Nanoracks, the GWC Science Park will emphasize space education and engaging students across the world in the wonders of space research and exploration.With a name as powerful as George Washington Carver’s,  we must, and will, meet the challenge of focusing on equitable and inclusive access to the next generation. We are always open to new ideas and creative solutions and welcome our community to engage with us along the way.

 

Q: What’s Next?

A: In the coming months we will be announcing a host of new hardware, management, and operational partners to the Science Park. We will assure that this first-ever science park in space is as robust as the scientists, innovators, and dreamers on Earth’s science parks could possibly expect of the best terrestrial science parks.

 

Q: Any Final Thoughts?

A: The common thread of space utilization has always been the stuff of dreams, whether those of a PhD researcher working to produce breakthroughs in materials structures, an industry team fabricating ultra-thin fiber optics, or high-school students designing experiments with their classmates and realizing the wonders present in the absence of gravity. In 2021 we live in a time of transformation and now more than ever need to assure this common thread endures in a manner that inspires and engages the next generation.

The George Washington Carver Science Park, whether on the ISS or future privately-owned space stations, will meet the most exacting industrial demands while serving as the latest spool of thread weaving our common dream of the space frontier together.  

 

 

[1] https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/george-washington-carver

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