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NASA Works to Diversify Space
NASA Works to Diversify Space
Awards $18 Million for Research at Minority Serving Institutions

NASA is working with Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) across the United States to bring historically underrepresented groups to space. Through the agency’s Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP), a program administered under the Office of STEM Engagement, it will allocate about $18 million in funding to an array of MSIs, primarily universities, through competitive awards designed to cultivate untapped talent and provide pathways to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields for African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, women, persons with disabilities and others.

NASA’s goal is not only to diversify its own workforce and give minority institutions a leg up in the space industry but to spur research on its own strategic priorities as well.

MUREP’s funds will offer opportunities for MSIs to participate in humanity’s next mission to the Moon, help study global ocean health and develop their own STEM research capacities.

NASA Works to Diversify Space
Mike Kincaid

“NASA thrives on big goals and monumental challenges, and these demand the brightest minds from the broadest variety of backgrounds and experiences,” said Mike Kincaid, NASA’s associate administrator of STEM Engagement at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We’re reaching out to historically underrepresented and underserved communities and creating as many avenues as we can to bring them on board, whether it’s through awards such as these, NASA internships and fellowships, or other engagements.”

In June, NASA introduced Mission Equity, a new effort to assess the agency’s programs, procurements, grants, and more as an effort to remove systemic barriers and challenges facing underserved and underrepresented communities. Of its nearly 17,000 employees, 72% are white or Caucasian, 12% are black or African American, 8% are Hispanic or Latino, 7% are Asian American or Pacific Islander, 1% are American Indian or Alaska Native and less than 1% are more than one race.

On July 14, NASA awarded nearly $3.5 million in cooperative agreements to seven MSIs to support the Artemis program, which aims to send the first woman and person of color to the Moon by 2024 and, after that, to Mars. The MUREP Space Technology Artemis Research (M-STAR) financial awards, which build on M-STAR planning grants awarded in August 2020, were created to promote STEM literacy and boost MSIs’ capabilities to compete in agency research

NASA Works to Diversify Space
Jim Reuter

“Diversity is a key component of technology development,” said Jim Reuter, NASA associate administrator for space technology. “By investing in and working with MSIs that recruit and support communities traditionally underrepresented in STEM, the agency is accessing and utilizing new perspectives, skillsets, and solutions.”

On June 21, NASA awarded 10 MSIs over $6.6 million to study global ocean health, specifically the impact of climate change on aquatic biology and ecosystems. MUREP created the Ocean Biology and Biogeochemistry (OCEAN) award in search of proposals that would either develop remote sensing capabilities to analyze the impacts and/or vulnerability of aquatic ecosystems due to changing climate or improve understanding of carbon cycle processes and feedbacks in critical aquatic zones that are particularly vulnerable to environmental changes.

NASA Works to Diversify Space
Jack Kaye

“We’re excited about this partnership,” said Jack Kaye, associate director for research in NASA’s Earth Science Division. “MUREP OCEAN will further capacity at MSIs and expand the investigator community that is addressing the relationship between climate and ocean biology and biogeochemistry. The selected investigations add geographic and topic diversity to our program and will help create new opportunities for students and faculty to engage in our research for years to come.”

The next chunk of MUREP funding, totaling nearly $7.2 million, went to six MSIs on July 21 with the purpose of determining which methods are most effective at bringing diverse students into engineering research, expanding existing programs that are already successful, and exploring innovative approaches to fill in identified gaps. The agency’s goal is to increase the participation of underrepresented minorities in STEM fields by 2026.

More than $540,000 were also dished out in planning grants this month to help small businesses collaborate with research institutions to develop their technological capabilities, build teams and compete for federal research and development opportunities.

NASA Works to Diversify Space
Torry Johnson

“MSIs bring their own, diverse viewpoint to answering the research questions NASA continues to seek,” said MUREP manager Torry Johnson. “By broadening participation, MUREP looks to expand the pool of institutions that engage in these critical science and technological discussions while at the same time introducing potential candidates that will aid in reimagining the future STEM workforce.”

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