Kira Blackwell of NASA iTech Talks Space, Girls in Tech and Startups – Interview

March 16, 2017

3:30 pm

Upon the discovery of seven Earth-size planets and the goal to travel to Mars in 2030, NASA is seeking out new solutions to help them reach new moonshots.

NASA iTech is a collaborative initiative designed to help address gaps in future technologies needed for space exploration. The program looks to industry investors, government agencies, and small businesses to collaborate with the innovators to help them make future spaceflight more cost effective, reliable and safer by using the latest technology.

Kira Blackwell, iTech Program Executive and OCT Innovation Liaison for NASA, helped launch the program in 2016. The first iTech Cycle I Challenge opened with a need in five solution areas including: crew health, propulsion, and more. Winners had the opportunity to present to NASA’s finest in the hopes of working together. The best part of iTech is that NASA doesn’t claim any intellectual property rights for a submitted idea. The three finalists last year were Aequor, Liberty Biosecurity, and InnaMed. InnaMed was actually discovered by NASA at the Tech.Co Startup of the Year competition.

At SXSW, I had the opportunity to talk with Kira about her passion for science, journey to NASA, and how NASA advocates for women in STEM. Kira has a direct message for young girls who have their own moonshot.

“There’s nothing you can’t do. If you want to command a spacecraft, we’ll help you make it,” said Blackwell.

Austin has a city motto of “Keep Austin Weird”. In that spirit I asked Kira about how she keeps it weird and authentic and in doing so stays true to herself.

For the next iTech Cycle 2, NASA is focusing on five key areas: Autonomy, Big Data-Data Mining and Machine Learning, Medical Systems and Operations, Radiation Protection and Mitigation, and X-Factor Innovations or whatever may come up with to help with space travel. Innovators can apply here. 

Read more about space here at Tech.Co

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Tishin is a technology journalist and correspondent. She has written for TechCrunch, Demand Studios and Fitness, and has regular network segments on local Phoenix affiliate stations. She holds a Master's degree in Clinical and Sport psychology, and has covered many areas of technology ranging from 3D printing and game development to neurotech and funding for over 15 years.