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Madhulika Guhathakurta, NASA

The recent advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities are particularly relevant to NASA science and exploration goals because there is growing evidence that AI techniques can improve our ability to model, understand and predict our environment using the petabytes of data already within NASA archives. In particular this represents a strategic opportunity in Heliophysics, since the need to improve our understanding of space weather is not only mandated by directives such as the National Space Weather Action Plan and the Presidential Executive Order for Coordinating Efforts to Prepare the Nation for Space Weather Events, but also because space weather is a critical consideration for astronaut safety as NASA moves forward leave LEO and return to the Moon. I will briefly discuss NASA Science Mission Directorate’s (SMD) Strategy for Data Management and Computing for Groundbreaking Science 2019-2024, prepared by the NASA Strategic Data Management Working Group (SDMWG) which recommends that SMD encourage its science divisions to explore novel computational techniques, including those encompassed by artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) and steps being taken.

I will also talk about the Frontier Development Lab (FDL) which is an AI research accelerator that was established in 2016 to apply emerging AI technologies to space science challenges which are central to NASA's mission priorities and provide some examples. FDL is a partnership between NASA Ames Research Center and the SETI Institute, with corporate sponsors that include IBM, Intel, NVidia, Google, Lockheed, Autodesk, Xprize, Space Resources Luxembourg, as well as USC and other organizations.  The goal of FDL is to apply leading edge Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) tools to space challenges that impact space exploration and development, and even humanity. Five prior FDL sessions have demonstrated that meaningful progress could be industrialized by bringing together individuals at the PhD and Post Doc level as well as members from industry together to work on connected, but adjacent problems in a shared space mentored by senior scientists with a deep knowledge of the problems. FDL uses sprint methodologies for faster results, uses interdisciplinary teams for better results, and public-private partnerships to lower costs. FDL results will be shared that demonstrate the power of bridging research disciplines and the potential that AI/ML has for supporting research goals, improving on current methodologies, enabling new discovery and doing so in accelerated timeframes.

For the past two decades, Dr. Guhathakurta has enabled the development of Heliophysics as an integrated scientific discipline from which fundamental discoveries about our universe provide direct societal benefits. As the Lead for the Living With a Star (LWS) program for 16 years since its initiation in 2000 she made possible the flagship missions (e.g. the Solar Dynamics Observatory, Van Allen Probes, Solar Orbiter Collaboration with European Space Agency and Parker Solar Probe), many other missions, including STEREO that would revolutionize our understanding of how the Sun shapes space weather in the solar system.

To accelerate innovation and scientific discovery she created funding mechanisms to shepherd traditional domain scientists out of their comfort zones to create LWS system science known as the Targeted Research & Technology program and Focused Science Teams that foster competitive, yet collaborative environments that promote the crosspollination of science ideas and technology. To nurture the next generation of leaders in Heliophysics, she created the Jack Eddy Fellowship Program which has become an important channel for the professional growth of promising researchers. Since 2017, she has championed the growth of FDL, both in terms of the breadth of problem areas tackled as well as in the number of agency and industry partners. The types of innovative solutions include virtual telescopes, data fusion, edge computing, and autonomy and this approach will have an enduring imprint on the way science and exploration is carried out by future generations. Presently she is back at NASA HQ where she is a program scientist and also splitting her time as a Senior Advisor for New Initiatives at the Heliophysics Division, GSFC.