ready for take off

NASA names new female exec to human spaceflight program

Orion — NASA's program that will take astronauts to the moon by 2024 — has a new leader. Photo courtesy of NASA

NASA is preparing to return to the moon by 2024 — and the organization just tapped the woman who will lead the program.

Catherine Koerner was announced last week as the manager of NASA's Orion Program, the spacecraft that will be used for the moon-bound Artemis missions. According to a press release, Koerner's position was effective Tuesday, September 8, and will be based at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

"I'm honored to be selected as the Orion Program Manager. Orion is a key element of the agency's Artemis infrastructure, and I look forward to leading the team responsible for developing and building America's deep space human spacecraft," Koerner says in the release. "Next year we'll be launching the Artemis I test flight — a major milestone — and the first of the Artemis mission series on our way to putting the first woman and the next man on the Moon."

Catherine Koerner is leading the Orion Program from Houston's Johnson Space Center. Photo courtesy of NASA

Prior to this position, Koerner led the Human Health and Performance Directorate team at Johnson, and she's also served as flight director, space shuttle manager for the Missions Operations Directorate, deputy manager of the Vehicle Office and manager of the Transportation Integration Office for the International Space Station Program, per the release.

In her new role, Koerner will be oversee design, development, and testing for the Orion spacecraft and any other ongoing projects within the program.

"Cathy brings to Orion a diverse background in engineering and human health, two key components for the Artemis program that will see the spacecraft send our astronauts to the Moon, ushering in a sustainable presence on the lunar surface," says Kathy Lueders, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration and operations, in the release. "Working with our partners, her leadership will guide the program to achievements that will inspire and benefit humanity."

Lueders was recently named to her position in June, and both these appointments are a part of NASA's plans to scale its human spaceflight team. NASA also just called for recruitment in Mission Control at JSC.

"Cathy brings 30 years of human spaceflight experience to the challenging task of managing the Orion program," says JSC Director Mark Geyer in the release. "I am confident she will lead Orion into flight and into a sustainable future."



Koerner succeeds Mark Kirasich, who is currently leading NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems Division in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. Howard Hu, who was acting Orion program manager, will serve as Orion deputy program manager.

Orion, the Space Launch System (SLS), and Exploration Ground Systems programs are foundational elements of NASA's Artemis program. Artemis I will be the first integrated flight test of Orion and the SLS next year. Artemis II will follow as the first human mission, taking astronauts farther into space than ever before. On Artemis III, astronauts will set foot on the Moon by 2024.

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A new AI-optimized COVID screening device, a free response resource, and more — here's your latest roundup of research news. Image via Getty Images

Researchers across the Houston area are working on COVID-19 innovations every day, and scientists are constantly finding new ways this disease is affecting humankind.

From a COVID breathalyzer to a new collaboration in Houston — here's your latest roundup of local coronavirus research news.

A&M System to collaborate on a COVID-19 breathalyzer

A prototype of the device will be used on the Texas A&M campus. Photo via tamu.edu

Researchers at Texas A&M University System are collaborating on a new device that uses artificial intelligence in a breathalyzer situation to detect whether individuals should be tested for COVID-19. The technology is being developed through a collaboration with Dallas-based company, Worlds Inc., and the U.S. Air Force.

The device is called Worlds Protect and a patient can use a disposable straw to blow into a copper inlet. In less than a minute, test results can be sent to the person's smartphone. Worlds Inc. co-founders Dave Copps and Chris Rohde envision Worlds Protect kiosks outside of highly populated areas to act as a screening process, according to a news release.

"People can walk up and, literally, just breathe into the device," says Rohde, president of Worlds Inc., in the release. "It's completely noninvasive. There's no amount of touching. And you quickly get a result. You get a yay or nay."

The university system has contributed $1 million in the project's development and is assisting Worlds Inc. with engineering and design, prototype building and the mapping of a commercial manufacturing process. According to the release, the plan was to test the prototypes will be tried out this fall on the Texas A&M campus.

"Getting tech innovations to market is one of our sweet spots," says John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M System, in the release. "This breakthrough could have lasting impact on global public health."

Baylor College of Medicine researchers to determine cyclosporine’s role in treating hospitalized COVID-19 patients

BCM researchers are looking into the treatment effect of an existing drug on COVID-19 patients. Photo via BCM.edu

The Baylor College of Medicine has launched a randomized clinical trial to look into how the drug cyclosporine effects the prevention of disease progression in pre-ICU hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The drug has been used for about 40 years to prevent rejection of organ transplants and to treat patients with rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.

"The rationale is strong because the drug has a good safety profile, is expected to target the body's hyperimmune response to COVID and has been shown to directly inhibit human coronaviruses in the lab," says Dr. Bryan Burt, chief of thoracic surgery in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery at Baylor, says in a press release.

Burt initiated this trial and BCM is the primary site for the study, with some collaboration with Brigham and Women's. The hypothesis is that the drug will help prevent the cytokine storm that patients with COVID-19 experience that causes their health to decline rapidly, according to the release.

The study, which is funded by Novartis, plans to enroll 75 hospitalized COVID-19 patients at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center who are not in the ICU. There will be an initial evaluation at six months but Burt expects to have the final study results in one year.

Rice launches expert group to help guide pandemic response

A new response team is emerging out of a collaboration led by Rice University. Photo courtesy of Rice

Rice University is collaborating with other Houston institutions to create the Biomedical Expert Panel, supported by Texas Policy Lab, to assist officials in long-term pandemic recovery.

"Not all agencies and decision-makers have an in-house epidemiologist or easy access to leaders in infectious disease, immunology and health communications," says Stephen Spann, chair of the panel and founding dean of the University of Houston College of Medicine, in a news release. "This panel is about equity. We must break out of our knowledge siloes and face this challenge together, with a commitment to inclusivity and openness."

The purpose of the panel is to be available as a free resource to health departments, social service agencies, school districts and other policymakers. The experts will help design efficient public health surveillance plans, advise on increasing testing capacity and access for underserved communities, and more.

"The precise trajectory of the local epidemic is difficult to predict, but we know that COVID-19 will continue to be a long-term challenge," says E. Susan Amirian, an epidemiologist who leads the TPL's health program, in the release. "Although CDC guidelines offer a good foundation, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when managing a crisis of this magnitude across diverse communities with urgent needs."

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