Texas A&M University signed an agreement with NASA's Johnson Space Center last month, and the American Center for Manufacturing and Innovation signed a similar agreement a few weeks later. Photo via nasa.gov

NASA and the American Center for Manufacturing and Innovation signed an agreement Thursday, Feb. 29 to lease underutilized land in a 240-acre Exploration Park at the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The deal comes after a similar lease with the Texas A&M University System.

ACMI will enable the development of facilities to enable commercial and defense space manufacturing, while A&M reports that it will develop a facility for human spaceflight research and development.

These two public/private lease agreements allow industry and academia to use NASA Johnson land to create facilities for a collaborative development environment that increases commercial access and enhances the United States' commercial competitiveness in the space and aerospace industries.

“For more than 60 years, NASA Johnson has been the hub of human spaceflight,” NASA Johnson Director Vanessa Wyche says in a news release. “Exploration Park will be the next spoke in the larger wheel of a robust and durable space economy that will benefit not only exploration of the Moon, Mars and the asteroids, but all of humanity as the benefits of space exploration research roll home to Earth.”

Calling it the Space Systems Campus, ACMI plans to incorporate an applied research facility partnered with multiple stakeholders across academia, state and local government, the Department of Defense and regional economic development organizations.

"This Space Systems Campus will be a significant component within our objectives for a robust and durable space economy that will benefit not only the nation's efforts to explore the Moon, Mars and the asteroids, but all of humanity as the benefits of space exploration research roll home to Earth," Wyche says of the ACMI deal.

As the home of Mission Control Center for the agency's human space missions, astronaut training, robotics, human health and space medicine, NASA Johnson leads the way for the human exploration. Leveraging this unique role and location, Exploration Park will play a key role in helping the human spaceflight community attain U.S. goals for the commercialization and development of a robust space economy by creating an infrastructure that fosters a multi-use environment where academic researchers, aerospace companies and entrepreneurs can collaborate with NASA. Exploration Park will create an infrastructure that allows for a multi-use space hardware development environment, where academic researchers, aerospace companies and entrepreneurs can collaborate on space exploration's greatest challenges.

"ACMI Properties will develop this Campus to serve the needs of our future tenants, aerospace industry, the Department of Defense and other significant stakeholders that comprise our ecosystem approach," said Simon Shewmaker, head of development for ACMI Properties. "Our aim is to support human spaceflight missions for the next 40 years and beyond."

NASA issued an announcement for proposals for use of the undeveloped and underutilized land near Saturn Lane on June 9, 2023, and has just completed negotiations with ACMI to formalize the lease agreement. The parcel is outside of Johnson's controlled access area and adjacent to its main campus. NASA will lease the land for 20 years with two 20-year extension options, for a potential of up to 60 years.

In the coming years, NASA and its academic, commercial, and international partners will see the completion of the International Space Station Program, the commercial development of low Earth orbit, and the first human Artemis campaign missions establishing sustainable human presence on the Moon in preparation for human missions to Mars.

Johnson already is leading the commercialization of space with the commercial cargo and crew programs and private astronaut missions to the space station. The center also is supporting the development of commercial space stations in low Earth orbit, and lunar-capable commercial spacesuits and lunar landers that will be provided as services to both NASA and the private sector to accelerate human access to space. Through the development of Exploration Park, the center will broaden the scope of the human spaceflight community that is tackling the many difficult challenges ahead.

Emily Nelson is the new chief flight director for NASA. Photo via NASA.org

NASA names new chief flight director to work out of Houston's Johnson Space Center

ground control

The Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston has a new chief flight director.

In her new role, Emily Nelson leads the group that directs human spaceflight missions. She succeeds Amarillo native Holly Ridings, who held the job from 2018 to 2022. Ridings now is a leader of NASA’s Gateway Program, which is working to establish the first space station that orbits the moon.

“Emily’s tenure leading our flight control teams has proven that she is remarkably knowledgeable on the realities of human spaceflight and eminently composed when facing daunting challenges,” Norm Knight, NASA’s director of flight operations, says in a news release. “She is unequivocally the right person to lead our flight director office as we endeavor to push the boundaries of human spaceflight exploration.”

Nelson manages 31 flight directors and directors-in-training who oversee a human spaceflight missions involving the International Space Station and Artemis missions to the moon.

Nelson, born in Okinawa, Japan, and raised in Austin, earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in 1998. She joined NASA in 1998 as a flight controller in the space station’s thermal operations group.

She became a flight director in 2007. Since then, she has served as lead flight director for several missions, including the station’s fourth utilization and logistics flight with the space shuttle Atlantis in 2010 and a series of spacewalks to repair the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. She had been NASA’s deputy chief flight director before being named acting chief flight director following Ridings’ departure.

In 2018, Nelson completed a record-breaking 735th shift as a flight director at Mission Control.

The human body undergoes specific challenges in space. A new film from TRISH explains the unique phenomenon and how research is helping to improve human life in space. Photo courtesy of NASA

Houston-based organization premieres space health tech documentary

watch now

A Houston space health organization has launched a film that is available to anyone interested in how space affects the human body.

The Translational Research Institute for Space Health, or TRISH, which is housed out of Baylor College of Medicine in consortium with Caltech and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, announced a new documentary — “Space Health: Surviving in the Final Frontier.” The film, which covers how space affects humans both physically and mentally. It's free to watch online.

“This documentary provides an unprecedented look into the challenges – physical and mental – facing space explorers and the types of innovative research that TRISH supports to address these challenges,” says Dr. Dorit Donoviel, TRISH executive director and associate professor in Baylor’s Center for Space Medicine, in a news release. “We hope the film inspires students and researchers alike to see how their work could one day soon improve the lives of human explorers.”

The documentary interviews a wide range of experts — scientists, flight surgeons, astronauts, etc. — about all topics related to health, like food, medicine, radiation, isolation, and more. Some names you'll see on the screen include:

  • Former NASA astronaut Nicole Stott
  • Active NASA astronaut Victor Glover
  • NASA Associate Administrator Kathy Lueders
  • Inspiration4 Commander Jared Issacman
  • TRISH-funded researchers Level Ex CEO Sam Glassenberg and Holobiome CEO Philip Strandwitz

“Understanding and solving the challenges that face humans in space is critical work,” says Dr. Jennifer Fogarty, TRISH chief scientific officer, in the release. “Not only does space health research aim to unlock new realms of possibility for human space exploration, but it also furthers our ability to innovate on earth, providing insights for healthcare at home.”

TRISH is funded by NASA’s Human Research Program and seeks both early stage and translation-ready research and technology to protect and improve the health and performance of space explorers. This film was enabled by a collaboration with NASA and HRP.

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

NASA names new female exec to human spaceflight program

ready for take off

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.

NASA is now hiring. Photo via nasa.gov

NASA is hiring flight directors at Houston's Johnson Space Center

mission control

NASA has put out the virtual "now hiring" sign at Johnson Space Center. United States citizens have until Thursday, September 10, to apply for the position of flight director.

Now that American astronauts are once again launching off from American soil, NASA is amping up its flight director staff, according to a news release. Applications are open online for the flight director position, which oversees flights to the International Space Station from mission control at JSC.

"NASA flight directors need a unique mixture of confidence and humility, innovation and organization," says Holly Ridings, chief flight director at JSC, in the release. "The situations you have to deal with are occasionally very tough, and the stakes are always very high. But if you are able to handle that responsibility, there is nothing like knowing that you played a key role in the historic work that NASA does on a day-to-day basis."

Flight director candidates must be U.S. citizens and have a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science, computer science, or mathematics, per the release. Additionally, they also will need related experience — more details are available online.

The selected flight director hires will be announced later in the fall, and then will begin extensive training with NASA.

This summer, NASA and SpaceX's launch of astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley market the first American liftoff in nearly a decade.

Following the mission, NASA named its new human spaceflight director, Kathy Lueders. In that announcement, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine alluded to the missions that are in the works for human spaceflight.

"We have our sights set on the Moon and even deeper into space, and Kathy is going to help lead us there," Bridenstine said.

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Houston cardiac health startup raises $43 million series B to grow AI-backed platform

money moves

A Houston-based tech company that has a product line of software solutions for cardiac health has raised funding.

Octagos Health, the parent company of Atlas AI — a software platform for cardiac devices like pacemakers, defibrillators, ambulatory monitors and consumer wearables — has announced a $43 million series B raise that will bring their technology to many more hearts.

Morgan Stanley Investment Capital led the investment, which also included funds from Mucker Capital and other continuing strategic investors. The goal of the raise is to supply funds to accelerate Atlas AI’s growth across the United States and to expand into other areas of care, including ambulatory monitors, consumer wearables, and sleep.

"This investment will enable us to accelerate enhancements to our platform, in addition to scaling our commercial team and operations. We are currently the only company that helps cardiology practices migrate their historical data from legacy software providers and fully integrates with any EHR (exertion heart rate) system. We do this while enabling customized reporting supported by patient and practice decision-support analytics," says Eric Olsen, COO of Octagos Health, in a press release.

Octagos Health was founded by a team of healthcare pros including CEO Shanti Bansal, a cardiologist and founder of Houston Heart Rhythm, an atrial fibrillation center. The goal was to find a new way to deal with the massive amount of data that clinicians encounter each day in a way that combines software and the work of human doctors.

According to the Octagos Health website, “Our solution allows clinicians to focus on other ways of delivering meaningful healthcare and more efficiently manage their remotely monitored patients.”

It works thanks to customizable reporting features that allow patients’ healthcare teams to get help while monitoring them, but to do it precisely as they would if they were crunching numbers themselves.

"We are excited to partner with Octagos Health and support their vision of transforming cardiac care," says Melissa Daniels, managing director of Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital. "Octagos Health has demonstrated exceptional growth and innovation in a critical area of healthcare. We believe their platform and vertically integrated software and services significantly improve patient care and streamline cardiac monitoring processes for healthcare providers."

Will Hsu, co-founder and partner of Mucker Capital, agrees. “Octagos Health is poised for scale – industry leading gross margins, a very sticky product that doctors and clinical staff love, and a market ready for disruption with artificial intelligence. This is the new wave for diagnostic care,” he says. And with this raise, it will be available to even more clinicians and patients across the country.

Houston biotech company expands leadership as it commercializes sustainable products

joining the team

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita recently tapped two executives to help commercialize its sustainable fuel made from carbon waste.

Nádia Skorupa Parachin came aboard as vice president of industrial biotechnology, and Phil Garcia was promoted to vice president of commercialization.

Parachin most recently oversaw several projects at Boston-based biotech company Ginkjo Bioworks. She previously co-founded Brazilian biotech startup Integra Bioprocessos.

Parachin will lead the Cemvita team that’s developing technology for production of bio-manufactured oil.

“It’s a fantastic moment, as we’re poised to take our prototyping to the next level, and all under the innovative direction of our co-founder Tara Karimi,” Parachin says in a news release. “We will be bringing something truly remarkable to market and ensuring it’s cost-effective.”

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita, says the hiring of Parachin represents “the natural next step” toward commercializing the startup’s carbon-to-oil process.

“Her background prepared her to bring the best out of the scientists at the inflection point of commercialization — really bringing things to life,” says Moji Karimi, Tara’s brother.

Parachin joins Garcia on Cemvita’s executive team.

Before being promoted to vice president of commercialization, Garcia was the startup’s commercial director and business development manager. He has a background in engineering and business development.

Founded in 2017, Cemvita recently announced a breakthrough that enables production of large quantities of oil derived from carbon waste.

In 2023, United Airlines agreed to buy up to one billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Cemvita’s first full-scale plant over the course of 20 years.

Cemvita’s investors include the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment arm of Chicago-based United; Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum; and Japanese equipment and machinery manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a logistics startup founder, a marketing expert, and a solar energy innovator.

Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager Portal

Houston logistics SaaS innovator is making waves with its expanded maritime shipping platform. Photo courtesy of Voyager

For several years now, Matthew Costello has been navigating the maritime shipping industry looking for problems to solve for customers with his company, Voyager Portal.

Initially, that meant designing a software platform to enhance communications and organization of the many massive and intricate global shipments happening every day. Founded in 2018 by Costello and COO Bret Smart, Voyager Portal became a integral tool for the industry that helps users manage the full lifecycle of their voyages — from planning to delivery.

"The software landscape has changed tremendously in the maritime space. Back in 2018, we were one of a small handful of technology startups in this space," Costello, who serves as CEO of Voyager, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now that's changed. ... There's really a huge wave of innovation happening in maritime right now." Read more.

Arielle Rogg, principal and founder of Rogg Enterprises

Arielle Rogg writes in a guest column for InnovationMap about AI in the workforce. Photo via LinkedIn

Arielle Rogg isn't worried about artificial intelligence coming for her job. In fact, she has three reasons why, and she outlines them in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"The advent of AI pushes us humans to acquire new skills and hone our existing abilities so we can work alongside these evolving technologies in a collaborative fashion. AI augments human capabilities rather than replacing us. I believe it will help our society embrace lifelong learning, creating new industries and jobs that have never existed before," she writes in the piece. Read more.

Nathan Childress, founder of Solar Slice

Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. Photo via LinkedIn

Nuclear engineer and entrepreneur Nathan Childress wants consumers to capture their own ray of sunlight to brighten the prospect of making clean energy a bigger part of the power grid. That's why he founded Solar Slice. The new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet.

Although trained in nuclear power plant design, solar power drew his interest as a cheaper and more accessible alternative, and Childress tells InnovationMap that he thinks that the transition to cleaner energy, in Texas especially, needs to step up.

Recent studies show that 80 to 90 percent of the money invested into fighting climate change “aren’t going to things that people actually consider helpful,” Childress says, adding that “they’re more just projects that sound good, that are not actually taking any action." Read more.