Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby (pictured), senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3. Photo via the White House

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Rigby was honored for her work on leading NASA’s transformational space telescope.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release.

Rigby has published 160 peer-reviewed publications. She has been recognized with various awards like NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal, the Fred Kavli Prize Plenary Lecture from the American Astronomical Society (AAS), and the 2022 LGBTQ+ Scientist of the Year from Out to Innovate. Currently, she is an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Part of Rigby’s Medal of Freedom honor is due to her role in the success of NASA’s Webb mission. Webb is considered the most powerful space telescope, which launched on Dec. 25, 2021.

“I am proud Ellen and Jane are recognized for their incredible roles in NASA missions, for sharing the power of science with humanity, and inspiring the Artemis Generation to look to the stars,” says NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in the release. “Among her many accomplishments as a veteran astronaut and leader, Ellen served as the second female director of Johnson, flew in space four times, and logged nearly 1,000 hours in orbit. Jane is one of the many wizards at NASA who work every day to make the impossible possible. The James Webb Space Telescope represents the very best of scientific discovery that will continue to unfold the secrets of our universe. We appreciate Ellen and Jane for their service to NASA, and our country.”

With three weeks left until game time, South by Southwest announced another long list of featured and keynote speakers. Photo via SXSW

SXSW announces even more featured speakers joining the 2023 program

headed to texas

Whether the return of South by Southwest (SXSW) in three weeks is putting butterflies in your tummy or sweat on your brow, we're in the home stretch. The newest announcement — another wave of featured speakers — does not say it's the final round, but time is running out to make adjustments before the start of the festival on March 10.

Previous announcements included keynote addresses from Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert and team members who worked on the James Webb Space Telescope. There have also been two rounds of music showcase announcements, culminating in a list of nearly 500 performances.

The announcement on February 14 is heavy with big names including three entertainers presenting keynotes: actor, producer, and New York Times bestselling author Priyanka Chopra Jonas; Grammy Award-nominated singer-songwriter, producer, and author Margo Price; and Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton.

Two more newly announced keynote sessions come with longer descriptions: Chef José Andrés presents The Stories We Tell Can Change the World, and Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris, and Gillian Gilbert of New Order appear in conversation with The Times rock & pop critic Will Hodgkinson.The former keynote tackles the responsibility of storytellers to address crises around the world, using Andrés' humanitarian group World Central Kitchen as a lens. The latter discusses the discography and history of the history-making band.

“Today's speaker announcement is a fantastic milestone for the 2023 event and spotlights five additional Keynotes and numerous Featured Speakers, including influential icons and up and coming innovators,” said Chief Programming Officer and Co-President Hugh Forrest. “We are extremely proud to have assembled a diverse, comprehensive conference program for SXSW, and we can’t wait to share it with our community in March.”

Organized into 25 programming tracks presented in a variety of session formats, SXSW celebrates the convergence of technology, film, television, and music. Tracks include civic engagement, climate change, design, film and TV, psychedelics, sports, travel, and more.

Just some featured speakers and sessions joining the 2023 lineup include:

  • Chair and CEO of General Motors Mary Barra with CEO, CTO, President, and co-founder of Cruise and co-founder of Twitch Kyle Vogt
  • Actress, philanthropist, entrepreneur, New York Times bestselling author, and co-founder of Hello Bello Kristen Bell, CEO of Hello Bello Erica Buxton, and actor, comedian, filmmaker, host of the podcast Armchair Expert, and co-founder of Hello Bello Dax Shepard
  • Chief Diversity Officer of TBWA\North America Aliah Berman with activist, advocate, author, and founder of the #MeToo Movement Tarana Burke
  • Founder and CEO of Joby Aviation Joe
  • Ben Bevirt with Chief Sustainability Officer at Delta Air Lines Pam Fletcher
  • Chief Digital and Commercial Officer at Unilever Conny Braams, President, Worldwide Advertising at Netflix Jeremi Gorman, founder and CEO of Media
  • Link Michael Kassan, and Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Delta Air Lines Tim Mapes
  • Co-founder and President of OpenAI Greg Brockman with founder and CEO of Dot Dot Dot Media Laurie Segall
  • United States Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm
  • General Partner at Benchmark Bill Gurley with investor, New York Times bestselling author and host of the podcast The Tim Ferriss Show Tim Ferriss
  • The Art of Creating Influence 101 on navigating entertainment careers
  • The Blog Era: Hip-Hop's Wild Wild West on the influence of music bloggers
  • Daddy Issues in Film on fathers in film
  • Dateline 24/7: How the True Crime Powerhouse Became a Podcast Empire on a genre leader
  • Driving Personal Health Forward: The Role of Apple Watch and iPhone on digitally monitoring health at home
  • Evil Dead Rise: Flesh-Possessing Demons Come Home on the new Evil Dead film
  • An Inside Look at “Blindspotting” Season 2 with Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs on the continuation of the series
  • Onyx Collective Presents “UnPrisoned” on a new Hulu series
  • The Kids Are (Not) Alright: Gun Violence Terrorizing Youth of America on activism and justice
  • Leguizamo Does America: Next Stop – Austin on the contributions of U.S. Latinos

For a full lineup and more information on featured sessions, visit SXSW.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston college lands $5M NASA grant to launch new aerospace research center

to infinity and beyond

The University of Houston was one of seven minority-serving institutions to receive a nearly $5 million grant this month to support aerospace research focused on extending human presence on the moon and Mars.

The $4,996,136 grant over five years is funded by the NASA Office of STEM Engagement Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) Institutional Research Opportunity (MIRO) program. It will go toward creating the NASA MIRO Inflatable Deployable Environments and Adaptive Space Systems (IDEAS2) Center at UH, according to a statement from the university.

“The vision of the IDEAS2 Center is to become a premier national innovation hub that propels NASA-centric, state-of-the-art research and promotes 21st-century aerospace education,” Karolos Grigoriadis, Moores Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of aerospace engineering at UH, said in a statement.

Another goal of the grant is to develop the next generation of aerospace professionals.

Graduate, undergraduate and even middle and high school students will conduct research out of IDEAS2 and work closely with the Johnson Space Center, located in the Houston area.

The center will collaborate with Texas A&M University, Houston Community College, San Jacinto College and Stanford University.

Grigoriadis will lead the center. Dimitris Lagoudas, from Texas A&M University, and Olga Bannova, UH's research professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Space Architecture graduate program, will serve as associate directors.

"Our mission is to establish a sustainable nexus of excellence in aerospace engineering research and education supported by targeted multi-institutional collaborations, strategic partnerships and diverse educational initiatives,” Grigoriadis said.

Industrial partners include Boeing, Axiom Space, Bastion Technologies and Lockheed Martin, according to UH.

UH is part of 21 higher-education institutions to receive about $45 million through NASA MUREP grants.

According to NASA, the six other universities to received about $5 million MIRO grants over five years and their projects includes:

  • Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage: Alaska Pacific University Microplastics Research and Education Center
  • California State University in Fullerton: SpaceIgnite Center for Advanced Research-Education in Combustion
  • City University of New York, Hunter College in New York: NASA-Hunter College Center for Advanced Energy Storage for Space
  • Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee: Integrative Space Additive Manufacturing: Opportunities for Workforce-Development in NASA Related Materials Research and Education
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark:AI Powered Solar Eruption Center of Excellence in Research and Education
  • University of Illinois in Chicago: Center for In-Space Manufacturing: Recycling and Regolith Processing

Fourteen other institutions will receive up to $750,000 each over the course of a three-year period. Those include:

  • University of Mississippi
  • University of Alabama in Huntsville
  • Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge
  • West Virginia University in Morgantown
  • University of Puerto Rico in San Juan
  • Desert Research Institute, Reno, Nevada
  • Oklahoma State University in Stillwater
  • Iowa State University in Ames
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks in Fairbanks
  • University of the Virgin Islands in Charlotte Amalie
  • University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu
  • University of Idaho in Moscow
  • University of Arkansas in Little Rock
  • South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City
  • Satellite Datastreams

NASA's MUREP hosted its annual "Space Tank" pitch event at Space Center Houston last month. Teams from across the country — including three Texas teams — pitched business plans based on NASA-originated technology. Click here to learn more about the seven finalists.

Booming Houston suburb, other Texas towns among the fastest-growing U.S. cities in 2023

by the numbers

One Houston suburb experienced one of the most rapid growth spurts in the country last year: Fulshear, whose population grew by 25.6 percent, more than 51 times that of the nation’s growth rate of 0.5 percent. The city's population was 42,616 as of July 1, 2023.

According to U.S. Census Bureau's Vintage 2023 Population Estimates, released Thursday, May 16, Fulshear — which lies west of Katy in northwest Fort Bend County - ranked No. 2 on the list of fastest-growing cities with a population of 20,000 or more. It's no wonder iconic Houston restaurants like Molina's Cantina see opportunities there.

The South still dominates the nation's growth, even as America’s Northeast and Midwest cities are rebounding slightly from years of population drops. The census estimates showed 13 of the 15 fastest-growing cities in the U.S. were in the South — eight in Texas alone.

The Texas cities joining Fulshear on the fastest-growing-cities list are:

  • Celina (No. 1) with 26.6 percent growth (42,616 total population)
  • Princeton (No. 3) with 22.3 percent growth (28,027 total population)
  • Anna (No. 4) with 16.9 percent growth (27,501 total population)
  • Georgetown (No. 8) with 10.6 percent growth (96,312 total population)
  • Prosper (No. 9) with 10.5 percent growth (41,660 total population)
  • Forney (No. 10) with 10.4 percent growth (35,470 total population)
  • Kyle (No. 11) with 9 percent growth (62,548 total population)

Texas trends
San Antonio saw the biggest growth spurt in the United States last year, numbers-wise. The Alamo City added about 22,000 residents. San Antonio now has nearly 1.5 million people, making it the the seventh largest city in the U.S. and second largest in Texas.

Its population boom was followed by those of other Southern cities, including Fort Worth; Charlotte, North Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; and Port St. Lucie, Florida.

Fast-growing Fort Worth (978,000) surpassed San Jose, California (970,000) to become the 12th most populous city in the country.

Meanwhile, population slowed in the Austin area. Jacksonville, Florida (986,000), outpaced Austin (980,000), pushing the Texas capital to 11th largest city in the U.S. (barely ahead of Fort Worth).

Population growth in Georgetown, outside Austin, slowed by more than one-fourth its population growth in 2022, the report says, from 14.4 percent to 10.6 percent. It's the same story in the Central Texas city of Kyle, whose population growth decreased by nearly 2 percent to 9 percent in 2023.

Most populated cities
New York City with nearly 8.3 million people remained the nation's largest city in population as of July 1, 2023. Los Angeles was second at close to 4 million residents, while Chicago was third at 2.7 million and Houston was fourth at 2.3 million residents.

The 15 populous U.S. cities in 2023 were:

  1. New York, New York (8.3 million)
  2. Los Angeles, California (4 million)
  3. Chicago, Illinois (2.7 million)
  4. Houston, Texas (2.3 million)
  5. Phoenix, Arizona (1.7 million)
  6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1.6 million)
  7. San Antonio (1.5 million)
  8. San Diego, California (1.4 million)
  9. Dallas (1.3 million)
  10. Jacksonville, Florida (986,000)
  11. Austin (980,000)
  12. Fort Worth (978,000)
  13. San Jose (970,000)
  14. Columbus, Ohio (913,000)
  15. Charlotte, North Carolina (911,000)

Modest reversals of population declines were seen last year in large cities in the nation's Northeast and Midwest. Detroit, for example, which grew for the first time in decades, had seen an exodus of people since the 1950s. Yet the estimates released Thursday show the population of Michigan’s largest city rose by just 1,852 people from 631,366 in 2022 to 633,218 last year.

It's a milestone for Detroit, which had 1.8 million residents in the 1950s only to see its population dwindle and then plummet through suburban white flight, a 1967 race riot, the migration to the suburbs by many of the Black middle class and the national economic downturn that foreshadowed the city's 2013 bankruptcy filing.

Three of the largest cities in the U.S. that had been bleeding residents this decade staunched those departures somewhat. New York City, which has lost almost 550,000 residents this decade so far, saw a drop of only 77,000 residents last year, about three-fifths the numbers from the previous year.

Los Angeles lost only 1,800 people last year, following a decline in the 2020s of almost 78,000 residents. Chicago, which has lost almost 82,000 people this decade, only had a population drop of 8,200 residents last year.

And San Francisco, which has lost a greater share of residents this decade than any other big city — almost 7.5 percent — actually grew by more than 1,200 residents last year.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

How this Houston clean energy entrepreneur is navigating geothermal's hype to 100x business growth

houston innovators podcast Episode 237

Geothermal energy has been growing in recognition as a major player in the clean energy mix, and while many might think of it as a new climatetech solution, Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo Energy, knows better.

"Every overnight success is a decade in the making, and I think Fervo, fortunately — and geothermal as a whole — has become much more high profile recently as people realize that it can be a tremendous solution to the challenges that our energy sector and climate are facing," he says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

In fact, Latimer has been bullish on geothermal as a clean energy source since he quit his job as a drilling engineer in oil and gas to pursue a dual degree program — MBA and master's in earth sciences — at Stanford University. He had decided that, with the reluctance of incumbent energy companies to try new technologies, he was going to figure out how to start his own company. Through the Stanford program and Activate, a nonprofit hardtech program that funded two years of Fervo's research and development, Latimer did just that.

And the bet has more than paid off. Since officially launching in 2017, Fervo Energy has raised over $430 million — most recently collecting a $244 million series D round. Even more impressive to Latimer — his idea for drilling horizontal wells works. The company celebrated a successful pilot program last summer by achieving continuous carbon-free geothermal energy production with Project Red, a northern Nevada site made possible through a 2021 partnership with Google.

Next up for Fervo is growing and scaling at around a 100x pace. While Project Red included three wells, Project Cape, a Southwest Utah site, will include around 100 wells with significantly reduced drilling cost and an estimated 2026 delivery. Latimer says there are a dozen other projects like Project Cape that are in the works.

"It's a huge ramp up in our drilling, construction, and powerplant programs from our pilot project, but we've already had tremendous success there," Latimer says of Project Cape. "We think our technology has a really bright future."

While Latimer looks ahead to the rapid growth of Fervo Energy, he says it's all due to the foundation he put in place for the company, which has a culture built on the motto, "Build things that last."

“You’re not going to get somewhere that really changes the world by cutting corners and taking short steps. And, if you want to move the needle on something as complicated as the global energy system that has been built up over hundreds of years with trillions of dollars of capital invested in it – you’re not going to do it overnight," he says on the show. "We’re all in this for the long haul together."