NASA Scientist Gioia Massa Honored with Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers
By Space Coast Daily // August 3, 2019
The PECASE Award is the highest honor given by the U.S. government to scientists and engineers
(NASA) – Gioia Massa Ph.D. is among 18 NASA engineers and researchers named by President Donald Trump to receive the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. Massa, along with 296 other federal researchers, received her award during a ceremony in July in Washington, D.C.
The PECASE Award is the highest honor given by the U.S. government to scientists and engineers who are beginning their research careers.
The award recognizes recipients’ potential to advance the frontiers of scientific knowledge and their commitment to community service, as demonstrated through professional leadership, education or community outreach.
Massa grew up in Florida about an hour away from Kennedy Space Center. After her middle school agriculture teacher was invited out to Kennedy to learn about plant production for astronauts, and he shared what he learned with Massa.
“He brought back hours and hours of video. I was just completely captivated,” says Massa. “I think I watched all of it.”
From that springboard, she chose to learn about hydroponics in high school, interned at Kennedy in the space life sciences training program, and eventually earned her Ph.D. in plant biology from Penn State University.
And when a role for a NASA scientist opened up in 2013, Massa jumped at the opportunity.
Her work at NASA has built on her middle-school passion of growing plants in space, looking at numerous aspects of agriculture in microgravity, specifically on the International Space Station.
She is studying the perfect conditions for growth in space and what species grow most effectively. She even is getting feedback from the astronauts currently on board about which crops taste best.
“Plants are very adaptable. They can really respond to the environment,” says Massa.
“But getting that environment right is truly our hardest challenge. The biology is not as challenging as the physics to overcome.”
Right now, Massa and her team are focused on perfecting the cultivation of lettuce plants and a few other basic crops which they’ve learned to grow effectively.
They hope to continue with their experiments on the space station and build on this knowledge to learn to grow more fruiting crops, such as tomatoes and peppers.
“To have an orbiting laboratory up there with astronauts continuously being available to do science gives you a lot of power that you would otherwise not have. If you just do things one time, it leaves so many open questions,” says Massa.
“Being able to do repeated evolutionary work on a platform like the space station is really the only way to advance these exploration systems.”
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