NASA, SBA use Google+ to praise small business

While NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover explores an alien world, two senior Obama administration officials and others celebrated small businesses’ contributions to the mission back home on Earth.

On Sept. 19, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Small Business Administration Administrator Karen Mills joined with other field experts and contractors in a Google+ Hangout -- an interactive event held via Google's social media platform -- to talk about how small contractors have helped the Curiosity mission.

The Mars rover Curiosity has set off from its landing vicinity on a trek to a science destination about a quarter-mile away, where it may begin using its drill, the agency announced in August. Bolden described its mission as akin to hiking down into the Grand Canyon and back up the other side.

On camera, Bolden sat beside Mary Baker, president of ATA Engineering, the company that played a large role in developing Curiosity to successfully survive the landing’s impact and to work in the low gravity and cold, thin air of Mars. On another camera in San Diego, Calif., many of ATA’s 50 engineers who worked with NASA sat listening to Bolden and Mills speak. Then two of the engineers went into detail about their work on the Curiosity’s arms and mobility system.

Small business contractors working with NASA officials “have been essential to Curiosity’s early and ongoing success,” Bolden said.

NASA awarded $2.5 billion in prime contracts to small companies in fiscal 2011, according SBA’s annual small business score card. The previous year, NASA officials awarded $2.41 billion in prime contracts to small firms. The amount equaled nearly 18 percent of the agency’s contract spending, up from 15.64 percent in fiscal 2010. Overall, NASA earned a B grade from SBA.

Mills said NASA understands the importance small firms can play in government operations and far-out missions.

“This is a terrific example of how America’s small businesses get the job done,” she said.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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