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Calling Buzz Lightyear: NASA taps all sorts to spur innovation

NASA is one of the most innovative agencies in government, but to keep its programs on the cutting edge, Jason Crusan has to get creative. As chief technologist for space operations, he tackles key problems by crowdsourcing ideas from the best and the brightest--both inside and outside government.

For example, the NASA Tournament Lab uses a challenge approach to drive innovation in unexpected places. Open calls online for software and design technology, such as a space-friendly exercise device, reach people who wouldn't normally respond to a traditional request for proposals. Crusan also works on CubeSat, a partnership with universities to build small satellites for orbit.

"We innovate by just doing our missions, we innovate because we have to sometimes, and then we have opportunities to innovate in how we engage with the public as well," Crusan says. "What we're quickly learning is not only are they benefiting from being involved with the space program, but we are benefiting from them bringing new ideas to the table."

Crusan is on a mission to make NASA accessible to all. In a partnership with Disney, the space agency features the Toy Story character Buzz Lightyear in educational materials to teach kids about life in space. The program bridges the gap between fantasy and the real, hard science of space missions, he says.

His next project is to stand up a virtual group with other agencies, nonprofits and foundations to improve innovation governmentwide.

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