Technology Meets Congress

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Friday, June 16, 2017


Eleanor Hook

This week started off quietly but ended on enough high notes to fill an opera. Wednesday, of course, was very hushed after the horrific shooting in Alexandria. I think the attack really came as a shock to everyone, since security on the Hill is generally so good that we tend to forget how unprotected lawmakers are as soon as they leave their offices. In light of the morning’s events, briefings and hearings were cancelled and no votes were held. As we watched Congress’s response on TV from just a few buildings over, the whole experience was a somber reminder that while being in the middle of everything is exciting, it can also be frightening.

However, activity never ceases for long. By Thursday, most of the offices were more or less back to normal, although everyone was keeping an even closer eye on the news than usual for updates on Rep. Scalise’s condition. Our committee held a hearing on cybersecurity, focusing on the lessons learned from the WannaCry ransomware attacks of last month with a number of distinguished witnesses: Mr. Salim Neino, CEO of Kryptos Logic (whose employee found the “kill switch” for WannaCry, saving millions of individuals from the attack); Dr. Charles Romine, Director of the Information Technology Laboratory at NIST; Mr. Gregory Touhill, retired Brigadier General and Adjunct Professor of Cybersecurity and Risk Management at Carnegie Mellon University; and Dr. Hugh Thompson, Chief Technology Officer at Symantec. While I wasn’t able to attend in person, I enjoyed watching it from the office!

Later in the day, the other committee interns and I stopped by NASA’s Space Technology Day on the Hill, where we were met by Riley. It was so cool! NASA had a bunch of tables set up, where representatives were showing off their latest technology, including a machine that recycles waste plastics into spools for a 3D printer, bulk metallic glass gears that combine the advantages of metal and ceramics, and a high-resistance suit that would reduce muscle atrophy in space without requiring astronauts to work out for hours every day. I felt totally in my element stopping by everyone’s stations to talk science!

Riley and I were on our way out in plenty of time to make it to the SPS executive committee dinner cruise when we ran into…. Astronaut Chris Cassidy, Chief of the Astronaut Office until just a few weeks ago. For a minute, I just couldn’t believe it. We lingered for a few minutes in the hopes that we would get a chance to meet him, but unfortunately didn’t manage it before we had to make a run for the marina, where we arrived with not a minute to spare. So much for leaving early!

Once we got there, the dinner cruise was a fantastic end to the evening. I have always loved the Potomac because it reminds me of my grandfather’s stories about his childhood in D.C., but I hadn’t really spent much time on the river before. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the skyline change alongside us during dinner, as we moved past the airport, under the Arlington Memorial Bridge, and around Roosevelt Island, stopping just short of the Three Sisters.

I’m already looking forward to next week, when the Environment Subcommittee has a hearing on advances in environmental technology. Science committee Ranking Member Johnson will also be hosting a roundtable on climate change, which promises to be fascinating!

Eleanor Hook