Montana native, Billings grad joins NASA as senior adviser

NASA’s newest senior adviser will tell anyone who’ll listen that he grew up in Poplar, Montana. 

The way Mike Gold sees it, if he can start in rural Eastern Montana, graduate from Senior High and make it all the way to Washington, D.C., then other kids growing up in equally underserved or overlooked communities can do it too. 

“It’s so important that we not leave rural America behind,” he said.  

Gold was sworn in earlier this week by Sen. Steve Daines to serve as NASA’s senior adviser for oversight and direction of internal and international affairs.

His passion is the agency’s Artemis program, which aims to put a woman on the moon by 2024. The Apollo missions of the late 1960s and early 1970s put the first man on the moon; in Greek mythology, Artemis is Apollo’s twin sister. 

Gold also sees the program as a way to inspire a whole generation of girls to connect with science, technology, engineering and math education. It’s something his mother knows a lot about. 

For nearly two decades, based in Laurel, his mother Florence Gold has been the area coordinator for HUNCH, an extracurricular school program that has partnered with NASA and involves students with the design and fabrication of products used by NASA. 

For example, the commissary table in the International Space Station was designed and built by HUNCH students, she said. 

Laurel High was the first school outside of the Houston area to sponsor a HUNCH program when Florence Gold launched it there in 2005. Since then dozens of students in Laurel and Billings have participated in the program, many of them eventually pursuing their own STEM-based careers. 

In fact, one of the program graduates from Laurel High ended up at Maxar Technologies, a company specializing in making geo-communications equipment, like the satellites that allow cellphones to work. 

Mike Gold, who pursued a career in law, was vice president of the civil space division at Maxar before he was nominated to take the senior adviser position at NASA. When he and his mother learned that one of her old students worked for Maxar and was in the D.C. area, they made sure she was invited to the swearing-in ceremony. 

Florence Gold wasn’t surprised when her son called and told her he’d been offered the position at NASA. Mike Gold has always loved space; his grandfather worked on the Apollo program.  

“This is like a dream come true for him,” she said. “When he called, I said, ‘I have to be there (for the swearing-in).’ It was very special.”

For Mike Gold, space is the great unifier. 

“I just believe there’s nothing so representative of the human spirit than to see what’s over the next hill,” he said. “We go to space to benefit Earth.”

He points to the technological advancements that have come through the push for space exploration and the expansion of scientific knowledge. One of the big reasons scientists are able to understand and study climate change is because of space-based exploration, he said. 

He’s excited for the work ahead of him and pleased that his participation with NASA can be a spotlight for rural America. 

“My head’s in space, but my heart’s always there in Montana,” he said.