Project Mercury graduates: Launching solutions for the Air Force and Space Force

  • Published
  • By Maj. Stacie N. Shafran
  • Space Launch Delta 30

Air University's Project Mercury empowers individuals to tackle critical challenges faced by the Air Force and Space Force.

Established in 2019, this intensive 90-day program fosters a culture of collaborative innovation and has transformed over 350 military and civilian personnel into certified innovators through the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering. 

"We cultivate teams of collaborators and innovators, aiming to outsmart, out-partner, and outmaneuver potential adversaries," explained Dr. Ethan Eagle, Project Mercury's head coach and an adjunct professor with the University of Maryland. “Living the tension of mission and innovation, students come together at the start of the course for a one-week temporary duty ‘jumpstart.’ They then finish the 90-day-program part time and virtually, with their commander’s support, dedicating six hours or so weekly to innovation.”

This dedication to collaboration yielded impactful solutions showcased at the December 2023 graduation ceremony, where six high-performing teams addressed issues in logistics, energy, recruitment, and operational efficiency.

Jamee Harland, a school-age coordinator from the 319th Force Support Squadron at Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D., spearheaded a team tackling the Air Force recruitment shortfall. 

“Hearing [Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall] discuss the 2023 shortfall ignited our passion to find solutions," said Harland. "Through collaborative efforts and embracing Project Mercury’s constructive conflict, we developed IGNITE [Influencers Generating New InTerest in Enrollment]. This hybrid solution aims to resonate with Gen Z's values by emphasizing a humanistic approach and educational opportunities within the Air Force and Space Force."

Another team, composed of Air Force personnel stationed across the Indo-Pacific, tackled the limitations of traditional fuel generators hindering Agile Combat Employment operations.

"We sought a sustainable solution," explained Tech. Sgt. Manny Rivero, an electrical power production instructor with the 554th Red Horse Squadron and member of the 36th Contingency Response Group stationed at Andersen Air Base, Guam. "Having experienced firsthand the challenges in the region, my team aimed to replace fuel generators with a solar-powered alternative."

Through Project Mercury, they honed their project, Rays to Jet Power, or R2JP, which reduces fuel consumption and logistics costs by half, offering both environmental and financial benefits. 

At graduation, Rivero further highlighted the potential impact of R2JP.

"Last May, Typhoon Mawar devastated Guam,” he said. “Our reliance on backup generators for critical infrastructure exposed the need for a sustainable solution. With R2JP, the outcome could have been different."

Rivero's team secured $1.9 million in further funding and recognition for R2JP, including being a finalist in Tesseract's Aether Sprint.

Recently, a Project Mercury Innovator Workshop was held at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Feb. 21-23, 2024. Hosted by the 412th Test Wing Continuous Improvement and Innovation Office, the workshop equipped more than 70 Airmen attendees with essential tools and knowledge to cultivate a thriving culture of innovation within their respective units.

Applications for Cohort 13 opens in April for the June to September program.

To learn more about Project Mercury and its mission to propel military and strategic innovation, visit or follow the organization on LinkedIn at Project Mercury Innovators Forum.