Asking and Answering Humanity’s Biggest Questions

[Music] Thank you [Music] Well thank you so much for joining us Thomas uh I've been meaning to talk to You about a lot of things so there's a Great chance Um when you just recently wrote that you Were moving on to your next thing You've been you've been leading the Science directorate for six years now is That right yeah Um When you when you wrote that you were Moving on you said that you had had a Chance to implement some of your best Ideas What were some of those ideas So uh first of all many of the ideas had To do with what we just heard which is The recognition that Innovation and Entrepreneurship is one of the strongest Forces I would say in the U.S ecosystem Is a real differentiator that relates to Leadership and so what we did at the NASA science program is create a number Of Partnerships and kind of taken Advantage of opportunities that nobody Was taken advantage of before so we for Example we have a program now that buys Data from constellations of spacecraft That are Imaging the Earth that and Makes those data available To scientists around the United States

And Beyond we also have a partnership With a bunch of com companies frankly Leftovers from the Google X price that We're trying to get to the surface of The Moon with and the reason I'm saying Trying is because we haven't done it yet The CEO of ispace was here before our Japanese colleague right who I'm really Excited about because it's sitting on Top his slander is sitting on top of a Rocket right now as we speak and we hope He's going to go there we have three More uh three more Landings uh Landing Attempts on the surface of the Moon in The next 12 months based on on these Commercial companies those are two of Many Well there's I mean there's certainly More but as you mentioned this is uh Like sort of a major Trend running Through your tenure is bridging that gap Between the private or the commercial World and the the government side of Things uh what What's what sort of uh What sort of setbacks did you have Attempting to do that when you say okay Well we're just gonna we should be able To buy data from planet or whoever and Just use it in our mission or to inform Our our models you know who says no and Why do they say no well it's frankly you Read the books on Innovation and I have A lot of stories that could be in a book Like this

So who knows right first I'm going Skiing yes yes we'll talk about that Later but uh if you look at disruptive Innovation for example and there's a lot Of uh work that has been done on that One of the real sources of antibodies Come from the direction of the status Quo so there is this one and it's not Because people are bad right kind of Many people always mix up there's not Good and bad these struggles are not About good and bad they're about old and New and they're not the same right kind Of good and bad there's many things that Have a lot of kind of we have a lot of History on that are good old is not Always bad right kind of I'm much more Convinced of that as I get older you Know what I mean so so uh but uh but so Basically the struggle here is one Person says wait we used to build all These spacecraft and now we're just Buying data uh my is that actually the Right thing to do somebody says wait When we built the spacecraft the Calibration of these data are much much Better than what we're buying or these Data actually useful and so so it's Those kind of those kind of uh questions That come up kind of that relate to to This uh there's a whole Machinery that Has to help make that happen right so You have to figure out what right Procurement vehicles are because what

You don't want to do is come up with a Vehicle that actually kills the very the Very spark of innovation that actually Differentiates it right so so so you Solve a lot of problems and the way you Think about it is it's really a journey Right kind of when it comes to these Innovative programs it's not a single Day a single decision it's a journey and Frankly very likely you're going to fail A feel and you have to be open to that Kind of uh I think uh Sebastian Throne One you know from I once said uh kind of Innovation and iteration horoscope Together and I like the word iteration Because it's so much easier to take than Failure but it's that's what we mean Innovation and iteration goes together So I'll tell you one thing for example That absolutely did not work So so we have a number of experiments That did not work here's one uh we Actually said hey let's start launching Spacecraft together with commercial Spacecraft just hang from the side of it And go uh for example to Geo Geostationary orbit and observe the Earth from there it's pretty hard to get To see your station but let's do that Right well what happened is we set up All these kind of competitions we have a Number of amazing instruments and then The Geo Market crashed yeah and it Crashed because of the spectrum auction

Uh you know 5G that cleared out Spectrum So all the companies that launched uchio Basically said hey we need to be done by The end of this year launching right to Get these enormous billion dollar Incentives and by the way there's a Leo Market that opened up with a variety of Constellations and so basically I'm Sitting on these instruments right and I'm having a hard time launching them And I think over time at the Innovation Sphere will come up with a solution like Satellite as a service right kind of I Want to attach my instrument to a Standard boss go move and go fast right But that market is not there yet kind of In a way that is I would say worth for The taxpayer right so so so I'm sitting On payloads that should be in space We all have that problem now and then uh The I feel like this is you you've Mentioned this uh how like a spectrum Auction cause the Geo Market to crash Which caused this to happen which caused This to happen it's very difficult to Figure out this this sort of uh diagram Of interactive pieces here and I think That's something that investors try to Do a lot as well there's a lot of Overlap here in how you quantify and Prioritize and so when you have a budget Or a a certain amount of launches how do You quantify and prioritize the programs That are all jockeying for position of

Like well we really need to get back to Mars that we really should go to Venus We really ought to do this and that and The other thing is there a process is There do you do you just trust your Advisors So the first uh the way I deal with risk Let's talk about that first and I'm Going to talk about the topical areas But the way I deal with risk is really Uh the way I think about it it's very Much like your Investment Portfolio or Mine right kind of if you want some Upside you need to have some risky Elements and and frankly it's important That we communicate to all stakeholders That those elements are risky and so When we did the commercial lunar payload Services Program I went and told Everybody on the hill everybody in the White house it's a 50 50 chance of Success and I've never backed off Because what I don't want to do is say 80. And uh then I need to prove it now Proving that adds a lot of bureaucracy I Don't want to add to those companies so By basically saying it's risky and Defending that it's a good idea that It's risky is creating the opportunities For that experiment to pass and by the Way it's not clear that that experiment Will work uh it may be that somebody Sits on this stage in a few years and

Say it didn't work because of X but you Know my full belief is we need to do the Experiment and go through so so so kind Of I think part of that Risky part needs to change relatively Quickly and in and frankly I'm not a Believer that over analysis really gets Better results on those things it's Better to do just like a seed fund or a Pre-seed fund to kind of work on two Ideas and then down select and go with The one and instead of over analyze kind Of with market and all this stuff uh you Know when the business model is not Clear from the companies absolutely the Other piece kind of how do you figure Out destinations and so forth well There's some things that are my job There's some things that are not my job That is not my job so so what we're Doing and I think it's the right thing To do is that we're asking the top Scientists in the United States and Beyond to help identify what the most Urgent sign is in a 10-year strategy in Every one of those fields we're spending Money on the academies to do that and Frankly we're using those to prioritize And the reason we're doing that is we Don't want to work on Thomas's program Or whoever is there before John's who Was there before whoever comes later We want to work on a program that has The most impact and that should be

Defined by the science output if you're Running a science program so so that's What we're doing with those Investments Uh so really uh More Sample return we Did because of that no other reason get Off that the observations of the Earth In the future we're doing because of That Obviously we're on the cusp of a huge Change in the location and kind of Science we can do with the Artemis Program uh what new opportunities do you Think are important uh that an enduring Presence on the moon and in CIS lunar Space what does that provide for us So I see that actually kind of three Opportunities that are really opening up The first one is just amazing signs from The Moon many people think hey we've Been at the Moon we know that body oh no We're going Forward to a moon that is very different Than what we had before what we think Today about the Moon is almost Fundamentally different in many of the Domains than what we thought about when We left it so there's amazing science And frankly what's so exciting to me uh Is amazing scientists that are doing This you know it was always easy to find The lunar session in a conference it's Just the old guys who talked about Apollo and and basically what's Happening with Artemis and what's

Happening with commercial lunar payload Services we have an incredibly Rich Diverse Kick-Ass Community ready to do Science right so that's that Uh I think that uh the second piece is Really about resource utilization I Think by going there more sustainably we Can start thinking about doing things That were the stuff of dreams like can We get water out of the service can we Make fuel out of it there can we make an Outpost of humanity at the Moon as we're Heading towards Mars because that's Where we want to build I don't want to Get stuck on the moon and the third Piece I think is really interesting uh And that is that there's really new Modalities of science that is very Different from the science kind of in a First bucket that kind of if you want Use Robotic and human explorers in a Coherent and integrated fashion and We've never done that I mean we on Apollo you know the science kind of was Flying around along with it you know I Mean uh you know on a pollock and of the You know pass Aldrin uh you know after Neil Armstrong got off the ladder and he Set up this little aluminum foil to Collect uh you know uh solar wind that Was blown off from the Sun and kind of It embedded itself and the noble gases Were measured on the ground by the way

In The Institute where I got my PhD so Even though I grew up in Switzerland Like was said uh the Apollo program Affected me so it's opportunistic Science important science but Opportunistic science so so we have done Amazing robotics you know look what We're doing at Mars today and in many of The other kind of robotic platforms we Have not integrated those and if you Start doing that you can start getting Into modalities and I know there's some Kind of scientists and psychologists and You know leaders who are starting to Think about it how do we use robots and Humans together for maximum output the Output right so think of a Rover on the Surface of the Moon that can operate Either driven or totally autonomously How do we get the maximum science the Maximum Impact out of that knowing that 95 of the time there's no astronaut Sitting on that chair yeah right so it's It's that kind of new modality now we Have not it's the way I think about Human exploration or robotics still is Almost like two tribes that are meeting For the first time right it's kind of so So it's really kind of it's almost a Cultural divide that we need to overcome Uh that and bring together and and so It's that third pocket if I was entirely News in the career early on I would Really look at that because I think it's

Super exciting it's also super exciting Because you can transfer the lessons Back on Earth because many other Problems relate to that as well Firefighting you know of course Department of Defense has problems that Work the same way and we can transfer Things back and forth you've mentioned Several times a sort of clash of Cultures and not necessarily A Clash but A mix and the mix is uneven and it's not Quite sure how it's going to play out uh How do you you could but you mentioned Like you know you used to be you would Find the old guys talking about Apollo Now the Artemis program is diverse and Young and full of scientists of all Stripes from all over the world uh how Do you build a team like that how do you Attract Talent at a time like now when The there is enormous competition over Uh over the sort of the brains or the Hot young brains that I don't know why I Put it like that but the the the Intellectual uh talent in this in this Country and Beyond so I'm going to Quickly talk about the lunar Community This week alone I've been contacted by Jack Schmidt who Advocated on behalf of the early career Scientists of the lunar program so when I talk about diversity I'm including the Old people I just want to make sure of Course that that that's what I'm talking

About and they were together or building The community that we need because we Don't want to lose the lessons we don't Want to start at Adam and Eve we want to Take all these lessons there I think Look one of the key insights and kind of Organizations like the round around this Conference really realize that there's No leadership without Innovation there Is no leadership without innovation Which means I can offer if you think About that change is ever present And as a leader If it's too comfortable for everything And I don't care who you are I don't care which company you are if You're getting too comfortable you will Not be a leader for a long and kind of That the anecdote I'll tell you is I was In a room with Larry Page you know the Founder of Google one of the founders of Google and I will never forget what he Said in that room it was about a product Had to do with Earth Imaging and all That doesn't matter so much but what he Said in the room when he made the Statement he basically said many people Mix up what leadership is he said many People think of it as on some number This number is larger than this number Percentage of search in the world Google Is number one this other browsers number Two and he basically said that is not Leadership it's that but more

Importantly the first derivative of that Number how fast that number is changing Because you could be up here and you Could be cruising along and back down Here is a person that or a company or a Competitor or another uh kind of entrant Into the market and you don't even think They're not even on my oh I'm so good they're not even close to me But they're moving like this it's a Matter of time and they will overtake You or you buy them and or you buy them Which is it's in the commercial that's Actually can do so so I think for me Kind of when you talk about Innovation And I've been a strong believer that Much Innovation besides from that Attitude as from the leadership Perspective comes from the talent you Put in a room And I want to tell you one of the most Heartbreaking meetings I've you know I Joined NASA and it's a proud agency They're amazing people but one of the Most heartbreaking meetings I went to Was early when I joined NASA was in a Room and I realized that we made Decisions really quickly And I realized that we didn't talk about The issues And I looked around and I figured out Well basically all the people in the Room that spoke there were other people In a room but I never spoke all the

People who spoke in a room were had Roughly the same background all the same Gender roughly the same kind of age Group mine or older right and and I'm Like wow we are not challenging Ourselves right so for me so for me yeah One of the things I started doing is I Visited people in their offices right And I basically said uh and I know it Freaked some of the people out because It's like that's creepy one person just Told me you know just last week that was Really creepy I said look you Um sat here for a month you spoke three Times so I have a photographic memory I Can remember what he said our organ of In a meeting I will know right so that That helps me sometimes it makes me Creep in other times anyway so so so so So you you spoke three times every time You spoke it mattered You made the place better But the problem is you're not speaking Enough Because the team could be better if you Spoke the other meeting in the office is Like hey Uh do you ever realize you're the most Experience one of the most experienced People at Nasa do you ever realize that After you speak nobody speaks So I need you to speak but later Because I want the other ideas on the Table and by the way I'm sick in your

Hospital too so you can stop me from Cutting out the discussion too and uh And so together we're going to make the Team better so over time what that does That small intervention kind of it Creates that then you realize wait we Don't have all the voices in the room we Need people have more experience with Innovation let's get them let's go hire Them oh we have we're missing like we Want to build research programs that are For all universities not just the tier Ones well we need some people who went To minority serving organizations and so Forth let's bring them into the room and So together we get better so kind of in That sense you know diversity is not the Icing on the on the cake it's the cake It's building the best teams that we can So that's really one of those things I Learned and one of those skills that you Picked up you mentioned in your in your Update that you like to learn new skills Do you still learn new skills it feels Like you've been you've been at this for A little while you haven't learned them All yet oh hell no I made it you know so so I mean frankly If I stop learning I get really bored And the other thing that I do is I make My own problems so kind of I I so for me I really like the feeling that I'm Learning something you know and I mean Frankly even today I spend an hour

Innovation leaders there and he he told Me what's wrong And I'm like wow those are really Profound insights like this is how we Should think about it and and how do we Kind of Empower Talent more right kind Of in a in a system that wants to become A bureaucracy every time you turn around Right how do we create that spark and Keep it alive and kind of have a sense Of urgency getting better so it's I mean I learned that this morning you're going To think about it a lot and and I want Every day to have a lesson like that so How are you going to handle uh taking Time off I'm actually worried about it Oh yeah so I think first thing I'm going To do is take some ski classes because I Could get a be a better skier choking Aside what I'm going to do uh I mean I Already made my daily schedule I know What I'm going to do I'm going to get up Hit the first Uh chair And then I'm gonna get done before noon And kind of start writing things I Learned and I'm going to write not Because because I necessarily want you To read or other people it's just Because I think when I write so I really Want to try to figure out what I learned And make sure that I things I don't know Yet that I figure out what days they are And then you know I'm gonna figure out

What's next so so then I'll go to the Gym again and then I meet friends or Start talking uh with people so that's What I'm gonna do Alpine or a Telemark oh Alpine I wish I Was I was as cool as a telemarketer but I'm not I guess they are cool it's Something you could learn I guess Um so you're not going to build a Robotic space station like Steve is Going to do over at Quantum space Uh no I at this moment in time I don't Have any such plans we'll see what's Going to happen uh needs us to say I'm Not done so I'm gonna figure out uh Where to put my energy and kind of I'm a Very purpose terrific guy actually I've Never asked anybody for salary and it Turns out Kenneth in my the biggest Decisions in my life are all salary cuts So you know taking the asset job I hate To break to you is not a good deal Financially right so so and frankly Never regretted it right I don't own my House I rent because I cannot afford Owning a house there and I could with my Previous salary but I'm I mean frankly I Think that's perfectly good also for my Kids to see that purpose and kind of Money they're not the same Well that's very a very profound Insight Um in a more practical sense you were You were in NASA during uh obviously a Pandemic and a bunch of other these sort

Of disruptions to the workforce I talked With Steve a little bit about this but Uh how how did the the sort of the shift To remote work and the shift to having Teams scattered all over the place how Did that change the sort of nature of Collaboration I know how important that Is in a in a lab in a research Environment So I actually think when uh when covet Happened first of all I sent all my team Home Before I was allowed to because it was Clear what's going to happen and it's Like you know we set you know I was at You know because of my mandatory service In Switzerland and I was a military guy So I knew that you first check all the Com system before you go spread in the World so we were the only team that was Fully functional on day one right Because we actually prepared for that so I was never more proud of what we did The first few weeks right and we can Talk about whether we did the right Thing as a country that's actually not My point at all but with the boundary Conditions we had uh I was never more Proud because we came together Immediately started communicating you Know I made everybody read the Shackleton book or endurance kind of This is how you deal with an ambiguous Leadership you know kind of situation so

We did that I actually think where we Are right now even though the Electronics work and all this stuff We're actually in a really difficult Situation and not just the NASA the Whole industry And uh what we've been doing is we've Basically used kind of a belief system That kind of talking on Zoom or teams is Kind of Taking care of interpersonal contacts And what we're missing I think is see Collab is not so much bringing new Things it was an accelerator of what is Already there of course that good Leaders became better weak leaders Really got exposed and uh and what we're Seeing is a shift in the industry uh to A younger uh kind of interesting Workforce but has different kind of uh Perhaps uh kind of values in some empty Areas or different behaviors than what Was there and we realized we just missed A launch with psyche and we did a Independent review it's kind of we see Really big gaps that we have in our Organizations now and I see him in all Of the industry it's not just that NASA Not just in one place we are not as Strong as we were before we're not Connected as people our trust budgets Are depleted and we frankly we're in we Need to really make changes so the Electronics works just fine and by the

Way I'm not advocating that because go Back to pre-code that would be idiotic We learn a lot of things that that we Don't want to forget at the same time we Can't be in a situation we say like you Decide how you want to work and whether You can do the work at home like if You're a writer which you are and you're A good one or a great one right that's Different than if somebody says we're Building a spacecraft together and I'm Asking a senior member it's on your Checklist I will Mentor 10 people when You call it in or as a early career People is on your checklist I will be Mentored I'll learn about the culture of This organization of course it's a Nobody's checklist so we're depleting These things so so I think we're it's a We're nowhere near done with this Transition that we have and I think it's Really important to carefully learn uh About uh how we become the best team we Can be indeed uh well we only have about Two minutes left and I I wanted to get To some of the actual projects that and Some of the things you're interested in So some a little lightning round here uh Uaps formerly known as UFOs uh there is A new study of them in NASA right now How's that going oh it's going well I Mean I think that tools of science are Good for all problems and we should not Walk away from problems that we get beat

Up uh on Twitter I want to tell you you Gain a lot of Twitter followers if you Start at Nasa UAP study so there yeah Well I mean nobody's nobody's expecting A little green men but like what do you Hope to learn do you find a new kind of Cloud or something I'm not sure look I Mean whenever you have something that we Cannot explain let's go at it with the Tools of science I want to make this a Data Rich place and what's learn what Can be learned we will learn some things Perhaps it's about cameras perhaps it's About nature perhaps it's a something Really much bigger but we need to be Open for all of this but but let Data Drive what we're thinking as opposed to Some Prejudice gotcha yeah and on the Life beyond Earth Do you think it exists and where would We find it and would it be really weird Or would it be like us so I so as a Scientist I don't know right kind of uh But but I really do believe I look at These amazing pictures of the James who Have Space Telescope yes and and you Know the world is the universe is even Bigger than it was before and of course Every one of those Stars has at least One planet we learned that five years Ago like these uh statistics and you Know look at the night scale that's how Many planets there are at least and so Each one of them is going through a

Chemical Evolution and you know why Shouldn't turn into biology and in our Neighborhood we're gonna we're looking At Mars as a place there's really Interesting things that we're finding We're looking at Europa uh we're looking At you know Enceladus potentially Titan We're going to go visit so we have Places around here and then of course We're looking at exoplanets using the James Webb and other tools so it's uh All of the above it's one of those where Do you look uh all of the places that's What we want to do for a start well that Is our time uh thank you very much for Joining us uh and you're very insightful Thank you


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