Ep. 16 – NASA Technology in Heavy Equipment and Inspiring the Mars Generation, with Astronaut Abby and Steven Gonzalez

Space may be the final frontier, but the technologies being developed to land the first humans on Mars can also be leveraged by tech-savvy OEMs in the heavy equipment industry.

In this episode, NASA technologist Steven Gonzalez explains the space agency’s technology transfer program, which makes cutting-edge tech available to U.S. enterprises.

And 21-year-old “Astronaut Abby,” Abigail Harrison, discusses her goal to be the first human to walk on Mars, and how manufacturers can inspire the next-generation workforce to pursue careers in STEM. 

Learn more about AEM’s workforce development efforts, or subscribe to the AEM Industry Advisor for regular updates in your email about industry news and insights. 

Subscribe on your favorite app: 

iTunes   Stitcher   Google   TuneIn  

SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Abby Harrison:

The members of AEM are absolutely, at the very fundamentals of what changes the world. And so with millennials and with Gen Z’ers, we want to be a part of this, it’s perhaps that we just don’t know how yet.

Dusty Weis:

Hello, and welcome to another edition of the AEM Thinking Forward podcast, advancing the equipment manufacturing industry. I’m Dusty Weis, AEM’s professional nerd, space case, and podcast host. In this edition, how technology from the Space Program can be leveraged to help equipment manufacturers create high-tech solutions to their customers’ problems. We talk to a NASA technologist, plus aspiring astronaut Abigail Harrison shares some insights on what makes the next generation workforce tick, and how to get today’s young people excited about science, technology, engineering, and math.

It’s these sorts of big ideas we work to bring you here on the AEM Thinking Forward podcast. Each month, we explore a new subject area to help keep your business on the cutting edge of the industry. If you haven’t yet, make sure you subscribe to our podcast feed so that you get an update every time we put out a new edition. Just find us in your favorite podcast app and click subscribe.

As long as we’re on the subject, I would really appreciate it if you could tell me what you think of the show. Rate or review us in iTunes or whatever your favorite podcasting app is. Your comments help other industry pros find our podcast and help me keep it relevant.

As I mentioned, Abigail Harrison, aka Astronaut Abby is famous for finding ways to get young people excited about science. In the second half of the program, she shares what AEM members should try and remember when they’re recruiting from this new generation of the American work force. One thing that she talks about is how many of the technologies that NASA develops for use in space have valuable applications right here on Earth. It turns out that for AEM members or any other manufacturer, those technologies are indexed at a government website and available to be use for the low cost of a simple licensing fee.

To prove that’s not too good to be true, we held a Thinking Forward event at the Houston Space Center, where members got to hear from Steven Gonzalez, NASA’s technology transfer strategist. Together, we explored some success stories of NASA technology thriving in other industries and discussed why the Space Program seeks to cooperate with American enterprises.

Steven Gonzalez:

The NASA Technology Transfer Program is actually part of our two-fold mission. NASA was created one, to explore and two, for the benefit of humankind. The technologies that we discover along our path have benefit to life back here on Earth and so starting from the very beginning, we have been incentivized to be able to move our technology to help improve life not just for everyday people but to create new markets and new industries from our technology. It’s in ways that most people don’t think about.

Unfortunately, most people when they talk about technology transfer, they think of Tang, and they think of Velcro. Neither one of them came from NASA. The one that’s even a better example is camera on the cell phone. That camera came from NASA. It was an engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory who was trying to figure out how to take this image and put it on electronics and from that came the camera that you see on the cell phone.

Dusty Weis:

That’s phenomenal. I actually wasn’t aware of that and you’ll notice that right here, my next question says, “Besides Tang, what are some examples of technologies that have been developed in partnership with NASA?”

Steven Gonzalez:

One of my favorites is actually a technology that we did with Texas Children’s Hospital. They had a challenge in that when they moved their premature infants from one room to another or from one hospital to another, the vibration that they’re subjected to on the carrier, would a lot of times damage their internal organs and a lot of them would have fatalities from that. They came to us and said do we have any technology that could help them? For us, our astronauts have to exercise a couple hours every day on the International Space Station. They exercise on treadmills, they exercise on exercise bikes and left unchecked, the vibrations would ruin the experiments on the International Space Station. Working with Texas Children’s, we had technology and expertise that we created a carrier, now these children are able to be transported from facility to facility, room to room as if on a sheet of glass with no vibrations and no harm to these children.

My own family, my wife is benefiting from one our technologies, which is LASIK eye surgery. It was technology that actually came from a company that we’re working with here in Houston through a program known as the Small Business Innovative Research Program. Through that program, we were trying to figure out how do you allow for two vehicles in space to autonomously dock with one another. From that technology came the precision required for LASIK eye surgery so two vehicles that dock in space, now allow for precision here on Earth for that surgery.

Dusty Weis:

Our members here at AEM… I think a cynical person would look at it and say, “They’re about as far away from space as you can get. They build construction and agriculture equipment. Big, heavy machines that move Earth and grow food.” The less imaginative person might say, “Well, what does NASA technology have to do with our industry?” How would you respond to that?

Steven Gonzalez:

We are using it nowadays even if you aren’t aware of it. A lot of the machines that are being autonomously guided in the fields. The GPS technology is from technology or capabilities up in space. The data that a lot of the agri-business uses in order to be able to do the crop rotations or to be able to better do irrigation is coming from assets from NASA. We’ve got wonderful technology in the wine industry that came from NASA. NASA is trying to figure out how to grow things in space and we found out that in space, these plants give off toxins that would kill the plants so we created technology that removed the toxins, remove mold, and in Napa, a lot of the wine growers there were having problems with problem where the barrels were being kept and so the technology from there all of a sudden was able to remove 99% of the mold in these wine rooms. From space to wine, from tractors to irrigation, all of those come from NASA and we’re using them right now.

Dusty Weis:

I feel like I owe you a really big high-five for that thing with the Napa Valley wineries. That’s important application of the technology.

Steven Gonzalez:

Absolutely. My wife and I enjoy going to various win tastings and when I heard that I thought, “Oh, that’s very nice. That two worlds can intersect that way.”

Dusty Weis:

Our members… Internet of things, machine data, electrification, these are the sorts of fields that they’re just starting to explore now and in some cases even implementing in the technology that they build. On what sorts of technology does NASA find itself on the cutting edge these days and what can our members learn from NASA?

Steven Gonzalez:

We’re always having trying to figure out how to take more data to be able to allow our operations and safe operations of efforts in space. We’re always pushing the envelope as far as number of pieces of equipment and sensors that we are gathering information to be able to support our operations. As we continue to push the envelope, and allow for more autonomous and semi-autonomous, and this is where I think we’re pushing and that there’s a lot to be gained from is that we’re not going towards the Terminator or robots will take over the world. It’s more of a place where we are dialing up and down how autonomous a system is. When you have a safe field, everything is that you know about, you can let it run more autonomously. When you have humans there, you dial it back. Also, how do you allow for the human and the machine to interact? How do you provide assistance in being able to conduct the operations?

We did wonderful technology with General Motors for robotic technology. We needed a robotic capability up in space. They needed some robotic capability on the assembly floor. At the end of the day, we have a robot in space called Robonaut that we are able to help offload the astronauts some of the maintenance tasks that they had but for the manufacturing industry, we created a glove that allows workers in an assembly plant to be able to offload about 10 pounds of pressure off the wrist and their hand so they don’t get the carpal tunnel and the other repetitive motions. We actually brought it to the VA and some of the wounded veterans that came back had nerve damage or who couldn’t use their hands and arms, all of sudden were able to grab things like they haven’t been before. Technology, autonomous robotics have applications in the manufacturing industry, absolutely.

Dusty Weis:

It’s incredible these examples that you’re able to cite of manufacturers here on Earth partnering with NASA. How does one of our members, how does an enterprise go about getting involved with the technology transfer program and what are the potential benefits to them?

Steven Gonzalez:

Great question. For our technology transfer it’s very easy. We have Technology.NASA.gov where you can go there and you can see our 1,400 patents that are available for the community. We grouped them into about 15 different categories from energy, to medical, to manufacturing, to agri-business, and you can search through that if you got a specific technology or challenge of working with water. If you want to look for water, you put it in there and it brings back all the technologies that we feel can support water purification, water extraction. Once you find the technology, you click on it, it brings up a two-page description, it talks about the challenges we were trying to solve and the solution that we came up that led to this technology, it talks about the industries and applications we think about, which were surprised by inventors and other industries, they always find applications we never dreamed of. Then from there, click on the link that will get you to the process to allow you to license the technology.

Dusty Weis:

It’s that easy.

Steven Gonzalez:

It’s that easy.

Dusty Weis:

It’s just right out there on the web for anybody who wants to come take it.

Steven Gonzalez:

Not only the hardware technology but we have a catalog of 1,000 applications that are available to the community. A lot of the big data questions, a lot of data analytics, we have applications out there that other industries are embedding in their own code to be able to do some of the analytics and there’s a whole range of software that’s available to the community.

Dusty Weis:

What drove to the decision on NASA’s part to just give that technology away for free?

Steven Gonzalez:

Great question. It was actually part of our formation. It was that two-fold mission that we have for the benefit of humankind, and every year we’re trying to figure out different ways to make it even easier. The website we created and categorize it, was trying to remove the barrier with start ups. We do a lot with start ups and we created a program three years ago called Startup NASA, where we thought that part of the challenge with start ups was the financial commitment to be able to license our technology. For start ups, for the first three years, there is no licensing fees. There’s no application fee.

We thought that through that process, we’d have more start ups that can use our technology and create new markets and new companies. Once they’re up and running, they’re generating revenue, then the licensing fee kicks in. For NASA and all government agencies, we don’t make money from licensing. The money that we get is just making sure there’s a due diligence and that there’s a commitment by the partner to be able to do something with technology instead of just holding on and keeping it from anyone else.

Dusty Weis:

Just covering costs I’d imagine too. Yeah, that’s incredible. For as easy as that is and for all the expertise that NASA can bring to bearer in these technologies, how many companies take the plunge and actually partner with NASA on something like this? Is it as many as you’d think for as easy as it is?

Steven Gonzalez:

Out of the 1,400 about 14% of our technology has been licensed. That still leaves a huge opportunity out there. Part of the challenge is that most people don’t think of NASA technology for Earth applications, so they don’t come to us and that’s where NASA’s been trying to figure out how to partner up with different organizations and different events to be able to bring our story to places where people don’t think about space.

We actually created an agreement with New York just recently where they’re connecting their ecosystem, New York City, far from Houston as you can get, trying to move our technology to start ups up there and so it is challenge to be able to say our space technology actually has application like you said in manufacturing and agri-business but there is so much potential and so much opportunity and so many new markets that could be created.

Dusty Weis:

What would you say is the coolest success story of technology transfer that you’ve had a hand in shaping yourself?

Steven Gonzalez:

There’s one right now that we’re working on with New York. It’s a nano technology to be able to allow for targeted delivery of medicine for different diseases. That one right there, the impact and the potential is monstrous and to see that coming together and to see a start up to be able to use our technology is exciting because we’re seeing the birth of potentially a new industry from that.

Dusty Weis:

It’s a game-changer and you’re right there on the front lines of it. That’s got to feel pretty good at the end of the day.

Steven Gonzalez:

It is very cool.

Dusty Weis:

A job with NASA, it’s not exactly easy to come by. I know, I barked up that tree once upon a time. But how did you wind up where you are?

Steven Gonzalez:

That’s a great story. Grew up in New York City. Moved over to Jersey and then as I said, it was Star Trek that got me hooked. I wanted to go where no one had gone before. To be able to be on the deck of the Starship Enterprise. I remember back in the eighth grade, I was planning to go to college and so I’ve put together my classes for high school and I remember being in Jersey, had my college prep program and I showed it to the guidance counselor and she looked at the classes, looked at my last name and she said, “Yeah, I don’t think so. I think you’re more for auto repair or auto shop.” I said, “No.”

Luckily, I had a family that was very supportive and ended up going to Boston for my undergraduate. I remember getting down to Texas, met my wife here the second week that I was at A&M. Told her nothing’s keeping me in Texas, I’m going back up to the northeast. I’ve been blessed now that we’re married 29 years but I remember when I graduated, I was planning to go back to northeast. I had applied for Bell Labs, for a position there. Bell Labs offered a whole lot more money than NASA and NASA had a hiring freeze.

The dream was stuck. I couldn’t shake it so I told Bell Labs, “I’m going to wait for NASA.” I turned them down. Three months later, NASA still hadn’t opened up the doors. Money ran out. Called back Bell Labs and I said, “Is a position still available?” They said, “Absolutely, we’ll work the paperwork tonight and we’ll give you a call in the morning.” Next morning I get a phone call. At the other end is a young lady said, “Hello, this is NASA. Would like to know if you’d like to come for us,” so they beat them by a few hours and I had to call back Bell Labs and turn them down a second time but that was 31 years ago.

Started off in Mission Control. I remember getting to Mission Control looking to see the deck of the Starship Enterprise. When I got there, it was the same room that we had flown in the 60s when we landed a man on the moon. I’m thinking, “This is great seeing history. Where’s the modern control room?” They said, “Well, this is it. This is what we’re using.” My first job was to be able to bring new technology to Mission Control.

Fast-forward, when we brought the new one online, the local newspaper, Houston Chronicle did a write up on it and they compared Mission Control to the deck of the Starship Enterprise so finally, all this to say that I arrived to my original dream there of Star Trek.

Dusty Weis:

Are you more of a Captain Kirk or a Spock at the end of day would you say?

Steven Gonzalez:

They told me I probably have more of a temperament of Spock but-

Dusty Weis:

My wife tells me the same thing.

Steven Gonzalez:

But I always wanted to be the one in charge and going down in the surface and doing the barrel rolls.

Dusty Weis:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), that’s outstanding. This is an exciting time for the Space Program. There’s renewed talk of sending a person to Mars. Unmanned craft are exploring our solar system like never before. Private space flight has made great strides in the last couple of years. What has got you most excited about the Space Program right now?

Steven Gonzalez:

Two things, all of the commercial activity, things that we seed to see them take off but the potential especially from a technology transfer is where we see us being able to seed future industries and then being able to leverage that in the future for exploration. Perfect example, in Houston, we had a program back in the late 90s called Trans Hab. It was an inflatable habitat that we had developed. At the end of that program, we put the technology up on the shelf and a few years later, a millionaire from Vegas came out and said, “I want to build a space hotel. Made my money here on Earth. I’m building hotels. I want to build a space hotel.”

Bob Bigelow created Bigelow Aerospace. Took our technology, worked with our engineers, advanced the technology further, has a 2/3 scale version of that hotel circling the Earth and figured until he gets his [inaudible 00:16:23] right, he needs to do something with this technology. A few years ago, he came to NASA and said, “We probably could use some more space on the International Space Station.” We had launched it in a SpaceX rocket, attached it to the Space Station and then sure enough, we’ve got now a space for resupply missions to be able to put the supplies in there.

Technology we started, he advanced, commercialized, we were able to spin back in to be able to support us and space exploration. I see more and more possibilities of that. Of this new market and these new entrepreneurs that can take our technology and run with it and as we go to the moon and Mars, we’ll find ourselves leveraging more and more of the innovation and the opportunity that we started but someone else has ran with it.

The only other thing that I would throw out there for your community is that along with technology transfer, NASA, especially here in Houston, we shifted our strategy in order to be able to partner more with other industries and so there are many places where we have similar challenges just looking at it from two different perspectives and so as your community is thinking about their challenges and what they’re trying to solve and technology investments that they’re considering to see whether or not they can consider NASA as a potential partner and see if we can work together to be able to benefit their industries and allow our astronauts to go onto the moon and Mars.

Dusty Weis:

Well, I think that’s a great note on which to end. Steven Gonzalez, technology transfer strategist at NASA, thank you so much for joining us on the AEM Thinking Forward podcast.

Steven Gonzalez:

Thank you so much, Dusty. I really appreciate it.

Dusty Weis:

If tapping into NASA expertise is step one on the path to competing in the space age, step two is almost certainly tapping into the imagination and creativity of the next generation work force. Getting young people excited about the STEM fields, science, technology, engineering, and math, is more important than ever for businesses in our industry. That’s where 21-year old Abigail Harrison comes in with her stated goal of being the first human to set foot on Mars.

Dusty Weis:

Abigail Harrison, or better known as Astronaut Abby among certain circles on the internet, you’re an advocate for and influencer in the Space Program but also an advocate for young people in science, tech, engineering, and manufacturing, the STEM fields as we like to call them. You’re also the founder of a non-profit called The Mars Generation. You’re an aspiring astronaut, you’re a pilot, a SCUBA diver, a skydiver, and by now, I would be done introducing a typical podcast guest but your list goes on. All that and you’re still in college.

You picked an ambitious goal at a young age and every step that you’ve taken has been in pursuit of that goal. Abigail, first of all, thank you for joining us on the Thinking Forward podcast, but what drives that desire that you have?

Abby Harrison:

Well, thank you for having me. My passion is two-fold as you mentioned. My first and foremost goal in life has always been to be an astronaut. To go places that no one has ever gone before, to explore and to discover new things, new information to humanity. That’s something that I’d had as a passion from a young age that I’d always been curious about the world around me. I think all kids are born with this natural curiosity, this desire to know what happens if I flip my bowl of Cheerios upside down when you’re two years old. That’s a kid exploring gravity. They may not be able to explain that that’s what they’re doing, but they are starting to look into an understand the world around them.

If students and kids especially are nurtured in those areas and are allowed to continue to develop those passions and those curiosities into real educational goals and career goals, I think that’s when we start to see greater numbers of people entering the STEM fields and that’s definitely something that happened for me, was that I had this interest from a young age that was then thankfully fostered and continued and was just really fortunate to have a lot of support along the way that I’m now trying to give back. That’s my second passion that you also mentioned, which is education.

Trying to make sure that every young person out there has those same resources and opportunities that I did of having things that allow them to grow and develop as a person as they learn what they’re interested in and how they want to impact the world and then hopefully choose to do so in a positive and beneficial way.

Dusty Weis:

You told us during your presentation today at our Thinking Forward event that essentially, you caught a bolt of lightning. You became internet famous, as the kids say, and were then able to use your platform as an advocate for the space industry and it’s really built you into who you are today as an adult. With all that you’ve accomplished, you also note that you don’t come from a family of great means. How has that guided your trajectory and particularly this non-profit that you’ve founded, and what is your non-profit, The Mars Generation, what does it do and how does it help other young people who like you may be aspiring to great things but maybe don’t have a path that’s in front of them yet?

Abby Harrison:

When I was growing up, I grew up in the Twin Cities in Minnesota and my mom was a single mother who was really young when she had us, I have an older sister and myself, and she was a school teacher so she taught at an alternative charter like last chance-type school because she was really passionate about education and that was something that allowed her to be a single parent be the mom that she wanted to be with her kids and also, explore her passions but it wasn’t necessarily something that was a lucrative career.

My family, I don’t ever want to act like we weren’t comfortable, that wasn’t an issue, but we didn’t have the means to do extra things like going to space camp, which was something my mom had actually heard about space camp years before and had chosen not to tell me about it as a kid because she knew that she couldn’t send me and how heartbreaking that would be for everyone involved and discouraging.

Then she heard about this non-profit that was looking to help students in that exact situation and I was able to do that and I was also in programs like Girls in Engineering, Math, and Science that did the same thing. They took students and gave them opportunities in those fields. The program that I run tries to do the same thing. The Mars Generation, which is a non-profit that I started almost four years ago and then it was founded out of this idea of alternative ways to do science and STEM communication using primarily social media and digital strategy, digital content online and with that, we knew that even though we didn’t have a lot of financial capital going into it, what I did have was social capital. I had people’s attention and I had their ears.

We now run things like a space camp scholarship program where we have been able to send this year it’ll be a total of 56 students living below the national poverty line to space camp on full paid scholarships including things like transportation to try to give them that same spark and that same excitement and intro into believing in themselves and their ability to do great things in STEM fields or whatever field they choose to be in.

Other programs that we run, creating intentional communities for young people to connect around the world. We curate social media channels and groups. We provide a lot of digital content and videos and we run a set of awards every year where we celebrate young people who are in STEM but not just in STEM trying to really make impacts and changes in their communities at the same time.

One of my favorite examples of that is that there’s a student of ours who is a part of The Mars Generation for a couple years and then last year, contacted us, she’s an artist, she draws cartoons of a little character and myself as Astronaut Abby having adventures. She sent them to us and they were incredible and the story that they told, we were able to turn into a coloring book that we then printed and published and have been distributing for free to people around the world, these two young girls exploring science in space.

Dusty Weis:

That’s really cool.

Abby Harrison:

I want to say that Tess was 14 or 15 when she first contacted us with these drawings that she’d done and they were a way to communicate science that I wouldn’t have thought of and our executive director Nicole wouldn’t have thought of and no one else in our organization or many other would have thought, “That’s the way we should be reaching people with science. That kind of thing that came straight from the heart.”

Dusty Weis:

I want to bring this back to sort of the perspective that our members at AEM bring to this but first, I want to touch on an issue that’s near and dear to my heart, millennials. I’m one, I represent the upper, older echelon of a generation that’s much maligned and you represent perhaps the younger end of that spectrum. But we kind of catch a bad rap and I think that that’s partly driven by good old-fashioned curmudgeonism and I think it’s partly driven by a misunderstanding of what makes us tick. But we’re actually a pretty savvy generation of workers and when properly motivated, we can get a lot done and bring a lot of value to companies that hire us. What motivates people like you, people like me to pursue their passions in this field?

Abby Harrison:

I’m glad you asked that and you’re absolutely right. I’m on the borderline between millennial and Gen Z, which is really fun because not only do I get to be a part of the much maligned millennial generation but I also get to be a Tide Pod eater. As someone who is on the border between being a millennial and a Gen Z and getting to see both of those perspectives to some extent, I think that what makes us really unique as a generation is that we grew up with a greater level of connection to other people than any generation before had and that the changes that happened in our lifetime were of a greater magnitude than any generation before and I know that everyone in a generation likes to say that theirs was the biggest this or that but I truly think that the advent of the internet and this ability to have all the information in the palm of your hand and to be connected to every other person around the world is the biggest disruption that we’ve ever seen.

You have to expect that that’s going to impact the way that a generation thinks and what we value. It’s not necessarily that Gen Z or millennials fit or don’t fit any of the stereotypes that are placed on us but more so, I think we’re misunderstood by a lot of other generations because we don’t have the same cultural background, the same common perspective and as such, we’re not driven by the same things. We want to make a positive impact in the world and in our communities and that we’re change-driven and we’re much more looking at where is the world going in the future and how can we be responsive to that. I think that when you try and do that and motivate young people through those ways instead of through more traditional means of what does a career path look like and the way that we’re used to looking at how your future is, that’s what gets to millennials and Gen Z’ers more and also what makes them harder to understand.

Dusty Weis:

I think that there’s a lot of wisdom in that, particularly for our members, which are these manufacturers of big, heavy, earth-moving equipment, construction equipment, agriculture equipment. These classic fields that have been around for 100 years now where when you think about it, those are fields that really actually change the world. Our members who want to try to now court our generation and get them into the field could do well to heed your words about what drives millennials and makes them tick.

Abby Harrison:

The members of AEM are absolutely doing things that are at the very fundamentals of what changes the world and so in learning how to effectively communicate with millennials and with Gen Z’ers, to communicate that to them, I think that that can have an incredible effect because of how important what’s being done by these groups already is that our generations, you and I, we want to be a part of this, it’s perhaps that we just don’t know how yet or don’t quite understand the importance of everything that members of AEM are doing.

Dusty Weis:

One point that you brought up was space agriculture in your talk and it’s an important area of crossover between your field and our field. I think back to that scene in “The Martian”, which you brought up where Matt Damon is farming potatoes on the surface of Mars and it was the most excited I have ever been about farming in any movie that I’ve ever watched except for maybe “Field of Dreams”. As important as ag is to keeping humanity here on Earth healthy and happy, you posit that it’s just as important to the Space Program. How so?

Abby Harrison:

Absolutely. It is incredibly essential as we move forward in space exploration and start to go out into our solar system and some day, out into our universe as a whole that we learn how to exist without Earth. That we learn how to produce for ourselves from materials that are out there. Looking both for resources that we can utilize for manufacturing in space and also, even more importantly, learning how to do things that Earth does for us without Earth, so things like life support systems and astro-botany, looking at how can we support human life, grow the food and the other nutrients that are necessary for humans without having to launch it from space because we don’t really want to be launching these things from Earth.

The part of it that is sent to space is so extremely expensive that it becomes cost-prohibitive to future missions that are longer term. You’re starting to look at hundreds of thousands of dollars to feed a single astronaut for a trip to Mars and then the same amount back, and then the same amount for the time they spend on the surface and that adds up to costs that are a significant portion of the issue that faces us along the way. If we could have some Mark Watneys on our teams, that would definitely be a boon for making things like deep space exploration and missions to Mars more of a reality in our near future.

I just want to mention that I do love so much that you brought up “The Martian” because it’s the best movie about space that has ever been made in my opinion. Yeah, I will put that out there. I actually started my writing process for this presentation that I gave today at the Thinking Forward series with a two-page dissertation about why potatoes are the wrong choice of food crop and how screwed up that was that “The Martian” propagated that idea among people. Makes me so angry. The biggest issue in “The Martian” isn’t anything to do with the astrophysics, it’s the potatoes.

Dusty Weis:

I would actually like to read that dissertation but it brings to me a more important point that our generation, we grew up without a moon landing moment. My dad loves the Space Program and brought me up to love the Space Program because he was sitting on his pop’s knee watching the moon landing happen in real time. We don’t have that as a generation but instead, I think like you, I found my inspiration in science fiction in addition to a lot of the cool things that were happening, it was never really front of mind as it was for our parents’ generation. What are some of the science fiction stories in addition to “The Martian”, which was great, movie and book, what are some of the science fiction stories that were formative to you as you were coming up and charting your path into the world?

Abby Harrison:

It’s so hard to choose because there was and still am a huge absolute geek. Grew up reading science fiction and watching science fiction movies and that was something that I shared with my dad when I was growing up was that we would trade books back and forth all the time. It was a connection that I held with him, despite not getting to see him very often or having much more of that kind of relationship, that was something that really tied us was our mutual love for science fiction.

Probably because of that, had an exposure to a lot of the older, classic science fiction of like Heilein and those. I don’t want to insult anyone by saying this but way back when. A lot of good sci-fi nowadays, it’s being produced as based off of those same ideas that were originally done in those early books. The classics were great but I also really enjoyed, so as I was older, “The Martian” was one that I read and loved and was so excited it got turned into a movie, but I loved books that were even farther out in the sphere of being unrealistic. Things like I read a lot of the books that were in the “Star Wars” universe and so those kinds of things of books that showed the potential of like what would the universe be like if we were more connected.

Dusty Weis:

Essentially inspired you to start thinking big in all that. One thing I notice about you, and I like this, you wear the term “nerd” and “geek” as a badge of honor and I like that because in the introduction of the podcast, I always bill myself as an AEM’s professional nerd. I don’t know if you remember this, you’re a little younger than me. But not so long ago, those were things that were thrown around like insults. What changed to make it so that people like us can strut around calling ourselves nerds in public?

Abby Harrison:

Right, because it definitely did change. If you’re listening to this, you can’t see the expressions that I’m making but when Dusty first said that he calls himself the professional nerd of AEM, I smiled like outrageously big because that makes me so happy to hear. There should be more professional nerds in the world.

Dusty Weis:

It’s on my LinkedIn.

Abby Harrison:

Then it’s real. I think that that is a big part of what caused that change though was once again, this interconnectedness of people through things like the internet that suddenly, we had more exposure to different ideas, and different thought patterns, and different medias that allowed young people especially to realize that they’re not alone. That there are a lot of other people out there who have the same interests in them.

If you live in a small town in Nevada or in Wisconsin and there’s no one else in your immediate area who’s interested in the same science fiction things that you are, that doesn’t mean that you’re weird or an outlier or a nerd in a bad way, because you know there’s someone else out there in the world who thinks the same things are cool and is willing to geek out with you over them.

That creates this positive experience with things that are nerdy or geeky that then allows us to wear them as badges of pride and to be confident about what we like and enjoy and then to take that same confidence into everything else that we do in the world.

Dusty Weis:

Last question then.

Abby Harrison:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dusty Weis:

We talked about the moon landing moment that our parents’ generation had and what it meant to them, but how important is it for our generation to have its moon landing moment someday when a human sets foot on Mars for the first time, probably you, what’s it going to mean for humanity 10, 20 years from now when Abby Harrison walks on Mars?

Abby Harrison:

It’s vitally important and it’s extremely important to a generation both as a way to tie themselves together, to have something to look back on that’s positive and to say we did something incredible and difficult and we did something that is at the very core of who we are as humans, which is exploring and we did it together because something like that, something like going to the moon, going to Mars, these types of things are transcendent of what field you work in or where you were born or any of those other types of things. It’s something that we all collectively or our parent’s generation collectively talk about as when we went to the moon.

I think we’ll have that same type of thing but on an even larger scale, a global scale when we go to Mars because it is such an enormous effort and such a thing to do that in doing that, even though it’ll be a small portion of people who go, they are representing and carrying the hopes and dreams of all of humanity when they do that and it comes down to this idea of being able to substitute in what’s your Mars? To me, my Mars, my dream, my goal, my passion is actual Mars but to a lot of people the saying “what’s your Mars” is looking at that and saying, “What’s something that seems impossible to do,” but that when you look at it from a perspective of what could we do if we were all collective and looking at the future in a really positive glass half full way, what would you do, what do you aspire to? That’s your Mars.

Dusty Weis:

Well, I think that is a really good note on which to end. Abigail Harrison, you can find her on Twitter @AstronautAbby. I will look forward to our next interview from your first trip into orbit via Skype.

Abby Harrison:

Thanks for having me today, Dusty, and I heard you get that on record but you’re verbally confirmed now, I’m held by an obligation here to-

Dusty Weis:

That is contractually binding.

Abby Harrison:

Yes, so I look forward to that also. Hopefully sooner rather than later and to people listening, not only can you find me on social media as Astronaut Abby but you can find The Mars Generation on all of the different social media platforms as The Mars Generation and we would love to have you come be a part of our community and share our love and interest for space and science.

Dusty Weis:

There’s your plug, but thank you so much for joining us on the AEM Thinking Forward podcast.

Abby Harrison:

Thank you.

Dusty Weis:

Abigail Harrison and Steven Gonzalez were guests at one of AEM’s recent Thinking Forward events in Houston. Members who attended got the chance to interact one-on-one with these Space Program rock stars. Plus, we got a behind the scenes tour of the facility and I was not the only person completely nerding out about all of this either. It was a ton of fun. It was a fantastic event with so much credit due to AEM’s fabulous membership and education teams who planned it and the best part is, there are still five more of these events left this year that you could attend yourself.

On April 2nd in Chicago, we’ll be talking about digital industry best practices at the UI labs Innovation Center. Then on May 14th, we’ll be in Detroit, Michigan talking about autonomous vehicles and the future of mobility. We’ve got events on the calendar in September, October, and November as well. Those are in Toronto, Milwaukee, and St. Louis respectively. All the details are at AEM.org/think where you can reserve your space now and I hope to see you out at one of these.

That is going to wrap up this edition of the AEM Thinking Forward podcast. For more valuable industry insights, make sure that you’re signed up for the AEM Industry Advisor, our twice weekly e-newsletter. Visit AEM.org/subscribe to get yourself on the list. If you need to get in touch with me directly, shoot me an email at podcast@AEM.org.

The AEM Thinking Forward podcast is brought to you by The Association of Equipment Manufacturers, Little Glass Men does the music, and for AEM, thanks for listening. I’m Dusty Weis.

 

 

Source link

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: