Science and Exploration

AIAA Town Hall: We Need Talent for the Vision

By Marc Boucher
July 29, 2014
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AIAA Town Hall: We Need Talent for the Vision
Town Hall panel. Speaking, Mike Kynard, NASA, seated left to right; Robyn Ringuette, Virgin Galactic, Tom Mueller, SpaceX, Curtis Johnson, Blue Origin.

After a long day of plenaries and technical sessions there was one last event in the evening for participants at this years AIAA Propulsion and Energy Conference, the Town Hall with a theme of “Where’s MY Apollo Vision for the Future?”
Geared towards young professionals, the Rising Leaders in Aerospace event was sponsored and moderated by the Ohio Aerospace Institute.

The young professionals in attendance, mostly engineers, were treated to an expert panel of rocket engineers who came to share their experience and offer some practical career tips.

The panel included Mike Kynard, recently transferred to NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility where he serves as Deputy Director, Curtis Johnson, Blue Origin, Robyn Ringuette, Virgin Galactic, and Tom Mueller, SpaceX.

Though the theme could have led to a futuristic look at the space program, the Town Hall was very much grounded to reality with no far reaching visions discussed other than the elusive future human to Mars mission.

After a brief presentation by each panel member, of which only two of the panelist dealt directly with the topic, the rest of the evening, an hour and half, was all question and answers moderated by Christine Pastor-Barsi of Sierra Lobo who egged on the audience, successfully, to ask their questions.

Ringuette, in discussing his career noted that today an engineer has to be proactive in managing their careers. Twenty years ago an engineer didn’t need to focus as much on his career, the company would do that.

As well, today young engineers, especially those with newer smaller companies need to realize and expect that companies will fail and they need to be ready to move on. You also need to keep a good rapport with your employer even if you leave. Ringuette, and others chimed in, said that it’s a very small community. To that end Ringuette pointed out that he worked for SpaceX before being hired away by Virgin Galactic.

Curtis Johnson of Blue Origin, the Jeff Bezos secretive rocket company, spoke directly about the need for young talent and how Blue Origin recruits.

Blue Origin offers paid internships for graduate students, junior and senior students. The program is a 10 week hands-on working with the hardware and accepts applications between October and January.

Mueller of SpaceX also stressed the need for talent. SpaceX wants smart people. They don’t have to have a lot of experience, just be smart. An example he gave was having managers wanting to hire someone to work on a specific task but with him saying no, the person just wasn’t right for the company. They might be able to handle the task but they need more from their hires.

Ringuette equated the current atmosphere with the Barnstorming era of the 20’s. There are many small companies out there all trying to do something and get people’s attention. Some will survive, most will fail.

Other than career talk, there many technical questions and even a few policy questions asked including dealing with the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and how companies could work in this area with international partners. Some questions were answered, others just didn’t have any easy answer. The companies make it work as best they can.

For a young engineer though, last nights Town Hall was all about their career and learning from the experts who were more than willing to share.

SpaceRef co-founder, entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, nature lover and deep thinker.