BG: So with TSTAR, what does success look like?
M: So we are actively working to build the Center for Excellence for Aviation and Aerospace Education. CXAAE. … My vision for that is that we’ll do aerospace and aviation curriculums. So we’re going to have a curriculum for pilot training, an air traffic controller, aircraft mechanic, and electronics technician. On the aviation side, students can come in and take those classes and get certificates, plus you can get your pilots license…. But as they’re doing that, we’re going to be associating with the university so that they can get college credits for all this as well. If you take a 3-hour aviation science class, the lab is flight time.
BG: Do you have a secret to innovation?
M: I don’t think I have a secret to innovation, it’s just different projects. When people put out a crazy idea, I say: “why not?”. And then we talk about it a little bit more, and by the end of the conversation, they’re saying “We really could do that!”. We’ve got some projects – the Stafford is a great place for innovation – we’ll be sitting there talking about a complex process or problem, “I don’t know If we could do this, or I don’t know if we can do that” and someone will throw out an idea. We’ll keep pulling on that string; keep tugging at it, and something will [eventually seem to] work.
BG: Do you approach innovation as an engineering problem in that regard?
M: I guess so, because I am an engineer at heart. And maybe more as a project manager. The way I look at it, somebody’s got a problem and if you can break it down to what are the requirements for the problem, then you can start to spec out the possible solutions. So if I can bound the problem with the requirements, then I can put a box around it, [and] I can start defining what’s inside the box.
BG: What do you think is the future of the space industry?
M: I think it’s exciting. I think commercial companies that are coming in make it really interesting. For a NASA guy, that’s not the right script I’m supposed to have. But I think NASA is good as a strategist, and commercial companies can do the implementation. The more we can get commercial companies incentivized to do what they’ve learned, the better that it is for everybody. Because that’ll grow the industry faster than NASA would by funding small projects. It’s [going to be] the commercial companies coming in and building big projects.
BG: Do you think this will make NASA take a step back in their role as a strategist, or will it force them to compete?
M: In the Apollo days, NASA had some engineers that were hands-on and doing things, because there was nobody in the industry that was doing those things. …Rather than NASA having to be the experts in each of those fields, it’s better for NASA to rely on the companies that are the experts in those fields. So it’s back to the whole project management thing – NASA gives the requirements, and contractors put out the performance specifications and implementation, rather than NASA trying to build the whole thing themselves.