A Chat with Engineer of the Year

After my last post, I got a surprising influx of questions about the Lucy program. I had no idea people would be so interested so let me just say I LOVE LUCY! (hopefully there is no copyright there…) I promise that I will write about that in the very near future. But I got a really cool opportunity that I want to talk about.

I LOVE the amazing people I get to meet, and tonight was no different. I had a video call (thanks modern technology!) with Newton Campbell all the way on the east coast. Newton is the it guy for Computer Science in space. With a PhD, his most recent focus is in Artificial Intelligence (AI) but he also has a minor in Applied Mathematics and interest in physics in comp sci, cybersecurity, etc. Newton currently works for a contractor of NASA looking into the development of AI in drones. He was drawn to the topic of comp sci since high school without knowing what his “reason” was. But after his internship “which felt very corporate America” he quickly turned to the cool stuff he could do with his degree and the difference he could make. Newton spoke fondly of his first job at BBN and even mentioned a mentor he had who got him “into the right rooms”. From there Newton quickly learned that the higher ups are simply real people who get just as excited as us about cool, nerdy space stuff.

Fast forward and we get to the event that put Newton on my radar. Mr. Campbell recently received Engineer of the Year in Modern Day Technology Leadership. This award focused on all of his amazing strides in the industry, as well as his ability to be a leader and get people excited about his work. So how does he do it?

The first step is getting involved with existing organizations such as (shameless plug) the Planetary Society. He is also helping other countries develop strong space programs modeled after the growing success of the United States. This spoke to me because he is going outside our country to get public enthusiasm up. Newton also promotes STEM outreach by talking at schools to the younger generations. And lastly, what I am most excited to announce… Newton has his own podcast! That’s right! You don’t have to just learn about the man, the myth, the legend from me! Please go check out his series “Ad Astra” which means “to the stars”. I will add a link in the comments.

Newton is also getting involved with a nonprofit to increase media presences for the “little guys” in space. One of the major topics in our conversation tonight was that we need to let the people that are experts in certain space areas be the speaker for that area. If you know about the biology of humans in space, you should have a strong platform to tell us about that. Same for rocket propulsion, deep space exploration, black holes (oh wait… that’s already covered by Hawking), space resources, lunar landings etc. If you are passionate about something, not only do you deserve to share it, we need you to share it.

The reason this video chat stuck out is because it inspired me. Not only did I find someone who was excited about space (like me) but he is actually out there doing something about it! I think my favorite part was seeing that Newton has such similar passion and enthusiasm levels to me… and it didn’t go away with time. It made me feel like that if I really want to get people excited for space, I can just go out and do it like Newton is right now.

Okay let’s do a quick recap. AI is a SUPER cool up-and-coming topic in the entire world, and aerospace is no different. But nobody knows about that. The conversation with Newton helped me I see how important it is to get involved both locally and globally, and with both the higher ups and the next generation. And lastly, how important it is to get more public figures in space to talk about their specialty. This is because they can discuss it with raw and unparalleled passion and that is the key to getting everyone interested in space. I honestly was expecting this to be a technical conversation. While it had its moments, it mostly revolved around the two things I am using this blog for; personal passion and public involvement. And basically, if I keep letting my nerd show and keep getting excited for all the cool space stuff coming our way… I have a feeling it will all work out.

3 thoughts on “A Chat with Engineer of the Year”

  1. Do you think, after talking with Newton, that we could use AI for longer space travels? If we are working in it for use in drones could they also be working on it for use in long distant space travel say if we somehow put ourselves to sleep for the trip we could use an AI that has learned what it needs to to safely fly us to our destination and with it learning capability adapt to any problems that could occur? Off the AI train, how can the public who is interested in space and not in a Job related to that area start joining in on the movement and development besides your growing blog? Per your conversation with Newton did that bring any Insight in what could be done and passed around from person to person? I know it’s sort of vague but I dont really know how to ask. As someone who is passionate about this how would you get let’s say me more involved and excited and wanting to pass that on to the next person who has a more…. let’s say hobby interest in it and turn that into a more action orientated interest (talking to state reps, going to Aerospace day, participating in discussions)

    1. Newton and I didn’t talk about Deep Space AI but that is definitely a really cool idea! I imagine something like that is going to be (or already is) in the works as we get a higher number of objects buzzing around space.

      I think the best way to get involved is to show support to those that are passionate. Go follow pages on Instagram (or Facebook/Twitter/whatever media you want) that you think have a good vision. Talk about cool things with your peers and share articles. The biggest issue right now is the general public right now thinks this is way above their heads when really it is just fun to talk about. The more you do this, the more opportunities open themselves up. And most communities actually have a surprising number of space related things going on if you just google them.
      Don’t be afraid to show a little support and the rest follows. And even better, if the government sees the public increasing their interest, they will start funding more!

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