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tv   Press Here  NBC  August 15, 2010 8:00am-8:30am PST

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new challenges for nasa. how can the space agency compete for talent when dotcoms pay more. a discussion with pete worden and apollo astronaut ed mitchell recalls his trip to the moon. we are joined by sarah lacy and richard hart this week on "press: here." hello, everyone. i'm scott mcgrew. rocket science may be difficult but the biggest challenge of the new century at nasa may not be the rocket science but the
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scientists. nasa administrators like pete worden are facing a problemface agency, competition. not just competition for private commercial space ventures but from the riches of high tech. to a young college graduate the lure of google just down the street from one of nasa's space center means a math mat ig has a choice. adding to pete worden's problem, the talent pool is shrinking. fewer american kids are graduating with engineering degrees. >> three, two, one. >> worst yet, nasa's mission has been unclear lately. the shuttle is headed to
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retirement. at ames research center, research on america's next space ship, the o'ryan, continues under a cloud of uncertainty. >> president barack obama. >> after the president announced his intention to cancel its primary mission, a return to the moon. dr. pete worden, well qualified to take on all of those challenges. he's a former brigadier general with the u.s. air force. under his leadership he's working to attract new talent to nasa and create new and unusual partnerships between the space agency and silicon valley. joined by sarah lacy and richard hart who was one of the finalists for being a journalist in space back when that program still existed. >> you owe me. >> that's cool. >> so we expect a bunch of kissing up. i set out the challenges that face nasa.
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one of the most striking to me is are you going to the moon or not? and you can't answer that question either, can you? >> sure i can. we're going all those places. >> real soon? i mean, there's this idea in the bush administration that set forward this program and then we're not so sure. we have challenges ahead of us. what's nasa's big thing ahead of it? >> nasa has three things it does. first is science. in the last two decades we revolutionized physics. every new discovery we made in space has shown we know less about the universe. that's job security so it's really great. the next decade we're going to revolutionize biology and find out where else life exists in the universe and something about how it started. second thing we do is help people on earth. nasa got the data and got the understanding that enables us to begin to deal with climate
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change and global warming. in addition the first a in nasa stands for arrow nonics. we need to make carbon neutral and carbon free airplanes. huge new industry. the third thing and where all of the controversy is our human space flight program. that's at a really interesting point. we're on the verge of settling the solar system. that's incredibly exciting. there's a lot of argument about how to do that. one approach was to rebuild "apollo." it turned out to be too expen expensi expensive. we have to invent a new way to do it. one of the key things about the new way is we're not going to go to just one destination. we'll go to the moon and asteroids and to mars. that's the program that president obama has proposed and although there's a lot of controversy, we think we'll move forward on that and that's good for ames. >> if i'm a young college graduate, you can say to me, you
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will get to work on those things. you will get to work on the path to going to the moon, to mars, all those things? >> absolutely. and this is the most exciting time i think to be in the space program. we really are on that step that's only going to happen once in humanity's history where we leave this planet permanently. >> when i was a kid, everyone wanted to go to space camp. now it's a cool thing to work at a startup. even that is being more short-term focus. people want to cash out shares in facebook before it can go public. as people's ambitions get more short-term and instant gratification does a kid coming out of school with a pick of jobs want to come to silicon valley and work on something that's a 20-year project? >> i've seen no shortage in the best and brightest. we have 800 students at nasa ames this summer. we have from the best universities -- not just in the
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united states but from around the world. a lot of young people from the bay area schools and from other schools. m.i.t., cal tech, other major universities and they really want to work. it's not just the human space program. they also want to work on fixing humanity's problems and discovering the ultimate secrets of the universe. i don't have a shortage of people trying to get here. they're the best and brightest. they'll get to work on this. now, to be sure, some of them will leave. i've lost probably 30 or 40 people to companies like google in the last few years. it's interesting, a lot of them work over there for a while and so they can buy their house and get their porsche and then they come back and work for me. >> there's cachet to saying who do you work for? i work for nasa. >> there are a lot of google startups on the parade ground at ames there. you have an incubator with companies doing things that aren't space related at all.
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is that because you sort of are doing what the national labs did after the end of the cold war and is nasa's future a joint venture with private industry? >> absolutely. one of the other key parts of the president's program is that we need to midwife new industries and we need to turn as much as we can over to the private sector. we're about ready to turn over access to lower orbit to the private sector to get on to building a true space ship. it's a very exciting time. and the nasa research park which is the old navy base, we have over 50 startups and universities and so forth and part of the idea is that we're born out of another agency called naca, national advisory committee on arrownomics. we have that job. we're doing great. we have cool success stories and more on the way and it comes out of nasa technology and it also
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enables us to do some of the really hard things we need to do in space and on the earth. >> do you have a financial interest then if you encourage someone to come to your campus and give them low rent and access to some of your scientific machinery, et cetera, what's your return on it? >> right now nothing other than i lease them buildings and space and we get to use that money. there's something called an enhanced use lease that congress enabled us to use the money for leasing them. i have a little bit of financial interest as a landlord. we briefly started a program called red plan of capital where nasa would become a venture capitalist. unfortunately it got determiter. we hope it gets restarted where we would be an investor. >> that's a revolutionary way of thinking of nasa. it used to be a closed base where you couldn't get on during the cold war and during the moon race. it was its own entity. there were contractors and what not. this is a much more sort of
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holistic approach. >> it's one of those potential business partners someone like space x or -- >> absolutely. we work closely with space x. >> they have $2 billion in money. >> to a viewer not familiar with space x, a private industry, a private space launch. that kind of thing. hold that thought. we'll do a commercial and come back and talk about private industry with dr. pete worden after the break.
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we continue our conversation this morning with dr. pete worden, center director at nasa ames. before we went to commercial we were talking about private industry. lots of them are very rich men who made their money in something else. >> they had to be. people thought they were crazy when they said they were going to build a rocket.
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>> these dotcomers are building rockets. you welcome that. it's not competition. it's complementary. >> their success will enable us to settle the solar system and do wonderful things in space because it will lower the cost. it's also a payback to the american people to invest in us. there's two things we do to help private industry. first is we assist them technically. companies like space x for example have worked with us to transition the thermal protection system, the things that enable you to come back in the atmosphere will burning up. second, we're a customer. as much as possible we're required by law to buy commercial products and commercial services so they're selling us spacecraft and selling us space products and launch services and so forth. in both senses it is not only important, it's our job to make sure that we have new industry. >> we're talking about this great story about how nasa is opening up and the collaboration
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with startups in silicon valley. i covered venture capital for 15 years, what i noticed over that time is they are less likely to fund something they consider a science fair project and less likely to want to do something where the ultimate customer is the government. do you feel like there's the will to fund these companies here? >> we're seeing a lot of very big successes. one of the biggest ones is bloom energy for example. started out as nasa employees that took our fuel cell technology and said we can make a commercial power system under this and so they've built this. they're marketing it. they sold them to a lot of different people. we're now a customer. so this is a kind of thing that we're hoping for because most of the money nasa spends is spent on earth. all of it is. i haven't paid aliens for anything. it's very exciting possibility so we're just another customer. so when we can start a new company that sells to the public, a product that we helped
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develop, it's a big plus. >> speaking of aliens -- >> we've been talking a lot about budgets and business. the business side of it. there is the pure fascination of going to other planets and i noticed when you began you didn't say we have some projects to determine whether there's life outside our solar system. you said we have projects to determine where there is life. are you convinced? >> i think so. now, this gets into philosophy. i'm convinced that there's nothing unique about us. we're seeing evidence of other places that life could exist. and in fact one of the very exciting programs at nasa ames is the mission where -- >> bill has been on this show. >> we're close. we're not ready to announce anything yet. also we're seeing on mars tantalizing evidence there may be life there. we're seeing variable methane which is a gas that can be produced by life. it can also be produced by other
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processees. we may all be martians. >> i talked with a guy who want to retire on mars. he said it would be great that it would be this entrepreneur sort of self-determinist like early days of america. self-selection. this exciting colony to live in. do you think -- he may be in his 30s. do you think it's possible he could retire on mars? >> i have gotten to know a number of these successful billionaires and they grew up with "star trek" and "star wa " wars." i'm convinced the first human mission to mars will be one way financed by these folks using technology we helped them develop to settle. >> one of the billionaires is trying to launch a rocket that you were in charge of for many years. the dcx. have i got that right?
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wouldn't you know whether jeff is going to succeed or not? it was your rocket. >> well, i have to tell you in order for me to find out what they're doing, i have to sign nondisclosure. all i can say is he's making great progress as is some of his other colleagues. we're on the version of a revolution in space that these visionaries that made a lot of money in other thing are bringing it forward. >> i was at the launch of spaceshipone and there's never been anything more exciting. >> are we all showing our age? when i go to universities and talk about this, people ask me questions about facebook. they want to know how they can get on youtube. they want to become -- to kids growing up today still want to be astronauts? >> absolutely. absolutely. >> don't some 42 year olds still want to be astronauts? >> that's my point.
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is it a generational thing? >> we're seeing the best and brightest want to work with nasa not just to settle other words but they want to work on it to fix problems on earth and they want to understand the secrets of the universe. i'm really not worried. we're seeing good young people come in. >> space suit is still a chick magnet. >> yes. there was a thing on "saturday night live" recently where tina fey said there are three women in orbit right now and nobody cares. it had gotten to a point that weather that was so common. >> that's an interesting point. what we are seeing is a lot of underserved minorities and groups very excited about space. this is one of our key challenges beginning to be a success that we're getting all of america involved in it and i went to a magnet school in los angeles largely hispanic young kids and it's a nasa school. they painted nasa stuff all over. these kids will get us there.
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>> what about immigration? do you need to find the best and brightest outside of america? that's the single issue in silicon valley. >> you have to prove you're an american citizen to get on the base. >> there are silicon valley companies that have been started for immigrants and is a major source of innovation you are trying to tap into. >> the latest space policy we'll make this international and a lot more. we have legal things to get through. i remind people that those that built our first rockets weren't born in america and had a rather interesting accent and built rockets aimed at us and our allies. we're seeing an internationalization of it. a lot of my staff are young people particularly who were born overseas and are american citizens or want to become american citizens. space is internationalize. we're getting the best and
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brightest from around the world. any kid that has interest in space wants to come and work for nasa. it's a nmagnet for the best and brightest. i think silicon valley is america. it's the createivity. we'll beat all of them. >> we'll stop it there. >> we'll work with them too. >> dr. worden, thank you for being with us this morning. we continue our nasa theme this morning after the break with perhaps one of nasa's least favorite former employees, former lunar module pilot and moon walker, ed mitchell, when "press: here" continues.
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welcome back to "press: here." when my next guest was 40 years old, he took a trip that changed his life. ed mitchell stepped on the moon february 5, 1971, as the sixth man to do so his name isn't as well known as neil armstrong but
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he gained fame when he revealed he conducted experiments into extra sensory perception, esp, during the flight, and made more waves when he said he believed creatures from other planets had visited earth. nasa, by the way, does not agree with dr. mitchell on that point. dr. mitchell was not able to meet with us here this sunday morning so i pretaped an interview with him ahead of time. one note in the interview i called the organization he founded the institute of noetic sciences school. dr. mitchell that i refer to it as a center for research. i wanted to point my error out to you ahead of time. dr. ed mitchell, last crew member of "apollo 14" to walk on the earth. thank you for joining us. >> thank you, scott. a pleasure to be with you. >> an honor to be with you. let's start with the more recent
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news that president obama has discussed this idea of canceling the latest missions that would have gone to the moon. the next set of missions. what was your reaction to that? >> i'm disappointed. however, there were problems with the technologies that were coming along. i understand. i'm not close to them. and also the president has an enormous task of rebuilding our economy and so i understand that that's his prime objective. however, recent developments from nasa itself suggests that where this is going is using the nasa to encourage private entrepreneurial activity in space opposed to all being primarily funded and promoted by government. but in other words bringing private contractors in. so that seems an appropriate direction very much like the beginning of aviation. very shortly we have aviation companies and we now have
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airlines. maybe we'll have space lines here before long. >> i was down at two of the launches of spaceshipone. it was very exciting. it felt a bit like i wasn't alive at the beginning of the space race. it felt similar. it must have been similar. that excitement and last-minute turning of the bolt with a wrench and let's go. >> yes. i think it's a new phase. it's a new phase of space development where entrepreneurial community, the private community, starts to get really involved in the activities opposed to manufacturing things for government to do. >> i'm tremendously excited to interview you and the viewer can't see but there are half a dozen or more people nearby watching this interview because they are excited that you're here. you're an "apollo" astronaut that walked on the moon. in your every day life when you pick up your dry cleaning, that person doesn't know you walked on the moon. when you get frustrated, do you
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ever think to yourself, gosh darn it, i walked on the moon. do you know who i am? >> i try to live a very private life frankly. while i guess it is fortunately, but in your example it doesn't take long before the tradespeople at the cleaners or grocery store or whatever that you frequent very long that word gets around and pretty soon people know who you are. i try to live a private life myself and i go about my business not as a celebrity but as a private person. >> one of the things you're best known for in the years afterwards is founding a school in california, something you still support to this day and have always supported. what are you doing for it lately? >> well, you're speaking of the institute of noetic sciences of course which was a result of my being in space seeing the
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planet, seeing the heavens from space, and recognizing that something different was going on that we were the first generation of space and i realize that humans were asking deep questions forever about who are we? how did we get here? where are we going and what is this really all about? i realized coming home from the moon that perhaps we being the first generation of space farers needed to ask that question all over again because it was clear to me the answers we gave from science were incomplete. and the answers coming out of our mystical and religion were flawed. here was a new area we ought to talk about and think about. that was a beginning of my
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starting to think about it because i did have an experience in space as i looked at the heavens and recognized from my training in astron onmy that the molecules of my body and molecules in the body of a spacecraft and in my partners' body were prototyped in some agent generation of stars and we were all one. it was all the same stuff. all matter is made in star systems. science had not looked at this issue of how did it come to be? that's what noetics was really all about to was to delve into why are we conscious and what's this transformational experience that happens to human beings as they have these type of outside
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issues. >> every day that goes by but not every day but every once in a while you hear about an "apollo" astronaut passing away. there will come a day not too far away where there will be no "apoll "apollo" astronauts. what do we do without you? >> i had lunch and dinner with john glenn and i said there's a story about us that you don't know. i will tell you. it's when john went back into space at 77 people started asking me, don't you want to go back into space? i said of course. i'm going wait until i'm 100 and beat john's record. >> dr. edgar mitchell, thank you for sitting down with us.
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>> thank you. >> dr. mitchell talking to us in a taped interview about his trip to the moon and his organization, the institute for noetic sciences. the complete interview is available on our website.
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>> that's our show for this week. my thank to pete worden and to astronaut ed mitchell. we'll be back next week. i'm scott mcgrew. thanks for making us part of your sunday morning.
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