Today we are talking to Douglas Terrier, the CTO of NASA and we discuss the difficulty in making products when there is no room for error, creating a feedback loop with your team, and how innovation at NASA is impacting our everyday lives.
All of this, right here, right now, on the Modern CTO Podcast
Dr. Douglas Terrier serves as chief technologist and is the senior leader of the office. In this role, Terrier is the agency’s principal advisor and advocate on NASA technology policy and programs, helping plot the strategic direction of the agency’s space technology program.
Terrier is responsible for the operation, management and programs within the Office of the Chief Technologist. The Office of the Chief Technologist serves as the NASA Administrator’s principal advisor and advocate on matters concerning agency-wide technology policy. Terrier directs the work of the strategic integration and innovation teams, coordinating and tracking technology investments across the agency, working to infuse technologies into future NASA missions and facilitating agency technology governance. He also is responsible for coordination and integration of research and development planning, policies and programs with other NASA Directorates and Offices, NASA centers and other government agencies, industry and academia. In addition, Terrier conducts advocacy activities with technology partners in industry, the educational community, the public, customers, and stakeholders.
Terrier earned a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering and a MS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Texas. He also completed the Carnegie Mellon Graduate School of Industrial Management program with the Lockheed Martin Institute for Leadership Excellence. Terrier holds patents for his work in aerospace propulsion and has published numerous technical papers. He has earned the Lockheed Martin “Outstanding Technical Achievement” award on four occasions, several NASA “Superior Technical Accomplishment” awards, and the NASA Leadership medal.
To read Dr. Terrier’s full biography click here
Talking about the STEM foundation – Princess Physicist.
Worked on the F-22 Raptor and F-35
What was the path that led to him being where he is? Grew up in Jamaica. Teacher started reading him Telemetry as an 8 year old about Apollo missions.
What does a typical day look like? Spend a lot of time in meetings going over strategy. Had an anomaly in russia, had an abort mission and had to learn the lessons.
Spends a lot of time out with Universities to get the word out. Get the people excited and also to learn what’s going on out there.
Spends a lot of time collaborating across different industries
Responsibility of CTO at NASA. Look across all aspects of technology. Responsible for Innovation and innovation culture.
When they started most of the invention most of it was being developed inside nasa. Now there’s a lot of innovation outside. Need to figure out where they are unique and where they can best use their money. Leverage and foster what’s happening outside
Is Neil Degrasse Tyson as cool as he seems? Yes, yes he is.
First part of space act was to explore and the second is to share the technologies with America and the world.
A lot of our lives are powered from space. GPS etc. All of it is going on in the background.
Might see the connection very quickly. What’s not as easy to see is the life sciences and human research. 1000’s of lives are saved from spin
Transferring technology to all aspects of our lives
Impacts in climate science, clean air and clean water.
Do a lot of direct medical interventions in space. It’s a tough environment. Maintain health in a weightless environment.
NASA has a lot of partnerships with medical centers.
Develop a lot of monitoring technologies. Miniaturized treatment devices
Talking about the movie Hidden Figures
NASA’s product is Inspiration. Choose to do the things because they are hard. Measures us as a human race. Make the impossible, Possible.
Try to make sure that the message reaches as many people as possible. Use the Movie Hidden Figures at HBCUs
The USA Has a lot of toons with which we are able to affect our place in the world.
NASA has been great at uniting people.
Enable the growth of private sector space exploration
Companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX are not competitors. They are actually successes from NASA
Important to realize, NASA is about designing missions. When they can help foster and grow the technology it’s great.
Developing the SLS and Orion launch system **** Come back to this ****
Focusing energies on developing the new transportation system for deep space exploration.
Synapse Innovation Summit.
Space flight is the most challenging environment period. How do you measure R&D. Didn’t appreciate how high the bar is set at NASA until he got there.
No room for error when you’re operating in an Environment.
Left the Ground with 6 Million lbs of fuel returned with 10 seconds of fuel. You can’t pad the safety so you have to get it exactly right.
How much rigor is too much rigor.
NASA is a different culture than a lot of people. There is no higher value than safety.
How do you go about Feedback with the team? All about the people. Not measuring you on what you’ve been or done. Measuring you by how you grow and mentor your team. Empowering your team to be the best that it can be. Focus everyone on the audatious inspirational mission.
Have a little retreat with the group. Take a day off. Who is our customer. What is that customer Value. Try to analyze is it delivering value. How can we do that better?
Need to be able to channel that motivation and make sure it’s aligned with the mission and give them the tools to succeed.
When there’s a disconnect you have to connect them back to the mission – Joel
Alignment and integration. Know what you’re trying to accomplish and what you’re trying to deliver. Get used to doing things a certain way. Constantly looking at how do you break the status quo
Piece of advice? Learn all the things you can’t do. Develop scars
Act like you don’t know it can’t be done.
Important to listen to legacy knowledge but don’t be afraid to try stuff.
Very difficult balance to find with safety and multibillion dollar investments.
Remove some of the friction that doesn’t need to be there.
So many areas where there are new truths that weren’t true.
Technology is updating so quickly now. Challenging the ability of the cultural systems and business systems.
The digital transformation is changing a lot of the way NASA is doing things.
Such an amazing team at NASA. It’s an honor for Douglas to be on the team. Whatever position you are in, everyone has a very important role to play.
Being amongst a group of people who have a shared.