Pete Worden - Former Director, NASA Ames

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Originally posted on SSI's first website in 2012:

On Thursday November 29 SSI and the Stanford chapter of AIAA were proud to host the current director of NASA Ames Pete Worden.

Dr. Worden began his talk discussing the need and desire for human expansion into space, driven by human nature as well as the search for extra-terrestrial life. This is seen in the attention being given to Mars, Venus, Europa, Enceladus, and Titan as possible abodes of life and the excitement over the Kepler mission, which has been extremely successful in detecting thousands of distant planets, including ones deemed in the “habitable zone” that could potentially foster life.

Dr. Worden then described how a paradigm shift is occurring in the field of space. Since Craig Venter sequenced the human genome and the field of synthetic biology has taken off, it will likely soon be possible to create life to match the environment we need them to live in. As 3D printing technology develops, it’s easy to imagine sending a DNA sequence to a machine on another planet and printing the bacteria or plants needed to pave the way for human exploration. And with the exponential growth in robotics, it is becoming possible to build more advance spacecraft and even human bases. In theory, as time goes on, we may even be able to start growing entire ships to perfectly match our needs.

Dr. Worden then transitioned into a talk about the future role of NASA with space technologies and missions. The Ames center will be involved in setting up an infrastructure to help human settlement in the future- using cutting edge technology such as quantum computing and testing synthetic biology experiments on the International Space Station. Dr. Worden discussed his hope for and faith in private companies to take over missions to orbit and beyond and lower the cost of getting people to far out destinations. It then becomes NASA’s mission to focus on developing the new technologies necessary to survive in these environments and perform long-term colonization, echoing their NACA heritage.

After a thorough and thought-provoking presentation, Dr. Worden answered multiple questions from students and told some anecdotes from his career at NASA such as the time he caused an uproar over an intergalactic war through his one and only tweet. He encouraged all students to push boundaries and to always look towards creating technologies for the future.