Kevin Stube, contractor at Ames Research Center who serves as the program manager for the Exploration Technology Directorate, at Ames Research Center in California.
Image courtesy of Kevin Stube. (Click image for full size.)
Interacting with international partners is critical to the success of the next-generation workforce, according to Kevin Stube.
For nearly a decade, Stube, currently a contractor at Ames Research Center and serves as the program manager for the Exploration Technology Directorate, has been an advocate for young professionals in an international context. He first attended the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in 2004 and has become increasingly connected to colleagues around the globe. ASK the Academy caught up with Stube to gain insight into how this exposure has helped shape his early career development.
ASK the Academy (ATA): You’ve became fairly integrated into the international space community, largely due to attending the IAC before you worked at Ames. What was that experience like?
Kevin Stube: The first IAC was absolutely an awesome experience. Have you been to a space shuttle launch? A space shuttle launch is emotional—it’s physical, it’s sensory. You see it, you feel it, you hear it. If you’re in the right place, you can even smell it.
The IAC is an awesome experience in more of a mental way. You go to this conference, [and] there are 3,000 to 5,000 people there. It’s either a job for them or they’re studying it, but they’re there to talk about the technical issues of it. I was in session after session after session, I didn’t skip a single one. I learned so much in that week. It was definitely one of the most mentally stimulating events I had been to.
I started recognizing names of people whose work I used in my thesis. It was really fun and fulfilling to go see them talk in person and present a paper, and then talk to them afterwards. I feel like they’re so open at IAC that you can approach them after they give their talk and say “Hi I’m Kevin Stube, I used these two papers that you wrote two years and six years ago as references and sources in my thesis. Thank you for working it because it helped me. I still have contact with people I met that way at the first IAC I went to in 2004. So there’s that level of awesomeness at the IAC: the people, the connections, the networking. I was busy from 7AM until 11 or 12 at night. That made IAC a very awesome experience. It was great to meet people from 50 countries from all over the world in one place. You’re meeting the giants. You’re meeting the leaders.
ATA: From that first IAC in 2004, you’ve gone nearly every year to IAC out of your own pocket. You’ve gone from presenting a single paper to becoming integrated into a number of young professional international activities. Can you elaborate more on that growth?
Stube: When I submitted my abstract for IAC and it got accepted, my stepfather, a NASA civil servant for over thirty years, said, “Well as long as you’re going, you should go a few days early for the Space Generation Congress beforehand.” At the time, it was a small conference just before the IAC for young professionals and students. The Congress was organized by the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC), which is an international non-profit group based in Vienna, Austria. Their mission is to support the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs and they were, at the time, the only youth organization in the world with observer status at the United Nations in any committee. So I went to their conference, talked to their people, and thought, "Great, this helps international efforts [toward] space exploration. How do I become more involved?"
The SGAC quickly made me the United States point of contact. (They try to have a point of contact in every country). They made me one of their delegates to go to the COPOUS Science and Technology Subcommittee meetings in February the following year in 2005, and I went in 2006 also at that capacity. And over the next several years with the Space Generation Advisory Council, I became their executive secretary, I became the conference manager for Space Generation Congress, and I helped organize several subsequent congresses.
At the same time with my involvement in SGAC and with going to the IACs, Jim Zimmerman the former president of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), asked the SGAC to do a young professional program in 2006 at the IAC as a pilot program. That went well, and following that IAC Jim had the IAF form an advisory committee called Workforce Development and Young Professional Programme and I have been the vice chair of that committee for several years.
ATA: What have you gained from this level of exposure and from this experience that you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise?
Stube: I’ve definitely gained an understanding how other space programs and agencies around the world work. From a business, management, technology, and scientific perspective, I’ve gained an understanding of the different cultural ways they work. If you are at NASA at Ames Research Center, we work a little differently than people do at Langley or Goddard or Headquarters or Johnson or any of the other centers. Each center has its own culture, but they are similar.
When you get to dealing with Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), and other space agencies around the world and in Europe, it is very different. So I think by attending the IAC, working on several of the committees, I have worked a lot with business people, space agency people in other countries who have given me a really good understanding on how partnerships can develop with those agencies and what we would have to do differently—how we might have to change our behavior, our message, to work with international partners. So hopefully some day in the future I’ll be at a management level where I can work with international partners.
Kevin Stube and his wife, Jessica Culler, at Kennedy Space Center.
Image courtesy of Kevin Stube. (Click image for full size.)
ATA: The 2012 IAC is coming up in October. What recommendations or advice do you have for people who might not be able to travel there, but still want to be involved either this year or in the years to come?
Stube: For the past three years, the Workforce Development and Young Professionals Programme Committee has hosted virtual forums for young professionals in conjunction with other technical committees. There are five in total. They are designed for young professionals who may not be able to afford it or their company might not be able to send them. We use an online software tool for the young professionals to connect remotely, present their paper, and answer questions. It is fully interactive with the people in the room at the IAC. So they present their paper, their PowerPoint slides are on the screen in the room, but they are also online around the world. It is free to join these sessions. (Learn more about the virtual sessions.)
Last year, I think we had a 150 people in remote sessions around the world. Some of them were in the room at DLR, the German aerospace agency, which had 20 people in it. Some of them were just people at home at their computer. We had a couple NASA centers that had conference rooms set up. So the young professionals can at least see those five sessions. The papers have already been selected [for the 2012 IAC], but they can at least see those presentations and ask questions directly without going to the IAC.
For our plenary event this year, it is about social media. Specifically how social media can be used to improve operations in science, not education outreach discussion stuff. So people will be live-tweeting and using Facebook during that plenary so people can submit questions online that we can ask our panelists.
Also, we have three evening networking receptions. One is a panel featuring industry leaders Joanne Maguire, Executive Vice President of Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company and Vitali Lopota, President of RSC Energia. We are thrilled to have this very high level participation from industry to interact with the young professionals at IAC.
ATA: What else is going on at the international level right now that you find exciting?
Stube: Another thing is the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) landing. While MSL is a NASA mission, there were several countries that had some part in MSL. Those international partners bring something to the table that NASA maybe could have provided, but it would have cost more and taken longer. So the international partners help make the mission happen. I also think the SOFIA mission, which is a 747 converted into a flying telescope, that is a NASA and DLR is a very good, strong partnership. Here at Ames, we have a lot of small international partnerships developing that I think are really fantastic because having said early on, space exploration needs to be international, it shouldn’t just be one country. International cooperation in general gets me excited because it enables so much more than unilateral work does.
That said, China and India are doing a lot of stuff on their own that is fascinating. For years we only had two countries that could launch rockets and people in space, the U.S and Russia. Now, all of sudden that is changing. We also have several commercial companies getting into the game. Any time we can have more players involved, it is a good thing for us. Seeing new players coming in really gets me excited to see the whole space community grow.