Five Questions For … NASA Astronaut & Serial Inventor Scott Parazynski

Houston—As children, many of us believed we would have out-of-this-world experiences as adults. Scott Parazynksi is actually living that childhood wish.

As a NASA astronaut, Parazynski has flown on five shuttle missions and completed seven spacewalks, including at the International Space Station. A physician, he was the founding director of the University of Texas Medical Branch’s Center for Polar Medical Operations in Antarctica. And as a serial inventor, Parazynski recently founded a firm to commercialize his innovations in medical devices, consumer products, and gear developed for extreme environments.

Parazynski’s thirst for adventure stemmed from his grade school and high school years spent in Dakar, Senegal; Beirut; and Tehran.

In this week’s “Five Questions For,” Parazynski speaks about his affinity for Thomas Edison, the importance of the right team when developing innovative technologies, and the likelihood of finding little green men out in space. Here is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation:

Xconomy: If you could go back in time and get five minutes with any major historical figure, who would it be, and what would you want to say to them?

Scott Parazynski: I’m fascinated by the inventive process. I’ve read about a number of prolific investors. Thomas Edison has been remarkably creative; it would be exciting to talk to someone of his caliber and get in their head. I would like to understand the creative process and how they identify those unmet needs and what’s their structured approach to solving problems.

His mind ran the full gamut; he’s obviously known for light of course … But he touched everything. That’s kind of the way I approach life. As I’m walking down the street, I wonder are there problems that I can help fix that people want to have fixed and will pay for?

X: What leadership lessons did you get from your parents?

SP: They were very adventurous. When I was 11 years old, because of their travel bug they decided we should go live overseas. We moved to West Africa. My dad was working with Boeing in an international marketing job. Incredible adventure, it turned out to be. We ended up in the Middle East and in Europe. It taught me that taking calculated risks is really important, and to be open to new challenges. I certainly had a great world view early in my life from the places that I’d been and people I’d met through my parents’ adventurous streak.

X: What’s your biggest failure as an entrepreneur?

SP: My biggest failure has been not being as attentive to the team as compared to the technology. A couple of times I became very enamored with a particular technology that I wanted to bring to market, and the team wasn’t the right team. The culture of the group wasn’t ideal. So now I’ve come to realize it’s almost more important who you’re working with than what … Next Page »

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