Five Questions For … NASA Astronaut & Serial Inventor Scott Parazynski

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you’re working on. Ideally, you find great synergy of great technology and great people. But occasionally it’s not all in sync. I’m very selective now with who I work with and what I work on.

I’ve seen this, having worked with some of the most successful teams on or off the planet at NASA. The values of team before self, transparency, integrity, self starter-ness, there’s a real commitment to making a difference. One of the things that NASA does extremely well is building teams and tackling really daunting challenges. That’s what I look for [now]. If just one person brings negative energy or self-centeredness, or is not fully committed to the mission, it can really have a negative effect on the success of a team. So spending a lot of time upfront getting to know the people you’re going to be working with is important. Building a startup is like a marriage.

X: What did you want to be when you were a kid?

SP: I lived it. I wanted to be an astronaut since I could walk and talk. I grew up in the shadow of the space program. In the early years of the Saturn 5 rockets that went to the moon, I was present at those early launches. It was great to be able to pursue my own American dream and become an astronaut. I would’ve loved to set footprints down on Mars; it didn’t quite turn out that way.

We live in a really exciting time in which commercial companies are now opening up the frontier for many people, with Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin [planning to take] tourists up into space. It’s the barnstorming era of commercial space flight. Hopefully in 20 years, there will be crews on Mars. I’ll be watching from here on Earth.

X: OK, you’ve been in outer space so I have to ask. Do aliens exist?

SP: Well, I think we need to keep an open mind. I personally believe that life is probably more common than anyone ever would have thought. The conditions for life probably exist in several places in our own solar system. There certainly has been free-flowing water on Mars in the distant past.

Europa is a moon of one of our outer planets. It has an ice-encrusted surface and geothermal energy underneath it. There could be life forms under that. In the outer solar system, in distant space, we’re discovering exo-planets in other solar systems … Life is probably the rule rather than the exception. We haven’t had the chance to really explore there yet.

I don’t believe we’ve been visited by little green men. Humanity has only been transmitting for a few decades. The signal is weak and it’s only over a short period of time. [Alien life] may not even be carbon-based; it may be something totally unrecognizable to us today.

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