Cornell University Associate Professor Mason Peck (BS Plan II ’89, BS ASE ’94) has recently been named NASA’s chief technologist. He will serve as the agency's principal advisor and advocate on a broad spectrum of matters. His two-year term will begin in January 2012.
According to a recent NASA press release, as the chief advocate, Peck will help communicate how NASA technologies benefit space missions and the day-to-day lives of Americans. The office is also responsible for integrating technology throughout the agency and showing the societal impact of NASA’s technology investments. Cornell University Associate Professor Mason Peck (BS Plan II ’89, BS ASE ’94) has recently been named NASA’s chief technologist. He will serve as the agency's principal advisor and advocate on a broad spectrum of matters. His two-year term will begin in January 2012.
Working with NASA has always been Peck’s dream.
“NASA is America’s civil space program; it’s the premier space program in the world, bar none.” Peck said. “There are other organizations that undertake space technology, but for my whole life, I’ve had a huge passion for NASA. I couldn’t be more excited to work there. This is a rare opportunity to have a positive impact.”
Peck’s role as chief technologist will be different than his predecessors. As the space industry has commercialized, NASA’s role in space exploration has also evolved.
“NASA is directly engaged in the burgeoning commercial space industry in this country,” Peck said. “The rise of commercial space makes technology at NASA even more relevant than before. My role will be different than my predecessors. Braun, the chief technologist until just recently, implemented a variety of technology programs. These new programs are going to allow NASA, universities, and private industries to start filling up NASA’s technology pipeline. All of this is going to complement NASA’s near-term and far-term missions – these are new ways to do space science and exploration.”
Peck, who worked as an engineer and consultant for companies like Boeing, Honeywell, and Lockheed, brings a variety of valuable experiences to the table. He has also authored 91 academic articles and holds 17 patents in both the United States and European Union.
“As chief technologist, I have the luxury of being able to work with the academic world, the public, NASA’s engineers, and other governmental agencies to help grow space technologies. These are parts of the space community that don’t always communicate very well together. I want to bring us together to further the future of space exploration.” Peck said. “One of the reasons I was chosen for this position is because I have been in these different worlds – the government, private companies, and academia. I have a sense of how we can bring them together.”
Peck followed an unconventional educational path. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in the Plan II program at UT, he received a master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Chicago. It was after this that he discovered his passion for space and came back to UT to complete a second bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering.
Thanks to his strong background in English, Peck has an ability to communicate with a variety of people – a skill that is crucial to become a successful chief technologist.
“I’m conscious and aware of how I write. I always try to express my thoughts precisely, which is very important for engineers,” Peck said. “As a chief technologist, communication is very important. I will have to carefully, precisely, and effectively talk about NASA technology to tell a story to the public, congress, and within NASA about why what we do is important.”
Peck attributes his success to the experience he had as an undergraduate in the aerospace engineering program at The University of Texas.
“I received a fantastic exposure to the aerospace field at UT. Dr. Fowler taught the spacecraft design course when I was a student, and I learned so much from that,” Peck said. “Dr. Lyle Clark taught me an incredible amount. I was so fortunate to have his class on spacecraft dynamics. I now teach that class at Cornell.”