Posted: 17 September 2016, 1:50 p.m. EDT
Speaker: Wanda A. Austin, president and CEO, The Aerospace Corp.
by Lawrence Garrett, AIAA web editor
To ensure the success of the space industry, it must embrace an inclusive vision for the future along with effective leadership, innovation and diversity, according to Wanda A. Austin, president and CEO of The Aerospace Corp.
Austin spoke as this year’s honoree of the Yvonne C. Brill Lecture in Aerospace Engineering in a lecture titled “Engineering Leadership: The Need for Technical Excellence and Diversity” on Sept. 15 at AIAA SPACE 2016 in Long Beach, California.
“Engineering success is achieved through technical excellence, which is built on a foundation of tireless innovation and diversity,” she said, noting that the difference between success and failure in life and in business is “leadership.”
Austin said that leadership from AIAA members has meant a tremendous amount to the space community throughout the decades.
“We live in interesting times ... and the work of AIAA members continues to be very important to the U.S. role in global leadership,” she said. “Together, we represent the best and brightest in our field, working on the cutting-edge of technology and innovation.”
She added that as leaders and technical experts, AIAA members’ efforts have helped advance the industry at a time when the U.S. and the world needs it, and encouraged engineers in the field to continually strive for excellence.
“In order to be technical leaders in space today, we need to be in continuous pursuit of being better,” she said. “We need to look for opportunities to be better in every area; that includes deep space exploration, human spaceflight, building and sustaining research capabilities in space, like the ISS, space tourism, and space situational awareness.”
Austin noted that change and innovation are “absolute[ly] necessary.” One example of constant change is in the realm of cybersecurity. Today’s national space assets are under constant threat of cyberattack, and Austin says cooperation is needed to overcome the threat.
“No area of life and commerce is invulnerable today,” she said. “We all need to engage and work together to respond and find meaningful solutions, especially in space.”
Austin also highlighted that in today’s space industry, when an asset is launched and it reaches its intended orbit, it’s not the end of the mission, as work then begins to keep the asset safe. Referencing T.S. Eliot, Austin said, “’The end is where we start from.’”
Austin cautioned that in order to produce resilient, robust, reliable and interoperable systems, industry must foster innovation in all forms — including old and new concepts — and should work with everyone and use all available resources. Austin said that engineers also cannot fear failure.
Wanda A. Austin, president and CEO, The Aerospace Corp., delivers the Yvonne C. Brill Lecture in Aerospace Engineering in a lecture titled “Engineering Leadership: The Need for Technical Excellence and Diversity,” on Thursday evening, 16 September, at AIAA SPACE 2016, which took place 13–16 September 2016, in Long Beach, CA.
“If we fear failure, we will never try anything new, and thus we would never improve,” she explained.
Touching on the importance of diversity in growing the space industry and realizing more technological innovations, Austin said, “Diversity shouldn’t derive from an arbitrary desire to be politically correct. It must be recognized as an asset that directly improves the work that we produce. It’s about embracing perspectives and a wide range of thoughts and ideas that are actually reflective of the world we live in.”
Austin also talked about the importance of space professionals supporting and helping foster science, technology, engineering and math in today’s youth.
“As engineers, it is incumbent upon each one of us to make a difference and strive to reverse these alarming trends,” she said of the shortage of STEM graduates and professionals in America. “We need to speak out and promote STEM at every level of education and work hard to ensure that these disciplines are no longer marginalized or optional.”
Austin said it is up to the space community to foster the right kind of effective leadership. She said that through leadership, needed talent will be developed, and sufficient resources assigned, to enable that innovation.
“We must practice engineering leadership in order to deliver true innovation in our industry, in our own society,” Austin explained.
Noting that Yvonne C. Brill was willing and eager to share her own groundbreaking leadership with the world, Austin said, “I know that we can carry her legacy forward today.”
Harkening back to T.S. Eliot, and pointing out that he “had it right,” Austin said, “’There will be an end, and there will be beginnings, and the end and the beginning are one in the same.”
Austin said she looks forward to witnessing the new beginnings certain to be introduced in the coming years by engineering leaders.
“Our work as innovators truly, truly never ends,” she said.
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