A & S Interview: Pete Worden
The director of NASA's Ames Research Center talks about piloting a Stearman and settling the moon.
- By Paul Hoversten
- Air & Space magazine, November 2006
(Page 2 of 2)
A&S: What’s more fun, being an astronomer or a center director?
Worden: Well, they both have their benefits. But I’ve got to say, this is probably the most fun job I’ve ever had. The Vision for Space Exploration that we have now is what everybody’s been waiting for since Apollo. And the opportunity to be part of it and help coordinate the efforts of a few thousand people that are assisting in that is about the coolest thing I’ve done.
A&S: Are you a pilot?
Worden: Actually, I am. They had some airshows here and they offered to give me a ride in a Stearman, which was a World War II trainer, the kind my dad flew. I told him about it and he said, “You know, you were in one of those before.” And I said, “No, I didn’t know that.” And he said, “Well, you probably wouldn’t remember. You were six weeks old.” He actually dug up a picture that had me sitting in his lap as he’s holding me at the edge of the airplane. He said, “So this was your second ride in a Stearman.”
A&S: When did you get your pilot’s license?
Worden: When I was 17. My dad was a corporate pilot and an Air Guard pilot and we had a little light airplane that he trained me in. Most people say they’re really scared when they fly solo. Well, my dad used World War II training techniques, which meant the moment I got in the airplane his mouth opened, and it didn’t close until the engine cut off. You know, non-stop yelling and colorful language. I was so glad when he was out of the airplane. In fact, I even did one or two things wrong [during my solo], and he was on the ground shaking his fist at me.
A&S: Where will we be in space exploration 25 years from now?
Worden: I certainly hope that we’re on the moon and Mars, and I might add that near-Earth asteroids are a very exciting additional set of targets. I would think that in 25 years the most important thing we would have is people that are permanently living off the planet. Living and thriving and settling.
A&S: The first space age saw a breakthrough in computer technology. What breakthroughs do you foresee for the next era in space exploration?
Worden: I think it’s probably the ability to live off the land. In some sense, a human settlement is a self-replicating entity. And I think that the technology to do that is a combination of manufacturing, biological, energy, and other things. So it’s sort of a synthesis of dozens of different technologies that actually enable you to not only live but expand. You might call it the development of an Earth seed, a planet on another planet that can survive by itself and produce more. The first space age was getting there. The next space age is living there.