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An Interview with NASA Rocket Scientist, Dr. Jeff Norris


Jeff Norris is a NASA rocket scientist that will be speaking at KeenCon! We are sooo incredibly excited. In our 5 question interview, Jeff tells us about his passion for exploring the solar system and how he’s used platforms to achieve his goals. WAY cool.

1. What is it that you build / make / create / think about / love / do?

I’m a space invader! My passion is building systems for controlling robots and spacecraft that are exploring our solar system. The lab that I lead for NASA is applying technologies like virtual reality and natural user interfaces to transform the ways that we control robots and interact with the environments that they explore. In my spare time I’m a gamer and my son and I recently built a quadcopter from parts.

2. What is the greatest thing you’ve ever made, discovered, explored, or built?

Every day, hundreds of scientists and engineers around the world work together to control a piece of metal on Mars called “Curiosity”. I led the creation of the tools that make that possible.

3. At Keen, we’re really big on Invention, Information, and Intuition — especially when they work together. How do these concepts interplay in what you do?

Humans are natural explorers, but I wouldn’t call the experience of interplanetary exploration via robots a “natural” or “intuitive” experience today. I think a lot about inventing systems to make task of controlling an incredibly remote, fiendishly complicated machine more intuitive. A bit of irony is that our initial goal is to restore the ordinary experience of exploration that we routinely experience on Earth when we explore other words. However, I think the true promise of this work will be to imbue human explorers with abilities that surpass that.

4. We think it’s great when people build off of platforms to make even cooler stuff. What platforms have you found yourself working off of in your field?

While sometimes my lab invents entirely new things to achieve our goals, I think our greatest achievements have come from cleverly extending the work of others or discovering a way that a technology from a seemingly unrelated field can have an enormous impact on space exploration. We work with numerous platforms including web stuff like D3, node, WebGL, gaming technologies like Unity, Oculus, Kinect, cloud providers like AWS, client architectures like Eclipse — there’s too many to list.

5. Could you give us a hint what you’ll be talking about at KeenCon? ❤

I’m going to tell some stories about innovation with examples from space exploration and elsewhere using some out-of-the-ordinary technologies to get my point across. 🙂

Well, we kind of all want to become rocket scientists now. Come see Jeff alongside several other crazy brilliant speakers at KeenCon this September!