032: From punk rock bassist to NASA rocket scientist – the amazing story of Mike Paul Hughes



From punk rock bassist to NASA rocket scientist – the amazing story of Mike Paul Hughes

This is a story of grit, inspiration and pure dogged determination.

Awarded NASA’s Exceptional Achievement Medal, Mike is a truly exceptional rocket scientist, NASA engineer, music producer, composer, writer and inspirational speaker.

Working in a print shop by day and playing in a rock group at night, the odds were stacked against him. Following his dream of becoming an aerospace engineer was going to be no easy task.

He didn’t have the grades and he didn’t have the money. It could have been so easy just to give up, to abandon his dream, to go back to his day job.

But he knew nothing was going to stop him. After the Challenger disaster, Mike knew that aerospace was his calling.

And so, under the dim light of a 40W bulb, reading math books rescued from the trash, Mike began his amazing journey.

Listen on iTunes http://apple.co/2g4QCwJ and Stitcher http://bit.ly/2x829PQ

1:11 – Mike’s impressive and diverse background information.

3:15 – Dispelling the myth of rocket science being an inaccessible field.

4:04 – The story behind how Mike found his passion for science and engineering.

6:28 – “Advice” from someone whom he worked with about pursuing engineering.

8:48 – Challenges and discouragement he faced before even being able to get started.

10:25 – Where the determination came from in dealing with everyone telling him “no.”

11:38 – Getting started in the program and showing the will to put in the work to learn calculus.

14:43 – Having no clear vision for what he was getting himself into.

15:35 – How Mike fared through his coursework.

17:18 – Proving that you can outwork your competition to achieve what you want and overcome a lot.

17:51 – How Mike differed from most of the other NASA engineers, but also shared similar paths with some.

19:30 – Mike’s technical knowledge and troubleshooting ability being rooted in playing bass and dealing with the PA system.

20:22 – What it was like to walk into NASA for the first time as an engineer and what the working environment was like.

24:40 – Comparing the computing technology from the 90s to now and how that affected the work.

25:48 – The first moment he felt like he’d really found something special.

27:26 – How his experiences as a musician affected the way he approached working in the aerospace field

29:53 – Applying Newton’s laws to be able to effectively perform the math.

31:23 – The impact of artificial intelligence on this kind of work.

32:30 – What Mike is working on now with the Starshade project and how he views his work with exoplanets.

36:55 – Continuing to be in a period of testing in his work.

38:56 – Star Wars versus Star Trek.

40:34 – Tension between discovering life versus finding new planets; disagreements over credit.

43:53 – Comparing the competitive aspects of medicine and science; benefits to working in hierarchical organizations.

45:59 – Potential changes to the landscape due to things like AI; analogous to the internet or electricity.

48:21 – The questionnaire.

51:23 – Learning more about Mike and getting in touch.

Resources and Links Mentioned:

NASA Jet Propulsion Lab