Dr. Shin is the Associate Administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. In this capacity he co-chairs the National Science & Technology Council’s Aeronautics Science & Technology Subcommittee and has authored or co-authored more than 20 technical and journal papers.



Prior to the lecture at MIPT, Dr. Shin kindly agreed to speak with our MIPT reporter about his job, provide his perspectives on aeronautics and aviation technology, and how his childhood dreams came true.



What is your job?


My job is to design and plan NASA’s aeronautics research program. NASA stands for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and I am responsible for the aeronautics research part of it. In addition to working with officials at NASA, I also interact with private companies and universities in the U.S. to put NASA’s overall aeronautics research plan together. These partnerships are important because they help to outline the strategic direction and decide what sort of research we need to conduct, and then I manage NASA's aeronautics portfolio. That's my job.



How does it feel to be one of the most significant persons in NASA?


I feel very humbled to be in this position and it comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility. NASA is the lead government entity in the U.S. that is in charge of carrying out the country’s civil commercial aviation research and my job is to manage this important portfolio. It's a big responsibility, but fortunately I have a lot good people working with me.



As a child, what job did you dream about?


I watched the Apollo 11 moon landing. I was 10 years old at that time and still living in Korea. That experience sort of got me interested in aerospace but I had no idea that I would someday work for NASA. However, when I came to the U.S. to study, to get my Masters and PhD degrees, I saw that NASA was well respected by all the engineers and scientists and I wanted to work there. You can say that dream was realized. 



You certainly had to learn a lot in your life. What do you still want or have to try?


Technologies change so rapidly, there is always something new that you need to learn, technology trends and where technologies are going. That's actually the most exciting part that you always still need to learn something. In addition, I get to work with very talented people and get to learn from them as well.



What should a true scientist be like? What characteristics should he or she have?


I think a scientist should have a couple of important characteristics: first, it helps to be a really good communicator. You can have a great idea, but if you can't explain it to anybody it's not really useful, is it? And all the engineers and scientists by definition are trying to help society and other people. That’s why communication is important. And you also need to be patient. Whatever you work on may not come to fruition any time soon, because we often work on projects that have very long timeframes. You need to have the patience to stay on course and get the job done.



In your opinion, what invention is the most important in human history? Why?


There is a number of them, but the most recent one is most certainly the digital revolution: computer, Internet and all those kinds of things. They really provided the basis for all the other technologies to flourish, the ones we use now... Like Facebook. It’s a very simple idea, but if the Internet or the computer was not available, that sort of technology wouldn’t be possible. Again, there are a lot of technologies that are important, but probably the one with the most impact was from computers and the Internet.



What’s your own biggest achievement?


I used to be a manager for NASA’s aviation safety program and I feel very proud to have been a part of that team, because they conduct important research with the goal of ensuring safety for people when they fly. We really want to take care of them, so that they feel safe and don’t feel anxious getting on an airplane. Working on aviation safety probably was my proudest achievement.



What do you think: how will our world change in the next 5-10 years?


I think we will see a lot more autonomy, autonomous systems: cars, vacuum cleaners – these type of systems in my view. In 5-10 years a lot of things that we do now will probably be automated by some sort of artificial intelligence. Robots will probably help and have more of an impact on what humans do now. I think that this is the most promising area.



What’s the best country to be the scientist from your point of view?


That is a difficult question given all of the different capabilities from the global community. However, I have been to Russia a few times and am impressed with your nation’s aeronautics research capabilities. It is also fascinating to see first-hand the talents and capabilities of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. The students here have a unique opportunity to make a positive impact on the global aviation and aerospace community.


Text by Svetlana Osipova
Photos by Inna Sidorova and Evgenii Pelevin