For psychologist Paul Eckert, PhD, it is rocket science.
In Boeing's Space Exploration Division, Eckert uses his clinical and industrial/organizational skills to help technical and business experts shepherd ideas to fruition — for example, new approaches to human space flight.
"The greatest barriers to progress are rarely technical," says Eckert. "They are generally interpersonal and social."
The job: Eckert has had the opportunity to work with the Boeing team that supports NASA on the International Space Station. Boeing is also developing a human space capsule that can transport private space flight participants and NASA astronauts into orbit. Eckert helps the team — a mix of engineers and business professionals — address both technical and economic issues.
Diplomacy: Eckert meets regularly with other aerospace companies and governments to learn about their projects, through teleconferencing and in-person meetings in Washington, D.C. "All the major space powers have an attaché or a space counselor at their embassies, and one fascinating dimension of my job is to get to know and work with them."
Taking up space: Eckert learned about NASA and space policy as an APA congressional fellow in 1997 in the office of former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), who served on the Senate committee that oversees NASA. When his fellowship ended, Eckert took a job in NASA's Legislative Affairs Office, and then moved to the Office of Space Commercialization at the U.S. Department of Commerce. Boeing recruited him from Commerce to work on business and organizational development. Eckert jumped at the offer, in part because it gave him the opportunity to contribute to the nation's economic growth. "I wanted to promote economic development with my training, and high technology is a prime source of growth that supports our families and communities," he says.
Moon-sized perks: Eckert has met more than a dozen astronauts, including Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first two men to walk on the moon. On several occasions, Eckert has chatted with Aldrin about technology and society. "Buzz has fascinating stories about the past, but he has never stopped dreaming of a bright future for human space exploration," says Eckert. "One of his most admirable achievements has been inspiring young people to pursue space-related educational and career opportunities."