NTB: What is your biggest challenge as chief engineer?
Dr. Ryschkewitsch: The fun part is just trying to keep track of all the things going on across the agency. In times of transition, there are always challenges associated with trying to make sure that we're finding the most constructive path forward both balancing the near-term needs of the programs and projects to keep things moving ahead, as well as the longer-term needs of the institution and the workforce.
We're in a multigenerational activity. Our very big missions will sometimes take decades, from the time that they're first a gleam in the eye of a scientist or project team to the time they launch them. The present science advisor and administrator has said that Mars is our ultimate destination. That's a multi-decade activity as well, which means that it's not only important that we perform efficiently and effectively on the projects that we have in front of us today, but that we also maintain a healthy institution in terms of the technical capabilities that are rooted in the centers, and vary especially the workforce that we're going to need. The people that will be in leadership positions by the time we get to Mars are people that we haven't hired today. It's very important that we're working with the NASA workforce, but also that we're also making sure that we do the right things to create a vibrant pipeline of people, which really starts with middle schoolers when they decide whether to take algebra or not, or to focus on science classes and to go into a technical field.
NTB: What is your favorite part of the job today?
Dr. Ryschkewitsch: I'll give you two answers that are kind of at the opposite end of the spectrum. It is immensely rewarding to see one of our mainstream science missions launch, and to know what it takes to do that and all the people that have done that.
The other end of the spectrum is I just get a huge charge out of talking with the young engineers that come in here and think that it's not possible for them to have a better job in the whole world. They're excited about coming here, and I just know that they're going to be doing great things for the next 20 to 30 years.
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