“Don’t worry if you’re not a rocket scientist,” UConn Law Professor Joseph MacDougald said, welcoming a full crowd to hear a NASA rocket scientist in William F. Starr Hall.
Prasun N. Desai, deputy associate administrator for management of the Space Technology Mission Directorate for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, spoke to lawyers and law students at a dinner on Oct. 21, 2019. It was organized by the Center for Energy and Environmental Law at the UConn School of Law and the Environmental Law Section of the Connecticut Bar Association.
“We live in interesting times, because space is no longer in the purview of a handful of governments,” Desai said. He mentioned billionaires starting space programs in their spare time and the possibility of American commercial interests conflicting with international agreements about space.
“We are in uncharted territory; there are a lot of commercial interests now that weren’t there just 10 years ago,” he said. “Space law is likely going to have to evolve over time.”
The branch of NASA that Desai leads is based in Washington, D.C., and is primarily concerned with finding, funding and proving new technologies. The camera technology in smartphones relies on a chip that originated as a satellite component funded by NASA investments, he noted.
Desai gave straightforward career advice based on his own experience. He started his career at NASA as an intern, and through hard work and soft skills advanced to his current position. “The technical skills get you through the door, maybe they’ll get you an interview,” he said, but it’s what you do afterward that moves you forward. He also highlighted the importance of having a good attitude and a good work ethic.
Desai’s talk ranged from the technical specifications of state-of-the-art solar cells to the experience of landing rovers on Mars to pining for a time when he had a fuller head of hair and didn’t know what an ulcer felt like. But driving it all, he said, was a determined attitude, curiosity, and a belief that investing in knowledge pays massive dividends for everyone, no matter if you are sending rockets to the moon or trying to pass the bar.