ASU explorer Scott Parazynski talks life of adventure

Parazynski, a man of many titles, has climbed Mt. Everest, gone to space and is now using his experiences to teach students at ASU about exploration

After flying five space shuttle missions, managing seven spacewalks and climbing Mount Everest twice, Scott Parazynski has settled in as an ASU professor.

An ASU explorer and professor of practice, Parazynski said he uses his experiences to teach and encourage students to pursue expeditions of their own. He also teaches an course in the ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration in which he focuses on topics related to exploration.

After his contributions to NASA, Parazynski was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Parazynski said a coincidental meeting with President Michael Crow brought him to ASU. Crow was interested in his impressive background, making him a candidate for the expanding positions in engineering programs and SESE.

“I had this amazing conversation with (Crow) and immediately fell in love with the notion of the New American University, and cited that I’d love to be a part of that,” Parazynski said.

Parazynski’s course was co-created two years ago, with SESE Director Linda Elkins-Tanton and SESE professor and planetary scientist Jim Bell.

“We thought it would be exciting, also important, for students in other parts of the campus to study exploration and to potentially have an opportunity to do their own expeditions,” Parazynski said.

Bell said the course does very well in student engagement.

“The students love to hear about his adventures and get excited to plan their own experiences,” Bell said.

Students get to prepare proposals, budgets and press releases on expeditions they would like to do one day.

“It’s a wonderful exposure to the world of exploration, but it’s also a great program to learn how to write convincingly," Parazynski said.

While the SESE course aims at student engagement, Parazynski finds enjoyment in the course as well, he said.

“It is fun to dream big with these students and then encourage them to actually pursue these expeditions,” Parazynski said.

The former astronaut attributes his adventurous mentality and love for travel to his parents.

“They encouraged me to pursue my dreams and never set any artificial limits on what I might attain,” Parazynski said.

With an adventurous lifestyle comes the potential for danger, and Parazynski is no exception. While abroad, he said he had to evacuate from two countries on separate occasions.

“I had to evacuate from war-torn Beirut, Lebanon, during the civil war and Tehran, Iran, during the beginning of the Islamic revolution,” he said.

On his last space flight, STS-120, a live solar array had to be repaired, carrying a much larger risk than normal spacewalks.

“The fact the entire NASA team would come together to solve such a daunting problem,” Parazynski said, “that was definitely my favorite day on the job to me, to get to do something as audacious like that.”

Parazynski said he believes there are still more adventures ahead in his life. He said he enjoys extreme environments because they force people to invent new technologies to survive and thrive there.

“It’s a great catalyst for thinking outside the box and inventing new things that benefit us all, so I love that challenge,” he said.

Parazynski’s current focus is on building his new company, Fluidity Technologies, involving robotic controls and machine learning.

“I invented a switch solution that allows us — with one hand — to move very precisely through space with almost no training,” he said.

Parazynski hopes the technology will have a wide impact, allowing surgery to be done remotely.

“Ultimately, it will allow us to tele-operate surgical instruments half-way around the world,” he said.

While Parazynski is a long-time adventurer, he is an inventor at heart.

“If I see a problem, I try to brainstorm solutions to fixing the inconveniences of life,” he said.

Meenakshi Wadhwa, director at the Center for Meteorite Studies and SESE professor, is married to Parazynski.

“At his core, Scott is an explorer and an innovator,” she said. “And through his own experiences, he has always sought to inspire young minds to explore and to innovate.”

Wadhwa said she believes student interactions have been integral to her husband's experience at the University.

“I know that one of the most rewarding aspects of his affiliation with ASU has been his interactions with the students here,” Wadhwa said.

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