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Elkins-Tanton named vice president of Interplanetary Initiative


Lindy Elkins-Tanton

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December 07, 2020

Lindy Elkins-Tanton, director of Arizona State University’s Interplanetary Initiative and the principal investigator on NASA’s Psyche mission to a metallic asteroid, will become vice president of the ASU Interplanetary Initiative effective Jan. 1, 2021. The new position acknowledges Elkins-Tanton’s success as a space explorer and her ability to bring people together to think outside the box when it comes to space exploration. 

Elkins-Tanton has led the Interplanetary Initiative – an effort to advance society through exploration – since its inception in 2017. As a vice president, Elkins-Tanton will further develop the operating principles of the initiative and move it into more of a mainstay in ASU’s academic portfolio.  

“Lindy Elkins-Tanton is a pathbreaking scientist and truly a modern-day explorer with the Psyche mission she leads for NASA,” ASU President Michael Crow said. “We want to have Lindy focus some of those creative energies and organizational abilities to what comes next not only in space exploration, but also in the bold move that follows as we transcend from being Earth-bound to Earth-based and reach out to new worlds.”

The goal of the Interplanetary Initiative is building the future of humans in space to create a bolder and better society. It does this by tackling some of the grand challenges presented before our society, like: How can public and private support be galvanized for space exploration? What fundamental rules govern the self-sustainability of ecosystems for long-term space settlement? How can we successfully build thriving communities on other worlds? How do we train and prepare the human psyche for being interplanetary? 

“Humans are compelled to explore, and we will explore space,” Elkins-Tanton said. “The question is, will we explore it in the flawed model of the past, where only a few benefit, and many suffer, or can we imagine a way to evolve in our level of civilization and move into this new era as our better selves.” 

Elkins-Tanton said that the initiative spans all of ASU and includes participation from 50 centers and more than 20 external partners. It also has academic support coming from 15 units for Interplanetary Initiative’s Bachelor of Science degree in technology leadership. 

“It brings all of the critical disciplines to bear, including design, psychology, sociology, education, theater, engineering, science, writing, management and leadership,” she added. “Some of the initiative’s pilot projects concern space technology, but others are more in the realms of human engineering, organizational management and communications.” 

Through the initiative, ASU has set the stage for a new and exciting era of exploration of Earth, the universe and the future of humans. 

“Interplanetary will have the support and connections in the university to create a prototype of a new kind of university entity,” Elkins-Tanton said. “We'll be connecting the private sector, government and universities to make more rapid progress toward being an interplanetary society and toward truly deserving and embracing being an interplanetary species.”

To be interplanetary, Elkins-Tanton said, will require working across disciplines and conducting intersector work on targeted goals in technology, team-building and education. It will also require a society of problem-solvers with a sense of agency and a perspective that reaches beyond our own town, country or planet.

She explained that the Interplanetary Initiative is advancing the state-of-the-art for putting together interdisciplinary teams and supporting them to move more rapidly toward key goals. For example, one of the more than 20 Interplanetary Initiative pilot projects is focused on changing the nature of human-robot interactions, and another is gathering key data on how people will collaborate, or compete, on off-Earth settlements.

“We need to create new processes for building teams that work more efficiently toward targeted goals; we need teams that are diverse and high-functioning; we need better, faster teaming of organizations, and more effective education for the problem-solvers of the future,” Elkins-Tanton explained. “To be who we should be for an interplanetary future, we need new processes.”

“I am completely thrilled to have the opportunity to bring people together to invent better ways of making progress, and to inspire humanity to look beyond our dusty feet and up to our place in the universe,” she added.

It is expected that the Interplanetary Initiative will mature into the Interplanetary Laboratory at ASU, which will include the creation of several large-scale projects and support systems that aid the development of proposals for enhancing interplanetary systems development. 

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