Renowned space and earth explorer joins ASU faculty
Scott Parazynski, a technology innovator, will engage students and develop research and programs to support human health in challenging environments
Arizona State University’s first designated University Explorer, Scott Parazynski, has scaled Everest, orbited the Earth at 17,500 miles an hour and invented devices for surgery, spacewalking and the consumer market.
Parazynski joins the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the School of Earth and Space Exploration in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences as a professor of practice on Oct. 1.
He comes to ASU from the University of Texas Medical Branch’s Center for Polar Medical Operations, where he was director and chief medical officer. There, he oversaw health care and medical screening for the National Science Foundation's U.S. Antarctic Program, both on-the-ice care and medical screenings, including telemedicine.
“Dr. Parazynski is remarkable, as a physical explorer and former astronaut, and as an entrepreneur who navigates many different areas of endeavor,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “His experience and perspective can inform ASU’s space initiatives, help pioneer our high performance medicine partnerships with the Mayo Clinic and build bridges in the areas of bioengineering, earth and space sciences.”
Parazynski holds a doctor of medicine with deep expertise in the fields of space physiology, aviation, biotechnology and human adaptation to extreme environments. He says that while he wanted to help people, he also looked to the stars from an early age.
“My father worked on Apollo, and it was always a dream of mine to go to space,” said Parazynski. “However, it only became tangible when I began my medical training at Stanford Medical School. It was there that I realized, with NASA’s Ames Research Center just down the street, I could craft a career that combined my two life-long career aspirations: to be an explorer and physician.”
Over the course of 16 years, Parazynski was a mission specialist, physician, flight engineer and one of NASA’s most experienced spacewalkers. He flew on five Space Shuttle missions, including STS 66/Atlantis, STS 86/Atlantis to the Russian Space Station Mir, STS 95/Discovery and STS 100/Endeavour to the International Space Station. On his last mission, STS 120/Discovery, he led the unplanned repair of a live solar array, a $1 billion national asset that required new tools and technical development in less than 72 hours.
Parazynski is the recipient of two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, five NASA Space Flight Medals, the Randolph C. Lovelace Award from the Society of NASA Flight Surgeons, the Aviation Week Laureate Award and Lowell Thomas Award from the Explorer’s Club for his contributions.
Parazynski believes that his greatest skill set is creative problem-solving. As a technology innovator, he hopes to engage ASU students in clinical and laboratory environments, and develop research and technology programs to support human health in challenging environments. As a scientist, his unique perspectives can support ASU’s NASA and commercial space endeavors. And as an inventor, he believes that building multidisciplinary teams offers the power to navigate uncharted territories and engineer new approaches, from the challenges of deep space exploration to rural telemedicine, commercialization of inventions and STEM education.
“Young people are excited by the allure of invention, but often don’t understand the difficulties of taking an idea into the marketplace. Math and the sciences are the core languages of the future, even if pursuing careers outside of science,” said Parazynski, who received an R&D 100 Award from R&D Magazine for one of the top innovations in 2010. “Bringing together multidisciplinary teams, including engineering, scientific, legal, financial, marketing and other expertise, is often the missing link. Many new businesses fail because they get too enamored of their idea without thinking through all the other steps.
“ASU offers a remarkable environment in which to work and teach. It is a powerhouse for innovation, entrepreneurship and student training – with the incubator at Skysong, the rapid prototyping facility at the Polytechnic School, the Innovation Challenge efforts pursued in W. P. Carey School of Business, The Biodesign Institute and partnerships with the Mayo Clinic. If you get all the smart people in the room looking at a problem from all their different angles – you have a much stronger chance of success,” he said.
Parazynski was a young achiever. His first invention was a bike-powered lawnmower at age eight. Since then, he’s continued to invent, founded start-up ventures and been consultant to a myriad of commercial enterprises. An experienced diver, pilot and mountaineer, he’s climbed Everest and summited all 59 of Colorado’s peaks over 14,000 feet (called the “Colorado Grand Slam”).
“My bucket list is always full,” said Parazynski. “However, my biggest passion now is the inventive process, working with students and helping people bring out the best in themselves.”
Written by Margaret Coulombe, University Provost's Office