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The aerospace industry has been completely transformed in Michael Griffin’s lifetime.

“Everytime I see a new application I’m surprised because (aerospace scientists) thought of something I hadn’t thought of,” he said.

The physicist, aerospace engineer, former U.S. Under Secretary of Defense and NASA administrator shared insights from his decades-long career Wednesday with University of Colorado students. The talk was moderated by Mark Sirangelo, entrepreneur in residence in CU’s aerospace engineering sciences department.

“The choices of careers that are laid out in front of you are conditioned by the time you grow up” and the technological era of that time, Griffin said.

“What we know about astronomy today has no relationship to what we knew in 1954,” Griffin said. “I was the little 8-year-old who was begging his parents to take him to the radio store so I could buy the parts to build a crystal radio.”

While tinkering and curiosity are still hallmarks of a successful engineer, today’s aerospace industry is much more complex than the one Griffin broke into.

“A huge segment of the space platforms market is becoming a commodity,” he said.

The focus now isn’t so much about getting into space and building equipment to study the atmosphere and beyond; it’s about what to do with that acquired data.

“To turn the data into information is a whole separate skill,” he said, encouraging students to adopt a keen analytic eye and a good deal of knowledge of signal processing and pattern recognition algorithms.”

Students are “going to have to be interdisciplinary” to continue to push the boundaries of the industry, Griffin said.

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